A discussion of etiology and the Jewish Food Movement. Originally published for the Hazon CSA Listserve
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Humans are fascinated with how things came to be the way they are. Scholars spend hours upon hours categorizing, classifying, reviewing and understanding to gain insight into why we behave as we do, why we believe as we do or how we evolved as we have. Studying the origin of any particular phenomenon is known as etiology--the study of causation. The Torah, too, is often concerned with etiology. We are told how certain places or people get their name and how we adopted certain behaviors.
In this week’s Torah portion, parashat va’yishlah, we have examples of all of these etiologies. We learn of how Jacob became Israel, we learn how places such as Beth-El and Peniel got their names and we learn how a particular practice of keeping kosher--that of abstaining from eating a vein in the rear of an animal--came into being. It is written, in the aftermath of the episode involving Jacob wrestling with the ‘divine being,’ “Because of this the Children of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh-vein which is on the hollow of the hip, unto this day, because he struck the hollow of Jacob’s hip at the sinew of the thigh-vein.” (Genesis 32:33)
I found myself wondering, generations from now when our offspring look back on this era, what will be the etiological story of our heightened awareness of our concerns for our food sources and our environmental impact? What story will be told as to how, as a community, we recognized our responsibility to support local agriculture, diminish our environmental impact and change and connect these values with our Jewish tradition? How do our actions, today, create stories for tomorrow?
Just as we retain our narrative traditions, generation to generation, by teaching them and speaking of them with our children, may we also tell our children why, as a community, we joined the greater ‘Food Movement,’ so that generations from now they may know and tell their children the story of “because of this Jews joined the ‘Food Movement.’”