Minutes of Monthly Meeting

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September 8, 1996

Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: Jewish-Christian Meal Conventions in First Century Greco-Roman and Pagan Culture

Speaker: Prof. Joe Kozar, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton

Host: Robin Smith

PRESENT: Connie Breen, Cochair; P. T. Bapu, Phyllis Duckwall, Lisa Federle, Tom Federle, Teddy Wilks-Finn, Paul Flacks, Shirley Flacks, Deborah Rose Gaier, Jack Hickey, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsburg, Harry Koenigsburg, Darrell Lauderback, Arch McMillan, John Magee, Cecelia Moore, Eileen Moorman, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Lou Ryterband, Robin Smith, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman, Frederick Zollman.

Connie called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. Robin Smith, who is the hostess for the meeting, delivered the invocation which focused on the "way of faith." Connie introduced Father and Professor Joe Kozar. Earlier in his career, Joe taught high school at various places. He has been a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton since 1985. Joe passed out two handouts which summarized the main points of his presentation.

This talk was developed based on research Joe conducted during his sabbatical. The next big rage in research in the field of religious studies is examination of the "social location" of major religious events and this research fits into this area of study. The talk represents Joe's reading of what other scholars are saying. Joe noted that one of the reasons that modern persons are thinking differently about the first century is because a new class of women scholars is studying the period. Joe recommended to those in attendance a book by Ross Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings. This book established a different insight about how women actually lived in the times of early Christianity and the Roman Empire. Even in secular scholarship, there has been a new look at this time. Joe pointed out several books in this area, one by Suzanne Hein. Traditionally, pagans were thought of as bad and Christians as good. Comparisons can be made between our experience in the American Republic and Greco-Roman times. Some might say that the American Republic has been victorious in the past, and now it is its turn to go down. Correspondingly, Rome conquered the World by becoming an Imperium and then was conquered itself.

Both Christian and Jewish scholars of the time had bad things to say about women. No matter how much Christianity bashed women, it considered itself better than Judaism in this respect. As a result of recent research, we are now finding that Jewish women had a lot more rights than was formerly believed. In addition, some Roman women had money, were allowed by law to inherit, and were able to exercise power over their property. Women ran estates after the Punic Wars. Once Rome changed from Republic to Empire, the position of women became a problem. There was a severe reaction against women having certain rights. We can see these changes in meal conventions. In the early period of the Roman World, a custom associated with burial was that there would be a meal and then a discussion afterward. Women were presidents and patronesses of the burial societies which sponsored these events. As a part of the reaction against women, women were said not to be appropriate to hold these positions. As reflected in the Christian writings of this period, the position of Christian women also declined. The reason for this is that the Jewish and Christian communities were trying to look respectable in the larger Roman society as this retrenchment is occurring. Similar reactionary claims about women were being made in other Roman cults, such as the Cult of Isis. All of these groups were facing the same backlash against the rights of women.

The first Christian gospel, Mark, seems to have the least problem with the concept of the equality of women. Women were considered servants of the community as were Christian men. Some Christian scholars see the origins of Christianity in the Galilee. There Jews and Christians got along. They were both against the power center located in Jerusalem. In the later gospels of Luke and especially John, women do not have a very public role. For example, Jesus only cures women when they are in the house. However, even in these gospels, there is care to present women in a positive though domestic role.

Contemporary research on the early Christian and Roman period has focused on the lives of individual women, and particularly their relationship with their fathers. In Roman times, there were three categories of women: eminent aristocratic women, freed women, and slave women. In the early Roman period, aristocratic women could inherit, and substantial amounts of money passed into their hands in this way. Once these women were married, they had the title of Matron, and they were allowed to study philosophy and other areas. However, this position declined later. Freed women were freed slaves. Slavery in Roman times was not the type that existed in the American South in which slaves had no rights. Slaves could become freed by saving money and paying their owners for their freedom. They could also be prostitutes and once freed could become a Madame. Freedom for slaves also benefited the owner. Older slaves paid their owner for their freedom, and the owner could then buy younger slaves. Furthermore, a freed slave might stay in the household and continue to work. Freed women could work and move around in society. Slave women worked in the household, sometimes as entertainers. A troupe of slaves could be rented out to others for entertainment. One of the problems in this society was that any woman who was in public could be called a whore. In ancient Greece, women rarely had meals in the presence of men. In this respect, Romans were much more advanced. Women lived and ate in the family quarters with men. In Greek society, women who were in the dining room were not considered respectable women. They often slept with the men. The Romans adopted much of the Greek etiquette, but women were allowed to recline with their husbands at the dinner table. In a Catacomb in Rome, a picture from the later Roman period was found of women at a dinner table performing the ceremony of the Eucharist. This reflects a separation of men and women that was not characteristic of early Christianity and was brought on by the reaction against women's rights. The larger Roman culture thus changed how the two religions, Judaism and Christianity, viewed women.

The inclusive table conventions generally practiced by Jewish groups contributed to the labeling of Jewish women in Roman society as promiscuous. Jewish practices derived from traditions that predated the Greco-Roman culture. A pervasive culture requires a minority religious community, in order to fight the larger culture, to become it. An example of this is syncretism, the mixing of a religion with paganism. Both Judaism and Christianity engaged in syncretism by incorporating pagan practices..

Bernadette Brooten suggests a different approach. Some Jewish women gained new rights in the Roman community. Women had the right to divorce husbands and be patronesses of synagogues. Even in Qumran, which was rebelling against Hellenism, the Greek dining tradition had an influence: there were two parts of the supper, the meal and the discussion, just like in the Greek tradition. Women would recline at Passover at their husband's side, but they left before the discussion. In Sirach 9:9, women are told not to have wine with men. In Alexandria, there existed a monastic group which was a therapeutic society; the group was composed of men and women. Meals in this group were conducted without alcohol.

Elsewhere in Philo, stereotypic women who attend banquets with men are presented as whores. In contrast, Virtue is a woman who is hidden from sight. This illustrates the prevailing ideology about women. Philo presents all Jewish women as domestic. Foreign women are portrayed as trying to seduce Jewish men.

In summary, inclusive meal conventions, originally derived from Judaism, left Christians who lived in Roman society open to the charge that Christian women were promiscuous. Both Jews and Christians were criticized in the larger Roman society for their liberality with respect to women. Christians responded by "cleaning up" the actions which had subjected them to criticism. Joe's formal presentation ended at about 9:00 PM

Discussion Period

Joe noted that Jacob Neusner is starting to do this form of analysis; i.e., speculating on the social location of various textual references. Lou found Joe's presentation very interesting, noting the strong separation between the sexes that is characteristic of the Hassidic movement which is comparatively very recent. Joe noted that conservative Christian and Jewish scholars wrote the religious history and documentation of the early Christian and Roman time which comes down to us. Thus there is a certain bias in our understanding of the period which is difficult to counterbalance. He further noted that in traditional society, women have a place but they cannot have their own voice. Steve noted that in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, separation is rationalized by saying that women are on a higher social plane. Murray noted that in the Bible there is much scandalous behavior. Shirley Flacks referred the group to Tamar Rudavsky, a professor at Ohio State University, who has recently turned her attention to feminist Jewish theology. Shirley took a one-day seminar with Tamar. Tamar noted in her seminar that the pain of childbirth was the only penalty for giving the apple to Adam. Joe noted there are hidden places in the ancient texts which show women to have substantial rights, but finding these hidden references because the original conservative writers recorded the history with their own slant. Bapu asked whether modern women scholars, because of their own feminist slant, may have gone overboard in recovering women's role in Roman times. Eileen noted that Joe's talk was about the sociological environment of religious communities, not about scripture. Lou noted that he is just finishing Bernard Lewis's book on the Middle East in the last 2000 years. He suggested that the Dialogue invite an Islamic speaker to talk about the role of women in the history of Islam. The question period concluded at 9:20 PM.

Dialogue Administrative Matters and Announcements

Connie announced that Lisa and Tom Federle have won a prize in Oakwood for their garden. Also the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing the premier of the work entitled Yad Vashem on September 18 and 19. The work was composed by John Downing. There was then some discussion of the meaning of the expression, Yad Vashem.

At the December 8 meeting, Ken Rosenzweig and Robin Smith will review the important but controversial book by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Jack commented that the National Christian Scholars Group will discuss the book at its upcoming meeting. Jack passed out a review from the New Yorker of the Goldhagen book.

Connie then turned the floor over to Eileen to lead a twenty minute discussion of an article and a corrective article which appeared in The Catholic Telegraph in July and August. The July article was addressed to children and, partly because of its casual and superficial tone, it may have contained demeaning references to Jews. Specifically, Pharisees, the ancestral predecessors of modern Jews, are demeaned for their excessive legalism.

In the August issue, a corrective article by Robert Obach was published in The Catholic Telegraph. However, Eileen does not feel this corrective article addressed the critical issues. Harold asked whether the objection of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to the July article was the only one. Also, he asked who is Robert Obach? Harold also referred to the fact that Father John Pawlikowski had, years previously, called for the end of Catholic condemnation of the Pharisees. Harold noted that Obach is avoiding looking at the problem in a new way. Paul suggested that we invite Obach to the group. Eileen noted that Obach is on the Ecumenical Commission of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati formed by Lou Vera. Steve asked what kind of an impression does this article leave on children. He expressed the view that the July article fosters prejudice and stereotypes. Eileen noted that the article in The Catholic Telegraph did not originate locally. Paul responded that, nevertheless, the editor should have looked at the article critically, prior to publishing it. Shirley thought that the editor probably read the article but was not sensitive to its anti-Jewish tone. Harold noted that another part of the article perpetuated stereotypes of Jews as obsessed with money. Joe noted that Neusner's research shows that prior to the destruction of the Temple, there were many Judaisms and many views of the Messiah. The one group that survived in the centuries afterward was the Pharisees, and thus early Christian writers focused their condemnation on the only then-existing Jews, the Pharisees. Jack suggested everyone read Matthew, Chapter 23, to see how anti-Jewish its passages are. He also made a motion that the Dialogue invite the Editor of The Catholic Telegraph and Obach to a meeting to discuss the issues involved in publication of the offending article. Eileen would be the moderator of this meeting. Phyllis suggested that Lou Vera also be invited. Lou suggested that Harold put in writing his response to the articles and send it to The Catholic Telegraph and the affected individuals. The motion made by Jack was seconded by Harold and the motion carried.

It was announced that there will be a special reception and recognition for Don Cohen at the meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) at the Dayton Jewish Center on September 10 at 7:30 PM. Connie announced that there will be a special planning meeting to plan the Dialogue program for next year at her house on Wednesday evening, November 6 at 7:00 PM.

The meeting adjourned at about 9:50 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary


Jews were not the only ones upset when the Southern Baptist Christian Convention passed a resolution in June targeting Jews for conversion. A significant number of Christians, including Southern Baptists, thought it was a mistake as well, according to a recent report of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A one-day consultation is scheduled in October between Jews and concerned Christians. A joint statement made by Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran bishops in New York stated that the effort to convert Jews, "would break the bond of trust between our 'elder brothers and sisters' and ourselves at the start of a new millennium which should begin with hope for reconciliation."

Rabbi James A. Rudin, Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, who is organizing the conclave, wants to find out whether the Christian leaders with whom Jews have good working dialogues in any way support evangelism aimed at Jews. Said Rudin, "a lot of Christians say, 'I support it but don't want to go down in the dirt and do it myself.'" "We need to smoke out Christians on this issue, force them to confront" their views towards evangelizing Jews.

Paul Flacks
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