Kosher Thanksgiving

by by Jonah Wolf

illustration by by Robert Sandler

Last week, neoconservative Pam Geller warned Americans against a new threat: Butterball turkeys. Although all of the company’s turkeys are certified halal for consumption by Muslims, not all are labeled as such, leading Geller to proclaim, “In a little-known strike against freedom, yet again, we are being forced into consuming meat slaughtered by means of a torturous method: Islamic slaughter.” I wonder what Geller would have made of the kosher turkey on my Thanksgiving table—after all, the slaughter performed by a Jewish shochet is nearly identical to Muslim Dhabihah.

My family followed our turkey with a vegan pumpkin pie from Whole Foods—not for moral or health reasons, but because Jews have traditionally interpreted Deuteronomy 14:21 (“Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk”) to proscribe the combination of flesh with dairy. And though you’re allowed to consume milk products (at my Thanksgiving, a cheese plate and an olive-parmesan tapenade) before eating animals, you have to wait exactly six hours before any dairy treats.

For those who keep kosher, the rules can be less clear than the reasons. Many Jews  seem to make up their own. My friends who don’t eat pork or shellfish will eat other meats that aren’t certified kosher. My cousins keep kosher at home but not in restaurants—“It all goes in the same stomach!” our Nana used to kvetch. Cultural historians ascribe Jews’ affinity for Chinese food to a willed disbelief that allows them to ignore the ground pork in their fried rice. Native Americans in the 19th century used to call traveling Jewish merchants “egg-eaters” they believed that shells protected hard-boiled eggs from unkosher contaminants in strangers’ homes. NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire’s chef buys kosher meat, but as he told Bon Appétit last month, “If Amar’e had a good game, he might want crab legs, or maybe lobster macaroni and cheese.”

Unlike the strictest Jews, I’ll eat in unkosher kitchens—when I go out to eat, I’m a vegetarian, unless there’s fish on the menu, in which case I’m a pescetarian (rabbis don’t consider fish meat). “How long have you been a vegetarian? Is it for health reasons? Have you never had a hamburger?” my companions inevitably ask, at which I reticently reveal my situation.

If you are what you eat, then call me indecisive. I’d love to have a diet that didn’t require so much explanation, but I seem trapped between being a vegetarian and an omnivore. I can’t read food blogs without being confronted by pork buns or bacon doughnuts, but I couldn’t put one in my mouth. Vegetarianism gives me moral high ground, but I couldn’t turn down my mom’s brisket. Last week, Spanish breeders unveiled a kosher goose they claimed tasted exactly like pork. Guess I’ll give it a shot.


Jewish brisket

5 pounds first-cut kosher brisket
4 onions, sliced
2 stalks celery
1 jar Heinz® Chili Sauce
1 bottle of beer

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Layer onions on the bottom of a baking dish and top with brisket, chili sauce, and celery (in that order). Bake uncovered for 40 minutes, or until you start to smell it. Pour in beer, cover dish, and reduce heat to 350ºF. Cook for two hours. Serve with grated horseradish.