I will never forget my great-uncle Charlie’s response. We were sitting in the lunch room of a fancy hotel, and he had ordered a corned beef sandwich. “Would you like mayonnaise on that?” the waitress asked politely. “BLECH,” the old man answered, loud enough for half the restaurant to hear. It was a visceral, uncontrolled response that made his opinion absolutely clear: corned beef and mayonnaise do not mix.
Eating is far more than simple nutrition. An aspect of culture, what we eat and how we eat it are statements of who we are. Eating is an opportunity to socialize and reinforce communal bonds. Food uses technology and expresses history. Food is labor, and it is pleasure.
Our people has, for centuries, held a set of rules about eating, called kashrut. The laws of kosher eating enforced social cohesion – because of them, Jews ate mostly with other Jews. So, too, did the rules help us to live our values, including respect for life, the dignity of work, and not causing suffering.
Few of us at Temple Emanuel practice kashrut. Still, we all live by a set of rules about eating, whether consciously or not. Our diet is an aspect of our culture.
Temple Emanuel has lacked a clear set of guidelines for eating at the synagogue, even though we host many events on site, staff eats lunch here, and people regularly bring snacks into the building. Without a written policy, it has been “anything goes.”
For well over a year, we’ve been exploring creating a culture around eating at Temple Emanuel. Initiated by the Ritual Committee, I taught a class in kashrut – from what the Torah says about it, to the Talmud’s amplifications, to contemporary practices like Eco-Kashrut. The Ritual Committee studied kashrut, especially in a Reform context, and drafted a set of practices. These were shared with Sisterhood, MOE, the Planning Committee, and Staff, all of whom regularly plan events. They made helpful suggestions. Many versions later, the Board has approved the policy, below. It is thoughtful, clear, and reasonable. It is an expression of who we are as a contemporary Reform Jewish community.
The policy is being shared with all the groups that host events at the synagogue, including our tenants. We’ll share it with parents of both the Religious School and Early Childhood Center. It will be provided to families hosting events at the synagogue, such as Kiddush luncheons following b’nei mitzvah. This way, we’ll all know what’s expected of us, and why. We’ll have ample opportunity to prepare food appropriately.
The goal is to make us conscious of being in Jewish space, and of the demands that Judaism places on us. These rules create a set of shared expectations, and keep us from intruding on others. As members of Jewish families, we are not sole actors. We keep in mind that our behavior impacts others. Also, the rules make us a more hospitable place. The rules bring eating in the synagogue more into accordance with “Biblical Kashrut,” that is, the rules of eating laid out in the Torah, rather than the Talmud’s later, and stricter, version.
It is also important to note what these rules DON’T require. They only involve eating on the premises of Temple Emanuel. What families, havurot, and committee members consume off site is entirely up to them.
As always, Rabbi Jason and I, as well as Director of Administration Rebecca Weinstein and President Chuck Gealer, would be happy to discuss this policy with you, whether in general or specific. We are proud of this work, and believe it to be a significant step forward for the community.
Some people believe that Reform Judaism is a free-for-all, but this is not the case. It imposes affirmative responsibilities on us: to behave ethically, to consider the group, to preserve Jewish wisdom, to demonstrate hospitality. We believe that the process of crafting this policy, as well as the policy itself, are both exemplars of Reform Judaism in action.
To read the official policy, please click here: Temple Emanuel’s Official Eating Policy