Down-to-Earth Judaism

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In Down-to-Earth Judaism, Rabbi Arthur Waskow focuses on food, money, sex, and rest, the pillars of a spiritual life in the real world and the guide-posts that mark the communal path for the modern Jewish practitioner. To help readers infuse the rich traditions of Judaism into daily life, he examines what the Bible and the Talmud tell us regarding how to treat the environment, what greater roles women may play in Judaism, and how to allow worship to become an integral part of ...

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Overview

In Down-to-Earth Judaism, Rabbi Arthur Waskow focuses on food, money, sex, and rest, the pillars of a spiritual life in the real world and the guide-posts that mark the communal path for the modern Jewish practitioner. To help readers infuse the rich traditions of Judaism into daily life, he examines what the Bible and the Talmud tell us regarding how to treat the environment, what greater roles women may play in Judaism, and how to allow worship to become an integral part of our lives.

Rabbi Waskow also brings to life the history of many prayers, ceremonies, and laws, such as Kosher or Kashrut. Through his thoughtful interweaving of these four central areas, Rabbi Waskow celebrates the relevance of Jewish tradition to modern times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688151270
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/19/1997
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is a pathfinder of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. He founded and directs the Shalom Center, a division of ALEPH devoted to Jewish thought and practice to protect the earth. His other books include Seasons of Our Joy and Godwrestling - Round II~ He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Phyllis Ocean Berman.

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Read an Excerpt

I.IN THE BEGINNING, FOOD

What can Jewish culture teach us about how and what to eat?

Just to raise the question is to invite a din of jokes: What else do Jews do but eat? What we say is that

— we are obsessed by the trivia of kashrut, the code of kosher food; or

— we are consumed with passion for the unkosher delights of Chinese food;and

— in any case we think food the most important element in a party, a business meeting, a political rally, or a religious celebration.

I remember my conversation with a psychotherapist. Somehow the question of food had arisen in our session. I turned it aside, raised something else.

"Wait," he said, "food is an important issue for you."

"I can't swallow that!" said

He didn't answer. I glanced and saw his face: eyes grown big, a grin barely able to hold in a burst of laughter.

For a full minute we sat silent. I was faintly annoyed, mightily puzzled.

Finally I chewed my own words over again. I gasped. Swallow?

And so for the first time, I came to believe in the existence of the unconscious and the power of food.

Today, what are the questions that stir in my own kishkes, my own guts?

• Why am I eating what the doctors say is "too much"? How can I stop?

• Some of my friends eat only kosher food, and some do not. In both groups, and in my own heart, the questions arise: Is there any good reason to keep kosher? Is it enough that this is an ancient pattern of Jewish eating?. Is there any pattern behind the pattern — any reasoning beneath the whole set of rules of kosher food?

•Many of myfriends and a couple of my children have stopped eating meat. Should I become a vegetarian? Or eat less meat?

•Should I eat chickens that have been raised in factory farms, practically unable to move, fed hormones to speed their growth? What about tomatoes grown with pesticides? What about vegetables that come in elaborate packages? When these questions arise, I often feel like saying, "This stuff may be kosher, butit sure ain't eco-kosher." Should I pay attention to this gut reaction — or just write it off as a Jewish wisecrack?

•Sometimes I treat a meal like a fast stop at the gas station; sometimes I remember to make it a time of celebration, friendship, enjoyment, delicious delight. I usually feel better the second way. Is there a way to do more of that?

•Come to think of it, the gas-station analogy works in the other direction, too. What about the way I "eat" gasoline, or newsprint, or electricity? Is there a "kosher" or an "unkosher" way to consume these products that come from the earth but are not literally food? And here comes this odd word "eco-kosher" back again. Now do I want to pay attention?

•Every once in a while, I look at the food I'm eating and my mouth drops open: how amazing — that sun, rain, soil, and many many different people have conspired to grow this food, bring it all this way, cook it, eat it! When I have this shiver of awe, I feel refreshed and joyful. How can I have it more often?

•And — in some ways the most puzzling question of all — why are these questions bothering me? In generations past, so I understand, the Jewish community had a fairly dear and simple path to walk when it came to food. If I had grown up then, eating would have been simple. What did we lose and what did we gain that made these questions so complex, or at least so ridden with anxiety for me?

I ask myself: In almost four thousand years of Jewish eating, has any wisdom emerged from our people that I can still draw on today to help me with these questions? Maybe not "answers" but hints, pointers, seeds of possibility that I can fruitfully grow?

Shall I look at the earliest records of our thinking? It actually comes from a culture of shepherds and farmers that lived close to the land, grew its own food. Perhaps there I can find some interesting ideas about food and eating.

I look back at the Bible, beginning with the Five Books of Moses, those books of myth, history, warning, law, architecture, poetry, even one novelette, and a number of short stories, all stewed together in a pot of many flavors. I look with "food" on my brain, I search with a hungry appetite.

I discover that for thousands of years the Jewish people has believed that eating matters. Really matters: to history, society, the earth, the Cosmos — even God.

This belief begins at the beginning. The first story about food I find early inthe Book of Genesis, in a tale about the very beginning of human history. What I find is no mere pleasant tale, no casual fable, but instead a story that echoeslife. For when the ancient People Israel gathered in its tents to tell the story of Creation, the storytellers chanted that human history itself began when human beings violated a special Divine command of what to eat.

God said there was one fruit in Eden that should not be eaten. Was not what later generations would call "kosher." Eve and Adam ate it anyway — and thereby shattered the primordial Garden of Delight.

What followed? Conflict and struggle in two crucial spheres of life. The two in which fruitfulness continues.

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