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You Are What You Eat

I think Rabbi Grossman sells the power of Jewish food short. True, there is much, much more to our tradition than our food, but food is an important aspect of Jewish civilization. It demonstrates how Judaism is more than just a religion: it comprises all aspects of every day life (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure there’s much in the way of distinctively “Christian food” or “Muslim food”). Our food is also one of the few aspects of our civilization that many American Jews relate to on an organic level when so many other parts of being Jewish can feel artificial, or have to be learned.


What is Jewish food? It’s a record of our civilization as it evolved down the ages and spread throughout the world. For Jews of Eastern European descent, the foods may be matzoh balls, or chopped liver, latkes, or gefilte fish. Jews from other parts of the world have carried their own distinctive and delicious recipes with them as well, such as Moroccan hamin or Indian tandoori chicken livers; in Israel, it’s hummus and falafel. Wherever Jews have lived, they took elements of local foods (as with so many other aspects of local practices and customs) and wedded them to the demands of Jewish dietary laws–separating milk and meat for example or avoiding leavened foods on Passover. The result is a blending of cuisines, one that is simultaneously worldly and authentically Jewish. (In America, where there’s no such thing as a distinctively “American”cuisine, the best we seem to have done is the pizza bagel, but that’s another story.)


As an aspect of our civilization, Jewish food helps form and reinforce Jewish identity through shared memories and shared meals. It helps hold us together, and gives us something to nosh as it does so. Let’s not sell it short.

  • Rabbi Grossman: Religion of the Jewish Stomach
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    Fern R

    posted March 15, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    Is there really Jewish food? Or is it that Jews slightly tweaked the local food to fit within Jewish dietary needs? It seems that other than foods that are integral to Jewish religious practice (such as matzo) there is very little difference between so-called Jewish foods and the food of the surrounding community.

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    posted March 15, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    It just isn’t the food we eat, no we are interested in what others eat or serve at a function. For example, where else but with a Jew do you hear a question about what was served, as the first question asked of someone who just went to a wedding? Not-what the bride wore, not who was there, etc. The big interest was the food! Laura

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    posted March 15, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    I have to agree with Laura…My bar Mitzvah was 20+ years ago, and other than the fact that i was so nervous i could have died, I remember it for being the frst time I’d encountered pesto sauce. I guess that’s why I learned to love cooking because my Bubbe of saintly memory only managed to cook things from her eastern European background, and i want to explore more than that. I always try to make something for a Holiday that I’ve never done before, and I try to keep track of the winners, losers and comments I’ve gotten on things; that and I try to see how to innovate(ask me one day about the bread pudding I made that was an adption of an Indian recipe, though mine was for passover)

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    posted March 16, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    I agree with these posters;food and being Jewish is very important.And,that is a good sign of a race and culture,that they love food and love to cook it.As far as anthropological point of view,the more interesting,skillfully done,and complex texture and taste of a race’s cooking,the more highly developed the race and culture is likely to be. Not to be a snob about it,but if a race has complex,interesting,delectible food in his history,look at their intellect as well;it’s likely to rival their cooking in high development.And,we can see in the case of the Jewish people,that is very much true. Perhaps that is because the robust personality comes bursting thru in many different outlets. We love food,we love life. And good cooking is one of the fine arts of life. — Doreet

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    posted March 19, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    The subject reminds me of the one line explanation of most Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, we survived, now let’s eat.

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    posted September 11, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    A Bagel Is More Than A Jewish Donut
    Richard Marcus
    A bagel is more than a Jewish donut,
    More than a roll with a hole.
    More than a strange English muffin.
    A bagel’s got bagely soul.
    It is something a baby can teethe on.
    The true home of cream cheese and lox.
    A bagel is used to tie up a boat,
    To keep it from hitting the docks.
    A bagel is comfort. A bagel’s a pal.
    A bagel never forgets.
    Bagels as hard as bricks and concrete
    Make wonderful weapons and pets.
    A bagel is kind.
    A bagel’s well rounded.
    A bagel is wholesome and neat.
    I’ve seen bagel Boy Scouts on busses and subways
    Graciously give up their seat.
    A bagel’s profound, the Einstein of bread
    The Shakespeare of flour inspired,
    The Rolls Royce of noshing,
    The Buick of Bulk,
    And as chewy as one of its tires.
    First given to Israelites fleeing from Egypt,
    Who whined, “Enough with matzo, already.
    Smoked salmon on manna;
    That’s a pox on the lox!
    Would it kill You to make something bready?”
    Spam and Velveeta are sins on a bagel,
    Eggs work, except Sunny side.
    Chopped liver’s okay,
    If you first toast the bagel,
    If not it will squish out the side.
    I once saw a man who was struck by a bagel,
    It gave him such a “potch” in the head.
    Yet I heard him exclaim
    “I would rather be maimed
    By a bagel than be crippled by bread.”
    But bagels today have gone to extremes,
    Pizza, low carb; Not to kvetch, but…
    Vegan-schmaggegan? tofu-jalapeno?!
    For bagels it’s too much a stretch.
    Still, in these times we should love all bagels
    Like warm, chewy halos we eat.
    They fill us with love, they fill us with joy,
    Not to mention two pounds of wheat.
    So when you’re worried or tired,
    Outsourced or fired,
    Caught in the grind and the crunch,
    Stagger right into your neighborhood bagelry
    And take a nice bagel to lunch.
    Copyright, All Rights Richard Marcus 1975, 1999
    7717 S.E. 36th Ave.
    Portland, OR 97202
    (503) 788-9967

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