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Jewish Cuisine -- Kosher Cooking



The Jewish cuisine has been formed both by the dietary laws of kashrut ("keeping kosher") and the many cultures in which Jews have travelled.

Thus the Jewish cuisine has influences from the cuisines of the Balkans, Galicia, Russia, Spain, Portugal and the Middle East. For example, there are a number of cold starters which originate in the Middle East and which were brought by the Turks to the Balkans.

The roots of Jewish cooking, however, are in the Middle East, where the Jews came from, and it was heavily influenced by the cuisine of Ancient Egypt and the Byzantine Empire. It has been suggested, for example, that the major role played by garlic, leek and onions in Jewish cooking is due to these influences. Arabic and Moorish cooking had an equal influence on the Jewish cuisine.

At the same time, aspects of Jewish cooking were often adopted by the cultures in which they lived. The rose jam which is typical of Russian and Galician cookery, for example, may have originally been imported by Jews during the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain.

As other Semitic peoples, the Jews have dietary laws; the basic laws of kashrut are in the Biblical book of Leviticus. Food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treifah or treif (ØèäÔ) ("torn"); the Jews are allowed to eat kosher foods.

Specialities of Jewish cookery

Some typical Jewish foods are:

Jewish traditional cuisine on the Jewish calendar

On Rosh Hashana

On Sukkot

On Hanukkah

On Purim

On Pesach (Passover)

On Shavuot



There are two main divisions of food, vegetable and animal.

Vegetable food

As among all the Oriental peoples, and as is the case even to-day among the fellaheen of Syria, vegetable food, and chiefly grain ("dagan"), occupied the first place in the diet of the Israelites.

Cereals: The most important of the cereals was wheat ("%immah" or "%ittim."). (For the earliest mode of preparing this, see Baking; Bread; Cookery; and comp. "Z. D. P. V." ix. 3.) The grains were at times reduced to grits ("geres"); hence the prescription that "'abib 3alui" and "geres karmel"—probably "geres" of garden grains, which are palatable and mature especially early—should be offered as "min%at bikkurim." The grain was generally ground into flour ("3ema%"), the fine flour ("solet") being distinguished from the ordinary kind. The flour was made into bread, either without leaven ("ma““ah") or with it ("le%em"; Lev. vii. 13). Barley ("se'orim") was used like wheat (comp. II Sam. xvii. 28), being generally made into bread (comp. Judges vii. 13; II Kings iv. 42; Ezek. iv. 9, 12). Spelt ("kussemet") was apparently used much less than wheat or barley. It appears, however, from Ezek. iv. 9 that, besides millet, spelt also was made into bread.

Vegetables ("yara3," because raised in the "gan ha-yara3" or garden; also "'eseb"; "orah," I Kings iv. 39; or "zer'onim," Dan. i. 16): Lentils ("'adashim") were the principal vegetable, which many considered especially toothsome (comp. Gen. xxv. 29 et seq.) There were several kinds of beans ("pol"); two kinds are known at present in Syria, the Egyptian and the South-European (comp. "Z. D. P. V." ix. 4). Beans were occasionally made into bread.

Cucumbers were manifestly also much used; even to-day the poorer inhabitants in the large cities of the East, as Damascus and Cairo, live largely on bread and cucumbers or melons. Cucumbers ("3ishshu'im"; Num. xi. 25) are generally eaten raw, and made into a salad with vinegar. The popular watermelon ("abammia%"; Num. xi. 5; to-day called "bammikh") also belongs to the cucumber species.

Num. xi. 5 mentions leeks ("%a“ir," which were especially esteemed in Egypt), onions ("be“alim"), and garlic ("shumim"), all belonging to the Allium genus. They were generally eaten raw with bread. To-day in Syria ripe onion-bulbs are pickled like cucumbers and eaten as a relish with meat (comp. "Z. D. P. V." ix. 14). From Job xxx. 4 it is clear that the poor also used orach ("mallua%"), the young leaves being either boiled or eaten raw.

Fruit: There was an early fig ("bikkurah") and a late fig ("te'enim"), the latter being generally dried and pressed into round or square cakes ("debelah"). Grapes ("'anabim," "es%kol anabim")were eaten either fresh, or dried as raisins ("“immu3im"); they were also pressed into cakes (I Sam. xxv. 18). It is doubtful whether the Israelites knew grape-sirup, though the fact that the Arabic "dibs," corresponding to the Hebrew "debash," is used to designate both the natural and this artificial honey or sirup, shows that they probably knew the latter (Gen. xliii. 11; Ezek. xxvii. 17). Olives ("zayit") were probably eaten, as to-day, both raw and prepared. Mention may also be made of the pomegranate ("rimmon"; Deut. viii. 8; Song of Songs iv. 3); the fruit of the mulberry fig-tree ("shi3mah") eaten by the poor, and of the date-palm ("tamar"), which is treated like figs and grapes; and, finally, pistachio-nuts ("bomnim"), almonds ("she3edim"), and walnuts ("egoz"). The fruit of the carob (ºµÁ¬Ä¹¿½) was used, while not quite ripe, for flavoring water, though it was not a food proper. The Israelites may have known apples, although the word "tappua%" is of doubtful signification (see Apple).

Spices: The spices used by the Israelites include cumin ("kammon"), dill ("3e“a%"), mint (!´½¿Ã¼Ì½), and mustard (ï½±À¹). Salt ("mela%"), of course, was very important even in early times. To "eat the salt" of a person was equivalent to eating his bread (comp. Ezra iv. 14); a covenant of salt was inviolable (comp. Num. xviii. 19; II Chron. xiii. 5).

Animal food

In ancient times, as to-day, much less meat was eaten in the East than among Western peoples. It was served daily only at the king's table (I Kings v. 3), and there because sacrifices were offered every day. Otherwise, animals were probably slaughtered only for the great festivals ("%aggim"), at the yearly sacrificial feasts of families and tribes, at family festivals (such as circumcisions and weddings), for guests, etc. (comp. Gen. xviii. 7; II Sam. xii. 4). Furthermore, only certain kinds of animals were permissible as food, the restrictions dating back to very early times. For details see Dietary Laws.

Animals: The most important animals for food were cattle, sheep, and goats, sheep ranking first (comp. I Sam. xxv. 11, 18; II Sam. xii. 4; Amos vi. 4; Isa. liii. 7). In addition to lambs ("karim"; Amos vi. 4), fatted calves ("meri'im") are often mentioned (Isa. i. 11; Amos v. 22; I Kings i. 19, 25), especially those that were fatted in the stall, as distinguished from cattle in the pasture ("'egel marbe3"; Amos vi. 4; Jer. xlvi. 1; Mal. iv. 2). From early times the eating of meat was allowed on condition that the blood of the slaughtered animal be taken to the altar, the meat not being eaten with the blood (comp. I Sam. xiv. 33 et seq.); thus every slaughtering became in a certain sense a sacrifice, this being changed only when the worship was centralized by the Deuteronomic legislation. Meat was generally boiled (Ex. xxiii. 19; Judges vi. 19; I Sam. ii. 13; Ezek. xxiv. 3, xlvi. 20), though sometimes it was roasted, usually, perhaps, on the spit (I Sam. ii. 15; Ex. xii. 8). Game was considered as a delicacy (Gen. xxvii. 7).

Milk, Cheese, and Honey: Milk, of large as well as of small animals, especially goat's milk, was a staple food (Deut. xxxii. 14; Prov. xxvii. 27). It was kept in skins (Judges iv. 19). "$em'ah," designating cream as well as bonnyclabber and cheese, is often mentioned (Prov. xxx. 33). Cream is generally called "shefot" (II Sam. xvii. 29), though this reading is uncertain. It was frequently offered as a present, carried in cylindrical wooden vessels; and, sprinkled with sugar, it was eaten out of little dishes with wooden spoons (comp. Riehm, "Handwörterb." pp. 1715 et seq.). Cheese made of sweet milk was probably also used ("%ari“e he-%alab"; I Sam. xvii. 18, this passage in any case showing that "%alab" designated curdled as well as ordinary milk). The proper designation for cheese is "gebinah" (Job x. 10).

Honey ("debash") is frequently mentioned in connection with milk, and is probably the ordinary bee's honey; that flowing of itself out of the honeycomb ("nofet ha-“ufim") was especially relished (Ps. xix. 11; Prov. xvi. 24). According to Isa. vii. 15, honey seems to have been a favorite food of children.

Fish: Little is known of fish as food (Num. xi. 15), it being mentioned but rarely (Jer. xvi. 16; Ezek. xlvii. 10; Eccl. ix. 12). Yet there can be no doubt that it was a favorite diet. Fish were fried, and prepared with honeycomb. They were probably more generally eaten in post-exilic times. The fish-market, where fish, salted or dried in the sun, were sold, was probably near the fish-gate (compare Zeph. i. 10; Neh. iii. 3, xii. 39; II Chron. xxxiii. 14). According to Neh. xiii. 16, fish were imported by Syrian merchants, some fish coming from Egypt, where pickled roe was an export article. In later times fish were salted even in Palestine (comp. the name "Tarichea," lit. "pickling").

Hardly anything is known of the price of food in ancient times. At the period of the composition of II Kings vii. 1, 16, the worth of one seah of fineflour or two seahs of barley was one shekel. In Men. xiii. 8 the price of an ox, a calf, a ram, and a lamb is given as 100, 20, 8, and 4 denarii respectively (comp. Matt. x. 29).E. G. H. W. N.

Cooking utensils

Among the ancient Hebrews cooking was naturally entrusted to the women of the household (compare I Sam. viii. 13), as was also the task of grinding the flour required for daily use, and that of preparing the bread. Even ladies of rank thought it no degradation to cook, and Princess Tamar is said to have displayed especial skill in preparing certain articles of food (II Sam. xiii. 8). The slaughtering and the dressing of meat were done by the men (Gen. xviii. 7; I Sam. ix. 23, ii. 14 et seq.), who also understood how to prepare food (Gen. xxv. 29; II Kings iv. 38).

Kitchens were found only in the palaces of the wealthy, a particular room for culinary purposes being scarcely requisite, since the primitive hearth consisted merely of a few stones upon which the pot was placed, and beneath which a fire was lighted on the mud floor (for oven, see Baking). In later times mention is made of fire-basins, (kiyyor, Zech. xii. 6), and of a species of small, portable cooking-stoves, "kirayim" (Lev. xi. 35; in the Talmud the singular is used); the latter, according to the Mishnah, was so constructed as to afford space for two pots.

Wood (often in the form of charcoal) and dried dung were used as fuel, and a draft was made by means of a fan, "menafah" (Kil. xvi. 7), as in the Orient at the present day. Fire-tongs, "melqachayim" (Isa. vi. 6) and shovels, "ya'im" (I Kings vii. 40), also formed part of the equipment.

In addition to the hand-mill, an indispensable adjunct of the Hebrew kitchen, were two large earthen jugs, called "kad," one of which was for carrying water (Gen. xxiv. 15 et seq.; I Kings xviii. 34), the other for storing meal or corn (I Kings xvii. 12). Milk and wine were preserved in goat-skins ("chemet", Gen. xxiv. 15, and elsewhere; "nod," Judges iv. 19, and elsewhere); oil and honey, in small earthen or metal jugs, "tzappachat" (I Kings xvii. 12, etc.); fruits and pastry, in various kinds of Baskets.

The "dud," "kiyyor," "qallachat", "parur", "sir", and "tzelachah" ("tzallahat") are mentioned as vessels for cooking, but their specific uses are unknown. The sanctuaries were amply provided with these dishes and bowls (Num. lxxi. 3 et seq.; I Kings vii. 45, 50), which, as might be expected, were usually of bronze, silver, or gold (Jer. lii. 19); in the homes, however, metal vessels were found in great number only among the wealthy. As these vessels were introduced by the Phenicians (I Kings vii. 13 et seq.), whose artisans long continued to supply the Hebrew market, it is safe to assume that their forms were similar to those of the Phenician utensils. Among the common people and for daily use, it was customary to employ earthen vessels (Lev. vi. 21), the receptacle most frequently mentioned being the sir, a pot in which usually the family meal was cooked, and in which occasionally the sacred meat was prepared (II Kings iv. 38 et seq.; Ex. xvi. 3; Zech. xiv. 20, and elsewhere). It sometimes served also as a ewer (Ps. lxix. 10). For baking cake, etc., a tin plate ("machabat barzel", Ezek. iv. 3; Lev. ii. 5) or a deep pan ("marchešet") was used (Lev. ii. 7). Mention is also made of three-pronged forks, which were used, not for eating with, but for lifting the meat from the pot (I Sam. ii. 13). Knives were used for slaughtering animals, and for dressing the meat ("ma'akelet," Gen. xxii. 6, 10).


The preparation of the meal was in ancient times a very simple process. The principal articles of diet were bread and milk, to which were added, as supplementary dishes, fruits and vegetables (compare Baking and Milk). Meat was eaten only on festivals; and many vegetables, such as cucumbers, garlic, leek, onions, etc., were eaten raw. Lentils (Gen. xxv. 29; II Sam. xvii. 28) or greens (II Kings iv. 38 et seq.) were boiled in either water or oil. Fruit was often dried and compressed into solid, cake-like masses, making raisin-cake, fig-cake, etc. (I Sam. xxv. 18, xxx. 12; II Sam. xvi. 1, etc.; compare the "3amr al-din," or flat cake of compressed apricots, still popular among the Syrians); and a kind of sirup, or Honey ("debash") was sometimes extracted from it. A kind of porridge was made from corn by adding water, salt, and butter ("'arisah," probably the "'arsan" of the Talmud, which was a paste prepared of crushed and malted grain); and from this many kinds of cakes were made with oil and fruits (II Sam. xiii. 6 et seq.; Num xi. 8; Ex. xxix. 2, etc.; see the importance of these cakes in later sacrificial ceremonies, as mentioned, for example, in Lev. ii.).

Meat, in ancient times, was usually boiled, and was consequently thus served at the table of Yhwh (Judges vi. 19; I Sam. ii. 15). The sauce in which it was cooked was also relished ("mara3," Judges vi. 19; perhaps also "mer3a%ah," Ezek. xxiv. 10). That the custom of boiling a young lamb or a kid in milk—still prevalent among the Arabs—existed among the ancient Hebrews, is proved by the prohibition of the custom in Ex. xxiii. 19. The word , which may also signify "roasting," is usually applied to cooking in the sense of "boiling." It is reported of the wicked sons of Eli that they preferred roasted to boiled meat (I Sam. ii. 15). The meat of the Passover lamb was usually roasted; and indeed the custom of roasting ("“alah") became ever more prevalent. As among all the nations of antiquity, it was effected at the open fire, either by placing the meat directly upon the coals (compare the roasting of the fish mentioned in John xxi. 9), or by using a spit or grate, which appurtenances, though not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, may reasonably be supposed to have been employed. Even in Genesis (xxvii. 6 et seq.) it is stated that Rebekah could prepare the flesh of a kid so that it tasted like venison; and from this statement a certain degree of culinary skill may be inferred. The progress of civilization, bringing about increased importation of provisions, materially contributed to the refinement of the culinary art among the Hebrews (compare Food).

In Talmudical times

Merely a few of the many data in the Talmud that throw a clear light on the private life of the Jews can be mentioned here. Bread was the principal food; and as in the Bible the meal is designated by the simple term "to eat bread," so the rabbinical law ordains that the blessing pronounced upon bread covers everything else except wine and dessert. Bread was made not only from wheat, but also from rice, millet, and lentils ('Er. 81a). Bread with milk was greatly relished. The inhabitants of Ma%uza in Babylon ate warm bread every day (compare Shab. 109a). Morning bread that was eaten with salt is mentioned (B. M. 107b; compare Ab. vi. 4). Wheat bread makes a clear head, ready for study (Hor. 13b). The same result is obtained, according to another reading, from bread baked over coals (ib.). Breadbakers are often mentioned, rabbis also following that trade.


Meat was eaten only on special occasions, on Sabbaths and at feasts. The pious kept fine cattle for the Sabbath (Be“ah 16a); but various other kinds of dishes, relishes, and spices were also on the table (Shab. 119a). A three-year-old calf with its kidneys was considered excellent (ib. 119b). Nor were the tongues of animals despised (Yal3. Makiri to Prov. xviii. 21). Deer, also, furnished meat (Bek. iv. 29b; $ul. 59a), as did pheasants (Tosef., Kil. i. 8), chickens (Shab. 145b), and pigeons (Pes. 119b). Fish was eaten on Friday evening in honor of the Sabbath (compare Grünbaum, "Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Sprachund Sagenkunde," p. 232); sometimes it was prepared in milk ($ul. 111b). Pickled fish was an important article of commerce, being called "garum" among the Jews, as among the Greeks and Romans. Pliny ("Hist. Naturalis," xxxi. 95) says expressly of a "garum castimoniale" (i.e., kasher garum) that it was prepared according to Jewish law. Locusts were eaten, though without blessing, as they signified a curse. Eggs were so commonly eaten that the quantity of an egg was used halakicly as a measure. The egg was broken (l. Y. iii. 2) and occasionally dipped in wine ($ul. 6a). The unsalted yolk of an egg eaten on ten successive days causes death ("Alphabeta di-Ben Sira," ed. Steinschneider, p. 22b). A regular meal consisted of chicken stuffed with meal, fine bread, fat meat, and old wine (ib. 17b). The Talmudic axiom, "Without meat there is no pleasure; hence meat is indispensable on feastdays," is well known.


As regards other dishes, the Jews were acquainted with most of those known in antiquity. The first dish was an entrée—something pickled, to stimulate the appetite (Ber. vi. 7); this was followed by the meal proper, which was ended with a dessert, called in Greek ¸¬Á³·¼±. Afi3omen is used in the same sense. Titbits ("parperet") were eaten before as well as after the meal (Ber. vi. 6). Wine was an important item. It was flavored with myrrh (compare Mark xv. 23) or with honey and pepper, the mixture being called "conditum." There were vinegar wine ('Ab. Zarah 30a), wine from Amanus, and Cilicia (Tosef., Sheb. v. 223), red wine from Saron, Ethiopian wine (B. 2. 97b), and black wine (Abba Gorion i. 9). Wine in ice came from Lebanon. Certain wines are good for the stomach; others are not (Yer. She3. 48d; see Wine). There was Median beer as well as a beer from Egypt called "zythos" (Pes. iii. 1), and beer made from a thorn (Spina regia; Löw, "Aramäische Pflanzennamen," p. 231; Ket. 77b). To eat without drinking means suicide (Shab. 41a).

Fruits and vegetables

Fruit was always relished, and many kinds, Biblical as well as non-Biblical, are often mentioned. A certain kind of hard nut even the wealthy could not procure (Pesi3. 59b). The custom of eating apples on the Feast of Weeks (Targ. Sheni to Esth. iii. 8) belongs to those minute observances that are so numerous in Jewish life. In the same way fruit and herbs were eaten on New-Year's eve as a good omen (Hor. 12a). Children received especially on the evening of Passover nuts and roasted ears of corn (B. M. iv. 12; Pes. 119b). Olives were so common that they were used as a measure ("zayit"). "While olives produce forgetfulness of what one has learned, olive-oil makes a clear head" (Hor. 13b). "Bread for young men, oil for old people, and honey for children" (Yoma 75b).

Herbs occupied a chief place on the evening of Passover, and they were also a favorite dish on the Sabbath (Ta'an. 20b), being eaten either dry or soaked (Tosef., Sheb. iv. 6). Many vegetables were included in the comprehensive name "3imniyyot" (Be“ah 12b; compare 'U3. i. 5), especially beans. Other vegetables were cucumbers, melons, cabbages, turnips, lettuces, radishes, onions, and garlic. The smell of garlic, frequently mentioned in later times in association with the Jews, is referred to in the Talmud (Sanh. 11a).

Talmudic as well as Biblical times give evidence of a healthy, happy view of life. Sweets eaten during meals are frequently mentioned (B. M. vii. 1; Esth. R. i. 9). There is a saying of Rab (Abba Arika) that a time will come when one will have to render an account for all that one has seen and not eaten (Yer. 2id. 66d). It is said, however, of Abba Arika that, after having had all the precious things of life, he finally ate earth. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus is also reported to have eaten earth (compare the "geophagi" [earth-eaters] of the ancient authors). There is hardly any difference in food between Palestine and Babylon; only some details referring to the ritual are mentioned (Müller, "$illuf Minhagim," Nos. 19, 67).

In the Middle Ages

The Jews were so widely scattered in the Middle Ages that it is difficult to give a connected account of their mode of living as regards food. In Arabic countries the author of the Halakot Gedolot knew some dishes that appear to have been peculiar to the Jews, e.g., "paspag" (p. 60, ed. Hildesheimer), which was, perhaps, biscuit; according to the Siddur Amram (i. 38), the well-known "%aroset" is made in those countries from a mixture of herbs, flour, and honey (Arabic,"%alikah"). Maimonides, in his "Sefer Refu'ot" (ed. Goldberg, London, 1900), mentions dishes that are good for health. He recommends bread baked from wheat that is not too new, nor too old, nor too fine (p. 8); further, the meat of the kid, sheep, and chicken, and the yolks of eggs. Goats' and cows' milk is good, nor are cheese and butter harmful. Honey is good for old people; fish with white, hard meat is wholesome; so also are wine and dried fruits. Fresh fruits, however, are unwholesome; and he does not recommend garlic or onions (p. 9).

There is detailed information about Italian cookery in the amusing little book "Masseket Purim." It discusses (according to Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 151) pies, chestnuts, turtledoves, pancakes, small tarts, gingerbread, ragouts, venison, roast goose, chicken, stuffed pigeons, ducks, pheasants, partridges, quails, macaroons, and salad. These are dishes of luxurious living. The oppressed medieval Jews fared poorly rather than sumptuously, indulging in joyous feasts only on Sabbaths, festivals, circumcisions, and weddings. For example, the Jews of Rhodes, according to a letter of Obadiah Bertinoro, 1488, lived on herbs and vegetables only, never tasting meat or wine ("Jahrb. für die Gesch. der Juden," iii. 201). In Egypt, however, meat, fish, and cheese were procurable (ib. 208); in Gaza, grapes, fruit, and wine (ib. 211). Cold dishes are still relished in the East. Generally, only one dish was eaten, with fresh bread daily (Jacob Safir, in "Eben Sappir," p. 58a, Lyck, 1866).

Some characteristically Jewish dishes are frequently mentioned in the Judæo-German dialect: from the twelfth century onward, "brätzel" (Glassberg, "Zikron Berit," p. 122, Berlin, 1892); "lokshen" (Abrahams, l.c. p. 152); "pasteten" (ib. p. 151; compare Yoreh De'ah, Bet Yosef, § 97); "fladen" (Yoreh De'ah, ib.); "beleg" (i.e., goose sandwich), still used (Yoreh De'ah, lure Zahab, § 101, 11). The favorite "barscht" or "borshtsh" soup is a Polish dish (ib. § 96); best known are the "berkes" or "barches" eaten on the Sabbath (Grünbaum, l.c. p. 229), and "shalet" (Abrahams, l.c. p. 151), which Heine commemorates ("Werke," i. 436), and which the Spanish Jews called Ani. The Sabbath pudding ("kigl" or "kugel" in Yiddish) is also well known. For more detailed information on several of these dishes see Cookery.


  • Bibliography: Krauss, Lehnwörter, ii. 640, s.v. Mahlzeiten, Speisen, and Getränke;
  • Wiener, Die Jüdischen Speisegesetze, Breslau, 1895. For the Middle Ages: Güdemann, Gesch. des *Erziehungswesens . . . bei den Juden, iii. 112, and passim;
  • Berliner, Aus dem Inneren Leben der Juden in Deutschland, v., vi.;
  • Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, ch. viii., London, 1896;
  • several documents of Prague regulating the high living of the Jews in the eighteenth century are given in Neuzeit, 1891, No. 47, p. 481

Modern Jewish

It is not surprising that Jewish cookery possesses characteristics of its own which differentiate it from ordinary cookery. The dietary and ceremonial laws to which orthodox Jews conform have naturally evolved a particular kind of culinary art. The institution of the Passover, the distinction between permitted and forbidden foods, the regulations as to butter and meat, and the custom of abstaining from meat at certain seasons, have all contributed to make Jewish cookery distinctive. But the preparation of food for the table is a matter which will always be influenced by local conditions. Every country and district has its favorite dishes, largely dependent upon its particular food products. Hence, Jews have carried with them, wherever they have wandered, the styles of cookery prevailing in the countries from which they have migrated. Thus in England old-fashioned Jews, who retain the customs of the ghetto, are comparative strangers to the plain English roast, boiled, and grilled meats, preferring the more savory dishes of the Continent. From Spain and Portugal they have derived, along with their fondness for olives, their custom of frying fish and other foods in oil. From Germany they have taken the habit of sour-stewing and sweet-stewing meats. To Holland they owe a taste for pickled cucumbers and herrings, and from the same country come such Jewish dainties as butter cakes and "bolas" (jamrolls). From Poland, on the other hand, Jewish immigrants have brought into their new homes "lokschen" or "frimsel" soup (cooked with goose fat), stuffed fish, and various kinds of stewed fish. In this way almost all varieties of Jewish cookery are reproduced in an English form, to which this article is mainly confined. (see image) Egyptian Cookery, Showing Processes of Preparing Food.(After Lepsius, "Denkmaler.")

Another influence has to be noted. The stringency of the dietary laws has combined with the peculiar domesticity of Jewish life to make cooking the special business of Jewish wives and daughters. It has thus been raised to the character of a fine art, even among the humblest classes. In the ghettos of Jewry no housewife would think of relegating the preparation of meals to a servant. Only by attending to them herself can she satisfy her consciencethat such ritual requirements as the "kashering" of meat, the keeping apart of butter and meat, and the separation of "%allah" (the bread-offering) have been duly complied with. The kitchen has, therefore, always been regarded among orthodox Jews as the chief province of a Jewish housewife, and to her supremacy in this region the Scriptural words "The king's daughter is all glorious within" (Ps. xlv. 13) have not inaptly been applied. In times gone by, especially when the facilities of travel were few, the male members of a Jewish family whose vocations took them away from home would be exposed to many privations. Thus the responsibilities of Jewish housewives would be heightened. They would exercise their ingenuity to the utmost so that on the return of the breadwinners their hardships might be forgotten in the enjoyment of appetizing dishes. The influence of the dietary laws and ceremonial customs on Jewish cookery can be further traced in the details of the kitchen.

Passover Cookery

The institution of the Passover, with its commandment to abstain during the festival from eating leavened bread, has had the natural effect of developing special kinds and methods of cooking appropriate to that period. The unleavened bread is not merely a staple article of food, but an ingredient of almost every Passover dish. "Ma““ah klös" (dumpling) soup takes the place of lokshen for this week, and an immense variety of sweet cakes and puddings, manufactured from ground ma““ah meal, replaces the confectionery and pastries of ordinary occasions. Fish, instead of being fried in a batter, is cooked with meal. An excellent flour can be made of potatoes, and Jewish cooks make use of it for pastries during Passover. All dishes which can be made from eggs are in special request, and this accounts for the popularity of almond pudding as a Jewish delicacy. Jews are also debarred during Passover from drinking malt liquor, which has to be replaced by such beverages as sassafras and lemonade.


From very early times, as far back even as their sojourn in Egypt (Num. xi. 5), Jews have shown a strong liking for fish, and have developed special skill in its preparation. There are many reasons for this preference: (1) The necessity of abstaining from meat not killed according to Jewish law makes them particularly dependent upon fish. (2) It is not regarded as meat, and can therefore be eaten in conjunction with butter. (3) There are seasons, such as the "Nine Days," when strict Jews abstain from meat altogether. (4) The eating of fish has always been associated with the celebration of the Sabbath. From no orthodox table is fish absent at one or more of the Sabbath meals, however difficult it may be to procure. In inland countries like Poland, Jews are limited to fresh-water fish.

There are several distinctively Jewish modes of preparing fish, and English Jews have paid special attention to their practise. Anglo-Jewish methods of cooking fish were first introduced by Portuguese Jews, and copied by German Jews. Their favorite fish is salmon, which is either fried, white-stewed, or brown-stewed. Fish, white-stewed, with lemon and bread balls, is a specifically Jewish preparation, typical of their fondness for piquant stews in preference to the plain preparation common in non-Jewish families. Smoked salmon is another Jewish delicacy, and this, together with pickled herrings, pickled (yellow) cucumbers, and olives, is often to be seen on Jewish tables as appetizing adjuncts to fried fish.

Meat and butter

The principal concern in the preparation of food for a Jewish table is compliance with the ritual requirements for Kasher meat. Orthodox Jews will not partake of meat unless, in addition to having been killed in accordance with rabbinical law, it has been entirely drained of blood. Therefore, before being cooked, it needs to be steeped in water for half an hour. On being taken out it is laid on a perforated board, sprinkled lightly with salt, and left for one hour. At the end of this time the salt is washed off (see Meli%ah). Meat may not be cooked with butter or milk. Oil, and certain portions of the fat of clean animals (the or kasher fat, as distinguished from the , or merefah fat), are the only fats that may be used. So far as cookery is concerned, the distinction between butter and meat necessitates the use of a double set of utensils. Some Jews have two kitchens, one for meat and one for butter; and two separate dressers are common. Jewish cooks are debarred from using butter in pastries, which are to be eaten in conjunction with meats, and from using milk or cream under the same circumstances. For butter, melted fat must be substituted, while cream may be imitated in a variety of ways. One reason why almond pudding is a favorite in Anglo-Jewish households is that it does not require either meat or butter, and can therefore be eaten at any meal.

Sabbath preparations

Notice must be taken of the special preparations made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath dish par excellence is the "kugel." Orthodox Jews not being permitted to cook on the Sabbath, their ingenuity has been much taxed to provide hot food for the day of rest. In the height of summer, cold meats are acceptable enough. The difficulty is to provide hot dishes in winter, and it has been overcome by the preparation of a dish known as "kugel." It consists, generally, of meat stewed with peas and beans, and placed in the oven before Sabbath. The fire having been made up, and the oven firmly closed, the dish requires no further attention, and will retain its heat until it is wanted for the Sabbath midday meal. The term "shalet" (see "sholent" in the article Cookery in Eastern Europe) is used in some parts of Europe to designate what has just been described as kugel, while "kugel" is used as the name of a variety of shalet containing much fat; in other parts (e.g., Bavaria) "shalet" is used of a sort of baked pudding; e.g., ma““ah, apple, nudel, or almond shalet. The form "shulet" also occurs, as in Bohemia, to indicate the "gesetztes essen" called "kugel" in the beginning of this paragraph. "Shalet" is explained by some authorities as a corruption of the German "schul ende," that being the name of a pudding which is prepared on Friday, to be ready when Sabbathmorning or afternoon service is over. Others derive it from ("that which remains [in the oven] overnight"), the final "t" being the German ending. The real derivation is probably from the Old French "chauld" (warm). The prohibition against cooking on Sabbath explains why fried fish, being primarily a Sabbath dish, is eaten by Jews cold, whereas other people eat it hot. Stewed fish is, of course, also eaten cold.

A prominent feature of Sabbath cookery is the preparation of twists of bread, which are known as "challahs" or, as in southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary, as "barches." They are often covered with seeds to represent manna, which fell in a double portion on the sixth day. One other item remaining to be mentioned is raisin wine. Jews are required to offer over a cup of wine the Sabbath prayer for the sanctification of food. But in many countries wine is too expensive a luxury for the majority of Jewish families. A cheap preparation, made of boiled raisins, is therefore substituted, which, though it is far from resembling wine, satisfies all the requirements of the ritual.

Bibliography: A Jewish Manual of Cookery, edited by a lady, Boone, 1826; Aunt Sarah's Cookery Book for a Jewish Kitchen, Liverpool, 1872; 2d ed., 1889; Mrs. J. Atrutel, Book of Jewish Cookery, London, 1874; May Henry and Edith Cohen, The Economical Cook, London, 1889; Aunt Babette's Cook Book, Cincinnati, 1890. The last contains a number of Jewish recipes, but is not restricted to Jewish cookery.

In Eastern Europe

Most of the dishes cooked by the Jews in eastern Europe are akin to those of the nations among whom they dwell. Thus the kasha and blintzes of the Russian Jews, the mamaliga of the Rumanians, the paprika of the Hungarians, are dishes adopted by the Jews from their Gentile neighbors. Only on religious and ceremonial occasions do they cook peculiarly Jewish dishes.

The food prepared on Friday for the Sabbath is called sholent (the Russian equivalent of "shalet"). The most popular form of sholent is made of potatoes placed in the pot with meat, fat, and water. The potatoes appear on the table on Saturday glistening with fat, and are of a dark, brownish color. Some even consider them not alone palatable, but an excellent remedy for various ills. The commonest form of sholent is the kugel, a kind of pudding made of almost any article of food; the magenkugel and the lokshen-kugel are two favorite varieties. The former consists of an animal's stomach filled with flour, fat, and chopped meat, peppered and salted to taste. The latter is made of lokshen; often raisins and spices are added. It is cut as ordinary pudding. Other kugels are compounded of rice, potatoes, carrots, etc. Lokshen consists of flour and eggs made into dough, rolled into sheets, and then cut into long strips. Macaroni is an excellent substitute for it. Cut into small squares, these strips are called "farfil." They are usually boiled and served with soup. On the day preceding Tish'ah Be'ab, milchige lokshen is eaten. This is ordinary lokshen boiled in milk.

tzimes, or compote, consists generally of cooked fruits, such as plums (floymn tzimes), or of vegetables, well spiced. The most popular vegetable is the carrot (mehren tzimes), which is cleaned and cut into small slices, and boiled in water for about three hours. The water is then poured off and mixed with flour, sugar, and cinnamon. The carrot is then replaced, a fat piece of meat, preferably from the breast, added, and the concoction is again cooked for two or three hours. Turnips are also extensively used for “imes, particularly in Lithuania. In southern Russia, Galicia, and Rumania “imes is made of pears, apples, figs, prunes, etc. It is then somewhat like a compound of stewed fruits.

Another dish for Saturday is called petshai in Lithuania, drelies in South Russia, Galicia, and Rumania. This consists of cow's or calf's leg prepared in a special manner. The hair is burned off, and the leg is then thoroughly cleaned, and cut into pieces of a convenient size. These are placed in a pot with water, and pepper, salt, and onions are added. Then it is placed in the oven just as are the other sholent dishes. When it is removed from the oven on Saturday morning, it is either served hot, or it is distributed in plates, hard-boiled eggs being sliced into it, and it is put in a cool place. When served in the evening for "shalesh se'udot," it is a semi-solid mass, in which the meat is embedded. Drelies is made by adding soft-boiled eggs and also some vinegar as soon as it is removed from the oven, when it is served hot.

Soups are naturally the great standby of the poor. The best known of these is the krupnik, made of oatmeal, potatoes, and fat. This is the staple food of the poor students of the yeshibot; in richer families meat is added to this soup.

Kreplech or krepchen is another dish peculiar to eastern European Jews. It is prepared in the following manner: Flour and eggs are mixed into a dough. This is rolled into sheets and cut into three-inch squares. On each square of dough is placed fine-chopped meat, to which salt, pepper, and onions are added. The edges of the rolled dough are then brought together and well pasted. This is then placed in a soup previously prepared for the purpose. This kreplech is eaten at least three times a year by every pious Jew—on Purim, on the day preceding the Day of Atonement, and on Hosha'na Rabbah. On occasions when meat is not eaten, chopped cheese is placed inside the kreplech.

At weddings "golden" soup is always served. The only reason for its name is probably the yellow circular pieces of chicken fat floating on its surface.

The preparations of fish made by the eastern European Jews are famous even among the Gentiles, the most popular being the gefillte (filled fish). This is prepared thus: After undergoing the usual processes of cleaning and washing, the fish is cut into two or three parts. The bones are then taken out, the skin is removed, and the meat is chopped fine, eggs, salt, pepper, and onions being added. This mass is then replaced in the skin, dropped into boiling water, and cooked for about three hours.


Besides the very popular dish of groats called krupnik, and many other grit soups, which are also common among non-Jews, there are still a number of soups which are more or less characteristically Jewish. The soup into which "kneidlach" (= "knoedel," dumplings) are put, is the dish used most often on Saturdays, holidays, and other special occasions, particularly at Passover, when it corresponds to the "ma““ah kloes" of western Europe. The expression "Me meint nit di Haggadah nor di kneidlach" (It is not the Haggadah that we like so much as the dumplings) owes its origin to the great favor this soup has attained among the Jews of eastern Europe. The kneidlach in most cases are made by grinding ma““ahs into flour, and adding eggs, water, melted fat, pepper, and salt. This mixture is then rolled into balls about one and one-half inches in diameter. The kneidlach are then put into the soup, and it is ready to be served about half an hour after. Often the kneidlach are fried in fat and served apart from the soup. Another kind of kneidlach, made from mashed potatoes put into warm milk, forms a well-liked soup among Lithuanian Jews. The village folk of some parts of eastern Europe have still another form of soup, which is made by putting crisp "beigel" (round cracknel) into hot water and adding butter. Because of its nutritious qualities it is called michyeh, a corruption of the Hebrew word "mi%yah" (i.e., food º±Ä' ¾¿Ç­½; compare the Latin "victus"). There are, however, a number of soups in the preparation of which neither meat nor even fat is used. Such soups form the food of the poor classes. An expression current among Jews of eastern Europe, "soup mit nisht" (soup with nothing), owes its origin to dissatisfaction with soups of this kind.

There are a number of sour soups, called borshtsh, the most popular of which is the "kraut," or cabbage, borshtsh, which is made by cooking together cabbage, meat, bones, onions, raisins, sour salts, sugar, and sometimes tomatoes. Before serving, the yolks of eggs are mixed with the borshtsh. This last process is called "farweissen" (to make white). Borshtsh is also made from the beet-root and "rossel" (the juice derived from the beet).

Gebrattens (roasted meat), chopped meat, and essig fleish (vinegar meat) are the favorite forms in which meats are prepared. The essig or, as it is sometimes called, "honnig," or "sauer fleish," is made by adding to meat which has been partially roasted some fish-cake, sugar, bay-leaves, English pepper, raisins, sour salts, and a little vinegar.

Fat of cattle, because of its cheapness, is used in the preparation of a great number of dishes. The fat of geese and chickens is used only on special occasions, but is kept in readiness for use when needed. Fat, being used so freely during Passover, is prepared in quantities long before that feast, in many cases as early as $annukah (in December).

Gribenes, or "scraps," form one of the best liked foods among the Jews of eastern Europe. It is eaten especially on the Feast of $annukah. So much do the Jews share in the belief "that there is no flavor comparable with the tawny and well-watched scraps," that it is often suggested as an inducement to friends to make a visit.

Jews of eastern Europe bake both black ("proster," or "ordinary") bread and white bread, or %allah. Of great interest are the various forms into which these breads are made; for while the black bread is usually circular in form, the shapes in which %allah is baked vary as the different holidays pass by. The most common form of the %allahs is the twist ("koilitch" or "kidke"). The koilitch is oval in form, and about one and a half feet in length. On special occasions, such as weddings, the koilitch is increased to a length of about two and a half feet. Some are made in miniature for the small boys, as an inducement to say the "3iddush" (bread benediction) which is required on Friday night.

Bread and Cakes

The dough of %allah is often shaped into forms having symbolical meanings; thus on New-Year rings and coins are imitated, indicating "May the new year be as round and complete as these"; for Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the %allah, which on that occasion is circular, carries a piece of dough in imitation of a dove, the significance being "May our sins be carried away by the dove." $allah is also baked in the form of a ladder for Yom Kippur, expressing thereby the desire, "May our prayers climb up to heaven"; for Hosha'na Rabbah, bread is baked in the form of a key, meaning "May the door of heaven open to admit our prayers." The Haman tash, a kind of a turnover filled with honey and black poppy-seed, is eaten on the Feast of Purim, but probably has no special meaning.

The mohn ki%el, a circular or rectangular wafer having in it a quantity of poppy, forms a part of the Sabbath breakfast. Pirushkes, or turnovers, are little cakes fried in honey, or sometimes merely dipped in molasses, after they are baked. The strudel, or single-layered jelly or fruit cake, takes the place of the pie for dessert. Teigachz, or pudding, of which the kugel is one variety, is usually made from rice, noodles, "farfel" (dough crums), and even mashed potatoes. Gehakte herring (chopped herring). which is usually served as the first dish at the Sabbath dinner, is made by skinning a few herrings and chopping them together with hard-boiled eggs, onions, apples, sugar, pepper, and a little vinegar.

Savories and Candies

Teiglach and ingberlach are the two popular home-made candies. The teiglach are made by frying in honey pieces of dough about the size of a marble, the dough being mixed with sugar and ginger. The ingberlach are ginger candies made into either small sticks or rectangles. Jellies are made from all juices of fruits, and are used for different purposes; they are used in making pastry and are often served with tea. Among the poorer classes jellies are reserved for the use of invalids and patients, and so well has the practise of making jelly solely for that purpose been established, that often the words "Allewai zol men dos nit darfen" (May we not have occasion to use it) are repeated before storing it away.

See also

External links

Jewish Encyclopedia articles

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