Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law

Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law

Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law

Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law

Synopsis

Foreigners and Their Food explores how Jews, Christians, and Muslims conceptualize "us" and "them" through rules about the preparation of food by adherents of other religions and the act of eating with such outsiders. David M. Freidenreich analyzes the significance of food to religious formation, elucidating the ways ancient and medieval scholars use food restrictions to think about the "other." Freidenreich illuminates the subtly different ways Jews, Christians, and Muslims perceive themselves, and he demonstrates how these distinctive self-conceptions shape ideas about religious foreigners and communal boundaries. This work, the first to analyze change over time across the legal literatures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, makes pathbreaking contributions to the history of interreligious intolerance and to the comparative study of religion.

Excerpt

I love food. I enjoy eating but, even more, I love preparing food and sharing it with others. Many of my fondest memories and formative experiences are associated with meals, and my closest relationships have become so in part through the regular sharing of food. I have been fortunate enough to grow up and live in committed, supportive Jewish communities, and many of my meals have taken place within these circles. I have also been blessed with opportunities to share food with Christians and Muslims in settings ranging from relaxed Shabbat dinners at my home to intense conversations in an Arab classmate’s dorm room over baklava and Iraqi coffee (not to be confused with the identical substance called “Turkish” coffee). This study is an exploration of a topic about which I am passionate: interaction with foreigners over food.

I should make clear from the start that I proudly practice what many of the authorities whom I study preach against. Although I am an ordained rabbi and consider myself an observant Jew, I eat food prepared by non-Jews and I share meals with non-Jews despite traditional norms prohibiting such activities. I disagree on principle with one of the primary motivations underlying the laws which I study. Religious authorities articulate foreign food restrictions as a means of thwarting efforts to establish connections across traditional boundaries, efforts that I believe are deeply enriching and vitally important. This study, somewhat subversively, demonstrates the connectedness of efforts by religious authorities to disconnect from one another, and it also demonstrates the value of making connections between their attitudes toward each other.

This book is not, however, a platform for my arguments in favor of commensality with religious outsiders. I am interested in understanding and explaining why . . .

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