Tuesday, October 03, 2006

JEWISH FOOD AND EATING CUSTOMS.

FOOD,- GLORIOUS FOOD!
Eating Jewish!

Partaking of a meal with friends is a wonderful social experience. Australia is blessed with an abundance of foods from all over the world and with restaurants and food-shops catering to every international taste and palate. However, when we have to entertain anyone outside our close circle of family and friends, we often face dilemmas.

There are ethnic differences, dietary fads and health-related dietary restrictions of all kinds for many individuals. Courtesy demands that as hosts, we inquire of our guests not only about their likes and dislikes, but also about what they can or cannot eat for all these other reasons. This applies particularly to Jewish people whom one may like to invite to one's home, but who may be devoutly religious/orthodox and therefore restricted in what they will accept in a non-Kosher, food-wise, home,- Jewish or non-Jewish.

The laws of "kashrut", i.e. what constitutes "kosher" food, are very complex and far too difficult for anyone who does not practice the Jewish religion to follow,- particularly if it is only for one occasion here and there. Therefore the rule of thumb when inviting privately an Orthodox Jewish person, is to prepare plenty of unpeeled fresh fruit, nuts for nibbles, some raw vegetables, hot or cold drinks using disposable cups and utensils,- and leave it at that. If they do not even touch that, don't be offended,- they appreciate the invitation without the food!

However, if you want to do more than the basics, then the best way is to ring one of the many Kosher caterers around town and order the meal. They will deliver it to your home with their own dishes, plates, cutlery, etc. as many meals as you like,- but obviously at a cost! Kosher food is unfortunately dearer. Alternatively, buy take-away Kosher foods already prepared from one of the shops, say, in Carlisle Street, Caulfield or Glenferrie Rd., Malvern, or other Caulfield shopping strips in your city and without handling the food, using disposable tableware and cutlery, just place it still in their containers (foil ones can be warmed up in the oven) on the table for the guests to help themselves. They will not eat from anyone's non-kosher tableware and utensils.

Official invitations for Jewish representatives of organisations need different considerations. One cannot cater for every individual requirement at a general function obviously,- but if there is a strictly vegetarian choice provided, then there is no problem.
In my many years' experience representing the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia at many official functions, I was often appalled at the ignorance displayed when serving food in a multicultural, multi-ethnic society which Australia is today. I would sometimes sit at a table with others who practice the Hindu or Moslem religion, as well as just vegetarians and we would be served mixed sandwiches including all kinds of meats and meat products. We either went on a "fishing expedition" to see what we could salvage out of these to eat, or we would just stay hungry (after sometimes paying for the privilege to boot!). One group provided a beautiful cold buffet with lots of different salads, except that every one of them was sprinkled with bacon pieces!

Most Jewish people do eat out in restaurants, particularly in vegetarian and fish restaurants. Only certain fish (salmon, whiting, perch, trout) are usually OK, but certainly no shellfish or exotic sea-foods (e.g. calamari!) and the fish should be preferably steamed, baked or grilled. If anything is to be fried, only pure vegetable oils should be used. Vegetables of all kinds are also totally acceptable.

Some years ago I had a phone-call from the wife of the British Consul who invited me and a few of my colleagues for lunch to meet the wife of a British VIP while on an official visit to Melbourne. This lady was particularly insistent on meeting members of the Jewish community. I regretfully declined as it was right in the middle of our 8-day Passover holiday when no bread or flour products are eaten. Undeterred, she insisted that we should come and she would provide us with whatever we needed for our meal from her caterer. I then suggested that she may like to order from a Kosher caterer who would know exactly what to prepare. She did just that and some 12 of us sat down to a fully Kosher-catered Passover lunch at the British Consulate. This event was such a success that we all became great friends and the Consul and his wife became one of our keen supporters during their term in Australia.

Where there is a will, there is a way! No one should use food as the excuse for not inviting, nor using it as a reason for not accepting an invitation, except during the Sabbath or a religious holiday, when they cannot travel. (There are also proscribed fast-days, most importantly the Day of Atonement.) It is just a simple matter of discussing beforehand the pros and cons of what is acceptable and what is not! Just as some people of the Greek Orthodox religion will not be allowed to eat any animal products at certain times during the year and others of different faiths who are observant will have their own dietary restrictions , so too the observant Jewish people have their restrictions also. It is just a matter of being aware of the basics:

no meats, unless kosher-slaughtered and prepared by "kosher cooks";
no meat products of any kind (inc. stock cubes);
no shellfish or sea foods ;
plenty of vegetables and fruit in disposable utensils, -

that is all that is really necessary to provide for your Orthodox-observant Jewish guests.

Bon appetit! The company is usually more important than the food anyway,- unless you have to pay for it!

Malvina Malinek OAM (M.Sc.)
(Past Pres. NCJWA)

1 comment:

Pastor Billy said...

That was a very nice post.

I have a couple questions I hope you can answer:

Was it customary for Orthodox Jewish women not to eat with the men? I'm not sure of anything written in the Torah that completely indicates such a custom.

In the time of Jesus what would have been the custom in the home for inviting a teacher over for a meal?

Thank you.