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Religious diversity: rethinking religion
Religious diversity: rethinking religion

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3.2 Judaism and kosher food

Many religions have rules about food or its avoidance. According to a phrase in widespread use, ‘you are what you eat’. Although this is most often used in reference to particular diets, it seems appropriate to the lives of many religious people. Some show that they are committed or observant members of particular religious groups by taking a lot of care about what they do and don’t eat on a daily basis.

If you think of a religious festival or ritual you will almost certainly think of something to do with food. For example, for many people the following are almost synonymous: Christmas and turkeys, Easter and eggs, Pesach and matzah, Ramadan and iftar, puja and prasad. Of equal importance, most religions include practices to do with special ritual meals or fasts (periods of avoiding food).

Even the most ‘spiritual’ person needs to eat. What they choose to eat, and the people they choose to eat with, can be central to understanding religions.

Activity 9

Take a moment to consider what you are happy to eat, or what you may not be willing to eat. What beliefs (not necessarily religious) may have lead you to make these decisions?

Now watch this video with Rabbi Chaim Weiner who explains Jewish dietary restrictions, and how the requirements of a kosher diet affect his life. Then reveal the discussion below.

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There is a lot to observe in this video. In particular, how keeping kosher structured so much of Weiner’s life and experience. It involved enjoyment of what was permissible but David Salzman also talked about developing discipline and restraint when kosher food was unavailable. He believed that restraining himself in the face of temptation to break kosher restrictions was pleasing to God. I was particularly struck by Weiner’s questions. He reflects that choices about what to eat and what not to eat are central to answering the questions: ‘who am I?’ and ‘how do I live?’ These are some of the main questions addressed by religions, and questions that most humans reflect on from time to time.