Friday, August 27, 2004

We have a few chasidim in our neighborhood. For the most part, they are good people -as good as any of us, anyway - and I enjoy talking to them.

Last night, S, a hard-core hasid of some kind or another, told me that he allows no variation of his weekly shabbos meals. Friday night is always chicken soup, roasted chicken, tzimmes, kugel and compote. Saturday afternoon is always liver, egg salad, chicken, kugel and cholent.

Is this gastronomic rigidity typical of all Hasidim? S swears it is. He says all Hasidim eat the same food on shabbos. Moreover, he swears that both the meal and that rigidity in general are authentically Jewish. But how can that be so?

First, many of these dishes could not have been prepared in ancient Israel or Babylon. Potatoes, for example, are a New World vegetable. Does this mean that before Columbus returned to Europe with his boatload of potatoes, Jews, deprived of cholent and kugel, were unable to enjoy an authentic shabbos meal?

Second, if Judaism was as rigid as S imagines, Hasidut itself could not exist. The prayer nusach of Europe was ashkenaz. The dominant halachic authority of Europe was the RAMA. Both were thrown overboard by the original Hasidim.

If minhagim were really as binding, if they were truly as powerful, as modern Hasidim imagine, wouldn't their own movement have died in its cradle? I wonder if Hasidim have pondered this irony?

When I next speak to S, I'll be sure to ask.

Comments:

Nevermind potatoes, if it's supposed to be the original Jewish Shabbos meal, where's the manna? In fairness, though, that combination does seem to be SOP for anyone whose family came out of the Russian Pale (and possibly farther west into Poland, I'm not sure) in the 19th/early 20th century. My great-grandmother, who was certainly no Chasid, served almost exactly those Shabbos meals -- we had some variation around about the dessert stage -- and so did my great-aunt. I still have great difficulty planning a Friday evening meal for guests without chicken, and I'm a vegetarian. :)  

Correction, thanks to Cookie on Himishtown.

The guy does eat gefilte fish, too. I left it off, by mistake.  

I agree with Naomi -- it's geographical/cultural. My family certainly isn't Hasidic, but they are from Russia/Poland, and that's the traditional shabbat meal. Whenever my parents are in town for shabbat or I visit there, that's what we eat. It's a meal that just says "shabbat!" to my parents and their generation. We have a special meal every Friday, but the menu changes based on the kind of week we've had around here with the kids. Hot dogs are perfectly acceptable shabbat fare at our table!  

Naomi and GoldaLeah, is there no variety at all in the meals you and your parents serve? S claims he eats the same dishes every week with no changes, or substitutions. I'd go mad eating the same dishes, week after week, and I can't accept that Shabbos is somehow disturbed, if the meals change.  

This is just a typical example of uncritical, ahistorical thinking. Not every revolution turns out like the American Revolution. Some of them are followed by a campaign of reeducation, which especially succeeds when the populace wasn't educated to begin with.  
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