Friday, September 16, 2011


17 Elul, 5771
September 16th, 2011

I recently heard an unfortunate true story. A Jewish spiritual group met for a weekend retreat at a University retreat center, all ardent and passionate practitioners. At some point during the retreat, the kitchen’s manager stepped out and made a plea. His workers, he said, were coming to him in tears; many had threatened to quit. Apparently the sheer number of exceptional individual dietary requests (kosher, vegetarian, vegan, raw, no dairy, no wheat, no eggs, no cheese, no soy) combined with the lack of kindness with which the requests were made, had made these workers’ jobs intolerable.

It is true that, in the service of holiness, one changes the way one lives, and circumscribes for oneself that which may be part of the lives of others. Kohanim, who performed the holiest of work, keep themselves from graveside funerals (unless for immediate family). 

But even the high priest was required to tend to the dead body of a stranger, should he be the first to find it, no matter the impurity he acquired. To leave a body uncared for violated the very holiness which he served.

Our world is increasingly one of niche living. We find holiness in what we put in our bodies, how we do or do not use them, how we treat and care for them. And we do this as a fiercely individual expression of choice.

But occasionally the truest expression of our holiness will be our inconsistency. Absent of real medical need, we will remember that our personal choices affect others, and we will, for their sake, lower our standards. To understand holiness is to know that sometimes it is found in the breach.


  1. Great Torah, Reb Scott.

  2. Rabbi Perlo,

    You mention the "lack of kindness" with which these dietary requests were made. Special orders are surely a pain, but would that make someone cry? Maybe how we treat others deserves some consideration in regards to this unfortunate true story?