Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kosher Hacks - Basar V'Dagim edition

Another series I'd like to introduce is called "Kosher Hacks."   It will be about maintaining a kosher kitchen and cooking healthy, nourishing, kosher food in a frugal way.  I'm planning to include everything from what a fully functional kitchen really needs to recipes and strategies for stretching your kosher meat and your dollars.

Keeping kosher and eating Jewishly is one of the biggest challenges of living a Jewish frugal lifestyle.  On an average day, kosher meat is about 3 times the price of non-kosher meat.  In the midwest (both Ohio and Kansas) boneless, skinless chicken breasts run around $7 a pound, as does ground beef.  Less expensive cuts of chicken and beef are slightly less.  A holiday brisket can run up to $15 a pound.

The book of Isaiah asks us in chapter 58 (thanks, Dass!) to honor Shabbat, and to "make it a delight."  Of course, many Shabbat traditions have come down out of this concept.  One of them is to eat meat and fish (basar v'dagim) on Shabbat.  Why was this important, historically?  Meat and fish was expensive.  If you went out of your way to cook really nice food for Shabbat, clearly you were doing your best to honor the day, at least food-wise.  As the Talmud says, "There is no joy without [eating] meat" (Bavli Pesachim 109a).  The association between meat and Shabbat happiness is strong - The Rambam tells us that eating meat (and drinking wine) is part of the commandment to "make Shabbat a delight," (Hil. Shab. 30:10) and the Torah Temimah says the same thing (Bereishit 2:3) Later, it was even ruled that, while everyone else really should be eating some meat on Shabbat, if you were in mourning, you didn't have to take a single bite of meat on Shabbat.

Our family follows this custom - we eat either meat or fish, or sometimes both, on Shabbat.  Kosher meat is so expensive, though, (sound familiar?) that we only eat meat meals during Shabbat.  We get our protein in other ways - beans and cheese, mostly - throughout the week.  I've read some frugal bloggers advocate eating one meatless dinner a week to cut the grocery budget - we have six meatless dinners.  The Mishnaic sage, Eleazar b.Azariah, said a middle-income family (earning about 50 manehs each week, to be exact) really should only be eating meat on Shabbat.  There was a recognition that money was better spent elsewhere.  We just happen to agree with Rabbi Eleazar.

Do we feel we eat well during the week?  Absolutely.  But on Shabbat?  Our food is incredible.  Even if it's meatballs, or cholent, or chicken soup, (or some other meal where the meal has been "stretched") we really appreciate the taste of that meat meal.  It brings a smile to our faces.  We linger over it.  We sit back and pat our bellies in satisfaction - which is exactly what you're supposed to do at a Shabbat meal. 

So, my first "Kosher Hack?"  If you keep kosher, and you also keep a small grocery budget, save your meat-eating for Shabbos.  Your  wallet will thank you.  And you just might appreciate that meat meal - and Shabbat - so much that it's worth skipping it the rest of the week.

How do you save money on kosher meat?  Do you spend more for Shabbos?  Why or why not?


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