Jewish Dietary Laws and the Rise of the Delicatessen in America

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  • Topic: Judaism, Jewish cuisine, Kashrut
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  • Published : July 26, 2010
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David J. Marti
Dr. Carl
Religion 230
15 July 2010
Jewish Dietary Laws and the Rise of the Delicatessen in America
In the Jewish culture, observing dietary laws has always meant living within boundaries. A great deal of self-discipline is required, and each person or household has to decide how stringently to apply the rules--or which set of rules to follow. This often means adapting to the standards of the community in which you or your guests live. One constant has always been the local delicatessen (aka deli). A place where the members of the Diaspora could feel a sense of inclusion while outside of their homes and not have to worry about breaking the laws of Kashrus.

Talmudic law was interpreted differently among medieval communities, leading to differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic/Middle Eastern Jews on some of the fine points. Today, ideological and sociological distinctions are reflected in different standards of kashrut. Some keep "biblical kashrut," refraining from eating the meat of non-kosher animals but not separating milk from meat. Others are stringent at home but lenient in other settings. (Welfled)

To understand the role of the deli, you have to understand the Kashrus law that establishes that you cannot eat meat and dairy foods together. This means that a meal is either a meat meal or a dairy meal (or a parve meal for that matter). An observant jew cannot even have meat and dairy at the same table; that is, one person can't eat a bagel with cream cheese at the same table where someone is eating fried chicken. To clarify this further, you can't have a piece of steak on one plate, prepared without any dairy, then turn to a second plate and chomp down on a piece of cheese, even if you've swallowed the steak. (Washovsky)

Judaism has often been referred to a kitchen religion. That is, a religion that has a great many of its laws’ and traditions attached to the way the meals are prepared and consumed. Food and religion have always had a bond of sanctity between them and nowhere else is that evident than in the Jewish faith. (Joselit) Most Jews were immigrants. Uncertain of their surroundings and their place in society, they could place their resounding faith in the fact that the Torah was true, and the food was unhesitant good.

Jews following Kashrus ensure that meat and milk not be eaten together in any way. In most households, it is customary to wait a certain amount of time between meals. After eating meat, the wait time varies, but the generally accepted amount of time to wait is six hours. These different traditions developed within the various branches of Judaism as to the exact amount of time that must pass between meat and dairy meals, based on where the branch developed. Wait time is required because of the nature of meat. In The Laws of Kashrus, Binyomin Forst explains that the sages give two primary reasons: Meat leaves behind a fatty residue in the throat, and particles of meat might remain between your teeth. Time is necessary for the digestive powers of saliva to break down both that fatty residue and the meat particles.

For most Orthodox Jews, the most common wait time is six hours. According to Sephardic tradition, six hours is not merely tradition, but halakhah (or religious law). This required Jewish law, which originated in the Ashkenazic tradition says that more lenient options are also halakhically correct. However, most agree that the meat meal should be concluded with the appropriate blessings, signifying that the meal is over. You should then clean and rinse your mouth and wash your hands. (Stern)

Some say one hour is sufficient time, and this has been the accepted tradition of Dutch Jews. German Jews follow a tradition of waiting three hours. Forst says this may be based on the idea that in winter the time between meals is shorter; therefore, it is acceptable to wait a shorter amount of time year round.

These are three generally accepted wait-time...
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