Ever since I started keeping kosher, there has been major tension in the family. My sister is hurt that I won't eat at her house and says that I am being "holier-than-thou," and my parents say that I am tearing the family apart. What can I do?


There are hundreds of diets out there these days. Whenever a group of friends sit down to eat, someone will say something like, "I can't eat anything here, I'm on the Mutkin's diet," or, "I can't eat carbohydrates after 10:00 a.m.," or, "I can only eat green peas and watermelons until the next full moon." Such announcements are usually met with little more than a shrug - if they choose to starve themselves that's their thing.

But when someone says, "I can't eat anything here, I keep kosher," the reaction is rarely so tame. For some reason, Jews feel challenged by another Jew being more observant than they are, and often take it as a personal attack. To your sister, when you say you can't eat her food it is as if you are saying that she is not good enough for you, that she's not a real Jew like you. You were talking about your own eating habits, but she is hearing a judgment on her Jewish identity.

This is not a rational reaction. Perhaps she hears in your words the subconscious voice of her own Jewish soul, yearning to live a more Jewish life. Whatever it is, your job is to keep the peace. You need to make it clear that by keeping kosher you are in no way judging or condemning anyone else, you have merely made a decision about your own observance. You are not asking anyone to change their ways, but only to respect the change that you have made.

It is your responsibility to maintain good relations with your family, and to achieve this you should be willing to go out of your way. Continue to visit your sister, and organize kosher food for yourself. Be as accommodating and undemanding as you can. If you handle it right, it will bring the family closer, because you will come to respect and understand each other better than before.

The kosher diet is spiritual. It doesn't promise to make you lose weight or feel healthy, but it is supposed to refine the spirit. Be a living example of a refined kosher soul with the way you treat your family.