In 2014, thanks to 55,000 volunteers, Leket Israel, the Israeli National Food Bank, distributed over 25 million pounds of produce and perishable food, 1.5 million prepared meals, and 1.2 million sandwiches to those in need. Along with this physical sustenance, the organization’s website was host to spiritual sustenance as well — short essays, composed by accomplished scholars, analyzing the foods mentioned within the weekly Torah portions. These essays, collected by editor and writer Diana Lipton in From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey: A Commentary on Food in the Torah, offer both foodies and philosophers alike something to taste.
Each of the contributors’ essays seeks to both analyze the Biblical text and advocate for socially-conscious consumption. After all, as Lipton notes in her introduction, we have been increasingly sensitized to what goes into the food we eat. From anorexia, to ethical kashrut, to land ownership, the book deals with a cornucopia of texts and their implications for today’s cuisine.
Whether it’s Rachel Havrelock, a University of Illinois at Chicago Jewish Studies professor using the description of the bloody Nile River of the Ten Plagues narrative in the Book of Exodus to urge for water conservation, or Israeli doctoral student Dan Baras’s presentation of the vegetarian values of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook in a discussion of Noah and his relationship to animals in the Book of Genesis, these commentators on the ancient Bible demonstrate its continued relevance to today’s environmentally and socially conscious ethos.
Lipton’s own analysis of mentions of food in the Torah, following each scholar’s offering, includes many additional insightful comments. She also provides a helpful list of food-centered memoirs, anthropological and cultural studies, political and economic works, academic biblical studies, and even Jewish cookbooks for additional research (and taste-testing).
Lipton and Leket Israel (to whom all proceeds of the book go) are to be commended for their tremendous efforts on behalf of Israeli society and Jews the world over.
Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advisor to the Provost of Yeshiva University. He has edited or coedited 17 books, including Torah and Western Thought: Intellectual Portraits of Orthodoxy and Modernity and Books of the People: Revisiting Classic Works of Jewish Thought, and has lectured in synagogues, Hillels and adult Jewish educational settings across the U.S.