Magazine article Tikkun

Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Sex, and Money

Magazine article Tikkun

Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Sex, and Money

Article excerpt

Vol. 3, No. 1. 1988.

(editor's note in 2016 : This is a short selection from much fuller articles that deal with a Jewish perspective on food, sex, and money published in Vol. 3, No. 1 and No. 2.)

According to "biblical Israel's" understanding of itself, as expressed in the Bible, and according to some (not all) of those who have studied the ancient cultures of the land of Canaan, the very divergence between "Canaanites" and "Israelites" may have emerged in part from the divergence between two ways of addressing the Life-Force of the Universe. One path was through sexuality, which obviously transmitted and celebrated life through the generations. In this view, sacred sexual intercourse with sacred sexual priests and priestesses (what the Bible called kadesha and kadesh-from the root for "holy") was, in ancient Canaan, a way of invoking and celebrating that ultimate Intercourse that gave rise to all life.

The other path was through the celebration of food. In this view, biblical Israel created a form of prayer and celebration that rejected the path of temple sexuality and focused entirely on bringing the food that sprang from the land- goats and sheep, barley and wheat, olive oil and wine, even water-to the central place of worship. Some was set aside for God the Lifegiver, who was the real owner of all land; some for the landless priests; and some for the poor who had little to eat.

In this culture, even the first independent act of human history was described as an act of eating-not as an act of sexuality or parenting or murder. That act of eating from the Tree of Knowledge sprouted into the burden of endless toil that all human beings faced to wring food from the earth. And when the same culture joyfully welcomed Shabbat into the world-the first step of releasing that burden of endless toil-it was also in the context of food, the manna in the wilderness, that Shabbat came.

So it is hardly surprising that this culture generated an elaborate system of kashrut. When the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish community necessitated some new approach to hallowing food that did not depend upon the Temple sacrifices, the Talmud described each family's dinner table as a holy Altar, and kashrut was elaborated far beyond its biblical simplicity. Without a separate food-producing land to make them distinctive, the Jews made their Diaspora dinner tables so distinctive that at every meal their separate peoplehood was reaffirmed. . . .

For many Jews in our generation . . . the question of kashrut is especially problematic. Most of us want to assert our Jewishness without letting it separate us from others with whom we share basic political, cultural, and spiritual values. Many of us act as if "we are what we eat" when it comes to decisions about vegetarianism, macrobiotic diets, boycotts of food grown by oppressed workers in Chile, South Africa, or the United States. Yet many of us also resist the imposition of absolute, black-and-white distinctions in our lives: this you must and this you must not.

Is there any way to reshape this ungainly bundle of our partly contradictory values so that it makes a coherent whole, affirming and strengthening our lives as Jews?

Most of our strongest social values have their roots (or at least their analogues) in values expressed by Jewish tradition.

Oshek. The prohibition of oppressing workers-and a similar prohibition of exploiting customers. Its principles could be extended to prohibit eating the fruit of such oppression or exploitation.

Tza'ar ba'alei hayyim. Respect for animals. …

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