“It doesn’t make any sense,” Zev tells me. “You’re not supposed to eat meat and milk, because you’re not supposed to boil a cow in its mother’s milk. But a turkey isn’t a cow. You can’t even milk a turkey!”
My little Torah scholar was defending his toddler brother’s demand to drink “pink milk” with his turkey sandwich. And while I shot Zev a “you’re not helping” death stare for raising this point right as I had negotiated a juice box into Ozzy’s hands, I had to concede that he was right.
It doesn’t make any sense. But that’s never really been the point of religious laws.
True, we’ve discovered that circumcision leads to a lower risk of sexually transmitted diseases, but Abraham didn’t know that when he took to his tent with a Ginsu. Hand-washing before meals likely saved Europe’s Jews during the Plague, but that wasn’t the reason they did it. And pork carries a risk of trichinosis, but Moses probably didn’t know that. (He also probably hadn’t tasted bacon, I’m told, because if he had, he might have forgotten to jot that line down.)
Aside from the big laws, like refraining from murdering or stealing, many of the rules we’re supposed to follow as Jews come under the “because I said so” category. And just as when a mom tells her son not to get into a philosophical argument about kashrut while the toddler is screaming for pink milk, “I said so” sometimes has to be good enough.
No tattoos; fine. Light candles every Friday night; no problem. Don’t use your cell phone on Saturday – um, sure, that sounds like a Biblical proscription.
Following an “I said so” law means you’re truly on the same team. Like walking around in a Shriner’s Fez, or being a follower of an “I said so” law shows you are not fooling around with your fealty to the cause, no matter how ridiculous it looks to the outside world.
When the cries for pink milk subsided and Ozzy left the table to wreak havoc on some other part of the house, I told Zev that we keep kosher not because the laws make perfect sense, but because they don’t.
We are put on this planet with pigs and shrimp and octopi, and we’re given a choice to follow the laws and affirm our connection with Judaism or to crunch on some calamari – and suffer absolutely no consequences whatsoever.
We choose to refrain from drinking milk with turkey, because that’s the way we’re expressing our Jewishness, I explain to Zev.
Whenever we eat something with a mindfulness of the commandments, then the act of eating becomes something that connects us to our faith and to our respect and worship of G-d. By following kashrut, we elevate the food we eat to a higher purpose.
Zev drank some chocolate milk and took another bite of his tuna sandwich while he listened. He was quiet for a minute while he considered what I had said.
“It still doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
No, it doesn’t, I conceded. But we’re still going to follow it.
Because I said so.
After a 10-year career as a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, Mayrav Saar left to try her hand at child rearing and freelance writing.