created at: 2011-07-26Today was the funeral of Amy Winehouse, who died at the age of 27.  While her adult life was dominated by her very public battle with addiction, her death has once again stimulated a debate about how modern Jews interpret Torah and halacha.  Consider this article from CNN.com’s “Belief Blog,”

Winehouse burial raises Jewish questions about tattoos, cremation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself have a fraternity tattoo on my upper left arm.  I have often considered getting another one.  I was chastised by my mother and grandmother about desicrating my body and I can never be buried in a Jewish cemetery. While we can have debates about what is considered “desicration,” the myth that one cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery is just that, a myth.  The article cites Rabbi Mark Goldsmith as saying that the biblical reference actually referes to the need for Jews to distance themselves from Canaanite “cultist” practices.

Now, I am framing this discussion in the light of progressive Judaism.  Hassidic and Orthodox Jews who have a very strict interpretation of the Torah are not going to entertain this argument and that is perfectly fine.  Like all religions with a secular component, there are many opinions.

But doesn’t this open up a new discussion about how we, as modern Jews (or Jews in the modern world) interpret Torah?

I’m thinking of Kashrut specifically.  Where do these laws come from?  In my studies, I’ve seen that the rules of Kosher have a fairly substantial base in keeping clean.  Pigs are unclean, so don’t eat them.  This was of course before the FDA and food safety standards.  Shellfish feed on the excrement of other animals… but what about farm-raised shrimp and scallops?

I am in no way, shape, or form saying that we should do away with almost 6000 years of tradition.  I am just really interested in having meaningful conversations about being a 21st century Jew.

Until next time, keep it real.

The Boston Mensch