Monday, July 22, 2013

A Theology of Food: Why We Eat: The Feasts of Judaism (Part 2)

Author's Note: This is the second installment of a series on the theology of food by Karolina Branson, who holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Providence Christian College and runs her own food health blog. To read the first installment of this series, click here. The third installment will be posted Friday.


            Next, the feasts of Judaism will be surveyed in order to provide contextual understanding for their meaning to the people at the time, and grasp a piece of the awe which was inspired in the original hearers of the New Testament.

            The way that eating happens in Judaism results in a profound attentiveness toward their food (Winner 111). This happens even today with Jews who practice kosher laws. Two sets of utensils are needed for everything to avoid mixing meat and dairy under any circumstances (based on Deut. 14:21) (Schramm 649, 650; Winner 113). This practice is costly in both time and money. Labels are constantly read on packaging, and higher prices paid for kosher meat (Winner 113). These extensive regulations are the “laws of kashrut”, meaning literally, “correctness” or “appropriateness”, originated from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and elaborated upon by the Rabbis in the Talmud (Jenks 251, Schramm 648, Winner 112). These laws are far from arbitrary, underpinned by deep theological beliefs and customs with far reaching implications in ethics and civil society (Jenks 251). These laws taught Israel their distinctiveness from other nations as God’s people (Acts 10). Food practices, such as animal sacrifice were originally given as the substitute of atonement symbolism for Israel.

            Sacrifices had strict regulations for procedure. A clean slit across the jugular vein was required for the slaughter and no bones were to be broken (Schramm 649, Winner, 112). An animal which died of natural causes was never appropriate for sacrifice (Schramm 649). Whether a sacrificial animal or not, the carcass had to be examined for any malformation before and after its death (Schramm 649). The largest section of the kashrut laws, Leviticus 11, is on kosher animal laws (Schramm 649).What they ate symbolized their identity and their history. Eating the “unclean foods” was abolished because to do so would be to share identity with the unclean Gentiles and deny status as people of God (Schramm 650. Such was the extent of this symbolism of sanctity that among the kashrut are bans on wine made by a non-Jew (Schramm 650). When seen in light of the role of wine in Scripture, the importance of this law is made evident. The Judaic feasts coincide with their agricultural practices. In Judaism, there were no “secular” holidays. Undergirded by religious beliefs, ceremonies and practices from the feasts to every day eating had biblical symbolism (Burge, 24). The festivals were celebrated at spring, the harvest, and so on, paralleling the picture of agricultural abundance for life and redemptive provision. The feasts added to the time of thankfulness and recitation of the faithful covenant provision in the present and the past (Burge, 25). The three great festivals in Judaism were: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Burge, 29).

            The Passover event was instituted by God as a statute, to be observed forever (Ex. 12:14,
24, 43). It occurred in the spring when the emergence of life in the plants and animals would typify eternal life to come (Burge, 26). Passover was unique and held a significant place among the Jewish rituals, for it was both a sacrifice and a sacrament (Jenks 254). In Exodus, Israel sought freedom from the Egyptians. At the tenth plague, they followed the instruction of God so as to be exempt from its terror. The first Passover demonstrated sacrifice (Jenks 253). Though it was a food sacrifice, it was not offered to God to provide food for God the way food sacrifices as was thought in the cultic practices of surrounding nations (Jenks 253). The opposite is true. The blood of the one year old, unblemished lamb was slaughtered by the male of the household to provide atonement (Bavinck 542). God did not “need” the food sacrifice, but he did require the purity that came only through bloodshed. No one can come before God in communion without redemption. The Angel of Death passed over the bloody doorposts of Israel, not because they were less deserving of the death that came to the Egyptians, but because the lamb was propitiation as the perfect sacrifice and the people were led from the land (Ex. 12:13, 23. 27, 29-32; 13:21). The Passover as well as daily sacrifice rituals of Judaism marked the ongoing participation in the blood of atonement which was required for the actualization of the peace that the gathering at a table undoubtedly symbolized (Clowney, 271).The grace and mercy which allowed this substitution to be made to appease the wrath of God showed that Passover was also a sacrament (Bavinck 542). The act of making a sacrament is a holy covenant between God and his people. He released them from bondage and promised them life. Later when the Passover was celebrated in Canaan the lamb was slaughtered by the Levitical priesthood rather than the father of each family further emphasizing the holiness of this celebration (2 Chron. 30:16; 35:11; Ezra 6:19). Instead of being sprinkled on the doorposts, the blood of the lamb also was sprinkled on the altar and the meal eaten at the Temple (Deut. 16:2). To share in this meal was the sacrament, to have communion with God (Bavinck, 543). The liberation from Egypt remembered in Passover simultaneously pointed forward tothe eschatological promise of liberation from sin (Bavinck, 543). The Jewish community anticipated this state of fulfillment every time they practiced Passover, awaiting the covenant in hope, through a celebratory occasion. They recognized life of each spring season, as the first of their harvest just began. With great expectation they rejoiced in the plentiful harvest it would become. They praised God for his bountiful blessings of the present and remembered the lifegiving liberation from Egypt of the past. These symbols, integral to the festal practices in Judaism such as Passover, held profound theological truths.

          Seven weeks after the end of the Passover feast, the second great festival of Judaism occurred. This was Pentecost in the Hellenistic world of the New Testament and in the Old Testament, called the Feast of Weeks (Burge 28). Again, it is significant that it was seven weeks after Passover, because Israel was laboring and waiting for the complete allotted time and then the next festival began. For this feast, Israelites would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer the first-fruits of the harvest as thanks to God (Burge28). Thanks were given after the time of hopeful waiting, framing the agricultural time of bringing the seeds to harvest. This framework provides symbolism which importantly applies to Christians today. During this age between the resurrection of Christ and the eschaton, believers are the salt and light, gathering the harvest of
the earth through the witness of the indwelling, Holy Spirit. When Christ comes, God will gather his people, the harvest, in their complete, perfect number and they will gather for the feast of ultimate fulfillment, just as was typified in the feast of Pentecost.

            The third feast occurred in the autumn during the seventh month of the Jewish year, again, the number of completion.This was the Feast of Booths. It referred to God’s provision such as manna and the water from the rock in the wilderness, when Israel lived in traveling dwelling places. It was celebrated at the time when the Jewish people would live in shelter tents, or booths, in the fields as they protected and gathered the harvest. These dwelling places were deeply symbolic because of the wilderness wanderings and would bring the significance all to mind. The shelters were made out of branches, a parallel pointing to Christ’s vine and branches discourse (John 15). In John 15, Christ promised the Holy Spirit who now abides in us similar to that of the Israelites abiding in the booths. With the finished work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the symbolism and typology of this festival was fulfilled (Kostenberger). The meals and festivals of Judaism were always presupposed as communal events.

            Sharing a meal was an act of closeness and trust between the partakers (Jenks 252, Fujimara 149). If one did not wish to express this closeness, then that person would not share the meal (Gen. 43:32, Jenks 252). Meals were shared within the community and extended to travelers, strangers, and the poor (Jenks 251). The superb hospitality in Israel was a distinguishing factor among the nations of the ancient world (Edersheim 47). In fact, among the Rabbis there was a saying that declared, “The entertainment of travelers is as great a matter as the reception of the Shechinah.” (Edersheim, 48) The Talmud includes hospitality among the things that one is eternally rewarded for in the life to come (Shab. 127 a, Edersheim, 48). As image bearers of God, the Talmud also taught that the four ways to imitate God were to clothe the naked (Gen. 3:21), visit the sick (Gen 15:1), comfort those who mourn (Gen. 25:11), and burry to dead (Deut. 34:6) (Edersheim, 48). Such writings of the Talmud are reinforced by Scriptural passages as well. Hebrews 13:1-2 states “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” As has been touched upon, these festivals for the Jews were not merely to celebrate the food they had been given, but to also celebrate the salvation history they had experienced up to that point. Passover told the story of the Exodus, and the elements of the Passover such as the unleavened bread and the bitter horseradish symbolized the events of their escape from Pharaoh and enhanced their experience of this recollection (Burge, 29). Pentecost reminded them of the covenant God gave to Moses at Mt. Sinai (Burge 29). Lastly, the Feast of Booths, represented the time in the Wilderness when the Israelites wandered from place to place and were sustained by God as they waited for the Promised Land (Burge 29).

The next section will deal with food symbolism and redemptive history. 

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