The weekly Shabbat meal helps to consolidate Jewish identity through shared practices. Within Jewish youth clubs, the Friday evening ritual helped to provide an experience that united young people and helped to assert their gendered identities. Here are some examples taken from my research which show the link between the Sabbath meal and femininity.
The Jewish Girls’ Club (later known as the Leman Street Girls’ Club held Sabbath meals for its members. These meals were often reported on by the press. An account of a meal held in September 1886 stated;
a few pictures adorn the walls, some autumnal chrysanthemums grace the tables. Here too are the white table cloths, emblematic of Sabbath Purity, a pair of candles serve to assist in the illumination and some drawing room games and books and magazines give an air of refinement and quiet occupation to the apartment. (Jewish Chronicle, 24th September 1886)
The emphasis in this account is on the ‘homely’ elements of the meal. The newspaper picks up on the flower arrangements, the table displays, the candle and remarks upon the peaceful, quiet atmosphere. This helped to demonstrate that the meal was seen as a feminine event, one which was linked to beauty as well as tradition.
Even at summer camps the emphasis on the feminine aspect of the Sabbath was maintained. At the 1924 World Camp for Girl Guides, the Jewish press reported that ‘a special hut has been provided for the Friday night and Sabbath meal, during which Sabbath table hymns are sung’. (Jewish Guardian, 25th July 1924). This hut enabled young people to unite in a shared experience of eating and experience the ritual of their shared religion. The report emphasised the feminine experience of singing hymns, helping to reinforce the link between women and the Sabbath meal. The participation of the young women in the ritual indicated that they were ‘insiders’ within their religious community.
The Jewish Echo in 1934 reported on a camp of Scottish Guides.
Surely a familiar odour must have reached the nostrils of the Jewish visitors to Aberdour during the cooking of the fish and chips in readiness for the first Sabbath meal, and welcome glances were thrown at the appearance of a white table cloth, Challahs complete with cover, two candle-sticks with their accompanying candles and even a small bottle of wine. Each guide joined joyfully in the Kiddush and Moitzee. (Jewish Echo, 24th August 1934)
Once again, the link between the meal and the domestic is shown through the use of the table cloth as a way to ensure the ‘homely’ nature of the meal. The attention that the press gave to the meals within girls clubs show that the meal was considered to be an important indicator of Jewish femininity.