DC: Kosher is About More than Food

Sixth & Rye Crew

By Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld | The Washington Post

An amazing kosher revolution is occurring within the District’s Orthodox Jewish community.

When I came to the District seven years ago, Orthodox Jews spoke about kosher food only in a pragmatic and prosaic context. They might wonder if a specific restaurant strictly followed the kosher dietary laws, assuring there were no forbidden foods, such as pork or shellfish, and that meat and milk products were not mixed. People also frequently complained that there weren’t enough good kosher options in the nation’s capital.

I am proud to say that lately the conversation among Orthodox Jews about kosher food in our city has become associated with an additional goal that takes us back to the original intent of the Leviticus commandments: using kosher food and dietary laws as a means of fulfilling higher ethical standards and the totality of the Torah’s teachings.

One traditional example of how this is being accomplished is the new Glatt-kosher food truck Sixth and Rye, under the auspices of top chef Spike Mendelsohn, who uses kosher food to draw Jews closer to Judaism. Many unaffiliated Jews who would never dream of stepping foot in a synagogue will gladly wait in line to buy a delicious corned beef sandwich. The goal of Sixth and Rye is not to make a profit but to remind such distant Jews, even for a nanosecond, of their Jewish heritage.

Another example is the extension of the laws of Kashrut to areas of social justice as seen in the appearance of the Tav HaYosher seal of approval in more than a dozen kosher restaurants in the Greater Washington area. The Tav HaYosher, a group started by Orthodox rabbis in New York, does not certify whether the food at an establishment is kosher, but whether the workplace operates within the law and treats its workers fairly.

A third example can be seen in the greater amount of care synagogues and Jewish educational centers are placing on organic food products and humanely treated animals.

In our own synagogue, we facilitate our congregants’ purchase of Glatt-kosher grass-fed, antibiotic-free, free-range beef that is raised in a humane way. We also have arranged for organic shmurah matzah to be sold before Passover. And this association between kosher and organic is spreading. And another Orthodox rabbi in the area and I recently agreed to certify as kosher a Takoma Park store that will sell only vegan products.

The writer is a rabbi at Ohev Shalom in Shepherd Park.