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And Now I Want to Try Muscovy Duck
Via Atlas Obscura: “Is This Duck Kosher? It’s Complicated“:
THE BASICS OF JEWISH DIETARY law—the laws of kashrut—are fairly well-known: no pork, no shellfish, no milk and meat together. But there are many, many more laws than that, some of which are unclear, some of which are localized and don’t necessarily apply to all countries, and many of which have never really been settled. The case of the Muscovy duck is one of the most fun.
The rules of kashrut have a couple of issues that destabilize the entire process of figuring out what Jews can and cannot eat. One of these fundamental issues is that the laws don’t necessarily follow any larger philosophy. Jewish scholars have long divided the laws of Judaism into a couple of different categories. Mishpatim—the –im and -ot endings of words signify plurals in Hebrew—are laws that are self-evident to the survival of a society, like “don’t murder” or “don’t steal.” The edot are laws usually surrounding holidays, symbolic rules designed to memorialize events or bring a community together, like wearing a yarmulke or not eating bread on Passover. And then there are the chukim.
The chukim are laws that make no sense. They are sometimes phrased in ways to make following them more palatable; for example, that these are laws passed down directly from God, and it is not necessary that we understand them. The rules of kashrut are sometimes, but not always, placed in this category.
Yuval Harari: Early Jewish Magic
Alan Brill reviews Yuval Harari’s recent book Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah and interacts with the author in a brief online interview. He argues that the practice of magic was very much a part of early Judaism (and Christianity), even though we’re predisposed not to see it. (What I do is “ritual”; what the people I don’t like do is “magic.”) Here’s one small snippet:
Magic is may be considered as pre-scientific technology, a scheme of technical practices founded on the belief in the way reality is run. Given the traditional premises concerning what forces that reality, magic behavior was rational.
Jewish magic is founded on a belief in human aptitude to affect the world by means of rituals, at the heart of which is execution of oral or written formulas. It is not different from Jewish normative religious view, which ascribes actual power to sacrifice, prayer, ritual, and the observance of law. Magic also does not differ from the normative views regarding God’s omnipotence or the involvement of angels and demons in mundane reality. It has elaborated as a system parallel to, and combined with the normative-religious one, a system that seeks to change reality for the benefit of the individual, commonly in order to remove a concrete pain or distress or to fulfill a certain wish or desire.
Books of magic recipes from antiquity as well as from later periods show that magic was pragmatically required in every aspect of life. Magic fantasy of the kind of One Thousand and One Nights or Harry Potter is missing almost all together from recipe books, which usually offers assistance in achieving targets that may be achieved also without magic. According to these Jewish books, magic power can be implemented personally or by an expert. Expert magicians offered their help in choosing and performing the right ritual and in preparing adjuration artifacts and other performative objects, such as amulets of roots and minerals.