When a journalist and chef made the decision to host a dinner party and invite members of the Illuminoshi (a not-so-secret society of San Francisco Bay Area Jewish food professionals) to eat a meal of pork and shellfish-filled dishes in the name of education, she knew that more than a few people would have some beef with the menu.
An event like that takes lots of, as the Jews say, chutzpah to put on. Which is why Alix Wall prefaced the announcement of Trefa Banquet 2.0 with an apology.
"I can hear the groans coming from a few of you," Wall, the founder of the Illuminoshi, writes in the invitation. "I want to explain that I am not doing this just to be disrespectful by celebrating Jews' love for all things forbidden to us, even though we all know it's real. I thought a celebration of treyf should be accompanied by learning about the real one."
The real treyf (a Yiddish word for non-kosher) was the original Trefa Banquet, a scandalous summer evening in 1883 when a group of newly appointed rabbis of the reform movement's Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati commemorated their achievements as most do, by treating themselves. Except this treat included nine courses of non-kosher French food — beginning with littleneck clams on the half-shell and ending with a spread of ice cream and cheese for dessert.
The meal became a myth of sorts among the community, thanks to varying accounts of what happened that night. Some American Jews say that several of the newly ordained rabbis, in true Real Housewives style, caused a commotion at the table, then fled the dinner in horror — and kept running until they found a place to start the flagship rabbinical school of the conservative Jewish movement, the Jewish Theological Seminary, three years later.
The rules of keeping kosher, or kashrut, are a complex symbol of holiness in the Torah and an example of one's ability to practice discipline during the necessary human act of eating. According to the somewhat confusing Jewish dietary laws, fish with fins and scales can be eaten (hence the ubiquity of lox), but scaleless finned catfish are sinful. Animals with a "split hoof" who "chew the cud," a digestive process that could make you swear-off eating altogether, are all the livestock that are allowed. This means burgers are aplenty but no rabbit or pork in all of their glorious forms.