March 12, 2022 was the two-year anniversary of the covid pandemic shutdown. At first, we were obsessed with purity – wiping down groceries, wearing masks, and isolating ourselves from social contact. As covid has demonstrated, the pursuit of purity must change with the times.

For Jews, the pursuit of purity is a central precept. The sacrifices offered had to be pure. The foods we ate had to be pure. In Torah, purity was interwoven with holiness, and holiness is commanded by God. Torah teaches that if we are scrupulous in following the laws, we bring God’s presence among us. Yet, the ancient approach to achieving purity needs to adjust to new realities.

Looking at Parshat Shmini for this week, we read about the pursuit of purity in sacrificial protocols and the selection of kosher animals. While the sacrificial cult of Judaism is interesting reading, its laws are now disconnected from our lives. Alternatively, the designation of which animals are kosher remains in force. Meanwhile, it may be time to reimagine these kosher laws to better serve the needs of our planet and its people.

Here’s an example. A Jewish friend was visiting town. He asked for assistance in procuring a Shabbat chicken dinner for his family to eat at their hotel. I offered to purchase a prepared meal at the kosher supermarket. My friend asked, is the chicken organic? and free-range? His primary concern was for the welfare of the planet and the animals.

I am scrupulous about avoiding unkosher animals as proscribed by Parshat Shmini. I also understand that we must now supplement those practices. Can I reduce my consumption of animal products? Can I help to reduce waste in packaging and avoid single-use plastics? These questions are also a form of kashrut. The updated kashrut would be a pursuit of purity that aligns with the needs of people and our planet.

We can best expand God’s presence when we pursue holiness in our eating practices. To be kosher should mean striving for purity in our food choices as a demonstration of our humanity.

Rabbi Evan Krame