Glob­al Jew­ish Food­ways: A History

Hasia R. Din­er & Simone Cinot­to, ed.; Car­lo Petri­ni, foreword
  • Review
By – July 23, 2018

As Car­lo Petri­ni, founder and pres­i­dent of Slow Food Inter­na­tion­al, notes in his fore­word to Glob­al Jew­ish Food­ways: A His­to­ry, food has always been more that just what we eat. It is a source of socia­bil­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ty, and iden­ti­ty. In many cul­tures it medi­ates with the divine, serves as a wall between or a bridge across dif­fer­ent social or reli­gious class­es, and pro­vides a way to struc­ture eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ships. It is also a con­stant pres­ence at rites of pas­sage through­out the human life cycle.

All of these phe­nom­e­na have been par­tic­u­lar­ly true of Judaism, with its ancient laws of kashrut. It is thus only nat­ur­al that schol­ars have found Jew­ish food his­to­ry — and the way food relates to spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, rit­u­al, cul­ture and migra­tion in Judaism — a ripe field of study.

The col­lec­tion fea­tures a stun­ning array of top­ics, includ­ing how Jew­ish food inter­faced with Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian rela­tion­ships in Renais­sance Italy, the phe­nom­e­non of itin­er­ant Jew­ish ped­dlers serv­ing as inter­preters of Judaism to many who had nev­er known Jews, and the pow­er dynam­ics at play between Ashke­naz­ic and Sephardic food, and Pales­tin­ian and Israeli food in con­tem­po­rary Israel.

Along the way there are many unex­pect­ed find­ings, includ­ing the fact that pork cut­lets were a hall­mark of Jew­ish food in ear­ly and mid-20th cen­tu­ry Rus­sia. Din­er and Cinot­to also dis­cuss the inno­va­tion in Argen­tin­ian cook­books in the 1960s and exam­ine ear­ly Zion­ist art, which shift­ed in its por­tray­al of what con­sti­tut­ed the fruits of the land. They also make a fas­ci­nat­ing study of Yid­dish mag­a­zines between 1923 and 1940, demon­strat­ing how inter­est in the then-emerg­ing field of nutri­tion in Amer­i­ca reflect­ed the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty’s assim­i­la­tion into the urban and sec­u­lar­ized soci­ety of its time. As that chap­ter’s author, Rake­fet Zalashik, notes, Jew­ish dietary laws were no longer the sin­gle prism through which food was to be evaluated.”

Touch­ing upon issues of gen­der; geog­ra­phy, and, of course, gas­tron­o­my, Glob­al Jew­ish Food­ways serves as a fas­ci­nat­ing study of the role food has played, and con­tin­ues to play, in the Jew­ish story.

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.

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