American Millennials follow Jewish dietary laws at nearly twice the rate of Baby Boomers, perhaps finding the ancient laws fit well with contemporary concerns about sustainability.
On July 11, 1883, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise held a historic gathering in Cincinnati: the ordination of the very first class of rabbis of Reform Judaism, a modernized version of the faith.
But Wise’s lesser known contribution to Jewish American culture lies in the four-course spread served at the banquet afterwards: little-neck clams on the half shell, salade of shrimp, soft-shell crab, and frog legs in cream sauce.Thrilling as it was offensive, the dinner that went down in history as “The Highland House Affair” ushered Judaism into modern American culture—aside from a symbolic omission of pork, everything from the air of gourmet French cuisine to the sweetbreads screamed rejection of Jewish dietary law and Old World culture.
130 years later, some parts of the Jewish community are going through another modernizing shift—but this time, in trendy pop-up restaurants and artisanal craft-food production. With their embrace of sustainable—and slightly hipster—food culture, Millennial Jews are shaping a blossoming culinary movement, and bringing non-Jews along with them.
Jewish dietary restrictions dating back to the Old Testament, known as the laws of kashrut, govern which foods are kosher, or fit to eat. Younger Jews keep kosher at almost double the rate of baby boomers—28 percent for 18- to 49-year-olds to 16 percent for people 50 and up. It probably helps that keeping kosher is considered trendy in certain circles, and some of the growth is perhaps in part due to the growing number of young people in the Hasidic, or ultra-Orthodox, movement.
Rabbi and educator Gilah Kletenik says that the appeal of a kosher diet for young Jews may be ethical. “These things [like kashrut and ethics] are not in isolation, they are a part of a larger system of holiness,” she says, tracing the dietary laws back to the book of Leviticus, which centers on ritual, purity, and morals. “This is someone saying, ‘The earth is not yours to plunder.’”
Anna Hanau, co-founder of Grow and Behold, one of two sustainable, certified kosher-meat producers in the country, agrees that much of the renewed interest in kashrut lies in a desire to find a moral grounding.