Dietary Laws

David Kraemer

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Dietary Laws

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The body of Jewish dietary laws expanded considerably through the ages. The biblical laws were quite limited, pertaining almost exclusively to meat and animal products, which, outside of the priestly estate, constituted a small part of the everyday common diet. During the Persian and Hellenistic age, Jews descended from those who had returned from the Babylonian exile sought to supplement the Bible’s restrictions by forbidding all gentile foods. The early rabbis added the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy products, and subsequent generations expanded the application of this prohibition in a variety of ways. The terms “Jewish dietary laws” and “kashruth” (the nominative form of the adjective “kosher”) are often used interchangeably. But it is important to distinguish between them. The Hebrew root “k-sh-r,” a postexilic term, is never used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to Jewish dietary laws. It was first used by the rabbis of Late Antiquity in this connection (among others; it means simply fitting or proper), so it is more accurate to use the term “kashruth” in reference to the dietary laws of the rabbis, which were not, however, the dietary laws of all Jews. There were laws regulating the Jewish diet both before kashruth—beginning in the Torah itself—and outside of rabbinically observant communities, such as among Karaite (i.e., scripturalist) Jews. This bibliography covers both kashruth in the specific sense and Jewish dietary laws more generally. Unfortunately, writers on this subject have generally assumed that kashruth and Jewish dietary laws are synonymous, and they have mostly neglected to note developments in these practices through history. Furthermore, the vast majority of writing on these laws has been technical rabbinic commentaries or treatises pertaining to the details of the laws. In other words, until the late 20th and early 21st centuries there has been no genuine history of Jewish dietary laws, nor has this been a field of academic study. But as foodways in general have drawn increasing academic attention, a number of writers have turned to Jewish food and eating practices, bringing new perspectives and new understandings to an emerging field.

Article.  6053 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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