Shabbat - What's for Dinner?

March 18, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, March 18, 2016.

Shabbat - What’s for Dinner?

If you ask most Jews “What is the main course in a Shabbat Dinner,” most would say, “Chicken of course!” However... we are a diverse people. Here in America, so many of us remember our mothers making a roast chicken. Stuffed (maybe with kishke, a kind of flour and chicken fat sausage), or not stuffed. However, chicken isn’t the universal Shabbat dinner. Interestingly enough, in Eastern Europe in the 19th century (think “Fiddler on the Roof”) the Shabbat main dish of choice was... FISH! It was cheap. It was fresh. What more could you want? There were basically two ways to make fish in Europe: 1) just grill it or roast it (of course for a traditional Shabbat it would have to be ready on Friday before the sun sets), or 2) Gefilte Fish (“Filled Fish”) – carefully take the skin off of the fish (in one piece if possible), then grind up the fish with matzoh meal and onions, and maybe other vegetables & salt & pepper, and stuff it back in the skin like a sausage. The “sausage” is then poached and sliced into pieces. (I know, I know... that isn’t what our gefilte fish looks like here in America where it’s poached fish balls.) People would often buy a live fish and keep it alive in the bath tub until it was needed in the kitchen – the easiest way to keep it fresh without a refrigerator.

So what about chicken, you might ask? Chicken was actually more expensive. Even if you grew chickens yourself, they were so valuable for their eggs that you didn’t want to lose the egg production in order to have chicken on your Sabbath table. Chicken, or more likely goose, would have been served as a special rare meal.

In America at the end of the 19th/ beginning of the 20thcenturies, brisket was often the entrée of choice. Brisket was a cheap, tough cut that was usually pot roasted. It fact, it was so cheap, that it was cheaper than poultry, which was still used on only the most special of occasions.

Adding the international diversity of Jews to the mix, however, you have even more variety. Stews? Roasted vegetables? Soups?

And, of course, there are so many modern alternatives. Vegetarian? Chinese? Meatloaf? The possibilities are endless when we break with what’s seen as “Traditional.”

What is YOUR favorite Shabbat option?

Shabbat Shalom