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Asking the clergy: Are dietary laws outdated?

Rabbi Jill Doornek, North Fork Reform Synagogue, Patchogue:

Healthy eating is often associated with the latest fashionable diet and not with something found in the Bible. Yet, in today's world of diets and organic everything, religious dietary restrictions are anything but outdated. In Judaism, kashrut, the classification of dietary restrictions, comes from a Hebrew root meaning fit or suitable. Kashrut laws come from Torah and describe which animals are fit to eat and which should be avoided. Jews in every age have approached these laws to determine how to fulfill kashrut in their day. Today, it is our responsibility to determine why they exist in our holy text and what that tells us about our relationship with God. The laws of kashrut might not sell a lot of diet books, but that doesn't mean they're outdated. They represent the history of the human desire to eat mindfully and remind us that eating is a spiritual endeavor.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman, Congregation Tifereth Israel, Glen Cove:

Although there is a Biblical imperative to bring holiness to what we eat, increasingly, dietary experts reinforce the fact that eating with care leads to a longer and more satisfying life. The Bible stresses not only holiness, but beckons us to "choose life" at every opportunity. We also make ourselves holy by considering what we put inside our bodies, from a standpoint of content and from the path that the food takes to our table. There is a movement within Judaism, hechsher tzedek, which considers not only how an animal is slaughtered, prepared and served, but also the ethics involved in its slaughtering, preparation, handling and transportation. This includes the treatment of workers, conditions the animals were raised in and how the environment was respected. It is encouraging to see in some areas Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders cooperating to help assure that not only is our food prepared in a proper manner, but that the road it takes to our table is both a moral and ethical one. Making choices about the content of what we eat and how it enters our home is as imperative today as it was in Biblical times.

The Rev. Robert Riebau, formerly of Trinity Lutheran Church, New Hyde Park:

Diets are beneficial, and fasting can help one focus on God's provision. However, for Christians, laws distinguishing food are outdated. Jesus said, "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles . . . but what comes out." Long ago, God used dietary laws to set apart the holy nation through whom Christ would come. According to the Old Covenant, "Sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience but deal only with food and drink . . . regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation." God, "in speaking of a new covenant . . . makes the first one obsolete." Sts. Peter and Paul write: "The law was our guardian until Christ came . . . but now . . . in Christ, you are all sons of God, through faith." "Food will not commend us to God." "What God has made clean, do not call [unclean]." In summary, "whether you eat or drink . . . do all to the glory of God."

Brother Gary Cregan, O.S.F., principal, St. Anthony's High School, South Huntington:

Absolutely not. The Catholic wisdom of having fish on Friday showed just how ahead of themselves the Medievalists were in the importance of reducing meat in one's diet. Religiously, it served as an excellent reminder about the day in which Christ died and it reminded Catholics of the importance of being Catholic. So, I think it is unfortunate that that particular dietary restriction was loosened. In addition, restrictions of food intake during Lent are not only healthy, but a more than appropriate pius practice. If you are what you eat, I think putting God first, even in terms of what we eat, is such a Catholic understanding of paying glory to God. A small act of sacrifice can be efficacious to someone else. The kosher Jewish tradition of respecting the thing you are about to kill is beautiful. It is one of the great gifts the Jewish community gives to the rest of us. Restricting a diet for the sake of kingdom is a glorious thing.


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