Monday, October 31, 2011

Parshat Noach: "Clean" and "unclean" animals?!

Here's my latest thought regarding this question that I posed in Parshat Noach: Another fine mess:

"B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 7, verse 2: HaShem--yes, HaShem, not Elokim--tells Noach [Noah] to take seven of every clean beast (male and female), and two, male and female, of every unclean beast. Nu, exactly how is Noach supposed to know which animals are "clean" and which are "unclean" when that list isn't mentioned in the Torah for at least another book and a half?"

My theory: The concept of "clean" and "unclean" animals was widespread in ancient times, and preceded the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws).

The concept of "clean" and "unclean" animals is widespread in contemporary times, as well. Not only do Muslims follow some of the laws of kashrut by not eating pig meat, but Hindus avoid cow meat and are vegetarian, and Seventh Day Adventists are also vegetarian.

My favorite "kashrut" story, though, involves my stay in France while I was studying for a B.A. in French. I always thought that the hamburgers in the university's cafeterias tasted odd, but I could never figure out why. It didn't occur to me until long after I'd returned to the U.S. that the hamburgers had probably been made of horse meat. Noch besser (better yet), the reason why that bothered me was not that Jews don't eat horse meat, which isn't kosher--I wasn't keeping even a remote semblance of kosher at the time--but because Americans don't eat horse meat! (We also don't eat dog meat, and generally don't eat snake or alligator meat, either.) Food traditions persist to this day, and they don't always have anything to do with religion.


Blogger Meggie said...

Just two quick notes: Hindus don't eat cows because they believe that they are sacred, not because they think they are "unclean." Also, while many Seventh-Day Adventists are vegetarians, and while many in the church advocate vegetarianism, they are only prohibited from eating pork and shellfish, and most abstain from alcohol.

Mon Oct 31, 10:06:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Meggie said...

I should have mentioned that I'm a longtime reader of your blog, and I love your posts-- you always have such great commentary, and we're very much aligned in our observance levels and frustrations with synagogue politics! Thanks for such eloquent, thoughtful writing.

Mon Oct 31, 10:07:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

"-but because Americans don't eat horse meat! (We also don't eat dog meat, and generally don't eat snake or alligator meat, either.)"

Talk about an east coast bias...

Come down to the Florida everglades through the Lousiana Bayou area and you'll meet plenty of people that eat snake and/or alligator meat.

That's the thing I find strange about the "religious freedom" argument in Israel for the pork sales. America wouldn't permit the sale of horse meat, I don't see why Israel can't prohibit the sale of pig meat.

Tue Nov 01, 09:07:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Meggie, thanks for the clarification.

And thanks for the kind words about my commentary and writing.

Best of luck with the observance-level and shul-politics challenges.

Tue Nov 01, 10:29:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al, that's why I said that Americans *generally* don't eat snake or alligator. I guess, though, that the swath of territory in which such critters are considered food is a bit wider that I'd thought.

I don't see why prohiting the sale of pork in Israel should be such a big deal, either. I can't imagine that the US Federal government would ever permit the sale of dog meat, so what's the difference? Many communities, religious, cultural, and/or national, have rules about what foods are permissible for human consumption.

Tue Nov 01, 10:35:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...


And my point is that there is a big swath of America that isn't in the tri-state area... But people from that area seem to miss that there is another 90% of America, with their own culinary traditions.

I recall a high end restaurant in New Orleans that had on it's soup menu, Turtle Soup, and the shock at New York born and raised (non Frum) Jews that there was actual turtle meat in turtle soup.

Different cultures have different concepts of which foods are for "human consumption" and it is based in what is ultimately arbitrary rules...

Twnety years ago, you'd talk how Americans "don't eat raw fish" -- despite a large Asian immigrant population introducing Sushi on the West coast, now it's normative behavior.

Americans don't have a "typical" diet because America is a collection of regional and ancestral cultures... a few of those (horse meat) are codified into law, others are not.

I tease you about the "Americans generally don't eat" comment, because the Americans that eat snake, alligator, and other swamp meat have a stronger "American" claim than either of us, by several generations.

Tue Nov 01, 11:40:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

I'd never consider squirrel meat food either, but I'm pretty sure that in chunks of the deep south, squirrel has been hunted for food.

In the American Southwest, I'm certain that they eat lots of desert goods that I'd find odd as well, particularly in areas with a more established populations than areas like Las Vegas with more recent transplants.

Pigs are VERY expensive to grow in the middle east, hence their attachment to royalty in ancient Egypt and total aversion in Israelite and Arab cultures -- note that of the non-kosher animals, nothing holds it's "bad" connotation like pig in Jewish culture... yes there is a cute medresh about it, but the pig's status in the ancient near east is probably the underlying push...

Shrimp is no less prohibited than pig, yet Jews will consider bacon to be a symbol of Jewish assimilation in a way they won't consider shrimp cocktail the same way.

Tue Nov 01, 11:44:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al, I stand properly chastised. :) As someone who's lived in the Northeast her entire life, and has kept a kosher kitchen for the past 28 years, I guess I'm a bit out of touch with the rest of the US.

"Pigs are VERY expensive to grow in the middle east, hence their attachment to royalty in ancient Egypt and total aversion in Israelite and Arab cultures -- "

Thanks for the information. I wasn't aware of that.

Tue Nov 01, 01:03:00 PM 2011  
Anonymous Woodrow/Conservadox said...

Reminds me of a story from my early years of experimenting with observance: I went to a Columbian restaurant in my hometown and ordered a horse steak (or at least I think that's what it was labelled as, unless my Spanish is weaker than I thought!). I thought it was kind of delicious. A few weeks later, I read one of the kashrut related Torah portions, and thought to myself, "Oh well, no more horse."

Tue Nov 01, 07:26:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Woodrow, I have a similar story. When I was in my twenties, I ate baked ham at the home of some friends. It was delicious!

That was the first and last time I ever eat baked ham--I stopped eating pork and shellfish not long after.

Tue Nov 01, 09:47:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

"As someone who's lived in the Northeast her entire life, and has kept a kosher kitchen for the past 28 years, I guess I'm a bit out of touch with the rest of the US."

I think it's more the Northeast... had a funny conversation with a friend that came over with their kids for a Sunday evening dinner/play date (for the kids, obviously). She commented on how from her Sephardic heritage, she eats a lot of rice, the way "most Americans" eat a last of pasta. I laughed that this.

I told her that she only thinks that because she's from New Jersey, where the Jews and Italians are heavily intermingled. If the non-Jews you know are Italian-Americans, you'd think that Americans eat a lot of pasta.

However, if you were on the West Coast, and the American gentiles you are friends with were Asian, you'd think that most Americans eat a LOT of rice.

In the Scotts-Irish swath of America, with the most "American" of culinary traditions, everything is made with corn. "American" cuisine is heavy on the corn, the staple food of the Americas. I laugh when the Rabbi says that "some have a tradition of buying Eggs before Pesach, to avoid benefiting from the chometz chicken feed," which is totally ludicrous, American chickens eat Corn-feed, which is at most Kitniyot, and totally permitted for animal feed.

Point being, food is regional. Recent Americans have maintained family food traditions, but over time those will change and merge. Outside of Orthodox circles, few eat "Shtetl" food like Kugel except on Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Inside of Orthodox circles, the more cosmopolitan Modern Orthodox Jews eat little of it either, with chollent being the last holdover, but I see more and more families without a Shabbos Chollent except for serving company... in fact one family I know hosts an annual Chollent Cookoff, reducing it from actually common food to a hipster ironic food, especially seeing their home as a series of slow cookers and extension cords.

Heck, say "BBQ" and New Yorkers think burgers and hotdogs, people from the upper south and midwest think steaks on the grill, people from the deep south think slow-cooked pork, people from Texas think slow-cooked beef, and in Miami, it means a big-pit with a pig cooked hole in the ground. :)

That's all I'm saying, there is no "general American" cuisine, except the hamburger, where America's cheap beef supply has created an inexpensive staple.

Tue Nov 08, 03:07:00 PM 2011  

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