Our friend Sue Fishkoff is barnstorming the U.S. in support of her new book, “Kosher Nation,” and I had the privilege of seeing her excellent presentation at the JCC of Manhattan last week. The story she tells is a fascinating one. The kosher industry in the United States has grown exponentially over the past few decades. Today, between a third and half of all the food in American supermarkets are kosher-certified, and a significant percentage of Americans look for kosher food when they shop. It’s fascinating because Jews are only about 2% of the population, and most Jews don’t keep kosher!
There’s obviously something bigger going on, as Sue explained in her talk and in her book. There is a perception that kosher food is healthier and cleaner. People who have dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance can feel safe that there is no dairy in kosher-certified meat products, and so on. Sue then takes her audience on a fascinating look behind-the-scenes of this unique phenomenon and the industry that supports it.
To me, it’s interesting to note that the rise in kosher certification corresponds chronologically with the rise in intermarriage, as the two trends would seem to be at odds with each other. After all, we’ve heard for decades now that intermarriage would be the end of Judaism. And yet one of the most unique aspects of the Jewish religion is not only alive and well, but thriving in ways nobody could have predicted. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who looks for kosher food should now be considered Jewish; not at all. But it demonstrates that Judaism itself may have the power to transcend the Jews! Perhaps all the handwringing about intermarriage – so often used synonymously with assimilation – is preventing Jews from seeing the true power of their tradition, which an increasing number of non-Jews seem to appreciate. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach may have a point when he envisions, “Non-Jews as the saviors of Judaism.”