Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Jews eat communal meals

I'm having a lot of fun with my Tzibburology class, in which we link halachah and social science. Gd-willing, Wednesday night's Tzibburology class will look at the way we share food in Judaism, and the communal motivations behind it.

We'll compare the motivations for food-sharing within Jewish society with the motivations for food-sharing in primate and general human cultures (risk reduction reciprocity, cooperative acquisition, costly signaling and more).

Then we'll look at an additional component within Judaism: food-sharing with the goal of creating ideological community, as well as excluding those who don't fit the ideological community from the food-sharing process.

Last, we'll talk about how Jews handle the imperative to build community by food-sharing, versus the need to exclude people who don't fit the ideological community.

I know that description sounds pretty dry, but I do expect this to be fun. (How could it not be fun, when the first source is about Vampire Bats and blood-sharing?)

Here are the sources:

Food-Sharing, from an anthropological perspective

1. Perry, Reciprocal Altruism in Vampire Bats

Vampire bats will starve after 60 bloodless hours, losing as much as 25% of their bodyweight, making them unable to maintain a critical body temperature. They need to eat 50-100% of their body weight in blood every night. Blood is preferentially donated to bats in critical need (those that would reach minimum weight within 24 hours) within a given roost; if a bat has more than 24 hours until starvation it will usually not be fed. Males in critical need, however, will still not be fed.

2. Kaplan and Gurven, The Natural History of Human Food Sharing and Cooperation: A Review and a New Multi-Individual Approach to the Negotiation of Norms (2001)

Humans share food unlike any other organism. Many other animals, including eusocial insects (bees, ants, termites), social carnivores (lions, wolves, wild dogs), some species of birds (e.g. ravens) and bats (vampire), actively share food; however, the patterning and complexity of food sharing among humans is truly unique. Unlike other mammals, for which food sharing between mothers and offspring is limited largely to lactation during infancy, human parents provision their children until adulthood. Moreover, the sharing of food between human parents and their children continues bi-directionally until death in most traditional non-market societies. Additionally, marriage is universal among human societies, and husbands and wives regularly share food with one another throughout their marriage…In addition to within-family food transfers, food sharing sometimes extends beyond the nuclear family in many societies; indeed, sharing is rather pervasive in numerous foraging societies.

3. Wilkinson, Reciprocal food sharing in the vampire bat, Nature (March, 1984)

Initial increase in frequency depends, however, on reciprocal altruists interacting predominantly with other reciprocal altruists either by associating with kin groups or by having sufficient memory to recognize and not aid nonreciprocators.

4. Kaplan and Gurven, The Natural History of Human Food Sharing and Cooperation: A Review and a New Multi-Individual Approach to the Negotiation of Norms (2001)

The acquisition of difficult-to-acquire foods, especially wild game, often requires the coordinated efforts of several individuals. However, usually only a single individual is identified as the owner of the acquired resource, determined by cultural-specific norms of ownership (e.g. hunter who makes first lethal shot, finder, killer – Dowling 1968). In many groups, sharing among task group members occurs as an initial wave of sharing (e.g. Pygmies – Bailey 1991; Harako 1976). Owners may reward non-owners for their current cooperation by giving them shares of the resource, but this sharing may also act as a means of insuring future cooperation in similar food production activities. Thus, sharing is a form of trade-based reciprocal altruism, where labor is rewarded with food. An alternative interpretation of the same phenomenon is that engaging in group production when there is sharing provides participants with higher per capita returns than if they produced food by themselves. Thus, group production may represent a form of byproduct mutualism (Clements and Stephens 1997; Dugatkin 1997; Alvard and Nolin in press).

5. Smith, Bird, Bird, The benefits of costly signaling: Meriam turtle hunters, Behavioral Ecology 14:116-126 (Jan 2003)

Signalers (hunters) gain social and reproductive benefits. Specifically, we find that successful hunters gain social recognition, have an earlier onset of reproduction, achieve higher age-specific reproductive success, and gain higher quality mates, who also achieve above-average reproductive success. Meriam hunters also average more mates (women who bear their offspring) and more co-resident sexual partners than other men, and these partners (but not mates) are significantly younger. Several lines of evidence thus support the idea that hunting is a form of costliy signaling in this population.

6. Stevens & Stephens, Food Sharing: A Model of Manipulation by Harassment, Behavioral Ecology 13:3 (2002)

We propose a game theoretical model of a general sharing situation in which food owners share because it is in their own self-interest – they avoid high costs associated with beggar harassment. When beggars harass, owners may benefit from sharing part of the food if their consumption rate is low relative to the rate of cost accrual. Our model predicts that harassment can be a profitable strategy for beggars if they reap some direct benefits from harassing other than shared food…

7. Goldstein, Melting pots and Rainbows, Gastronomica (May 2008)

Nearly fifteen years after independence, the specter of apartheid is still painfully apparent in South Africa. Yet, an exciting new inclusivity is visible in the cultural sphere, particularly in the kitchens of some talented chefs, where the various traditions comprising South Africa’s multilayered cuisine come together. “Rainbow cuisine” has proved to be more than just a catchy phrase. It has actually impelled change, at least in the culinary arts. The larger question is whether this metaphor can have a wider impact and help shape social behavior.

8. McKenzie, Social and Economic Implications of Minority Food Habits, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (1967)

Minority food habits may present us with many problems. If some of these are of a nutritional nature we must accept that certainly in the short run, perhaps even in the long run, their solution will not be achieved by advocating major changes in food habits. Nutritionists must look in other directions to deal with any resultant deficiency… [T]he significance of minority food habits goes far beyond nutritional considerations. Food habits are a vital yet almost totally neglected aspect of community integration. Choice of food not only influences our physical health, it also determines our social ‘well-being’.

Food-Sharing in Judaism: Examples

Donations to others: Bikkurim; Terumah/Maaser; Matnot Aniyyim; Tamchui

Sharing Food: Britot in Tanach; Hachnasat Orchim; Seudat Yom Tov

Sharing the eating experience: Mezuman; Maaser Sheni

Food-Sharing in Judaism: Motivations

9. Talmud, Moed Katan 28b

דיספד – יספדוניה, דיקבר – יקברוניה, דיטען – יטענוניה, דידל – ידלוניה

One who eulogizes others – others will eulogize him. One who buries others – others will bury him. One who carries others – others will carry him. One who elevates his voice [in eulogy] – others wll elevate their voices for him.

10. Talmud, Rosh haShanah 31b

כרם רבעי היה עולה לירושלים מהלך יום לכל צד, וזו היא תחומה: אילת מן הדרום, ועקרבת מן הצפון, לוד מן המערב, וירדן מן המזרח. ואמר עולא ואיתימא רבה בר עולא אמר רבי יוחנן: מה טעם – כדי לעטר שוקי ירושלים בפירות.

The fourth year of a grapevine would ascend to Yerushalayim for a radius of one day’s travel in each direction. This is the boundary: Elat form the south, Akrevat from the north, Lod from the west, Yarden from the eats. Ulla, and some say Rabbah bar Ulla, cited Rabbi Yochanan as saying, “Why is this so? In order to ornament the markets of Yerushalayim with produce.”

11. Mishnah, Bava Batra 9:4

האחין שעשו מקצתן שושבינות בחיי האב חזרה שושבינות חזרה לאמצע שהשושבינות נגבית בבית דין

If some of a family’s brothers made a shushvinut while their father was alive [from his property], then when the shushvinut is returned [after the father’s death] it goes to the group, since shushvinut is legally collectible in court.

12. Bereishit 31:54

(נד) ויזבח יעקב זבח בהר ויקרא לאחיו לאכל לחם ויאכלו לחם וילינו בהר:

And Yaakov brought an offering on the mountain and he called to his brothers to eat bread. They ate bread, and slept on the mountain.

13. Rashi to Bereishit 31:54 לאחיו

לאחיו – לאוהביו שעם לבן

“To his brothers” – To his friends with Lavan.

Food-sharing in Judaism: Building an Ideological Community

14. Fox, Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective

Because of its centrality in our lives, food becomes a perfect vehicle for ritual, and food rituals become central to most religions; food taboos mark off one sect or denomination from another…Modern anthropology tends to stress the usefulness of food as a marker of social boundaries. As the late Meyer Fortes said, it is not so much that food is "good to eat" as that it is "good to forbid." Catholics, for example, could find a bond between each other and a mark of difference from Protestants by substituting fish for meat on Fridays. It was probably a mistake for the Catholic Church to end the ban on meat; it had helped make Catholics feel special, and many continue to observe it voluntarily.

15. Talmud, Sotah 10a-b

ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם - אמר ריש לקיש: אל תיקרי ויקרא אלא ויקריא, מלמד, שהקריא אברהם אבינו לשמו של הקב"ה בפה כל עובר ושב, כיצד? לאחר שאכלו ושתו עמדו לברכו, אמר להם: וכי משלי אכלתם? משל אלקי עולם אכלתם, הודו ושבחו וברכו למי שאמר והיה העולם.

‘And he called there in the name of Gd, Master of the Universe’ – Reish Lakish said: Do not read it as ‘And he called’ but as ‘And he made to call.’ This teaches that Avraham Avinu put the Name of Gd in the mouth of every traveller. How? After they ate and drank and stood to bless him, he said to them, ‘Did you eat my food? You ate the food of the Gd of the world! Thank, praise and bless the One who spoke and the world came into existence.’

16. Mishnah, Berachot 7:3-4

כיצד מזמנין בג' אומר נברך בג' והוא אומר ברכו בעשרה אומר נברך לאלקינו...שלשה שאכלו כאחד אינן רשאין ליחלק

How do they invite? With 3 he says, ‘Let us bless.’ With three plus the leader, he says, ‘Let us bless our Gd.’… If three eat together, they are not permitted to split.

17. Talmud, Avodah Zarah 31b

אתמר: מפני מה אסרו שכר של עובדי כוכבים? רמי בר חמא אמר רבי יצחק: משום חתנות,

We learned: Why did they prohibit the intoxicating drinks of idolaters? Rami bar Chama cited R’ Yitzchak: Because of marriage.

18. R’ Avraham Gombiner, Magen Avraham 199:2

ופשוט דמי שהוא רשע בפרהסיא ועובר עבירות וכ"ש מומר דאין מזמנין עליו דלא גרע מע"ה בזמן התלמוד:

It is straightforward that one who acts wickedly in public, and violates laws, and certainly a mumar, may not be part of a mezuman. His disqualification is no weaker than that of the am ha’aretz in talmudic times.

19. Talmud, Shabbat 13a

לא יאכל זב פרוש עם זב עם הארץ שמא ירגילנו אצלו. וכי מרגילו אצלו מאי הוי? - אלא אימא: שמא יאכילנו דברים טמאין. אטו זב פרוש לאו דברים טמאין אכיל? - אמר אביי: גזירה שמא יאכילנו דברים שאינן מתוקנין. ורבא אמר: רוב עמי הארץ מעשרין הן, אלא: שמא יהא רגיל אצלו, ויאכילנו דברים טמאין בימי טהרתו.

‘A zav who is careful about purity may not eat with a zav who is an am ha’aretz, lest he become accustomed to his company.’ What is wrong with becoming accustomed to his company? Rather, it means, ‘Lest the am ha’aretz feed him impure foods.’ But does a zav who is careful about purity not eat impure foods?! Rather, Abbaye explained, it is lest the am ha’aretz feed him untithed food. Rava explained: Most amei ha’aretz tithe, but the concern is lest he become accustomed to his company, and the am ha’aretz might feed him impure food when he is pure.

20. Talmud, Pesachim 99a

אמר רבי יהודה: אין שוחטין את הפסח על היחיד

Rabbi Yehudah said: One may not slaugher the korban pesach for an individual.

21. Talmud, Pesachim 98a

תנו רבנן: המפריש את פסחו ומת, אם בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום פסח. אין בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום שלמים לששה עשר... אמר רבה: לעולם דמית קודם חצות, ומאי יביאנו לשום פסח - לשום פסח שני. אביי אמר: לצדדין קתני; מת אחר חצות, בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום פסח, מת קודם חצות, אין בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום שלמים.

‘If one designates his korban pesach and dies, and his son is also appointed on the korban, then his son may bring it as a korban pesach. If his son is not appointed on the korban, he may bring it as a korban shelamim on the 16th of Nisan.’…

Rabbah said: This is where he died before midday, and ‘Bring it as a korban pesach’ means for Pesach Sheni.

Abbaye said: It is a split case: If he died after midday, and his son is appointed on the korban, then he may bring it for a korban pesach. If he died before midday, and his son is not appointed on the korban, then he may bring it as a shelamim.

22. Shemot 12:43-45

(מג) ויאמר יקוק אל משה ואהרן זאת חקת הפסח כל בן נכר לא יאכל בו: (מד) וכל עבד איש מקנת כסף ומלתה אתו אז יאכל בו: (מה) תושב ושכיר לא יאכל בו:

And HaShem said to Moshe and Aharon: This is the law of the Pesach: No stranger will eat from it. And any eved, purchased for silver – you shall circumcise him and then he shall eat it. A settler or merchant will not eat it.

23. Levi-Strauss, The Culinary Triangle

On two grounds, then, one can say that the roasted is on the side of nature, the boiled on the side of culture: literally, because boiling requires the use of a receptacle, a cultural object; symbolically, in as much as culture is a mediation of the relations between man and the world, and boiling demands a mediation (by water) of the relation between food and fire which is absent in roasting.

Balancing our imperative to share with our imperative to exclude, in creating an ideological community

24. Talmud, Chagigah 22a

אמר רבי יוסי: מפני מה הכל נאמנין על טהרת יין ושמן כל ימות השנה - כדי שלא יהא כל אחד ואחד הולך ובונה במה לעצמו, ושורף פרה אדומה לעצמו.

Rabbi Yosi said: Why are all credible for purity of wine and oil, all year round? So that each individual won’t build his own altar and burn his own red heifer.

25. Talmud, Niddah 34a

רגל היה וטומאת עם הארץ ברגל - כטהרה שוינהו רבנן, דכתיב +שופטים כ'+ ויאסף כל איש ישראל אל העיר כאיש אחד חברים הכתוב עשאן כולן חברים.

It was Yom Tov, and the sages rendered the assumed impurity of an am ha’aretz as purity on Yom Tov, as it is written, ‘And all of the Jewish men gathered to the city as one man, as chaverim’ – the verse rendered all of them chaverim.

26. Rambam, Moreh haNevuchim 3:34

הימים הטובים הם כלם לשמחה ולקבוצים שיש להם הנאה שבני אדם צריכים אליהם ברוב, ויש מהם תועלת ג"כ בענין האהבה שצריך שתהיה בין בני אדם בקבוצים המדיניים

Festivals are all for joy and for gatherings which provide the benefit that people need in their masses, and they also benefit by causing the love required between people in national gatherings.

27. R’ Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, Niddah 34a

להיפוך, גדול הפירוד במה שאדם מונע עצמו לאכול אצל ישראל חבירו, ובפרט עת רעה שאינו נאמן אצלו על המעשרות ועל הטהרות. ולא לחנם אמר ר' עקיבא כשהיה עם הארץ מי יתן לי תלמיד חכם ואנשכנו כחמור והיה עיקר הסיבה לעליית רגל משום לחבר את לבות ישראל זה לזה אבל עדיין לא תושג המטרה אם לא יהיו נאמנים זה לזה לטהרות וראו חז"ל עצות מרחוק להשבית המונע שלא יבא השטן לרקד ביניהם הימים הקדושים הללו לגרום שנאה ופירוד הלבבות. ועשאו כל ישראל חברים בשעת הרגל. ואף עמי הארץ נאמנים אז על יינם ועל שמנם. ומפני זה הרשות לחבר ועם הארץ לאכול יחד לחם ולהיות יחד בסעודת מרעים, ועל זה תגדל האהבה ויתחברו הלבבות זה לזה.

Just the opposite, the division caused is great when a person abstains from eating with another Jew, and the moment is especially bad when he is not credible regarding tithes and purity. It was not for naught that R’ Akiva said, when he was an am ha’aretz, “Who would give me a Torah scholar, and I would bite him like a donkey!”

The essential reason for holiday pilgrimages was to join the hearts of Israel, but that goal would not be achieved if they would not be mutually credible regarding purity.

The sages saw distant counsel to eliminate the obstacle, lest the Satan come to dance among them on these sacred days, causing enmity and division of hearts. They made all Israel as chaverim in the time of the festival, and even amei ha’aretz are credible at that time for their wine and their oil.

Because of this, chaver and am ha’aretz could eat bread together and join together in a meal of friends, and so increase love and join hearts to each other.

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