How the Eggplant Became a Jewish Vegetable

When Jews, fleeing persecution, left Spain and scattered across the Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th centuries, they brought distinctive recipes for eggplant with them. According to Orge Castellano, they may even be responsible for introducing the food into Italian and Greek cuisines. He writes:

The esteemed 10th-century Kitāb al-tabīj, . . . written by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, offers a window into the culinary and religious traditions of medieval Muslims and Jews. Of 543 recipes, 62 showcase the eggplant in various preparations, including one recipe called “eggplant, Jewish style.”

As the centuries progressed, the acceptance of vegetables in Europe wasn’t universally positive, as it had been during the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. . . . In the Italian Renaissance, the humanist Ermolaus Barbarus dubbed the eggplant malum insanum (mad apple). . . . The ill-natured names reflected the disdain eggplant faced at the time, an attitude evident in Antonio Frugoli’s 1631 treatise where the gastronome suggested “delicate fruits to serve at any table of princes and great lords” while the rest of vegetables like eggplants were only “fit for peasants or Jews.”

The popularity of eggplants among the Sephardim transcended the sculleries’ confines, as evidenced in literature, music, poetry, and popular culture. For instance, in Francisco Delicado’s Portrait of Lozana (1528), the protagonist, Aldonza, boasts of her cooking talents while revealing her Jewish provenance: “Do I know how to make boronia? Wonderfully! And eggplant cazuela? To perfection!” Converso ancestry was often denoted by what they ate; food usually gave people’s tradition away, ultimately leading to their persecution and killings solely for [appearing] to observe Judaic dietary habits.

Despite his Spanish origins, Maimonides was among the eggplant’s detractors, labeling it unhealthy in one of his medical tracts. Those works will be the subject of the fourth and final podcast of our podcast series on the great rabbi and philosopher. Today, you can listen to the third here.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Food, Moses Maimonides, Sephardim

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security