Kashrut Observance By Denomination

By Avi M • June 5, 2008

I was just reading an article over on the Forward website (here is an alternative link as there seems to be a problem with the original,) about the ongoing Agriprocessors fiasco, where I came across the following interesting bit of information.

“The kosher-eating community extends across a broad portion of the Jewish spectrum, though precise data is difficult to come by. According to Steven M. Cohen, a sociology professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, data from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey indicate that self-described Orthodox Jews constitute 40% of adults who keep kosher, with Conservative Jews another 32%Reform 8%, Reconstructionist 2% and 18% not declaring an affiliation.”

I know it’s old news but I hadn’t seen it before and I must admit that I found the numbers quite interesting. One thing that surprised me is how low the Orthodox number is. Don’t get me wrong 40% is decent and they are ranked the highest but I figured they would really have the market share on this one. I would have thought something more like 70% but  that’s just me guessing. I’m not surprised by the Conservative number all that much but what does get me is how close it is to the Orthodox number.  We are talking an 8% difference and that’s nothing. Way to go CJ! It seems like we are actually holding our own on this one pretty well.

I am not sure what to make about the Reform number, on the one hand 8% isn’t bad for a movement that doesn’t expect its membership to keep kosher but on the other hand, considering the size of the movement I kind of expected it to be a little higher.

I don’t know how accurate the numbers are and I don’t know how Kosher was defined (either by the survey or it’s participants) but regardless I thought it was interesting, and like I said I’m quite impressed with the Conservative ranking on this one.

Anyone else care to share their thoughts?

Categories: JudaismKashrutObservanceResearch
Tags: AcademicsAgriprocessorsKeeping KosherReconstructionistSurvey

About the Author

Avi M

Avi is a Jew by choice who converted to Judaism in the spring of 2006 after two years of study and participation in Ottawa’s Jewish community. Although he began his Jewish journey as part of a Reform congregation, he now calls the Conservative movement home. Read More

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14 Responses to “ Kashrut Observance By Denomination ”

  1. Chavi Jun 6th, 2008 at 8:19 am
  2. The Orthodox number probably would be higher, but considering the Jewish population (roughly) comprises 10 percent Orthodox, 26 percent Conservative, 35 percent Reform, etc. … these numbers aren’t surprising. It’s relative. If Orthodox Jews were a larger population, perhaps they would constitute 70 percent of the Kosher market.
  3. Avi aka TG Jun 6th, 2008 at 8:25 am
  4. Yeah you are right . But I am still surprised that the CJ’s have such a high share. I didn’t expect it.
  5. Tamara Jun 6th, 2008 at 5:05 pm
  6. I’m surprised at the 8%.  I don’t know any reform Jews who keep kosher. Perhaps I do…but definitely not really in my family or circle that I can recall. Either way, compared to the general public, us Kosher keepers are a small percent.
  7. Chaviva Jun 7th, 2008 at 6:09 am
  8. Tamara, I’m guessing a lot of the Reform kosher keepers are probably eco-kosher folks who do it for the green reasons. Just a guess, tho
  9. Z Jun 8th, 2008 at 6:19 am
  10. A good deal of Reform Jews who keep kosher do it for family reasons…to be able to have family members eat at their homes.  I would think more Conservative Jews keep eco-kosher or are into that.  But still there is a movement in Reform to keep kosher perhaps as a cultural identification more so than anything.
  11. d’varim Jun 9th, 2008 at 12:25 pm
  12. I know a number of fellow Reform Jews who  do keep kosher (though maybe not to the degree of our Orthodox brethren), and not just as a cultural identification but because of the spiritual implications. I think that may be the sticking point here–there may be a number of people who identify as keeping kosher when they may just be keeping kosher-style if going by the strictest terms of it.
  13. Rivkah Jun 10th, 2008 at 3:00 pm
  14. I agree with Jenny, I know of many in my Reform congregation who keep kosher…in fact, I brought a dish that went nearly untouched, which I felt was upsetting until I realized that my kitchen wasn’t kosher according to halakha. Those who are regular attendees tend also to be more observant, from what I’ve seen. I also think many (like me) are in the process of keeping kosher, and tend more toward “kosher style” than actual kashrut. I would still say I keep kosher, just to my evolving standards. An Orthodox Jew wouldn’t agree with me, I’m afraid.
  15. I was surprised at the low number of Reform Jews keeping kosher, until I read the excerpt again. Mathematically, since all three are part of the whole (”adults who keep kosher”), in order for Orthodox Jews to have a larger share of the pie, Conservative, Reform, and unaffiliated Jews would see their shares shrink. In that light, I think the numbers make more sense. I think we’d see more the numbers we expect if we did surveys of each branch individually, rather than the combined survey shared here.
  16. Avi aka TG Jun 10th, 2008 at 3:49 pm
  17. Z, D and RWhat I’m still curious about, is just what do reform Jews mean by keeping kosher? To my mind Kashrut is (or at least it is intended to be) something of an objective measure. Kosher is A and not B. I’m not sure how that works in a community where no such standards exist. Two Reform Jews can call themselves Jew’s who keep kosher but may mean two totally different things by it. I’m not sure that Rivkah saying that she “keeps kosher according to her evolving standards” really means anything at all other than to her as an individual. Don’t get me wrong that’s fine within the context of individual Observance but Kashrut, as I see it, depends upon accepted community standards. I’m not suggesting that everyone follows the standard but rather that it is at least accepted as the standard by which Kashrut is measured.Anyhow bottom line is that (from my POV at any rate) it’s good to see that Reform Jews seem to be interested in working with this form of Observance.
  18. I guess that I’m with the Orthodox on this one Rivkah.
  19. I’m glad that you all weighed in on this subject. I can only speak from my own “Reform” experience which is rather limited but I only knew of two households that kept kosher and to be honest I have no idea what these people actually meant by “Kosher”. I know that at my R Shul back home once I had made the choice to keep kosher, I no longer felt it was safe to eat food prepared and/or served there.
  20. Shimshonit Jun 10th, 2008 at 11:28 pm
  21. I liked Rivkah’s comment above.  In my pre-Jewish single days, it was actually my Jewish friends’ inability to eat in my kitchen (and I was the designated cook most of the time) that inspired me to begin keeping kosher.  (Why was it that the pickiest kashrut-observers couldn’t make a pot of rice?)My working definition of kashrut came from an odd experience one year.  My then-fiance and I traveled to my  non-kosher Jewish cousins in New Jersey for Thanksgiving.  (We kept fully kosher by then.)  My cousin had bought an Empire turkey which she was roasting in her non-kosher oven.  All through the meal, she kept looking at us saying, “I don’t know why you’re not eating the turkey.”  (We ate the kosher deli’s kugel and raw vegetables that year, but were compensated on the drive home the next day by the best piece of pumpkin pie in living memory at Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven.)  When we told our friends back home about the experience, one friend broke it down for us.  Kashrut, he said, (according to our Orthodox, hechshered-only brand) is not the presence of “kosher,” but the absence of “non-kosher.”  That explains nicely our inability to eat the kosher turkey from the non-kosher oven.  (We stuck to our kosher guns at my cousins’.  I hasten to add, however, that our kashrut observance is subject to a little more negotiation in our non-kosher parents’ homes, since kibbud av v’em–honoring parents–made it to the Top Ten, where kashrut did not.)According to the strictest definition, that’s kosher.  But there are communities where reading ingredients is acceptable.  The reason that’s not our practice is the sophisticated food science needed to understand the derivation of most ingredients, as well as how the food was prepared.  (Are the enzymes animal- or plant-derived? Was heat used in processing? Was the olive oil used as an undeclared antifoaming agent in my non-Jewish uncle’s homemade organic all-natural maple syrup kosher?  No.  What vessel did he use to boil it down in?  Their lobster pot.)

    The point of kashrut, however, and the reason I am always pleased to see people adopting it in some form or other, is the importance Judaism places on being aware of how we interact with our world around food and eating, and how we treat other life on the planet.  Kashrut can’t really be explained logically, and as such, is sometimes hard for people to adopt into their daily regimen.  But appreciating how an animal is killed, how it’s prepared, and what it’s served with all demonstrate a consciousness of our responsibility as consumers of other animals.  (This doesn’t only go for carnivores; gelatin products and cheeses made with animal rennet also raise questions for many people about how they’re made.)

  22. Jonathan Jun 11th, 2008 at 1:27 am
  23. Extending a bit on Shimshonit’s comment about the importance of Kashrut, even of a “non-Orthodox” variety:  Kashrut forces one to think about their Jewishness with every bite of food eaten.  A mundane, animalistic urge (eating) is imbued with contemplation about morality and how we are all connected with the universe.  This, done properly and mindfully, can give us a deeper understanding of our mutual interconnectedness, and inspire us to higher levels of morality in all of our other “mundane” transactions with the rest of the world.
    It is a bit of a tangent, but another, related, avenue to achieving this elevation of the mundane into holiness (or of bringing holiness down to the mundane) is via the saying of Brachot (blessings): Before and after eating, before performing various actions, upon arising, before sleeping, even after going to the bathroom!  Thinking about and thanking God many times a day (a traditional Jew has a goal of 100 blessings per day) helps us to appreciate how the Divine permeates our lives.
    Back to Kashrut:  Avi’s concerns about kosher-style “kashrut” are also valid, but I think this apparent contradiction resolves itself if we think about “Kashrut” as really addressing two issues:
    1) The desire to bring holiness to our mundane lives.
    2) The desire to have a community-bonding practice.
    For the first aspect, really any sort of “kosher” (be it Orthodox Kosher, Eco-Kosher, Veganism, individualistic Kosher choices, etc.) can fit the bill.  The second aspect, though, is no less important, and aruges for having a single, uniform standard of Kashrut, which is what it sounds like Avi is advocating.  This of course goes both ways, as the Kitniyot discussion of a few weeks back reminds us — when taken too far, Kashrut can start pushing Jews apart instead of bringing them together.
    One of the (many) things I like about Judaism is how it combines these two aspects — i.e. those practices that we follow to acheive communal unity are not devoid of morality (e.g. like a special uniform or a secret handshake would be), but rather also prod us to become more moral human beings.
  24. Jenny Jun 11th, 2008 at 9:38 am
  25. Building on what Jonathan has to say about blessings, I’m currently reading The Journey Home by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman. I found what he had to say about blessings to be the most clarifying statements I have read yet:“First and foremost, blessings are liturgical speech acts that celebrate the reality of the divine, allowing ordinary people who are not divine to live in a universe that is God’s.”
    – p. 65I’m not really going to go into much more here because I’m in the midst of formulating a post (either for here or my own blog) about this.
  26. “Blessings transform what we need of creation’s bounty into gifts for our use. But only what we need, not more–to waste resoures is a sin in the rabbinic lexicon– and only with acknowledgement of the One who made it, owns it, but graciously grants it to us.”
    – p. 66
  27. “For the Rabbis, blessing is neither a boon we receive from God nor a higher quality of things that are otherwise profane. A blessing is a form of worship; it is something that we say. By saying it, we accomplish something in the world.”
    – p. 55
  28. Avi aka TG Jun 11th, 2008 at 9:52 am
  29. Shim, I totally agree about being flexible when it comes to eating at the parents. In fact I am even ok extending (somewhat) to include siblings as well, for the sake of Shalom Bait. Albeit I am probably less willing to be flexible with Tamara’s siblings than I am with her parents.BTW great bit about brachot. I couldn’t agree more.
  30. Jenny, this books sounds great! I think I will definitely be checking it out. I haven’t read much by Rabbi Hoffman but what I read has been quite good. Thanks for the FYI.
  31. Jonathan, yup, you read me right but just to be clear I wasn’t suggesting that (point one as you put it) isn’t also important. I just felt that it had sort of already been covered in the comments and so I wanted to focus on the communal aspect of things.
  32. Yair Jun 12th, 2008 at 6:30 am
  33. Hey Avi,
    I liked your point about shalom bayit and flexing a bit with siblings.  My family is currently staying with my sister until our baby is born (seriously, any day now), and they are not Jewish.  They work very hard to make it easy for us – they even bought Hebrew National hotdogs – and my wife and I make lots of veggie/dairy stuff here (I love Israeli breakfast… bread, olives, cheese, Israeli salad…. mmmm….).  I guess for me, living in the galut’s galut, in the middle of almost nowhere, my choices would be to never spend time with our relatives, or learn to meet in the middle.  I prefer the last choice for obvious reasons.
    I also agree with those of you who have brought up the community standards issue.  Kashrut has specific, objective requirements.  Sure, there are variations, like the length of time between meat and dairy, but what constitutes kosher food is a set of standards that are either observed or they aren’t.  Mindful eating isn’t kashrut just because Jews do it; this isn’t to say it isn’t good to do, just that it doesn’t equal kashrut.  Regarding “kosher style,” I get it.  I mean, eating a turkey sandwich without cheese or butter is certainly preferable to eating a ham and swiss sandwich and shrimp scampi, at least in terms of making an effort, but it still isn’t completely “kosher” unless it’s been certified.  It’s a step on the way, a rung up the ladder toward the goal of keeping kashrut, and I personally feel someone who isn’t yet keeping kashrut shouldn’t beat themselves up about having room to grow… get there when you can!  The point is to recognize room for growth.
    kol tuv,
  34. Rivkah Jun 13th, 2008 at 12:27 pm
  35. Mindful eating isn’t kashrut just because Jews do it; this isn’t to say it isn’t good to do, just that it doesn’t equal kashrut.  Regarding “kosher style,” I get it.  I mean, eating a turkey sandwich without cheese or butter is certainly preferable to eating a ham and swiss sandwich and shrimp scampi, at least in terms of making an effort, but it still isn’t completely “kosher” unless it’s been certified.  It’s a step on the way, a rung up the ladder toward the goal of keeping kashrut, and I personally feel someone who isn’t yet keeping kashrut shouldn’t beat themselves up about having room to grow… get there when you can!  The point is to recognize room for growth.

    That’s exactly the point where I am now, Yair…I do my best to be mindful, but I’m still aware that I’m not truly keeping kosher. For me, it’s a growing process.Jonathon, that’s an excellent point with the brachot. Thanks.
  36. Avi, I agree with you that the definition of kashrut is pretty well cut-and-dried, and I don’t make the cut.  That’s why I usually qualify every effort I make to “do Jewish” as “trying,” and not fully doing.

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