Although the worship [what does that mean, anyway?] service was long, the bar mitzvah boy did himself proud, and this here atheist survived another socially obligatory religious event. And then, just when I thought the exit doors were about to open, the rookie rabbi stepped up to the plate and delivered a sermon. About being Kosher. This would be the perfect time to tune out, I thought, because a sermon about the ins and outs of keeping kosher was going to have no relevance to my secular life. So, I began to shut down. But my ears perked up when he asserted that, with regard to the rules of Kashrut [the Hebrew word that means “keeping Kosher”], the Oscar goes to…vegetarians. A person who eschews meat, rather than chewing it, is the most kosher eater, according to the rabbi–and I’m one of those people. Fist pump, baby!
Later, at the bar mitzvah party–I sidled up to said rabbi for a chat–although my motivations may not have been all that pure. I was sincere in wanting to tell him that I had learned something from his sermon. That was the suckup part of the conversation. I did, in fact, learn that intriguing tidbit about the vegetarian way.
So, what I said was this: “It turns out that–without trying, without any intention, without wanting to–I guess I’m practicing the highest form of Kashrut by eating a vegetarian diet.”
To his credit, the rabbi responded with a hearty guffaw.
“Well, are you Jewish?” he asked. They always ask me that. I don’t look Jewish to most people–even though there are a lot of Jews of Lithuanian background who are blonde[ish] and blue-eyed like me.
Well, yes,” I replied. I don’t remember if I mentioned to him that I’m an atheist. “I was born into a Jewish family. But I didn’t start eating vegetarian because I’m Jewish. I started for a lot of reasons, but none of them was the fact that I’m Jewish. I do suppose, I guess, that you could say that by eating vegetarian I am, in fact, embodying some values of the Jewish variety.”
“You definitely could say that,” said the rabbi.
And then he did the thing–the thing that I imagine a lot of clergy people do, because they just can’t help themselves, or maybe because they’re paid to do it: He couldn’t just leave our conversation where it was. He just had to turn a perfectly innocent conversation into a sales pitch.
“So,” he said. “Since you’re Jewish, and since you’re already practicing a highly evolved form of Kashrut…why not add the rest of the Jewish components and enhance the experience? Why not join the congregation and come to synagogue more often?”