A Short History of Kugel

On the holiday of Shavuot, which begins Sunday evening, there is a widespread tradition of eating dairy foods; one such customary dish is a sweet version of noodle kugel made with farmer’s cheese. Joel Haber presents a brief history of kugel:

Of the two main kugel varieties today—noodle and potato—noodle (lokshen in Yiddish) is the older, originating in the 1500s. Earlier kugels were made primarily of bread dough, and potato kugels only hit the scene about 300 years after the noodle version.

It appears that pasta reached Ashkenazi Jews via two distinct routes. Jewish travelers brought noodles from Italy to France and Germany in the 14th century, but the food also reached the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe about 200 years later, brought via Central Asia by the Tatars. Linguistic evidence supports this two-pronged arrival hypothesis; the Western Yiddish word for noodles, frimzel, draws on the same root as Italian vermicelli (from the word meaning “worms” in Latin), while the Eastern Yiddish word, lokshen, derives from the Persian lakhsha, meaning “slippery.”

A similar bridging of cultures can be found in a distinctive Israeli version of noodle kugel. Y’rushalmi (Jerusalemite) kugel mixes thin noodles with caramelized sugar and a healthy dose of black pepper, along with the standard eggs and oil. Why was this the kugel invented in Jerusalem? Caramel was not a common ingredient in Europe, and black pepper was available but expensive. These two ingredients are much more common in the cooking of Jews from Arab lands. Early 19th-century Jerusalem was one of the few places at the time where Jews from all over lived side by side, and sometimes even married each other. An Ashkenazi food with eastern Jewish flavors inside is the perfect embodiment of the ingathering of the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel.

As Haber notes, Rabbi Arele Roth (1894−1947)—a Jerusalem-based ḥasidic leader—once called kugel “the one special food that all Jews eat, one food in the service of one God.” Perhaps an exaggeration, but one grounded in reality.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at My Jewish Learning

More about: Hasidism, Jerusalem, Jewish food, Shavuot

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship