Pikuach Nefesh, Kashrut, and Shabbat Dinner

To me, keeping kashrut has always been one of the definitive Things That Jewish People Do.

And how I wish I could! But unfortunately, the cost is prohibitive for someone on a smallish income like mine.

And, sadly, even if I could afford the cost, I could not keep kashrut, because keeping kashrut depends on being able to eat a lot of foods that I’m severely allergic to: wheat, corn, barley, spelt, rye, oats, soy, and things made from them like noodles and bread and breadcrumbs and dumplings – and a lot of the things that make my diet-controlled Type II diabetes blood sugar go off-the-charts whacky. I can – barely – tolerate white rice, but it spikes my blood sugar like whoa, so I never eat more than a half-cupful of cooked rice.

And yes, the diabetes means that I cannot fast on Yom Kippur.

I’m also severely averse to almost all scale fish (canned tuna being the sole exception, and not often). I can’t even stand the smell of it, so that’s not ever on my menu. My parents believed that it can be traced to my “bouillabaisse episode” when I was about two and a half or so – when I got food poisoning about three hours after I had three or four helpings of my mother’s one attempt at bouillabaisse. So, fish are right out. I was too young to remember this. I just know that when I smell fish I feel like I have to throw up.

My normal meals are a combination of meat, eggs, cheese, brassicae, and leafy green veggies. I don’t eat fruit (it spikes my blood sugar) or most starchy veggies including potatoes (again, spiking the blood sugar – although I do occasionally lapse for In N Out’s french fries, or for Jongewaards’ hash browns. Unlike grains, those don’t make me feel physically bad; they just spike my blood sugar, so I do the best I can to avoid them). I don’t eat anything made of the five grains, or soy, or corn. My allergies to the five grains and to corn make my rheumatoid arthritis flare for several days; tofu or edamame can easily send me to the hospital with an anaphylactic reaction.

This means that a lot of traditional Jewish food, like kugel, or “real” challah, are simply out for me.  Even cheese can give me blood sugar problems if I don’t eat it with sufficient fats and protein to keep the spike down, and most dairy foods are dairy-with: dairy with potatoes, or dairy with noodles, or dairy with bread (none of which I can eat). I can substitute spaghetti squash or julienned zucchini for noodles, and cauliflower for potatoes, but it doesn’t cook the same way as the starchy veg and noodles do.

So, what’s a ger to do if he can’t keep kashrut?

Well, I eat with conscious deliberation, which is to say that I pray over every meal and eat with awareness. I do what I can. But I also eat with attention to my blood sugar and to my blood pressure. A low-carb, high-fat, meat-heavy diet is what keeps those things stable. And the meats that keep it most stable are the ones that are not (in any way, shape, or form) kosher.

This means that even as I do what an observant Jew does, I have to draw upon pikuach nefesh – the idea that harming yourself to follow a rule is not something HaShem intended, and that we must preserve life and health in almost every circumstance.

And you know what? I refuse to feel guilty about it.

I have decided to avoid shellfish from now on, and that won’t be terribly hard for me because the only shellfish I really like are shrimp and scallops, and that won’t be a huge loss (clams are already out because there isn’t a clam chowder in the world that isn’t made with wheat flour). But pork will still be on the menu, and I’m not going to worry too much about having milk and meat at the same meal, although I have been finding myself avoiding putting them in the same dish.

We have an out-of-town guest coming over for dinner on Friday. He’s not Jewish, and of course my partner isn’t either, but it’s still Friday night and that’s still Shabbat. So I’m planning my first Shabbat dinner and trusting that HaShem will understand that the soup is a cream soup and the main dish is chicken. My dinner companions will not be Jewish, so it’s only me that has to square this away with my conscience and my G-d.

I’ll put the menu behind a jump tag, for those who don’t want to see what I’m going to be serving. 

I’ve ordered a silicone challah mold and purchased Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, along with some xanthan gum, to make a challah-esque loaf or two. The mold should be here tomorrow. Every recipe I’ve found for gluten-free challah says: use a mold, because it never becomes like dough; it stays more like batter. So, okay. I’ll do what I can do with what I have.

In addition to the “challah,” I have a sweet red Lambrusco that we’ve been saving, with which I will fill my Kiddush cup. And I’ve found a Kiddush cup and a pair of worthy Shabbat candlesticks in my collection of antique things that I inherited from my dad. He collected cobalt blue glass (and it’s beautiful stuff) – and how perfect is it to have a blue and clear Kiddush cup and blue glass candlesticks for Shabbat, I ask you? Those are already waiting on the table for me.

So, the menu.

I love, love, love tomato-basil soup. And as long as I have it with protein buffers, I’m okay. So this Quick and Easy Creamy Tomato-Basil Soup is going to be the first course.

After that, I’ll serve up Chicken with Olives and Capers, to which I plan to add a couple handfuls of golden raisins to bring up the sweetness and counter the sourness a bit, and brighten with some chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley right as it comes out of the oven. I’ll make some plain white rice with butter for my two dinner companions to go with the chicken, although I won’t be eating any of that myself. And I’ll pair all this with Green Beans Almondine, which is so easy it’s pathetic. We’ll also have a salad, probably put together by my partner, who’s really good at salads and homemade dressings.

And there’s ice cream waiting in the freezer, at least for our guest and my partner.

No, it’s not kosher. I wish I could be kosher. But at least I’m going to celebrate Shabbat properly, this weekend.



Filed under Conversion Process, Judaism

4 responses to “Pikuach Nefesh, Kashrut, and Shabbat Dinner

  1. Dawn Davidson

    Actually, Manhattan Clam chowder doesn’t have flour of any kind, necessarily. That’s the “red” kind made with tomato, rather than the “white” New England kind that is more common.

    But that doesn’t mean you should eat it. 😉

    I love Green Beans Almondine. Yum! 😀


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