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August 3, 2017 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vaetchanan

“Just be careful and keep track of yourself well (Deut. 4:9).

Miller points out that according to some commentators, this means “Having a totally healthy body is a key element of worshipping God, for you cannot have an understanding or knowledge of God when you are sick.”

Is Orthodox practice consistent with this view? In some ways, yes- obviously walking to shul promotes physical fitness, and so Orthodox shuls tend to be in fairly walkable communities.  However, there are exceptions to this, especially in the car-dependent South.  Last week, I was in Houston and found a synagogue that was gated off during the week.  Because the gate sealed off both the shul and the parking lot,  you have to punch a code and be surrounded by cars while you are doing so.  Since I was just visiting and of course did not have a code, I had to wait for a car to come up.

Dietary practices are also a problem here.  The conventional nutritional wisdom seems to favor fruits and vegetables but kosher certification practices disfavor these foods, sometimes virtually outlawing certain ones.  Why?  Because the most heavily processed foods have supply chains that can be monitored by rabbis.  By contrast, kosher certifiers have discovered that tiny bugs infest vegetables, and reason that since the Torah forbids eating insects, this is obviously a problem.

For many centuries, this was not a problem.  If a bug was visible with the naked eye you removed it, if it was microscopic you didn’t know it existed.  But modern technology has allowed rabbis to find bugs that are technically not microscopic, but which as a practical matter no consumer could find without considerable expertise. (I have tried to distinguish bugs from water spots by looking at videos like this– but I personally can’t).  So as a result, today most Orthodox rabbis don’t consider normal naked-eye scrutiny enough.  Instead, you have a profusion of websites and videos, all of which are designed to try to teach you how to become such an expert.

The rational reaction to this sort of thing, for the rational kosher-keeping cook, is to just stay as far away as possible from fresh fruits and vegetables.   This seems slightly inconsistent with the principle enunciated in this week’s parsha.

Moreover, I’m not really persuaded that the anti-bug principle justifies all of this.  If normal naked-eye scrutiny was good enough for thousands of years, it should be good enough today.  The attractiveness of Orthodox Judaism is, in part, the idea of an unchanging law.  Each change in the law tarnishes the brand.

Having said that, I do follow the crazy new rules at home; my philosophy is that I am not cooking for myself, but for guests more observant than I am.  (But outside my own home, not so much).




One Comment

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  1. Shira Salamone / Aug 8 2017 1:17 pm

    I refuse to deny myself the fruits (and vegetables) of HaShem’s creation just because modern technology allows us to see things that the eyes that G-d gave us do not. Go ahead, have a strawberry–and don’t spend 10 minutes washing out all the flavor just to kill an invisible insect! How can you recite a brachah/blessing over food that’s lost most of its taste without taking G-d’s name in vain?

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