Shabbat (Sabbath) meal

Jewish cooking is a unique synthesis of cooking styles from the many places that Jews have lived throughout the centuries: the Middle Easter, Mediterranean, Spain, Germany and Eastern European. Jewish dietary laws sometimes influence the recipes. Some Jewish foods are associated with specific holidays. The most well-known dishes are Ashkenazic (from European, most eastern European, Jews). Sephardic Jews from North Africa and the Middle East have their own distinct cooking traditions. One ingredient found in many recipes is matzah meal. Matzah meal is crumbs of matzah (unleavened bread). It is often sold in the kosher or ethnic section of a grocery store. If it is not available, bread crumbs usually work as a substitute. [Source:Judaism 101]

According to Judaism 101: “Many of the foods that we think of as Jewish are not unique to Jewish culture. Stuffed cabbage, a traditional Jewish dish, is common in Eastern Europe. Blintzes and knishes are familiar to all Germans, not just Jewish ones. Falafel and hummus, increasingly thought of as Israeli-Jewish foods, can be found in any Greek restaurant. But the combination of these varied foods into one style of cooking, along with our own innovations, is uniquely Jewish.

The food eaten by European Israelis tends to be blander and less spicy than the food consumed by Middle Eastern Israelis. Pastrami, chopped liver and corned beef are fixtures of Jewish delis in New York. “Apetzing” refers to smoked fish-lox, herring and whitefish. All these foods have 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.

According to Judaism 101: “The ultimate traditional Jewish cookbook, sadly out of print for several years, is Leah W. Leonard's “Jewish Cookery.” It contains traditional Ashkenazic recipes for holidays and all year round. All of the recipes are kosher. There is a special section for Passover recipes. The book contains a brief discussion of holiday food customs and the laws of kashrut. Another cookbook that I've gotten a lot of good use out of is Josephine Levy Bacon's Jewish Cooking from Around the World. Don't let that surprising last name fool you! These are kosher recipes from both Ashkenazic and Sephardic tradition, as well as Yemenite and Indian dishes. Jews have lived in just about every country in the world, and these recipes reflect the melding of Jewish traditions and dietary laws with the prevailing cooking styles in the countries where we have lived. [Source: Judaism 101]

Pistachios and almonds are the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; ; Jewish Museum London

Jewish Eating Customs

Kosher dishes used for meat

Gatherings around food important. Friends are often welcome to drop by anytime — sometimes even in the morning or in the middle of the night — to talk and drink. Jews have traditionally said grace before a 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.

According to the BBC: “While Liberal Judaism recognises a religious dimension to the consumption of food, and encourages blessing and thanksgiving to God before and after meals, it leaves observance or non-observance of Jewish dietary rules to each individual. Some Liberal Jews regard these rules as entirely irrelevant to their religious lives and ignore them. [Source: BBC, August 12, 2009 |::|]

Many Jews are fond of Chinese food. Seth Adam Grossman wrote in China Today: “There is an old joke that hints at the understanding two cultures joined through food have for each other: "If, according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5770, and, according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4707, what did the Jews eat on Sundays for those first 1,063 years?" There has always been a great affinity between Jews and Chinese food. Chinese food is a staple of the Jewish community in the U.S. where it's often the traditional Christmas Eve dinner (mostly because they're the only restaurants open). [Source: Seth Adam Grossman, China Today, December 2010]

Keeping Kosher

Kosher is a Hebrew word that means “ritually acceptable” and usually is used in reference to food but sometimes can refer to non-food items. Kosher Foods are food that are prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. 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.

Kosher dishes used for dairy products

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.

Seth Adam Grossman wrote in China Today: “Kosher just might be the best known Judaic term. Jews and non-Jews alike, even if they know nothing about Judaism, are likely to have heard about kosher food. If you ask the average person what kosher means, the answers you will most likely hear are "Kosher means a Rabbi blessed the food," that "the food is very clean and sanitary," or "Kosher is part of the ancient Jewish health code." In fact, kosher is none of these. To sum up kosher in one sentence: "Kosher is a comprehensive dietary discipline designed to promote Jewish spirituality." [Source: Seth Adam Grossman, China Today, December 2010 |*|]

“The Hebrew word kosher means fit or proper as it relates to kosher dietary law, but for thousands of years, rabbinic scholars have been needed to interpret these laws and apply them to ever-evolving contemporary conditions. Not so long ago, most food products were made in the family kitchen, or in small factory or community store, so it was relatively easy to ascertain if the product was reliably kosher. Today, industrialization, transcontinental shipping and mass production have created a situation where most of the foods we eat are treated, processed, cooked, canned or boxed commercially in industrial settings, which can be located hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. |*|

“Any kind of cuisine can be considered as kosher as long as it's made in accordance to Jewish law. What makes it complicated is that it is generally not possible for the average person to judge the kosher status of an item. Many ingredients can be kosher or non-kosher, depending on their source of origin. The product may be made from kosher ingredients, but processed on non-kosher equipment. Many ingredients are listed only in broad terms, with no breakdown of the many complex components that make up the actual item.” |*|

Kosher Meat, Kosher Slaughter See Separate Article

Jewish Food Glossary

kosher microwaves, blue for dairy products, red for meat

Kosher: (Hebrew) Adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Glatt: (Yiddish) A type of kosher meat, whereby the lungs of the animal were smooth, without any adhesions that could potentially prohibit the animal as unkosher, an issue only applicable to animals, not fowl or non-meat products. (Rhymes with pot.) [Source:]

Fress: (Yiddish) To eat copiously and without restraint.
Schmear: (Yiddish) A generous spread, usually used to refer to an ample portion of cream cheese applied to a bagel.
Nosh: (Yiddish) To snack.
schmaltz (Yiddish) chicken fat.

Cholov Yisroel: (Hebrew, also spelled Halav Yisrael) Dairy products produced by Jewish farmers. Some ultra-Orthodox Jews will only eat kosher dairy products that are also cholov yisroel, while others eat any dairy products that are certified kosher.
Pessadik or Pesachdik: (Yiddish) An adjective meaning kosher for Passover.

Jewish Foods Eaten on Holidays and the Sabbath

Traditional Passover food, which are also eaten on the Sabbath, include beef brisket, gefilte fish, and matzah, or unleavened bread. Charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts and wine, is traditionally served during Passover. Matzah Brei is a classic Passover breakfast dish of matzah and scrambled eggs, which can be served sweet or savory.

Passover seder

Cholent (a slow-cooked stew) is traditionally served for Shabbat lunch. It is cooked very slowly and contains beans, beef, barley and sometimes potatoes. It is the traditional meal for the Shabbat lunch or dinner, because it can be started before Shabbat begins and left cooking throughout Shabbat. On the Sabbath, Yemenite Jews 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).

Cheese blintzes are the traditional meal for the festival of Shavu'ot, when dairy meals are traditionally eaten. Blintzes are also commonly eaten during Chanukkah, because they are cooked in oil. The word "blintz" comes from a Ukrainian word meaning "pancake." According to Judaism 101: “Blintzes are basically Jewish crepes. A blintz is a thin, flat pancake rolled around a filling. It looks a little like an egg roll. As a main dish or side dish, blintzes can be filled with sweetened cottage cheese or mashed potatoes and onion; as a dessert, they can be filled with fruit, such as apple, cherry or blueberry. They are usually pan fried in oil. They are generally served with sour cream and/or applesauce.” [Source: Judaism 101]

A traditional Jewish meal typically begins with the breaking of bread. Challah is a special kind of bread used for Shabbat and holidays. It is a very sweet, golden, eggy bread, with a taste and texture somewhat similar to egg twist rolls. The loaf is usually braided, but on certain holidays it may be made in other shapes. For example, on Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to serve round challah (the circle symbolizing the cycle of life, the cycle of the years). The word "challah" refers to the portion of dough set aside for the kohein that is, a portion that is taken out of the dough before it is baked. You may have seen the notation "Challah has been taken" on boxes of Passover matzah, indicating that this rule has been followed, that the challah portion was taken from the dough before the matzah was made. I am not certain how the term for the removed portion came to be used for the loaf of bread made after that portion has been removed.

Passover Foods

Packing matzo for American troops in World War I

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

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.

Sufganiot—Hanukah's Donuts

classic jelly sufganiyot

Sufganiot (also spelled sufganiyah, the singular of sufganiyot) is a staple of annual Hanukkah celebrations. Stacey Freed wrote in the Washington Post, “In Israel they're called sufganiot (soof-gan-EE-oat), doughnuts to Americans. But they are more than doughnuts. "The difference is the dough," says Arie "Popi" Eloul, owner of The Kosher Pastry Oven in Wheaton. "The dough we make is like Danish [pastry] dough." Eloul uses cream and rum to create his fried confections — he'll make nearly 10,000 during the week of Hanukah. Sufganiot are a true Israeli creation. "On the one hand it's one of the oldest 'sweets' known to man, stemming from the Greek loukomades, which are fried and then rolled in honey," says Joan Nathan, author of many books on Jewish cooking. "On the other, it came to Israel with the pioneers from Central and Eastern Europe, who ate their pfannkuchen — doughnuts — filled with apricot and sometimes strawberry jam." [Source: Stacey Freed, Washington Post, December 17, 2003 ||||]

“The new pioneers, a group that would also include Jews from southern Europe and the Arab world, wanted their own Israeli dish for Hanukah. "My guess," says Nathan, "is that people like Eliezer Ben Yehuda [credited with the revival of the Hebrew language] looked at this word 'soofgan,' which means 'sponge' in Greek, and gave the name to these fritters." On this side of the Atlantic, sufganiot are traditionally filled with jelly or preserves. But in Israel, where during Hanukah they are fried and sold on street corners and from mall kiosks, they also come filled with buttercream, chocolate or caramel. Families often make them together at home and eat them after lighting the candles on the menorah each night of the holiday. Eloul, originally a Jerusalemite by way of Morocco, laughs when he says sufganiot are a challenge to make at home and even in the bakery: "It's hard work. Take the oil, the dough, put it here, put it there. I'd rather make a couple of wedding cakes and be happy." ||||

“On the day before Hanukah, Eloul starts at 3 a.m. mixing the ingredients in a large machine. (This year will be slightly different since Hanukah begins at sundown on Dec. 19, a Friday, which is the Jewish Sabbath. Eloul will have to make the dough a day in advance.) For each batch he makes about 41/2 pounds of dough, enough for 36 doughnuts. Another machine rolls the dough into "tennis balls." He then puts them in a "proof," a steam box that helps the dough rise, for about 15 minutes. He heats vegetable oil to about 325 to 350 degrees and fries them one side at a time until they have a golden color. A machine injects raspberry jam into the fried dough, and then the doughnuts are powdered with sugar. "You have to eat them the same day," he says. They can be addictive; warm and — although they're fried — soft on the outside and sweet and moist on the inside. "Every year, people are excited. The line we have here. They're yelling at each other. But I just eat the first one to make sure," says Eloul who, like many of us, worries about health and weight. "Otherwise, I don't touch them." ||||

Alcoholic Drinks

In Biblical times, the grape was viewed as one of the seven gifts of nature for which the Holy Land was renowned.. Still the Old Testament frowned on excessive drinking. Moses proposed the death penalty for "rebellious, drunken sons." But obe the centuries rabbis worked wine into rituals and ceremonies such as sanctifying the Sabbath and blessing the Passover festival.

According to Babylonian Talmud, circa A.D. 450. "Wine is at the head of medicines, where wine is lacking drugs are necessary." Jews are encouraged to drinjk wine and have sex on the sabbath. Asher Federman, a Lubavitch Jew, told National Geographic: “W saw ‘l’chaim’, to life, with a little vodka or wine so we can become elevated, get beyond our differences, and reach the essence of where we all are one. True service to God is with joy and with happiness.”

According to the BBC: “Observant Jews will say a blessing over everything they eat or drink, and in the face of many natural events. Doing so acknowledges that God is involved in everything. So before drinking wine a Jew would say (in Hebrew): ‘Blessed are You - the Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Or on seeing trees blossoming for the first time in the year: Blessed are You - the Lord our God, King of the universe, who has withheld nothing from His world, but has created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees for the enjoyment of human beings.’” [Source: BBC, August 13, 2009 |::|]

The German brewer Hartmannsdorf produces a kosher beer called Simcha (“Joy” in Hebrew) that has a Star of David on the label. A certificate on the wall at the brewery, signed by Rabbi Vutshak Ehrenberg, attests that the beer is produced following Judaic dietary rules but is not suitable for Passover. A 30-ton silo contains grain that is not grown during the Passover period and no pregnant or menstruating women are involved in the production. The alcohol content is 4.9 percent. The cost is about 80 percent higher than normal beers.

drunk Noah

Wine, Please! Ancient Pottery Inscription Reads

A 2600-year-old pottery fragment — called an ostracon, or an ink-inscribed shard — was found to contain the words: “Wine, Please!” The fragment, Laura Geggel of wrote, “was found in 1965 at the desert fortress of Arad in Israel. The shard was in poor condition, but researchers were able to date it to around 600 B.C., right before Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed the kingdom of Judah. After discovering the shard, researchers noticed an ink inscription on its front, which begins with a blessing of Yahweh (a Hebrew name for God), then describes money transfers. [Source: Laura Geggel,, June 20, 2017 ||=||]

“Biblical scholars and archaeologists have extensively studied this inscription, so researchers were taken aback when they found the overlooked message on the ostracon’s backside. “While its front side has been thoroughly studied, its back was considered blank,” study co-principal investigator Arie Shaus, a doctoral student of applied mathematics and archaeology at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel, said in a statement. ||=||

“The research team used multispectral imaging, a technique that uses different frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum to capture data from an image. Study co-researcher Michael Cordonsky, a physicist at TAU, noticed the scribbled note on the ostracon’s backside. “To our surprise, three new lines of text were revealed.” Shaus said. Using the results from the multispectral imaging, the team deciphered 50 characters making up 17 words on the back of the shard, which had been on display at the Israel Museum for more than 50 years. ||=||

““The content of the reverse side implies it is a continuation of the text on the front side,” study co-principal investigator Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, a doctoral student of applied mathematics at TAU, said in the statement. The newly discovered and translated inscription says, “If there is any wine, send … If there is any-thing (else) you need, send. And if there is still … gi[ve] them (an amount of) Xar out of it. And Ge’alyahu has taken a bat of sparkling wine.” “The new inscription begins with a request for wine, as well as a guarantee for assistance if the addressee has any requests of his own,” Shaus said. “It concludes with a request for the provision of a certain commodity to an unnamed person, and a note regarding a ‘bath,’ an ancient measurement of wine, carried by a man named Ge’alyahu.” ||=||

“The note is “an administrative text, like most of the Arad inscriptions,” study co-researcher Anat Mendel-Geberovich, an archaeologist at TAU, said in the statement. “Its importance lies in the fact that each new line, word and even a single sign is a precious addition to what we know about the First Temple period.” As for who the request was being made to, Mendel-Geberovich said that “many of these inscriptions are addressed to Elyashiv, the quartermaster of the fortress.” The finding shows the power of multispectral imaging, especially its use on artifacts that have already been studied, but might have had overlooked components, the researchers said. The study was published online June 14 in the journal PLOS ONE.” ||=||

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook; “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); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine,, London, Library of Congress, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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