“These Gentile Items are Prohibited”

David M. Freidenreich

in Foreigners and Their Food

Published by University of California Press

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780520253216
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520950276 | DOI:
“These Gentile Items are Prohibited”

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Judean literature from the Hellenistic era reflects the existence of norms absent from earlier Biblical texts: Jews ought not share food with gentiles, and they ought not eat food prepared by such foreigners, especially if that preparation involved the worship of foreign deities. By marking the difference between “us” and “them”, and by hindering interaction between insiders and outsiders, these norms serve the social function of preventing undue assimilation. They also construct a sense of Jewish distinctiveness and gentile otherness within a Hellenistic culture that treated identity as mutable and granted little credence to traditional claims regarding Israel's holiness. The first centuries of the Common Era witness the emergence of rabbinic Judaism within Hellenistic Judean society, a movement that derives its name from the honorific title “rabbi” (roughly: master teacher) held by its leaders. The rabbis whose opinions appear in the foundational sources of rabbinic Judaism are known as the Sages. This chapter focuses on the earliest of these foundational sources, which date from approximately the third century and are known as tannaitic literature because they preserve the words of Sages called tanna'im, “transmitters.” The Sages, who originally constituted an insular group of scholars with little popular support, regarded themselves as the authorized interpreters of God's instruction (torah) to Israel as primarily—but not exclusively—contained in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.

Keywords: Jewish identity; Hellenistic era; Jews; rabbis; Sages; tannaitic literature; Hebrew Bible; Torah; rabbinic Judaism

Chapter.  8527 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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