FreePsychArticles#12 Kosher and Not Kosher
Jewish (kosher) dietary laws have always been a source of curiosity for Jews and non-Jews alike. Why can’t they eat pork? Who understands why they can’t eat milk and meat together? The esoteric nature of these laws the topic will generally spark all sorts of questions.
Though it seems these laws are exclusively about ancient Biblical eating practices, religious Jews continue to practice them to this day. Many wonder whether they’re really outmoded and irrelevant in this day of high standards of food quality. Pork used to cause trichinosis but that’s no longer a worry. And what about all those great restaurants religious Jews can’t go?
To add to the basic laws of pork, shellfish and the milk with meat prohibition is the requirement to use separate sets of dishes for meat, milk and Passover. Some Jews will only eat meat slaughtered by a ‘shochet’ they personally know. There is increasing stringency for dairy products, and wheat harvested before or after the new year.
As a natural outgrowth of my own religious Jewish practice and learning coupled with my work in public psychiatry I often think about what possible application Torah precepts might have? Part of the mandate for Jews is to teach the ethical principles whenever appropriate. The principles of theTorah, as brought down from Mount Sinai, express universal values and lessons. The specific details of Kashrut (dietary laws) are really only applicable to the Jewish people, so I wondered what relevance could they have to non-Jews?
Well, the idea of prohibited foods expands and informs anything prohibited as well. Certainly the kosher laws are about what one puts into his mouth and eats. This limited focus is deceiving since there are other issues involved besides to intricacies of keeping a kosher diet.
Anyone who is dealing with a habit, or addiction, can benefit with this Jewish approach to food. In spite of the fact non-Jews are totally exempt from the Torah Kosher Laws, they can take something away from them anyway. I have personally seen the following occurrence: During a social event a 6 year old boy child was given a piece of wrapped candy by one of the guests. The bot took the candy to his mother to ask, “Mommy, can I eat this?” The mother looked briefly at it and said, “No, it’s not kosher. “ The child, not missing a beat immediately threw the candy in the trash. No fuss or bother.
This is not a trick report nor is it uncommon. He never returned later to fetch it out. The child simply understood some things were for eating and some were not. Once mother informed him it was of the latter category it became unthinkable to eat. For us who keep kosher, non-kosher food is simply outside our universe of experience. There are no second thoughts or other considerations except in extraordinary, life or death situations. And this applies to Jews regardless of their level of sophistication or understanding. There are no gray areas once the food is determined unfit (not kosher). It applies to newly religious Jews (called Balei Tzuvah) as well, so one who ate non-kosher food his whole life ceases once he has ‘returned to the (Torah) law.’ Further, this practice of restraint can actually give one the feeling of strength and satisfaction.
APPLICATION OF THE KOSHER CONCEPT
In the absence of a religious ideology can these ideas be applied to anyone? I frequently meet people wishing to be free of their habits or addictions. Most of these people have suffered extensively from the dependence on alcohol or illegal substances and want to stop but have little equipment to maintain their sobriety. When the urge or craving returns they have little to over come the powerful emotional desire to take these destructive substances.
In my practice in California and Israel, the overwhelming majority of the patients I encounter maintain some belief in G-d and it would not be a great leap to see relevance in the heavenly decree to exercise restraint, as do the Jewish people in their practice of the laws of Kashrut. Emotions or craving can be tempered by how they are viewed. The beliefs alter the emotion and can mitigate its influence. We learn the Jew can learn to easily resist any temptation to eat non-kosher food by the simple decision it is “not for me.”
These same concepts can be applied to weight-loss or health diets. Upon entering into the diet, one makes a conscious decision of what foods are “inedible.” There’s plenty more to be said about discipline and will-power yet the major focus in the approach to altering behaviors is to change one’s thinking about the behavior. The Kosher Concept is one more model in the tool chest of abstinence. Since changing one’s temperament or emotions is basically outside the realm of conscious control, we have to focus on the things within our control.
The fundamental realities able to change under our conscious direction are thought and our muscles. It is in the exercise of control over our beliefs and behavior that we will reach the highest levels of function and mental health.
Gershon Freedman, M.D.