The Biblical Period
Diet in Ereẓ Israel during the biblical period was dependent mostly on the food supply of the closed agricultural economy. Most agricultural produce came from permanent settlements, and some wild plants were gathered, while meat was mainly supplied by cattle and sheep-raising nomads. Grain constituted the bulk of agricultural produce consumed and most meat was mutton. The Bible, in speaking of the produce of Ereẓ Israel, mentions three types of food: dagan, tirosh, and yiẓhar (Deut. 7:13; II Kings 18:32). Dagan ("corn" or "grain") represents the various agricultural crops, tirosh ("new wine")-wine, and yiẓhar-oil.
Food was made fit for eating by baking, boiling, frying, or roasting (see
), or by a combination of these. Grain was prepared in two ways: roasting the kernels in order to break down their starches and soften them (Heb. kali, qali; "parched corn"; I Sam. 25:18; II Sam. 17:28; Ruth 2:14), or grinding and baking the item (see also
). Cooked food was a mixture of meat and vegetables which were combined while heating (Heb. marak; "broth"; Judg. 6:19, 20; Isa. 65:4). Stew (Heb. nazid; Gen. 25:29; II Kings 4:38; et al.) was apparently a food cooked for a long time in water, most of which was boiled off. Fried foods, especially meat, were cooked in large quantities of boiling oil. Meat was also roasted over an open flame, which seared and softened it.
The usual diet consisted of foods prepared from grain, wild and cultivated plants, and the meat of sheep, cattle, fowl, fish, and even certain insects. The Torah limited the meat a Jew could eat, both in terms of the animals permissible for eating, and the manner of their preparation (see also
). Meat taken from a still living animal or from one found dead, and the drinking of blood were prohibited (see
). Only animals specifically slaughtered for food or for use in the sacrificial service could be eaten. These animals had to have two characteristics: they chewed the cud and had cloven hoofs. An animal possessing neither or only one of these characteristics was forbidden. Some types of birds were permitted and the exceptions were specifically named (Lev. 11:13–19). The consumption of fish was limited to those possessing scales and fins. As to insects, only locusts (Heb. ʾarbeh) could be eaten.
THE FORM OF THE MEAL
The Bible uses several terms to describe meals. ʾAruḥh (from the root ʾrḥ, "to lodge") appears to refer to the usual daily meal, as in "a regular allowance [ʾaruhah] was given him …" (II Kings 25:30; Jer. 52:34). It may also indicate a more modest meal, as in "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it" (Prov. 15:17). Zevaḥ (from the root zbḥ, "to sacrifice") generally indicates a meat meal connected with the religious worship, or with some other festive occasion (I Sam. 20:29). Kerah was a festive meal with many participants (II Kings 6:23). The verb s ʿd ("to support") is frequently used to indicate eating: "Come home with me, and refresh thyself" (I Kings 13:7). Leḥem (
) frequently refers to food or to a meal in general. Meat meals were not usual: the kerah or zevaḥ, as noted above, was part of some festive occasion such as a general holiday or special tribal or family occasion. Many people participated in a meat meal, of which nothing would be left over in order to prevent spoilage. Such meat meals were consecrated in order to enlist God's aid in human ventures, as a sign of thanks, or as a propitiatory offering (see also
). The everyday meal was eaten by the family either in the house or in the field. It was generally prepared by the woman, while the zevaḥ and kerah were prepared by both men and women, thus emphasizing the importance of these social events. A meal was an occasion for pleasure and enjoyment. It was eaten while seated and the established customs and manners were observed before and after the meal. The upper classes might sing and propose riddles during the mealtimes.
Cereals, such as wheat (Heb. ḥiṭṭah) and barley (Heb. seʿorah), were cultivated crops. Stew made of lentils (Heb. ʿadashim) or beans (Heb. polim) was common and was eaten after being softened by cooking. Other vegetable dishes were uncommon, most vegetables being picked wild as needed and then cooked for the daily meal. Wild melons (Heb. ʾavaṭṭi'aḥ) and cucumbers (Heb. קִשּׁוּא, qeshu) were among the wild vegetables eaten in Ereẓ Israel. In Egypt there were plots for the cultivation of melons and cucumbers. Sesame seeds (Heb. shumshum), also gathered wild, were used in the preparation of oil, or were eaten raw, in stews or in some other fashion. Garlic (Heb. shum) and onions (Heb. baẓal) grew wild in Ereẓ Israel and served as food, while in Egypt they were cultivated. They were cultivated in Ereẓ Israel only in the postbiblical period.
The seven types of produce mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 include most of the fruit eaten in Ereẓ Israel. The vine (Heb. gefen) is mentioned after wheat and barley. Grapes (Heb. ʿanavim) were used mainly in the production of wine, although they were also eaten fresh. Grapes were dried in the sun to produce raisins (Heb. ẓimmukim, ẓimmuqim), which were preserved for substantial periods of time. Grapes were also used to produce a thick liquid like honey, called the grape honey (Heb. devash ʿanavim). Even today, grape honey (Ar. dibes) is produced in parts of Israel. Grape honey was made by treading in special vats: the liquid produced was not left to ferment, but was boiled in order to evaporate the water content, leaving behind a thick liquid resembling honey. Figs (Heb. teʾenah) were also common and were eaten either fresh when ripe, or dried, the dried figs (Heb. develah) being strung into a chain or made into a hard cake. This cake was made of figs stuck together and dried as a block. After sufficient drying, the fig block was sliced and eaten like bread. Pomegranates (Heb. rimmonim) were usually eaten fresh, although occasionally they were used in the preparation of wine for medicinal uses. Dates (Heb. temarim), too, were eaten fresh or were sundried. Like grapes, dates were made into a sweet, thick drink called date honey (Heb. devash temarim). This was prepared by soaking the fruit in water for some time during which it would disintegrate. The liquid was cooked down until thick and sweet. Olives (Heb. zeitim) were usually used to make oil (see below), although some were eaten after being preserved in tasty and fragrant spices, which removed their natural bitter flavor. The Bible also mentions nuts (Heb. ʾegozim), apples (Heb. tappuhim), pistachios (Heb. botnim), and almonds (Heb. shekedim, sheqedim). Nuts were common in Ereẓ Israel, particularly in the post-biblical period. Apples, pistachios, and almonds were not cultivated, but grew wild. They were picked for occasional home use when they were available, although most were imported as a delicacy.
The most common spice was salt (Heb. melaḥ; Job 6:6), there being hardly any food which was not seasoned with it. Salt served the additional function of symbolizing the making of a covenant (II Chron. 13:5), or the destruction of a city (Judg. 9:45). It was obtained in two ways: the most common method was mining, as at Sodom, although it was also produced by evaporating sea water and removing the salts from the sediment. The raw salt was rinsed in fresh water, purified, and then crushed until fine, in which form it was used for seasoning food and for other purposes. The flavor of food was also enhanced by spices derived from plants. Garlic and onions, as well as being eaten as vegetables, were used to season cooked foods. Other spices mentioned in the Bible are coriander (Heb. gad), cumin (Heb. kammon), and black cumin
(Heb. keẓaḥ, qeẓaḥ). More delicate spices for special feasts were imported from Arabia and India, and were considered merchandise of the highest value. Among such spices were various types of pepper (Heb. pilpel), and ginger.
FOODS PRODUCED BY ANIMALS
During the biblical period, wild bee honey and eggs, especially birds' eggs, were eaten.
Most dairy items were produced from sheep or goat milk, since cattle were scarce in the country. The use of cow's milk is attested by Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources, such as the "Banner of Ur" and various Egyptian steles, as early as the fourth millennium B.C.E. In Ur, cows were milked from behind and in Egypt from in front of the udder, with their rear legs tied together. Milk, connected as it was with the miracle of reproduction, was used in pagan cults, in which a kid would be cooked in its mother's milk. This practice was forbidden for the Israelites (Ex. 23:19; et al.).
Milk was one the characteristic products of Ereẓ Israel (Ex. 3:8; 33:3; Joel 4:18). A nourishing food, it was frequently drunk cold or was cooked with other foods, as well as serving in other forms for medicinal purposes and ointments. Due to its importance, milk and its by-products served as offerings to gods and kings. The Bible mentions butter and various cheeses as milk-derived products. Butter was made by churning milk in vessels made especially for this purpose. Examples of these churns (Heb. mahbeẓah) have been found at Beersheba and elsewhere. The butterfat was separated as a result of the churning, and the excess liquid was evaporated in order to produce butter. In this concentrated form, it was used principally for cooking and frying. Cheese was made from soured milk. Milk was poured into special moulds in which it soured into hard lumps. These cheese lumps were dried in the sun or evaporated by cooking, producing curds (Job 10:10). A softer cheese was made in cloth bags filled with soured milk. The thin liquid filtered through the cloth while the soft cheese remained in the bag. The Hittites used cheese as an offering in their cult.
Most wine was produced from grapes. The vintage was brought to a winepress which was usually rock-cut. The grapes were spread on the broad upper surface of the press and tread upon by foot, in order to squeeze the liquid from them. This liquid (Heb. tirosh, "new wine") flowed down through a drainage channel into a vat in which the precipitates settled. From there it flowed to a second vat where it was collected. The drainage system was constructed so that the liquid flowed into the collecting vat only when the precipitation vat was filled. Thus, the heavier sediments such as waste matter, seeds, and skins had time to settle at the bottom of the vat, while the juice flowed into the collecting vat. The new wine was then transferred to vessels which were sealed and placed in a cool place to stand until the juice fermented by the action of the yeast in the fruit, becoming wine. There were several types of wine, some of which are mentioned in the Bible: a sparkling or foaming wine (Ps. 75:9); the wine of Helbon (Ezek. 27:18); spiced wine (Song 8:2); the wine of Lebanon (Hos. 14:8). The type of wine was determined by the grapes from which it was pressed, the time allowed for fermentation, and the age of the wine. Spices were added to improve the aroma and taste. The color was improved by steeping crushed grape skins in it. Sometimes wine was given an aroma by rubbing the winepress with wood resin. Wine was also made from raisins, dates, figs, and pomegranates.
Wine was considered the choicest of drinks. It was used in libations before gods, as payment of taxes to kings, and was highly regarded as an item of trade. It was measured by liquidmeasure: the bat (II Chron. 2:9) and the hin (Ex. 29:40; Samaria ostraca). Wine was hoarded in vessels of uniform size in the treasuries of the royal and the wealthy. Ereẓ Israel was known for its fine wines and advanced methods of production. Some indication of this may be gained from the widespread occurrence of presses in archaeological excavations throughout the country. A good example of a rock-cut winepress from the biblical period found at Gibeon has a broad surface for treading the grapes and several collecting vats. Wine was an intoxicant with a stimulating effect upon the human disposition. One who had taken Nazirite vows was therefore not permitted to drink it or to make any use of vine-derived products. The Bible mentions houses which were visited for the purpose of drinking and becoming intoxicated (Song 2:4). Another vine product was vinegar, which was produced by extra fermentation of new wine. It was used for seasoning foods, pickling vegetables, and medicinal purposes.
Oil was produced mainly from olives in olive presses designed for this purpose. There were three stages in its production. First, the hard olives were crushed into a soft paste. This was then squeezed, the crude oil flowing out as a result of the pressure. Finally, the crude oil was stored in vessels or vats for some time, in which the sediments and water from the olives settled and the pure oil rose to the surface. The oil was then collected in vessels for storage or use. Archaeological excavations have revealed numerous olive presses dating to the Hellenistic period. The earliest press excavated in the country was found at Tirat Yehudah near Lydda. This press has been reconstructed and transferred to the garden of the Israel Museum.
Oil was used as a condiment for various dishes, to fry foods, especially meats, and as a component in certain dishes. Specially purified oils mixed with spices were used as ointments or for medicinal purposes. Sesame oil, produced in a similar way, was particularly fine. Like wine, oil was used as an offering to the gods and for payment of taxes to kings. Oil production was advanced in Ereẓ Israel, as is attested by much documentary evidence, and the discovery of many olive presses in various locations.
CHARACTERISTICS OF JEWISH COOKERY
In their dispersion throughout the world Jews have adopted many dishes of
the countries in which they found themselves, adapting them to conform to the requirements of the dietary laws. Economic factors have also played their part in the culinary sphere. Sometimes glamorous dishes have been created by enhancing poverty foods, influenced by local flavors and products.
The laws regarding use of animal food and its preparation require that all meat and poultry, having been killed in accordance with the laws of
, must be entirely drained of
. Observance of the dietary laws precludes the mixing or cooking of meat with milk; the Jewish cook is therefore debarred from using dairy products – butter, milk, or cream, etc. – in pastries, desserts, or other dishes which are to be eaten in conjunction with meat. Parveh (neutral) foods made with neither milk nor meat may be eaten with both. These include eggs, fish, vegetables, fruit, and liquors. A parveh substitute for milk or cream has been introduced into the modern kitchen.
The two main categories of Jewish cooking may be characterized as Oriental (broadly referred to as Sephardi) and Occidental (broadly referred to as Ashkenazi). While Sephardi cookery makes much use of spices, olive oil, rice, pulses, and lamb, Ashkenazi favors beef and bland vegetables, whose flavors are brought out by fats, sugar, and onions. Both feature many similar fowl and pastry dishes, and dishes having similar historical and religious significance. Because of this latter significance there has developed in modern times a sort of "culinary Judaism," by which many people identify with the Jewish religion mainly through this preference for traditional Jewish dishes. Indeed, assimilated Jewry in the orbit of the Hapsburg Empire from as early as the second half of the 19th century knew the conception of "Fressfroemmigkeit" for somebody whose devoutness finds its expression mainly or entirely in his eating the proper customary dishes on each holiday.
SEPHARDI AND ASHKENAZI TRADITION
Most of the foods of the Bible maintained their hold in the homes of the communities of the Mediterranean and Middle East where the same products are still grown. Grapes, dates, olives, melons, figs, mulberries, pomegranates, nuts, carobs, citrons, apricots, are still basically used in and around the Holy Land, not only as fresh fruits but as preserves such as dried apricot sheets, carob syrup (dibbs), and citron confiture. Pulses and cereals such as beans, lentils, cracked wheat (burghul), and spelt (rye) are used for Sephardi dishes as much as potatoes are in the West. The vegetables recorded in the Bible such as leeks, squash (also cucumbers of this family), and onions permeate Middle East cookery both for flavoring and as main dishes stuffed with meat. Cucumbers are preserved with dill, a herb that grows wild in Ereẓ Israel. Mint is used for flavoring many dishes, particularly vegetable salads. Frequently used spices and herbs include garlic in meat, saffron and cumin in cakes, coriander in coffee, and cinnamon not only in desserts but in meat and poultry dishes. Lamb fat and olive oil, so popular in the Bible, continue as the main fats used in Oriental Jewish cooking. The meat of goats and sheep is still eaten in the Middle East rather than beef and poultry. Pastries – usually deep fried – are dipped in honey or syrup among Eastern communities. Some Oriental groups – such as the Yemenites – even bake the bread (called lakho'akh or ḥubs) as in biblical days on the wall of a primitive earthen oven heated with embers, the fire being put out before baking, or bake it like a griddle cake on a rounded iron over embers. Bread is customarily put on the table for every meal, and also salt, symbolizing the covenant (see above).
In Eastern Europe among Ashkenazi communities milk foods and vegetables were the main fare during weekdays owing to impoverished circumstances and the shortage of kasher meat. Animals were generally slaughtered for food only for Sabbaths or festivals, or for celebrations. Figuring largely in the diet were lokshen (noodles) or other farinaceous food, potatoes, barley, peas, and beans. From time to time these were supplemented by fish. For celebrations of a circumcision or a wedding it was customary to provide fish and meat meals, and to bake festival bread and buns from cake dough, as well as sponge cake, sandwich cake, fluden (fladen), strudel, and egg cookies. In honor of the bride and bridegroom gilderne yoikh ("golden broth" of chicken soup) was served. During the summer in Eastern Europe, jams and confections would be prepared from the local fruits, which were added to tea, offered to guests, or served for the Sabbath or on festivals. The juice of raspberries, cherries, and other berries was also preserved. Preserves were made from plums and mushrooms, cucumbers were pickled, and sufficient sauerkraut was prepared for the whole year. In present-day Israel, Jewish cooking has been altered and adapted by each entry of new immigrants in the melting pot process of integration between East and West. This and the introduction of new products, such as avocado, formerly rarely known, has resulted in new trends in Jewish cooking.
For Sabbath and other holidays all sorts and shapes of ḥallah breads (called also barkhes or tatsheres) are baked. In most countries the Sabbath loaves are braided. The loaves are frequently sprinkled with (poppy or sesame) seeds to represent manna. Two loaves represent the double portion of manna gathered in the wilderness before the Sabbath. One of the two ḥallot on the tables of Ḥasidim is made of 12 rolls representing the 12 tribes, the loaf being referred to as yud-bet (= the number 12; Lev. 24:5–6). Fish is a standard food for Sabbath. The Talmud advises: "When may those who possess less than 50 shekels have the dish of vegetables and fish? Every Friday night of the Sabbath." In Eastern Europe, where fish was costly, the Jewish housewife made gefilte (filled) fish a popular dish. For gefilte fish the flesh is ground up, and bread, egg, onion, sugar, and pepper are added: after the fish is refilled it is stewed in onions. Carp and/or other types of fish may be used. Bukharan Jews eat fried fish dipped in garlic sauce with garlic bread.
A typical Sabbath dish popular in every community because it can be prepared beforehand and cooked overnight is cholent (Ashkenazi) – Oriental ḥamin – generally made with beans, fat meat, and potatoes. It is placed in a well-heated oven on Friday afternoon and allowed to cook slowly or simmer overnight until ready for the Sabbath meal. Ashkenazim may accompany the cholent with kugel (boiled pudding), stuffed helzl (neck skin), or kishke (stuffed derma), or a lokshen (noodle) pudding, sometimes made of leaf pastry, or a rice and raisin pudding. Bukharan Jews serve a rice cholent called baḥsh, layered with meat, liver, and vegetables, with rice and spices cooked in a bag in water: the liquid is not used. It was customary for gentiles to wait near the synagogue before prayers with kettles of boiling water; they would be given the baḥsh bag for cooking and return it after prayers. Bukharan Jews also bake mamossa (meat or fruit pie) for Sabbath, and eat cold meat (yachni) or kabab-pieces of meat and onion, dipped in salt and roasted on a spit before Sabbath. Kishke (Ashkenazi stuffed derma) is often eaten as a main dish for Sabbath, its Oriental equivalent being nakahoris. Ashkenazim use an onion and flour filling, and eastern communities fill the derma with ground meat, pine nuts, cinnamon, and sharp pepper. Persian Jews eat rice foods (pilaw) and a sort of meat pudding called gipa (stomach filled with rice). Often served as an appetizer on Sabbath is pitcha (also called cholodny, pilsa, fisnoga, drelyes; Heb. regel kerushah) – jellied calf's foot or jellied chicken with garlic and spices. In Yemen it is called kurʾi. Other appetizers are chopped (gehakte) herring, chopped egg and onion, or chopped liver (Ashkenazi). A traditional accompaniment to the Sabbath meal in Ashkenazi homes is poultry soup – usually served with deep-fried pastas called mandeln ("almonds") to symbolize the manna of the Bible. Side dishes include tsimes (Ashkenazi), a stew made usually of carrots, parsnips, or plums with potatoes. The Lithuanian rutabaga is turnip tsimes. Compotes of dried fruits, such as flohmen kompot made with the addition of blanched almondsand honey, are a traditional East European Sabbath dessert. Torten-sponge cakes, mandelbrot – almond cookies – and strudels-filled rolled pastries, are of Central European origin. Yemenite Jews serve a traditional Sabbath pastry, similar to kugel, cooked overnight, sometimes with cottage cheese, called ghininūn, or an overnight baked yeast cake, kubaneh. Pestelas (sesame-seed-topped pastry filled with pine nuts, meat, onion, and delicately flavored) also called burekas, are often served in Sephardi homes after the Sabbath service. So as to be able to pronounce the blessings: bore peri ha-eẓ; ha-gefen; ha-adamah; mezonot, before the Sabbath repast and after, Yemenite Jews eat gaʾle-roast peanuts, raisins, almonds, fruit, and candy. For melavveh malkah on Saturday night Ḥasidim eat a specially cooked barley soup with meat. Wine is drunk at the Sabbath meals, and brandy. Eastern Jews drink arak.
Passover foods vary in Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. Ashkenazim exclude rice, while it is served by Sephardim. Most Ashkenazim avoid the use of pepper because it is sometimes mixed with flour and crumbs by traders. Ḥasidim do not eat soaked matzah on Passover except on the last day (in the Diaspora).
The several varieties of matzah include matzah shemurah, egg matzah, and sugar matzah. The exclusion of leaven from the home has resulted in a rich menu of matzah meal and potato foods for Passover, such as dumplings and pancakes. Popular are the dumplings known as kneydl (Ashkenazi) of various types made from either matzah meal or broken up matzah. Some are filled with meat or liver or fruits, used for soups or side dishes or desserts. Potato flour is largely used in cakes along with finely ground matzah meal and nuts. Popular Ashkenazi dishes are matzah brie (fried crumbled matzah with grated onion), matzah latkes (pancakes) and khremzlakh (also called crimsel or gres elies; matzah meal fritters). Wined matzah kugels (puddings) have been introduced into modern Jewish cooking. For thickening soups and sauces at Passover fine matzah meal or potato flour is used instead of flour: for frying fish or cutlets, a coating of matzah meal and egg, and for stuffings, potatoes instead of soaked bread. "Noodles" may be made by making pancakes with beaten eggs and matzah meal which, when cooked, are rolled up and cut into strips. They may be dropped into soup before serving. Matzah kleys – dumplings – are small balls made from suet mixed with chopped fried onions, chopped parsley, beaten egg, and seasonings, dropped into soup and cooked. In Oriental countries and in old Jerusalem sheep-tail fat was prepared for Passover. Oriental Passover dishes are fahthūt (Yemenite) – a soup stew made with matzah meal – and Turkish minas and mahmuras – layers of matzah with fillings of cheese, vegetables, or meats. In Sephardi homes ḥaroset is served as a treat and not just as ataste. The khreyn – horseradish relish – originating as an Ashkenazi Passover dish – is popular all the year round. The radish eyngemakhts, still retained as a confiture among Ashkenazim, may have had its culinary beginnings in talmudic days when the radish was referred to as an elixir of life. A Passover beverage is mead, instead of beer, which includes leaven. Raisin wine is also used for the Four Cups at the Seder. A kasher liquor from potatoes was brewed in Eastern Europe.
Serving of dairy dishes on Shavuot is customary among Jews everywhere. In celebration of the giving of the Law from Sinai, Mount-Sinai-shaped sweets and cakes are served in many Eastern and Western communities. Ashkenazi Jews bake saffron bread, butter cookies with cheese, cheese twist or cheese ḥallah (in Germany called kauletsch, specially for those who have observed the sefirah-counting of the Omer). Popular Shavuot dishes are blintses (pancakes) filled with meat or cheese and sour cream, kreplakh (dough filled with cheese, meat, groats or fruit, shaped into triangles or hearts and boiled), strudels (Germany), cheese cakes (Poland), cheese pies (United States), and knishes (yeast dough filled with meat and/or potatoes, cheese or fruit and baked (Lithuania). A dairy beet borsht with sour cream, or a cold chlodnik (cucumber soup) or shtshav (cold sorrel soup) is
also served on Shavuot. Some Sephardim bake a Seven Heavens cake to symbolize the "seven heavens" which God rent at the giving of the Torah. Sephardi Jews use ewe's salted cheese and make savory dairy dishes like shpongous (a cheese-spinach bake), Cottage cheese, popular everywhere, is associated with legends such as the Israelites' late return to the camp after receiving the Commandments from Mount Sinai when the milk had already soured.
During the Nine Days between the First and Ninth of Av, no wine or meat is eaten (except on the Sabbath) as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim eat farinaceous and other pastry food baked or boiled, and accompanied with cheese. The fast of the Ninth of Av is observed after a milk meal which includes a bagel – a crusty doughnut-shaped bun – or an egg dipped in ashes.
On Rosh Ha-Shanah the ḥallah loaf is baked round or coin-shaped to signify blessings all the year round. All communities eat sweet fruits to evoke a sweet year, and honey for sweetness is added to many dishes. Until after Sukkot, bread is dipped in honey for the benediction instead of the usual salt in order to symbolize a sweet year. On the second night of New Year apples are eaten dipped in honey, also white grapes and watermelons. The leykaḥ honey cake is traditional among Ashkenazim, since lekaḥ means "portion" and the cake signifies the prayer "Give them a goodly portion."
Sweetened fish dishes with raisins and honey lebkukhen, leibkuchen, are primarily eaten in Western homes (originating in Switzerland). A head of a fish served without a tail (or the head of a lamb in Oriental homes) symbolizes, according to the Shulḥan Arukh, "being at the head and not the tail." In many Sephardi homes it is served to the father of the family.
All sorts of fruits and vegetables are selected for eating on Rosh Ha-Shanah because of their symbolic associations and endless possibilities of word play. Sephardim place on the table a traskal – a covered basket of fruit and vegetables – and as the father of the family takes out some fruit, those present repeat a suitable verse, as for the pomegranate, "May our merits multiply like pomegranate seeds." Carrot tsimes symbolizes prosperity because the slices are coin-shaped and golden in color and is also linked with an involved play of words in German. Ḥasidim use beetroots or beet leaves (selek) in the blessings she-yistalleku oyeveinu "to get rid of our enemies"; bkeila, a dish of this green leaf and beans, is popular among Tunisian Jewry. The Yemenite hilbeh (fenugreek sauce) is called rubiya in Hebrew and therefore eaten to signify shehyirbu ("to multiply").
EVE OF AND END OF DAY OF ATONEMENT
On the eve of the Day of Atonement Ashkenazim eat ladder-or bird-trimmed bread so that prayers should rise quicker to Heaven. In the morning many communities would distribute the loaves free at the entrance to the graveyard where people visited the graves of their forefathers, and honey cakes with a glass of wine. Before the fast, atonement (kapparah) meat is generally eaten. Ashkenazi homes usually serve kreplakh in the soup of the boiled kapparah chicken (though in many families the chicken is given to the poor). The white-feathered bird, symbolic of purity, assumes the role of the scapegoat slaughtered as a sin offering.
The fast is broken in Central European communities by eating barkes, or shneken – buns with cinnamon and nuts and/or raisins. To restock the body with salt, herring dishes such as chopped herring, pickled herring, or zise-zoyre (sweet and sour) pickled jellied fish are taken. Many Sephardi communities break the fast with spiced coffee-cinnamon (Dutch), cardamon (Syrian and Egyptian), and ginger with these spices (Yemen). Some Middle Eastern communities – Turkish, Greek, Iraqi – break the fast with a snow-white almond or other seed drink called mizzo or soubiya or soumada, the white color symbolizing purity. lraqi Jews eat chadjoobadah cardamon cakes. Italians serve dolce Rebecca (spiced mocha cake), and many Oriental groups eat sesame (sumsum) cakelets. Bamya (okra) in tomato sauce is an Iraqi end of Day of Atonement dish.
Dishes traditional to Sukkot are adopted from the lands of the Diaspora, mostly because they proved convenient for serving in the sukkah. These include cabbage-meat borsht (Russian origin), Hungarian goulash – meat stew with paprika and onions: kibbeh – a Middle Eastern burghul-coated deep-fried meat dish served with various fillings; kasher Greek moussaka – eggplant meat casserole; holeptses also called praakes, galuptzes – rice and ground meat rolled in cabbage leaves – and sarmis – vine leaves filled with rice, pine nuts, and chopped meat filling. Still popular is the fluden (also known as fladen) – a layered dessert of dough and fruits symbolic of the harvested crops referred to in Judeo-German cooking records of the 12th century. For Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot, the ḥallah loaf is sometimes marked with a hand, symbolic of reaching for blessings, or key-shaped, that the door of heaven may be opened to admit prayers.
SIMḤAT TORAH AND SABBATH BERESHIT
For Simḥat Toraha round carrot sandwich (or slices) with honey symbolizes gold coins and the worth of the Torah. Sabbath Bereshit was formerly known in Vilna as the "honey Sabbath." The wives of religious functionaries baked honey cake with the honey their husbands received as a gift from the synagogue wardens for the festivals, and sold them. The proceeds enabled them to stock up with food and timber for the winter months.
For Ḥanukkah, Jews of all communities eat pastry and potato preparations fried in oil as a reminder of the miracle of the cruse of oil at the rededication of the Temple. Ashkenazim called them latkes, or fasputshes, or pontshkes. They are called zalaviyye (Yemen), dushpire (Bukhara), ata-if (Iraq), spanzes (Tripoli), and by Sephardim in general birmenailes. Hence the Israel sufganiyyot – doughnuts – of Ḥanukkah and the levivot (latkes – potato cakes) have a long tradition. A popular East European salad of this festival is
the retekh salat of radish, turnip, olives, and onions fried in goose fat with gribenes or grivn (cracklings), all the ingredients being popular in the Maccabean era. As fat for Ḥanukkah is rendered from the goose used for Passover, this poultry (and related game like the Dutch ganzebord) is a popular Ḥanukkah dish, and grivn are often served with the latkes. In Czechoslovakia a shortbread cookie is made of goose cracklings (grameln) for this holiday. Yemen Jews eat laḥis gizar on Ḥanukkah, a sort of carrot stew, carrots being the vegetable in season.
As Sabbath Be-Shalaḥ falls only a few days before Tu bi-Shevat (the Fifteenth of Shevat) many foods for this day are linked to the New Year of Trees. Dutch Jews make Be-Shallaḥ calling it kugel met waatz to symbolize the manna and sauce for the Red Sea where the Egyptians were drowned pursuing the Israelites. Swiss French and some groups from Germany serve a wheat garnish in broth for this reason. Italians make a dish called ruota di faraone (Pharaoh's wheel). Pomerantsen – candied citrus fruits – are popular on this day.
Fresh and dried fruits are served to symbolize the harvests of the trees planted on Tu bi-Shevat in the Holy Land. The bokser – carob fruit (St. John's bread) – has found its way around the world for this festival. In Switzerland and other places 15 fruits to coincide with Tu (= 15) are eaten. Rich dried fruit strudels are often served on Tu bi-Shevat as harvest symbols.
In many Sephardi communities a home service is held at the table where blessings are pronounced over wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey. Sephardim would distribute ma'ot perot ("fruit money"). At "white-red wine" parties each child is presented with a bolsa de frutas ("bag of fruit"). Ḥasidic groups arrange large fruit parties for which in the Diaspora they try to obtain fruit from Ereẓ Israel.
The Purim festival has a long culinary history. Recorded in the humorous tractate Massekhet Purim written by Kalonymus b. Kalonymus is the Purim menu listing 27 different meat dishes. All communities make pastries representing Haman's hats, Haman's pockets, or Haman's ears, They are known by different names but similarly filled with poppyseed (Ger. mohn – a sound resembling "Haman"). Some Ashkenazi groups also fill them with povidl – plum jam – to commemorate the rescue of Jews in Bohemia about 250 years ago when a plum merchant was saved from persecution. In Italy ciambella di Purim is a popular pastry, as are Hamantashen in Eastern Europe and mohn plaetzen – poppyseed cookies – in Western Europe. Haman's ears (Heb. oznei haman) – a fried pastry sprinkled with sugar are called Hamansoren (Holland), Hamman-Muetzen (Germany), Schunzuchen (Switzerland and French-Lorraine), Heizenblauzen (Austria), diples (Greece), shamleya (Turkey), and orecchie de Aman (Italy). According to folk tradition the custom originates from the punishment of criminals whose ears were cut off before hanging. Hamantashen are symbolic of Haman's pockets stuffed with bribe money. The Purim ḥallah loaf (given the Russian name keylitsh) is giant-sized and braided, representing the long ropes used to hang Haman. Sephardim fill similar pastries with meat, vegetables, or fruit. For mishlo'aḥ-manot ("sending of presents") on Purim, women in Eastern communities make sugar-starch fingers in various colors, and non-Jews in Eastern lands call Purim ʾīd al-sukar, the sugar festival. It was customary in Persia to distribute, after the reading of the Book of Esther, ha'alva kashka, a pleasantly spiced dessert. All Sephardi and Eastern communities bake sweet cakes filled with almonds or other nuts, all sorts of marzipan, special puralis cake containing a whole egg, and various sorts of pancakes called in Iraq zingula. In Salonika and Istanbul, women baked kulimas, barikas, or sambusach-khavsh – dough filled with meat.
[Molly Lyons Bar-David and Yom-Tov Lewinski]
Dalman, Arbeit, 4 (1935), 260ff.; R.J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, 3 (1955), 50–105; C. Singer, et al. (eds.), A History of Technology, 1 (1954), 270–85; 2 (1956), 103ff.; N. de Garis Davies, The Tomb of Nakht at Thebes (1917), pl. 22; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. 2 vols. (1961), passim; idem, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (1967), passim; J.B. Pritchard, Winery, Defenses and Soundings at Gibeon (1964), 25–27, figs. 54–55; Z. Yeivin, in: Attiqot (English Series), 3 (1966), 52–62; S. Krauss, Kadmoniyyotha-Talmud, 2 (1929), 93–276; A. Wiener, Die juedischen Speisegesetze (1895); J. Elzet (Zlotnik), Yidishe Maakholim (1920); M. Kosover, in: Yuda A. Yofe-Bukh (1958), 1–145; B. Safran, Di Yidishe Kikh in Ale Lender (1930); Y. Kafah, Halikhot Teiman (1962), chs. 1, 3–5; L. Cornfeld, Ha-Bishul ha-Tov (1967); idem, Israeli Cookery (1962); M.L. Bar-David, Jewish Cooking for Pleasure (1965); idem, Sefer Bishul Folklori (1964).
Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.
All Rights Reserved.