“If an idolator gives a banquet for his son and invites all the Jews in his town, then, even though they eat of their own and drink of their own and their own attendant waits on them, Scripture regards them as if they had eaten of the sacrifices to dead idols…” – Talmud Bavli, Avodah Zarah 8:1
All this recent talk on the blog about choice and continuity in Judaism got me thinking about the Talmudic text quoted above. (Before I front like I’m too cool for school, I readily admit that Hazon’s staff just read this text* during a staff meeting, which is why it’s at the front of my consciousness.)
In my eyes, this – along with a few similarly prohibitive verses – sits as one of the more distressing texts in Jewish tradition because it implies that Jews should not eat with “non-Jews” (in the non-Jew’s home), even if the food they’re eating in that home is otherwise kosher. Why? Because eating symbolizes so much more than filling our bellies – it’s social, it connects us to other people, and it could, as they say, lead to mixed dancing…
More thoughts and a cholent recipe below the jump.
I’m deeply bothered by the extent to which this text goes out of its way to separate me from my non-Jewish counterparts. I understand why a kosher-keeping Jew would abstain from eating non-kosher food at a non-Jew’s (or for that matter a Jew’s) home. But I find it incredibly hard to swallow this text’s mandate to avoid eating a meal with non-Jews at all.
Some observant Jews get around this problem by excluding Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinuds from the “idolator” category. Other folks decide that their modern values of pluralism and community trump this “antiquated” passage. Most notably, Orthodox scholar, Blu Greenberg, created guidelines on how to keep kosher in a non-kosher restaurant in order to, “strike that balance between fidelity to one’s own principles and shared friendship and respectful contact with others.” As someone who happily chooses to eat vegetarian in non-kosher restaurants, or in the homes of my non-Jewish friends and my dad’s Christian family, I’ve obviously also chosen to disregard this mandate - I’d be equally happy share a table (mine or theirs) with an atheist or pagan as well.
Still, the text is there – and although it came from a different time, when the existence of being a Jew meant something very different than it does in contemporary America, it’s there, plain as day. It serves as a potent reminder of food’s connective power and, to me, a harsh reminder of what fear looks like.
So – here’s my antidote for fear of the other: cholent. A heady mixture of bulgher, beans, onions, carrots – and traditionally meat – cholent is the ultimate “melting-pot” food. Share it with your friends, whoever they might be.
“Eating with the Enemy” Cholent
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, cut into medium dice
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. tarragon
1 tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste
½ cup vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1 cup peeled and sliced carrots (about ½-inch thick)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
1 (15-ounce) can vegetarian baked beans, including juice
3 cups water
1 cup dark beer, such as porter or stout
½ cup seitan chunks
½ cup bulgur
1 cup green peas (if you use canned, drain them well; if frozen, thaw and drain)
The evening before you plan to eat the dish, preheat a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions in the oil until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute more.
Deglaze the pot with the vegetable broth. Pour the deglazed mixture into a large crockpot and add the bay leaves, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked beans, water, beer, seitan, bulgur, and peas.
Set the crockpot on “low” and let it cook away until lunch the next day.
* The Talmudic text above is included in a chapter on “Kashrut and Separation” in Hazon’s Adult food curriculum Food for Thought. To find out more about the curriculum, click here.