When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, to the very end, he commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, “Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are; behold, while I am yet alive with you, today you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more after my death!
— Deuteronomy 31:24-27
Thousands of years later, in the beginning of this 21st century, here’s who we are:
On High Holy Days David attends services at the synagogue. On the Sabbath he prays at home without a quorum. Weekdays, he rises 15 minutes early to wrap the leather tefillin straps around his arm and forehead, and recite the morning prayer. His wife, Rebecca, attends to breakfast. She stirs the oatmeal or Wheatena, brews the coffee and makes sandwiches for David’s lunch, because he eats only kosher.
When Averil and Serena registered their names at the Williams-Sonoma bridal registry, they requested only glass dishes, and wedding guests understood that the talmudic ruling on the impermeable nature of glass was the guide to this couple’s kosher kitchen. On glass they could eat either meat or dairy. To wash it between meals they would require only one sink, one dishwasher. They keep two sets of cutlery and count on the high temperature of the hot water in the dishwasher to keep both sets more or less kosher.
Mike and Nomi keep a kosher kitchen complete with separate basins for dairy and meat. They wait the prescribed two hours between dairy and meat, six between meat and dairy, eat out at only strictly kosher restaurants. Mike wears his yarmulke everywhere, to work and play. It’s hypocritical, he says, to do one thing at home, another in public. Nomi keeps track of her five to seven menstrual days, counts the seven clean days that follow, then immerses herself in the mikvah, or ritual bath. Now and then, however, Mike finds it too difficult to wait that long and they engage in some less-than-kosher sex.
Benjamin and Sarah keep a more or less kosher home. In nonkosher restaurants they order vegetarian; however, at Chinese restaurants, in the face of all the pungent scents, they find the temptation overpowering and they order General Tso’s chicken, Hunan shrimp, occasionally some pork dumplings.
Dan and Steve keep a kosher kitchen; therefore when they order in sushi or Mexican, they serve on paper. And though Steve isn’t Jewish, he doesn’t eat pork or shellfish in his domestic partner’s presence.
Beverly doesn’t eat roast pork, ham or sausage. For salads, though, she keeps a bottle of Real Bacon Baco-bits in the door of her refrigerator.
Sarah eats mehadrin-min–ha’mehadrin kosher. For the tiny beloved marshmallow bits that float in her hot chocolate mix, the rabbis provided a dispensation: the rule of “less than a 60th.” The negligible quantities of gelatin in marshmallow, she says, are less than a 60th of the cup of hot chocolate, which is therefore halachically kosher.
Mike drinks only Cholov Yisroel milk, with the exception of ice cream because, he says, high-quality ice cream made of kosher milk products simply doesn’t exist.
When Jack spends the Sabbath with friends who observe, he observes too. If he’s in a kosher restaurant, he eats kosher. On Yom Kippur he never fails to fast. He’s not convinced, he says, that any of these laws really matter anymore. Then why bother at all? someone asks. Just in case I’m wrong, he says.
Sharon attends services on Rosh Hashana and fasts on Yom Kippur. On Passover, she refrains from eating leavened bread, even when her boss takes her out for a special lunch.
Laurie-Ann conducts a special women’s Seder every Passover at which, though men are invited, only a woman sits at the head of the table. She’s an ordained rabbi who conducts Friday-night services at a women’s minyan in New Jersey and Sabbath morning services at another feminist minyan in New York City. It would be impossible to travel from one to the other, she points out, unless she drives on the Sabbath.
In the ways of his ancestors, Allen retains Saturdays for his day of rest. He goes to bed early on Friday night. Saturday mornings, at 8 a.m., he treats himself to a 10-mile run. After, he takes a leisurely long, hot shower and feels much rejuvenated.
Brian holds onto….
Pearl Abraham is the author of “The Romance Reader” and “Giving Up America.” Her third novel, “The Seventh Beggar,” will be published in 2004.