Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosher vs. Kosher; Religious vs. Religious

The NY Times Dining section recently printed a review by Frank Bruni of the newly opened Second Avenue Deli. In his review, he writes, "The restaurant remains kosher." In response to another writer's reaction, "Because it is open on the Sabbath, almost no observant Jew would consider it kosher," Bruni wrote, "A Kosher Quibble" in which he tries to fetter out the definition of kosher.

What was most interesting to me (though not particularly surprising) was the slew of response from Orthodox Jews. Their definition of kosher, of course, includes the fact a Jewish-owned restaurant must be closed on Shabbos (or keeping the laws of Shabbos during food preparation).

What I do find noteworthy (although again, not surprising) is their oresponses almost all assume a strict dichotomy between "religious Jews" (i.e., Orthodox) and "non-religious Jews" (i.e., non-Orthodox). It is inconceivable to them that being a religious Jew could mean anything but keeping Orthodox strictures.

When I was a kid, my parents used to correct me when I called someone "not religious," telling me to refer to them as "non-observant" instead. I don't think that term actually fixes the problem. "Observant," I suppose, is taken to mean, "observing the laws of the Torah." So, in theory -- by my parents' assumption, someone could be religious (i.e., believe in God, attend services, have holiday celebrations, etc.) but not observant of the Torah and/or rabbinic laws.
But whether or not Orthodox Jews agree with them, there is a system of Conservative Jewish halacha...and if a Conservative Jew follows that halacha, they are being observant Jews.