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Jewish statements about Food: Then and Now

Genesis/Bereishit 1:26-30

כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ; וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ, וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ, הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ. כז וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם. כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ. כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כָּל-עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, וְאֶת-כָּל-הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ פְרִי-עֵץ, זֹרֵעַ זָרַע: לָכֶם יִהְיֶה, לְאָכְלָה. ל וּלְכָל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל רוֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, אֶת-כָּל-יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, לְאָכְלָה; וַיְהִי-כֵן.

26 And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. 28 And God blessed them; and God said unto them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 29 And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed--to you it shall be for food; 30 and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.’ And it was so.  

Details
Translation from the Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh and Lori Shaller.

Discussion Questions

  1. According to these Biblical verses, from where does our food come?
  2. What is our responsibility to the sources of our food?
  3. Our tradition teaches that at the beginning of the world, humans were vegetarians and it was not until after the flood and during Noah’s generation that humans were “allowed” to eat meat. What then, does “dominion over” the animals mean in this Biblical passage? Does that change or confirm your beliefs about what is okay to eat?
  4. Later in Genesis/Bereishit, Adam is told that one result of his and Eve’s eating from the tree of knowledge is that humans will now have to work for their food, tilling the soil. Does that seem to you to be a punishment or are there practical reasons that working for our food makes sense, eg. the ability to grow only what we choose to eat, for example.

Deuteronomy/Devarim 8:7-10

ז כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מְבִיאֲךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה: אֶרֶץ, נַחֲלֵי מָיִם--עֲיָנֹת וּתְהֹמֹת, יֹצְאִים בַּבִּקְעָה וּבָהָר. ח אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה, וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן; אֶרֶץ-זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ. ט אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא בְמִסְכֵּנֻת תֹּאכַל-בָּהּ לֶחֶם--לֹא-תֶחְסַר כֹּל, בָּהּ; אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲבָנֶיהָ בַרְזֶל, וּמֵהֲרָרֶיהָ תַּחְצֹב נְחֹשֶׁת. י וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ--וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ. 

7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey; 9 a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. 10 And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you.  

Details
Translation from the Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh and Lori Shaller.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the instruction given in these verses, and what reason is given for it?
  2. Some people think that food is just fuel for the body and that as long as it is healthy, all that is important is consuming enough of it to make the body run effectively and efficiently. Included in this kind of thinking might be the choice to eat only organic foods grown without the use of fertilizers or insect repellents that can be harmful to the body in large quantities. On the other end of the spectrum, some believe that eating should be as pleasurable an experience as possible. Still others think only about the environmental impact of their eating, choosing not to eat any foods grown outside of what they consider a “local” range, so that undue amounts of fuel aren’t used to get the food, while other people choose only to eat food grown by people who are paid a living wage and are treated fairly on the job. Which, if any, of these practices support your understanding of what these Biblical verses are calling for? What values, in addition to the ones listed here, influence your food choices?

Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals)

נוֹדֶה לְּךָ יי אֱלהֵינוּ. עַל שֶׁהִנְחַלְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶרֶץ חֶמְדָה טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה. וְעַל שֶׁהוֹצֵאתָנוּ יי אֱלהֵינוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם. וּפְדִיתָנוּ מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים. וְעַל בְּרִיתְךָ שֶׁחָתַמְתָּ בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ. וְעַל תּוֹרָתְךָ שֶׁלִּמַּדְתָּנוּ. וְעַל חֻקֶּיךָ שֶׁהוֹדַעְתָּנוּ. וְעַל חַיִּים חֵן וָחֶסֶד שֶׁחוֹנַנְתָּנוּ. וְעַל אֲכִילַת מָזוֹן שָׁאַתָּה זָן וּמְפַרְנֵס אוֹתָנוּ תָּמִיד. בְּכָל יוֹם וּבְכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה:

We thank You, Lord our God, for having given the heritage of a lovely, fine and spacious land to our fathers, and for having brought us out, Lord our God, from Egypt, and for rescuing us from slavery, and also for Your covenant which You sealed in our flesh, as well as for Your Torah which You taught us, and Your laws of which You told us, and for the life, grace and kindness You have granted us, and for the food which You supply and provide for us constantly, every day, all the time, and at every hour.

Details
Nigel Savage and Anna Hanau, Food for Thought: Hazon's Sourcebook on Jews, Food & Contemporary Life (November 2010), 16.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the blessings said after eating include references to the land of Israel, the redemption from Egyptian slavery, the circumcision covenant, and the Torah in addition to gratitude about the food?
  2. What values about food do you see expressed in this blessing?

Shulchan Arukh, 16th Century

כתוב בתורה: "לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו" (שמות כג, יט; לד, כו; דברים יד, כא) ג' פעמים; אחד לאסור בשול, ואחד לאסור אכילה, ואחד לאסור הנאה. 

“You shall not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk” [is written in Torah] three times:  Once for the prohibition of cooking (the two together), once for the prohibition of eating, and once for the prohibition of deriving pleasure (from eating the cooked mixture).   

Details
Translation from Soncino Classics, Version 2.2.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the significance of multiplying one law into three?
  2. What do the three aspects of the law suggest about what Kashrut means?

Avot de Rabbi Natan 31:1

רבי אחאי בן יאשיה אומר: הלוקח תבואה מן השוק למה הוא דומה לתינוק שמתה אמו ומחזירין אותו על פתחי מיניקות אחרות ואינו שבע. הלוקח פת מן השוק למה הוא דומה כאלו חפור וקבור. האוכל משלו דומה לתינוק המתגדל על שדי אמו.

הוא היה אומר: בזמן שאדם אוכל משלו, דעתו מיושבת עליו. ואפילו אוכל אדם משל אביו ומשל אמו ומשל בניו, אין דעתו מיושבת עליו ואין צריך לומר משל אחרים.

Rabbi Ahai ben Yoshiya says: One who purchases grain in the market—to what may such a person be likened? To an infant whose mother died, and they pass him from door to door among wet nurses and the baby is not satisfied. One who buys bread in the marketplace—to what may such a person be likened?  It is as if he is dead and buried. But one who eats from his own is like an infant raised at his mother’s breasts. 

He used to say: During the time that a person eats from what he has grown himself—his mind is tranquil. Even one who eats from that which his father has grown or from that of his mother’s or son’s, his mind is not tranquil—and you do not [even] need to say [food grown] from that of others [non-relatives]. 

Details
Translation from Soncino Classics, Version 2.2.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does this Talmudic quotation explain about the different values placed on people who grow their own food and those who buy their food? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  2. Would you grow your own food if you could? Why or why not?

Mission from Kayam Farm

Our mission is to embody and inspire social and ecological responsibility by transforming our community through hands-on Jewish agricultural education. Our farm is designed in order to feature halachic demonstrations of Jewish farming laws, and much of our curriculum draws upon Torah teachings through hands-on farming. But there’s far more to our Jewish agricultural heritage than we can plant on our farm—a massive, yet largely abandoned body of Jewish farming texts lies [sic] waiting for us, if only we can muster the skills and strength to encounter them.

Details
Kayam Farm. “About: Background.” Accessed January 30, 2012. http://www.kayamfarm.org/about-2/background/.

Discussion Question

  1. What values about growing food are implied in this mission statement of Kayam Farm, an ecologically sustainable teaching farm attached to a Jewish retreat center outside of Baltimore, MD?

Jews and Farming, Time Magazine

“There is a semireligious inspiration behind the Jewish back-to-the-farm movement, for the Jewish civilization of the Old Testament was primarily agricultural. The three great religious feasts of the Jews—Passover, Pentecost, Succoth—are fundamentally harvest festivals. Though in the centuries of the Diaspora (dispersion) circumstances have forced most Jews into occupations from which they could pull up stakes at any time, there nevertheless have always been farmer Jews somewhere. Today there are 800,000 Jewish farmers in the world.

Of U. S. Jewish agriculturalists, Dr. Davidson—who is too busy to farm himself—says that most are immigrant Jews, most come from trades such as the needle and fur, most seek farms and remain on them because farming is a peaceful way of life. Because they are city-bred, Jewish farmers are apt to have more plumbing, electricity, furnaces, radios, telephones than the average U. S. farmer.”

Details
Time Magazine, March 14, 1938.

Discussion Questions

  1. What reason is given for Jewish immigrants to the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century choosing farming to make a living?
  2. Many of the Jewish immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century who chose farming had to abandon it shortly after staring, because they were unable to make a living at it. Yet the Jewish Agricultural Society continued to provide technical support and to give loans to Jews who wanted to take up farming well into the twentieth century, even as farms were failing regularly after World War II. The only Jewish farms that survived were those that became highly modernized and industrial in scale, unattainable goals for most Jewish farmers at the time. What do you think would account for the Society’s continued support of Jewish farming ventures?

About the Jewish Farm School

The Jewish Farm School is an environmental education organization whose mission is to practice and promote sustainable agriculture and to support food systems rooted in justice and Jewish traditions. We train Jewish farmers, educators, and food justice activists, as well as inspire and support Jewish agricultural education experiences for the broader Jewish community.We are driven by traditions of using food and agriculture as tools for social justice and spiritual mindfulness. Through our programs, we address the injustices embedded in today’s mainstream food systems and work to create greater access to sustainably grown foods, produced from a consciousness of both ecological and social well-being.

Details
Jewish Farm School. "Home: Mission." Accessed January 30, 2012. http://www.jewishfarmschool.org.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think is meant by the goal to “support food systems rooted in justice”? Alternatively, what do you think is meant by “injustices embedded in today’s mainstream food systems”?
  2. What do you imagine the Jewish Farm School would call a successful outcome of their education programs?
  3. Should all Americans be educated to meet these learning goals?

About Scott and Tanya

I am Scott Hertzberg. With my wife Tanya, I have a vegetable farm in southern Maryland. We grow mostly for a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] serving people close to us in Washington DC. As is the case for most Jews involved in farming today, we grew up in the suburbs and are new to farming. However, like a surprising number of American Jews we do not have to look far to find some agricultural roots. Tanya's father spent summers at his uncle's large and for a long time successful egg farm in Tom's River, New Jersey. My great grandfather briefly had a go at dairy farming in upstate New York and one grandmother had fond memories of visiting relatives on a farm in Muscatine, Iowa near her childhood home in Davenport.

Details
Jewish Farmers of America Wiki. “Home: Wiki Moderators.” Accessed January 30, 2012. http://jewishfarmersofamerica.wikispaces.com.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Scott and Tanya are telling readers of their Wiki about their historical roots in agriculture?
  2. Does your family have any historical connections to farming in the U.S.?
  3. How did Jewish people get disconnected from agricultural work historically?

Jewish Farming and Marriage Prospects

I am twenty-seven years of age, have been in the country ten years, and am still single. I have worked here at various trades, but never very long at one job. I enjoy traveling and seeing what’s going on in the country. Now I’ve decided it’s time to marry and settle down.

I came to North Dakota, where most people make their living from farming. But there are no Jews in this area. I started to work on a farm and I learned farming. I like this kind of life, and after working a year and a half I rented a farm for myself.

My capital was small, but Gentile neighbors helped me. I went into debt for thirteen hundred dollars, but by the end of the summer I had paid back almost all of my debts. I wrote to a friend of mine about joining me. He and his wife came and we work together. We carry on an independent life, have none of the problems of city life because we always have our own potatoes, butter, cheese, milk, chickens, a good home and are content.

This winter I went to Chicago and stayed a few weeks with friends. Most of my friends called me an idiot and told me they could not understand how a young, capable fellow like me became a farmer and leads such a lonely life.

Of all the girls I knew, who would have gladly married me before, not one was interested in going back to the farm with me. But this didn’t discourage me. I returned to the farm and I’m now preparing for the spring season.

However, I want to ask you, did my friends have the right to call me "idiot"? Is there any logic in their argument? Please answer me.

Answer:

There is certainly nothing to be ashamed of in living in the lap of Nature. Many people dream of becoming farmers. The cities are full of many diseases that are unheard of on farms. Tuberculosis, for instance, is a disease of the big cities. People in urban areas grow old and gray at forty, but most of the farmers are healthy and strong and live to be eighty and ninety.

Details
Daily Forward, 1909, as quoted in A Bintel Brief: Letters to the Jewish Daily Forward by Isaac Metzker, translated by Isaac Metzker, copyright 1971 by Isaac Metzker. Foreword and notes copyright 1971 by Doubleday, a division of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group, Inc. p. 92-93

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is this young man farming instead of working in the city where he could presumably find a wife with whom he could have a family?
  2. Does he identify any particularly Jewish values in his choice to farm?

Leaflet for a Jewish Farming Settlement Organization

The necessity to direct the attention of the Israelites of America to agriculture has long been felt. The exclusive pursuit of commerce and its cognate branches by our people, is often used as a reproach and it must be confessed with some good show of reason…A few trades have been entirely monopolized…the agriculturist however is entirely wanting. It is on this account that we are looked upon as transitory inhabitants, having neither the desire nor the capacity to settle as permanent citizens.

This view erroneous enough itself, is nevertheless justified by the exclusive pursuit of commerce, which permits the accumulation of wealth without the acquirement of permanent interest in the soil of the land.

…In order then to change this undesirable state of affairs, in order to create a taste for and encourage agriculture amongst our people, a calling so honorable and ensuring the greatest degree of independence and happiness and finally in order to employ the newly arrived emigrants…and to wean them from beggary and from becoming a burden to our charitable institutions, it is proposed to organize an association under the title ‘American Hebrew Agricultural and Horticultural Association.’

Details
1855 leaflet calling for the establishment of an organization to fund the settlement of Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe on farms across the country, as reprinted in Jews in American Agriculture, The Jewish Agricultural Society, Inc., 1954, p. 18.

Discussion Questions

  1. The founders and trustees of the American Hebrew Agricultural and Horticultural Association were wealthy, assimilated American Jews from Central Europe.  What values do they identify for founding the Association?
  2. Do you think their work settling Jewish immigrants on farms met their stated goals?  Why or why not?

History of the company Earthbound Farms

When our founders Drew and Myra Goodman came to California’s Carmel Valley back in 1984, they were determined young transplants from Manhattan, drawn to the natural beauty and richness of the land. Even before they turned over their first shovels full of soil, they believed strongly in doing the right thing.

They settled on a 2½-acre raspberry farm and decided that doing the right thing meant committing to farming the spectacular land organically, producing food they’d want to eat themselves and would feel good about serving their families, friends and neighbors. That labor of love became Earthbound Farm.

It wasn’t long before Earthbound Farm was doing a lot of the right things. Undaunted by those who said it couldn’t be done, in 1986,we became the first company to successfully launch prewashed, packaged salad for retail sale. When we introduced our mixed baby greens or “spring mix” to restaurants and supermarket produce aisles, we started a salad revolution. Today, gourmet salad greens and packaged salads have become staples of grocery baskets everywhere.

Details
Earthbound Farm Organic. The Earthbound Story. Retrieved January 30, 2012 from http://www.ebfarm.com/story

Discussion Questions

  1. In the 1970s and 1980s, organic farming became interesting to young men and women, Jewish and non-Jewish, as an expression of social and political consciousness. They were partly interested in organic farming for health and environmental reasons and partly as a rebellion against the agribusinesses that had overwhelmed so many family farms in the years following World War II. What, if anything, do you think is Jewish about Myra and Drew Goodman’s Earthbound Farm?
  2. Earthbound Farm has been criticized for becoming an agribusiness rather than alternative to traditional commercial farming. How might the fact that Earthbound products are grown on a large-scale commercial farm and then packaged and shipped to supermarkets all over the country conflict with the Goodmans’ goals of producing food that is both environmentally and health conscious?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish statements about Food: Then and Now." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/node/15112>.