I am working on two projects:
1. Food and Jewish Traditions
Food and Jewish Traditions (working title) explores how the making of Judaism and the making of Jewish meals have been intertwined throughout history and in contemporary Jewish practices. The volume offers original essays advancing the state of both Jewish studies and religious studies scholarship on food while also providing a pedagogically oriented text for those teaching introductory courses on Judaism, on religion and food generally, and on Jewish traditions and food specifically. Insights from recent work in growing subfields such as food studies, sex and gender studies, and animal studies permeate the volume. Theoretically, Food and Jewish Traditions seeks to take food itself seriously as a location where meaning and authority are created and religious life unfolds, eschewing earlier scholarly approaches that have tended to study food only for the sake of learning about supposedly more important religious phenomena like theological ideas or cosmologies. Encompassing historical, ethnographic, critical theoretical, and history of religions methodologies, the volume seeks to make accessible diverse rabbinic engagements with food in canonical texts, to introduce readers to historic and ongoing Jewish food practices, and to invite readers into the charged ethical debates about how our food choices reflect competing Jewish values.
The volume has four sections, each with its own editor, respectively covering Jewish history, particular foods, particular holidays, and ethics. The first section, which I am editing, provides the historical and textual overview that is necessary to ground any discussion of food in Jewish traditions. The second and third section, edited by Jordan Rosenblum, respectively explore the religious dimension of particular foods such as wine and the Jewish liturgical year; both deal with a range of time periods and each essay not only addresses a particular food or holiday but also particular issues of significance in the study of food in Jewish traditions, for example issues surrounding American Jewish identity or changing gender roles. The final section, edited by Aaron Gross, focuses on ethical questions related to Jewish food with an accent on the contemporary context. This section will include both descriptive essays analyzing and historically contextualizing current opinion and activity, and some “constructive” essays addressing satiety, tza’ar ba’alei ḥayyim (compassion for animals), worker justice, and related concerns. Collectively, the volume demonstrates how Jewish food practices—particularly surrounding animal products and alcohol—are not simply like a text, but are co-constituted with generationally built textual narratives and legal traditions. Jewish food ways help constitute not only the physical bodies of Jews, but the textual, social, and ethical corpuses of Jewish traditions.
2. Purity, Charity, and Community: Food and Food Practices in an Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood
The intersection of Pico Boulevard and Robertson Boulevard in western Los Angeles has given its name to a lively and busy part of town whose Jewish residents commonly regard it as a neighborhood. Pico Boulevard forms the main artery, and it consists of dozens of retail shops, synagogues, and religious schools whose service workers are overwhelmingly non-Jewish Hispanic Catholics. Pico-Robertson is home to an Orthodox Jewish enclave of many divergent congregations, including: Modern Orthodox, Young Israel, Chabad, groups that are loosely labeled “Yeshivish,” Persian Chabad; Moroccan, Iraqi, Yemenite and Persian traditionalists; Kabbalah Centre, and Breslaver. Less stringently-practicing Jews, secular Jews, and non-Hispanics of all kinds are also part of the residential population that ranges from impoverished to upper-middle class. No one has ever called it a pretty part of town, and its economic health has fluctuated, but today it is a lively and busy part of Los Angeles.
I'm examining the intersection of food and community among American Orthodox Jews, using the diverse communities in the western L.A. neighborhood of Pico-Robertson as a case study. I have conducted qualitative interviews with Orthodox residents and the leading rabbis who live and work in the neighborhood (and I'm continuing to do more), and I have been doing participant-observation research there in homes, synagogues, stores, restaurants, schools, and on the street. I am doing content analysis on books, pamphlets, and internet resources produced by and for the larger cohort of American Orthodox Jews. I have interviewed a variety of Orthodox residents and rabbis across the religious spectrum to elicit their understandings of the mitzvot, and their practices and beliefs connected to buying food, hosting meals, and being part of a community. In addition, I am drawing upon scholarship from anthropology, history, and sociology.