Exploring What ‘Eco-Kosher’ Actually Means

eco-kosher

Sustainability has been one of the hottest concepts in the food world for years now.

“Organic” is almost passé, farmer’s markets have exploded, and the definition of “local” has shrunk in radius down to backyard chicken coops. But how has the Jewish food world responded to these trends?

Forward-thinking Jews have actually been questioning food practices in terms of environmental sustainability and social justice for years. One of the first attempts to address these issues was under the “eco-kosher” or “eco-kashrut” initiative.

That term was perhaps first used by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi as early as the 1970’s. A former Chabad rabbi who became involved with the counter-culture movements of the 1960’s, Schachter-Shalomi is now regarded as a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.

The basic idea behind the movement is that Jews should embrace a new definition of kosher, which demands that foods not just meet the halachic guidelines for kashrut, but also meet environmental guidelines–in other words, “following God’s law while also protecting God’s creation.”

Rabbi Andrew Waskow, another founder of the Renewal movement, creates a deeper spiritual justification for eco-kashrut. He sees food as a direct connection between man, the Earth, and God, and environmental destruction as a severing of that connection. Writing in the Jerusalem Report, Waskow lists a few practices that might be kosher but not “eco-kosher,” including eating produce grown with pesticides, overusing fossil fuels, and using household products not made with recycled materials.

The environmental organization Hazon has become the driving force behind these issues in the Jewish community. Food has become a major part of their work, though their mission is still wider than just that area and is not limited strictly to kosher-observant Jews.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that kosher observant Jews are individually trying to “go green” in the kitchen, and some businesses are springing up to meet the demand. Jewish food blogger Rachel Wizenfeld writes about the difficulties of being both an Orthodox Jew and a Berkeley hippie, especially with regards to pesticide-free produce (bugs are strictly forbidden in the Orthodox community, and produce must be checked thoroughly and completely ridded of any insects).

But with much of the Orthodox community criticizing new definitions of kashrut, and kosher food already more expensive than non-kosher items, the eco-kosher movement may continue to have an uphill battle.

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