Jewish Dietary Laws: Living with Self Discipline Essay

David J. Marti Dr. Carl Religion 230 15 July 2010 Jewish Dietary Laws and the Rise of the Delicatessen in America In the Jewish culture, observing dietary laws has always meant living within boundaries. A great deal of self-discipline is required, and each person or household has to decide how stringently to apply the rules–or which set of rules to follow. This often means adapting to the standards of the community in which you or your guests live. One constant has always been the local delicatessen (aka deli).

A place where the members of the Diaspora could feel a sense of inclusion while outside of their homes and not have to worry about breaking the laws of Kashrus. Talmudic law was interpreted differently among medieval communities, leading to differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic/Middle Eastern Jews on some of the fine points. Today, ideological and sociological distinctions are reflected in different standards of kashrut. Some keep “biblical kashrut,” refraining from eating the meat of non-kosher animals but not separating milk from meat. Others are stringent at home but lenient in other settings. (Welfled)

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To understand the role of the deli, you have to understand the Kashrus law that establishes that you cannot eat meat and dairy foods together. This means that a meal is either a meat meal or a dairy meal (or a parve meal for that matter). An observant jew cannot even have meat and dairy at the same table; that is, one person can’t eat a bagel with cream cheese at the same table where someone is eating fried chicken. To clarify this further, you can’t have a piece of steak on one plate, prepared without any dairy, then turn to a second plate and chomp down on a piece of cheese, even if you’ve swallowed the steak. Washovsky) Judaism has often been referred to a kitchen religion. That is, a religion that has a great many of its laws’ and traditions attached to the way the meals are prepared and consumed. Food and religion have always had a bond of sanctity between them and nowhere else is that evident than in the Jewish faith. (Joselit) Most Jews were immigrants. Uncertain of their surroundings and their place in society, they could place their resounding faith in the fact that the Torah was true, and the food was unhesitant good.

Jews following Kashrus ensure that meat and milk not be eaten together in any way. In most households, it is customary to wait a certain amount of time between meals. After eating meat, the wait time varies, but the generally accepted amount of time to wait is six hours. These different traditions developed within the various branches of Judaism as to the exact amount of time that must pass between meat and dairy meals, based on where the branch developed. Wait time is required because of the nature of meat.

In The Laws of Kashrus, Binyomin Forst explains that the sages give two primary reasons: Meat leaves behind a fatty residue in the throat, and particles of meat might remain between your teeth. Time is necessary for the digestive powers of saliva to break down both that fatty residue and the meat particles. For most Orthodox Jews, the most common wait time is six hours. According to Sephardic tradition, six hours is not merely tradition, but halakhah (or religious law). This required Jewish law, which originated in the Ashkenazic tradition says that more lenient options are also halakhically correct.

However, most agree that the meat meal should be concluded with the appropriate blessings, signifying that the meal is over. You should then clean and rinse your mouth and wash your hands. (Stern) Some say one hour is sufficient time, and this has been the accepted tradition of Dutch Jews. German Jews follow a tradition of waiting three hours. Forst says this may be based on the idea that in winter the time between meals is shorter; therefore, it is acceptable to wait a shorter amount of time year round. These are three generally accepted wait-time traditions.

However, even today, most Jews have developed their own traditions within their communities. Some wait four hours after eating chicken, five hours after meat. Some start counting the wait time after saying blessings, some start counting as soon as they’ve swallowed the last bite of meat. This depends on the branch of Judaism and the individual’s level of observancy. (Joselit) With dairy foods, the wait time between dairy and meat is minimal. This is based on [the Talmudic tractate] Chullin 105a, where it says, “How long must one wait between cheese and flesh? And he replied, Nothing at all. (Dresner, Seigel, and Polloock ) Still, you should eat something like bread to effectively wipe your mouth of any milky taste, and you should rinse your mouth and wash your hands. The delicatessen, is a treasured temple of scuffed formica, sawdust floors, and nose ticking garlic aroma. (Sax) The deli’s once, (like the shtetl like neighborhoods they existed in), numbered in the thousands, today there are scarcely a hundred of the true traditional classics. They remain scattered around the Diaspora standing as reminders where we came from and where we as Jews, are going.

Over the past ten, twenty, or fifty years, how many delis will you visited? How many times have you eaten a pastrami sandwich, a bowl of matzo ball soup, and a few full sour kosher dills and wondered where did they originate? This paper is an attempt to draw a connection between what started as a way for the Diaspora to enjoy the old world delicacies, but became a staple in the eating habits of gentiles. Personally, I think it speaks volumes when a deli has only very limited menu offerings. It says to me that they only make a few things, but they make them well. No Rueben on the menu? This is a good thing.

It tells me that the owner is proud of his meat and doesn’t believe it is warranted to muddle its deliciousness with cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ruebens and other smorgasbord-type sandwiches with different combinations of meat, cheese, toppings, and condiments. Shoot, even put some French fries in there if you like – delicious! But if I am fortunate enough to find myself lunching in a quality deli, I always order one of two things – either a pile of smoked meat or a pile of corned beef, sliced thick and sandwiched between two slices of plain rye bread (no caraway seeds). Sax) This is what the deli is and was meant to be. The gentiles came to the table late. Unfortunately for them, in gastronomic terms, that the wonders of Jewish “Soul Food” remained hidden behind fears of gastric distress, My friends, (both Jew and Gentile) have been eating this stuff for years, with no ill effects. I have met people who swear deli will kill you, yet, despite the daily onslaught of chopped liver, fatty/salted briskets, smoked and marinated fish, creamy noodle kugels, tangy spicy mustards, and smoked meats galore, my stomach has remained in tip top shape.

I can only attribute this to my outstanding Ashkenazi genes, which welcome to my stomach deli food with open double helixes, as has been done for millennia in my bloodline. This is probably the same reason why my Israeli friends can’t really stomach deli, and why there isn’t a single deli in Israel. I’m sure in a secret Israeli lab, there’s some scientist genetically engineering stomachs to handle both foods, but for now I’ll take the creamy schmaltz over the chickpeas. (Dewey, Bowker, Pylodet, Cutter, Weston, Brown, Wessells, and King ) One of the most famous is New York’s Carnegie Deli.

The Carnegie Deli is located in midtown Manhattan on 7th Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets and was opened in 1937 adjacent to Carnegie Hall. Now in the third generation of owners, the Parker family’s delicatessen is among the most visited restaurants of its type in the city, according to the New York. (Diamant, and Cooper ) The restaurant offers pastrami, corned beef and other sandwiches with at least one pound of meat, as well as traditional Jewish fare such as matzoh ball soup, potato pancakes, chopped chicken livers, and smoked salmon. The restaurant’s motto is: “If you can finish your meal, we’ve done something wrong. In addition to the large servings, the restaurant is also known for its surly waiters, who allegedly try to impart some of the gruffness of New York to visitors. This goes back to the early days of being distrustful of outsiders in the Jewish neighborhoods. While the United States and Canada are home to most of the surviving members of the deli fraternity. There are others scattered around the world. Until its last branch closed in summer 2010, Bloom’s restaurant was the longest-standing kosher restaurant in England, well-known beyond the Jewish community.

Blooms’ was under the supervision of the London Bet Dinh (Jewish Legal Authority). Their original restaurant, in Brick Lane, London, was established by the loquacious and eponymous Morris Bloom in 1920. His oldest son Sidney continued to run the family business, and saw it through the war years. In the early 1930s, the restaurant moved to Old Montague Street, where it grew in both size and reputation. Then in 1952 the restaurant moved to White Chapels fashionable High St. The families success subsequently spawned a second restaurant was opened in Golders Green.

The family made a tough economic decision and the East End restaurant closed in 1996, due to the changing nature of the neighborhood. For many years the Bloom’s brand was maintained by the surviving restaurant in Golders Green in northwest London. It was renovated in summer 2007 and served traditional Ashkenazi-style Jewish cuisine (as opposed to many other kosher restaurants in London which are more influenced by Israeli-style food). For those not initiated, Ashkenazi (ash’k? -na’ze) refers to any of the historically Yiddish-speaking European Jews who settled in central and northern Europe, or their descendants.

They lived originally in the Rhineland valley, and their name is derived from the Hebrew word Ashkenaz (“Germany”). After the start of the Crusades in the late 11th century, many Jews migrated east to Poland, Lithuania, and Russia to escape persecution. In later centuries Jews who adopted the German-rite synagogue ritual were called Ashkenazim to differentiate them from the Sephardic, or Spanish-rite, Jews from whom they differ in cultural traditions, pronunciation of Hebrew, and synagogue chanting as well as in the use of the Yiddish language (until the 20th century).

Today they constitute more than 80% of the world’s Jews. (Welfeld) Unfortunately, with the assimilation into the mainstream gentile world there has been a great deal of adulteration of the deli. This has led to the rise of the “Kosher Style” deli. Kosher style usually refers to food that is not kosher, but is a type of food that could be produced as kosher. Generally, kosher style food does not include meat from forbidden animals, such as pigs or shellfish, and does not contain both meat and milk. In most U. S. tates the use of this term in advertising is illegal as a misleading term under consumer protection laws. While ‘kosher style’ may look and even taste the same, it does not have the same spiritual ingredient called ‘kosher,’ and is prohibited. ‘Kosher style’ has to do with the physical aspects of a food—look, smell, texture, taste. ‘Kosher’ has to do with the spiritual side of food—permitted or forbidden. (Dresner, Seigel, and Pollock ) Almost always, when a restaurant calls itself Kosher style, the food is not actually Kosher according to traditional Halachic (Rabbinical) standards. Washovsky) Jews who adhere strictly to the laws of Kashrus will not eat at Kosher style establishments. Furthermore, the fact that such establishments appear to be Kosher can be deceptive to Jews who are visiting an unfamiliar city and are looking for Kosher food. Unfortunately, many of these establishments are also open for business on the Jewish Sabbath when this is forbidden by Jewish Law. (Kushner) Rabbi Mordechi Kaplan was the biggest proponent of the deli movement in the northeastern United States during the early 20th century. Joselit) From his pulpit and his column in the weekly paper The Jewish Exponent, he encouraged Jews to “Follow what they knew, and eat according to Kashrus”. By twists of fate, both pragmatic, and emotional Kaplan ensured that the deli movement would flourish throughout the Jewish communities in America. In summation, sociologist Herbert Gans reported in his 1956 treatise on the assimilation of the Jews in America, that “As long as the delicatessen exists, the Jews will never lose their cultural identity”. (Joselit). That statement remains as true today as it did back then.


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