For­eign­ers and Their Food: Con­struct­ing Oth­er­ness in Jew­ish, Chris­t­ian, and Islam­ic Law

David M. Freidenreich
  • Review
By – May 14, 2012

In this tan­ta­liz­ing study, Frei­den­re­ich pays less atten­tion to which foods are per­mit­ted and which exclud­ed than to with whom the mem­bers of a par­tic­u­lar faith group are per­mit­ted to eat. While both issues have been used his­tor­i­cal­ly to define cul­tur­al bound­aries, and both are inex­tri­ca­bly relat­ed, the issue of com­men­sal­i­ty reveals more about how groups define them­selves. Frei­den­re­ich takes up, in turn, the legal stric­tures regard­ing com­men­sal­i­ty in the three scrip­tur­al” monothe­is­tic faith groups, even­tu­al­ly clar­i­fy­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences about how these groups view them­selves and assess out­siders.

The order of treat­ing the com­mu­ni­ties is, of course, chrono­log­i­cal. It’s only lat­er in the study, when the groups exist con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly, that the com­mu­ni­ties can be com­pared and con­trast­ed in full. How­ev­er, a gen­er­al pat­tern is dis­cern­able in terms of the rig­or of dis­tinc­tions. Scrip­tur­al legalisms (in the Hebrew Bible, the New Tes­ta­ment, and the Qur’an) are more rig­or­ous regard­ing com­men­sal­i­ty and oth­er issues than lat­er author­i­ta­tive writ­ings. This is large­ly the con­se­quence of the scrip­tur­al com­mu­ni­ties becom­ing rivals, if not ene­mies, over time.

The author employs help­ful charts to sharp­en the dis­tinc­tions regard­ing each group’s self-con­cep­tion and sense of the oth­er.” He also pro­vides a num­ber of case stud­ies by way of author­i­ta­tive respons­es to rep­re­sen­ta­tive ques­tions, for exam­ple, May Chris­tians eat meat that Jew­ish butch­ers reject?” One recur­rent theme in this cross-cul­tur­al study is the ten­den­cy for the author­i­ties of each group to label the oth­er groups’ mem­bers as idol­aters, espe­cial­ly in the lat­er his­tor­i­cal peri­ods.

Of par­tic­u­lar note is the explo­ration of these issues with­in the Mus­lim world, as the Sun­nis prove to be far less bor­dered,” more accept­ing of oth­ers’ prac­tices, than the Shi’i.

Frei­den­re­ich elu­ci­dates com­plex and arcane cul­tur­al thought struc­tures with skill and grace. He has syn­the­sized an enor­mous amount of mate­r­i­al while mak­ing his inter­pre­tive process and his find­ings acces­si­ble to gen­er­al read­ers. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, gen­er­al index, notes, source index.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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