Font Size

Cpanel

Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

We did it!!! Our participation made a difference. Yesterday, the OU hand-delivered 180,000 physical letters—all written in the past six days—to the White House demanding the release of hostages from Gaza. The OU press conference and delivery marked the 180th day of captivity for 130 hostages, including eight Americans.

The letters call on President Joe Biden to support Israel materially and morally in its war to eradicate Hamas, combat antisemitism, and increase pressure to achieve the hostages' unconditional, immediate release. Read the letter here. For those of you who are going to write to me that “The President already supports Israel” – that’s true, but the President is under a lot of pressure to change/modify his support. Therefore, it is important to physically demonstrate that a consequential number of American voters are in favor of him continuing his support as it has been to date. 

Here are some pictures of what 180,000 letters look like! 

Back in SF - in this week’s parasha we learn about the dietary laws that G-d expects us to follow. With great detail, the Torah outlines and lists which animals, birds and fish are permissible for consumption. As we all know, the Torah permits and prohibits land animals categorically, rather than individually, based on specific anatomical features. An animal that both chews its cud and has split hooves is permissible for consumption. Absent even one of these characteristics, one may not consume such an animal, nor its derivatives. When an animal possesses both traits, we traditionally label such an animal as “kosher.”  

Contrary to popular belief among the general populace, a particular food is not considered kosher because it was blessed by a rabbi, nor due to the fact that it costs more than the non-kosher alternatives. Meat is kosher when it comes from an animal with these dual characteristics and is subsequently prepared in accordance with halacha.

It is therefore quite peculiar and unexpected to discover that the Rabbis of the Talmud refer to a unique and exemplary person as being an “אדם כשר” – a kosher person. The Gemara in Shabbos 105b, as well as other places, uses that precise term when describing an individual of exceptionally fine character.  

At first glance, this designation seems out of place. After all, as mentioned, this is a term that is used to describe an animal that is fit for consumption. This term is used almost exclusively to designate a food as being permissible. Why then do our rabbis use that very same word to describe a person, who quite obviously will not be consumed by another?

Rav Avraham Pam (1913-2001) the renowned Rosh Yeshiva of Torah VaDa’as in Brooklyn N.Y. offered a profound insight which serves to enlighten us all. Rav Pam suggested that the two kosher signs that must be present in every kosher animal, represent the two dimensions of our religious service. These two anatomical traits are symbolic of our conduct between ourselves and G-d and our conduct between ourselves and others.  

The trait of chewing of the cud, which occurs inside the body of the animal, hidden from public display, represents the relationship between man and G-d. This relationship exists primarily within the heart and mind of the person. While others may detect clues that reveal the level of one’s personal commitment, it is ultimately a relationship which transcends the public eye and remains private, within – rather than without.  

The trait of split hooves, on the other hand, represents the dimension of the relationship between man and man. Just as this feature of the animal’s anatomy is readily visible to all, it is virtually impossible to fulfill one’s obligations towards another in complete and total seclusion. By definition, this mode of one’s religiosity exists in the public arena, visible and noted by those around, often making it necessary to reveal acts of goodness that one does for another.

Based on this, Rav Pam suggests that a “kosher person” refers to an individual who possesses both traits. We are speaking of one who is balanced in his religiosity. This is a person who cultivates and develops his relationship with his creator, while simultaneously remaining mindful of the ever-changing needs of those around him.  

While this may sound like an easy goal to achieve, as we all know, it is far from it. There are those who maintain a steadfast commitment to their own personal relationship with G-d yet struggle to demonstrate that same devotion to others. At the same time, there are individuals who are constantly aware of others and compassionate towards their needs yet fail to adequately devote time and attention to their own personal spiritual growth.

As we study the laws of kashrut and focus on what makes an animal kosher, we should be reminded to reflect upon our personal kashrut, within the realms of our relationships between ourselves and others, and ourselves and G-d.