I Want to Start Keeping Kosher: Where Do I Begin?

Dear Jew in the City,

Neither my husband or I were raised in households that keep kosher, but we would like to start.  Do you have any suggestions for a military family who would like to begin keeping Kosher? The military lifestyle has us often living in cities far from observant Jewish communities and causes us moving frequently – every 2-3 years – possibly more frequently  Thank you for all of the work you do!

Sincerly,
Jessie from NC

 

Dear Jessie,

First let me wish you a mazel tov on deciding to take on such a big mitzvah! Keeping kosher is one of the foundations of an observant Jewish home. OK, so kashering a kitchen isn’t too difficult. There are two main categories to consider: the kitchen itself, which includes the counters, stove, oven, sink, dishwasher, and microwave. And then the stuff you eat off of which includes pots, pans, plates, silverware, cups, storage containers, and cooking utensils.

The kitchen itself can be kashered pretty easily. If your oven is self-cleaning, one cycle should do the trick. Metal sinks need boiling water poured over them. Burners can be kashered by cleaning the grates and then letting the flames burn for a while. The dish washer could be more complicated. You should speak to a rabbi about all of this, but the dishwasher could be the most problematic.

Pots, pans, metal utensils, and glasses can also be kashered fairly easily. The question will be your dishes – which may need to be unused for a while – my mom was told to keep her dishes unused for a year and then they’d be considered a blank slate kosher-wise – or possibly replaced. But again, you should speak to a rabbi about that. Plastic containers will probably need to be thrown out.

It might seem like a bit of an undertaking to get this all going, but there is usually a Chabad rabbi who is willing to come to people’s kitchens and help them begin this very important mitzvah. I would suggest going to Chabad.org and finding the closest Chabad rabbi and seeing if he come and help you do this. They’re known for going out of their way to help people in your exact situation.

The hardest thing will be this initial process and kashering the stuff you eat off of. After that – kashering the kitchens of the homes you move into every two to three years should not be too time consuming. But having a kosher kitchen isn’t enough if you don’t know how to keep it kosher! So I would also suggest contacting PartnersinTorah.org and telling them you’d like to get a free study partner to teach you about kosher (and any other Jewish topic of your choice) before you make your kitchen kosher.

This partner will learn with you for up to (but it can be less) an hour once a week and can teach you the hows and whys of kosher. For instance, we don’t eat pork, shell fish, or mix milk or meat. Virtually all processed food needs to have a kosher symbol on it (though there are a few exceptions). Thankfully, there are so many foods available these days with a reliable hechsher (kosher symbol) – but if you live in an area with no observant Jewish community, you will probably need to get hard cheeses and meats shipped to you since such products are not normally carried in supermarkets unless there is an observant Jewish customers base.

Another aspect of kashrut includes not eating bugs, so your Partner in Torah can explain how to check for bugs in buggy vegetables, how to keep the things separate to avoid confusion, and what to do if something gets mixed up in a kosher kitchen, which happens to all of us at one point or another.

And finally, a note about growth: I’m not sure how un-kosher you were raised. I was raised eating everything tref under the sun. But I didn’t give it all up overnight, and I would suggest that if you’re used to eating pork products, milk and meat, and or shellfish, you pick the easiest thing to give up first, and then once you’ve mastered it, move on to the next thing. If you want your spiritual growth to be lasting, it’s best to take things on slowly. I’ve seen too many people take on too much observance too quickly and then lose it all.

Just like our bodies physically grow over time, so too, our spiritual growth should be gradual. Which means that you can make your kitchen kosher as soon as you feel ready to, but can still let yourself eat out in the meantime – not because you’re rationalizing that kosher only exists in the home and not out of it – but rather because you want this to be a commitment that you’re prepared to keep.

Oh, and if there are any non-kosher foods that you find yourself craving, I’m writing a food memoir right now which will include most the non-kosher foods I grew up enjoying, now re-created in a kosher way!

In the merit of taking on this important mitzvah, may your home be filled with blessings.

All the best,

Allison (aka Jew in the City)

 

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Richard G. Moss says:

    Honestly I think that the first step is the planning of new menus and the new shopping habits that need to be developed. Depends where you live but that can be quite a struggle. Then when only kosher foods are coming into the house should the actual cashering of the kitchen be done.

  2. Ephraim Travis says:

    Hi Jessie from NC,

    I’m currently in Ft. Bragg as a BN Chaplain but also the installation Rabbi. I’d be honored to help you and/or direct you to some additional resources. Please let me know if you’re interested. Good luck and much success in this important endeavor.

    Very Respectfully and Abundant Bracha,
    Ephraim Travis
    CH (CPT) USA
    189th CSSB
    Blackberry: 910-835-7906

  3. Hi, Chaplain Travis.
    I will definitely get in contact with you. Thank you so much! I must confess, my husband is stationed OCONUS right now and I have not connected with the Army community at Ft. Bragg very much.
    Thank you again.
    -Jessie

  4. Mark Miller says:

    Another excellent posting!

  5. Melissa says:

    I grew up Reform and my husband and I started keeping Kosher together. There were lots of small steps. We started by Kashering all our utensils, plates, cups, etc. It was a huge process. Then we decided that we would no longer allow non-Kosher food in our house, but we’d still eat out and would separate meat from dairy, starting with 3 hours inbetween. We gradually worked our way up to giving up all non-Kosher meat. Definitely take it in baby steps and don’t let anyone intimidate you into going the whole way right off the bat. Good luck!

  6. Hi!
    Just wanted to let you know what an important step I think this is, especially if you have, or plan to have, children. I grew up as an Air Force brat, moving every 2-3 years, and living in some pretty offbeat places. Not having extended family nearby and moving so often made it difficult to have a real sense of place, community & permanence. What made the difference is that my mom always worked really hard to be observant & consistent in all of our traditions no matter where we lived. I’m not sure of your family situation but, even just for you and your husband, you’ll never regret making the extra effort to establish a strong, solid foundation of traditions that move with you…no matter where you call home.

    Best, Jen

  7. LisaBinKC says:

    I think you start the same way you start any new big task… one step at a time, like Allison said. And my rabbi told me something to keep in mind: even the most observant home has kashrut “accidents” all the time; don’t waste your time with being frustrated over them. Kol HaKavod on your decision!

  8. lori geiger says:

    i am an army brat. my father spent 30 years in the service (we were stationed at fort bragg twice). my mother tells me that she stopped keeping kosher once my dad enlisted because it was very hard to to do in places like fort knox and fort hood. this was the early 60’s, fortunately it should be much easier now.

    just thought this was an interesting reversal of tales!

    all the best…

  9. Randy Schindler-Marren says:

    I realize I'm late to this discussion but just wondering how you're doing? Did you kasher your kitchen and keep it? The suggestions are very interesting … you need to do what is right for you… what feels right to your Jewish soul.
    I was raised in a very assimilated Jewish home… keeping kosher was so out of the realm of my reality growing up… but I wanted more. As an adult I found a wonderful Conservative rabbi and synagogue with a very good adult education program. After a couple of years of involvement I decided I wanted to make my home kosher for Passover… set myself a small budget to purchase the minimum items needed and went over! BUT most stores will honor their sale prices on items previously purchased within a month or 2… so I watched the fliers and each week returned with my saleslip and got my refunds. By the time Passover rolled around I was underbudget on all the plates, pots & pans, utensils and such needed to make a proper Passover!
    Making my home Kosher for Passover was such an amazing experience that when it was time to pack everything up and put it away the thought of returning my home, my life back to treif was quite upsetting to me. I decided it was time to begin making the change in our home and move towards making our home kosher all the time… Without telling anyone as untaped and unlocked all my cabinets and took back ownership of all the foodstuffs I went through them again and threw out whatever didn't have a hechsher.
    Without anyone being the wiser I began buying only kosher foods and serving kosher style. I had always had 2 sets of dishes and flatware so when my children set the table for dinner I would tell them which to use. After awhile they would ask or see what I was making for dinner and just automatically chose the correct dishes and flatware! For almost 6 months after Passover we were eating "kosher" and no one missed cheeseburgers, or lasagna, or shellfish or spaghetti and meatballs sprinkled with parmesan… no one noticed! When this "half kosher" life began to feel less than my Jewish soul was comfortable with I announced to my family that I wanted to keep kosher in the house all the time. A whole debate began at the dinner table about it. I said nothing and allowed the debate to continue for a bit. Then I asked everyone when was the last time we ate cheeseburgers here or scallops… or any treif for that matter. They each came to the realization that we hadn't had any of that since before Passover that year. They realized that they had been keeping kosher at home without knowing it and hadn't missed anything! The discussion continued for a bit and soon everyone was excited about it. We picked a date and prepared the house for the big day!
    Before Rosh Hashannah over 15 years ago the Rabbi came over and helped us make our home kosher and so it remains. My husband still eats treif out. Our son is now in the military and teases me about the treif he eats but keeping kosher is becoming more important to him again. I used to eat dairy or fish out but a few years ago I stopped eating out at restaurants that aren't kosher when it became uncomfortable for my Jewish soul.
    Keeping kosher is a process… like climbing a ladder… sometimes you're moving up and sometimes you're moving down it… but so long as we're wrestling with the questions we're moving… and isn't that what it's all about.

  10. Wolfgang Davidson says:

    I started with what I was actually eating, and the next step, I’m moving into my own place soon, will be having separate utensils, pots, etc. for only kosher usage (I’m vegetarian so I don’t have to worry about milchig vs. fleishig). Changing what you’re eating, even if it’s little by little, really does ease the transition from Non-Kosher to Kosher. You won’t technically be Shomer Kashrut, but getting there is easier.

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