Fridays are ideally reserved for two of my favorite activities—studying Torah and cooking for my family. On this day I follow leads from the Torah portion through centuries of rabbinic interpretation, seeking to deepen my understanding of the scope of Jewish wisdom. And in the back of my mind, I am keeping track of time, remembering when it is time to start a dish that needs hours of cooking so that when Shabbat arrives, spiritual and physical sustenance will combine to make Shabbat a day of delight.
The nexus between food and religious life becomes explicit this week in Parashat Mishpatim. Chapter 22 ends with the verse, “You shall be My holy people; do not eat meat found torn in the field, but rather toss it to the dogs.” Parts A and B of this verse appear to be a jarring non sequitur. The first half speaks of an exalted partnership between Israel and God; the second involves the repulsive image of feeding carrion meat to the dogs. And yet for the Torah, this is not a non sequitur. Again in Deuteronomy 14:21, Israel is warned not to eat non-kosher meat (here called neveilah, not basar tereifah), and also to avoid seething a kid in its mother’s milk (understood by the sages as a general prohibition on mixing meat and dairy)—in order to become a “holy people to the Lord your God.” Continue reading