Can you imagine a life without boundaries? Do we have the self-discipline and self-control to set our own limits? We may like to think so, but at the end of the day most of us realize that we're better off with some externally imposed boundaries.
This week's Torah portion, Sh'mini, establishes the boundaries that Jews are commanded to respect with regard to food. The laws of kashrut are set forth, delineating exactly what we are permitted to eat and what we must avoid. Kashrut helped to set the Jewish people apart from the surrounding pagan cultures and created much-needed cultural "breathing room" to cultivate a new and uniquely Jewish ethical way of life.
Our Jewish community still takes these obligations seriously. No matter what your level of observance, we can all be proud that we have our own local kosher certifying agency - the Hartford Kashrut Commission - to help ensure that observant individuals and families in our area can easily access the highest standard of kosher food. This is a crucial part of maintaining an inclusive Jewish community.
Keeping kosher is just one example of living within prescribed boundaries. Last week we had the privilege of hosting Yossi Klein Halevi, an internationally recognized Israeli journalist and educator. In two separate events, Yossi engaged in difficult conversations with a leading member of the American Muslim community and a Palestinian American who was a former member of the Palestinian Authority peace negotiating team. Both discussions touched on very complex, emotional and highly personal issues. They were successful because all of the participants respected the need for boundaries. Respect, civility and active listening were the guideposts that allowed for productive discourse.
It takes effort to live within boundaries. It is easy to view them as restrictions that prevent free action and free speech. But when we remove the boundaries that define proper behavior, civility and respect, we reap serious consequences.
I'd like to suggest that, when we think about keeping kosher, we view it as not just a set of laws governing what we eat but also a state of mind that helps us appreciate the role of boundaries in creating a better world.
President and CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford
Photo by Brendan O'Brien