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Within Judaism, there are a number of ‘food experiences’ during which traditions and knowledge is passed on from one person to another. Perhaps the most significant of these is the Passover meal (Sedar). During this meal, the family members engage in a scripted discussion on the origins of the feast where the youngest person asks ‘Why is this night different from every other night’. The response to this question then illustrates why food rituals are different on Passover than they are at any other time (for example, the eating of Matzo instead of bread, dipping bitter herbs twice). This question and answer ritual ensures that through the performance of this meal, traditions are being passed onto the younger generation.

Sedar Plate

Purim, a festival of celebration, is also a time during which food serves as a symbol of a shared heritage. Hamentashen, (or oznei haman in Hebrew) a triangular filled pastry, is a traditional treat. There are a number of explanations as to why this is eaten at this time. One, is that the pastry represents Haman’s hat (Haman is the evil figure from the book of Esther, which is remembered on Purim). By eating the hat, Jews are symbolically destroying the memory of Haman. Another explanation is that the pastry represents Haman’s ears. Members of Haredi kindergartens recite the following explanation

Why do we eat oznei haman [“Haman’s ears”—special cookies for the
holiday]? Because when Haman [the evil Persian minister] was hanged,
his ears became longer.
Hamantaschen therefore show the way that food can take on meaning within a community and provide a way to pass on cultural and religious knowledge.

Hamantaschen

During Chanucah doughnuts and other fried goods are eaten. These are consumed as they use a large amount of oil in preparation and the oil represents miracle of Chanucah, during which the oil in the temple lasted 8 days despite only having enough oil to light the perpetual lamp for  1 day.

The Challah also has symbolic meaning for Jews and helps to pass on traditions and knowledge. Eaten during the Sabbath meal and on festive occasions, a blessing is said over two loaves of Challah, representing the two portions of Manna that was given to children during the exodus from Egypt. The bread is covered with a white cloth which represents the dew that formed on the manna. The size and shape of the Challah also takes on meanings, for example, 12 braided loaves represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Before Yom Kippur, loaves are baked in ladder shapes to symbolise the need to go great heights and on Shavuot the loaves are baked into rectangles to represent the Tablets of the law. Challah serves multiple roles in disseminating information.

 

 

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