Muslim and Jewish food rituals
Soul of background
First broadcast date
According to researcher Bruno Etienne, modernity would lead to the end of food taboos in the Muslim and Jewish communities...
Yet representatives of these communities insist on the sanctity aspect of their feeding.
France 3 Méditerranée - Own production
- Society and way of life / Religious Practices
Credits / Cast
- Cornet Jacques - Director
Bruno Étienne and Food Taboos
French sociologist and political commentator born in 1937, died in 2009 at Aix en Provence, Bruno Etienne was a specialist in Algeria, Islam and the anthropology of religion. In 1992 he founded World Religion Watch. A well-known figure, he wrote several books of which the best known are L'Islam radical (1987), La France et l'Islam (1989) and L’Islam en France (2000).
In this extract he explains that in his view the food taboos practised by Jews and Muslims will soon disappear, even as representatives of these communities emphasise the sanctity of their diet. Some religions impose taboos on their worshippers. Partly this is because of a need for spirituality, by setting limits on his pleasure it raises Man and separates him from his animal nature, partly the taboo is a visible sign of the pact uniting the faithful with their God, and finally it distinguishes the faithful from everyone else. So food taboos are not biological at all, since we are omnivores, but cultural, a sign of group membership. The taboos are necessarily a collective concern. The Jewish and Islamic religions are marked by a series of rigorously upheld taboos.
For Jews, some taboos concern eating animals (including pigs, horses, rabbits, monkfish, shellfish, seafood) and blood. It is also forbidden to mix meat and dairy foods in one meal ("thou shalt not cook the kid in the milk of its mother" says the Bible). Animals must be slaughtered according to a specific ritual which symbolically alters the murder of an animal by invoking the name of God.
For Muslims there are fewer taboos. Basically they concern pork because of its alleged impurity, and alcohol because of the loss of self control it induces. Here too the slaughter of animals is subject to a codified ritual.
Bruno Etienne's speech in this extract tackles a theme of religious sociology current in the 1960's and 70's which considered that faced with the modernisation of society, religion would inevitably decline. In the second half of the 20th century there was indeed a sharp decline in religious practice and belief. However with North African Muslims moving to Europe in the 1970's family re-grouping replaced single-worker emigration, and in the last years of the century assertion of identity encouraged a new religious vitality. There were many organisations supporting and encouraging young immigrants suffering from social exclusion, satisfying a demand for identity, a search for roots and a link back to the country their family came from. The Jews experienced a similar phenomenon in the context of the diaspora, as food taboos maintain and strengthen the identity link between co-religionists.
Compliance with food taboos is therefore part of religious practise. It is also a cultural act strengthening tradition and identity. Moreover taboos do not concern only religions but every culture of the world. Some commentators have noticed the strength of contemporary nutritional taboos in the West (fat, sugar) and the growing distinction between organic and industrial foods (corresponding to the pure and impure) on the one hand and the scandals related to health and GM foods on the other.
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POULAIN Jean-Pierre (dir.), « L’homme, le mangeur, l’animal. Qui nourrit l’autre ? », Les Cahiers de l’OCHA n° 12, 2007.