Posted by: Steve Coplan | October 11, 2006

Not just bagels and pastrami

Today’s New York Times Dining Section has an article and a few recipes for Sukkot from the Sephardi community in Brooklyn.

As big a fan as I am of the cholestrol-laden cuisine of my forebears, there’s nothing to quite compare with Sephardi cuisine. Over the last 500 years, Sephardi cooking has absorbed influences from all over Mediterranean region as Jews dispersed from the Iberian peninsula after the 1492 expulsion. Although a good deal of Sephardi recipes are adaptations of local dishes, Ladino names (such as huevos haminados) serve as an indication of their longevity. Over the last 18 months, I have been struggling my way through this excellent cookbook (which includes plenty of background on the dishes) as way of introducing more interesting vegetable dishes into our diet and reducing the amount of animal protein we eat. The major problem is that Sephardi food with its mix of spices and intricate steps to merge flavors and create textures, is too complex for someone whose culinary skills were largely honed on grilling meat on an open fire. Getting the proportions right with spices that I don’t really know is also tough, but fortunately Sahadi’s is up the street when the urge to experiment strikes.

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  1. I haven’t read Dawkins’ latest work but I think it has to be considered in context.

    Dawkins is coming from a European perspective in which rational secularism remains dominant, and active theism slowly withers. He looks across the Atlantic and sees a nation that claims to value the principal of separation of Church and state but where scientific endeavour, children’s education (in non-religious matters), and international policy (aid funding, etc.) are all subject to the whims of religious ideology. He sees a nation in which it is impossible to gain high political office without concocting religious belief and where the repugnant spectacle of political interference in cases such as Terri Schiavo’s private tragedy (with stated religious motivation) are played out as public spectacle.

    That is the context in which I see Dawkins’ publication, and indeed that of Harris’ Letters to a Christian Nation. I actually heard Dawkins interviewed and he as much as confirmed this by stating that he had wished to publish this work several years ago but had been dissuaded by US publishers. This is less an atheist manifesto and more a reaction to the creeping resurgence of theism in state governance.

    Having said that as you say he may well have made the mistake of choosing the wrong targets, and writing well beyond his area(s) of expertise. Dawkins may have reasoned that merely arguing the appropriate provinces of science and religion was ineffective when in the 21st Century so high a proportion of his potential audience still took theism for granted. He may also have considered he would get better sales.

    “I am not sure whether biochemistry will ever be able to come up for a satisfactory explanation for the soul..”

    Biochemistry may never come up with a convincing explanation for the soul, but if by soul you mean human consciousness (plus memory) neuroscience will increasingly demonstrate it to be an emergent property of complex neural networks. If Faith can tolerate the corporal constraints of such a definition there still seems to remain room for “psychologically satisfying” addenda.


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