We can see an example of food shaming and using food inappropriately in the Torah in the tale of twin brothers, Esau/Esav and Jacob/Ya’akov.
Esau is the skilled hunter, who puts meat on his family’s table. Jacob is the homebody. When Esau/Esav returns home from an unsuccessful hunting trip, he finds his brother Jacob/Ya’akov in the cook tent with a freshly prepared pot of red lentil stew. Esau/Esav, feeling exhausted and famished, pleaded with Ya’akov to give him some of his delicious stew.
Jacob/Ya’akov tells him he will give him some in exchange for his birthright. Esau/Esav, feeling very distressed and about to die on the spot due to his lack of food, agrees to give his birthright to Jacob in exchange for food. בְּרֵאשִׁית/Genesis 25: 27 -34.
Consequently, Esau is condemned in the Torah and the Talmud for “despising” his birthright,
The ancient rabbis dismissed his distress, choosing to believe he was just being melodramatic. They deemed him to be a contemptible low-life for putting food above his birthright (bekora/בְּכֹרָה), when in fact Jacob was an opportunist who took advantage of Esau during an acutely vulnerable moment in his life. You can’t get much lower than that, yet Esau is the one who is food shamed.
Esau got a bum rap and still gets one today in the traditional school thought, although I’m in good company with some contemporary rabbis who are on team Esau. I call it as I see it.
The Laws of Kashrut (Kosher laws)
Kashrut, in the Torah, is about conscious eating. It’s not about the modern day business of keeping Kosher according to rabbinical authorities. Unfortunately, the Kosher food industry has been scandalized by unethical practices, but that is the fault of unethical individuals who hijacked and abused the original intent.
In the Torah, there are no hechsherim required, which jack up the cost of Kosher food and create an elite industry. Torah Kashrut simply consists of a list of what is and what is not good to eat. Vayikra/Leviticus 11:1-47. You didn’t need rabbinical authorities to put their overpriced stamp on it.
The prohibition against milchig and fleshig (meat and dairy) together, is only ONE LINE in the Torah: “Do not cook the kid (baby goat) in its mother’s milk.” That’s the only prohibition, no more and no less.
Be careful not to swallow your food in haste. Eat at a moderate pace, calmly and in same manner that you would if you were were dining with an important guest, even when eating alone.Rabbi Natan of Breslov
Rabbi Natan was a proponent of conscious eating. Gobbled down food is poorly digested and linked to other health risks. Discord or tension during meals causes poor digestion, anxiety and toxic stress. We should not, however, shame ourselves or anyone else for eating in haste. We should only try to heal our relationship with food to the best of our ability.
The Torah also has laws pertaining to food-sharing and sustainable farming practices. The Israelites were an agricultural community of shepherds and sustainable farmers, living off the land. Antisemitism denied the right of land ownership to Jews in the diaspora, forcing the Jewish people away from agriculture and the ability to grow their own food.
Today, we are faced with the moral responsibility to combat the evils of industrial farming. We can practice ethical eating by knowing our food sources, growing our own produce (when possible) and supporting our local farmer’s market.
Tables as Temples
Talmudic Sages viewed our dining tables as mini-Temples and Temple stand-ins for the Temples that were destroyed.
The Jewish concept of viewing our dining tables as Temples connects to the Christian concept of viewing our bodies as a Temple. The laws of shmirat haguf in Judaism, are all about treating the body as holy.
In Jewish mysticism, consumption of plants or animals can occur on a lower, higher or Divine level, depending on the awareness of the individual. At the higher levels, we honor our food sources and are careful not to deplete our resources.
Food as Atonement
While the Temple still stood, the altar atoned for man; now man’s [dining] table atones for him.Talmud/R’ Yochanan and R’ Elazar
This teaching provides much food for thought! 😉 Do any other religions describe the dining table as vehicles for atonement or a Holy Temple? If such teachings exist in another religion I’d love to hear about it!
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