On the evening of October 5th, 2010, students, faculty, and community members gathered in the Dolan School of Business to take part in a lecture and discussion delivered by Dr. David Kraemer entitled “Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages,” based on his book of the same name. The event, the first lecture in a series presented on campus for the 9th annual Judaic Studies scholar-in-residence program, was made possible by a gift from David and Edith Chaifetz.
Dr. Kraemer covered a lot of ground with his talk, from what Jews ate thousands of years ago and how that translates to modern times, to what defines certain foods as Jewish. Calling on audience members for their ideas on Jewish cuisine, Dr. Kraemer asked the age-old question: Are we what we eat? In terms of Jewish eating, Dr. Kraemer and audience members helped shape an idea of what foods were considered “Jewish.” Due to certain dietary laws, Jewish food can include a separation from gentile foods or food touched by gentiles, especially pertaining to wine, as well as many rules in association with the consumption of animals or animal products.
Dr. Kraemer really drove the point across that food is another way for Jews and non-Jews alike to negotiate identity, and that you can learn more about a people through what they eat than you would expect. Leaving the lecture, I felt as if I had opened my eyes to how people are defined culturally by what they eat, how the food is prepared, and who they sit down with at the table. Jewish eating – much like Italian eating with which I am more familiar – is something that really defines Jewish culture. Attending this lecture not only made me hungry for all the dishes described, but also hungry to learn more about this way of distinguishing Jewish peoples, as well as peoples of any place or culture.
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