Know Your Nosh: Food, Jewishness, & Identity

5th Biannual Embodied Judaism Symposium & Exhibit

Food has long been deeply intertwined with Jewish identity, culture, politics, and even Jewish survival. Through traditions linked to food, Jews have created, maintained, and reimagined boundaries in Jewish communities for millennia. The borrowing and appropriation of foods from other cultures have helped shape new Jewish identities and practices across the globe. As a truly global people, Jews have used food both to solidify ethnic identities and to challenge—or reinforce—narratives of tolerance and inclusion. Jews in the world’s two largest Jewish communities—the US and Israel—have elevated food traditions to deepen attachments to Jewish identity, culture, and religion in ways that have also sparked tension and debate over the boundaries of what makes something “Jewish” food.

Meanwhile, Jews in both the United States and Israel have built complicated histories around the links between Jewish identity, religious meaning, and agriculture. Jewish farming movements began in the United States in the 19th century, but slowly dwindled in the mid-20th century until a resurgence of interest around the links between Jews, agriculture, sustainability, and the environment. Celebrating Jews' roles in farming and agriculture became a key element of Zionist ideology beginning in Palestine in the late nineteenth century and continuing well after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

In recent decades, rabbis and other Jewish religious leaders have increasingly looked to Jewish traditions for inspiration to inform spiritually and ethically engaged perspectives on the relationship between Judaism, food, agriculture, the environment, and social justice. For example, Jewish farmers are growing food with ecologically sensitive methods and educating their communities in response to the climate crisis.

Jewish leaders, particularly within the Jewish Renewal community (a movement for Jewish spiritual innovation founded in the United States and with a deep history in Boulder), have forged new ways of looking at Jewish food as a way to connect to traditions and the past while also helping forge a more just future.

Drawing on archival materials housed in the Innovations in Jewish Life Collections, the biannual symposium and accompanying exhibit explores the significance of food for Jewish religious, cultural, national, and political identities, focusing on the United States and Israel/Palestine and centering the Jewish Renewal community. The exhibit will be on display on the third floor of Norlin Library, outside of the Rare and Distinctive Collections classroom (Room N345), on the CU Boulder campus from January-May 2024.

About the Embodied Judaism Series

The Embodied Judaism Series series explores embodied Jewish life and experience through public gatherings and multimedia exhibits aimed at academic and non-academic audiences, drawing on materials in the Innovations in Jewish Life Collections held at CU Boulder. The 2022-2024 symposium and exhibit explores the significance of food for Jewish religious, cultural, national, and political identities, focusing on the United States and Israel/Palestine. It is a partnership between the Program in Jewish Studies and the University Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive Collections.

Learn more about the Embodied Judaism Series

The 2022-2024 Embodied Judaism Symposium & Exhibit are hosted by CU Boulder’s Program in Jewish Studies and the University Libraries' Rare and Distinctive Collections.

Ari ArielAri Ariel is an Associate Professor of Instruction in History and International Studies, and the director of the International Studies Program, at the University of Iowa. Born in New York City to a Yemeni father and Ashkenazi mother, most of his academic work is semi-autobiographical: he focuses on Middle Eastern Jewish communities, particularly Yemeni Jews, and writes about migration, identity, and changes in cultural practice, especially foodways.  

Ariel's publications in this field have included work on: the transformation of Middle Eastern Jewish foodways in Israel under the pressure of the Ashkenazi melting pot, and later the creation of New Israeli Cuisine; the “ethnicization” of Yemeni food and identity in Israel, a process through which various pre-migration local practices were reimagined as parts of a single Yemeni ethnic culture; and the “Hummus Wars,” a conflict over the national ownership of hummus, “fought” primary between Lebanon and Israel.

Adrienne KroneAdrienne Krone is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability and Religious Studies at Allegheny College. She has a Ph.D. in American Religion from Duke University, and her research focuses on religious food justice movements in North America. Her current research project is an ethnographic and historical study of the Jewish community farming movement.

Krone researches the contemporary Jewish Community Farming movement, which began with the founding of Adamah in 2004 and now consists of about twenty innovative and pluralistic organizations spread throughout the United States and Canada. The Jewish Community Farming movement organizations are joined by their shared values which include sustainability, stewardship, food justice, and building community. These organizations run programs that vary widely for individuals and groups of all ages and last anywhere from a couple hours to months long fellowships and apprenticeships. Through these programs Jews get their hands dirty planting, weeding, harvesting, and eating food while learning about Jewish environmental values, traditions, and laws. Across these organizations, hundreds of farmers, educators, administrators, and program participants have discovered, built, and/or deepened their Jewish identities by reconnecting to their local environment and foodways through their engagement in this movement.

Ronald RantaRonald Ranta is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Kingston University London and a former chef. His research focuses on the intersection of food, identity, security, and politics. He is the co-editor of the Palgrave book series Food and Identity in a Globalised World, and the co-editor of the recently published volume Going Native?: Settler Colonialism and Food (Palgrave 2022).

In the context of Israel/Palestine, Ranta uses food as a prism to bridge the gap between how Israeli, and to a lesser extent Palestinian, nationalism and national identity have been and are produced and experienced in daily life, and the historical, political and social developments that brought about and maintain the Israeli nation-state. He is particularly interested in understanding the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian identities and food cultures; the ways in which the latter impacts the former; and the meaning of decolonization in the context of food.

Nora RubelNora Rubel is the Jane and Alan Batkin Professor in Jewish Studies and Chair of the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester. Rubel teaches and writes on a wide variety of topics related to gender, race and ethnicity in American religion, particularly in relation to food and popular culture. She is the author of Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination (Columbia University Press 2009), co-editor of Religion, Food and Eating in North America (CUP 2014) and the in-progress Transparent: Queering the Jewish Family on TV. She is also completing a monograph entitled Recipes for the Melting Pot: The Lives of The Settlement Cook Book.

Rubel teaches and writes on religion and foodways. At the University of Rochester, she teaches “Kitchen Judaism: Jewish Food Beyond the Bagel and the Bible” and “Culinary Conversions: Religion, Food, and Eating in America.” In her scholarship, Rubel takes cookbooks as an entry point to her study of religious identities. She has written about the ways that cookbooks both reflect and reinforce religious and cultural practices. Her current book project, Recipes for the Melting Pot: The Lives of The Settlement Cook Book, is a cultural biography of a book that while originally meant as a way to Americanize new Jewish immigrants, in successive acculturated generations became a nostalgic means of connecting to a traditional Jewish past. Rubel examines the cookbook as an influential example of Jewish—but not necessarily Judaic—material culture and discusses twentieth century Jewish Americanization through a lens of culinary pluralism.

The symposium is part of our ongoing Embodied Judaism and Israel-Palestine Studies series, and is supported by the David Shneer Fund for Community Programming, Public Scholarship, and the Arts.