May 31st, 2011
The composition of [this] excellent spiced wine [is as follows]: Into a copper bowl put 6 sextarii of honey and 2 sextarii of wine; heat on a slow fire, constantly stirring the mixture with a whip. At the boiling point add a dash of cold wind, retire from stove and skim. Repeat this twice or three times, let it rest till the next day, and skim again. Then add 4 ozs. of crushed pepper, 3 scruples of mastich, a drachm of each of [nard or laurel] leaves and saffron, 5 drachms of roasted date stones crushed and previously soaked in wine to soften them. When this is properly done add 18 sextarii of light wine. To clarify it perfectly, add [crushed] charcoal twice or as often as necessary which will draw [the residue] together [and carefully strain or filter through the charcoal] (1:1).
The shells of the lobsters or crabs [which are cooled] are broken, the meat extracted from the head and pounded in the mortar with pepper and the best kind of broth. This pulp [is shaped neatly into neat little cakes and fried] and served up nicely (2:43).
Pepper, fresh mint, celery, dry pennyroyal, cheese, pignolia nuts, honey, vinegar, broth, yokes of egg, fresh water, soaked bread and the liquid pressed out, cow’s cheese and cucumbers are arranged in a dish, alternatively, with then nuts; [also add] finely chopped capers, chicken livers; cover completely with [a lukewarm, congealing] broth, place on ice [and when congealed unmould] and serve up (4:1).These are but a few of the recipes preserved in Apicus’ famous Latin manual of Roman cooking. It contains directions, and notes on how to create exquisite meals for Roman elite families, a virtual “Babette’s feast” of wealth and conspicuous consumption. No text of this complexity preserves the food culture of wealthy late antique Jews, nor, for that matter, the far more simple fare of most people in the Roman Empire. With little effort, though, the recipes of Apicus, modernized for hobbyists, can be converted for the kosher kitchen, as my family and I occasionally do for the great “symposium” in the month of Nisan, otherwise known as the Passover seder. Robed in white togas (sheets), with ivy crowns (from our garden) and low tables, we variously imagine ourselves in the house of the Lod patrician Baitos ben Zunin, at the seder of Todos of Rome, an imagined banquet honoring emperor Antoninus on the estate of Rabbi Judah the Prince, and especially at the far less lavish meal enacted yearly in the Haggadah’s visit to the home of Rabbi Akiva in Benei Beraq. It was with particular delight, then, that I received Jordan D. Rosenblum’s Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism during the week before this banquet - as I was thumbing through my collection of modernized Apicus cookbooks and relevant websites in search of this year’s recipes. This book focuses on food and table customs in early rabbinic times, the world of the Tannaim. Rosenblum begins his volume in contemporary identity politics -opening with the famous “Traife banquet” in Cincinnati in 1883, an event that became the “Wittenberg Cathedral” incident that led to the creation of a particularly radical American strand of Reform and to a group of deeply incensed traditionalist synagogues that eventually coalesced as “Conservative Judaism.” Each chapter of Rosenblum’s volume begins with a quote of post-classical vintage, including The Merchant of Venice and contemporary scholarship on Jewish and general foodways in the modern world. These quotes scream out that this volume is more than just a classics project, its framing rhetoric (though not its narrative) arguing for more than just antiquarian interest. Rosenblum’s book begins with a section entitled “Realia.” This chapter provides an introduction to what we know about Jewish and Roman food in the eastern Empire during late antiquity, and will be particularly valuable for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. Surprisingly, this chapter makes no mention of the exquisite list of foods that appear in the Rehov synagogue inscriptions, nor of piyyut sources that could have provided windows into the Tannaitic sources that are Rosenblum’s focus. The great Menahem Zulay aptly described these texts as nothing less than “a short walk in the market place (shuq)” in Talmudic Palestine. This opening chapter serves as a useful literary vestibule to the rest of the volume, leading to Rosenblum’s “triclinium,” where issues of identity and conviviality are the fare. It is unfortunate, though probably descriptive of Rosenblum’s approach, that the chapter is called “Realia,” a term still used by Talmudists that relegates material culture to a secondary position in relation to text. This is a book specifically about food in “early Rabbinic Judaism,” meaning rabbinic literature. The volume deals with food in “early Rabbinic Judaism,” focusing on the rabbis as portrayed in their own literature, and not food as it actually was consumed by late Roman or late antique Jews more generally. The real meat of this monograph is Rosenblum’s analysis of early rabbinic sources. Rosenblum is generally a good reader of Tannatic sources, and he lays out clearly the ways in which early rabbis reflected upon food culture. Chapter Two, “Jewish identity,” deals first with “Commensality Restrictions” in “pre-Tannaitic” (which means Biblical and Second Temple) literary sources, treating “Food as Metonym/Food as Embodiment,” beginning – predictably – with the “Abominable Pig,” before moving on to Rabbinic reflections of Manna, then Passover law and finally “The Laws of Kashrut.” He continues with discussions of “The Status of Food Correlates with the Status of its Cook,” and “Commensality as Idolatry.” All of these are the special cases that rabbis focus on. I wonder, though, about the “ordinary” meal and the “ordinary” people who lie beneath the text, the sorts or questions teased out of rabbinic sources by Feminist interpreters and folklorists. Chapters Three and Four deal with these questions somewhat more, focusing on the identity of a male member of the rabbinic early community, a Haver, as compared to that of the Am ha-Arets; “Women at the Tannaitic table,” “The Cuisine of the Rabbinic Jew,” “Purity and Commensality,” “The Status of Food Correlates with the Status of Its Cook,” and finally a section called “Reinterpreting Festival Observance.” I, for one, would have found an expansive discussion of how Rosenblum construes “identity” most helpful. He assumes the substructure constructed by his teacher, Michael Satlow (under whom this revised dissertation was written), of Satlow’s teacher, Shaye Cohen, and of Seth Schwartz (whom he thanks in his acknowledgments), as a basis for his work. Rosenblum’s work falls within the scholarly paradigm that I and others have identified with the Morton Smith school of scholarship. His use of the somewhat atomizing term “Rabbinic Jew,” while perhaps useful, reflects his presentist instincts, drawing his terminology from the contemporary lingo (“Reform Jew,” “Conservative Jew,” “Orthodox Jew”), “Rabbinic” in the sense of a late antique “Rabbinic sect” or “Rabbinic class” and now “Rabbinic Jew.” Description of the religion of the ancient rabbis as Rabbinic Judaism is a relatively recent coinage in modern scholarship (this is revealed most simply through a search of this term at jewishencyclopedia.org), which might profitably be problematized in a volume focusing upon identity. No review of this book can avoid comparison with David Kraemer’s somewhat more general and even more deeply presentist Jewish Eating Through the Ages (Routledge, 2007). These books, written nearly simultaneously, are not methodologically dissimilar, and cover much of the same territory as far as food laws go. Rosenblum’s focus on conviviality, however, is uniquely his in recent English language literature. The strength of Rosenblum’s monograph when compared with Kraemer’s more wide-ranging presentation is its laser-like focus upon the Tannaitic community. The closest parallel to Rosenblum’s volume is perhaps Baruch Bokser’s elegant study of the The Origins of the Seder (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), with whom Rosenblum pointedly and, in my opinion, correctly disagrees on the relationship between the seder and the Roman symposium. Bokser’s volume, a more sophisticated development of Smith student Jacob Neusner’s text-focused yet narrative and footnote-deprived style of presentation, was uniquely influential for a group of now-senior scholars of ancient Judaism (including Satlow’s dissertation, and my own early work on synagogue sanctity). Rosenblum’s Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism is a timely reevaluation of what the early rabbis said about food consumption and the culture surrounding it. Readers concerned with the ways that the rabbis used food within their larger social construction of reality will emerge satiated regarding the questions discussed by Rosenblum, and thirsting for more as far as both context and chronological span. This volume is an important addition to the growing library on Jewish food culture in antiquity, a working out of tradition that to this day continues to affect, effect and inform the communal lives of traditionally (and less traditionally) oriented Jews, and even some contemporary Christians. Food and Identity is a meaningful contribution to a larger comparativist conversation in current scholarship on the food habits of late antique peoples – including Samaritans, Christians, Zoroastrians, and of course, Romans like Apicus. Steven Fine is Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, and director of the YU Center for Israel Studies.  Apicus: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, tr. and ed. Joseph Dommers Vehling (New York: Dover Publications, 1977), 45. See now: Apicius, a Critical Edition With an Introduction And English Translation, tr. and ed. Christopher Grocock and Sally Grainger (Totnes, England: Prospect Books, 2006).  Apicus: Cookery and Dining, p. 62.  Apicus: Cookery and Dining, p. 93.  The most recent addition to cookbooks based upon Apicus’ manual is by Sally Grainger, Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today (Totnes, England: Prospect Books, 2006). See also the links collected in the Wikipedia article on Apicus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apicius  M. Zulay, From the Lips of Poets and Precentors, ed. S. Elizur (Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi and Hebrew University, 2004), 76-81 (Hebrew).
May 19th, 2011
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May 12th, 2011
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May 10th, 2011
The Root of injustice and uncharitableness, which abounds, is not in God, but in the free acts of His creatures--in sin. The Jewish people and their fate are the living witness for the absence of redemption. This, one could say, is the meaning of the chosen people; the Jews are chosen to prove the absence of redemption.
-Leo Strauss, "Why We Remain Jews"Eugene Sheppard’s erudite intellectual biography is a lucid introduction to Strauss’s itinerant career as a political philosopher writing over five decades, across both sides of the Atlantic. While Leo Strauss (1899-1973) is mainly known today as the poster-boy for American neoconservatism, and hailed guru by the likes of former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Sheppard moves past his image as anti-liberal, arch-conservative thinker, giving his readers a more complex understanding of the historical influences and diverse intellectual origins that shaped Strauss’s thought. This relatively short, 130-page book, ties together the various turns in Strauss’s biography and intellectual career, which began in the political tumult of Weimar Germany, and continued in exile after the rise of Nazism in 1933. Sheppard’s book gives a multi-faceted account of Strauss’s work by exploring the various transformations in his life, from Weimar conservative, to Jewish refugee, and eventual immigrant to the United States. Sheppard views Strauss as an “exilic” thinker, whose philosophical orientation was the product of the turbulent political and historical context in which he lived. Sheppard essentially proposes a un-Straussian reading of Strauss’s life and work, which emphasizes the environmental and contextual influences on his thought, instead of examining his writing through the timeless hermeneutical principles which Strauss himself employed in his reading of the medieval philosophers. The book examines exile as the central motif that unites the various strands of Strauss’s thought. His formative experience as a German-Jewish refugee, leading a precarious life in exile, informed Strauss’s own intellectual pursuits, which Sheppard describes as being guided by the recognition of “philosophy’s … precarious existence within any existing social order” (6). Sheppard explores the relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish facets of Strauss’s life, claiming that the tension between these two poles was the creative driving force that nurtured much of his thought. According to Sheppard, Strauss’s preoccupation with the viability of Jewish existence in the Diaspora, and his first hand experience as an exile, informed all his philosophical work, even when it dealt with universal questions relating to the nature of eternal truths and the dynamics of political community. According to Sheppard’s reading, Strauss converts Jewish exceptionalism, encapsulated in the precarious state of Jewish life in exile, into the paradigm for his philosophic thought. As Sheppard states: “Strauss regarded exile as the natural condition of all political societies. He recast the precarious existence of the Diasporic Jew, who lives in perpetual fear of persecution, as the normative model of the philosopher” (7). The conflicting loyalties of a lapsed-orthodox Jew, writing in a non-Jewish society, brought Strauss to examine political modernity with the skepticism of an outsider, who sought the “philosophic virtues of exile.” Strauss, who was raised in an observant Jewish family in the rural German town of Kirchhain, attempted to negotiate the particularism of Jewish existence in exile with greater universal concerns relating to the state of political crisis he witnessed across Europe and his native Germany. Strauss extended the continual state of insecurity of Jewish life in galut, or exile, to the state of political uncertainty in interwar Germany. In exploring the link between Strauss’s Jewish concerns and philosophical preoccupations, Sheppard examines the elective affinities between Strauss’s antiliberalism and that of his right-wing contemporaries, Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, who would both go on to align themselves with National Socialism. Schmitt and Heidegger’s critiques of modernity were a response to the failure of liberalism and Enlightenment values of tolerance and social equality in the German setting. Strauss shared their skepticism of modern technology and consensus politics, which he thought merely disguised the deep tensions and animosities that lay beneath the surface of the modern parliamentary system. Strauss’s negative view of Enlightenment rationalism as the basis for a political system also led him to reject any solution that sought to normalize the Jewish condition of exile. Strauss considered both Zionism and assimilation as misguided attempts to overcome the tensions that defined Jewish existence in galut. According to Strauss, galut affords “the Jewish people a maximum possibility of existence through a condition of minimum normality” (44). Sheppard returns repeatedly to this Straussian paradox, which views the “abject condition of abnormality” as the epitome of the Jewish condition. Sheppard does a wonderful job showing how Strauss’s paradoxical formulation intersects with the interwar writings of Rosenzweig, Heidegger, and Schmitt, who considered the state of existential instability as revelatory of the ontological truths of their time. Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (1927) criticizes the liberal system for obscuring the state of enmity that defines politics. According to Schmitt, it is only the prospect of violent confrontation, encapsulated in the friend-enemy distinction, which expresses the authentic state of the political. Similarly, Schmitt’s 1922 work Political Theology, explored the state of exception (ausnahmezustand), as the borderline concept (grenzsituation) that defined political sovereignty. Strauss’s thought coincides with Schmittian and Heideggerian “crisis thinking,” in his conviction that the tendency to seek a third way of reconciling German and Jewish identity entailed a “forgetting of being,” essentially abandoning the fundamentals that constitute Jewish existence: Galut. Ultimately, Strauss saw the irresolvable state of exile, persecution, and intolerance as constitutive of Jewish communal existence. Strauss reformulates the abnormality of the Jewish condition through the Schmittian dictum of true politics as the state of emergency and the Heideggerian confrontation with the nothingness of being. A later expression of Strauss’s exilic orientation, from the late 1930’s onwards, was his tendency to explicate philosophic works as multilayered texts that employ rhetorical devices to avoid their unintended audience. Strauss read the medieval philosophers, such as Avicenna and Maimonides, as intentionally oblique writers who concealed the true heterodox implications of their work in order to avoid persecution. These works revealed through concealment (yet another central Heideggerian motif), and were aimed at the intellectual elite, who could penetrate their indirect message. The dissimulative strategies Strauss attributed to these writings were an expression of his bleak view of the philosopher’s “homelessness.” According to Strauss the premodern philosopher works under the scrutiny of a regime that demands total allegiance, yet seeks to persevere in his impartial pursuit of universal truth. The philosopher inhabits a tenuous position, caught between his conflicting loyalties to the state and his impartial intellectual pursuit. Thus, Strauss universalizes the Jewish condition into the philosophic condition, as both are forced to adjust to the permanent state of political imperfection. The inherent tension with the world that the Jews experience in the diaspora is projected onto the philosopher who seeks to perpetuate his independent truth under alienated conditions. Strauss’s paradox of Jewish exile is extended to the paradox of philosophy – the conditions of exclusion and intolerance force the Jew and the philosopher to confront the radical imperfection of the world. It is this recognition of imperfectability of politics which Strauss demands of both Jew and philosopher that ultimately lies at the core of Strauss’s conservatism, which rejects the optimism of liberal-progressive thought. Abraham Rubin, a first year CJL Graduate Fellow, is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center and a graduate teaching fellow in the English Department of City College.
May 9th, 2011
May 9th, 2011