Food and Jewish Ethics: An Exploration

 

Food and Jewish Ethics: An Exploration

Julia Appel, Hebrew College Rabbinical School '11

Jonathan Safran Foer, "Against Meat," The New York Times, 9 October 2009 - "Listen to Me"

Original
[Below is a story told by the author's grandmother, ending with a brief conversation between the author and his grandmother] LISTEN TO ME “We weren’t rich, but we always had enough. Thursday we baked bread, and challah and rolls, and they lasted the whole week. Friday we had pancakes. Shabbat we always had a chicken, and soup with noodles. You would go to the butcher and ask for a little more fat. The fattiest piece was the best piece. It wasn’t like now. We didn’t have refrigerators, but we had milk and cheese. We didn’t have every kind of vegetable, but we had enough. The things that you have here and take for granted. . . . But we were happy. We didn’t know any better. And we took what we had for granted, too. “Then it all changed. During the war it was hell on earth, and I had nothing. I left my family, you know. I was always running, day and night, because the Germans were always right behind me. If you stopped, you died. There was never enough food. I became sicker and sicker from not eating, and I’m not just talking about being skin and bones. I had sores all over my body. It became difficult to move. I wasn’t too good to eat from a garbage can. I ate the parts others wouldn’t eat. If you helped yourself, you could survive. I took whatever I could find. I ate things I wouldn’t tell you about. “Even at the worst times, there were good people, too. Someone taught me to tie the ends of my pants so I could fill the legs with any potatoes I was able to steal. I walked miles and miles like that, because you never knew when you would be lucky again. Someone gave me a little rice, once, and I traveled two days to a market and traded it for some soap, and then traveled to another market and traded the soap for some beans. You had to have luck and intuition. “The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.” “He saved your life.” “I didn’t eat it.” “You didn’t eat it?” “It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.” “Why?” “What do you mean why?” “What, because it wasn’t kosher?” “Of course.” “But not even to save your life?” “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How do you react to the grandmother's final line: "If nothing matters, there's nothing to save?"
2. What is the role of the values in this story?
3. How does the author use this story to argue in support of ethical consumption or, specifically, vegetarianism?


Aruch HaShulchan, The Laws of Tzedakah, 256:2

Translation Original
What is a public fund and what is a food collective? The Tur wrote, and these are his words: Every city that has in it a Jewish community is obligated to appoint tzedakah collectors who are known and trustworthy and who will call upon all the people each and every Friday and collect from each one of them what is appropriate to give, and the matter is fixed for them (the amount each person is to give is determined for them). They distribute the money each and every week and give to each and every poor person enough food for seven days, and this is what is called the public fund. Therefore, whoever has seven days worth of food may not take from it. And so, they appoint collectors who collect each and every day from each and every household bread and all kinds of food and fruit or money that is donated according to the immediate need. They distribute the collection in the early evening, giving to every poor person a day’s sustenance, and this is what is called the food collective. Therefore, whoever has a day’s worth of sustenance may not take from it - until here are his words. He wrote “they call upon all the people from Friday to Friday;” this does not mean that they collected only on Friday, but throughout the week in order to distribute on Friday. He wrote “and the matter is fixed for them” as if to say that concerning the public fund a donation of such-and-such was fixed for every head-of-household. However, for the food collective, there was no fixed amount. This discrepancy is because the public fund is for the poor of the city and you can count them, whereas the food collective is for all poor people (Baba Batra 8b); that is to say, poor people who are transient, so this cannot be fixed, because sometimes they are many and the other times they are few. [Translated by Rabbi Bruce Elder] מה היא קופה ומה היא תמחוי כתב הטור וז"ל כל עיר שיש בה ישראל חייבין להעמיד מהן גבאי צדקה ידועים ונאמנים שיהו מחזירין על העם מערב שבת לערב שבת ולוקחין מכל אחד מהן מה שהוא ראוי ליתן ודבר הקצוב עליהן והן מחלקין המעות מערב שבת לערב שבת ונותנין לכל עני ועני מזונות המספיקין לשבעת הימים והוא הנקרא קופה של צדקה לפיכך מי שיש לו מזון שבעה ימים לא יטול ממנה וכן מעמידים גבאים שלוקחים בכל יום ויום מכל חצר וחצר פת וכל מיני מאכל ופירות או מעות שנתנדב לפי השער ומחלקין את הגבוי לערב ונותנין ממנו לכל עני פרנסת יומו וזהו הנקרא תמחוי לפיכך מי שיש לו פרנסה יום אחד לא יטול ממנו עכ"ל וזה שכתב שיהיו מחזרין על העם מערב שבת לערב שבת לא שבערב שבת היו מחזרין אלא בכל השבוע להכין על חילוק מערב שבת לערב שבת וזה שכתב ודבר הקצוב עליהן כלומר דעל הקופה היו הנדבות קצובין לכל בעה"ב כך וכך אבל על התמחוי לא היה דבר קצוב לפי שהקופה היא לעניי העיר ויש לזה חשבון משא"כ התמחוי הוא לעניי עולם [גמ' ב"ב ח' ב] כלומר עניים העוברים ושבים ולזה אין קצבה שפעמים מרובים ופעמים מועטים

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the difference between the food collective and the public fund? Why is it necessary to have both?
2. Do you differentiate how you give tzedakah based on the needs of the community?
3. Should we donate to causes based on the communities that they serve?


Blu Greenberg, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., First Fireside, 1985), p. 117-118.

Original
I believe that the purpose of kashrut is to make eating a special experience and to serve as a reminder of a Jew's ethical conscience as well as of the other unique teachings of Judaism. To me, distinctiveness and not separation is the Jew's calling. This feeling is possible in the presence of non-observant Jews and of non-Jews. The values of friendship, human solidarity, and socializing are highly esteemed Jewish values; making a living and exchanging professional service (sometimes performed over a meal) also are respected in Jewish culture. One of the great qualities of the Jewish tradition is its ability to balance contradictions- idealism and realism, Jewish particularism and unusual concern for humanity. Similarly, in the act of eating, one can strike that balance between fidelity to one's own principles and shared friendship and respectful contact with others.

Suggested Discussion Questions

Does this philosophy resonate with you? What social justice themes emerge from this text?