Religion is weird.
I suppose there is a more polite way to put that.
Religion is fascinating or religion is complex—both also true.
But "weird" sounds right, at the moment. Every religion has its strange stuff—we know that, because when we encounter unfamiliar religions, we easily smirk at their oddities, never pausing to consider that these off-kilter practices are only a slightly different flavor of what we find homey and ordinary. When Mitt Romney was running for president, for instance, and people were plucking out various aspects of his religion to mock, it was almost sad to see how easily they marveled over something they believed too. To see the people who cooked up the whole idea of heaven snickering at Mormons for putting it in Jackson County, Missouri, as if giving their fantasy celestial paradise an earthly address was the outrageous part.
Or Judaism, my own creed. I'm always discovering heretofore unimagined practices embraced by believers. When my son was born, my in-laws, who were Orthodox, informed my wife and me that we had to have a pidyon haben--a ceremony to buy him from God for five piece of silver. I shrugged—when in Rome, er, Jerusalem—and trotted off to a Korean coin store to buy five greasy, worn silver dollars. I figured, God wouldn't mind, and He didn't.
Having Orthodox in-laws put me in closer proximity to the more arcane Jewish practices. I was at their synagogue, laying into the buffet lunch afterward, when the rabbi came over and informed me that I couldn't have meat and fish together on my plate. I almost blurted out, "You're kidding, right?" That was a new one -- "Isn't fish meat?" I asked, slightly suspecting he was pulling my leg. No, this was one of the sub-cellers of Kosher. No cheeseburgers, no shrimp, no herring and brisket sitting on the same paper plate, just as a person eating dairy and a person eating meat can't sit at the same table.
I always like to ask "Why?" in these situations. I didn't then, but a little digging reveals that... and this is why I don't write fiction, because I could never conjure up something as deliciously daft as this... the Talmud suggests that mixing meat and fish causes leprosy.
It never stops. Early in the month I was at Hungarian Kosher Foods, on Oakton in Skokie, picking up Kosher chicken for Passover (why, I don't know, since none of us keep Kosher; tastes better, I suppose, though I could argue that it just costs so much more we make ourselves believe it tastes better). I noticed this rack of products which I didn't think could be Kosher: pot holders, rubber gloves, sink strainers. You don't eat them, what does it matter? As with the fish and meat taboo, I at first thought they were joking. Maybe there was a brand loyalty scam aspect going on — "Kosher" rubber gloves meant gloves to be bought by Jews, probably more expensive too, like Kosher chicken.
No. The color coding gave it away. Blue for dairy, red for meat. Just as you have different set of pans and dishes for dairy and meat, so you need separate potholders to handle the pans and rubber gloves to wash the dishes.
And for Passover—when bread and all its manifestations are forbidden—special Passover rubber gloves, since some rubber gloves have a certain starchy powder in them, a residue of the manufacturing process (you're not supposed to blow up balloons for the same reason).
By the way, Orthodox Jews give their pets --- their dogs, cats, fish, whatever -- Kosher pet food, but not for the sake of the animals, who aren't Jewish—that's an unexpected whiff of rationality—and thus can eat whatever they please. It's the owners, who cannot "derive benefit" from unKosher foods. (An issue, I'm sure, deftly surmounted by a bit of rabbinic jujitsu for, oh, Jews who own chains of supermarkets).
Enough. Religion is not only weird, it's a bottomless pit of weird. That's sort of the point. You're supposed to fill up your life with this stuff. If you so choose. Myself, I prefer to focus on other stuff—just as meaningless, but not so rigorous. To each his own.