Food Restrictions: A Juicy Topic for Rabbi

David Freidenreich never would have expected that his research regarding Jewish, Christian and Muslim prohibitions on food and drink would make for a potentially juicy book topic.

Nevertheless, Freidenreich will be spending the next year at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, where he'll attempt to turn his doctoral dissertation into not just one book but two — one ending with the Middle Ages, and the other touching on contemporary times.

The center offers yearlong fellowships to postdoctoral students engaged in some aspect of Jewish study. All of the fellows beginning in September will be conducting research related to Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultural interaction throughout the Muslim world, including Spain and the Ottoman Empire.

This May, Freidenreich became an ordained rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also earned a doctorate in Jewish, Christian and Islamic law from Columbia University.

He's planning to pursue an academic career and, after this year in Philadelphia, will look for a full-time university appointment.

Several years ago, he'd written a paper about food restrictions in Christianity — he didn't know any had ever existed — and a professor suggested that if he'd broaden his outlook to include Judaism and Islam, he'd have his much-needed dissertation topic.

"I've always loved food," admitted the 29-year-old Freidenreich. "I love making it, sharing it. I have loved getting to know people who are different from me over meals."

At the time, he was living at the Union Theological Seminary, a Christian institution, located on Broadway across from JTS, and often had UTS students to his apartment for Shabbat meals.

His dissertation focused on classical sources in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. All three religions at one point tried to prevent their adherents from sharing meals with those of other faiths. With the case of the Jews, particularly during Greco-Roman times, this was done to ensure that they remained a distinct group. But throughout history, even the most observant have found ways around such laws.

"Even the most observant Jews in the most observant restaurants can be eating with non-Jews, and we don't think twice about it," he said. "This is all about teaching, explaining how matters of religion affect people's lives and why they are relevant."

He plans to give several lectures at area synagogues during his time at the Judaic Studies Center, and come spring, he'll be teaching a course at Penn called "Food and Identity in Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

A Brandies University graduate, Freidenreich attended both Abrams Hebrew Academy and Akiba Hebrew Academy.

"Abrams really provided me a grounding in Jewish faith, and Akiba gave me the critical skills to reflect on what it means," he said. "My education broadened my horizons to realize the importance of understanding the world from a lot of different perspectives."



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