Just the question “Do you keep kosher” shares a lot with the the question of “Do you observe Shabbat?”. People feel compelled to deny their own observance if it does not match what they think is the “correct” ( usually Orthodox) way of observance. People who have Shabbat dinner, go to shul and refrain from work might still say they do not observe Shabbat because they use electricity, drive or spend money. (A problem well articulated in Reframing Liberal Judaism.) Similarly many people observe kashrut, but do not observe it in an Orthodox manner. They might say they do not observe kashrut.Moreover, a lot of how people write about kashrut assumes a black-or-white or all-or-nothing stance, when the real world practices of many Jews contradict this.
Here are ways that Jews keep kosher in the real world. All are legitimate ways of keeping kosher and should be seen as such. And for the sake of keeping it real, all done by people I know personally.
This list was inspired by a great session at the Narayever Synagogue called What’s Kosher: The Meaning of Kashrut for Jews Today and was actually created for a session on kashrut (for adults) at my daughter’s school (Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School).
A Few Ways to be Kosher (Non-comprehensive! and in alphabetical order)
1) In what you buy
Eco-Kashrut: Buying from local or sustainable resources. Buy food that is free of pesticides etc. Not buying food that comes in a disposable container or that is packed with excess packaging.
Ethical Kashrut: Eating only animals that were humanely raised and killed ( this can conflict with heksher kosher), eating milk and eggs from animals that are humanely kept, buying products that give a living wage to their producers, buying from those who treat their workers humanely.
Heksher kashrut: Making sure all food bought has a kosher certification or heksher from a recognized rabbinic authority. This can extend from trusting major organizations like OU to looking for milk and bread that was processed only by Jews (chalav yisroel and pat yisroel).
Ingredients Kosher: Checking labels to make sure that no animal or shellfish or grapes or their lesser-known chemical derivatives are in the food. Trusting the printed ingredients labels.Some buy food from a strictly vegetarian or vegan restaurant or store. Some trust the un-registered K symbol, often used by Conservative rabbis to permit food with gelatin (derived from animal bones) which they permit but Orthodox authorities do not. Buying meat with a heksher.
Some require a heksher symbol on cheese (due to the animal nature of rennet); some eat all cheese; some eat rennetless cheese without a heksher. Some require a heksher on wine. Some use non- hekshered wine for casual drinking but not for ritual purposes. Some drink all wine for any purpose.
Kosher style: Not buying pork or shellfish or overt mixtures of milk and meat
Vegetarian: For religious, ethical or environmental reasons no meat is eaten (some eat no fish).
2) How you prepare food:
Eco-Kashrut: making sure that the preparation and clean up use as few resources as possible. Using reusable containers. Composting.
Kosher style 1:One set of dishes. Won’t overtly serve meat and milk together, but will serve milk in coffee or a dairy dessert after a meat meal. Using only hekshered meat.
Kosher style 2: One set of dishes. Won’t overtly serve meat and milk together, but will serve milk in coffee or a dairy dessert after a meat meal. Not using hekshered meat but also not buying pork or shellfish.
Mindfulness: Before (or after eating) pausing to consider where your food comes from, and how fortunate you are to have it. Can be done through traditional or modern blessings or mediations
Multiple Dishes: Multiple sets of cutlery and dishes and pots etc. to form a strict separation of meat and milk. You do not allow food from non- hekshered places to touch your dishes. Some people also have dishes they specifically use for non-kosher or non-hekshered food. Others order takeout from such places, but use disposable dishes.
Time separation: You have one set of dishes but do not prepare or serve milk and meat at the same time. You put vegetarian food from any source on your plates.
3) Where you will eat
What ever type of kashrut people observe in their homes, they often do different things outside their homes. There are multiple ways these categories match up with those in 1).
Eco-Kashrut: Not eating at restaurants that use disposable items, Bringing your own reusable containers to catered events, parties and meetings
Ethical Kashrut: eating at places where workers are treated fairly. Eating at places that use ingredients that treated animals humanely
Heksher–only: Eating only in hekshered restaurants, shuls and at the homes of others who keep heksher kosher.
Kosher style: avoiding pork and shellfish in restaurants and other’s homes
Veg out 1- only vegetarian or kosher restaurants and at heksher kosher, ingredients kosher or vegetarian homes
Veg out 2– eating out at any home or restaurant but eating only non-meat or non- shellfish items