Judaism and Prejudice

By Zachary Brenner

It was the first night of Passover, and instead of staying at school to observe and celebrate the holiday with fellow college students, I went home to an intimate seder with my immediate family. Sitting there, reading through the same Haggadah from my childhood—starving and confused as to why the seders couldn’t be faster and less repetitive—I wondered what the actual point of the holiday was, and, in turn, the point of my religion.

For years, I have been questioned as to why I don’t eat bacon, cheeseburgers, or anything else un-kosher for that matter. I have been asked what exactly “kosher” is. “Why isn’t this hamburger kosher, but that hamburger is?” I have likewise been questioned about why I go to Shabbat dinners off-campus on Friday nights instead of going out with friends like I normally do on most other days.

The reason I sit through holiday after holiday, and resist the smell of bacon or sausage each morning at the dining hall, is because I know that it is my responsibility to help ensure the survival of Judaism.

Judaism has been around, to put it simply, for a while. The fact that the faith is still alive and functioning is the product of millions of people sacrificing desires in order to ensure that Judaism lives on. Of course I have fantasized about trying a cheeseburger, but I’d rather keep kosher. The desires that are sacrificed are completely worth sacrificing.

Thinking back to Passover, I find validation for why I am a Jew. Jews have been heavily persecuted and enslaved, and, in several cases, prone to loss of belief. Their faith in the religion, however, is what allowed them to escape to the Promised Land. The ability to rise up and conquer is not an attribute exclusive to my religion. Many peoples have

endured struggle; survival often depends upon a deep-seated commitment to ideals and morals.

So when I go out for sushi with my friends and they recommend that I try unagi, I do not refuse their offer because I am close-minded to their ideas, but because I am committed to keeping kosher—the same way a vegetarian is committed to not eating meat. To me, there is no practical difference between being a vegetarian and being loyal to a religious restriction. All people, in one form or another, can be viewed as close-minded— but to themselves, they are not prejudiced, but faithful.

People say that Judaism should enter the modern age and retire ancient rituals. The Reform Movement of Judaism arose as a response to the Orthodox Movement in an attempt to modernize the religion. The Conservative Movement, to which I belong, then arose as the Reform Movement was viewed to be too focused on culture over tradition. As a Conservative Jew, I am actively working to bridge the gap between modernization and custom. My belief is that we must hold true to a few of our most sacred traditions—otherwise, the religion would discontinue.

Animal sacrifices, for example, have no place in our modern community. We now commit to prayer and other customs to demonstrate appreciation and devotion to G-d. Keeping kosher, however, remains relevant partially because the process of kosher slaughtering is among the more humane slaughtering practices. Kashrut, like following the same seders on Passover each year reminds me of the devotion and struggle of my ancestors that gave me my existence. Religion to me is not about shutting away other cultures and uneccessarily sticking to old ways, but about finding ways to appreciate my heritage. And while keeping kosher might be clinging to old practices— as the world seemingly shifts toward even more humane slaughtering methods and widespread vegetarianism—for the time being I view it as an acceptable practice within the modern framework.

I understand that people view my religion as restrictive and they would prefer to live their lives without such restriction. But one person’s restriction is another person’s commitment. It is my decision not to take offense to comments that label me. What others view as a limitation, I view as a privilege.

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