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Eating at God's Table

How Foodways Create and Sustain Orthodox Jewish Communities

Jody Myers

Food and Beverage, Jewish Studies, Jewish Life and Tradition, Anthropology

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Printed Paper Cased
Available November 2023
ISBN: 9780814349557
Pages: 386 Size: 6x9
Available November 2023
ISBN: 9780814349540
Pages: 386 Size: 6x9
Available November 2023
ISBN: 9780814349564

How do contemporary American Orthodox Jews use food to create boundaries, distinguishing and dividing groups from each other and from non-Orthodox communities? How does food symbolize beliefs, sustain and grow communities, and represent commitment to God? Eating at God’s Table explores answers and examples from ten years of ethnographic research in the Orthodox enclave in the west Los Angeles Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Author Jody Myers explores the food-centeredness of Orthodox Jewish religious practice and the evolutionary development of today’s demanding kosher laws. Opening with four scenarios based on real observations, Myers illustrates how many Orthodox residents’ religious beliefs and practices around food are integrated into, even inseparable from, their daily activities. While the shared commitment to the kosher diet creates an overall sense of community, Orthodox sub-affiliations in the neighborhood use foodways to construct smaller, intimate communities, and individuals use food to fashion personal identities within the larger group. This rich exploration of kosher Orthodox foodways and their meanings demonstrates the inadequacy of limited or simple definitions of Orthodox Jewishness and offers insight into the religious diversity in American communities.

Jody Myers (1954–2022) served as director of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program at California State University, Northridge. She is the author of books on Tzevi Hirsch Kalischer’s messianic activism and the Kabbalah Centre and coeditor of a book on Jewish foodways and ethics. She authored numerous articles on these and other topics including contemporary women’s rituals and education.

With a remarkable combination of scholarly rigor, empathy, exacting analysis, and love, Eating at God’s Table uses an exploration of foodways to make vividly present the lived religious world of contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Its seemingly narrow focus on the foodways of one Los Angeles neighborhood becomes a kind of keyhole through which one can view an entire religious universe. Dr. Myers shows that to understand religious foodways requires us to delve into history, the interpretation of scripture, gendered and racialized social dynamics, ethical worldviews, and much else. This is the most meticulously researched and fertile study of any Jewish community’s foodways I’ve ever encountered, and a model of how a religious studies approach to food can cut to the heart of the complexities through which humans make meaning, revealing things both beautiful and disturbing and a great deal in between.

– Aaron Gross, professor of theology and religious studies, University of San Diego

Food matters, always and everywhere. But sometimes it matters more. Jody Myers’s excavation of the food lives of the Orthodox Jews who live in Los Angeles’s Pico-Robertson neighborhood provides a stunning example of the inextricable bonds between life, food, religion, and community.

– Hasia Diner, professor emerita, New York University

Eating at God’s Table employs the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles as an ‘ethnographic laboratory’ for studying the wide range of Orthodox Jewish approaches to eating and sharing food. Focusing on women, ‘lived religion,’ and the rules and customs associated with keeping kosher, it shows how Orthodox communities use food as a marker of identity and tool for survival. A major contribution to Jewish studies and the study of religion.

– Jonathan D. Sarna, university professor and Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University, and author of American Judaism: A History

In Eating at God’s Table, Jody Myers takes us inside the kitchens of Orthodox communities in Pico-Robertson. When we open the pages of this book, we sit at their tables and enter her wonderfully curated conversation about the vibrant dynamics and lived religion of these communities.

– Jordan Rosenblum, Belzer Professor of Classical Judaism, University of Wisconsin–Madison