Shabbat or kashrut: not mutually exclusive

Just as God works in mysterious ways, so, it seems, humans grow in mysterious ways, as well. I can tell you this as a person who has engaged in Jewish outreach for more than a decade, and witnessed the growth of hundreds of individuals. What takes one person a decade of spiritual toil to accomplish, can develop almost overnight in others.
I’ve also seen how the paths in which individuals adopt new mitzvot in their lives differ, each person deciding which particular mitzvot to adopt or ignore (either forever, or until a future, more auspicious time when the neglected mitzvah might be re-examined). Each person decides on a particular course, or order, of mitzvah adoption, as well as the degree to which they plan on committing and investing themselves in each of these mitzvot. These are the decisions that each person must make for themselves, each one an expression of their unique souls, strivings and singular service of the Almighty.
And while the variations distinguishing each spiritual journey are many, certain patterns that seem to repeat themselves. One such similarity is what I call the “Shomer Shabbat over Shomer Kashrut Conundrum.”
You see, though many engage in some form of kashrut (kosher) long before they commit themselves to Shabbat observance, most people (at least in my experience) accept the full practice of Shabbat before they accept the full practice of kashrut. In other words, though many are fully Shabbat-observant for decades and, at the same time, 100 percent kosher in the home, they may tend to compromise observance of kashrut outside the home.
To confirm this interesting conundrum of Judaic spiritual development, my partner in Jewish outreach, Rabbi Nasanya Zakon, shared with me a question he recently posed to a group of his students. “Would you be quicker to fully keep Shabbat or kosher?” The unanimous answer was Shabbat.
What is it about the unadulterated practice of kashrut that seems so daunting to so many? And, what is it about the laws and practices that arrive at that point in time during which both one’s commitment and inspiration in Judaism rest at its peak?
It can be difficult to give up the many delicious non-kosher foodstuffs one has grown to enjoy. Additionally, losing the convenience of dining out in the many non-kosher restaurants dotting the map is an equally difficult pill to swallow. Kosher is more expensive, and does require more planning.
But is this quantifiably more difficult than severing from electronics, Internet and automobiles for 25 hours once a week? And, what of the work complications Shabbat observance creates? Consider the many jobs that require work on the weekends that must be ruled out, or at a minimum, might require special accommodations, and with it, the potential loss of hours and salary. The Sabbath-observant individual will also miss multiple family and friend get-togethers scheduled on Friday nights and Saturdays, not to mention concerts scheduled for the same time.
I don’t think that the difficulty of keeping kashrut is what lies at the heart of the matter. Rather, I believe the difference lies in our appreciation and lack thereof for these two distinct mitzvot. With all the complications and “burdens” Shabbat places upon its practitioner, the benefits of observance are well-known and appreciated. After all, who hasn’t experienced the sublime sense of calm, peace and tranquility that permeates the Sabbath-observant home? Without the distraction of electronics and cell phones, families and friends find themselves enjoying each other’s presence around the Shabbat table, engaging in meaningful discussions, singing beautiful melodies and enjoying delicious delicacies. Communities come together during these times, as does the Jew with his Maker. Few can argue with a day free from errands and a few extra hours of sleep.
However, aside from the occasional case for increased self-control, kosher is seen by most as the quintessential chok, a commandment whose reasoning we do not know, and whose practice is more a sign of religious commitment than anything else. Religious commitment is seen by many as praiseworthy, but personal interest motivates change In kosher’s case, the burdens are perceived as far outweighing the potential benefits.
Scorecard: Treif 1, Kosher 0.
This is why it is so important to educate ourselves of the true benefits of kosher. The Torah teaches us that eating kosher foods accomplishes the vital role of preserving our inherent holiness, while consuming non-kosher foods spiritually pollutes our hearts. This makes it more difficult to connect to God.
In an amazing halachic twist, the Chofetz Chaim (Sefer Machaneh Yisroel), writing in the late 19th century to Jewish soldiers in the army, noted that if a soldier has the choice to either go to an army base in which he can keep Shabbat but cannot keep kosher, or go to a different army base in which he could keep kosher but not Shabbat, he should choose the base that allows for the observance of kashrut and not Shabbat. The punishment for Shabbat desecration is more severe than that of violating kashrut, though if the soldier must obey orders against Shabbat observance or kashrut on the pain of death, he is not accountable for violating either mitzvah. That being said, consuming non-kosher foods sullies the heart and soul of the Jew, meaning it is the poorer choice a Jew can make.

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