Kashrut is a significant part of Jewish identity. The basic principle of kashrut is that what a person puts into his body affects not only his physical health but the purity of his soul as well. For thousands of years, humanity has been aware that the food we eat impacts our body’s health. As science has evolved, there has been an ever-increasing awareness of the specific influences of various foods on our bodies. However, the effect of food on the purity of our souls is a Jewish innovation. This is not scientific knowledge, but knowledge passed down via tradition from a divine source, and as a result it has become characteristic of a Jew loyal to Jewish tradition.
In the past, foods were simpler and were composed of familiar ingredients. It was easy to know if a certain food was kosher or not. As the food industry developed, it became more and more complicated to know if a food item, which could be made of tens or even hundreds of ingredients, was kosher and permissible. For this reason, there are kashrut networks around the world that operate supervision from the production of basic ingredients to the preparation of the products. This made it possible for any Jew to know if any given product is kosher or not.
Other than the benefit in preserving the purity of the soul by observing kashrut, there is an additional, very significant benefit. A Jew who pays attention to the kashrut of food is exercising restraint and self-control on a daily basis.
We are all aware of the abundance and availability in our world over these past few decades. But such abundance also creates a challenge to our self-control and to our ability to delay gratification. As our world advances in industry and technology, we also see an increased challenge to our ability to restrain ourselves and withstand attraction or strong desire. The solution is repeatedly practicing restraint and delay of needs satisfaction. Every Jew who keeps kosher is practicing this daily, often several times a day. By paying attention to what is or isn’t kosher, we become more stable, responsible, and deliberate.
Kashrut also sets limits on human control over the environment. We are used to controlling what surrounds us. Is there any product not available for sale? If, in the past, there were products available only in a certain country, nowadays, a person can order anything from anywhere in the world with a few simple keystrokes and have it delivered within days. We feel like we can control what exists around us, and correlated with that, our egos swell, consideration of others gets trampled, ecology gets destroyed, and we attain a sense of ownership over reality. And we hunger for more.
On the other hand, a person who keeps kosher knows: I cannot eat this food item, or drink this drink. He gets constant reminders of the fact that he is not the owner of reality. It is a reminder of humility in the face of creation. A person is welcome to use and enjoy his environment, but he does not control it.
And lastly, kashrut requires us to remember the profound difference between us and living creatures: moral insight, conscience, and choice. As opposed to animals, man can restrain his attraction and obey the divine command that forbids him from eating certain foods. This is the glory of man and his greatness.