Pin It
Monday, July 11th, 2011

Free Range, Kosher and Jewish—Can it be Done?

summer-BBQ/ BlueOrange Studio -

I recently reminded myself of a dilemma I have regarding raising my children Jewish. I was standing over the barbeque, smelling the alluring scent of chicken and steak wafting through the air, and wondering why I couldn’t have a bite. After all, I grew up eating plenty of meat, the meat I was cooking was good enough for my wife and kids, and I was plenty hungry. So why not join in the carnivorous feast?



The short answer is that I have decided to become a pescetarian. For those not up on gastronomic lingo, that means that I do not eat poultry or meat but do eat fish. Having given up eating domesticated animals, I couldn’t eat the very meal I was cooking for my family. But if I am willing to eat fish, what’s the hang-up with eating meat? Surely I can’t claim some moral high-ground against the consumption of animal flesh. While cows and sheep might look cuter than fish (have you ever seen a halibut up close? Yuk.), they both constitute living beings whose lives have been taken to satiate my culinary desires. So why won’t I eat the meat I cook for my family? And, conversely, why do I allow my family to eat meat I personally won’t consume?



The answer, surprisingly, is a combination of religious principles and market economics. Having read quite a few Michael Pollen books and other exposés on agribusiness, I am disgusted by factory farming practices. I believe that many features of factory farming—stuffing too many animals into tiny feedlots, feeding animals inappropriate food in order to fatten them up, and causing substantial environmental damage in the process—violate both Jewish law and more general notions of morality. What’s more, many slaughterhouses engage in questionable employment practices, hiring and abusing undocumented immigrants in squalor-like conditions that would make Upton Sinclair blush.



The good news is that there is a burgeoning food movement committed to producing locally-grown, pasture-raised, and drug-free animals. The bad news is that, as a Jew committed to keeping kosher, I can’t partake of this opportunity unless the animals are also slaughtered according to strict ritual-ethical procedures. The rules for keeping kosher pertain both to what type of foods one may eat (no pork or shellfish, for example, and no mixing of dairy and meat products such as a cheeseburger) and to the way animals are killed (only by an expert and pious slaughterer, using a special knife, and slaughtering the animal with a single knife-stroke).



In a major metropolis such as New York or LA, I likely would be able to find pasture-raised, ethically produced kosher animal products. Living in Connecticut, though, I have no such opportunity. So I am left with a dilemma—force my family to live by my personal religious-ethical beliefs and not allow anyone to eat meat or compromise my beliefs. Because one of my children practically lives on a carnivorous diet (he won’t even eat mac and cheese), and because lean meat is often healthier for kids from a dietary standpoint than carbs and starches, I have decided to compromise. I only buy kosher meat and strive to find organic and/or free range options whenever possible. When I can’t, I accept that the meat isn’t ideal but is the best I can do for them for now. And I stare at the grill, salivating.

© 2011 – 2013, Josh Ratner. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

9 Things You Should Never Say to Adoptive Parents

Have you made any of these mistakes?

How I Made My Forgotten Native Language My Child’s Strongest

I started off by speaking dodgy Cantonese. No word for remote control? No problem! ‘Pressy thingy.’

Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan

Colleague drank your breast milk from the work fridge again? Tales of breastfeeding in Mongolia

Primary School Privilege

Time outs due to whistling versus school's out due to poverty


Originally hailing from San Diego, Joshua, his spouse and their three children currently live in Connecticut, where Joshua is a rabbi. Joshua worked as an attorney for five years prior to starting rabbinical school and becoming a rabbi. They are raising their children as observant, progressive Jews.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsAmmena   |  Monday, 11 July 2011 at 11:16 pm

    I always find Jewish food ‘rules’ (for want of a better word) so interesting… why cant you mix meat and diary? Why cant you eat shellfish.. pork I totally understand (as a muslim myself)
    In the UK there are many farms around that sell meat and in some places you can actually ask for it to be killed in the halal way which I think is close to Kosher slaughter (just a few different words; forgive me if Im wrong) I look forward to your answers to my questions :)

  2. CommentsJosh Ratner   |  Thursday, 14 July 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Amenna. Thanks for your comment. Most Jewish food rules come from the Bible itself. For example, the book of Leviticus specifies numerous categories of animals that were permitted to be eaten, and those which were prohibited (including shellfish, pork, etc.). You might want to check out the anthropologist Mary Douglas’s seminal article, Purity and Danger, which attempts to unlock the meaning behind these prohibitions.

    As for not mixing dairy and meat products, the prohibition evolved over time. The Bible says, “don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.” Through exegesis, early rabbis (approximately 200-400 CE) interpreted that to mean no mixing of dairy and meat, and Judaism has followed that ruling ever since.

    You are right that there is a good deal of overlap between Kosher slaughter and halal. Both specify numerous rules for how to kill the animals we eat. Essentially, the rules for Kosher slaughter are slightly more detailed than those of halal, so those who eat halal can eat kosher meat, but those who keep kosher can’t necessarily eat halal.

    I hope these answers help you. Please feel free to comment further if you have more questions or insights.

  3. CommentsAmmena   |  Thursday, 14 July 2011 at 10:58 pm

    interesting… thanks :)

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More The Religious Life of Children