That’s a pretty big matzo ball

400273 02: Eric 'Badlands' Booker (L) and Ed 'Cookie' Jarvis (R) eat matzo balls at Ben Kosher Deli's 5th Annual Charity Matzo Ball Eating contest at Ben's Kosher Deli January 29, 2002 in New York City. Booker came in second, eating 16 matzo balls in 5 minutes. The contest was held to raise money for the Interfaith Nutrition Network. (Photo by George Best/Getty Images)

This story came in from reader Joel with this vote of support: “Good coverage of the dietary laws without treating observant Jews like zoo animals.”

That was about a month ago, but I wanted to save this story from the Associated Press for the High Holidays. (Shana tova!) After all, Jewish holidays are all about eating, and when I was at The Jewish Journal we would often have a pair of High Holiday cover stories for the 10-day stretch from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur; one was typically a food issue.

So let’s explore this story from Jerusalem:

The men behind a unique six-hour eating marathon in Jerusalem want diners to know two things about locusts: First, they taste great stir-fried, and second, they’re kosher.

When 240 observant Jews sat down to the 18-course dinner earlier this month, they were served a veritable zoo of animals that were unlikely candidates to be eaten under traditional Jewish dietary laws, known as kashrut.

Eating kosher, the organizers want to say, does not just mean chicken soup and matzo balls; the list of animals eaten by Jewish communities around the world throughout history is longer and stranger than most people think.

What’s wrong with chicken soup and matzo balls? Put them together, and you have one delicious meal.

That’s really no surprise. But what is a surprise to at least this GetReligionista who isn’t kosher but also isn’t completely unfamiliar with kashrut is that locusts are as clean as Hebrew National hot dogs.

We’re off to a good start. What’s next?

There’s a paragraph about what the Bible clearly prohibits: pork, shrimp, anything prepared by Paula Deen. And then the story explains a fact about kashrut that many people outside the Jewish community don’t understand: it’s not simply about what can’t be eaten but about how even clean animals must be prepared.

Without witnesses, more animals may go the way of the peacock. It was one of 30 birds pictured in a 150-year-old Italian book on kosher poultry, but no one alive remembers how to slaughter it in a kosher way, the organizers said. So today peacock is off the Jewish menu.

Sparrows, doves, deer, grilled cow udders, even the shibuta — “a fish mentioned in the Talmud, the ancient commentary on the Bible that defines Jewish law” — were on the menu. Dare I say that this is one tasty story?

As far as fact-checking this story, it passes the test of my limited knowledge and reasonable Google dexterity. This looks like a story that really gets religion.

Anyone notice anything I missed?

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  • David Layman

    One small factual correction to the story:

    The Talmud is, properly speaking, not a commentary on the Bible. It is a commentary (“Gemara“) on the Mishnah, a collection of laws, and the foundational document of rabbinic Judaism.

    While the Talmud is a veritable encyclopedia of rabbinical lore and can include any genre of literature (law, theology, ethics, legend, etc.) and any source (Biblical or non-biblical), the Mishnah (upper-case) is a collection of mishnah (lower-case, plural, mishnayot). “Mishnah” as a literature is specifically defined as based on a non-biblical source, and is contrasted to “midrash,” which is a literature based on a biblical source.

  • Rachel

    On locusts:
    I remember reading (probably on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher_locust ) that most Jewish groups don’t eat locusts because they’ve lost the tradition of which varieties of locusts are kosher and which aren’t, but that Jews from Yemen still had a tradition about that and were the only Jewish group to eat locusts. It sounds like this dinner might involve members of Jewish groups which had come to consider locusts off-limits accepting the tradition of Yemenite Jews; I wonder if that’s true.

  • http://faithandreason.usatoday.com Cathy Grossman

    What you missed — and don’t include in the excerpts — is the entire spiritual point of kashrut and many other Jewish traditional self-restrictions. The idea that links them all is that every move you make, every breath you take (forgive me, Sting) and every bite you eat is elevated by thinking of it in relation to God. In Jewish life, that’s why humanity is here. Now that can still be fun — a matzoh ball eating contest and all — but getting into the wacky ins and outs of kashrut without mentioning its religious purpose is trivializing.

  • Maureen

    John the Baptist ate locusts, and he was Jewish, so it’s not that surprising that they’re kosher. :)

    I don’t think non-Jewish people are unaware that kosher is supposed to be all about God. If anything, the reporter seemed to be assuming that the reader knew this; there wasn’t that feeling of “oh, isn’t that quaint”. Rather, there’s a sense of urgency and seriousness behind the seeking out of kosher butchers and traditions.

  • Maureen

    What I would have liked to know is how Judaism deals with “new” animals, like Australian ones.

  • http://slanehill.blogspot.com/ slanehill

    Maureen, Actually, in my experience, most non-Jews have NO clue that the dietary rules have anything to do with God. They think of them, as well as the Christian traditions of Lent, as being just rules to make people live more restrictive lives. Penance, punishment,dislike of pleasure and the body, yeah. As a means of growing closer to the Lord, not so much.


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