Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


Gastronomic Judaism: Food for Thought

posted by Virtual Talmud

What is it about Jews and food? It’s more than our obsession with finding a good bagel. It’s our almost pathological need for conspicuous consumption. We always have to have more than enough.

Perhaps it is the collective unconscious of generations of Jewish mothers who had to witness their children going to bed hungry every night in Europe’s shtetls. One Yiddish author describes how a father cleverly quieted his children who were crying from hunger. “It is a fast day,” he explained as he put them to bed. With those words their hunger took on religious significance, and they quietly went to sleep, satisfied there was some greater purpose for their suffering. There is a terrible poignancy but also a social critique in this sad tale, which reminds us not to take the abundance we enjoy for granted.

There is a strength and beauty in our engagement with food. Those who eat together, stay together, which is perhaps one reason the Passover seder (set around the family table), rather than the Yom Kippur service (set in the synagogue), is the most observed of Jewish rituals. Unfortunately, all too many opportunities to eat together are ignored by all too many Jews, most notably those who do not have the pleasure of eating around the Sabbath table.

But food alone is not enough to bind us to our Judaism. Food enhances the Jewish experience but cannot suffice as a substitute for it.

I know first hand. I grew up in a home that largely observed gastronomic Judaism. My mother baked hamentaschen for Purim, fried potato latkes for Hanukkah, and made us chicken soup when we were sick. However, we never had chicken soup on Friday night, which was a night like any other as I grew up. While I “found” religion because I meet people who kept Shabbat, neither of my brothers did. Gastronomic Judaism alone did not keep them in the fold.

There is great wisdom in the Jewish approach to food. The mitzvot (commandments) relating to food teach us appreciation, by reciting blessings of thanksgiving before and after we eat; discernment, through distinguishing kosher from non-kosher food; and compassion, by requiring that meat be slaughtered humanely and drained of blood, which also teaches us respect for all life. We are taught that life’s pleasures, like eating, are part of the blessings God intends for us to enjoy–in moderation and with a sensitivity to share what we have with others.

These qualities are the real substance of what can be placed upon our plates, not the shmear of cream cheese and lox on our everything bagel.

Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

  • Rabbi Waxman: You Are What You Eat


  • Advertisement
    Comments read comments(2)
    post a comment
    martha pratana

    posted March 20, 2007 at 5:20 am


    I think if we keep the rules concerning the food in the OT, we will lead a healthy life. I went to Israel once, and just love the food.



    report abuse
     

    chloe

    posted March 27, 2007 at 9:54 am


    You can share your Food and thought on the Jewish personals site: http://www.jromances.com ! All of the members will like your articals.



    report abuse
     

    Post a Comment

    By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



    Previous Posts

    The Task Is Never Finished
    It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments

    posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

    Some Parting Reflections
    Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to t

    posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

    Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
    There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those web

    posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

    The Future of Race Relations
    As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the black and Jewish communities look to this period either

    posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

    Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
    Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were

    posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »




    Report as Inappropriate

    You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

    All reported content is logged for investigation.