Why the Cre­ation story favours or­ganic food

Prac­tices such as kashrut should re­flect Ju­daism’s more univer­sal­ist ethics, says

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

THIS WEEk WE be­gin the cy­cle of To­rah read­ings again, and read the ac­count of Cre­ation. All peo­ples have sa­cred nar­ra­tives about the Cre­ation of the world — but why do we turn right back to the beginning, again and again each year? Why don’t we start our nar­ra­tive with the first an­ces­tors of our peo­ple, Abra­ham and Sarah? There are many an­swers to th­ese ques­tions, one of which is cap­tured in a verse in the last book of the To­rah: “ Sh’ma! Yis­rael Adonai Elo­heinu; Adonai Echad” — “Lis­ten! Is­rael the Eter­nal is our God; the Eter­nal is One” (Deuteron­omy 6:4).

“Our God is One” — the Cre­ator of the en­tire world; the God of all the peo­ples. Our tribal an­ces­tors learnt this les­son painfully. It took them cen­turies to un­der­stand that the God who had made a sa­cred covenant with our peo­ple did not be­long to us alone. And so the prophet Amos chided them: “Are you not like the Ethiopi­ans to Me, chil­dren of Is­rael?” (9:7): So Isa­iah spoke of a fu­ture time when even Is­rael’s op­pres­sors would recog­nise the Eter­nal, and re­ceive God’s bless­ing: “Blessed be Egypt, My peo­ple and Assyria the work of My hands, and Is­rael, My in­her­i­tance” (21:24b).

Per­haps what is most re­mark­able about Jewish teach­ing is that it em­braces the aware­ness that the Eter­nal is both “our God” — our lib­er­a­tor, lov­ingly keep­ing the covenant with His peo­ple Is­rael — and the God of all. But this isn’t just a the­o­ret­i­cal propo­si­tion; the pray­ers we say ev­ery day re­it­er­ate it. Evening and morn­ing, fol­low­ing the Bar’chu, the “call to prayer”, we re­cite a bless­ing ad­dress­ing the Eter­nal, first as the Sov­er­eign Cre­ator, sec­ond as the God who loves us. And each of the three daily prayer ser­vices end with the two para­graphs of the Aleinu; the first of which, tra­di­tion­ally, fo­cuses on the Jewish peo­ple’s unique re­la­tion­ship with God, and the sec­ond, on a vi­sion of the fu­ture time when all hu­man be­ings will recog­nise the One God.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the Aleinu was com­posed by the rab­bis (circa 200 CE) for in­clu­sion in the liturgy that they cre­ated for Rosh Hashanah, when they en­vi­sioned God as Melech Malchei Ham’lachim, “the king above the king of kings”, en­throned on high, the Judge of all the world. For them, the first day of the sev­enth month of Tishri was both the New Year for the Jewish peo­ple, and the an­niver­sary of Cre­ation. The first prayer book, Seder Rav Am­ram (c. 860 CE) de­clares: hayom harat olam, “to­day is the birth­day of the world”.

Our pray­ers ac­knowl­edge that Ju­daism en­com­passes both uni­ver­sal­ism and par­tic­u­lar­ism — both an aware­ness of the uni­ver­sal na­ture of the Eter­nal and of our par­tic­u­lar covenant with God, and this is re­flected on Shab­bat and on all our ma­jor fes­ti­vals — but do we? And if we do, have we grasped the im­pli­ca­tions for how we might prac­tise Ju­daism?

Pirkei Avot, The Say­ings of the Sages, in­cludes in its first chap­ter th­ese two state­ments: “Simeon the Righ­teous was one of the Great As­sem­bly. He used to say: The world stands on three pil­lars: on teach­ing ( ha­Torah), and on wor­ship ( ha’avo­dah) and on deeds of loving kind­ness ( g’mi­lut chasadim)” (1:2).

“Rab­ban Simeon ben Gam­liel used to say: The world stands on three pil­lars: on jus­tice ( hadin); and on truth ( ha’emet) and on peace ( hashalom)” (1:18).

The world stands, in other words, both on the par­tic­u­lar frame­work for life prac­tised by the Jewish peo­ple, and on key prin­ci­ples that ap­ply, uni­ver­sally, to all, in­clud­ing the Jewish peo­ple: all six el­e­ments are in­te­gral to Ju­daism. To em­pha­sise one di­men­sion at the ex­pense of the other is a dis­tor­tion of Jewish teach­ing.

So, what are the im­pli­ca­tions for our Jewish prac­tice? As we think this Shab­bat about Cre­ation, and, both, of our unique power as hu­man be­ings, and our unique role as guardians of the earth, the di­etary rules of kashrut seem a good place to start.

Last year, Lib­eral Ju­daism pub­lished a leaflet en­ti­tled Eth­i­cal Eat­ing, writ­ten by Rabbi Janet Bur­den. One di­men­sion of kashrut is clear: we are what we eat. Along with the other par­tic­u­lar prac­tices of Ju­daism, what we eat sets us apart. But there is also an eth­i­cal di­men­sion to the laws of kashrut: an­i­mals are to be killed only for food, not for sport; the pro­hi­bi­tion against the eat­ing of milk with meat de­rives from the To­rah’s in­junc­tion against “boil­ing a kid in its mother’s milk”.

If we put kashrut in the con­text of Ju­daism’s univer­sal­ist teach­ings con­cern­ing our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to­wards the earth and the just and com­pas­sion­ate treat­ment both of an­i­mals and of peo­ple, we re­alise that food can­not be fully kosher if the pro­duc­tion of it has in­volved waste, cru­elty, or the ex­ploita­tion of oth­ers.

So a chicken can only be fully kosher if it is also or­ganic and free-range; and foods other than meat and fish, too, need to be eth­i­cally “fit”: lo­cally pro­duced if, like ap­ples, they grow in this coun­try; or fair-traded if, like chocolate, cof­fee and tea, they can only be ob­tained from else­where.

On one level, it’s very sim­ple: Ju­daism without uni­ver­sal­ism ceases to be Ju­daism; Ju­daism without par­tic­u­lar­ism ceases to be Ju­daism; both are fun­da­men­tal di­men­sions of the whole.

But, of course, it’s never sim­ple. We live in the shadow of the Holo­caust. Dur­ing the years fol­low­ing the Shoah, some Jews have turned their back on the world, while oth­ers have aban­doned the Jewish peo­ple to em­brace hu­man­ity. And yet af­ter the Shoah, per­haps more than at any other time in our his­tory, we need to live as Jews in the world. Rabbi Leo Baeck, in­car­cer­ated in the Terezin ghetto for over two years, was in­spired by his ex­pe­ri­ences there to write: “Ev­ery peo­ple is a ques­tion which God ad­dresses to hu­man­ity; and ev­ery peo­ple… must an­swer for its own sake and for the sake of hu­man­ity… God ques­tions hu­man­ity through the peo­ples.” El­iz­a­beth Tik­vah Sarah is rabbi of Brighton and Hove Pro­gres­sive Syn­a­gogue

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