Rachel Levin ponders an eternal question: Can Jews hunt?
When freelance writer Rachel Levin told her parents that she was going hunting for a magazine piece, they were surprised their Jewish daughter would take on what seemed like such a uniquely un-Jewish assignment. “My mom was nervous,” Levin said in a phone interview from her home in San Francisco.
So was Levin. “The only time I shot anything resembling a gun was in rifle class at Jewish summer camp,” she recalled to Jewish Insider.
Jews and hunting have always had something of a vexed relationship. The Jewish tradition does not generally look kindly on hunting, one reason being that kosher meat has to be slaughtered and not shot. The Jewish sage Kinky Friedman has “long believed that the most non-Jewish avocation an individual can pursue in this life is hunting,” he mused in a 2018 Tablet essay. “Why is this?” Friedman wondered. “Well, for one thing, after 40 years in the desert Jews feel uncomfortable in the great out-of-doors. For another, Jews have always been the people of the book, while guns have always been a John Wayne kind of thing.”
Levin agrees. “Maybe I know one Jewish guy who hunted once,” she said. “There’s certain things Jews don’t do, stereotypically, and this one, I think, just proves true.”
So, Levin was breaking the mold when, not too long ago, she embarked on a reporting trip for Outside magazine to hunt mule deer in the desert of central Arizona.
Not that she was doing the shooting. Levin accompanied a pair of rugged, crossbow-toting female hunters — Rihana Cary and Amanda Caldwell — who have carved out niches in a growing social media subculture. In her feature, published last week, Levin calls them “huntstagrammers, social-media influencers who are quite literally changing the face of hunting.”
Levin has never had such aspirations, but she did admit to a lingering interest in hunting that she imagines would not have been satisfied, at least in part, without the assignment.
“I had always kind of had this curiosity about hunting and never had gone,” said Levin, who added that she was once invited to go squirrel hunting in Mendocino by a “rare San Francisco hunter” she wrote about a while ago. “I was intrigued, but that never came together.”
Still, Levin looked at the prospect of a five-day hunting trip with some concern. “I was intimidated by the idea of hunting,” she said, “the idea of just sort of wandering the desert, which I guess, to a Jewish person, should seem familiar and comfortable.”
“I was, of course, neurotic and worried that a mountain lion would eat us or something like that,” said Levin, the author of a book of tips on surviving animal encounters, which came about in large part due to a chance run-in with a moose in Colorado. “I was worried about having to help dismember an animal.”
Trepidation notwithstanding, Levin noticed that she was, initially, underwhelmed by the experience once she got in the field. “It was a whole different way of looking at wildlife and looking at the deer, so I found that, at first, sedentary and boring,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, are we just going to sit here?’ But then, I got into it and found it, ultimately, incredibly exhilarating in a weird way that I hadn’t expected.”
“I liked the uncertainty,” said Levin, whose subjects failed to bag a deer in the end but came close more than once. “I did want to know what that would feel like and that was one of my reasons for wanting to do it,” Levin told JI. “What does it feel like to kill your own supper and harvest your own meat?”
Such questions hint at the possibility that Jews and hunting are more compatible than it may seem. “Jews don’t hunt,” Levin ventured, “but the overlap is just the attention and focus around meat and sort of looking ethically at how you’re eating meat, at how you’re killing your meat.”
“I’m not kosher at all, and don’t necessarily even understand it,” Levin continued. “But I can see the odd kind of overlap, in the same way that vegetarianism and hunting seem to have an overlap, a little bit, because you’re sort of wanting to know where your meat comes from.”
Levin has been a freelance writer for about a decade and before that was a travel editor at Sunset magazine. Until recently, she worked as the San Francisco restaurant critic for Eater.
Along with Look Big, her book on animal encounters, Levin co-authored Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews, released in March. She recently completed another book, to be published next spring, on the therapeutic aspects of cooking.
Levin didn’t characterize her hunting experience as therapeutic. But she did express a desire to do it armed rather than observing others in action.
“I feel kind of incomplete and would like to try it again,” she said. “Whether I myself might become a hunter?” she added. “That seems still kind of a big leap to make.”