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March 2019 Rabbi Arnow's Article

I was fascinated and delighted to have more than twenty people come to the series of classes I taught on kashrut and serving as a volunteer mashgiach (kosher supervisor). This was a very different kind of class from what we usually teach at Kol Rinah.

Usually, the focus is on the meaning we can derive from the texts. For example, Torah Talk is usually focused both on better understanding the text of the Torah, but also thinking about the lessons we can learn for our own lives and world.

For this class though, the focus was very much on a body of knowledge, on content. I lectured far more than I usually do. It was about conveying information in a comprehensible way.

But another difference was the topic itself—kashrut. Kashrut is fundamentally halakha—Jewish law. It’s prescriptive, telling one what to do, with frequent disagreements, which are annoying when one is trying to figure out what to do!

We’re not always so willing to give our lives—any part of our lives—over to a system that we cannot control, yet that is what we effectively do when we choose to live according to halakha.

Generally, I find Conservative Jews somewhat less interested in studying the details of halakha, because we don’t always feel ourselves bound by halakha. Thus, it often feels less relevant to us. What for me was so satisfying was that this halakha was relevant—it was about our standards of kashrut at Kol Rinah.

Of course, there is a subset of people at Kol Rinah who are deeply interested in these questions, and not only academically.

As a teacher, one has to be much more of an expert to teach halakha, because meaning is not subjective and waiting to be discovered, but rather, one must know all the relevant opinions and possibilities.

Based on this wonderful experience, I’ll make sure to include this kind of practical, halakhic class in the mix of classes I’m teaching at Kol Rinah in the future!

Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780