Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Priority-Setting and Jewish Life

I'm having soapbox Friday early this week.

I've seen a lot of discussion lately about the price of kosher food and students becoming kosher. To be honest, the price argument eludes me. I don't get it.

If you think that G-d has commanded you to only eat meat in a certain way, then you would find a way to get what you need or do without. I don't see how price factors in (coming from someone who just finished 8 years of "higher" education). 

We spend money on the silliest stuff. I can go out drinking in a bar, buy brand-name food products, new clothes, pay for extracurricular activities, or even buy the little "junk" at the Wal-Mart check-out line, but I will choose to ignore G-d's law? That just doesn't make sense to me. 

Life is about priorities. Whatever priorities you make, just be honest with yourself. Not everyone is ready to really understand and believe that Hashem commands our lives to that level of detail. That's normal; life and faith are a process. But don't say, "Oh, I can't keep kosher because the meat is 30% more expensive" when you clearly have significant "spending money." 

I hate how people always give students a "free pass" to not eat kosher. When better to learn your true priorities than when you have few resources? Also, your priorities will follow you as your income level increases, so why not build good habits now? 

How do you work on priority setting in your life? Do you have any advice to share?


  1. If you aren't keeping completely kosher, at least eat only salads with kosher dressing etc at the school cafeteria, or tuna and such. Things that are the least likely to be treif.

    I only eat meat on shabbat really. If I have meat during the week, it's a rare thing. I also don't make shabbat meals for myself unless other people are financially contributing. Truth is, I CAN'T afford kosher meat. So what do I do? I don't eat it.

  2. Finally! I've been saying this to people for ages. Everyone just thinks I'm crazy. I hope you get a positive reaction to this post :-)

  3. I think you are right for the most part with this argument but you should acknowledge that in smaller areas the cost of Kosher meat truly is exorbitant and may require more than scrapping the extraneous purchases in our life.

    When the husband and I lived in New Orleans we kept more kosher-style and did not eat meat that was not. If I found the extra money for meat it was for the cheapest chicken breast or small fryer chicken I could find and it would cost at least 2-3x's as much as a conventional chicken.

    Could we have given up coffee or fun things? Of course, however I don't build alot of my meals on main meat dishes anyways (not such a big meat fan) so why take away the small things in life for meat?

    That being said, there is no reason people can't keep kosher and not eat meat. Hell, it's better for you to cut most meat out of your diet anyways. So I don't buy the "I can't keep kosher because I can't afford meat." argument either because my meat -loving husband went without for years because he couldn't afford the prices but still wanted to keep kosher to the best of his ability. Even now that we live in New York I would say I buy meat *maybe* once a month and that's just personal preference, not money dictated.

  4. There are some things students can make do without.

    Most students like myself (another fellow Law student) I am quite frugal when it comes to expenditure especially this coming from someone like myself who is very stringent in kashrus. I also keep kosher in and out of home.

    Kosher meat is expensive but as long as you can have meat some nights of the week and for Shabbos then learn to cook various dishes. I buy enough meat to last me a fortnight. So it's quite do able. There is no room for excuses.

    I seldom eat out. I watch what I buy. I usually buy clothing items on sale. Sometimes I am able to purchase my textbooks from a student who just completed that subject or if not I'll buy them brand new.

    Being Jewish is a way of life. From the moment you wake up till the time you fall asleep. For people in the process you make it a priority. These lifestyle changes won't occur overnight but gradually.

  5. When I first started keeping kosher, I was at a school that did not have a kosher dining hall. Rather then cross campus to cook at Hillel every day and eat alone, I did my best to be kosher-style in the dining hall. However, that was because I only had one more year to go at the school and didn't want to transfer. It wasn't really a money issue.

  6. You are painting everyone with a huge brush. I'm a student who lives frugally. Most of my clothing is from thrift stores. I rarely eat or even go out (I went to the movies for the first time in over a year last night). I buy things only when I need to do so. I am not an impulse buyer. When I buy textbooks, I will exclusively buy used or buy international editions. If you ever see me with anything nice or expensive looking, you can assure that it was either a gift, a thrift store find, or something that was required for school. I have also tried to keep kosher for the past 15 years since I was 15. I'm not Jewish but have been studying in the hopes I would go through a liberal conversion when I have the money to do so.

    I also live in the South where there is no Kosher butcher to be found for a minimum of 50 miles. I have a Kosher restaurant app on my ipod and that can't find a restaurant near me. None of the grocery stores carry Kosher meat. I know. I've looked. I've asked. I've begged. I've since stopped asking.

    Where I was born and grew up, Kosher meat was the same price as tref and it was relatively easy to keep Kosher. I moved only for school (you go where you are accepted) and it has not been easy to even find Kosher food.

    As I was telling my partner yesterday, 90% of grocery stores' "meat department" is pork products. Nearly the entire "fish department" is some form of shellfish. Just purchasing things that are kosher animals, even if they were not prepared kosher, is a minimum of a 50% price increase and you still have to be careful of what is in it. Yesterday I found packaged smoked salmon that contained crab. My partner had to do some digging but found one single package of smoked salmon that did not contain shellfish. I nearly purchased some beef yesterday but stopped when I realised it was wrapped in bacon. I think if my grocery store would actually offer Kosher meat (outside of Hebrew National hot dogs which I buy in bulk when on sale and freeze them), I can assure you it would probably would be double the price. I can't go without meat for medical reasons so meat is needed. This is to say nothing of other things one should eat for a healthy diet.

    I know the Kosher meat would be double, at the least, because I volunteer in a hospital. Hospitals around here don't offer Kosher as an option. They usually don't know what it is. If the staff do have an understanding of what it is they usually make you prove that you *need* kosher and you better have a rabbi that you can call to "enter into food negotiations" on your behalf. If there is no rabbi, I've been asked to step in and see how we can balance the patients nutritional needs with Jewish dietary law. A strict Kosher meal at the cost to the hospital is between double to triple the cost of tref assuming they can get it at all. The hospital has to eat the additional cost.

    That being said, I have tried to live Kosher style. I've only had pork twice in 15 years. I try to avoid shellfish which is hard since it's in everything and try to check packages to avoid it as much as possible. I try to avoid milk/meat mixing. However, I cannot say that I keep Kosher because technically I don't. I want to, nothing would make me happier. I try to keep kosher to a degree, but I certainly fail and I will beat myself up over it.

    The only thing that is more difficult than tracking down Kosher food where I live is tracking down "kosher" clothing in my size that isn't a blended fabric. It gets worse when I am looking on a student's budget, particularly for dress clothing.

    1. I agree with you 100 percent. This author thinks everyone comes from money and burn it on materialistic things.

  7. Like you, I believe that it doesn't matter that kosher meat is more expensive, as long as non-kosher meat is not an option. We don't eat as much meat as we'd like, but that's for budgetary reasons.

    As someone who keeps kosher strictly at home but eats vegetarian non-kosher out, I will say that if you do not eat out (kosher or not), you will probably have money leftover to pay for meat--some meat, maybe not daily meat, but some.

  8. I agree with this, but I come from a different side. My family lived under the poverty line for 17 out of my 18 years of living, we were homeless for 3 years, and we're Jews who are very strict about kosher. We did our best to keep kosher, but there were times when it was not financially/logically/at all possible for that to happen. I feel like I'm now a terrible person after reading this. I'm in college now on scholarship, and I have a low stipend for food each week on my meal card which can only be used at my university, which has no kosher restaurants. There's one place that sells a good salad. It's not like I'm going out and eating cheeseburgers (no thank you!), but I feel like G-d would rather us do our best to eat kashrut than starve to death...

    1. Originally posted: September 14, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      Last two anonymouses: please note that I tried to limit my statements above to people who do have some form of "spending money." I'm sorry if that wasn't clear. But as always, no matter what I say, there are always exceptions. Your cases were (I thought) clearly not the kind of cases I was discussing above. I'm sorry if I didn't communicate that clearly enough.

  9. When I first started keeping kosher, I couldn't afford kosher meat, either. Guess what? I didn't eat meat. I ate canned tuna, which is pretty cheap and high in protein. I ate kosher tofu. Not eating meat also cut a huge expense out of my budget it came to buying pots and pans and utensils. I kept one set and considered it milchig for the rare times I'd have dairy.

    For protein, I had eggs, soy, beans, and tuna with the occasional treat of other kosher fish thrown in. I actually lost weight and was very healthy.

    Now we only have meat outside on the grill, on paper plates. We've learned that life is still wonderful without a big steak or chicken wings. We're healthier for it and we stay in our budget and kosher. The only prices I complain about are those for kosher parmesan cheese, but even that I can live without.

    It works for us.

  10. Folks need to consider that they could well end up living in unheard-of places like New Mexico where there are no kosher restaurants, no solely-kosher stores, and the availability of specifically kosher products is very limited. Available money or not, keeping kosher can be done; but one has to be committed to working with what is available. If items like meat and cheese are scarce or expensive, one learns to do without or with less if it is important.

    Let's face it, though: not everyone is keeping kosher because they believe they are bound by Divine commandment and covenant to do so. Those who believe so will keep kosher no matter what; barring extreme and threatening circumstances. But many modern American type Jews are keeping kosher out *choice* rather than compulsion. Religious choice, social choice, personal choice - but choice. That changes the whole internal subconscious dynamic of how we relate to the topic. Once it is *my choice*, it is now something that I think I am empowered to modify as I see fit. I think that is how many many people look at keeping kosher; and other commandments for that matter.

    Herman Wouk is an inspiring example when it comes to keeping kosher, btw. I seem to recall that he writes that during WW II, on a Navy ship in the Pacific, he kept kosher by subsisting on a strictly vegetarian diet. He also writes that his grandfather didn't eat meat for the 23 years he lived in America (though he didn't expect that of the rest of the family). As our esteemed blog owner put it, one finds a way to carry out priorities.

  11. AMEN! the only thing I would add is that if it came down to a person becoming ill because they were not able to purchase the meat. My son for instance is severely hypoglycemic and requires meat protein (which breaks down very differently than vegetable protein). In that instance it would be wiser for him to eat non-kosher meat than to become physically ill if the choice has to be made. Rarely, if ever, does the average person actually face such a choice in our country in this age. If they do, most communities have ways ot aid them. Eating Kosher is a commandment and it is a Jewish responsibility to not only eat kosher but to make sure there is kosher food available to other Jews as well.

  12. I hate how people always give students a "free pass" to not eat kosher. When better to learn your true priorities than when you have few resources?

    I agree. I don't find it any more expensive, for example, than eating in non-kosher restaurants all the time.

    Especially since I live in Tiny Town, it's definitely something I have to think about all the time. But in general, it's often as simple as buying a brand that has OU labelling rather than one that doesn't (same price). I don't eat meat; I don't have time for that nonsense. You've just got to be creative. Or vegetarian.

  13. Like you said, faith is a process. But it is also about prioritizing and being honest about the values you wish to engender.

    Prioritizing, of course, requires planning, vision and delayed gratification. On the other hand, different people have different physical and emotional needs. Some people do fine on a restricted (vegetarian) diet while others find it more difficult to cope. In any case, I would encourage anyone wrestling with the practicalities of kashrut to consider adopting a higher degree of vegetarianism as both a practical and ethical option.

    All each of us can hope and strive for is to live our lives with integrity and with full awareness of the choices and commitments we can (and perhaps, should) make -- even when others may disagree. The rest will surely follow! :)

    This Good Life

  14. I have to agree. When I was in college, I had no kosher meat available within 30 miles and I not only didn't have the money to buy the meat, I didn't even have the gas money for the trip. So I became a pescatarian except for when I went to Hillel on Friday night and Chabad on Saturday morning/afternoon. It wasn't like I didn't like meat. I just loved G-d a whole lot more.

    Claiming that you can't afford kosher meat is fine. Where I live, it's roughly 3x as much as what you can get at Safeway, so I can believe that. Claiming that you can't afford kosher meat so therefore you get to eat non-kosher meat is not...well, kosher. If you can't afford it you don't eat meat. Just like you "treat" yourself occasionally with a new dress or something, you can treat yourself with a nice cholent on Shabbat. You have to ask yourself, "do I love baked chicken or G-d more?"

    PS, now I have a kosher restaurant and a kosher grocery within 20 miles. I don't get to have meat very often (and my treat-myself food is kosher gummy bears nomnomnom! ^_^), but I am SO thankful that I have the option now!

  15. I live in NZ. There are no kosher stores whatsoever. No kosher butcher in the entire country - meat is flown in from Melbourne. But I still keep kosher and its not such a big deal. I wanted to keep it so just had to fathom out how

  16. like my rabbit says - kashrut makes people krazy!

  17. Absolutely agree with you that limited financial resources demands one prioritize. Claiming poverty to eat triefah really rubs me the wrong way. What's wrong with fruits and vegetables? Being vegan is how I've kept kosher on a shoestring budget for years, along with no TV, no smartphone (except when work issued), thrifted & hand-me-down clothes etc.

    However, now the lack of B12 (in red meat) has caused passing out in public and 3 recent trips to the hospital despite having regular B12 shots. Do I have priorities to HaShem? Yes. I also wish we didn't have a culture of shaming someone's poverty so that one feels bad even verbalizing the struggle of being frum and poor, especially outside of NYC where there aren't kosher food closets or places like the Kollel Store.

    1. I salute your dedication! It's uncommon today. What you have to say about B12 is quite odd. Do regular pills not work for you? I can't imagine you can get the shots very frequently. I take a B12 vitamin a couple of times a week, and it's even covered under my insurance as a prescription. Seems a lot cheaper and easier to control dosage than a shot... Or you know, eat veggies with dirt still on them ;) But in all seriousness, i hope you have a refuah sheleimah, and I'm sorry you're going through that!

      If anything, it's easier to be frum and poor in NYC because so many other people are frum and poor here. And because of that, there are a lot more resources and public support like increased school scholarships and gemachs.

  18. You need to check your privilege and give up your fake Google MD degree. People need protein. Kids need protein. What do you tell 7 children who have to grow up vegan and aren’t as healthy as their non-Jewish neighbors? “B’H we’re getting a mitzvah for this.”

    I thought abusing the body for spiritual enlightenment were things that NON-Jewish religions engaged in?

    You would think that if mankind put a man on the moon, they would figure out a way to provide a whole kosher thanksgiving turkey that wasn’t 500% more expensive than the non-kosher version (yes, 500% is how much more it is near me). But I forgot, frummies didn’t put anyone on the moon, they have virtually 0% ability to add to science and technology—it’s the non-Jews and liberal/secular jews who are—“B’H”

    1. Funny, both the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics stand behind vegan diets as healthy diets for children of all ages and pregnant women.