Jewish Studies Food
Andrea Most, Aldea Mulhern
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0067


Food studies is a burgeoning field that crosses many disciplinary lines, and that has increasingly turned academic attention toward foodways, or the processes by which meaning is made around food. Jewish food studies, while not yet a field, is a topic of increasing interest for scholars in Jewish studies. The coexistence of an Oxford Bibliographies article Dietary Laws (by David Kraemer) and this one on Jews and food attests to the first important distinction to be made about the field: kashrut and Jewish food are not coterminous. Indeed, Jews and food is the larger category, encompassing not only the food laws and the commentary and practice that surround them, but all food acts and ideas that are undertaken in reference either to the laws of kashrut, to Judaism, or to Jews. Food is an extraordinarily capacious topic, touching on every discipline, historical period, and geographical delineation in Jewish studies. Scholars have long considered Jewish food and eating practices within their particular areas of interest and have used food practices to explain developments in religious practice and ritual, to set historical and cultural context, to describe Jewish relations with non-Jews, and to trace the pathways of Jewish Diaspora experience. Food practices have served as political and economic markers of change in Jewish life, and data on holiday observance, ritual, variations in kashrut practice, and other foodways provide a fascinating window into the social realities of Jews in many times and places. Jewish food has also offered a rich avenue into the study of gender and of women’s experience in Jewish life. Recently, Food studies has become its own scholarly category, and a number of scholars in Jewish studies have begun to work seriously in this area, developing new field-specific methodologies for making use of information about food and eating practices. This article catalogues both works that incorporate food as a topic, and works that are intentionally situated within the field of food studies. At least two important journals in the field of Jewish studies are currently in the process of compiling special issues on the topic of Jews and food, and so we anticipate this article will grow considerably over the next few years. At this point, the article addresses scholarship in English only and so leans heavily on North American scholarship and topics, but we likewise anticipate adding sources in other languages in the future.

General Overviews

Until the early years of the 21st century, Jewish food issues were addressed only in passing in historical, sociological, and philosophical scholarship. Since the early 1990s, however, a few major works have appeared that effectively narrate the history and development of Jewish food practices in a number of contexts. For the beginner in this field, the best place to start is with the Encyclopedia Judaica articles on “Food,” “Cookbooks,” and “Dietary Laws” (Skolnik and Berenbaum 2007), which offer an overview of food practices throughout the Jewish world, as well as cross references for many other articles on specific foods, traditions, and holiday observances. Gil Marks’s Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Marks 2010) is remarkably comprehensive and includes brief historical articles on just about every Jewish food imaginable. Kraemer 2007 and Cooper 1993 present more-detailed histories of the development of Jewish identity through food. Greenspoon, et al. 2005, an edited collection, is the first major work to showcase the state of Jewish food studies across disciplines.

  • Cooper, John. Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1993.

    In a useful, broad reconstruction of Jewish diets, Cooper discusses geopolitical influences on diet, food availability, and major food customs, across historical periods.

  • Greenspoon, Leonard J., Ronald Simkins, and Gerald Shapiro, eds. Food and Judaism. Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Symposium of the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, held at the Harris Center for Judaic Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 27–28 October 2002. Studies in Jewish Civilization 15. Omaha, NE: Creighton University Press, 2005.

    An edited collection that features some of the most important scholars in the study of Judaism and food, and that draws on materials that range from fieldwork to ancient texts to visual culture. Topics range across the United States and Europe, and over several key historical periods. Articles contained in this volume are also described separately here under their appropriate topic headings.

  • Kraemer, David. Jewish Eating and Identity throughout the Ages. Routledge Advances in Sociology. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    A social history of Jewish food that focuses on eating practices and identity construction from the biblical and rabbinic periods into the modern Diaspora, finishing in modern-day America.

  • Marks, Gil. Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.

    Essential reference work compiled by a chef who is also a trained historian and rabbi. Impressively comprehensive and global in its coverage.

  • Skolnik, Fred, and Michael Berenbaum, eds. Encyclopedia Judaica. 2d ed. 22 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

    An excellent starting point for any researcher or student interested in a broad historical overview of the history of Jewish food, the rituals that govern Jewish eating, and the traditions of Jewish cuisine. Relevant entries include “Cookbooks” and “Dietary Laws” (Vol. 5, Coh-Doz), in addition to “Food” (Vol. 7, Fey–Gor).

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