From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey: A Commentary on Food in the Torah
A book by Diana Lipton
Food is at the heart of Jewish life and culture, the subject of many recent studies – popular and academic – and countless Jewish jokes. From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey spotlights food in the Torah – where it’s used to explore such themes as love and compassion, commitment, character, justice, belonging and exclusion, deception, and life and death.
Originally created as an online project to support the innovative food rescue charity, Leket Israel, From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey comprises short essays on food and eating in the parasha by 52 internationally acclaimed scholars and Jewish educators and a commentary by Diana Lipton.
Proceeds from sales of this book will go to Leket Israel.
Diana Lipton summarizes Leket Israel Weekly Parasha Project
When in 1996 I brought home a bound copy of my doctoral thesis on dreams in the book of Genesis, I already knew where in our house full of books I would put it: on the shelf with the cook books. It was about the same size as the big ones, but, more to the point, in that location it represented all the home-cooked family dinners I had sacrificed in favour of Marks and Spencer ready-made meals in order to write it. Fifteen years later, thesis and cookbooks are in a storage container somewhere near the Hindu Temple in West London, but Bible and food reconfigured as I considered how to put to constructive use my academic training in my new life in Jerusalem.
For most of my adult life I have been a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat in1984, shortly before my first marriage. My late husband Peter Lipton z.l. was a philosopher of science by training, but his first academic job required him to teach a course on ethics. The syllabus included animal rights and Peter’s Singer’s Animal Liberation was on the reading list. Peter (Lipton) used to say that this was the only time that a philosophical argument changed his life; he decided it was unethical to raise animals in suffering only to kill them, and became a vegetarian. It changed my life too. I followed suit, partly in solidarity (knowing that Peter found it distasteful, I did not want to eat meat in front of him, though he would not have objected), and partly because it was an answer we both found acceptable to the kashrut question (we ate vegetarian food everywhere).
In 2007, Peter died, and my religious orientation shifted; vegetarianism was no longer my answer to the kashrut question. Three years later, I married Chaim, for whom eating meat is something akin to a religious obligation. I remained vegetarian, but, with no bad feelings, I prepare meat dishes at least once a week. Needless to say, our kitchen is more complicated than the one I was used to, and while the numbers are typically smaller, my shabbat cooking has been transformed by the need to prepare everything in advance, using ingredients that can survive being reheated on the plata (hot plate). I have a new shelf of cookbooks, and I peruse them, along with internet food blogs, constantly.
It is not only in the kitchen that the intersection of food and religion has become more central in my life in recent years. When I made aliyah in 2011 I did not expect to be as affected as I am by living in the very land where the seven species grow, where the rain will fall (or not) in its season, and where we will eat and be satisfied (or not). The laws of kashrut operate everywhere, but the agricultural laws do not, as is particularly evident in the shmitta(sabbatical) year that has just begun. I wanted to find a venue in which to reflect on my new reality of eating food in ‘the land’, and at the same time to try to make a small contribution towards alleviating hunger for those who could not eat and be satisfied. So I decided to coerce 52 scholarly colleagues and friends from across the Jewish spectrum and three continents into creating a year-long weekly parasha commentary on the theme of food. Optimistic as I was, I could not have predicted the breathtaking scope and variety of their responses. Their insights have been truly inspiring, as was their willingness to think far beyond their customary subject matter. My gratitude to each and every contributor knows no bounds.
Alongside these creative commentators, I needed a partner and a beneficiary. At just the right time a friend made a contribution to Leket Israel in lieu of a Pesach gift, and I realized that I had found the perfect partner. Leket does amazing work on behalf of the hungry in all sectors of society in Israel, it works directly on the land, it has a dedicated, highly professional and efficient staff (it has been a special pleasure and privilege to work with Deena Fiedler, Anat Friedman and Eyal Weinstock), and it operates an excellent website. At a meeting with Deena and Anat, I explained my vision for the project and my hope that it would bring attention and support to their work. They were enthusiastic. I had considered including a few recipes with links to the parasha, but Anat and Deena were keen to have a recipe every week. And they wanted the project to be in English and Hebrew.
This new bilingual dimension led me to Sara Tova Brody, who translated the commentaries elegantly in both directions and has been a wonderful colleague throughout the year. We decided that too much was at stake when it came to translating recipes; Anat enlisted her cousin Elinoar Rabin to provide the recipes in Hebrew, and I had the great pleasure of getting to know a wonderful and supportive group of food writers and bloggers. Special mention goes to our top recipe provider Denise Phillips, who had many creative ideas and was never too busy to respond instantly to last-minute requests, and to Clarissa Hyman, who wrote a great piece on the project for the UK’s Jewish Chronicle.