Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins

an Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar
in its forty-sixth year under the auspices of
The University of Pennsylvania
Department of Religious Studies
201 Cohen Hall, Philadelphia PA 19104

PSCO Presentation: 30 April, 2009

“Ritualizing Jewish Meals”
Susan Marks (New College of Florida)


Using Catherine Bell’s arguments for viewing ritual as action not object, this study considers the rabbinic Grace after Meals, birkat hamazon, as an active part of social formation of the rabbinic movement. Rabbinic implementation of birkat hamazon suggests that through their meal practice the rabbis embraced the cultural significance of Greco-Roman meals while reworking those elements that presented problems, thereby forging themselves into a community.

Meals eaten in homes, larger dining halls and even al fresco provide different opportunities for communal dining and reveal different ritual negotiations. Through situated consideration of whether they have dined together and therefore must bless, rabbinic textual explorations of birkat hamazon navigate complicated relationships with the Greco-Roman world and with each other.

Meeting and Dining

This meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 30 April, 7:00–9:00 pm in the 2nd floor Lounge of Logan Hall at the University of Pennsylvania.

As usual, those wishing to dine together before the seminar will meet at 6:00 pm in the Logan Lounge to go next door to the food court in Houston Hall.

Suggested Reading

David Kraemer, Jewish Eating and Identity through the Ages (New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2007).
In Chapter 6, pp. 73-86, Kraemer provides an overview of rabbinic food blessings.

Dennis Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2003).
See especially Chapter 2, The Greco-Roman Banquet, for an overview of the various parts of a meal.

Susan Marks, “Follow that Crown: Rhetoric, Rabbis, and Women Patrons.” The Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion 24.2 (2008) 77-96.
This article has nothing to do with meals, but does wrestle with how to think about rabbinic literature and the Greco-Roman world at the same time.