My research focuses on the literature, culture, law, and social history of the rabbinic movement. In particular, I am interested in how rabbinic food regulations enact and maintain distinct identities.
My first book, Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism (Cambridge University Press, 2010; paperback, 2014), focused on how early rabbinic (tannaitic) commensality regulations informed nascent rabbinic identity construction. I argue that attention to tannaitic food practices throws into relief the broader process by which rabbinic regulations create a distinct Jewish, male, and rabbinic identity.
My most recent book, The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World (Cambridge University Press, 2016), examines both apologies for kosher regulations (kashrut) and criticisms of this system, from their origins in the biblical period to the end of the classical rabbinic period (ca. 640 C.E.). While texts of the Hebrew Bible rarely justify the food regulations contained therein, ancient authors provide fuller detail and rationale for these laws. At the heart of this project, therefore, is a study of biblical interpretation. However, in the course of understanding the history of this exegesis, I explore inter- and intra-religious dialogue, social history, the development of Judaism in antiquity, anthropological accounts for these food rules, etc. In doing so, I must cover a wide variety of ancient corpora, including ancient Jewish; early Christian; and Greek and Roman texts.
My research also extends beyond the boundaries of kashrut. One important area of scholarly inquiry in which I am engaged is in the exploration of rabbinic tropes. One project, titled “Changing the Subject: Rabbinic Legal Process in the Absence of Justification,” explored a handful of bizarre texts in which, faced with evidence contradicting their legal argument, a rabbi opted to change the subject rather than their ruling. In one case, a rabbi exclaimed “Oh look, a bird!” rather than continue debate. Albeit rare and by no means preferable, I argue that these highly unusual encounters are valid rabbinic legal process.
Finally, I am interested in theoretical models for assessing interactions between Jews and non-Jews in the ancient Mediterranean. My work in this area includes an essay entitled “Home is Where the Hearth Is?: A Consideration of Jewish Household Sacrifice in Antiquity” and a co-edited volume entitled Religious Competition in the Third Century C.E.: Jews, Christians, and the Greco-Roman World (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2014).
In all of my projects, I combine a close engagement with rabbinic discourse and historical context with an interest in theorization and inter-disciplinary methodological engagement (e.g., Food Studies, Anthropology, Cognitive Science).
While I have focused on food in my first two books, the only beverage that I have written in depth about thus far is wine. In my next book-project, tentatively entitled Rabbinic Drinking: What Beverages Teach About Rabbinic Literature, I will argue that inquiry into rabbinic beverages and imbibing practices allows for an exploration of major themes in rabbinic literature. For example, the following are a selection of beverages paired with some of the resulting rabbinic topics of conversation: water and magic; wine and idolatry; beer and intermarriage; breast milk and marital obligations. Since each beverage generates multiple (often interconnected) themes, exploring rabbinic drinking sheds light on a wide range of rabbinic subjects. I have begun inquiry into this topic by writing an article entitled “‘Blessings of the Breasts’: Breastfeeding in Rabbinic Literature,” which has just been accepted for publication by Hebrew Union College Annual. This article argues that rabbinic discourse about breastfeeding has been misread as descriptive of social reality; however, a proper contextual reading of the evidence shows how the rabbis deployed breastfeeding and breast milk as a means of engaging in theoretical inquiry (for example, in regard to purity regulations and marriage law).
Over the past few years, I have worked with two colleagues (Aaron Gross and Jody Meyers) on a co-edited volume entitled Food and Jewish Traditions. This volume is intended as a scholarly textbook for Food and Judaism courses, as well as a general interest book for an educated lay public. In addition to my editing duties, I wrote an essay for this volume, entitled “‘Garlic Eaters’: A Brief History of the Association Between Jews and Garlic,” which explores the historical association between Jews and garlic, and references a variety of sources, including: biblical and rabbinic texts; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; vampire lore; and 1960’s rock music.
For PDF copies of my publications, as well as an up-to-date CV, please see:
Introduction to Judaism
Food in Rabbinic Judaism
Jewish Law, Business, and Ethics [Fall 2017]
Classical Rabbinic Literature in Translation (texts in English)
Classical Rabbinic Texts (texts in Hebrew)
Gender in Rabbinic Judaism
Talmud in Aramaic
Religion and Sexuality
Religion in Critical Perspective
Religious Studies Research Colloquium for Majors
Early Biblical Interpretation
The Dead Sea Scrolls