Food and Spirit

Food and Spirit

By Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, Information Technology Director, Center for Congregations

How do you make sure Jews show up for a meeting? Tell them ahead of time what’s on the menu and make sure it’s the good stuff.

I know… this is a stereotype, but an earned one. Judaism is not just a religion but an amalgam of culture, history, ethnicity, and faith. Often, it’s the cultural aspects that more inform a Jews’ lived faith rather than theology. At least that’s what he might think.

Why is food so important for Jews? I would imagine that food is important to all ethnic groups, stirring up (pun intended) memories of childhood visits to grandma’s house. However, I would contend that while we relish the memories of brisket and matzo ball soup, those memories are in fact theologically grounded in Jewish ethics.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah wrote in Pirke Avoth, cornerstone text of Jewish ethics written sometime in the first centuries ACE, “Where there is no Torah there is no culture; and where there is no culture there is no Torah… Where there is no food there is no Torah; and where there is no Torah there is no food.” Did ben Azaryah literally mean food as in that which we eat? Maybe… maybe not, but it’s no coincidence he used food as a metaphor for importance, purpose, and Torah. And Torah is itself a metaphor for living a right life and treating others with respect and dignity as Rabbi Akiba said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Share your connection between food and spirit at the 15th year of the Spirit & Place Civic Festival, November 5-14, 2010. This year’s theme is “Food for Thought,” and I help host a conversation with nationally known hunger expert Robert Egger Sunday, November 7th, 1:00 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 6701 Hoover Road.

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