At sundown tonight begins Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This is the most important holy day for most Jews, and is considered a time to atone for one’s sins in the past year. Yom Kippur is an intense holiday, even by Jewish standards, and all that intensity can make a brother from the Tribe quite hungry. Unfortunately, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting.
As described on JewFAQ.com: “Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.”
Luckily, there are some loopholes. Back to JewFAQ.com: “As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to… People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.” Okay, so that covers women who just had a baby and young kids. But what about other women, men, and kids at heart? Can one argue that a day of fasting is a threat to life or health? To answer these questions one need only consult Talmudic barbecue scholars.
Indeed, there may be a case to be made that abstaining from barbecue is, indeed, a threat to one’s life and health. In his collection of essays, Feeding a Yen, Calvin Trillin makes a rabbinical case for barbecue. In an essay entitled “Barbecue and Home,” Trillin describes a talk he gave at the 2002 Southern Foodways Symposium. One of the speakers Trillin followed was Marcie Cohen Ferris, a Jew who grew up in the south and lived a pork-free existence noted in her terrific book, Matzoh Ball Gumbo. (Ferris now lives in North Carolina and is a Professor at UNC at Chapel Hill.)
Trillin writes of his remarks to Symposium attendees, ”[T]he barbecue from [Ed Mitchell's old place in] Wilson, North Carolina, had put me in an expansive and ecumenical frame of mind. I said I deeply regretted that Marcie Ferris and the people she grew up with in Arkansas hadn’t known about the Barbecue Easement granted by the Joplin Rebbe, a distinguished Talmudist and pit master. According to that wise teacher’s ruling, observant Jews who are bona fide residents of the South and Lower Midwest are permitted to eat meat that has been subjected to slow direct heat for more than six hours and comes from any farm animal that does not have scales.”
If Trillin says it, it must be true. Carrying Trillin’s argument one step further, it seems reasonable to conclude that observant southern Jews should spend their Day of Atonement atoning for the sin of avoiding pork the rest of the year. Failing to atone for this sin could threaten ones life and health, surely. And what better way to atone than a plate of barbecue the evening of Yom Kippur?
[Thanks to reader Steve "Ham"mond for alerting me to Trillin's book. And thanks to everyone else for understanding that this post is just a joke and is no more serious than Trillin's description of Talmudic teachings.]