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Gastronomical Judaism
by Rabbi Yossi Braun
Question:
 
I've hardly attended a Jewish function which didn't revolve around food. Be it a Purim party, Shabbos dinner, blintzes, matzo balls or a l'chayim. It seems like it's all about food, food and more food.

What has become of the beautiful legacy of our ancestors? Is that what our spirituality boils down to?
 
Answer:
 
It's the first time I hear a question of this nature. C'mon, what would you like to see at our functions other than food? We serve food because it tastes good. Period.
 
I know that sounds very superficial and unspiritual. But, truth to be told - it ain't a joke. The tastiness of the food is really what it's all about.
 
Think about it this way: you have invited guests over for the evening and spent a good few hours, having a good time together in camaraderie and friendship.  As they are about to leave, one by one, the compliments start pouring in, ranging from "the food was delicious, I licked my plate clean" to the gratifying "can I have your recipe". If you really strike it lucky, you might even hear "just like my mother used to make". Why are all the comments focused on the food; surely, there is more to the experience than the edibility of the cuisine? 
 
But, wait a second, why should there be food in the first place? Why must every celebration of a special event or accomplishment (a marriage, anniversary and even the closing of a business deal) include foodstuff?
 
Sure, it sounds simple. Food tastes good, so we eat lots of it. But, isn't the occasion or achievement being celebrated already a sufficient source of joy? Aren't we already feeling great; why do we need chemicals to put us in high spirits if we're naturally happy?
 
Don't know if you ever considered this question. But, I imagine the typical response would be along these lines: "It's a way of sharing the event with other people".
 
What? Are we saying that some of us find it difficult to enjoy the success of other people, so we need to get it from other things, like food and drink?
 
At the risk of stating the obvious, food is a necessary staple of our diet. Just imagine you attend a close friend's wedding and dance the night away but no food was served to you, leaving your mouth devoid of a morsel of food or drink for the duration of the night. What's the first thing on your mind when your sore legs transport you home? In fact, how would you rate the experience? Can you truly say you have enjoyed the evening? While your soul might be exhilarated and over the moon, your body is aching and breaking.
 
The celebrated event, the unique experience and the good company - they are all fabulous and out of this world.  It is the food that keeps you in this world.
 
So, if you wish for the experience to remain otherworldly and unearthly, leaving your body behind, you would do well feasting while fasting and celebrating while dieting.  But, if you want the experience to become part and parcel of you, well, the closest you will ever get to anything is by ingesting it into yourself and transforming it into your own flesh and blood.
 
Our choice of words says it all. Having your soul experience the aura of Shabbos or the joy of Purim is great. But allowing your body a taste of gefilte fish is downright yummy.
 
Food for thought. B'tayavon.
 

 


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