Since I started working on “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic” over a year ago, I have noticed something interesting about people’s reaction to this anthology which explores the Reform Jewish approach to food and food production. Upon viewing the wide range of topics discussed in the book (essays subjects range from ritual laws to environmental challenges to worker’s rights, to name a few) many people read “The Sacred Table” as an affirmation of the values they already uphold. I find this fascinating, as I intended this volume to challenge the Jewish world to stretch their approach to food and to increase their passion for ritual and ethical kashrut.
In some ways, the book becomes a Rorschach test for how individuals define their personal kashrut (think: Jewish way of eating). So, as I meet readers, people will proudly exclaim remarks like: “About time the Reform Movement teaches our people to keep kosher!” or “I love your eco-book!” After a lecture, one reader even proudly told me that she planned to read only the chapters that apply to her. Yikes! The purpose of the anthology is to explore the challenges of navigating personal and communal food choices — all Jewish aspects of eating and food production. It is not a book about one value.
In 50 chapters, authored by over 40 Reform rabbis and leaders, “The Sacred Table” explores various liberal approaches to ritual kashrut. In the book, kashrut is viewed as a multifaceted Jewish relationship with food and its production, integrating values such as ethics, community, and spirituality into our dietary practice. In exploring these complexities, the book discusses meat minimalism, the environmental impact of eating bananas and creating a new Farm Bill to improve nutrition in this country. With this diverse buffet of food value choices, why do people first hone in on their pet values? This phenomenon makes me wonder how much of our food talk is an affirmation of those values with which we agree? At what point, do we expand beyond the menu of values to which we ascribe?
Members of the Jewish food movement may be drawn into these important conversations by virtue of the topics which automatically engage them, but along the way they are exposed to new and challenging ideas which can be discomforting. We only grow when we leave our place of affirmation and safety. “The Sacred Table” celebrates the ideology of an educated choice. However, to choose one must look at the fullest range of choices. The questions posed by the book’s essays present a diverse range of voices, opinions, and options, highlighting the Jewish values that shape our food ethics and provide ideas about how to navigate these choices. I know that people are most likely to pick up the book, because it affirms a personal deeply held truth. Yet, I also hope the readers will look beyond their comfort zone to explore something new. While it is certainly worthy to strengthen one’s current resolve, we all need to move beyond the inertia of the known.
Following this season of Passover and its unique way of eating, we have the opportunity to reconsider our Jewish dietary practice, rather than merely restarting where we left off before the hametz was put away. As we sweep away the matzo crumbs, what better time to stretch our dietary choices to dedicate ourselves to new values? Therefore, when we approach the buffet of food values, we must be prepared to put down the mirror and, instead, to forge ahead with open minds and hearts in order to eat well.
Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the editor of The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic. Available from CCAR Press, and Amazon *