Archive for April, 2011
WHEN THE AFIKOMEN WAS SOMETHING TO AVOID
By Gil Marks
At the time that the Temple stood, the korban pesach (paschal offering) constituted the final part of the Seder meal. According to some authorities it was eaten solo, while others contend it was accompanied with matza and maror (Pesachim 115a). Thus according to the latter view, the Temple-era Seder featured two different sets of matza — at the beginning of the meal for the Ha’motzi (benediction over bread), recited over lechem mishneh (two whole loaves of matza), and, at the end, the biblically prescribed matza with the roasted lamb. In either case, following the destruction of the Temple, the paschal offering ceased and was replaced with a portion of matza at the end of the meal, eventually becoming known as tzafun or afikomen. In accordance with Hillel (Pesachim 115a), the Seder developed a third matza ritual, eaten together with a second portion of maror “in memory of the Temple” — the koraik (“wrap”). The dispersed occurrences of matza at the Seder are all interconnected, as each comes from one of the loaves used at the beginning of the meal to recite the Ha’motzi.
There was a disagreement among medieval scholars as to whether the final matza, after the destruction of the Temple, represents the actual fulfillment of the biblical commandment to eat matza on the first night of Passover (Rif, Rashi, and Rashbam) or whether it is only a commemoration of the paschal offering and that the first matza now serves as the fulfillment of the biblical commandment (Rosh, Ramban, Meiri, and Tosafot). The Rosh explained, “Now that the obligation to eat matza derives from ‘You should eat matzas at night,’ one should not delay the blessing over matza. It is best to eat matza earlier while he still has an appetite.” The practical consequence would be in an instance when there was only enough shmurah matza (matza made from wheat “guarded” from the moment of harvest, from u’shmarten et hamatzot, Exodus 12:17) for one portion. The Rosh would eat it at the beginning of the meal, while the Rashbam and Rif would save it for the end. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 482:1) follows the latter opinion, ruling that, under those circumstances, a person makes the blessing Hamotzi on non-shmura matza, while reserving the shumrah matza as well as the blessing of achilat matza for the afikomen.
The Talmud (Pesachim 115b-116a) notes, “Lechem ani (poor man’s bread) it is written (Deuteronomy 16:3); just as a poor person’s practice is to break it (a loaf of bread, to reserve a portion, as they are unsure if there will be additional food later), so here too (by the Seder) a piece is broken off.” In order to qualify as poor man’s bread, one of the loaves of matza must be broken in two. After dividing a matza, the Seder leader then used a whole matza (or two whole matzas) and one of the pieces to recite Ha’motzi (Berakhot 39b). The Talmud did not state which matza was to be broken, what to do with the second piece of the broken matza unused in the Ha’motzi, or any other details. The custom developed among most Ashkenazim to use three matzas and divide the middle one, reserving the larger piece for the final portion of matza. The afikomen, eaten after the meal without a blessing, is not consumed because of hunger, but for the fulfillment of the commandment or in memory of the Temple.
The Talmud (Pesachim 119b) directs that after a person finished their portion of the paschal offering nothing else could be eaten for the remainder of the evening so that the taste of the lamb would remain in the mouth. There is a dispute (Pesachim 120b) as to what time during the night of the 15th of Nisan that the paschal lamb must be eaten: Rabbi Akiva held until morning, while Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria said by midnight, explaining that the Torah (Exodus 12:8) stated, “And they shall eat the flesh in THAT NIGHT,” determining the definition of “that night” to be midnight, corresponding to the moment when God “passed over” the homes of the Israelites in Egypt and they were subsequently expelled. Rava adds that the time for eating matza corresponds to that of the paschal offering, thus if the paschal lamb has to be consumed by midnight, the final portion of matza substituted for it has to be eaten by that time as well. Interestingly, many early authorities rejected Rava’s opinion (i.e. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Chametz u’Matza 6:1), “this eating does not depend on the Korban Pesach, but is a commandment within itself and the commandment (for matza) is for the entire night.” However, the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 477:1) advised, “One should be careful to eat (the Afikomen) before midnight.” This wording indicates that the law may be according to Rabbi Akiva, but the practice according to Rabbi Elazar, as the midnight deadline ensures that the offering will be eaten before daybreak.
In the modern Haggadah, modern being a relatively broad term when it comes to Jewish history, the final matza is called afikomen or tzafun (hidden), the latter because, at the onset of the Seder, the leader of the Seder divides the matza and secretes the larger piece in a bag or under the tablecloth or his pillow until the end of the meal, an act intended to pique the interest of the children. However, none of the early sources referred to the final matza by either of these terms (or mention hiding the broken piece). Amram Gaon simply states, “After eating (the meal), every one eats a kezayit (olive size portion) of matza.” Saadia Gaon (10th century), in his siddur containing an early version of the Haggadah, refers to the final matza as keenuach seudah (“wiping of the meal,” a Talmudic euphemism for dessert). (Similarly, the English word dessert derives from the French, “to clear the table,” reflecting something served following the meal.)
Eventually, the term tzafun became prevalent among Ashkenazim. The introductory poem of the Haggadah — Kaddesh, urechatz, karpas, yachatz, magid, rachtzah, motzi, matza, maror, koraik, shulchan orekh, tzafun, barech, hallel, nirtzah — reveals that the term was in effect by at least the late 12th century. The Sefer ha-Rokeach (c. 1200) proposed that the name of this custom derives from the verse “How abundant is Your goodness, which tzafanta (You have hidden away) for those who fear You (Psalms 31:20).” Illustrations in early Ashkenazic Haggadahs reveal that the practice of hiding the piece of matza under a cloth was widespread among Ashkenazim by that time. Like other parts of the Seder, the acts of hiding and finding the matza developed various symbolic meanings, such as pointing to the unknown future redemption. Wrapping matza in a cloth is also reminiscent of the Israelites leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:34). Although some Sephardim have recently adopted the practice of tzafun (hiding the matza), it was not their tradition. Instead, at a Sephardic or Mizrachi Seder, the afikomen is enwrapped in a special cloth bag, frequently embroidered, and the leader conducts a dramatic reenactment of the Exodus from Egypt.
For the past several centuries, the common parlance for the final matza has been afikomen, but this was not its original usage. The first mention of the word afikomen was in the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:8):
“One may not add after the Passover offering an afikomen.”
The wording of this Mishnah indicates the prevention of an activity that should not be done on Passover, something forbidden, and not the listing of a part of the Seder. Pointedly, the reference to afikomen in the Mishnah follows the details of various parts of the Seder, generally discussed in their order in the Seder (Misnah 10:7) — the third and fourth cups of wine, grace after meals, and the Hallel — reflecting that the prohibition of the mysterious afikomen occurred after the end of the entire Seder and, therefore, not to the final matza.
The Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 119b) asked:
“What does afikomen mean? Rav said: That they must not uproot from one company to another. Samuel said: Mushrooms for myself and squabs for Abba. Rav Chanina ben Shila and Rav Yochanan said: “Dates, roasted grains, and nuts.”
None of the three seemingly unrelated responses even mentions matza or, for that matter, any other aspect of the Seder ritual. On the contrary, from the discussion in the Talmud, it is evident that at this early stage in time the word afikomen did not apply to the final portion of matza. What was it that the Mishnah did not want the Jews to do after the Seder and how did that taboo become the name for the final portion of matza?
Despite a common misconception, the word afikomen does not mean dessert in Greek. Rather it reflects a rabbinic concern about the character and direction of the Seder. At the end of the Greco-Roman symposium and its meal, on which much of the Seder was drawn (See Origins of the Seder pages 000-000 gilbe), followed a komos (later comissatio in Rome), named after an intoxicated reveling group of satyrs who followed around the Greek god of wine and fertility, Dionysus. (The word comedy also comes from the komos.) The komos at the end of the symposium, living up to its namesake, consisted of a drinking party accompanied with revelry, music, and song. The host always provided various tidbits –- such as fruits, roasted grains, and nuts — to nosh with the wine, similar to the modern beer nuts, to induce the consumption of alcohol. (A komos also frequently featured masks and costumes, a practice, which around the 17th century, through the Italian commedia dell’arte, found its way into Purim festivities.) The komos served as a ritualistic transition from the intellectual and gastronomic parts of the symposium to its sensual, decadent side, inevitably and intentionally leading to lewdness. As part of the komos, the inebriated participants would then proceed (komatsain) from house to house, laughing and singing, to persuade others to join them in their drinking, carousing, and orgies.
Thus afikomen originally meant in Greek epi komos/epikomion (upon/at the revelry). The Sages, not wanting the Seder to degenerate into the bawdy and lascivious behavior of the komos, realized that it was necessary to avoid the excesses of the symposium. Hence the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:7) forbade drinking any wine after the meal, with the exception of the remaining two cups, as well as prohibiting any similar post-dinner celebrations:
“One may not add after the Passover offering any of the activities associated with the komos (10:8).”
Hence the meaning in the Talmud (Pesachim 119b) of the various answers to the question “what is an afikomen.” Rav (Abba ben Aivu, 3rd century CE scholar, born in Babylonia, who later studied in Israel, including with Yehudah ha-Nasi, before returning to Babylonia and founding the academy at Sura) said: “That they must not uproot from one company to another.” (This also corresponds to the Greek epi komatsain, “upon jumping up.”) Samuel (early to mid-3rd century Babylonian scholar who may have spent his entire life in his birthplace) said: “Mushrooms for myself and squabs for Abba (referring to Rav, the other great scholar of the first generation of Amoraim, whose actual name was Abba).” Rav Chanina ben Shila (end of 3rd century scholar, born in Babylonia and immigrated to Israel where he studied with Rav Yochanan) and Rav Yochanan (the Israeli contemporary or Rav and Samuel, Yochanan ben Nappaha, 3rd century Israeli scholar at Tiberias and the primary influence on the Jerusalem Talmud,) said: “Dates, roasted grains, and nuts.”
Interestingly, the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:5,71a) answered the question of “what is afikomen” somewhat differently, recording three opinions –- “Rabbi Simon in the name of Rabbi Einieni bar Rabbi Sissi said: types of singing. (Certainly connoting practices of the komos.) Rabbi Yochanan said: types of sweets. Samuel said: For example mushrooms and squabs for Chanina ben Shilat.”
All of the sages cited were from the first generation of Amoraim (3rd century CE), indicating the emergence of the prohibition of afikomen (and the term itself) as very late in the Tannaic period (shortly before the year 200). Those Sages who lived under Roman rule in Israel understood the connection between the Seder and the symposium and that Jews residing in a Greco-Roman society were very much susceptible to being influenced by the komos customs, as reflected in the Israeli rabbis’ understanding of the afikomen. Thus Rav’s response, “they must not uproot from one company to another,” was not a play on words (uproot meaning jump), but actually an etymology. In a similar vein, the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:4,70b) in its discussion of the Haggadah answered the simple son: “That we do not add an afikomen after the Passover lamb, so that he will not jump from one group and enter another group.” Rav, who spent many years living in Israel under Roman rule, was warning against the Greco-Roman practice of epikomazien (wandering from one house to another) after the symposium, the principal stimulus of the epikomion (inappropriate revelry). This also clarifies the view of the Rabbi Yochanan of Tiberias (Pesachim 119b), “You must not add after the Passover meal dates, roasted grains, and nuts,” the very items constituting the favorite nibbles of a komos, leading to wine consumption and promiscuity. Rabbi Yochanan proscribed those foods associated with the komos, while Rav forbade those activities associated with it.
On the other hand, the Babylonian scholars, living in an area where the symposium was never practiced, were naturally unconcerned that local Jews would be induced by its lascivious aspects. Babylonians considered the afikomen an after the meal treat, which in Talmudic times involved savory dishes and not sweets. Thus Samuel (Pesachim 119b) said that it meant “ordeela’ai (the meaning of this will be discussed) for myself and guzlaiei (squab) for Abba.” The question debated by the commentators was whether they were prohibiting all foods after eating the paschal offering or only certain ones. The Ran and Ramban (Milchamot Hashem) viewed the response of Samuel as not banning all further eating after the paschal offering (or final matza), only certain types of food. The Ran translated ordeela’ai as a type of poultry. Hence according to the Ran and Ramban, Samuel prohibited only strongly-flavored flesh after the paschal offering, as its taste would mask that of the lamb. According to Rashbam, ordeela’ai means mushrooms. Thus Samuel was citing favorite foods that he and Rav usually enjoyed after a feast, but not after the final matza.
In either case, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Chametz u’Matza 6:11) states: “From the words of the Sofreim that not to add (eat) after matza at all, including roasted grains, nuts, and like them.” The Shuchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 479:1) tersely rules: “After afikomen do not eat anything.” Rabbi Moses Isserles adds (Ibid.): “And do not eat in two places,” summoning up the opinion of Rav.
Pointedly, Rambam did not mention the term afikomen at all. The first record of the word afikomen employed in reference to the final matza, and no longer something forbidden, occurred in the Responsa of Rashi (304), a collection of Rashi’s writings chronicled by his students (c. 12th century). By the time of the Shulchan Arukh (c. 1555), the term afikomen was firmly established among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim as the name of the final portion of matza at the Seder.
Tellingly, the words of the Mishnah, “One may not add after the Passover offering an afikomen,” appears in the Haggadah — as part of the reply to the wise son, after explaining to him “all the laws of the Paschal offering.” As many commentators point out, on the surface this does not seem to answer the wise son’s question, “what are the testimonies, and the statues, and the ordinances, which the Lord our God has commanded you (Deuteronomy 6:20)?” Interestingly, the Jerusalem Talmud (10:4,70b) substituted “us” for the “you” in the wise son’s question. (In the Mechilta (Bo 18) the wise son’s question also stated “us,” but the answer to him was the same as our Haggadah.) Also in the Jerusalem Talmud the answer given to the wise son was that given to the simple son in the Haggadah — “with a strong hand God took us out of Egypt from the house of bondage” — and that given to the simple son is “You should teach him the laws of Passover, that we do not add an afikomen after the Passover offering, so that he will not get up from one group and enter into another group (thereby fall victim to the komos).”
To be sure, the wicked son is the one most in danger of leaving a spiritual Seder and, having failed to internalize its ritual, immediately turn to base practices and the revelry of the komos. The simple son is the one most in danger of being innocently enticed by societal messages. Nevertheless, even the wise son, who took to heart the lessons of Passover, can be seduced by the sensual and confusing pleasures and enticements of the komos. Therefore, the Haggadah instructs a father to warn his child that even after absorbing all of the intricate details of Passover, a person has to be careful against misconstruing the elements of the Seder with those of the symposium (and society). Although today the symposium may no longer exist, the allure of physical pleasures and immediate gratification can still lead even a wise son down the wrong path.
(AND HOW MATZA MADE AMERICA OR AT LEAST CONTRIBUTED TO THE SETTLING OF THE WEST)
By Gil Marks
Matza is bread made from flour of members of the wheat and barley families mixed with water and then, to avoid engendering chametz, baked within 18 minutes of mixing. Throughout most of history, all bread making, including matza, was women’s work and done by hand, including grinding the grains. It was customary for each household to bake their own matzas, typically performed in groups of two or three women in a miniature production line: one to mix and knead and one or two to add the water, roll or spread the dough, and bake. The result was a relatively soft, thin round loaf akin to a firm (pocket-less) pita bread.
In biblical times, matzas, like other flatbreads, were made from a relatively loose dough and cooked in three basic ways: On heated horizontal baking stones or clay griddles; on the outer vertical walls of clay jar-ovens; or in a clay-lined pit-oven. All of these rudimentary ovens could be relatively easily constructed by individuals, and families typically made a new one each year for Passover use. With the advent of the cylindrical Persian oven (the tanur, it’s the same as the modern Indian tandoor oven) more then 2,400 years ago, matzas were baked on the vertical inner clay walls, a more efficient process exposing food to both radiant and convection heat that can approach 900°F (480°C). Most areas maintained a communal tanur in which anyone could bake, while many families also possessed their own private ovens. The tanur (tabun in Arabic) could be free-standing or, for greater insulation, built into the ground. Then the Romans introduced the large permanent wood-burning stone-lined oven (furn) with a flat-bottomed baking chamber, turning the bread baking world upside down (or sideways). These masonry ovens became the norm in much or medieval Europe and parts of the Middle East, and the types still used in modern hand matza factories and “brick-oven” pizza parlors. Since furns were somewhat complicated and expensive to construct and maintain, they were generally communal or sometimes privately owned by one (or at most, only a few) of the wealthier families in the area and shared with the townsfolk, usually for a small remuneration. As an increasing concentration of Jews began living in the large urban centers of Europe and as many became incompetent to make their own matza, the concept of the commercial matza bakery equipped with a large masonry oven appeared. The product of these bakeries is known as hand matza (or, in some circles today, as artisanal matza).
For thousands of years, matza was made fresh on a daily basis throughout Passover, except for the Sabbath. However, any failed or problematic batches of matza made before Passover can be safely disposed of without any spiritual repercussions, while any mishaps during the holiday results in the forbidden chametz. Consequently, during the late Middle Ages, to avoid even the possibility of creating chametz on Passover, Ashkenazim developed a stringency to bake their matza only before the onset of Passover and never during the festival. This change meant that the original soft style of matza would be quite inedible within a few days let alone by the end of the holiday. As a result, Ashkenazim adopted another stringency — mandating thinner, crisper matzas, considered less capable of becoming chametz and capable of being stored for many months without any deleterious effects. (Today, most hand matza bakeries begin baking and stockpiling matzas around Chanukah. Many non-Ashkenazim continued to bake matzas throughout the holiday and continued to make the old-fashioned soft matzas.) It was at this point that matza making, requiring major muscle power to mix the dense dough and lift batch after batch of loaves in and out of the furn, shifted from women’s work to men’s work. Women generally still did the rolling of the individual dough balls. The bakery sold its wares to the masses and allowed rabbis and yeshiva students to come and make their own.
Then in 1838, Isaac Singer of Alsace created a machine to roll out matza dough, the mixing and perforating still performed by hand. The new-fangled device consisted of two parallel cylindrical metal drums, manually rotated by a wheel. The dough was pressed between the drums, flowing out in sheets onto a long table, where workers cut out dough rounds using sharp metal rings, then perforated the rounds. Rolling out a single large piece of dough and cutting it into sections was quicker and more efficient than hand-rolling individual balls of dough. The entire process for each batch, from mixing to baked matza, took about two minutes. The matza rolling machine found general acceptance in western and central Europe, but met intense resistance in eastern Europe, especially among Chassidim. Large commercial hand matza bakeries were never established in nineteenth century America and mass immigration of Chasidim only occurred following World War II and, consequently, machine matza factories more easily found acceptance in the New World. The first matza rolling machine arrived in Israel in Jerusalem in 1863, where it generally found acceptance among the non-Chassidim, but, as in Europe, was vehemently denounced by Chassidim. Today, Israeli machine matza is exported throughout much of the world.
The use of rolling machines led to an unprecedented but now standardized physical change –- the square matza. Initially, the machine matzas, like the handmade type, were round — the dough rolled out and cut into rounds, leaving the corners. These edges, for economic reasons, were rerolled and cut, threatening the 18 minute time frame. To eliminate trimmings, thereby saving time and money, machine matza makers in Europe early on opted for cutting the dough sheets into contiguous squares, altering the traditional shape. Coincidentally, the square shape would eventually prove more convenient for packing and shipping than the rounds.
Then in 1886, Rabbi Abramson (died 1914) from the Lithuanian town of Salant purchased the passport of a dead man to escape from Europe — and possibly conscription into the Russian army — the name on the document being Dov Behr Manischewitz. Using his new name, Manischewitz along with his wife, Nesha, immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio and subsequently served as a ritual slaughterer (shochet) and part-time peddler. For his first Passover in American, with matzas impossible to obtain in his new hometown, Manischewitz made his own hand matza. Two years later, he started a small matza bakery in his basement for family and friends. Demand grew. In particular, Manischewitz discovered a totally unexpected market. For Cincinnati was a prominent starting point for pioneers heading West, who needed durable and nonperishable items to take in the wagons for the lengthy, dangerous trip. Matza’s keeping ability proved ideal for pioneers.
By 1900, Manischewitz opened a massive factory, revolutionizing the business by switching from coal to gas ovens, allowing for better control. The company built a new oven, at the time the largest on earth. Instead of merely using machines to roll out the dough, Manischewitz established a fully-automated factory with machines also mixing, perforating, and cutting the dough. He also introduced a patented belt to transfer the dough squares through the oven. In order to prevent the dough from coming into contact with heat before entering the oven, it was insulated, an innovation most welcomed by the workers. The factory was soon turning out 75,000 pounds of matza daily, much of it initially purchased by non-Jews heading west. Unlike irregular and frequently charred hand matzas, those made my Manischewitz were uniform and standardized.
At first, Manischewitz’s new factory produced matza for non-Passover use, where chametz is no problem, as many rabbis were hesitant about using the new machinery for Passover. After the then wealthy Manischewitz donated sizeable sums of money to European and Israeli yeshivas, his company eventually received sufficient rabbinic approval to use the machines for Passover matza as well. The machines were cleaned at the outset of each run, then continuously operated, and only cleaned again before the next operation.
Through aggressive marketing and advertising, Manischewitz transformed the matza bearing his name from a seasonal local product to a high-volume commodity shipped throughout the country as well as many parts of the world. The machine transformed matza from a product generally eaten exclusively during the festival of Passover to a widely available and inexpensive item consumed year round by some non-Jews as well as Jews. (I know a non-Jewish wine teacher who waits each year till after Passover to purchase matzas on sale to use for clearing the palates during wine tastings.) The company’s introduction in 1903 and marketing of packaged matza meal, ground and packaged by machines, also revolutionized the culinary world transforming the matza ball from a solely Passover dish into a food enjoyed year round.
In 1932, Manischewitz, a public company since 1923 but still led by the Manischewitz family, opened a branch in Jersey City to be closer to the center of the expanding American Jewish population, eventually closing the Cincinnati location in 1958. In the 1940s, Manischewitz expanded its line with non-Passover crackers and canned soups and, in the next decade, to include bottled gefilte fish and borscht. The company became so well known that during his 1973 walk on the moon, astronaut Gene Cernan commented, “Man, oh Manischewitz.” Today, Manischewitz (now owned by Harbinger Capital Partners), after acquiring several rival companies (Goodman’s and Horowitz Margareten), produces more than half the matza consumed in America on Passover.
Manischewitz’s main American rival is Streits. Near the turn of the 20th century, Aron Streit, a hand matza baker, and his wife Nettie emigrated from their native Austria, ending up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1916, Aron and his partner Rabbi Weinberger opened a hand matza bakery on Pitt Street. Then in 1925, along with his oldest son, Irving, Streit opened a modern matza factory — using various machines to mix, roll out, cut, and bake the dough — on the corner of Rivington and Stanton Streets. As the company expanded, Streit’s purchased the three adjoining buildings. Streit’s remains in the same location, the last of the Lower East Side matza bakeries. After Aron’s death in 1937, his children and grandchildren continued to run the company. Unlike many other machine matza bakeries, Streits only produces 18-minute runs, the rabbis checking the timing with stopwatches. By 2005, however, the company did offer some unorthodox flavors, including sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and olive oil.
Here are a few matza recipes:
Ashkenazic Cream Cheese Matza (Geschmirte Matza) D
1 pound (2 cups) softened cream cheese, or 8 ounces cream cheese and ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
½ cup sour cream or heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
About 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon potato starch
6 machine matzas
About ½ cup milk
Cinnamon-sugar (½ cup sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets.
2. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sour cream, egg, sugar, and potato starch and beat until smooth.
3. Dip the matzas briefly in the milk until moistened but not soggy, about 1 minute. Place the matzas in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets and thickly spread with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar.
4. Bake until the cheese topping is set and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Cut into squares while warm.
Substitute 1 pound gevina levana (Israeli white cheese) for the cream cheese and sour cream.
Passover Kreplach (Filled Matza Balls) D
(About 16 dumplings)
3 large eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons milk
About 1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (4.25 ounces/120 grams) matza meal
1 cup farmer cheese or drained cottage cheese
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1. To make the dough: Beat together the eggs, oil, milk, and salt. Stir in the matzah meal. Let stand for 15 minutes.
2. To make the filling: Combine the cheese and sugar.
3. Form the dough into 1-inch balls. With moistened fingers, hollow out each ball. Stuff about 1 tablespoon cheese filling into each ball and press the edges over the filling to seal. If desired, flatten slightly.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a low boil. Add the kreplach, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Matza and Vegetable Kugel
(6 to 8 servings)
2 cups (about 4 ounces\115 grams\3 whole) crumbled matza
1 cup boiling water
¼ cup vegetable oil, margarine, or schmaltz
2 medium onions, chopped
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and grated
1 sweet potato, peeled and grated
½ cup grated carrot
½ cup grated parsnip
½ cup chopped spinach
½ cup grated zucchini
Salt to taste
Ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Grease a 2-quart (2-liter) or 8-inch-square baking dish.
2. Pour the water over the matzas and let soak until softened but not mushy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain well.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the matza and remaining ingredients.
4. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes.
Double the recipe and bake in a 13- by 9-inch pan.
Sephardic Matza with Poached Eggs (Manouras) D
2 cups boiling water
2 machine matzas, each broken in half
Olive or vegetable oil
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 poached eggs
In a shallow casserole, pour the water over the matzas and let stand until soft but not mushy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and place the matzas on serving plates. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with cheese. Top each piece with a poached egg.
Sephardic Matza Fritters (Buenueloes/Bunuelos) P
(12 to 15 fritters)
You can also fry these as small pancakes in enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet.
4 machine matzas, crumbled (about 3 cups)
3 cups boiling water
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons matza meal
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Shira (sugar syrup), arrope (raisin syrup), or cinnamon-sugar
Ground nuts (optional)
1. Soak the matza pieces in water until softened, but not mushy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and squeeze out the excess moisture. Add the eggs, sugar, matza meal, and salt.
2. In a large pot, heat 1- to 2-inches oil over medium heat.
3. In batches, drop the batter in tablespoonfuls and deep-fry, turning once, until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Dip the hot fritters into the syrup, letting the excess drip off, or sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. If desired, roll in ground nuts.
Add about 2 cups chopped fruit, such as apples, bananas, pears, or dates to the batter.
Mina de Espinaca (Matza-Spinach Pie)
(5 to 6 servings)
1 pound (455 grams/4 cups) fresh spinach
1 to 1 1/3 cups mashed potatoes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
5 whole matzas
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. To make the filling: Wash the spinach. Cook in the water clinging to the leaves until wilted. Chop. Let cool. Add the potatoes, eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190 C). Oil an 8- or 9-inch pie plate, skillet, or baking pan.
3. Soak the unbroken matzas in warm water until semisoft but not soggy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and place on paper towels.
4. Cover the bottom of prepared pan with 2 matza. Spread with half of spinach mixture. Top with 1 matza and spread with remaining spinach mixture. Cover with remaining 2 matzas. Beat the remaining egg and spread over top.
5. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Double recipe and bake in a 13- by 9-inch baking pan.
Mina de Espinaca con Queso (Matza-Spinach Pie with Cheese): Add ¾ to 1 cup (3 to 4 ounces/85 to 115 grams) grated Muenster, Monterey Jack, or Cheddar cheese. Or substitute 6 ounces (170 grams) feta or drained cottage cheese for the potatoes.
Over the years, I have flown various airlines to Israel, about 12 times (or 24 if you count back and forth) in the past 6 years. Many of those trips were on El Al, as was my most recent taken toward the end of this March. On this trip, I was assigned the aisle seat of row 32 of the 747, which is the back of the section adjacent to the bathrooms. I did not mind that location, except when it came to dinner time. First the stewardesses passed out the mehadrin meals and other special orders. Then they wheeled a cart down the aisles parceling out the regular El Al meals. But they skipped me while serving dinner. The men in the seats across the aisle from me received their meals as did the woman opposite me in my row. As soon as I realized that I had been forgotten, I pushed the call button. But the staff completely ignored my call light. I was not upset over the lack of a meal until they continued to ignore me. I tried to get the attention of the occasional stewardess darting down the aisle, but they too ignored me. When I went to the food area, it was empty of staff. Finally, I noticed a stewardess begin offering after-dinner coffee and I approached her with my problem. I was informed that she would look into it after she finished her coffee pouring. Finally, as the crew was already beginning to collect the empty trays from the other passengers, I was presented with a meal, by which time the pita bread was cold and rock hard and the chicken cool and soggy. (I’m not sure the chicken would have been much better fresh.) After dinner, as the stewardess was offering water, I was once again skipped over. To add insult to injury (or vice versa), my seat was located across from one of the storage slots for the food cart, and I was roundly bumped several times as it was inserted. Later while I was searching for a movie — several of the movie channels aboard were not working (reruns of “Sex and the City” were available though, and the battery on my 3-year-old Dell laptop took this time to end its all-too-brief life, preventing me from working during the flight) — the coffee-pourer did stop by to ask if everything was b’seder (in order).
For breakfast, I received my tray last again, but at least without need of beseeching. The omelet was rubbery. We were also provided with an American-made unflavored yogurt containing cornstarch, whey, potassium sorbate, gellan gum, and tricalcium phosphate. It was about as far from actual yogurt as could be (and without some form of honey, jam, or other flavoring), so I rejected it, as did most of my neighbors. The mehadrin meals contained a strawberry yogurt (cholov Yisrael) without many of those additives. All in all, EL AL coach food from JFK left much to be desired. And the service obviously had major gaps.
As any traveler can verify, the current state of kosher airline food provided to coach travelers can best be described as dismal. I cannot testify to the First Class and Business Class fare, as I have not as yet flown them. (If I ever accumulate enough frequent flyer miles, someday I may figure out how to upgrade on EL Al.)
When airlines first began providing meals for their passengers, they preferred the simplicity of serving everyone the same thing. As competition increased, however, companies began offering diverse foods in an attempt to attract customers. Thus kosher meals appeared in the early 1950s and soon travelers could expect a repast such as fresh roast chicken or brisket that even many non-kosher people ordered due to its higher quality. In 1998, about 1.8 million passengers requested kosher meals on flights originating in the United States. Although this represented less than 1 percent of all travelers, it was a much sought after group as they tend to be repeat flyers as well as useful in filling seats in key markets.
No American-based airline ever possessed the facilities to produce their own kosher meals, so they always contracted out the services. Among the first and initially the largest of these food providers was Lou G. Segal, a Manhattan caterer who also opened a restaurant. Another early kosher airline caterer was Sam Borenstein, who began servicing El Al flights departing from New York. Borenstein’s was subsequently purchased by an El Al subsidiary in 1971. Additional kosher caterers provided meals out of Miami and other major Jewish communities. All of these meals were fresh.
Then in the late 1950s, Julius Schreiber of Brooklyn introduced frozen airline food and subsequently undercut his competitors’ price. Within a short while, Schreiber’s was providing the kosher meals for most major American carriers. Except for some New York-based flights, henceforth, domestic and many international kosher airline meals would be frozen.
As Segal’s position in the airline food domain declined, he sold the airline catering part of his business to Milton Hofman. The new owner renamed the company Wilton’s, inverting the first letter of his name, and cut costs by offering frozen meals and less expensive items. By the 1980s, Wilton’s emerged as the predominant force in kosher airline food. As Schreiber’s position declined, the company sold out to Alle Processing of Brooklyn, best known for its Meal Mart stores. Nonetheless, Wilton continued to gain control over the kosher airline business and Schreiber’s focused its efforts in the more lucrative institutional food business. Today, Wilton’s (now part of Milmar Food Group and renamed KoshAir Cuisine) services most American carriers except for Delta and Continental.
The competition between Wilton’s and Schreiber’s was playing out as the Reagan administration deregulated the airline industry in the mid-1880s and the carriers began to dramatically reduce spending on food. In 1991 per passenger food expenditures on domestic coach flights was $4.76. By 1997 that figured had fallen to $3.03. As a result, the quality of the non-kosher meals offered passengers experienced a sharp decline as well. Sandwiches and a small bag of pretzels generally replaced the once common meal of meat, vegetables, and potato chips. After 2001, free meals in coach were eliminated by most U.S. airlines for domestic flights, offering instead a bag of pretzels and a soda. In 2009, Continental was the only major U.S. airline still offering free food in coach on domestic flights. Attempts by airlines to sell food on board never caught on, although in 2009 some airlines began upgrading their offerings for sale, some designed by celebrity chefs or provided by well-known restaurant chains.
Anyway, in the 1980s, as Wilton’s and Schreiber’s were going head to head for accounts and offering lower bids, the carriers were cutting food costs. The low margins left the caterers with even lower profits and less to spend on the ingredients. In addition, frozen meals need to be heated and in-flight warming systems only hold up to 9-ounce packages. Therefore, kosher airline meals shrunk. Poor airline storage facilities also contributed to a lessening of quality. All in all, the result proved to be to the detriment of the kosher coach traveler.
Today, American-based airlines for international flights outsource to four major kosher caterers. Milmar (KoshAir) contracts for many domestic flights (what remains) as well as for more than 50 international carriers. Continental Airlines for international flights from the US provides Weiss Kosher Cuisine of Brooklyn (in partnership with Cuisine Innovations and supervised by the OU), while Delta is usually Servair (a subsidiary of Air France, which offers kosher through its subsidiary, SMC). Weiss provides “glatt” and “cholov Yisrael” meals, while KoshAir makes “glatt” meals and stam (not cholov Yisrael) dairy.
Borenstein, under the OU certification, handles all of El Al meals from flights originating at JFK as well as numerous other airlines for international, including American. (The OU also supervises El Al meals from Chicago and Miami, while all other El Al sites are under the Rav Hamachshir of El Al or a local kashrut agency and the meals provided by various local caterers.)
In 2010, El Al provided 5 million meals to passengers. It offered 22 kinds of special meals, which were ordered by 16 percent of the passengers, including 6 percent who ordered the mehadrin. Standard El Al meals are single-wrapped or sometimes open trays. El Al also offers glatt kosher double-wrapped “Regal” meals under Rabbi Nuchem Teitelbaum and prepared in its own kitchens in the Borenstein JFK facility. This policy was instituted when staff members on an El Al plane stranded in Newark provided non-kosher pizzas to the passengers and in Budapest non-kosher cheese sandwiches. (And I could barely get a regular meal!)
For El Al flights departing Israel, the kosher meals are prepared under the supervision of the rabbi of Ben Gurion Airport. Years ago, the kosher meals were prepared by a plant at Ben Gurion run by Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim (now a water park). El Al Israel meals are now made by Tamam, which acquired its contract due to political pressure from members of the Shas party (even though Tamam charged El Al more than its competitor Shefa). Tamam is a subsidiary of the privatized El Al. The Israeli mehadrin meals are from Hamasbia Caterers under the Bedatz (Eida Hachareidi).
Very recently, El Al redesigned their Tamam in-flight meals under the direction of Israeli celebrity chef Moshe Segev. (I do hope Segev had nothing to do with the meal I received flying out of JFK and that the Israeli yogurt and omelet are better than the American ones.) I can only report on Tamam’s quality upon my return in May.
In the future, I may order mehadrin meals from El Al. In this way, I would at least receive the meal first rather than last (or not at all). And the mehadrin fare out of JFK seemed to be better these days than the standard El Al meals. (Then again, the grass is always greener.) Oh, also El Al, resetting the clocks for daylight savings time a week early, posted the wrong times on the plane for landing in Israel. We landed at 11.25 am Israel time, not the 12:25 that the on-board media listed. Well, I did get the pre-meal bag of pretzels.