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Religious Dietary Laws


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

Actually this is the issue I've been trying to deal with. I think it's even worse then what you write. I think that if you look at the original writings that these laws were based on, and their original intent, you will find that they were from among abhorant when taken on a literal basis, to promoting things that we would like to eliminate from the world like prejudice and segregation. For example, for the Jewish bible to say that pigs are dirty, which implies that people who eat pork are dirty, is almost on par with the type of myth that says that Jews killed Jesus. So while it is all well and good for someone to announce that they have decided to keep kosher in a benign way, i.e., to carry on a tradition, you can't divorce that they are to some extent continuing something that once upon a time stood for many things we are against today. It is sort of like someone wanting to fly a Confederate flag in the south not because they believe in slavery, but because they want a connection to their ancestors. It doesn't work because the flag will never be symbolic of anything good for blacks so by nature it is exclusionary. I don't think that as hard as you can try, you can come up with a secular reason for keeping kosher. The answer to the question will always be that pigs are dirty and by implication so are the people who eat them.

In my opinion that is the test. I wish that Judaism would teach that pigs aren't dirty but we choose not to eat them because............ Well that's the problem isn't it? It doesn't work as a matter of sheer logic. Unless you are like my rabbi and excuse the original intent while adopting the tradition. At least that attempts to straddle some difficult issues. Of course someone like Fat Guy is going to come along now and say Steve P. you're nuts for equating kashruth with slavery. Well that's not what I'm doing. I'm just pointing out that they are both discriminatory in their own ways. Just because the practice of kashruth might encourage a mild form of discrimination doesn't exclude it from criticism of what it ultimately promotes.

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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.

Also Turkey (culturally Islamic though politically secular). I've just come back from Istanbul and man do they put it away. Interestingly alcohol seemed to be even easier to get hold of than when I was there 9 years' ago, and this seemed to be associated with a rise in a Westernised middle class.

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Also Turkey (culturally Islamic though politically secular).  I've just come back from Istanbul and man do they put it away.  Interestingly alcohol seemed to be even easier to get hold of than when I was there 9 years' ago, and this seemed to be associated with a rise in a Westernised middle class.

Yes, it's as if the Muslim strictures on alcohol are just completely ignored in Turkey, where booze of all kinds is available everywhere and is dirt cheap.

Not only Turkey, but Algeria, Tunisia, and Morroco all have large wine industries, although the total area under vine in these countries has diminished somewhat in recent years.

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In fact, the Hanafi legal tradition, historically dominant in Turkey, defines the alcohol that is prohibited differently from the Hanbali tradition, dominant in Saudi Arabia for example. As I indicated wine is consistently prohibited, but other forms of fermented alcholic beverage may or may not be.

With regard to SteveP's assumption that people prefer freedom, that is an exceptional modern assumption, historically, most people want to know what is good and seek knowledge of what is good from authority. The existence of eGullet's valued food critics and the respect that they engender suggests that those who consult this list want to be told whether or not Jewel Bako is better than any other sushi bar. Freedom would mean complete indifference to the comments of the cognoscenti.

The notion that pig is "dirty" is absent from the Leviticus and Deuteronomy statements. The term in both Lev 11:7 and Deut 14:8 is TA-ME, usually translated not as "dirty", but as "unclean". The full statement is "unclean to you", meaning not absolutely unclean for all, but specifically for you. Such usage should be set in the context of notions of ritual purity and impurity that were commonplace in all ancient cults.

Cut to run out and move the cars away from the snow plow.

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The existence of eGullet's valued food critics and the respect that they engender suggests that those who consult this list want to be told whether or not Jewel Bako is better than any other sushi bar.  Freedom would mean complete indifference to the comments of the cognoscenti. 

Vivremanger, in the modern, democratic, secular society, particularly one with a relatively successful open market system, freedom also carries equal access to information and the ability to use it or not as is wished. So that while, yes, many readers of egullet want to have the opinions and experience of some of the active writers (ie, they want to be "told" about a restaurant), they do not necessarily want to be "led", nor will they necessarily subscribe to the proffered view. Rather, they want to use the information offered in their own decision-making process. In a political sense, freedom as complete as you suggest skates close to anarchy, and imagine that around the New York restaurant scene!

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

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The notion that pig is "dirty" is absent from the Leviticus and Deuteronomy statements. The term in both Lev 11:7 and Deut 14:8 is TA-ME, usually translated not as "dirty", but as "unclean". The full statement is "unclean to you", meaning not absolutely unclean for all, but specifically for you. Such usage should be set in the context of notions of ritual purity and impurity that were commonplace in all ancient cults.

First of all, you stilll need the basis for impurity to define "unclean to you" or else it is ambiguous. So you would still need to probe why they chose animals without clovenly hooves. Or fish without fins and gills? I defy you to find me yeshiva or Jewish afterschool programs anywhere in the world that make the distinction between dirty and unclean. If there is any distinction left after you get to the source of what "unclean" means. Regardless of what the torah says in specific (which is ambiguous at best,) from my own yeshiva and talmud torah experience, it is taught as dirty. And they encourage you to look down on people who eat pork and shellfish or mix milk with meat.

The existence of eGullet's valued food critics and the respect that they engender suggests that those who consult this list want to be told whether or not Jewel Bako is better than any other sushi bar. Freedom would mean complete indifference to the comments of the cognoscenti.

The issue isn't freedom or no freedom, the issue is doing things based on the truth instead of it based on theology. Nobody is forced to go to Jewel Bakko or to like it. And if you don't go, or if you go and don't like it, nobody is turning you into a pillar of salt.

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A propos R Schonfeld's astute comment.

One person's freedom is another's anarchy. The distinction between the two while certainly significant is not equally clear to all.

By the way I just checked my friendly local concordance to the Bible, in this case to the King James version of the so-called Old and New Testaments. Despite the fact that the NT is about 1/4 the size of the OT, it contains more references to "swine": 13 as opposed to 6. Without going into the details of each citation, it appears that the derogatory character of the animal in the OT is not reversed in the NT. The NT references appear in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This usage suggests that the Jewish aversion to the animal continued for quite some time in early Christianity. Off hand, I can't remember the precise date of the final translation and redaction of the Gospels, but I think it is complete by early 2nd century.

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A small note:

US food preparation policy has derogations not only in respect of Halal and Kosher preparations but for

Chinese Buddhists: In the slaughter of poultry the eviscerated fowl should retain their head & feet.

Confucians: The chicken retains its viscera.

Wilma squawks no more

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SP's statements:

1) First of all, you stilll need the basis for impurity to define "unclean to you" or else it is ambiguous. So you would still need to probe why they chose animals without clovenly hooves. Or fish without fins and gills? I defy you to find me yeshiva or Jewish afterschool programs anywhere in the world that make the distinction between dirty and unclean. If there is any distinction left after you get to the source of what "unclean" means. Regardless of what the torah says in specific (which is ambiguous at best,) from my own yeshiva and talmud torah experience, it is taught as dirty. And they encourage you to look down on people who eat pork and shellfish or mix milk with meat.

2) The issue isn't freedom or no freedom, the issue is doing things based on the truth instead of it based on theology. Nobody is forced to go to Jewel Bakko or to like it. And if you don't go, or if you go and don't like it, nobody is turning you into a pillar of salt.

Re: 1

I make the distinction between what the text originally states, however complex and ambiguous, and whatever interpretations and meanings have been placed upon it. You are correct that the fine points are lost in most schools and that the distinctions between ritual uncleanness, physical dirt, and moral impurity are consequently lost.

The role of the pig in the long history of Christian-Jewish-Muslim polemical art and literature is directly relevant to the contemporary approaches in Jewish education. A very well-developed theme in early modern German Christian art was the Jew-pig, or the Jew riding upon the pig. In some medieval Christian polemics against Islam, Muhammad was supposed to have been killed by a pack of pigs. If the details of these traditions interest anyone, I can send a variety of references to a scholarly literature that would deepen our understanding.

Re: 2

I take a far more agnostic approach to truth and theology. Having studied more claims to truth from a wide variety of traditions -- theological and anti-theological -- over the millennia than I would care to admit, I can't arrogate to myself the confidence that I always know what is what. However whenever someone claims to know the truth, I make sure to know where I put my wallet. The most consistent element in most theological systems is a claim to knowing the truth. Modesty and uncertainty in the face of what is unknowable -- and sometimes not worth knowing -- would be a far better instinct.

By the way, Lot's wife was not turned into a pillar of salt because she ate swine, though all that salt might be good for preparing a Smithfield ham.

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You are describing truth for the purpose of people following a stated path or goal. I am describing truth not in the absolute but as giving a recount of events so people have freedom of choice. That is the difference between theology and eGullet. Theology is backwards. It justifies its goal by proclaiming that god or one of his subjects has spoken the truth. The net effect of doing that is to eliminate the market of ideas. It is inherently non-democratic which is why ulitmately religion is authoritarian. eGullet has no collective goal other then to offer various truths which people are free to use anyway they want.

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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And they encourage you to look down on people who eat pork and shellfish or mix milk with meat.

Are you talking about Jews or non-Jews? I would be able to agree that observant Jews are encouraged to view Jews who eat unkosher food as being in violation of Jewish law. Whether they are supposed to "look down" on those who do it is another question, though. And certainly, Jewish law is quite clear on the point that non-Jews are in no way expected to adhere to the laws of kashruth. Judaism -- in every interpretation I've ever heard of -- couldn't care less whether gentiles eat non-kosher or kosher food.

+++

I just read over this whole thread this morning and many of the posts are in my opinion excellent. I'm glad we've been able to keep it civil, even though many of the ancillary issues that have come into play have been potentially difficult. My big concern remains that those of us who have commented on the thread are overwhelmingly from the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that is where our expertise -- or at least our experience -- lies. Of course the reality of the Internet is that on a discussion board thread the content of the thread will be controlled by those who post. But I'm not at all comfortable with the descriptions of Islam, Hinduism, et al., that have been put forth here -- they read as parodies. I hope, in the absence of anybody qualified to represent those religions, we can at least speak of them respectfully.

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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I would be able to agree that observant Jews are encouraged to view Jews who eat unkosher food as being in violation of Jewish law. Whether they are supposed to "look down" on those who do it is another question, though.

Schneering at those who violate Jewish law is common practice in Brooklyn.

Schnorring, on the other had, is encouraged.

Schmoozing while schnorring is necessary.

Schneering at a schmoozing schnoorer eating traif is de rigeur.

Edited by jaybee (log)
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I recently read a description of what was involved in turning a non-kosher kitchen into a kosher kitchen, and in doing so learnt a little more about the subject. What profoundly puzzled me, as an outsider, was that I could see no link - logical, functional or even metaphorical - between the specifics of kashrut and the religious precepts I would associate with Judaism.

To make an analogy - although I don't believe in transubtantiation, when a Catholic eats bread and drinks wine in holy communion, I can fully understand the intended religious significance of the ritual.

I couldn't see anything about kasrut which made it a religious practice rather than a somewhat arbitrary lifestyle. Am I missing something?

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Yes, you're missing something: You're looking at one religion through the lens of another, with a healthy dose of secular humanism thrown in to further confuse the issue. Judaism is not a faith-based religion. Its laws are extremely detailed and, to some, seemingly tiresome. They aren't necessarily explained at all. Most seriously observant Jews will tell you there is no reason for the dietary laws or a million other aspects of Jewish ritual. The search for a reason, a justification, an excuse, or a faith-basis is a secular and Christian thing.

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 certainly confirms what I read ( I think it was in Sokolow's "Fading Feasts", but my memory is fallible). No reason for the rules. I take your point(s): I am applying what I thought was a very broad idea of what "religious" means, but it might not be broad enough.

I shall have to think about this.

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A recent book Holy Cow by D.N. Jha apparently argues that the Hindu prohibition on eating beef is very recent.

To quote from the Guardian review:

[Why did] a modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef.

The answer lies in the 19th century, when many newly emergent middle-class Hindus began to see the cow as an important symbol of a glorious tradition defiled by Muslim rule over India. For these Hindus, the cause for banning cow-slaughter became a badge of identity, part of their quest for political power in post-colonial India. Educated Muslims felt excluded from, even scorned by, these Hindu notions of the Indian past; and they developed their own separatist fantasies.

The newly invented traditions helped create two antagonistic political elites, defined primarily by religion, and eventually led to the disastrous partition of India. The nationalist myths are now incarnated by the two nuclear-armed nation-states of India and Pakistan.

Which supports Plotnicki’s idea that dietary laws are deliberately exclusionary (or at least can be).

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The comparison of dietary prohibitions across religions or cutures is interesting. I wonder what the commonalities and differences are, for example between the Hindu prohibition of eating beef and the Muslim and Jewish prohibitions of eating pork; or for that matter between the Jewish and Muslim pork prohibitions?

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Briefly to clarify a misunderstanding thast might arise from one of VivreManger's posts, the Lubavichers are a tiny (although influential) sect within Judaism. Within that sect, a tiny number (literally only a few score) believe that Menachem Schneerson was/is the Messiah. The large majority of Lubavichers, and the whole of the rest of Jews worldwide, acknowledge that claim as heresy. Incidentally, it's great to see someone with VivreManger's knowledge and understanding making such eloquent and well-considered posts on such an explosive thread as this one.

Which is more than can be said for some others.

I'm particularly disappointed to see SteveP, the guy who criticises members here for posting about food they don't understand, or about wine on which they have insufficient knowledge, nevertheless making the most extraordinary factual errors on the subject of Judaism. Steve, your experience of the religion has obviously come from narrow and non-expert sources. I'm sad that you have thereby been brought to your present level of contempt for Judaism, and indeed for many Jews, but I can't condone your pretence to knowledge.

I have just read 187 posts on this thread, and what astonishes me is that not a single person has proposed the obvious reason for dietary laws, which is quite simply that they are God's laws. Now I accept that if a person doesn't believe in God, then he/she won't accept His laws. But in that case I don't understand why they would be of any concern to that person, apart from providing a source of mild amusement. Nor do I think that gives anyone the right to doubt the sincerity or rights of those who do believe in God and who do follow His laws.

Those who don't understand why God made dietary laws, or who don't believe that He could possibly have interested himself in such minor matters, simply are not accepting the foundation of their religion, if any. For myself, I acknowledge that I don't understand what lies beyond the universe, or how matter existed before the "big bang", or what came before the very first thing that ever existed, or why we live our lives. Within that framework of ignorance, I'm quite happy to accept that I don't understand why I must not eat pork. I am entirely uninterested in any explanation of why I should, or why I shouldn't. I accept it. If the most learned man the world has ever known arose and said to me "Great news, I've just reinterpreted the texts and discovered it was all a mistake -- the Jews can eat pork after all" the pronouncement would leave me entirely cold, neither thrilled nor dismayed.

To ask for a "secular explanation" of kashrut is like asking for an explanation of Pythagoras' Theorem without reference to geometry. Sorry folks, it can't be done. The only complete reason for observing kashrut is that you believe it to be God's law.

Now if you don't believe that, then as a Jew you can still observe kashrut (all of it or just some of it) as an act of traditional connection, or as a deliberate means of differentiating yourself from others, but then the explanation is not entirely logical, and certainly not able to stand up to hostile cross-examination. Of course, even as an otherwise observant and believing Jew, you can simply not observe it. A Jew who eats pork is not condemned to Hell, nor threatened with any punishment under the law, because it is not considered sufficiently important within Jewish law.

Talk of kashrut being "segregationist" as though that were an evil is frankly nonsensical. Observant Muslims and Jews are required to say prayers 3 or more times every day. If they work, they will almost certainly have to interrupt their work to recite their prayers. Is this "segregationist" ? Well of course it is. Christians have to perform religious rituals and say prayers on several special days in the year, and in Christian countries these days are nominated as public hilidays to enable this practice. Is this "segregationist" ? Well of course it is. Spaniards who have moral objections to cruelty to animals will refuse to attend bullfights. Is this "segregationist" ? Well of course it is. In fact, any belief system is "segregationist" because people operate to many different belief systems, and many people operate to no belief system. Perhaps the most segregationist thing that could be done would be to segregate people for daring to follow their own beliefs, and thereby to think differently and to be different.

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Fat Guy - As far as I recall, there are explanations for many if not most Jewish rituals. From lighting sabbath candles to having your son bar mitzvahed. The purpose of those acts are well explained and logical. That they chose 13 years of age instead of 12, or Friday night and not Tuesday night is not significant. There is no detriment to either of those choices. But not eating pork etc. defies logic. And your explanation of "ya gotta believe" is where assimilation begins because it is hypocraphal (sp?) But it isn't hypocritical to say that a boy becomes a man at the age of 13 or that a women should start visiting a mikvah (ritual bath) when she hits puberty. Of course if once upon a time there was a risk to eating pork for health reasons, then it would make sense. But that the rabbinate doesn't clairfy this situation as being temporary and outmoded only exacerbates the situation and causes skepticism.

Macrosan - Praying is not segregationist. It promotes seperateness and religious and cultural identity. There is a big difference between the being seperate and segregated. It is one thing for you to take 10 minutes out of your day three times a day and seperate yourself to be among people who believe in the same things you believe in. It is another to create rules that eliminate you from being social with non-Jews and forcing you to live in communities where only Jews live. And to eat in restaurants where only Jews eat. And to bath where only Jews bath. And to educate your children where only Jews are educated. And to be buried where only Jews are buried. Those things are not about being seperate, they about being segregated and they are intended to promote exlusion.

The rest of your post is nonsensical. If you read these threads, you would see that the discussion is being held from the vantage point of people who want to be associated to religion but do not believe in god. To say that these laws were "made by god" is not responsive to the original question which implies that the whole thing is made up to control people politically. And if you really believe that god made dietary laws, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. No make that 10 bridges.

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Macrosan, your acceptance of God's law as it applies to dietary constraints is certainly one explanation of why some people behave that way. However, there is an underlying truth to much religious "law" that is not as idealisitc or altruistic as you make it out to be.

If G. Johnson's post about the origins of the Hindu proscription of beef eating is accurate, it is typical, I'm sorry to say, of much religious "law." That is, it is designed to serve a particular person or people's needs for power and control. It is fundamentally political.

I think the fundamental argument here is between those who seek some sort of nobility or devine-ness in religiously based dietary rules, and those who see them as perverse and hypocritical devices.

It is particularly repugnant when people who claim to be "holy" in their designs and desires turn out to be merely exploiting others who are prone to believe. And by creating artificial barriers between people, harm is done.

Humans are, by nature, tribal animals. We seek out those closest to ourselves, since they present the least risk and the most comfortable familiarity.

For organized religion to create rituals and behaviors that further separate people and mark some as the "other" is, it seems to me, destructive to the whole, however beneficial it may be to individuals.

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If G. Johnson's post about the origins of the Hindu proscription of beef eating is accurate, it is typical, I'm sorry to say, of much religious "law."  That is, it is designed to serve a particular person or people's needs for power and control.  It is fundamentally political.

That's the nub of it, Jaybee. If you don't believe in God, then your definition of "religion" is that it is man-made, therefore both fallible and probably sinister in purpose. But all you're offering as analternative to the "man-made" religion is a man-made belief system, which is nothing fundamentally different from the religion you disacerded except in the words it uses. Why would anyone believe that a group of guys in the 21st century will do better than a group of guys 5,000 or 2,000 or 1,200 years ago ?

I accept that your new religion (whether it's called humanism or libertarianism or communism or atheism or whatever) will be written in modern language, and that would help. But where are the differences in values ? Would you include any dietary laws in your recipe for human existence ?

Edited by macrosan (log)
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I once read this as one possible reason for the pork ban. I have no idea if there's any validity at all to it, but here goes....

Pigs serve no other purpose to humans other than to provide meat. They're not work animals like cows or oxen, do not lay eggs like chickens, and don't provide wool for clothing like sheep. Therefore, in a harsh desert climate with little water and grasslands, it would not make sense for farmers to keep what is essentially a "luxury" animal. Perhaps this may have motivated whoever was making the laws for both Judaism and Islam, two religions that were born in desert peoples.

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I accept that your new religion (whether it's called humanism or libertarianism or communism or atheism or whatever) will be written in modern language, and that would help. But where are the differences in values ? Would you include any dietary laws in your recipe for human existence ?

Dietary Law #1:

Life's too short for bad food.

Edited by =Mark (log)

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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