September 27, 2016   24 Elul 5776
Food Justice Program for Teens (Temple Shalom, Aberdeen, NJ)
Aug. 2, 2011

Written by Rabbi Laurence Malinger for 11th & 12th grade Siyyum class

Rabbi Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) calls for a commitment to ethical eating, asking synagogue leaders to "carefully, thoughtfully, Jewishly" formulate new eating guidelines for their communities. This program is designed to think about these issues of ethical eating as well as struggle with synagogue food policies, educating membership about righteous, healthy eating; and offering ideas for getting actively involved.


  • Learn what Jewish texts say about the eating of meat.
  • Learn what Jewish texts say about ethical eating choices.
  • Discuss what you think should be ethical food guidelines for the synagogue.



These days most people want to live as lightly as possible on our precious planet. What we choose to eat is a very basic decision, yet it has huge implications - for the sustainability of species, for the quality of the environment, for both human and animal rights and for the world's climate. And when we take the time to scrutinize what we put on our table and where it comes from, it becomes clear that all is not right in the world of 'conventional' food production.

Ethical Eating explores the ethical and environmental implications of the food choices we make, looking at the issues from a uniquely Jewish perspective.

The Time Line

  • 00:00 – 00:05            Welcome, Attendance, Tzedakah
  • 00:05 – 00:20            Introduce Living Talmud – Food Glorious Food
  • 0:20 – 00:50            Divide into two smaller groups and study texts on eating meat – Pros and cons
  • 00:50 – 01:00            Watch brief segment of PETA video
  • 01:00 – 01:10            Break for Dinner
  • 01:10 – 01:45            Switch groups – study texts on creating Synagogue Food Policies
  • 01:45 – 01:55            Share food policies created
  • 01:55 – 02:00            Wrap-Up – Rabbi Yoffie’s closing statement:

            Above all, let’s avoid the temptation to do nothing. Reform Jews are ethically aware, ecologically aware, and sensitive to matters of physical and spiritual health. We know that our Jewish tradition speaks to these issues, and that our youth groups and young people care deeply about them. At such times, Reform Judaism does not remain silent.

- Rabbi Eric Yoffie, November 2009

The Program

  • Introduce the concept of Ethical Eating in the large group by using the Living Talmud Text – “Food Glorious Food”
  • What is the main lesson?
  • Since none of us are farmers, how do we make this work?
  • There is a concept of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) began initially in rural communities: farmers would arrange with their neighbors or people who lived nearby to sell them a portion of their crops for the whole season in exchange for the money up front. This enabled farmers to cover the initial start up costs of a season, which can be very high, and guarantee a market for their produce throughout the season. More recently, CSA has been developed as an arrangement between rural farmers and city folk who otherwise have very little access to fresh, local produce.

As Barbara Kingsolver commented in her book Small Wonder, "Americans have a taste for food that's been seeded, fertilized, harvested, processed, and packaged in grossly energy-expensive ways and then shipped, often refrigerated, for so many miles it might as well be green cheese from the moon." A CSA is an opportunity to challenge all of this - to buy and eat food that's locally-produced, minimally-packaged, and is grown in ways that support the health of the planet. 

Handout: Eating Meat and Not Eating Meat

There are many reasons people choose to eat little or no meat, including concern for animals, health, environmental issues, ethical concerns about commercial meat production, and many others. Within Jewish sources, there are some very vocal proponents of vegetarianism. And there are also many sources in Jewish tradition that clearly permit, and encourage, meat eating, especially for celebration. It seems clear that we and the planet would be better off if most of us ate less meat, but clearly whether you choose to eat any meat is up to you. Either way, we believe—and Jewish tradition teaches—that meat consumption is something we should do thoughtfully, with full awareness.

Eat Plants

What can we learn from the fact that the Torah includes both of these (following) texts?

Do you find it helpful to look for a basis for eating meat or not eating meat in the Torah?

God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food."
- Genesis 1:29

Eat Meat

Some people still feel strongly that eating meat on Shabbat is central to celebrating the day. Do you agree or disagree?

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat;
as with the green grasses, I give you all these.
You must not, however, eat flesh with its life- blood in it.
– Genesis 9:3-4

Do you think of meat eating as something to be reserved for special occasions? If not, how would your life be different if you did?

To Have a Good Time...

Some people still feel strongly that eating meat on Shabbat is central tocelebrating the day. Do you agree or disagree?

Do you think of meat eating as something to be reserved for special occasions? If not, how would your life be different if you did?

It was taught, Rabbi Judah ben B’tayra said:
When the Temple was in existence there could           
be no rejoicing save with meat, as it is said:
“And you shall sacrifice peace-offerings, and
shall eat there; and you shall rejoice before the
Lord your God” (Deut. 27). But now that the Temple is no longer in existence, there is no rejoicing save with wine, as it is said, “wine makes glad the heart of man.” (Ps. 104).
-      Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Pesakhim 109a

Only on Special Occasions . . .

Isaac to Esau: “Hunt me some game,
and make a tender morsel that I love
and bring it to me and I will eat it
order that my soul bless you
before I die.” (Genesis 27:7)

Why did Isaac request a meal of hunted game?  Were not there sufficient goats in his flocks, and do they not taste like venison anyway?

A person should only eat meat on rare and make a tender morsel that I love appointed occasions, and the reason is and bring it to me and I will eat it  that a person should not become in order that my soul bless you accustomed to eat meat, as it is written before I die.” (Genesis 27:7)

“You shall eat meat with all your desire. Eat it, however, as you eat the gazelle and the deer,” (Deut. 12:21-22). This means that you should eat meat by circumstance [accident] rather than in a set way. For the gazelle and the deer are not easily found around human dwellings for they are wild, and their habitation is not with people, but in the deserts and forests. Consequently, they can only be eaten in small quantities for not everyday does such a miracle occur that a herd of gazelles appears when one is hunting. Consequently, since one eats of them rarely, he will not come to habituate himself to eating ordinary meat since it gives birth to cruelty and other bad qualities in the body of a person. For it is the birds of prey that kill and eat meat, and the lion that kills prey and eats. Therefore it says that in the future “The lion like the ox will eat straw. For there will be peace between all the living creatures” (Isaiah 11:7). Therefore, Isaac said, “Hunt me game,” (Genesis 27:7) for he did not want to eat meat except if it was according to the circumstance [of the hunt].
– Kli Yakar on Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Chulin 84a

The ever-increasing cattle population is wreaking havoc on the earth’s ecosystems, destroying habitats on six continents. Cattle raising is a primary factor in the destruction of the world’s remaining tropical rain forests. Millions of acres of ancient forests in Central and South America are being felled and cleared to make room for pastureland to graze cattle. Cattle herding is responsible for much of the spreading desertification in the sub-Sahara of Africa and the western rangeland of the United States and Australia. The overgrazing of semiarid and arid lands has left parched and barren deserts on four continents. Organic runoff from feedlots is now a major source of organic pollution in our nation’s ground water. Cattle are also a major cause of global warming… The devastating environmental, economic and human toll of maintaining a worldwide cattle complex is little discussed in policy circles…Yet, cattle production and beef consumption now rank among the gravest threats to the future well-being of the earth and its human population.

Food for Thought:

  • Do you eat meat? How often? Why or why not? How do you feel about it?
  • Do you think that people should eat meat?
  • Would you be more or less likely to eat meat if you saw how the animal was  raised and slaughtered?

Handout: Ethical Eating for Our Congregation

 TEXT 1: An Excerpt from the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885

We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas altogether foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct rather than to further modern spiritual elevation.

  • Does the passage prohibit observance of the dietary laws? This is a much-debated question. The first sentence does not seem to prohibit them, but the second sentence ends with the reference to “obstructing spiritual elevation.”
  • The Pittsburgh Platform goes on to say: “We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason.” How does this line compare to, and contrast with, the statement on dietary law?
  •  How do both of these passages apply to a contemporary discussion of ethical eating and food practices, including and beyond traditional laws of kashrut?

 TEXT 2: Excerpts from the Columbus Platform of 1937

 Each age has the obligation to adapt the teaching of the Torah to its basic needs in consonance with the genius of Judaism. Judaism seeks the attainment of a just society by the application of its teachings to the economic order, to industry and commerce, and to national and international affairs…It champions the cause of all who work and of their right to an adequate standard of living, as prior to the rights of property. Judaism emphasizes the duty of charity, and strives for a social order which will protect men against the material disabilities of old age, sickness and unemployment. Jewish life is marked by consecration to these ideals of Judaism. It calls for faithful participation in the life of the Jewish community as it finds expression in home, synagogue and school and in all other agencies that enrich Jewish life and promote its welfare.

  • The tone of this statement seems to contrast with the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885. Do you think that those who drafted this Platform wanted to open new pathways of observance for Reform Jews?
  • No specific reference to the dietary laws is made in this document, but there is discussion of congregational life, social justice and Torah. How could these Platform excerpts, without directly mentioning eating concerns, inform our current decisions about food policy?

TEXT 3: Excerpt from Commentary on A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism of 1999

In a time when more and more people are using diet to express their beliefs, "our peoples’ ongoing relationship with God" makes an increasing number of Reform Jews look seriously at aspects of kashrut. The Third Draft of the Principles specifically mentioned kashrut, tallit, tefillin, and mikveh (ritual immersion) to demonstrate the principle that there is no mitzvah barred to Reform Jews, even as the Reform Movement does not compel the observance of any mitzvot. Implied in the word "modern," is a desire to "introduce innovation while preserving tradition" (Preamble).

An example of this might be extending dietary restrictions to animals raised under conditions violating tza’ar ba’alei chayim (inflicting pain on living creatures), or refraining from foods which demonstrate the oshek, oppression, of those who work the fields to harvest our foods.

  • What do you make of the reference to kashrut in this paragraph? Why might kashrut have been deleted from the final version of the platform?
  •  How have attitudes toward kashrut and eating changed in your congregation in the last five, ten or 20 years?
  • The excerpt refers both to “aspects” of kashrut and to a desire for blending innovation and tradition in our eating practices. How might your synagogue food policy reflect this idea?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

These texts help us to see the evolution in Reform Jewish understanding of the relationship between eating and holiness. The platforms written since 1937 illustrate an increasing openness to a Reform exploration of tradition, and by extension, to traditional dietary laws. Although ethical eating is not specifically mentioned in any of the recent platforms, there is ample evidence that food continues to be a focus of attention of many Reform Jews and Reform institutions.

Let us consider how our dietary decisions have historically served as one primary path to express Jewish values. The list might include:


(brit) The covenant is a pact that we, the Jewish People, enter into and maintain with God and with one another. Many understand the observance of mitzvot (literally “commandments”) to be an expression of our commitment to this covenant. For many,

observing kashrut and maintaining a particular diet fulfills an essential mitzvah.


In a time when more and more people are using diet to express their beliefs, "our peoples’ ongoing relationship with God" makes an increasing number of Reform Jews look seriously at aspects of kashrut. The Third Draft of the Principles specifically mentionedkashrut, tallit, tefillin, and mikveh (ritual immersion)to demonstrate the principle that there is no mitzvah barred to Reform Jews, even as the Reform Movement does not compel the observance of any mitzvot. Implied in the word "modern," is a desire to "introduce innovation while preserving tradition" (Preamble).

An example of this might be extending dietary restrictions to animals raised under conditions violatingtza’ar ba’alei chayim (inflicting pain on living creatures), or refraining from foods which demonstrate the oshek, oppression, of those who work the fields to harvest our foods.  (kedusha)

The Torah teaches that humans are created in God’s image and must thus work toward kedusha, holiness, mindful of our essential animal instincts. Making distinctions and sanctifying what and how we eat through traditional kosher laws can be one powerful manifestation of kedusha.

Jewish Identity

(z’hut) Observing kashrut or eating “kosher style” enables us to connect to the Jewish People. As covenant reinforces our spiritual bond with God and other Jews, z’hut reinforces our cultural bond with other Jews.


(bri’ut) Ancient and modern Jewish authorities alike have suggested that the details of kashrut can be explained by their unique health properties. While we do not treat Torah as a reliable medical treatise, we can continue to honor our Jewish values through healthy eating choices.

Congregational Policies: Theirs and Ours

Now come together and review three sample congregational food policies and try to draft an appropriate policy for your synagogue.

Questions as you read policies might include:

  • Does this policy address dietary and ethical eating concerns beyond kashrut?
  • Does the statement offer explanations of how or why decisions were made?
  • Does it provide insight into the process of decision-making for this congregation?
  • Does this policy offer illustrative examples?
  • Does this policy explicitly address Reform Jewish values or reflect the mission statement of the congregation?

Kashrut Policies Examples

Temple A:

Pork and shellfish are prohibited in this facility.

Dairy and meat products will not be served together during the same meal in this facility.

Temple B:

Food brought into the Congregation’s  buildings should adhere to the congregation’s dietary policies. Though TB does not keep a kosher kitchen, there are certain restrictions that members, caterers, and renters should be aware of and must adhere to.

1. Pork products are prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to:
i. Ham
ii. Pork chops
iii. Pepperoni
iv. Bacon and bacon bits
v. Prosciutto
vi. Pancetta
vii. Sausage

2. Shellfish are prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to:
i. Scallops
ii. Shrimp
iii. Lobster
iv. Clams
v. Mussels

3. Meat and milk should not be served in the same dish. They may, however, be served at the same meal, so individuals may choose to pair them. Example: Meat lasagna with cheese is not appropriate; vegetarian lasagna with meatballs on the side is appropriate.

4. During the week before Passover and the days of Passover, leavened products are not to be brought on the premises, to allow for proper cleaning of the buildings in preparation of Passover. This includes, but is not limited to:
i. Bread & bread products
ii. Pasta & pasta products
iii. Wheat noodles
iv. Crackers
v. Legumes
vi. Rice
vii. Soy and soy products
viii. Beer

Temple C:


Temple C is a proud member of the Union for Reform Judaism. As such, we take seriously our commitment to exploring our tradition anew in each generation – continuing the reforms that started in the desert thousands of years ago. Temple C is an open and welcoming congregation that honors Jewish communal traditions, values and practices while respecting personal autonomy.

This document on Jewish dietary practices (kashrut) seeks to provide a structure that will guide our congregation for synagogue functions but does not presume to dictate a home or personal practice for our members. As is appropriate for a Reform synagogue, this policy is a creation of the congregation and is informed through a careful study of traditional Biblical and Rabbinic texts, responsa literature, and our own understandings of the needs of our community. By engaging in this process, we are following the lead of the Reform Movement and responding to our membership’s call for clear and comprehensive guidelines for synagogue practice.  We recognize that this policy will not establish a kashrut level that is sufficient for all. However, we believe that this policy honors the values and traditions of Judaism, allowing all who attend our events a level of comfort, and falls respectfully within the continuum of practices of the Reform Movement.

Over the millennia, the reasoning for dietary guidelines in the Jewish community has focused on both health and social consequences. However, a third motive guides us in this policy: The pursuit of kedusha (holiness). By observing certain basic dietary practices we affirm our connection with the Jewish people throughout the ages and around the world – a holy community that transcends time and space. By intentionally choosing, preparing and consuming our food we become conscious of all of our actions – a holy self-awareness that strengthens our inner beings. By recognizing the gift of sustenance we acknowledge our blessings – a holy relationship that enhances our lives.

It is our hope that this policy will open doors for our community, confirming Temple C as the progressive Jewish center for life-long learning, spiritual growth and connection.

General Guidelines:

The following policy applies to all food prepared at or brought into the Temple campus. This includes but is not limited to food served for events sponsored by the Temple and Temple affiliates, privately catered events and food that is brought to the Temple for personal consumption.

Pork products, shellfish products or other foods prohibited by the Torah are not permitted.

Temple Sponsored events & “Pot Lucks”

Meat and dairy products may not be served at the same meal. “Pot Lucks” will be defined in publications as “meat” or “dairy”.

Private Events

Meat and dairy products may not be served or mixed in the same dish (i.e.,no meat lasagna). Food must be clearly marked as “meat”, “dairy” or “pareve/neutral” and may not be served on the same table.

Personal Meals

Meat and dairy may be mixed for personal consumption.

Passover Guidelines (in addition to the above guidelines)

No food or drinks containing the following grains may be brought into the Temple: wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt .Matzah or food made with matzah products (which are made from one of these five grains) may be brought to the Temple.

Though not considered kosher for Passover by some communities, products made with corn, rice, beans and other legumes may be brought into the Temple.

We encourage:

The use of kosher wine.  Labeling all food as “meat”, “dairy” or “pareve“ (does not contain meat or dairy products.) 

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