Why I’m Going Kosher for Lent

For the past few years, I’ve given up coffee for Lent. For the rest of the year, before heading to bed, I prep my breakfast for the next day and set the timer on my coffeepot so that it starts brewing at 6:20 a.m. During Lent, though, when I wake up, stumble into the kitchen, and instead of reaching for my freshly brewed coffee, I have to fill up my teakettle, wait for the water to boil, and then longingly pace as my tea steeps. My Lenten morning routine forces me to exercise patience. It reminds me of the importance of self-discipline and the denial of vices as I prepare to enter the joyous season of Easter. This year, though, I’m ready to up the challenge.

So as I prepare for Lent, I’m writing farewell letters to my Friday night chicken parm ritual, crab cake obsession, and occasional bacon cheeseburger indulgences. I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ ancestors and explore a piece of our Jewish roots. This year, I’m going kosher for Lent.

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Having married a Jewish man and worked at a Jewish social services agency, I’m more familiar with the practice of keeping kosher than most of my Catholic friends. While my husband doesn’t follow kosher dietary guidelines, many of his family members entirely abstain from pork, and some even keep two sets of kitchenware in the house so that meat and dairy never touch the same surface. The exploration of Christianity’s Jewish roots is something very dear to my heart, and the practice of keeping kosher has intrigued me for quite some time. As I was contemplating ways I wanted to draw closer to God this Lenten season, it hit me—now is the perfect time to combine my fasting and abstinence in a way that can help connect me with the customs of our ancient ancestors.

Kosher laws have been around for thousands of years. The Jewish people believe that when God gave them the Torah, kosher dietary restrictions came right along with it. Guidelines regarding how to keep kosher were passed down verbally for many generations, but eventually, these laws made their way on to paper sometime during 200-500 CE. Written transcripts helped to ensure that the teachings would not become twisted or confused. Fast forward to the present day, and many Jewish people still follow strict kosher diets. This includes keeping separate cooking utensils for meat and dairy products and never eating both at the same meal, not eating pork or shellfish, ensuring that animals are slaughtered in a way that is sanitary and causes as little pain as possible, and even thoroughly inspecting fruit and vegetables to make sure that they are free of any bugs or worms.

Potential health benefits

I’m always interested in learning new ways to incorporate healthy habits, so when someone suggested to me that being kosher could have some advantages, I knew I had to take a closer look.

If you’re interested in exploring food synergy, there are some claims out there that suggest digesting calcium and iron together may have an adverse effect on nutrient absorption. To me, what’s most appealing about eating kosher foods, though, is the preparation process. For food products to be certified kosher, the plants and factories must follow strict health codes, and there are firm guidelines regarding what parts of the animal can and cannot be used. Furthermore, people who suffer from severe food allergies may find that purchasing kosher foods helps them to be a little more relaxed since they know that their food probably didn’t get processed on cross-contaminated machinery.

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How to go kosher

Orthodox Jews tend to follow strict guidelines and don’t eat any food products that could contain ingredients that may not be considered kosher. Some surprising examples of non-kosher foods include many marshmallow and ice cream brands, broccoli, cauliflower, and even raspberries! On the other hand, individuals with reformed views of the faith may have their own interpretation of dietary restrictions. For example, I know some families that keep kosher in the home but can choose to eat whatever they want when they are dining in restaurants, or when they are guests at a friend’s house. Others just opt to leave out shellfish, and if you’re like my husband, you don’t keep kosher at all.

For my 40-day kosher experiment, I’m going to keep it simple. I don’t plan to go out and buy new utensils and cookware, so eating in a non-kosher kitchen won’t be an issue for me. However, whether I’m at home, at a friend’s house, or at a restaurant, I’ll be abstaining from all shellfish, and won’t be mixing meat and dairy. When I’m not eating a meal that I’ve prepared myself, I’ll opt for vegetarian options. So, while I can have a grilled cheese for lunch at my favorite diner and a hearty steak for dinner at home, I can’t wash down my steak with a big glass of milk. Pork also isn’t allowed, so that means I won’t be munching on any pork chops or ham sandwiches either.

A more meaningful fast

Eating can turn into such a mindless act, but during this beautiful Lenten season, I want to be reminded of what I’m giving up every single time I sit down for a meal or grab a quick snack. Instead of hurriedly scarfing down my breakfast in front of the television or snacking on a couple pieces of chocolate after dinner entirely out of habit, I want to keep the gifts that God has given me at the forefront of my attention.

Jesus spent 40 days and nights deprived of all comfort in a desert in preparation to sacrifice himself for our sins so that one day we can join him in Heaven. The least I can do is to challenge myself to keep kosher for 40 days as I prepare to celebrate his resurrection and the promise of eternal life.