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Religious Dietary Laws


Tonyfinch
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If you’re trying to convert Greeks it doesn’t help if you insist they no longer eat what they’re accustomed to

What, Greek food? No great loss.

Okay, but seriously, how do you explain the success of Islam? It has dietary laws that are roughly as restrictive as those of Judaism. Yet it seems to be roughly as successful as Christianity at expansion and conversion.

Early converts to Islam were Arabs who shared the same food taboos, I think. I’m guessing that the spread of Islam elsewhere only occurred after establishment of a secure Arab/Islamic empire. Early Christians were in a much more tenuous situation, unable to convert many Jews (and persecuted by them) and forced to proselytize among pagans. Toby is correct: there are large chunks of Acts of the Apostles devoted to the question of whether pagan converts to Christianity should be obliged to accept Jewish law (diet, circumcision). The decision to drop those requirements was deliberate and the only satisfactory explanation that I can think of is that it was pragmatic.

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But is Islam not one of the fastest growing religions even in the United States? And were the various peoples who converted to Christianity particularly prosperous? I'm just not sure the dietary restrictions issue can be pinpointed as one that explains the success or lack thereof of a religion.

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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But is Islam not one of the fastest growing religions even in the United States? And were the various peoples who converted to Christianity particularly prosperous? I'm just not sure the dietary restrictions issue can be pinpointed as one that explains the success or lack thereof of a religion.

True, but who is it that are converting. the poorest and most oppressed. African-Ameicans adopted Islam. Why, one has to ask, if they were part of the "system" and benefited from it in proportion to the rest of the population, would they have had as much incentive to convert. The Anglo-Christian church betrayed them. Are Americans of European extraction converting? I think not. I don't think it has anything to do with dietary laws today. it is more about poilitics and economics.

Edited by Max (log)
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Christianty, when it took hold in Europe in the midddle ages, was the instrument of the kings and nobility to gain control of the peasant masses.  The relationship between the crown and the head of the church was ineluctable.

But in the first century CE, when the decision to drop Jewish dietary law was made, Christianity was a religion of the poor. Forget Satan, the appeal was that suffering in this life would lead to reward in the next. Matthew 5:3-11:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

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But in the first century CE, when the decision to drop Jewish dietary law was made, Christianity was a religion of the poor. Forget Satan, the appeal was that suffering in this life would lead to reward in the next. Matthew 5:3-11:

My point is that it has nothing to do with dietary law. But dietary law has a lot to do with control. Which was the original question Tony asked. Control what people eat, and control their sexula activity and you effectively control their lives. And, like the hucklebuck, that's what it's all about.

Edited by Max (log)
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And, like the hucklebuck, that's what it's all about.

Not to criticize, or call your opinion into question, or negate or trivialize your point of view, but....

Isn't "it" really "all about" the "Hokey Pokey"? :unsure:

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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For what it was worth, I did try to expand the discussion into a general discussion of food -- as well as the related question of sex -- taboos. However the only points of my contribution that seem to have prompted a response concerned the discussion of kashrut. With regard to Steve Plotnicki's question concerning the consistency of Jewish kashrut observance. As a norm, well into the 19th century, Jews accepted the notion that they should observe kashrut, even though some did not. However the details of what kashrut actually required could vary, as I have indicated. The first sustained critique of the binding nature of kashrut as a norm from a self-avowed Jewish perspective developed with the Reform movement that first arose among German Jews in the early 19th century. Among other aspects of traditional Judaism, they also raised the idea of abandoning circumcision.

Now with regard to the larger question of food taboos in general. We have to rid ourselves of a number of anachronistic assumptions. We assume that the absence of ritual prohibitions and requirements makes a religion more appealing. That may be true for some today, but it has not been so in the past. Christianity's abandonment of many Jewish rituals was in fact much slower and more complex than some have here suggested. While Paul opened the door it took more than a century for others to follow him. The very important Christian community of Antioch practised a from of Judaeo-Christianity well into the late second century. The even greater success of Islam (success here defined as rapidity of rise and wide-spread success -- as Fat Guy noted), a religion with almost as involved a set of food taboos as Judaism, proves that point. Furthermore Islam proscribed wine, and most Muslims extend that prohibition to alcohol in general.

Just as in Judaism so in Islam, there are a number of significant variations. There are four accepted traditions of legal interpretation within Islam. The strictest, and before the rise of petro-dollars, the least influential, was the Hanbali school that forbade all forms of alcohol. That is the practice of Saudi Arabia today. Up until the 20th century, the most influential in the Middle East was the Hanafi school, dominat in the Ottoman Empire. Their attitude toward alcohol was different. They accepted a beer-like drink, called, I believe buz-bag. Today some Hanafi jurists also accept the drinking of scotch. On the other hand the Quranic prohibition against wine is universal among all traditions. The practise is more complicated. Egypt, a country whose dominant Islamic tradition clearly prohibits beer, has a market for beer much larger than its Christian population (about 10 to 15%) could support. During Ramazan -- the month-long day-time fast -- the proof of this important Muslim market is revealed through the decline of beer sales throughout the country.

Hindus also practise prohibition -- one reason why I have never been able to take Indian beer too seriously. Hindu food taboos are the most complicated of all since they vary from caste to caste.

The underlying point is that such taboos do function as social markers, distinguishing one group from another. Identifying and distinguishing one group from another is not the same as segregating one group from another. What characterizes one as opposed to another is how one chooses to follow and interpret a particular practise. This may or may not have much to do with theology.

On this point the practise and theology of the followers of Schneerson, popularly known as Lubavitcher Hassidim, are fundamentally in conflict. The dominant trend in the theology of modern-day Schneersonanity is very close to Christianity. Their notions about the messianism of their late leader denies deep-rooted Jewish traditions opposed to a dead messiah and the possibility of the specific resurrection of such a human being. On the other hand their observance of food taboos is among the strictest of any modern Jewish sect and is thus the closest to segregation.

I think that Christianity's record with regard to food taboos is much more complicated than has been here assumed. Particularly before the period of the Reformations, that is the rise of reforming movements within and without the Roman Catholic church around the sixteenth century, the number of fast days and their requirements were much more onerous. Vatican II was but the last in a series of changes in Catholic food restrictions.

Edited by VivreManger (log)
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Isn't "it" really "all about" the "Hokey Pokey"?  

You put your left foot in....

Oh shit, you are totally right. I had too much wine tonight.

Well - I didn't want to be left out of posting my own relevant thoughts and deep insights on these "serious" topics.

Lest I be thought a "redneck." :biggrin:

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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Why do you say that Islam is successful other then counting the size of the Islamic population? The average GDP for the Isalmic world is ridiculously low when compared to the GDP of the Judao-Christian world.

I was speaking in terms of the population, because that's the measure that bears on the point that was being made: Whether or not conversions are easier without dietary restrictions as part of the religion.

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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...Though it would have been interesting to see the thread expanded beyond "dietary laws" to include food that various people around the world hold "sacred" to their being. This could include rice in some cultures, potatoes in others and, for North American Indians, corn (Maize).

There was, and is, nothing stopping that from happening.

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One would think that the less restrictions there are the easier it would be for people to convert.

That depends entirely upon what they're looking for.

Some people equate sacrifice and restriction and discipline with piety. They are looking for structure.

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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But you don't have to offer people structure through limitation. The promise of a good afterlife seems to have worked better than the structure that comes from not eating veal parmegian.

Not for everyone.

I am commenting on your statement that fewer restrictions would seem to encourage conversions.

All I'm saying is that there are a considerable number of people who intentionally join spartan groups because for some reason they are searching for a lack of freedom. For them, self-denial provides comfortable and easy to discern boundries.

I am not one of those people, I hasten to add.

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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Why do you say that Islam is successful other then counting the size of the Islamic population? The average GDP for the Islamic world is ridiculously low when compared to the GDP of the Judao-Christian world.

Well, naturally, the answer is a lot more complicated than could be answered in single sentence, although g. j. put it pretty astutely in three words: politics and economics.

As you have seen in many situations, in the hands of a skilled orator or imam, certain topics are treated as a question of faith and you have the makings of a powerful tool or weapon in your hands (i.e., the wrath of the masses).

When you are told by figures in your government and religious hierarchy that the "rich and decadent West" is the root of all that is not right within your world, and if you, as most people are within the Islamic world, belong to a certain social class (i.e., the working poor, or the less-than-college educated, or even below the poverty line), and have done so for most of your natural life, you begin to believe what they are saying. It takes a very strong will to question what people, especially figures of authority keep saying and repeating over and over. (It doesn't help matters when these attitudes are entrenched within your society via childhood inculcation and education (e.g., the madrassas). It also doesn't help our view when current events support what people say (of course, viewed through their twisted prism.))

Factor in the fact that members of the Arab world, especially societies within Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran are essentially tribal societies rapidly thrust into a modern setting, with almost none of the niceties of what we take for granted in Western civilization (i.e., freedom of speech and thought), and what you have is a tremendous pressure within members of those individual societies to conform to the accepted standard of behavior.

The ruling parties in certain of these countries may have figured out long ago that the way to ensure loyalty of the people and perpetuate their hold on power was to establish the appearance (whether real or imagined) of a faithful adherence to Islamic teachings. Witness the pact made by the Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi (sp) sect of Islam within Saudi Arabia, the Jordanian monarchy, and the theocracy in Iran.

As a vast oversimplification, the reasoning behind Islam's success in the context of the Arab world and the Middle East, lies in the divide between the rich and the poor. Its VERY successful in uniting people of uncommon backgrounds together on the premise that it is an alternative to the "rich and decadent West", and that, if nothing else, is useful for those in power.

SA

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In thinking more about the spread of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries as compared to the spread of Christianity in the first 3 centuries after Jesus, while both were proseltyzing religions, Islam spread as part of a military/administrative conquest, into the Fertile Crescent area (Iraq, then controlled by the Iranian Sasanian dynasty) and then into Iran itself (non-Arab population). Islam, as the youngest of the three religions to arise in the Middle East, was in some ways the most modern, building and borrowing from both Judaism and Christianity and responding to conditions of a later date than the older religions. Christianity, at first, was an underground movement of people who were persecuted by the Roman Empire; it's less attractive to convert to a persecuted religion than to the conqueror's religion. (The whole rise and spread of Islam is very complicated and the above is only a rough guess.)

Edited by Toby (log)
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All I'm saying is that there are a considerable number of people who intentionally join spartan groups because for some reason they are searching for a lack of freedom. For them, self-denial provides comfortable and easy to discern boundries.

Recovering addicts and "lost" souls are drawn to very restrictive cults for just that reason.

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On  this point the practise and theology of the followers of Schneerson, popularly known as Lubavitcher Hassidim, are fundamentally in conflict.  The dominant trend in the theology of modern-day Schneersonanity is very close to Christianity.

"Schneersonanity" If I don't learn a single other new word in 2003 that one will do. Thank you VivreManger

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I worked for a few years in a kosher restaurant (very strict kosher)

I have jewish friends that dont eat pork but will eat lettuce and greens that are not checked first. Now this is a greater sin than eating pork but they have no clue..

they will orders a roast beef sandwich even thought the guy just sliced my ham for my sandwhich and did not knosher the slicer first...

people interpert the laws how they want to.

Which of course they are free to do since in the end we all have to answer for what we alone did...in life

I bake there for I am....

Make food ... not war

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So. After all that, a Jewish or a Muslim child asks "But WHY can't I eat pork?".

What can one TRUTHFULLY say to him/her? There is only one answer. In the words of Topol- "TRADITION!" Its the way it is.

S/he can either nod and accept it or question it and look for its rationale. I suppose I'm saying that I believe that the world is better served by those who do the latter rather than the former.

Do the former do us any harm? Indirectly yes, by not being ther latter.

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