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Religious Dietary Laws


Tonyfinch
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FG anyone who wanted to open a chain of steakhouses acrosss India would be lucky to escape the country with his life. The sacredness of the cow is of huge importance in Hindu law. The steakhouses would be destroyed within hours.

Imagine someone trying to open up an Irish theme pub in downtown Karachi-what do you think would happen?

I happened to have lived in the Philippines in the late 60's. Some might argue that it was, time-wise, pretty-far removed from WWII.

But during the three years I was there, several enterprising folks tried to open Japanese restaurants. Not only did none of them succeed, there was indeed considerable vandalism done.

Turned out some people didn't easily forget having their infants impaled on bayonets or watching their loved ones' guts ripped out.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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"The existence of dietary laws in so many religions demonstrates the importance of dietary laws to so many religions."

Atheists are such an insignificant percentage of the world's population that there's little practical difference between your phrasing and mine.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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"The existence of dietary laws in so many religions demonstrates the importance of dietary laws to so many religions."

Atheists are such an insignificant percentage of the world's population that there's little practical difference between your phrasing and mine.

Nevertheless, it's religions, not societies we're talking about. And I think "dietary laws" is more appropriate than "cuisine".

Although the practical difference may be small, your editor would prevail on this one.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Most religions say murder is wrong. How do you fight your way out of that paper bag of logic?

This just isn't true. Most religions tolerate killing in the name of the religion. An eye for an eye is the most obvious example. That is the entire problem with religion. They conveniently tolerate things in the name of the furtherance of the religion which they do not tolerate otherwise. Tony's example of the steakhouses in India is the perfect example. Because I am sure it says somewhere in Hindu writings that violence isn't allowed. But you are probably also allowed to commit acts of violence against people who consecrate holy things. And yes, I am intolerant of that ambiguity and think it should be struck from the earth by legislation if it need be. In fact that is exactly what we have done. We have said to Hindus, in the U.S., you can not eat meat if you like, but you have to tolerate other people doing it. We could have made the laws here that says you have to eat meat. But that wouldn't have served our need for immigrants well. So we came up with a practical way of splitting the baby.

Let me get my arms around this intolerance issue. I have no tolerance for segregation. As far as I can see, the laws of kashruth promote segregation. So yes I am replacing one type of intolerance with another. But mine is for the cause of mankind and not for the cause of Judaism. And the only reason I have to choose it is because of the wrongs purported on society by religion over the past five milleniums. There would be nothing to be intolerant of if religion didn't propogate intolerance to begin with.

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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But mine is for the cause of mankind

That kind of language is pretty scary, especially when it's used to tell people that their religious dietary laws are invalid.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Although the practical difference may be small, your editor would prevail on this one.

Thanks for your attention to detail.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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How does this reflect on those who practice religion and observe their dietary laws peacefully?

Can you not see a contadiction here at all? You will only go into that steakhouse to eat the lobster if you are already sceptical about the religion's dietry tenets. Because the religion doesn't just say-don't eat the beef. It says don't touch the cutlery, don't go near the cooking utensils, in fact do not sit down to eat with the person who eats beef.

This is precisely what the Iranian delegation did in Spain, which I cited above.

Those who observe their dietry laws "peacefully" would stand condemned by their religious orthodox establishment for so doing. THAT is the heart of the perniciousness religious dietry laws

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Those who observe their dietry laws "peacefully" would stand condemned by their religious orthodox establishment for so doing. THAT is the heart of the perniciousness  religious dietry laws

And do they stand condemned by you as well?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That kind of language is pretty scary, especially when it's used to tell people that their religious dietary laws are invalid

But you can't blame me that religious dietary laws are deemed invalid. It is the inability of people who adhere to a faith to describe why they need to follow them outside of theological writing and god's will. This is the problem with religion and you being a lawyer should know this better then anyone. The burden of proof has been shifted and there is no need for evidence. If that isn't a slippery slope, I don't know what is because it allows you to justify almost everything in the name of god.

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As an aside, I have a question. Mark 5:11-13

Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.

And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.

And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.

What was a herd of pigs doing on the shores of Galilee in the first century CE*?

* Common Era. Please note Johnsonian cultural sensitivity.

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But you can't blame me that religious dietary laws are deemed invalid.

I don't blame you for anything. I like you, schmuck.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If it's intended to... improve one's appearance, I can understand it. Then it's like a nose job.

I am told by my Cavalier* gay friends that unsnipped has a certain cache, or at least novelty value, this side of the pond.

* I.e., not Roundhead.

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I stopped eating pork for close to 10 years, and resumed about 2 years ago. I stopped because I liked the idea of doing something which reminded me of my history, and my cultural identity. And at the time, it didn't seem like such a huge sacrifice, and when I stopped eating pork I had a live-in boyfriend who was pseudo-kosher so we didn't ever have it in the house so in a sense it was easier. I'm thinking now about whether or not it was "segregationist" in some way, and I suppose it was. I did want to do something symbolic which reminded me that I was a Jew and not something else. But it doesn't seem any different to me than lighting candles on Shabbes, which I do. I do that not because it has anything to do with "religion" or god, but because it's a nice feeling to be a part of an old tradition. It makes me feel part of a community.

I don't see the difference between my having an emotional connection to parts of these traditions as any different, Steve, than you having your sons barmitzvahed, or being married by a rabbi, or having your sons have a bris. You chose those customs which have meaning to you, and some people choose parts of the dietary laws that have meaning to them. Your choices had nothing to do with god. And certainly having your sons barmitzvahed is as "segregationist" as any of the practices you're condemning.

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Your choices had nothing to do with god.

And if they did, that would be okay too. This standard of "intent" makes little sense to me and is impractical anyway -- there is no way to determine actual intent; it can only be inferred from action. The issue is whether anybody is harmed. I think people should be free to observe whatever dietary restrictions they wish to observe, for any reason, as long as they don't harm anyone by it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nina's last post is finally getting to what I think is the heart of the matter. Because I don't think that all laws and traditions are equal. To me, lighting candles on the sabbath is a tradition that perpetuates the culture but there is nothing inherent in the act itself that is segregationionist. But keeping kosher, since it effectively means you can't eat among non-Jews, or in the homes of non-Jews, does promote segregation or seperateness. So I think you need to evaluate things on a case by case, or rule by rule basis.

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Nope, I don't buy that. Shabbes tradition, taken a little further, prevent Jews from doing a zillion things on Shabbes. And as you well know, people pick and choose their levels of kashrut all the time - and many, many people have no trouble eating with others or in other people's homes and limiting themselves to the extent they choose.

And barmitzvah is certainly segregationist according to your definition. A public, social statement of cultural and religious separate identity. And a bris - well jeez, an actual physical mark identifying a child, and ceremonially, at that!

Again, you've got to admit that you pick and choose your segregationist traditions like everybody else - your line is your own, but it's there. Look at how much Yiddish you insert into your English, all the time. That's not segregationist? I have yet to understand your reasons, other than social, for choosing to observe the rituals you have chosen.

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This is going to be a long-response that I hope will help the discussion and set it in a wider historical and philosophical context. Please be forbearing of its length.

A lot of ingenuity has been expended trying to discover a rationale for the origins of food taboos. Food taboos are practically universal, but since the precise object of the taboo is so variable, a consistent explanation has proved illusive. A health reason, genetic intolerance, economic accident, migration pattern, climate change, or ethical qualm may explain one particular set of taboos, but by no means all. The origins of a particular taboo may be as arbitrary as the division between the big-ender and little-ender egg-eaters, according to Jonathan Swift.

It is importance to recognize that a taboo is not the same as a preference. A taboo prohibits certain behavior, but it does not necessarily mandate another. Thus consumption of lard is a taboo in Islam and Judaism, but the use of olive oil, though a practical response, is not a requirement. This is the difference between food restrictions and food distinctions. French food is different from Italian food, not because their different cultures -- defined as religion, language, tradition, local agriculture and produce -- PROHIBITED the use of one or another ingredient, but because their different cultures encouraged the use of what each distinctively had in abundance.

That acknowledged, food -- as well as sex -- taboos do play an important cultural role and as a universal phenomenon invite similar interrogation and understanding. First, they recognize an attempt to control and understand a mystery of the body at the core of human existence and survival. Food like sex involves the ingestion and expulsion, through our varied orifices, of solids and fluids. Without this interactive process, life would cease. A human would die if s/he failed to eat, drink, digest, defecate, and urinate. Human survival as a distinct entity has required the mingling of male and female fluids and solids in order, through intercourse and pregnancy, to create and expel a human life from the body. Even in the era of test-tube babies and cloning, the same fundamental ingredients, sperm and ovum, and the same environment, the female womb, are required to create life. The development of artificial insemination and artificial wombs are still dependent upon the original corporeal model. The major difference is the method of mingling and the process by which the fertilized egg enters the womb. The end result has remained remarkably similar.

In order for us to maintain individual and collective life, we have through nature and culture accumulated ways -- some easier than others -- of making the process of ingestion as pleasurable as possible. Accompanying these methods is a complex of super-structures through which we try to come to grips with the bizarre mysteries of human life and existence. We don't simply take things for granted and mindlessly fress and fuck to our heart's content and capacity, but rather we cultivate methods by which we do this, socially and transcendentally, in the best possible way. How do we define the best possible way? We place these methods within an immediate social network as well as a within a transcendental cosmic framework. In other words, we try to connect these actions in ways consistent with what the people around us are doing as well as in ways that help us understand and explain the origins and destiny of life. After all it is our very life that these activities provide and sustain. And we don't like to treat life and its sustenance, lightly. Most of us take it seriously, at times too seriously perhaps.

I have noted the two contexts through which we construct the rationales or super-structures through which we try to understand life, one is the social and the other is the transcendental. For most of human experience these have been inextricably linked. That is, one's social existence, i.e. family, village, community, language, etc. is situated within some larger understanding of the cosmos that justifies and indeed sanctifies the mundane and daily. Over the long-haul, humans crave the kind of explanation and understanding that justifies and organizes the chaos that surrounds us. Sanctification allows such justification to acquire a meaning more permanent than the dust to dust of existence.

One aspect through which we define our social existence is identity and familiarity. We may crave the new -- a relatively modern inclination in human experience -- but we can only fully experience and appreciate it, if we have a familiar basis for comparing and understanding it. We achieve this by establishing markers of identity that we can share with a common community. These markers are drawn from a host of physical and psychological elements, of which the most important are probably: language, dress, and food. Thus food becomes part of the process by which we establish and sustain a familiar identity.

The key question in this process returns us to the dichotomy posed at the beginning, the difference between food distinctions and food restrictions. What are the circumstances in which a food preference becomes a food taboo? Food preferences become taboos as a group increasingly feels that its distinctive identity is worth preserving and must be maintained against an outside challenge.

The transcendental meaning of food in ancient culture is best revealed through the ubiquitous cult of the sacrifice. More than prayer this was the means by which humans demonstrated their fealty to the deity. Cultic sacrifice reflected the particular beliefs and identity of its adherents.

In the ancient Near East as agriculture increasingly displaced the earlier hunter-gatherer economy, cultic sacrifice was also one of the few regular opportunities for the consumption of flesh. Most of the diet consisted of grains, fruits, and dairy, flesh was expensive and rare. The expense arose not only from the loss that slaughtering would create for dairy and wool production, but also because of the great cost of constructing and maintaining ovens. We live in an age of profligate energy consumption, a phenomenon only a few centuries old. Even into the 18th and 19th centuries, most homes lacked an oven necessary for baking and roasting. Typically in early modern Europe the local baker acted as a communal kitchen-oven for the community. Thus cooking of heat-intensive foods, such as meat, was a shared social activity.

In the ancient world the consumption of flesh would be part of a larger community activity typically linked to cultic sacrifice. To consume that flesh was to accept that cult. If for various political, social, economic, or religious reasons, one rejected that cult, one would have to reject that flesh. Thus flesh consumption in the ancient world represented a particularly acute mark of identity. Food taboos were a remarkably efficient means of maintaining collective identity and distinctiveness.

Of course the intensity of such taboos ebbed and flowed over time. If one studies the evolution of kashrut over time and place its details are revealingly variable. Biblical kashrut is much more easy-going than early rabbinic kashrut roughly 200 c.e. (i.e. the time of the Mishnah) as opposed to later rabbinic kashruth, roughly 600 c.e. (i.e. the time of the Talmud). Clearly in the aftermath of the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 c.e. and the collapse of the Judaean commonwealth, an increasingly complex means of maintaining social identity and cohesiveness were deemed necessary by the rabbinic authorities, who were the only elite left standing to claim leadership. An example of this concerns the regulation of milk and meat. It is clear that the biblical prohibition in no way restricted the consumption of chicken and milk. The mishnaic discussion makes it clear that eminent authorities were equally tolerant, but later talmudic discussions prohibited it on the grounds that the chicken might look like beef or lamb and could lead the onlooker to assume the taboo was being violated. This notion of appearance and apparent violation is key since it reveals how important the taboo is in establishing social standards and markers. In the absence of a political entity, such social markers assumed an ever greater importance in maintaining identity.

Chicken and milk suggest an increasing rigidification of kashrut over time, but there are also significant differences over space. Wine has been a revealing marker. While most observant Jews of Eastern European descent drink only kosher wine -- variously defined as either Jewish-processed wine or "cooked" wine -- for generations equally pious and observant Italian Jews have no such taboo. Much of these and other differences in the details of kashrut reflect in fact local customs and the different rulings of well-established rabbinic authorities in one community as opposed to another.

In the modern period the opportunities for inconsistency and apparent hypocrisy are rife. The late 18th-early 19th century movement for Jewish enlightenment and emancipation had as its goal the integration of Jews into western European society. Their slogan was be a Jew at home and a man on the street. In eastern Europe this process arose later and with greater tension. This distinction between home and street led to the gradual acceptance of inconsistency of dress and diet. A skull-cap might be worn in the private home, certainly in the synagogue and place of study, but not on the street. A strict diet would be maintained in the home, but compromises might be made in the gentile public in order to ease social integration. The North American Jewish community is heir not only to the compromises and inconsistency that emerged among western European Jews, but also to the relatively greater adherence to tradition that characterized the Jews of the Romanov empire.

The reemergence of a Jewish political entity in the twentieth century with the establishment of the state of Israel has meant that the particular social and political circumstances that contributed to the rigidification of kashrut among Palestinian Jews have disappeared, but two thousand years of custom does not disappear over night.

While this argument has given particular attention to the issue of Jewish taboos, I could give examples of similar trends among Muslims, and I suspect, among Hindus as well.

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But keeping kosher, since it effectively means you can't eat among non-Jews, or in the homes of non-Jews, does promote segregation or seperateness.

This isn't true, Steve. As you know, there are degrees of observation of kashruth. All but the most rigorous will eat in non-kosher homes or restaurants. Some will even do so without prior notification of their preference.

It's a big tent. Only at the extremes, as has already been observed, will intolerance exclude the more moderate.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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