The relevance of religious dietary restrictions is a subject that can set off debates. After all, there's refrigeration and better preservation methods than in biblical days. And a whole new culinary world has opened up. And what about fasting? This week's clergy mull over the importance of following the practices.
Krishna-Balarama Swami, monk, Hare Krishna Temple, Freeport:
It is part of a broader question of why we follow religious restrictions at all. In Latin, the word religion means "to bind back." It is an attempt to restrict our lower nature and give greater freedom and latitude to pursue the interests of our higher nature.
We find that eating, sleeping, mating and defending are put under some restriction. For instance, marriage is a way of putting mating under restriction.
In terms of food, as Hare Krishnas, we eat only those foods that are considered in the mode of goodness.
Hare Krishnas do not eat any meat, fish, eggs, onions or garlic. Onion and garlic promote passion, meats promote ignorance. Any food we eat is first offered to Krishna in sacrifice in a mood of loving devotion, and to promote goodness. Krishna likes to eat fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products.
Our scriptures are very clear on dietary restrictions. While obedience alone is essential and sufficient, understanding the why behind obedience is also important.
Rabbi Susie Heneson Moskowitz, Temple Beth Torah, Melville:
The Jewish dietary laws are called Kashrut or keeping kosher. They offer a chance to thank God that we have food to eat, at least three times a day, even more if you snack. By having to think about the food choices we are making every time we eat, one is constantly being reminded of the need to bring holiness into our everyday lives. When we say a blessing over our food, we are reinforcing these notions of gratitude and holiness.
Religion gives us boundaries. Adhering to a system that says only some things are permissible helps us set limits, to realize that not everything belongs to us and to acknowledge God's power.
Personally, it reminds me that I am blessed to have food to eat and that I should choose carefully which foods I will eat. Setting limits in one area of my life helps me to have discipline in other areas as well. We live in a society that is "me" centered, and we forget that we are part of something larger. Keeping kosher helps us remember. To remember that we should respect animals, eat like human beings and appreciate the holiness in everything. Father Dimitrios Moraitis, St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Shrine Church, Greenlawn:
From Old Testament times, God was involved with the consumption of food. In the New Testament, Christ talks about how to fast and cautions those who fast not to do so to gain earthly glory.
From the Second century, the early church had fasting guidelines for Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday Jesus was betrayed, and Friday was the day he was crucified and died on the cross. Other fasting periods have been included in the life of the church, especially the Orthodox Church.
A misconception is that fasting is done to co-suffer with Christ. In fact, the primary purpose of fasting is to gain a renewed spiritual strength. Everybody needs to eat, and most derive pleasure from eating. If you are able to tell your body when and what it should eat, then you have successfully conquered one aspect of the flesh, and the soul is in charge of the body, instead of the body in charge of the soul. Proper and successful fasting leads to a greater awareness of the spirit and a greater strength of the soul.
You apply that strength and principle of fasting to other things because you have the spiritual discipline to withstand them. Most people in the beginning are so consumed by hunger. But that will pass. We have major fasting days throughout the year, usually associated with a major holiday. We eat no meat, no dairy or oil during those times.
Through fasting, food must become less of a conscious thought. The time and effort usually spent on food should be concentrated on God and our souls. And, we're not supposed to eat anything before Sunday service. A person who is full needs nothing else, including God.