Professor of Religion
Program Coordinator, Jewish Studies
Ph.D., M.A., Vanderbilt University
M.H.L., Rabbi, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
B.A., Harvard College
Bible, Comparison of Religions, Judaism, Kabbalah and ethics, Ritual, Food and Religion (especially meal rituals), Symposium Literature, Christian-Jewish relations.
Much of my research is focused on meals and religion. I have nearly completed my book Culinary Midrash: Making Jewish Food, Making Food “Jewish” to be published by Reaktion Press. I've also written Memorable Meals: Symposia in Luke's Gospel, The Rabbinic Seder, and the Greco-Roman Literary Tradition, which can be accessed on-line, in which I compare early Christian table fellowship with the Jewish Passover seder. I've presented papers on Jewish meals for the Association for Jewish Studies and at the Brown U. Colloquium on Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean region. I have participated in numerous national conferences, such as the 15th Annual Klutznick-Harris Symposium on Food and Judaism in Omaha, NE, the international Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, and was on the Steering Committee of the Society of Biblical Literature research Seminar "Meals in the Greco-Roman World" from 2002-2010, and am currently on the Steering Committee of the Folklore and Religion Seminar of the American Academy of Religion.
My translation of Shulhan Shel Arba, a treatise on eating by the 13th century Spanish kabbalist and Biblical exegete Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher, is available on line here. Rosemary Liss '11 composed seven original illustrations for the translation, which can be seen here. I'm currently working on a book on the history and culture of Jewish food, that looks both at what Jewish sacred traditions prescribe about food and meals, and what Jews actually eat and think about them. In the Fall 2011 Wheaton Quarterly article "Food, God, and Scholarship," I describe how my research and teaching on food connect. These are not just antiquarian or Jewish issues, but in fact are one set of possible answers and strategies for a basic feature of the human condition, what in his new book Michael Pollan calls The Omnivore's Dilemma (Penguin, 2006). Given the wide range of foods we are physiologically capable of eating, we constantly have to decide what is good to eat. Thus, human beings compose and use narratives that make food, in the words of Claude Levi-Strauss, "not only good to eat, but also good to think." How similar and how different in purpose are the Jewish medieval texts from contemporary narratives about food that we find not at the table, but in grocery stores, the stories we tell or which are implied in the labels "organic," "halal," "vegan," "kosher," or "low carb"?
Aren't we telling stories about our food because, as Pollan says, "it gratifies some of our deepest, oldest longings, not merely for safe food, but for a connection the earth and to the handful of domesticated creatures we long depended on...to 'engag[e] in authentic experiences' and imaginatively enact...a 'return to a utopian past with the positive aspects of modernity intact'"?(p.137) When R. Bahya has his readers frame the activities of the meal within the sacred drama of Adam and Eve's fall, the revelation at Sinai, and the messianic banquet on the flesh of Leviathan,
or when the Passover Haggadah's stories and pictures evoke memories and visions of the utopian redemption from Egypt as we eat the bitter herbs and sweet haroset, or when Christian and Jewish sages counsel us to "eat the book", to ruminate, chew on the words of God to restore our exalted status that we lost when the first man and woman sinned and ate what they mistakenly thought was good to eat - aren't they intending something quite similar? In their own way, they are prescribing a remedy - certain kinds of reading, sometimes on an empty or full stomach, but definitely at the table - for the omnivore's dilemma. In 2005 I participated in an NEH Summer Seminar on Religious Diversity and the Common Good, led by Boston College Professor Alan Wolfe, to gain a deeper understanding of the current American cultural situation in which I'm doing my research and teaching.
FSEM 101-A08 The Rituals of Dinner (part of the Connection: CONX 23002 Food) REL 102 Introduction to the Study of World Religions REL 109 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible REL 110 Literature of the New Testament REL 204 Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam REL 207 Introduction to Rabbinic Literature REL 208 Religion in Modern Literature REL 210 Jesus and the Gospels REL 232 Faith after the Holocaust REL 310 New Testament: Acts and Letters REL 316 Islam: Faith and Practice REL 322 Judaism: Faith and Practice REL 323 Seminar in Jewish Thought REL-398 Smells and Bells: The Sensual Dimension of Religion I have offered enhanced sections of some of my courses to study texts in Hebrew or Greek. (Contact me if you are interested.) I am interested in experiential and service learning and received a Shouse Fellowship for making an oral history project (interviewing members of the local Muslim community) part of my course Islam: Faith and Practice. I'm very interested in having students make the connections between the critical comparative study of religion and their experience in "the real world." A good example of the kind of discussions we have in class can be viewed on the blogs for my Religion 204 course "Scripture in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam" and Religion 398 "Smells and Bells: The Sensual Dimension of Religion." I've collaborated with colleagues in the Biology Department, Professors Betsey Dyer and Deborah Cato, to connect their First Year Seminars with with my FYS "Rituals of Dinner: (see the cover story in the Winter 2008 Wheaton Quarterly), and recently with Theater Department Professor Stephanie Daniels to connect her FYS "Theater and Social Change" with "Rituals of Dinner."
I have chaired the First Year Seminar Steering Committee, and regularly serve on it and on the Sub-Committee on Student Initiated Connections which evaluates student proposals. I am currently the Faculty Advisor to Farm House, Jewish Life House, and to the Wheaton College Hillel. I've been an ardent supporter of WheaFarm, Farm House, and Farm Club since their inceptions, and sustainable food activities on campus in general, and have collaborated with students, faculty, and staff on farm and food-related projects such as funded through the Get Real, Get Raw and IMAGINE Grants with Giovanna Bishop '17, Evania Thompson '18, Mack Goller '18, and Choening Dorji '18 and have directed independent study courses and Independent Majors on Sustainable food, for example with Lana Rosen '13 and Ciara Sidell '15. In the past I conducted an informal weekly Torah study session "Lunch and Lernen with the Rabbi," sponsored by Hillel, for students and others interested and I contributed to the blog The Jew and the Carrot: Jews, Food, and Contemporary Issues. I have lectured on Islam for the "Understanding the Modern Middle East" program of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. I've served as a visiting rabbi at the liberal synagogue Bejt Praha and taught a summer course in Jewish History at Prague, the Czech Republic, and I was the part-time interim rabbi for a local Reconstructionist synagogue in Marshfield, MA, Congregation Shirat Hayam from 2004-2005.
- "Contrasting Banquets: A Literary Commonplace in Philo’s On the Contemplative Life and Other Greek and Roman Symposia" in Meals in Early Judaism: Social Formation at the Table (Susan Marks and Hal Taussig, eds.; New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).
- "Performing Myth, Performing Midrash at Rabbinic Meals" in Meals in Early Judaism.
- "Ten Theses Concerning Meals and Early Judaism," with Susan Marks and Jordan Rosenblum in Meals in the Early Judaism.
- "Cultures on Ice: Refrigeration and the Americanization of Immigrants in the First Half of the 20th Century," co-authored with Betsey Dexter Dyer, Food and Material Culture: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2013 (Devon, UK: Prospect, 2014).
- "'Better a Meal of Vegetables with Love’: The Symbolic Meaning of Vegetables in Rabbinic and Post-Rabbinic Midrash on Proverbs 15:17," Jewish Quarterly Review 104:1 (Winter 2014) 46-56.
- "'Bread from Heaven, Bread from the Earth:' Recent Trends in Jewish Food History," Writing Food History: A Global Perspective, ed. by Kyri Claflin and Peter Scholliers; London: Berg, 2012.
- "Sukkot: The Paradigmatic Harvest Festival," Celebrations: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2011, ed. by Mark McWilliams; Devon, UK: Prospect, 2012.
- "Cultures and Cultures: Fermented Foods as Culinary 'Shibboleths,'" co-authored with Betsey Dyer, in Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food And Cookery 2010, ed. by Helen Saberi; Devon, UK: Prospect, 2011.
- "'Truly the Ear Tests Words as the Palate Tastes Food'(Job 12:11): Synaesthetic Food Metaphors for the Experience of the Divine in Jewish Tradition," Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2009, ed. by Richard Hosking; Devon, UK: Prospect, 2010
- "Torah on the Table: A Sensual Morality," Food and Morality: Proceedings of the 2007 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, ed. by Susan Friedland; Devon, UK: Prospect Books, 2008.
- "'Real Eating:' A Medieval Spanish Jewish View of Gastronomic Authenticity," Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery 2005, ed. by Richard Hoskings; Totnes (UK): Prospect, 2006.
- "What is Religious About Ethics?" The Reconstructionist 69:2 (2005) 49-57.
- "Does God Care What We Eat? Jewish Theologies of Food and Reverence for Life," in Food and Judaism: Studies in Jewish Civilization 15, ed. by Leonard Greenspoon et al.; Omaha, NE: Creighton University Press, 2004.
- "Meals as Midrash: A Survey of Ancient Meals in Jewish Studies Scholarship"in Food and Judaism, 2004.
- "The Ritualization of Scripture in Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher's Eating Manual Shulhan Shel Arba'," Proceedings of the 13th World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, Israel, August 2001.
- "'Not by Bread Alone...': Food and Drink in the Rabbinic Seder and in the Last Supper," Semeia 86: Food and Drink in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, ed. by Athalya Brenner and Jan Willem van Henten (2000) 154-179.
- "Jesus as Other People's Scripture," The Historical Jesus Through Jewish and Catholic Eyes (ed. by Bryan F. Le Beau, Leonard Greenspoon, and Dennis Hamm; Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000.
- "A Jewish Ideological Perspective on the Study of Christian Scripture," Jewish Social Studies N.S. 4:1 (1997) 121-152.
- "Meat-eating and Jewish Identity: Ritualization of the Priestly 'Torah of Beast and Fowl' [Lev. 11:46] in Rabbinic Judaism and in Medieval Kabbalah,"Association for Jewish Studies Review, 24/2 (1999) 227-262.
- "Contemporary Jewish Theologies: An Essay Review," The Reconstructionist 59/1 (1994) 86-93.
- "Were the Pharisees a Conversionist Sect? Table Fellowship as a Strategy of Conversion," "The Making of Proselytes": Jewish Missionary Activity in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds (ed. A.-J. Levine and R. Pervo; forthcoming), 161-192.
- "Sukkot: The Paradigmatic Harvest Festival," Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery: Celebrations, Oxford, UK, July 2011
- "Cultures and Cultures: Fermented Foods as Culinary 'Shibboleths,'" co-authored with Betsey Dexter Dyer, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery: Cured, Fermented, and Smoked Foods, Oxford, UK, July 2010
- "Performing Myth, Performing Midrash at Rabbinic Meals," paper for the Seminar on Meals in the Greco-Roman, SBL Annual Meeting, Boston, MA, November, 2008.
- "Kabbalah, Food, and Sustainability," Twentieth Annual Klutznick-Harris Symposium "The Mountains Shall Drip Wine:" Jews and the Environment" Omaha, NE, October 28-29, 2007
- "'Torah on the Table:' A Sensual Morality," Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery," Oxford, UK, September 8-9, 2007
- "Contrasting Banquets: A Literary Commonplace in Philo's On the Contemplative Life and Other Greco-Roman Symposia," Consultation on Meals in the Greco-Roman World, AAR/SBL Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, November, 2004
- "The 'Normal Mysticism' of Jewish Meal Rituals," Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, Boston, MA, December, 2003
- "The Tension between Vegetarianism and Meat-Eating in Judaism," Animals and Religion Consultation, AAR/SBL Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, November, 2003
- "Meals as Midrash: A Survey of Ancient Meals in Jewish Studies Scholarship," Consultation on Meals in the Greco-Roman World, AAR/SBL Annual Meeting, Toronto, November, 2002
In 2002-2003, Jacklyn Schmitt '03, my Wheaton Research Partner helped me put together a working bibliography on Meals in Jewish Studies. I worked on a project on meals in the Greco-Roman world with two students, Elise Rodgers '07 and John Golebiewski '06, in 2004-5 in another Wheaton Research Partnership (WRP).
For the Summer of 2010, Rosemary Liss '11, a Studio Art major and "alumna" of my FYS: Rituals of Dinner, and I received a Mars Faculty/Student Research Grant from Wheaton for the project "A Contemporary Illuminated English Translation of Rabbenu Bahya Ben Asher's Jewish Eating Manual Shulhan Shel Arba." Rosemary composed seven original illustrations for the translation, which can be seen here.