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Unkosher

Restaurants offering dishes like bacon-wrapped matzo balls are garnering praise for embracing Jewish tradition while also rejecting it. But a chef turned rabbinical student suspects they’re just lazy.

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The bacon-wrapped matzo balls at Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals. (djjewelz/Flickr)

The Jewish culinary tradition is a hot trend in American dining. At Brooklyn’s Mile End Noah Bernamoff and Aaron Israel serve up cholent with veal shortribs and kasha varnishkes with confit gizzards. At the impishly named Traif, also in Brooklyn, Chef Jason Marcus—who describes himself as “Jewish, although obviously not great at it”—focuses on pork and shellfish. At his Los Angeles restaurant The Gorbals, Top Chef winner Ilan Hall gussies up matzo balls by wrapping them in bacon. “Pork fat does something magical to matzah meal,” Hall told the Jewish Journal in November.

Jewish food that actively thumbs its nose at the laws of kashrut clearly holds tremendous social allure for some. As Jeffrey Yoskowitz wrote in the Atlantic, Traif’s Marcus “is counting on other Jews to hear about his restaurant and think, ‘Cool, I’m a non-kosher Jew too.’ ” Indeed, most of the critical praise earned by establishments like Traif and Mile End has highlighted—knowingly or not—the clever disjuncture of embracing Jewishness while simultaneously rebelling against it. Thus when the New York Times fawned over Traif’s “seared foie gras, slumming it with fingerling potatoes, crisp shards of ham, and a fried egg, all dribbled with maple syrup and hot sauce,” the reviewer, Ligaya Mishan, had to add: “Now this is chutzpah.”

Before starting rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2009, I put in time behind the stoves at Telepan on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where I smoked upward of 5,000 trout, and at Restaurant Saul, in Brooklyn, not far from Mile End, where I once cooked by candlelight when the block lost power in the middle of dinner service. At the time I was working in kitchens I was not observant—and I therefore ate just about every abomination in the book. I also learned all the tricks at chefs’ disposals. But now I know some of the rabbis’ tricks, too, and, with this dual knowledge, I can’t help but see the menus offered up by this new generation of trayf-worshippers as lazy—not religiously, necessarily, but culinarily.

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Traditional Jewish foods, mostly of Ashkenazi origins, have been cropping up on the American culinary landscape for more than a century. For most of that time, their makers have frequently disregarded the dietary restrictions that historically characterized Jewish eating. (The Carnegie Deli, founded in 1937, has been slinging matzo brei alongside ham and eggs for decades.) Neither these older restaurateurs nor their contemporary counterparts are interested in kashrut—to say nothing of their customers. Rather, as Leah Koenig, author of The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook, told me, they aim to “celebrate Jewish heritage and cuisine in a broader more global context.” They aren’t concerned with the ritual specificity of traditional Jewish eating, and they divorce themselves from the emphasis on inwardness, on home and hearth, that has been an integral part of Jewish cookery for thousands of years.

But is such a disjuncture really possible? The game of baseball, for instance, only makes sense within a certain framework—of three strikes, three outs, nine players, four bases. Could you hit a ball with a tennis racket instead of a bat and still, with integrity, call it baseball? To call food “Jewish” only makes sense in the context of what “Jewish” has meant throughout history. That history has included innovation and change, but it has also included a crucial element of preservation and repetition.

This isn’t a religious argument. The best “Jewish food” has historically been created by Jewish cooks who were trying, simultaneously, to preserve and innovate. One of the staples in the Ashkenazi Jewish larder, for example, was schmaltz. Usually made by rendering chicken or goose fat (the leftover crispy bits, called gribenes, became a delicacy in their own right), schmaltz was an essential element of Ashkenazi cookery because frying meat in butter is forbidden, and the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe didn’t have ready access to non-dairy alternatives (like sesame and olive oil) that were common in the Mizrahi world. Eventually, in an effort to produce more and more goose fat, Jews began over-feeding their birds. In addition to ramping up the rate of gribenes consumption (and perhaps the rate of heart attacks) among Ashkenazi Jews, the process of force-feeding geese produced an inadvertent by-product—foie gras, which would go on to become a cornerstone of haute-French gastronomy. Although fattened goose liver was a well-known delicacy in the ancient world (the Talmud actually mentions the process of intentionally fattening geese), it was subsequently lost to European cuisine until 16th century, when, as Michael Ginor writes in Foie Gras: A Passion, renaissance chefs, looking to expand their culinary repertoires, started exploring butcher shops in the Jewish ghettos.

And so, while Jewish cooking has always been driven by cultural exchange, it has also, crucially, been influenced just as much by cultural boundaries—which dictated that Jews participate in a shared ritual system, through which the meal became an opportunity to reify and reinforce one’s commitment to a certain way of life.

Thus, the incorporation of outside cuisines also included their adaptation to the dietary restrictions of kashrut—which is how someone came up with the idea to cover toast in schmaltz instead butter, which couldn’t be eaten with meat meals—or to the rhythms of Jewish life, which inspired the one-pot braise known as cholent that was meant to cook all day on the blech.

The early rabbis made the laws surrounding kashrut more stringent precisely to ensure that Jews and non-Jews never ate meals with one another. In a section of the Babylonian Talmud dealing with idolatrous practice, Rabbi Kahana says that while bread baked by a non-Jew is not forbidden according to the Torah, the rabbis forbade it nonetheless. Bread being fundamental to a proper, halakhic meal, traditional rabbinic thought understands this prohibition in terms of an overarching effort to prevent Jews and non-Jews from ever developing close relationships. While reasonable people can certainly disagree about the wisdom of this sort of mandated cultural insularity, the fact remains that rabbinic stringencies have left on indelible imprint on Jewish cookery. Culinary traditions around the world use braises, but they occupy such a central place in Jewish cookery because they provide solutions to the restrictions of cooking on Shabbat. And many cultures around the world produce rich, celebratory egg breads (the Czechs’ Hoska, often eaten around Christmastime, is even braided), but their recipes almost invariably include milk. Because most Jewish communities have a strong tradition of eating meat on festive occasions (indeed, there is a statement in the Talmud that says there can be no celebration without meat), Jewish egg-bread leaves the milk out, an omission that makes the loaf heavier and gives challah its signature chew.

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To be sure, it is possible to inflect non-kosher food with Jewish culinary influences. These inflections often speak of genuine cultural exchange. The offerings at Telepan, my former employer, include not only smoked trout, but brunch options like the “Upper West Sider” (smoked salmon, gravlax, scrambled eggs, whitefish salad, and a mini bagel with cream cheese), and “babka-style” French toast. What my old boss is doing is exploring Jewish cookery by riffing on Jewish dishes that have already entered the broader cultural lexicon—a lexicon in which knishes stride alongside sushi, lo mein, and pork belly. He’s not interested in an ironic, self-consciously hip return to one’s roots, the subversive frisson evinced by Mile End’s breakfast sandwich, a dish that includes bacon and calls it “chazzer.”

More than 100 years after the founding of Bagel Bakers Local 338, a Manhattan trade union comprised of Yiddish-speaking bagel makers, celebrated chef Wylie Dufrense opened up shop on the Lower East Side and made an everything bagel out of ice cream and served it with smoked salmon threads. He did not, however, throw pancetta in the dish.

By abandoning the uncomfortable tension that comes from pushing to innovate while also striving to preserve, many young Jewish chefs are balking at the challenge inherent in creating truly new Jewish food—the kind of food that is so successful, so popular, and so Jewish that it finds its way into the collective imagination of an entire people and takes its place among their ever-evolving traditions. Six generations hence, Jewish culinary lights, out of an inevitable desire to reshape Jewish cuisine according to their own visions and contexts, will have to reinterpret whatever we pass on to them. But what will be our current legacy? Where do you go from bacon cholent?

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Saul says:

This peice smacks of the worst kind of Jewish essentialism. Halakha does not have to dictate Jewish cultural experience and expression; it informs but it no longer prescribes. The very naming of a restaurant Traif or the creation of the unsettling bacon-matzah ball speaks to the tension of Jewish modernity more bitingly than the problem of schmaltz. Rather than retreat into modes of limitation and conservatism (which leads to the saccharine and destructive nostalgia of the “Jewish” bagel and lox), we need to learn the real contours of contemporary American Jewish experience. And yes, this includes bacon, as the very form of Jewish identification. This “transgressive” act is named Jewish and once it is named this way it has to be dealt with, understood, and not rejected. Creativity through pushing and crossing boundaries should be lauded in a stagnant Jewish cultural landscape.

Pish posh Saul. None of this new Jew cuisine will ever make it onto my table. I deal with this new culinary “act” by rejecting it wholeheartedly. The contours of such American Jewish experience can be best described as inauthentic, waning and about as interesting as a little boy walking into a room full of adults and displaying his wiener. I used to live in Mile End by the way. I dare say that if Mile End ever opened in actual Mile End the restaurant and its fey, poncy menu would be laughed out of the neighborhood.

Jonathan Silverman says:

What makes something jewish is the way it struggles with halakha and tradition not just ignoring it. That’s just quitting. This article is great and gives me a new appreciation of what makes jewish food jewish, which yis the torah written and oral. U can call it the tension of jewish modernity but that’s jargon from a dilbert cartoon, saul (above poster) its ppl that quit is what it really is.

Jeremy says:

@Saul: I think you miss entirely the point of the article. Just because so many Jews today blatantly and knowingly violate the laws of kashrut doesn’t mean that we in the religious sector have to condone or even “understand” such. Halachah and acceptable Jewish practice does not, nor should it, bend to the will of those who in brazen fashion flaunt their disregard for it.

GlennGulliver says:

Saul – the fact that some Jews eat bacon doesn’t make eating bacon a Jewish act anymore than Madoff’s actions make stealing a Jewish act. There is a point at which the behavior of some Jews escapes the boundaries of what Judaism is. I guess I don’t get why Jewish essentialism is a bad thing. If Judaism encompasses everything good and bad, it becomes meaningless.

patrick john says:

If the indians ate a little beef, the muslims and jews a little pork, americans a little less of everything, than world peace may be possible. lol. Its hard to beleive that we can feel better than others just by our implanted religious dietary habits.lmao.

Patrick John –

Kashrut has nothing to do with feeling better than others. It is possible to be different without being better than or worse than. If everyone could understand that, maybe peace would be possible, no matter what we do or don’t eat.

Akiba says:

Im an African American Jew and culinary historian and this fella is saying what I’ve been feeling for quite sometime…I am all for free choice–Ive worked in every Jewish environment–but there is something interesting about working within the confines and boundaries of tradition-the same way Buddhist monks make great meatless meals! Beyond that its kind of an insult to suggest that a person convert to Judaism and take on the mitzvot while somebody else is wrapping kneidlach in bacon and calling themselves innovative…When I saw this on the Cooking Channel I was furious…Because of course–this reflects on those of us whose Jewish authenticity is related to our observance and material identity….Great piece, and very very fair…

Aaron D. Michelson says:

I just returned from a brief vacation in Malta. Because I am careful about kashrut and shabbat I had the opportunity to meet some of the members of the local Jewish community. The other travelers with me, who were for the most part Jewish, didn’t bother and missed one of the highlights of our trip. There are many reasons for making religious committments,

Gitta Zarum says:

I just don’t get it! Surely the ‘only’ thing Jewish about Jewish food is that it is kosher? Chopped liver or a smoked salmon beigel might define Jewish food to an Ashkenazi Jew but say nothing to a Jew of Yemenite origin like my husband. With some creativity, one can make Jewish [i.e. kosher] Chinese, Thai or Indian food. Since many oriental recipes do not use milk, one just needs to exclude pork, shellfish and a few non-kosher fish – not difficult. Calling a treif restaurant ‘Jewish style’ is ridiculous. As the author of the article might have said, play cricket with tennis racquets and call it ‘Tennis-style cricket’. Does that make any sense?

Anon says:

Thank you for this article. It was interesting and informative – who knew (besides you, of course) that the Jews created foie gras? I agree that “Jewish” food can be innovative and new without being treif and loses its Jewishness when completely treif ingredients are prominent. I also don’t think that saying that means that halachic Jews are defining modern Judaism. There is nothing Jewish about bacon – end of story.
I am not sure how an article about food resulted in comments about world peace, but such are comments.

Tablet seems to have produced two orthogonal food articles at the same time. The antidote to this bigoted (against non-conforming Jews) article is a current review of a much more open minded set of cookbooks:
http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/63898/i-am-charlotte%E2%80%99s-tsimmes/

Hadassah cookbooks, as reviewed in this much more insightful study, were about what Jewish women were cooking. Sometimes kosher. Sometimes not. They were always Jewish, though.

If food is explicitly NON-kosher, then it’s also Jewish, just in opposition to the fanatics. It’s about identity. If you eat a cheeseburger at McD’s no one behind the counter knows or cares if it’s kosher or not. So it has no identity issues for them — your views are your own business. I suspect it was like that for some of the contributors to the reviewed Hadassah cookbooks. Just not an issue.

NOT kosher is another story. I learned this from a relative in Israel, who pointed out that restaurants there are either kosher (the default) or NOT kosher (implying that every dish has to violate a dietary law). She said people who went to not-kosher restaurants wouldn’t feel they got their money’s worth otherwise, in contrast to the vast majority of American restaurant goers who don’t know the difference.

The writer of the article has the usual sectarian’s tendency to dismiss anyone who disagrees with him.

I grew up in a kosher home and attended Jewish day school. And yet, my Jewish experience included eggs and bacon on Sunday morning at our local diner and weekly ritual devotion to Chinese food. That’s my Jewish experience, the foundation of how we serve Jewish food at Mile End. You are all welcome to have your own personal Jewish experiences; I leave the decision to eat Kosher to you. Mile End has never advertised its food as Kosher and I don’t recall ever locking a Kashrut-observer in our basement and forcing them to eat bacon.
The only blatantly unkosher preparation is our breakfast sandwich, completely apart from the essential Jewish tradition, and on our menu because customers really like it. I don’t see how updating a kasha recipe with chicken gizzards or a cholent recipe with veal shortribs, both potentially kosher ingredients, relates to the arguments made above by Mr. Resnick. Yes, we are updating these dishes, but with proper sourcing, skilled technique, and an eye for detail, not some sort of absolute belief that we need to embark from Jewish culinary tradition to keep it alive. Furthermore, the notion that I’m being lazy is absurd: Mr. Resnick, clearly, has never visited the restaurant, because had he, he would discover that we cure and smoke all of our meats and fish, bake all of our breads, and pickle all of our vegetables. Show me one Kosher restaurant or delicatessen that is attempting to retain the methods of our Ashkenazi culinary tradition like Mile End, Saul’s, Kenny & Zuke’s and Caplansky’s? It will be the return to these methods of preparation rather than strict adherence to Kashrut that will keep the tradition alive.
@Saul: Very appropriate. Much in-line with your commentary, a question that I’m consistently bombarded with: Why is Jewish cooking always conflated with kosher cooking?

Tali's Mom says:

yum! this article made me hungry. Can’t wait to visit the restaurant! I live in Montreal and think it would do quite well here, actually. :)

Alan says:

Mr. Bernamoff:

Sounds delicious. I just wish there was a version compatible with my religious diet.

There is a more fundamental question to be asked here that while hinted at (in both the article and some of the comments) needs to be asked. Fundamentally the question of what makes something “Jewish” cuisine. In terms of types of foods this is a problematic question given the very diversity of Judaism. That is to say that of course kishka is no more a Jewish food than shakshuka, etc…So clearly we can see it cannot be a question of cultural identification, precisely because the religion is inherently multi-cultural.

Is it who cooks the food? Clearly not. Just because someone is a Jewish chef certainly does not make their food inherently Jewish (in the same way that just because someone is not Jewish does not mean that he or she cannot cook Jewish food).

It seems that we have to consider the only possibility is, in fact, religion. And not out of any sense of exclusiveness but just in terms of distinction (if we one agrees with my point that it cannot be culture or the cook). For example, would anyone classify anything as Muslim food? And if one were to classify what makes Muslim food, surely in many instances the first thing that would pop up would be avoiding pork and/or maybe hallal. This is, coincidentally, perhaps for similar reasons given the inherent diversity of Islam as well (and of course the same argument can be made for Christianity).

If this is the case, aren’t the only possible “Jewish” foods (if that term is even at all ever applicable or useful) those that follow Jewish food prescriptions?

This isn’t a value judgment so much as an issue of classification.

“In addition to ramping up the rate of gribenes consumption (and perhaps the rate of heart attacks) among Ashkenazi Jews, the process of force-feeding geese produced an inadvertent by-product—foie gras.”

Saturated fat as a cause of heart disease has been proven a myth. Enjoy all the schmaltz you want, it’s good for you!

http://www.garytaubes.com/

While I agree with Mr. Resnick and too, with Mr. Bernamoff, I do find it more than obnoxious to open a restaurant in Williamsburg and call it Traif. On some level, it is disrespectful. I say this as a decidely non-observant Jew who has dined at Traif and had a fantastic time. I say, make your food and don’t worry about being “edgy” or “ironic.” Just worry about making it good.

daaaang. Value judgments all up in this. y’all need to chill.

>This “transgressive” act is named Jewish and once it is named this way it has to be dealt with, understood, and not rejected.

Why can’t it be rejected, o wise one?

Not sure why it’s ‘clever’ and ‘naughty’ to serve traditional foods with forbidden ones. It seems pretty juvenile to me, actually.

As a prior commenter said, shouldn’t the sine-qua-non definition of “jewish food” be food that’s halachically acceptable? The rest of it just reflects the culture of the host country…

http://njjewishnews.com/article/editors-column/ham-and-angst/

I don’t find these cooks lazy — only trite.

Last year, Jewcy ran a piece about the bacon obsession among many of its hipsterish Jewish readers and contributors. “The truth is, bacon represents a perfect extreme: a completely gratuitous and delicious rebellion from a defining tenet of Judaism,” wrote Jessica Miller. “Bacon is hilarious in its offensiveness. And it just tastes so good.”

I get it: a hilarious and delicious rebellion from a defining tenet of Judaism. But what are they for, exactly, besides proudly and loudly flouting those tenets? When the Reform movement issued its Pittsburgh Platform in 1885, which nullified the laws of kashrut among its followers, the goal wasn’t just to rebel or celebrate forbidden, ahem, fruit. It was a principled stand, intrinsic to their understanding of “modern spiritual elevation” — to which they felt the ancient laws were actually a hindrance.

Similarly, militantly secular kibbutzim would hold a feast on Yom Kippur. It was an adolescent rebellion for sure, but there was method in their badness. For all their “sacrilege,” the secular kibbutzim, when all is said and done, succeeded in creating a new kind of Jew and helped establish a Jewish homeland.

A cuisine featuring “bacon-wrapped matzo balls” sounds like rebellion, but seems more like a plea for attention — and attention from the very people the chefs are presumably rebelling against, the way a grade school boy will yank the hair of a girl he likes. The pig with a yarmulka seems based on a need to broadcast “the type of Jews we aren’t,” as opposed to the “type of Jews we are.”

I believe that a centralized Temple in Jerusalem run by a hereditary priesthood that states that it is descended from Aaron, who had many character defects, is inherently corrupt and corrupting.The destruction of three Temples should have put an end to “Cohanim”, and the start of the synagogue and Rabbis should have erased much more of the idiocy foisted on the early Jews. Abraham mixed meat and milk in serving the Angels who came to tell him that Sarah would give birth to the next leader of the Jews. What kind of witchcraft was perpetrated by declaring the rear half of a cow “traif” because Jacob wrestled with a so-called angel, and someone used a thigh hold on him? What kind of mind gangsters perpetrated “glatt kosher” on hapless Chassidim?
Eat for health and not for religion, and subvert the heart attack cholent and also goose liver pate’.Live by the teaching of Akiva and Hillel. All the rest is nonsense.Q.E.D.

Debby says:

Has anyone noticed that eating bacon, and talking about it incessantly, is something only Jews do? Other people just order and eat the bacon, but Jews go on and on about it. This is true from the annoying hipster Ilan of Top Chef to my wonderful and very Jewish grandmother, who went to an orthodox synagogue her whole life, and would defiantly order bacon from Denny’s, eat it, and talk about what she had done for hours afterwards.

Most of the comments show an unwillingness to accept or show respect to those who identify as Jewish, yet choose to eat treyf. THAT’S truly obnoxious, and not my or any other Jew’s choice to consume bacon or shrimp. It’s this atmosphere of disrespect that leads to arrests of women who read a Torah scroll at the Kotel, and, before that, of the refusal to allow women to be ordained rabbis; and God forbid two consenting men have anal sex! Grow up.

M. Brukhes says:

I think there are two important facts to keep in mind about Ashkenazic cuisine (with analogies to other Jewish ethnicities available for the picking…):

1) With the exception of the preparation style of cholent, and the obligation to eat matzo at Passover, there is nothing exclusively Jewish about any of the staples/clichés of Ashkenazic food: sure, Jews ate schmaltz, blintzes, potato latkes, kreplekh, gefilte fish, etc. etc. But so did non-Jews in Eastern Europe, right down to the sweet and syrupy “Jewish” wines! What makes any of these dishes “Jewish” isn’t their ingredients or their preparation (cholent excepted), but their social context: everybody ate potato latkes, but only Jews connected them with Hanukkah; everybody ate cheese blintzes, but only Jews connected them with Shavuot; everybody ate kreplekh but only Jews associated them with erev Yom Kippur, Hoshana Raba, or Purim. Context is everything, and keeping kosher is one means of preserving context. There’s therefore nothing more “Jewish” about bacon-wrapped matzo balls than there would be about pork-stuffed won tons (which also have Jewish connotations in America…!).

2) The traditional Ashkenazic diet of high-fat/high-sodium meats was restricted to very special occasions because of the poverty of most East European Jews. If you ate roast duck once at your wedding feast you were a lucky bride & groom; if you had Flancken you were probably eating at a rich guy’s shabbos table. Pastrami on rye with deli mustard isn’t going to kill you if you only eat it once a month. If you eat it everyday, especially in the portions served at the Carnegie deli, you will suffer the consequences. But this says more about the unhealthfulness of American portion sizes than the intrinsic unhealthfulness of traditional Jewish foods.

Bon appetit!!

Richard says:

It seems that the comments are fairly evenly divided. I’m quite willing to call anyone “Jewish” who considers himself or herself Jewish. But it makes no sense to me to call prepared food “Jewish cooking” when it clearly violates the laws of kashrut. I would be willing to reserve the term “Jewish-style cooking” to what a friend of mine referred to a “low treif,” where the food did not violate prohibitions against pork, shellfish, etc., but where the meat may not have come from ritually slaughtered animals and where there were no separate dishes for milk and meat.
I think Ben’s comments are necessary to give people pause before they attempt to foist flagrantly not Jewish food on the public and call it “Jewish.”

Tummler says:

Tevya Tummler here!
I am opening Chametz Bakery this month in Brooklyn! At Chametz we will be serving the best in traditional and modern Jewish baked goods! From the freshest chewy challahs to our signature cornmeal kichel and our innovative hummus Hillel sandwich.
We will only be open April 18-26 with a sale on Saturday morning. Come enjoy the baked goods and our non-reclining chairs!

benj says:

As the only thing Jewish in food is that is it Kasher, non-kasher food is by definition non-Jewish.
Eating bagels or couscous or kugel or I don’t know what Iraki or Yemenite Jews eat is not Jewish, it’s just the food of the country where Jews lived.
Only Kasher food and food made for Shabbat and Jewish festivals like cholent/Hamin/Dafina or Halla bread or Pessah food is Jewish.

Rafi says:

First of all, JTS means Conservative. There adherence to Jewish Law is already, let’s say: ‘stretched’. So that they eat non-Kosher food is not very news worthy. To cite a prohibition of eating non-Jewish bread does not get to the heart of the matter. The same is true for wine to pick one instance.
Lastly, regarding using pork products in traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food, which is really a Religious Jewish take on Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, etc. food, and not entirely original. Actually the original versions are non-kosher. Regardless, for the Orthodox Jews who care about eating kosher food, what is interesting is taking kosher food to a higher level. For example, I added small slices of sausage to potatoes kugel. It was a different dish and a new taste level. Alternatively, making non-kosher dishes kosher, like sweat and sour pork made with turkey brings something new to the Orthodox Jewish table.
Treif food is just that and there are hundreds of thousands of non-kosher food choices. Jason Marcus ideas are not chutzpah they are just boring.

@Noah Bernamoff I know exactly how you were brought up with regards to Jewish food as I, too, am a Montrealer. Noah is right in that Montreal Jews are unique in that we hold our faith as traditionalists (of course I am not talking orthodox) but think nothing of going out to have a Sunday breakfast of bacon and eggs. We think nothing of it…but Montreal is also unique in that we are a segregated community with very strong ties to our Orthodox synagogues and our Jewish ‘Y’ and we do not easily assimilate.
Our children are taught in private Jewish Day Schools primarily because of the Language situation in Quebec. In Noah’s era, Montreal’s population of Jews were able to successfully fund 4 Jewish Day Schools, again not counting the orthodox schools that exist which segregate the boys from girls) and two Jewish High Schools.
Noah, you are my kid’s age and probably even know them. You were brought up knowing your Jewish roots run deep and therefore it never entered your realm of thought that having bacon and eggs was a direct contradiction of what Kosher means. It is because of those deep roots that you and I are able without shame to eat pork, and to love it. Again one must understand Montreal as one of the most unique cities in that we are so small and house such a large Jewish community that is not orthodox but traditionalists. Yet we pray and our synagogues are all orthodox based.
Eating this way does not mock our heritage.
The United States has always been known for its reform and re-constructionist views on Judaism its food laws. It was always harder to maintain the Jewish Heritage in the United States and so it seems to mock our culture when Matzo balls are wrapped in bacon. This, to me, does not mock my culture but then again, I was raised with very strong faith.
However, I will never be able to drink a glass of milk with my steak and I will never be able to eat a matzo ball wrapped with bacon. There the twain shall never meet.

MasortiMan says:

“The very naming of a restaurant Traif or the creation of the unsettling bacon-matzah ball speaks to the tension of Jewish modernity more bitingly than the problem of schmaltz. ”

does it? In a world that has in it non-observant jews who know at least a minimum of jewish tradition (I mean who doesnt know that bacon is treif?) and in which post modern irony lives, is there anything more banal? And in Williamsburg, where by the coincidence of urban history, the most self conscious hipsters or hipster wannabees live close to the most reactionary haredim?
I see nothing unsettling. I see a joke.

Want to unsettle people? Go to Williamsburg and start a kosher restaurant under Conservative supervision, complete with swordfish and
cheese and wine made by gentiles. Go to Avenue J and open a kosher restaurant featuring felaffel and humus and so forth – but call it Al Quds, use palestinian recipes wherever possible, etc. Explore the Palestinian roots of Israeli cuisine.

THOSE would be unsettling, and relevant.

Matzoh balls with bacon souds like something out of a Seinfeld episode – that its made well by a talented chef, does not make it unsettling or a mark of cultural tension.

dror ben ami says:

Why did you delete my comment ???

dror ben ami says:

sorry, my mistake…my comment on kosher food appears in Marc Tracy’s article “The letter of Kosher law”…..

yosef says:

the only reason a jew would be up in arms about anything that anyone does is that they are attached to ideas of what things “should” be like… enjoy your life!

maybe it’s time to extend “let my people go” into “let all people go…”

@ tevya: this could be your soundtrack:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivW37huDN1A

Jeremy says:

@Rafi: spoken like a true Orthodox Jew who thinks that Orthodoxy is the only way. You obviously know nothing (like many Orthodox) of true Conservative Judaism and ignore that religious Conservative Jews are halachicly knowledgeable and observant. We simply refuse to blindly adhere to the same nonsense that some in the Orthodox realm do.

MosheD says:

Well, I heard that in Israel foie gras has been banned in recent years on the grounds of cruelty to animals, backed by people concerned both with ‘Tsaar Baalei Hayim’ and modern animal rights.

Rabbis have told me that kosher isn’t connected to physical health, but nevertheless, I do think of it that way. When you ask why and don’t get a testable logic, it just seems like superstition. I don’t believe Judaism is based on magic. I think we are inheritors of pretty good real world knowledge.

Hooved cud-chewers, scaly fish and vegetarian avians have much fewer parasites. Many people still go to hospital each year from bad shellfish! Pork and other small critters are known to medical science as notoriously unhealthy meat. Kashrut is a guide to health. Without physical health, how can you spend time on your connection to your spiritual development? Look up Maslow’s hierarchy. It goes from basic needs up to higher development, and food is a pretty basic need.

benj says:

Kashrut has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with health. If you want to understand it, just go study.

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Read all about it here:

http://shomroncentral.blogspot.com/

Good article. The key (for me) is this phrase: “preserve and innovate,” and it is this combination (not either element by itself) that has kept Judaism alive all these thousands of years. (Anyone who thinks that halacha is “stagnant” doesn’t know the first thing about halacha.) For an enlightened people, we Jews have become phenomenally ignorant about ourselves. Somehow or other, we now react to this ignorance not by learning, but by mocking. Well, I guess that’s the point of the article. Mockery is certainly easier.

B”H Nisan 10‏‎, 5771 You may wish to read my earnest efforts to portray the vision towards a secure freedom at http://www.englishquickly.com., page 2. Considering a child born to a Jewish father through a gentile mother he or she is a blood relationship to the family members and may participate in family meals, not the religious aspects of the Seder night as only Jewish people celebrate the Exodus. The Israeli opposition to a conservative tradition of Judaism is immature and fascistic, and I have the authority to scorn the irreligious Charedi people whom attack anything not exactly to the image of what they consider right. I grew up in a conservative stream of Tallis and Tefillin clubs, planting trees out of loyalty to a nation and believing I would find Abraham and Sarah when I came here the first time. The cherished memories of spending High Holidays next to my father and singing Shabbos nigunim with my grandmother has been under attack by the corrupt malingering of Modern Israel. The fascism was not destroyed – the deception and theft typical to the survival of Jewish people who living in the ghetto praised these character traits as tools of survival are inculcated as the mentality of the religious people who have refused to earn a livelihood or pay taxes since the inception of the Jewish Israel in Arab Palestine. From them you have big buffoons and ignorance at the highest levels of political governance who adapted to the Ashkenazi traits, only Jewish people who treasure truth and honesty can see this. The idea of being told we can eat corn at Passover because the flour was easily mistaken as permissibility of other grains, or chicken not being forbidden with milk; this is how the Rabbinical authorities repress us with fear. The murders of Anglo European Americans are terrorist acts but the murders of Arabian peoples a salvation to democracy the is the wolf of capitalism disguised as sheep. Passover is family and community sharing life as conflict resolution, do it!

As the only thing Jewish in food is that is it Kasher, non-kasher food is by definition non-Jewish.
Eating bagels or couscous or kugel or I don’t know what Iraki or Yemenite Jews eat is not Jewish, it’s just the food of the country where Jews lived.
Only Kasher food and food made for Shabbat and Jewish festivals like cholent/Hamin/Dafina or Halla bread or Pessah food is Jewish.

For most of that time, their makers have frequently disregarded the dietary restrictions that historically characterized Jewish eating.

Mark Wells says:

I’m not Jewish, but I’ve always been fascinated by Kosher foods and tradition. It seems like it’s based on food sanitation since many of the rules would have helped prevent spoilage and contamination in the days before refrigeration and “modern” preservatives.

By the way, I think you can safely blame McDonald’s for starting this trend with the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel.

Mark Wells says:

I just read some of the other comments, they were hidden from view until I posted mine. I see people disagree over the purpose of Kashrut (whether it’s a guide to health or not). Regardless, it’s a fascinating subject to me and obviously a passionate one for many Jews.

When I was a young boy, most of the kids in my neighborhood were Jewish. I had some very basic introduction to Jewish tradition. Apparently just enough to fill me with curiosity and unanswered questions.

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Unkosher

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