Mishpatim: Kosher Cheesesteaks?!

Each week we invite a different rabbi or Jewish thought leader to write a “Taste of Torah” on the weekly portion. To receive LAASOK’s Taste of Torah by email each week, subscribe to our newsletter.

This week’s author is Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov.

Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov is honored to serve as the spiritual leader of Temple of Israel in Wilmington, NC. She originally hails from Bucks County (the suburbs of Philadelphia).  Rabbi Losben-Ostrov was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 2008 and holds a Masters in Hebrew Letters from HUC and a Masters in Educational Administration from Xavier University.

Kosher Cheesesteaks?!
“To eat or not to eat, that is the question”

Even though I grew up in the Northeast suburbs, I still consider myself a very proud Philadelphian.  And no matter where I have lived, I am and have always been a very proud Jew. 

As a teenager, I started a journey towards becoming more religiously observant, specifically with regards to food.  I also began wrestling with animal rights and decided that I could “feed two birds with one seed,” by cutting out some meat from my diet. 

First, I stopped eating shellfish (I didn’t really eat that much, so it wasn’t too hard to do).  Then I gave up all pork products – no more bacon, pepperoni, or even Scrapple (a Philly delicacy).  

I called this being “Hypocritically Kosher.” I could follow the Jewish dietary laws and keep from eating non-kosher animals, but I wasn’t sure about not mixing milk and meat. I faced a conundrum… how could I be a “good” Philadelphian and not eat cheesesteaks? 

In this week’s Parsha of “Mishpatim,” we encounter the commandment:

לֹֽא־תְבַשֵּׁ֥ל גְּדִ֖י בַּחֲלֵ֥ב אִמּֽוֹ׃
“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” 
(Exodus 23:19)

This law is so important that it actually appears two more times in the Torah. For this first occurrence, it comes at the end of a long litany of laws (mishpatim in Hebrew).  Many of these rules deal with how we treat others (the slave, widow, orphan, stranger, etc) and how we make restitution for wrongs. Therefore, why do we treat this prohibition of “not cooking a kid in it’s mother’s milk” as something dealing with food, rather than as a commandment about how we treat animals?  

Can we see this law as an imperative to have respect for the life of both the mother and its child. Shouldn’t we honor the life of both animals – the mother and the child – by refraining from killing an animal through the milk that is meant to sustain it?

“Have we gotten so far from what could be the real meaning of the commandment – to honor all God’s creatures?”

– Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov

For thousands of years Jews have refrained from eating milk and meat together so as not to violate this commandment. However, have we gotten so far from what could be the real meaning of the commandment – to honor all God’s creatures – that we are in fact violating the real meaning of the mitzvah?

2 responses to “Mishpatim: Kosher Cheesesteaks?!”

  1. There is also (I believe in the oral tradition) to not take eggs from the nest while a bird is sitting on them but rather shoo the bird away before taking eggs from the nest. I believe that this is the same type of commandment–being kind to other animal beings.

    • Yes! This is actually in the Torah (and treated extensively by the commentators). Some say it is about not causing suffering to animals. Other say it is about ensuring the continuance of the species. Both important Jewish and environment values.

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