Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/10

25

Traif!

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In a country now marked by exaggerated, exquisite and often bogus “sensitivity” to the faith (or, rather less frequently, lack of faith) of others, a new restaurant in Brooklyn comes as a welcome source of light relief – and good eating.

It’s called Traif (the word, which comes in various spellings, basically means non-kosher). The Atlantic takes up the story here. Here’s the introduction.

Chef Jason Marcus superstitiously believes in patterns, and in his view the fates conspired for him to open his new restaurant in Brooklyn, where he serves the shellfish and pork that he unabashedly loves. “It’s probably because I’m Jewish,” Marcus says about his obsession with synchronicity, and about his love for pork, shellfish, and even Seinfeld.

The restaurant, which Marcus opened with his non-Jewish girlfriend, Heather Heuser, is a paean to foods forbidden by Jewish dietary laws. They aptly chose the Yiddish word traif, meaning non-kosher, to be their restaurant’s new name.

Over at Beliefnet, Rod Dreher disapproved. To be sure, he supported the right of the restaurant to exist, and noted, not unfairly, that a Muslim opening a restaurant called Haram might get into trouble, but then he added this:

Call me superstitious, but I have a bad feeling about a restaurant whose concept is based on defying religious law. In the same way, even though I don’t believe The Book of Mormon or the Koran are divinely inspired, I would treat those books with extra respect, just because they are sacred to somebody. Anyway, though I obviously am not Jewish and don’t keep kosher, I wouldn’t eat at Traif simply because even if I don’t believe in a particular religion, and even though I’m pleased that Jason Marcus has the liberty to open this kind of restaurant, I don’t find blasphemy, or quasi-blasphemy, cute.

And there in a nutshell we have a nice (if relatively harmless) example of the grinding, depressing etiquette of an American era in which religion has to be treated with a deference largely unthinkable a few decades ago. It’s time to lighten up, long past time.

My advice: Go to Traif and eat what I ate a weekend or so ago – crispy, braised pork belly, followed by sauteéd sweetbreads, all washed down, of course, with a glass or two of He’Brew Messiah Bold beer.

Divine.

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12 comments

  • Susan · July 25, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    My experience may be limited, but I haven’t noticed what you correctly call a “grinding, depressing” deference toward any religion but Islam. Of course politicians mouth the usual platitudes about how we’re all one big happy family of differing faiths, but when hasn’t that been true?

    It’s true that people running for office want to court the religious right, but that’s a manifestation of pragmatism rather than etiquette: “I need the votes of these yokels in order to win.”

    As for catering to the sensitivities of Muslims–simple fear motivates that. If Salman Rushdie had written “The Satanic Verses” about Martin Luther, he’d be hitting the cocktail circuit in London rather than living in a bunker in Sussex. Or wherever.

    Anyway, I wish Chef Marcus the best with his restaurant.

  • Muffy · July 26, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    In defense of Ron Dreher, he’s not some uber-PC writer trying to suck up to religious minorities at every breath. He opposed the construction of the ground zero mosque, for instance.

  • Polichinello · July 27, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Dreher’s been called the “bearded church lady” with good reason, but I tend to agree with him here. Struttaford may call it unthinkable deference, but it only strikes me as good manners.

  • Caledonian · July 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Good manners is not taking an observent Jew, Muslim, et cetera, to a restaurant themed around violations of their dietary principles.

    Obligations to one’s guests are one thing; refusing to do something merely because someone else has a self-imposed restriction against doing so isn’t polite, it’s toadying.

  • Le Mur · July 28, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I’ll take a deep-fried flying creeping thing with legs above its feet to leap withal upon the earth. And a side-order of locusts.

    More menus here:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+11&version=KJV

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+14&version=KJV

  • Randall Parker · July 30, 2010 at 1:18 am

    I find blasphemy cute.

  • Randall Parker · July 30, 2010 at 1:21 am

    But blasphemy’s cuteness is irrelevant. Why should people have to respect ancient dietary laws that were based on irrational superstitions?

    Religions that dictate dietary choices are getting involved in subjects where science should provide the guidance. Disrepecting religions on this topic serves a useful purpose. We need to learn a lack of deference to irrationality when a more rational understanding is possible.

  • Polichinello · July 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Why should people have to respect ancient dietary laws that were based on irrational superstitions?

    I think this sums up the responses to my first post nicely.

    The reason one should respect them is because they’re part of the make up one’s society. The restaurant is set up in a largely Jewish city, and it’s meant as a cutesy thumbing of the nose at the owner’s culture. I find that a bit rude. Not the end of the world rude–I certainly wouldn’t legally ban it–but it’s still a bit in bad taste.

    Another reason to show a bit of respect to this tradition is that these religious observers are decidedly not forcing non-Jews (or even non-observant Jews for that matter) to observe the custom. I don’t know of any rabbis around here knocking ham sandwiches out of the hands of random deli customers. This is quite the opposite of the situation with, say, the Muhammad cartoons, where a religious ban is being extended to non-believers.

    I guess my point is, they’re not hurting you, they’re not even trying to hurt you, so why fuck with them?

  • Polichinello · July 30, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    As we sniff at the Hasidim, let’s bear in mind that we have a lot of customs and taboos that have no serious rational basis as well. What would be the typical Anglo-American reaction to an Asian restaurant called “Wok the Dog” that offered canine culinary delights?

    I’m sure, having been innoculated in this discussion, all the good posters here will give the impression of not caring, but you know very well that the average American–secular or religious–would find the idea repulsive, even though there’s no rational reason to favor eating pigs over dogs. In fact, I believe pigs are closer to us on the evolutionary tree.

  • Caledonian · July 31, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    So? When did we give the impression that we have any concern for what the average person thinks?

  • Randall Parker · August 1, 2010 at 6:13 am

    Polichinello, First off, assorted religious believers do try to impose their values via the ballot box or street protests. What other people believe about the God Stuff matters for how we will be governed and what dangers we will face.

    Second, religious views get heavily trumpeted in politics in ways that are not conducive to rational thought about problems. Bad policy results.

    Lots of people make fun of lots of kinds of beliefs and cultural practices. To hold religious beliefs and practices immune from criticism and satire would elevate religious beliefs and attach more credibility to what religious believers say than what non-believers say.

    Caledonian,

    We should have concern about what the average person thinks. They select our leaders in voting booths and in other ways impact our lives.

  • Polichinello · August 1, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Caledonian,

    In your case, I’d be surprised if you cared about anyone outside of yourself.

    Randal,

    When was the last time some Jew took away your ham and swiss, or your lobster or anything else of this nature? In this country, I know of no movment to impose kosher laws on anyone Jewish or non-Jewish. If there was a such a movement, then I’d agree with your position. In this case, well, it’s like the “Wok Your Dog” analogy I gave.

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