Eat (Secular) (Rational) (Deuteronomy)

Are the origins of secularity culinary? The book of Deuteronomy is insistent about centralizing the cult in one specific place, “the place where I will show you,” namely in Jerusalem. “There you shall offer your burnt offerings…But whenever you desire, you may slaughter and eat meat in any of your settlements…The unclean and the clean alike may be partaked of it, as of the gazelle and the deer” (Deut. 12:13-15).

Previously, it’s supposed, people could sacrifice to God anywhere they wanted. All the meat they ate, with the exception of wild game, was sacral, which meant that only those who were ritually “pure” could eat beef, flock, or fowl.  Once, however, the ritual place was centralized, everyday meat becomes “secular.” You can eat it without going through all the rigmarole of religion and ritual. Eat the food, just not the blood, which you can pour out and cover.

I know that this kind of “secularity” is not the same form of “secularism” as developed over time in the modern west. The text cited above makes mention of God and God’s blessing of food. But I like the idea of eating in the Bible without God, or at least not too much God. “Religion” makes it easy. You can box up and bracket the elaborate and cumbersome practice, which allows you to carry on with daily life outside its physical place-site. This strikes me as highly “rational.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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