[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vegetarian-mummies/]
Ibn Ezra Genesis: Vayigash
“It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion.” -W. R. Inge
In more than one place the Torah recounts that it was repulsive for the Egyptians to eat with the Hebrews. Barring a specific bigotry, we see the Egyptians are otherwise happy to be ruled by Joseph and invite his brothers to positions of leadership. So why the abhorrence of eating together?
Another clue to the Egyptian distaste of the Hebrews is the fact that the Hebrews are shepherds and the Egyptians didn’t want any shepherds (and presumably sheep) around. The Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 46:34) states that the Egyptian problem was simply that they were vegetarians at the time. They didn’t eat any meat. They had nothing to do with meat products. They couldn’t even sit at the same table with a meat-eater.
I think this helps explain a curious verse (Genesis 39:6), which describes Joseph’s master, Potiphar, as happy with everything Joseph does except the “lehem” he eats. “Lehem” is conventionally translated as bread; however, it can mean any food. I think that in this case Potiphar merely disapproved of the meat included as part of Joseph’s Hebrew diet.
May everyone eat good, healthy, nourishing food and not get too obsessed with the other guy’s diet.
To Hannah Filer and Greg Bank on the occasion of their marriage tonight. Mazal Tov!