“How Nice is This Bread!”

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:
“How Nice is This Bread!”

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The Talmuds contain a considerable number of passages regarding foreign food restrictions, each with its own set of intricacies and complications. Zvi Arie Steinfeld has analyzed many of these passages in a series of articles, and this chapter draws on his important studies. It begins with a brief survey of passages that pursue “ivory tower” goals of classification and legal precision with respect to foodstuffs. It then turns to more sustained analysis of passages that reflect efforts to limit social intercourse with gentiles through commensality-oriented restrictions. This analysis devotes particular attention to the ways in which scholastic methods of interpreting and transmitting sources advance a social agenda. The final third of the chapter is devoted to a close reading of Talmudic texts addressing a single foreign food restriction, the prohibition of bread baked by gentiles. This case study illuminates the interplay of various pedagogical and pragmatic concerns within the scholastic environment of rabbinic academies and the Talmuds they produced. Whether oriented toward theoretical or practical matters, however, all of the authorities whose statements are examined in the chapter regard non-Jews as indistinct and mostly nondescript. Talmudic Sages construct the otherness of gentiles in order to serve as a contrasting background against which to define Jewish identity.

Keywords: Talmuds; food restriction; Zvi Arie Steinfeld; Talmudic texts; foreign food; bread; gentiles; Jewish identity

Chapter.  10094 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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