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Alexa Foley - D'var Torah

So, when I heard the rabbis voice chanting my Torah portion with the trope, it was so beautiful and melodic and I was thinking, oh wow, this is going to be awesome and profound and special! And then I read my Torah portion was all about animal blood, animal fat and expulsion… Eeeeeww, really?

Wow. How am I going to bring this home and into my heart? By admitting the importance of Tradition. The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Cultural continuity.

Yes, our Torah portion is a few of the Kashrut laws from the 613 laws that were given to us when we accepted the Torah. Just a quick reminder: Kashrut and Kosher laws have to do with the humane killing and specific guidelines such as, draining the blood, of the animals eaten.

Nachmanides reminds us that the Torah states “the soul of all life is it’s blood” and that you shouldn’t be eating the blood of another animal because the nefesh, the life force, is in the blood. He suggests that to do so is a thickening of the human soul… decreasing your human sensitivity to all lifeforms. To ignore that goes against Jewish tradition, which places such a high value upon human and animal life and the remembering that ALL souls belong to God.

And what is your soul? Your soul is the core of who you are.

As Jews we question a lot, right? So I have a few questions: Are these laws obsolete? Should we start picking and choosing which of these laws are going to apply to us? And what would that do to our health? What would that do to our soul? I guess that as Reform Jews we do pick and choose to various extent… but how far should we go before our Jewish soul has gone too far? And, who defines what ‘too far’ is?

Of course, no one person can answer that for everyone. So, for me, I worry that what we could be doing is diluting our sense of Jewish self, culture and our sense of living the example the Torah provided for us. If we remember that in Judaism the soul, mind, body and health are connected then we can make the argument that keeping your body and health strong through the Kashrut laws could also strengthen your soul and mind with clarity and a closer connection to G-d and Jewish culture.

The more we change Torah laws to fit our modern world, the more we dilute what it means to follow Torah and be Jewish… and the further away we get from even understanding it. The fact is if we don’t even know what the laws are, whether we consider them to be obsolete or, more relevant than ever, then how can we identify with our faith and culture?

For example: You choose whether or not you’re going to eat bacon, or, if you’re going to get that tattoo. But regardless of that personal choice -- it’s a whole other thing to know WHY “It’s against your religion” and thus, WHY you made whichever choice was right for you.

Would I have 3 tattoos today if I had known Judaism discourages any permanent marking of the body because the body is sacred, having been created in God’s image? Maybe, maybe not. But, it would have been a better decision-making process had I known.

My parents were connected to being Jewish on Friday nights when we gathered at my Grand Parent’s home with my Aunts and Uncles. And their Jewish identities came out at life cycle events and the times we were with family. But in our home, including Friday nights, we weren’t observant. And then, throw in divorce and everything religious got thrown out the window in my family.

So I never had a Bat Mitzvah. Never went to something like our Sinai School. And when you grow up without a strong sense of G-d and prayer and Jewish learning, you begin to long for an understanding of your religion. The less you know, the more fragmented you feel. Over time, it becomes very easy to keep living vaguely (in a Jewish sense), saying you’re Jewish but not really knowing what that means. Over time, it becomes comfortable and the idea of walking into the local Synagogue became scary to me.

When there is no tradition to keep, there is no sense of that part of you. Now, that doesn’t matter to some people. But to others, to me, that leaves a deep void. A lack of knowledge. A lack of connection. Misunderstanding.

Cherry picking the kosher food laws could be harmful to your body if you consider modern science and the findings on heart healthy diets. I also feel that cherry picking within your religion and the culture of it can be harmful to your soul. Harmful to your sense of Jewish-ness in your own home and life.

How do I keep my own children from feeling the disconnection I felt? By keeping tradition. Or, at least understanding and wrestling with it. By teaching them what it means to be a Jew; the expectations of living by example and how very cool our religion is! Teaching them how steeped in history it is. Give them a sense of pride in the past and the future.

But, I can’t do that if I myself don’t know what all that means. So here I stand before you, quite un-traditionally and, obviously, not 12. I’m learning again and loving it! My personal relationship with G-d is now complimented with better understanding of my religion. And for me, that is awesome and profound and special!

Now I’m not going to lie… I don’t know or live by all 613 commandments. But I know a lot more today than I did 2 years ago and I have made some changes. I’ll know a lot more 2 years from now… and will make some more changes. And I’ll know WHY. Little by little, my home is more and more resembling my Grandmother’s… and I like that for me and my family.

The reason I chose to do this today is because I’ve always felt somewhat ignorant as a Jewish person. My two sons will not feel that way… and their souls will have a strong sense of self… and they will make their own decisions about eating kosher and so many of the other commandments. My hope is that they’ll make those decisions as educated Jews, so they can make decisions about their practice with confidence and clarity.

Thank you for sharing in this day.

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