JEWISH AND ISRAELI FOOD
Bagels and Lox, American Jewish food The most common Israeli fast food items are felafals (deep-fried chick pea balls) and shwarmas (slices of lamb). Both are served in open pieces of pita bread with yoghurt sauce or sesame sauce, hot sauce and chopped salad. You can also get them with french fries, humus, tehina pickles, pickled cabbage.
Other common Israeli dishes include blintzes (rolled up crepes filled with various ingredients and pan fried), salat Turki (a hot, spicy salad with tomatoes and peppers); knishes (meat turnovers), borekas (dough turnovers filled with potato, cheese or other ingredients), kebabs (often spiced hamburger meat cooked on skewers), shishlik (skewered lamb or turkey), schnitzel (breaded cutlets of chicken or turkey), cholet (a meat-and potato stew so heavy it is sometimes called ‘the “Jewish atom bomb”), bread and kazka (a paste made with molasses and cummin seeds) and roasted chicken.
The food eaten by European Israelis tends to be blander and less spicy than the food consumed by Middle Eastern Israelis. Traditional Passover food, which are also eaten on the Sabbath, include beef brisket, gefilte fish, and matzoth, or unleavened bread. On the Sabbath, Yemenites eat a special yeast bread served with brown eggs that are roasted overnight in an oven. Lesser known Jewish foods include p’tcha ( jellied calves feet) and gribenes (chicken skin fried in chicken fat).
Gefilte Fish balls Pastrami, chopped liver and corned beef are fixtures of Jewish delis in New York. “Apetzing” referred to smoked fish-lox, herring and whitefish. All these foods gave high levels of salt. The meat is often very fatty.
Jews have traditionally said grace before meal, a custom that was picked up and continued by Christians. The customs comes from the numerous blessings of herakoh which mark different moments of the day.
Websites and Resources: Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Judaism and Jewish Resources shamash.org/trb/judaism ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah’org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; Judaism.com judaism.com ; ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article on Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Origin of Judaism adath-shalom.ca ;Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish Culture and History Resources ddickerson.igc.org/judaica ;
Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington
Kosher gummi bears Kosher Foods are food that are prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. Kosher means “ritually acceptable.” The laws describe mainly which foods are acceptable and how they should be prepared. According to these laws "animals that chew the cud but do not part the hoof [cloven hooves]; fish with fins and scales; and birds other than those prohibited in Leviticus xii” may be eaten. This primarily means that Jews are not supposed to eat pork or shellfish.
Kosher food laws prohibit certain food and define methods of preparation for others. These laws are viewed as a way of sanctifying the individual and maintaining separation between Jews and Gentiles. Abiding by the kosher rules is referred to as kashrut , or keeping kosher.
Under kosher rules milk and meat products are supposed to separated ("you shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk," Exodus xxiii: 19) and prepared with separate utensils. When eating at a kosher restaurant or a house where a kosher meal has been prepared there are separate dishes and utensils for meat dishes and dairy dishes. One is not supposed to eat meat and dairy products together which means that you are not supposed to eat cheeseburgers, meat with a cheese sauce or meat and potatoes with butter or milk tea.
Kosher kitchens often have color-coded utensils: with red for meat products and blue for dairy products. Some restaurants hire a full-time mashgiyah , who keeps watch over the kitchen to make sure it stays kosher. Restaurants need a kosher seal of approval, called a hecsher , from a local Jewish authority. Imaginative kosher cooks make cream sauces with cashews, coconuts and soy milk.
Kosher Meat, Kosher Slaughter, See Below.
Kosher Food and the Talmud
Kosher Instant Mashed Potatoes Kosherness is spelled out in the Talmud, which also recommends eating locusts from time to time. The Bible classifies locusts and grasshoppers as “clean.'” They are meaty insects that people ate in times of famine or when locusts are up fields and pastures.
Jews are forbidden by the Bible from the eating of birds, four-footed beats with "paws" (wildcats, lions, foxes, wolves, dogs and cats), water dwellers with scales or fins (eels, shellfish, whales, dolphins, sturgeons, lampreys, and catfish), "all winged insects that go upon all fours" (with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers "which leap upon the earth"), "camel, rock badger and hare" and animals that "chew the cud" but are not "cloven footed" (pigs).
Kosher food is a good example of how the Talmud derives an extraordinary number of laws and ideas from a simple sentence or phrase. The sentence “Thou shall not eat anything with the blood” (Leviticus xix 26) is taken to mean that one can not eat: 1) any animal that still has life in it; 2) any animal parts that still have blood in them; 3) before one prays for pure life (based on the connection of blood with life); 4) sacrificial meat while blood is still in the basin; 5) on the day a judge gives out a death sentence. Connected with the prohibition is warning that gluttony will lead one down the road to ruin.
Glatt is a specific kind of kosherness in which the animals has been examined and no imperfections have been found on the skin and no puncture marks have been found in the lungs, a common sign of disease. This has traditionally meant that cows must have no spots and the feathers of chicken must all be the same color. The opposite of glatt is trayfe , which means torn. This refers to animals with imperfections.
Under kosher rules animals must be slaughtered according the laws of shechitah ; the hind quarter of animals may not be eaten unless the sciatic nerve is first removed (Genesis xxxii:33); and the blood from meat must be thoroughly drained (Genesis ix:4).
The rules for kosher slaughtering are complicated. The animals must have their throats cut with a clean stroke and the blood must be drained quickly from the body while the animals is upside down. This is said to cause a minimum of suffering to the animal. The slaughtering is done by a trained butcher known as a shochet or rabbi who wields a very sharp ceremonial blade called a chalaf After the animal has been butchered, a rabbi declares the meat kosher. Defenders of the kosher slaughter say the method is humane and causes a minimum of pain to animals because the blade is sharp and death is almost instantaneous.
The kosher method of slaughter of animals is called shechita . In most kosher plants, animals are tightly penned when their throats are cut, and the organs are not torn out; tearing out by the shochet is forbidden under Jewish law. In nonkosher planets in the United States, by law, animals must be rendered unconscious before they killed, which is often with air hammers, pistols or electricity—all of which are prohibited by Jewish law.
A secret video tape made at a kosher slaughterhouse shows the the kosher slaughter is far from humane, with animals staggering and bellowing long after their throats have been cut. Describing the tape shot by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville Iowa, the largest producer of kosher meat in the United States, Donald G. McNeil Jr. wrote in the New York Times, “Each animal is placed in a rotating drum so it can be killed while upside down...Immediately after the ritual slaughterer, or shochet, has slit the throat, another worker tears open each steer’s neck with a hook and pulls out the trachea and esophagus. The drum turns, and the steer is dumped on the floor,. One after another, animals with dangling windpipes stand up or try to: in one case death takes three minutes.”
Attacks on Halal and Kosher Slaughterers
In 2003, animal rights group called for a ban on kosher and halal method, citing it as cruel to the animals that are slaughtered. One animal rights activist told the Independent: “Scientific evidence shows that animals that have their throats cut while they are fully conscious can suffer terribly over relatively lengthy periods as they bleed to death.” According to a report on the practice: “After the cut has been made, the animal must remain restrained until it is bled out before being released, shackled and hoisted.”
Martin Potter, the leader of a British animal rights group, argues that animals should be stunned either before they are killed or immediately afterwards. He wrote in The Independent: “Modern stunning instruments in the hands of highly skilled slaughters can render an animal unconscious immediately. We therefore, have the ability to give this animals a quick and painless death. Slaughter by Jewish and Muslim methods involves cutting the throat with a very sharp knife without any form of prior stunning...This method can result in cattle taking as long as two minutes to become insensible...The cut across the neck lead to very significant pain and distress before the insensibility supervenes.”
Muslim and Jewish groups have united to fight the ban on the basis of freedom of religion. They make the argument that stunning can be as cruel or more cruel then cutting; that the prosed use of stunning defies their religious laws by leading to the retention of blood in the meat; and say the Nazi evoked similar arguments against kosher slaughter in the 1930s.
A halal butcher in London told the Independent: “I believe it is our right as Muslims to eat a halal meat, which is an essential part of Islam. I have taken part in the slaughter of poultry in the past so I know it is a quick and efficient method, not cruel at all.” A member of the Muslim Council of Britain said, “Scientific tests have shown that when an animal is stunned, small blood vessel repture, leaving meat tainted with blood which is full of germs, bacteria and waste material.”
Kosher Food Abroad
In the United States, the magazine Kosher Today estimated that $185 billion of the $500 billion annual retail grocery sales is certified kosher. Many products such as flour, rice and all produce is kosher by definition and doesn’t require labeling.
The market for kosher food is growing and is consumed by various groups for various reasons. Muslims are among the biggest consumers because they can count on all kosher foods as being pork-free. Vegetarians know that products marked pareve , or “dairy” contains no meat. Vegans and lactose-intolerant in turn know to avoid pareve foods.
In some cases, certifying that all the ingredients of a kosher product are kosher can be time consuming. It can require going through long lists of ingredients and poking through warehouses and factories and checking the lists of ingredients on the bottles and containers of the ingredients for the main product.
Koscher Geschaft in Vienna
Even though most Chinese don’t know what it means and finding kosher food in China is next to impossible, China is the fastest-growing source if kosher-certified food in the world, with over 500 factories producing approved products—everything from meats to lipstick-shaped candy— as of 2008.
A single rabbi from New York flies to China and certifies food made at 300 plants. The rabbi told the Los Angeles Times his job is far than routine. Chinese can’t resist tugging on his beard, he said, and know little about making food kosher until he tells them. In Tibet he had turn down a request by herders who made the dairy protein caissen from yak milk because they produced it independently at home under circumstances that were hard to check out. At a fish factory he once check 27,000 fish by hand for three days straight to make sure all had fins and scales.
Kosher delis have long been a fixture of New York City. Many were opened up in early and mid 20th century by Jewish immigrants at a time when many Jews regularly ate and regularly got their food from such delis. In the 1960s there were 300 kosher delis in New York City and its suburbs. Since then many have closed down and only a handful are left.
Jews, Muslims and Pork
Kosher Jew with kosher food Muslims and Jews (and some Christians) are forbidden from eating pork. The Jewish and Christian God spoke out twice against eating pork in the Old Testament (in Genesis and again in Leviticus), denouncing the pig as an unclean animal that "pollutes if it is tasted or touched." Allah delivered essentially the same message to Mohammed in the 7th century, but revoked the Biblical taboo on eating camel flesh.
Pork is the only food that the Koran specifically forbids Moslems to eat. The Koran states: "Forbidden to you (as food) are carrion and blood and swine-flesh.” By contrast Jews are forbidden by the Bible from the eating of birds, four-footed beats with "paws" (wildcats, lions, foxes, wolves, dogs and cats), water dwellers with scales or fins (eels, shellfish, whales, dolphins, sturgeons, lampreys, and catfish), "all winged insects that go upon all fours" (with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers "which leap upon the earth"), "camel, rock badger and hare" and animals that "chew the cud" but are not "cloven footed" (pigs).
In the fifth and forth millennia B.C. in Mesopotamia, 30 percent of bones excavated in Tell Asmar (2800-2700 BC) belonged to pigs. Pork was eaten in Ur in pre-Dynastic times. After 2400 B.C. it had become taboo. In Egypt, pigs were eaten, but there was prejudice against pork associated with Seti, the God of Evil.
In an attempt to explain why pork was forbidden, the 12th century Jewish-Muslim physician Maimonides wrote pig flesh "has a bad and damaging effect upon the body." But he didn't offer any specifics. In the 19th century, the discovery that trichinosis was caused from eating undercooked pork was offered as evidence to back up Maimonides assertion.
Why Is Pork Forbidden?
Kosher Glattkosher turkey Pigs are by far the most efficient protein and fat producing animal domesticated by man. They converts grains and tubers into high-grade fats and proteins more effectively than other animals. Almost 25 percent of the food by weight fed to pig is converted to meat, compared to 14 percent for chicken, 13 percent for sheep and 6.5 percent for cattle. In addition females produce litters that average eight piglets after a four gestation period. The piglets in turn can be fattened up to a 400 pound hog in six months.
Why is pork forbidden then? Scholars have generally argued that pork was forbidden because pigs have traditionally been regarded as dirty animals because they eat excrement and wallow in mud produced from their own urine and are associated with trichinosis, a disease is caused by the quarter-inch-long trichina worm, a kind of roundworm which digs into the muscles and produces cysts that can be fatal.
Columbia anthropologist Marvin Harris has said something else must be involved. "Hungry cows will eat human excrement with gusto," he wrote. "Dogs and chickens do the same thing without getting anyone very upset...The pig is a vector of human disease, but so are other domestic animals freely consumed by Moslems and Jews. For example, undercooked beef is a source of parasites, notably tapeworms, which can reach a length of sixteen to twenty feet within a man's intestines." Cattle, sheep and goats are sources of anthrax, brucellosis and other human diseases.
Pork Taboo and the Environment
Kosher McDonalds in Buenos Aires Harris offers a natural and environmental explanation for the prohibition of pork. Pigs, he argued, were originally primarily tubor-eating forest and swamp creatures that had difficulty living in the deserts of the Middle East because they don't sweat and therefore can't cool themselves. Their habit of rolling around in urine and excrement is a way to keep cool. Pigs also have difficulty living in arid regions because they can not subsist off of grass alone, they are difficult to herd over long distances, and they don't produce milk.
When pigs were first domesticated there were vast forest areas in what is now Turkey and the Middle East. Ten thousand years ago, Harris argues, there was enough water and shade to support small number of pigs, but as the population in the Middle East grew, deforestation degraded the environments best suited for pigs. As a result pigs became a luxury that most people couldn't afford, their dirty behavior increased in the hot conditions and the taboo against the animal developed.
Unlike other domesticated animals, pigs are prized as source of meat and little else. They can't be ridden, milked or used to pull or carry things.
Passover Seder foods Foods with symbolic meaning served during Passover include: 1) matzo (unleavened, flat bread), representing the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt (they left so quickly their bread did not have time to rise); 2) salt water and hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt, symbolizing the tears shed by their ancestors when they were slaves of the Egyptians; and 3) maror (bitter herbs) eaten with a reddish horseradish sauce called harosth , representing the bitterness associated with slavery. All these dishes are eaten at stated times.
A roasted lamb eaten at Passover represents the sacrificial lamb ritually slaughtered at the Temple, which in turn represents the lamb killed by the Israelites which supplied the blood they smeared on their doorposts so the Angel of Death would pass over their homes during the Tenth Plague. The lamb is supposed to be unblemished at the prime of its life. Roasting is regarded as symbol of God’s judgement. The feasting at Passover is tinged with the cautionary tale that some were spared but many were not.
Other traditional Passover foods include green herbs (associated with spring), eggs (commemorating festival sacrifice), and charoset , a mixture of chopped apples, dates, figs, almonds, wine and cinnamon (recalling the mortar that Jews were required to mix in Egypt). Maror is sometimes dipped in charoset.
Matzo Balls and Other Sabbath Foods
Passover Kosher foods Sharing bread is an important expression of Jewish community. On the Sabbath a plaited loaf or hallah bread is blessed, sprinkled with salt and eaten. At some Hasidic Sabbath meals, people violently push and shove one another as they try to get their hands on bread blessed by a revered rabbi.
Other foods associated with the Sabbath include beef brisket and matzo ball soup. Matzo balls are dumpling-like soup ingredient. They are made by combining matzoh meal with egg and oil. The dough is gooey and it sticks to hands when you make the balls. The more gooey the balls the lighter they are. Manischewitz and Aron Streit are the largest manufacturers of matzo in the United States.
Bagels and Gefilte Fish
Bagels are a kind of dense chewy roll. They originated in eastern Europe and were popularized in New York by Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe in the early 20th century. Good bagels should be chewy enough that yours jaws get tired. The idea is the more you chew the more the flavor soaks in. Bangels have traditionally been eaten with cream cheese and lox. Blueberry chocolate chip and Dutch apple bagels are regarded as little more the dense, chewy donuts.
Plain bagel Bialys are small bagel-like biscuits. They are named after Bialystok, a city in northeast Poland near the Belarus border.
Gefilte fish is a traditional Jewish food. They are balls made with ground fish, matzo meal and eggs, cooked in fish broth and usually served with horseradish. The store-bought kind comes in a jar, and is sold at supermarkets, especially to accompany Jewish holidays such as Passover or Rosh Hashanan, Fresh gefilte fish, as opposed to the jarred kind, is meant to be eaten cold. It has a smooth, intricate flavor that is perked up nicely with horseradish.
Pistachios and almonds are the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011