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Forbidden Foods: Between Punishment and a Life of Sanctity. A Jewish Sage’s Polemic with a Muslim Savant

Yoel Marciano

Pages 289 - 302

Food plays an important role in intercultural encounters and social systems. This is stated with special emphasis in relations among Jews, a social minority that observes strict dietary prohibitions with greater stringency than does the surrounding society. In this article, a terse question from a Muslim scholar to the Moroccan rabbi Khalifa b. Malka (c. 1670–1755) is investigated: Why do Jews, who are not allowed to eat suet, benefit from selling it or putting it to various uses? R. Khalifa could have answered the question briefly by noting that the Torah explicitly (Lev. 7:24) says so. Instead, he delivered a lengthy reply including arguments against Islam, particulary concerning its ban on drinking wine. He even inserted his response into a religious polemic work that he authored. In this article, the theological context behind the dialogue is discussed, showing that although it is not stated explicitly, it is implied that the Muslim, under the inspiration of Islamic sources, perceived the Jewish dietary prohibitions as God’s punishment to the Jews; therefore, they should be enjoined against benefiting from the forbidden foods. The Jew, in turn, welcomes the prohibitions as means to lives of sanctity. As both discussants were fully aware of the underlying intent of the not-innocuous question, the dialogue tumbled into an interfaith polemic.


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