Sephardic Seder Flavors

Too Good To Passover, by Jennifer Abadi, is an exploration of the diversity of Sephardic and Mizrahi Passover traditions. Abadi spent six years interviewing people from Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Along with their sentimental memoirs, her subjects shared treasured family Passover recipes. [Read more…]

Sephardim Real and Imagined: A Response to “Many Sephardic Jews Aren’t Actually ‘Sephardic’” by Alex Beider

By Joel S Davidi Weisberger

Photo by By Olivier Lévy

In an interview with a local Jerusalem weekly newspaper, the renowned Israeli historian of the Hasidic movement Dr. Isaac Alfasi , recounted an exchange that he once had with Israeli Prime Minister David ben Gurion. Alfasi, who served as President of the Israeli branch of Bnai Brith in the 1950s, was asked by the elder statesman, “Are you a Sephardi or an Ashkenazi?” “I am a Sephardic Jew from Poland,” Alfasi’s replied. Ben Gurion was incredulous, Alfasi recalled, and he asked, “How can one be a Sephardi from Poland?” Alfasi then explained to the man that indeed Sephardim had settled in various parts of Poland, and he happened to descend from one of those families that had retained this particular vestige of their ancestral culture.

In an article posted on the Israeli online news site YNET (March 13, 2007), the genealogist Orit Lavie explores the roots of her Alfasi forbears from Kharkov, Russia (now Ukraine). According to Lavie using my own translation:

“My connection to the Sephardic diaspora begins in the second half of the 19th century … [my ancestor] Yaakov Alfos was a descendant of Rabbi Avraham Alfos-Alfasi of Opoczno, Poland. The surname Alfasi denotes origins in Fez, Morocco … One of the most-well known members of this family was the famed Talmudist Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, known also by the acronym “RIF.” He was born in Algeria and eventually relocated to Fez, Morocco. At the end of his life, he resided in Spain and apparently one of his descendants ended up in Poland.”

Lavie pointedly concludes her piece:

“The saga of this family indicates that the perceived divide between Ashkenazim and Sephardim is not as wide as it seems and the distance between these two Jewish Diasporas is a lot closer than is commonly thought.”

I was reminded of these tidbits when I read Alexander Beider’s latest article on “faux” Sephardim entitled  Many ‘Sephardic’ Jews Aren’t Actually Sephardic

While I feel that the article was interesting and enlightening, I do feel the need to point out what I perceive to be several errors of commission and omission.

Beider:

“But most of all, we did not know what many people don’t know: that no group of Sephardic Jews ever migrated to Germany, with the exception of a single Sephardic community that made its way to Hamburg.”

Sephardim also established communities in other large cities in Western and Central Europe such as Prague and Vienna. In 1662, for instance, the converso turncoat Isaac Aboab testified before the Spanish inquisition as to the existence of a community of Portuguese returnees to the Jewish faith in Danzig/Gdansk in Poland among other places.

The mistaken belief that many European Jews are Sephardic is based almost invariably on surnames borne by members of their families.

While many Eastern European Jewish families with Sephardic-sounding family names stake a claim to Sephardic ancestry, many, if not most, who make this claim, do not in fact have Sephardic surnames. Often the claim is that the name had undergone “Ashkenazification” (typical of these would be the German equivalent to a prior Spanish surname, ex: Belmonte>Schoenberg).

Beider is correct that many Ashkenazim are mistaken in their belief that they are of Sephardic descent. I have come across quite a few American Jews who initially research their Eastern European forbears and often mistakenly conclude that since a particular ancestor was a member of a congregation called “Anshei Sephard,” which can literally be translated as “People of Sepharad,” their ancestor must have been Sephardic. In reality of course, this term was used by people who prayed in the Chassidic rite.

Another reason to claim Sephardic descent is the subject of John Efron’s excellent book “German Jewry and the Allure of the Sephardic.” According to Efron, when the German Jews embarked upon the quest for legal emancipation and social acceptance, they also undertook a program of cultural renewal. Part of this renewal was the casting off of an unwanted identity and the taking on of what they deemed to be a superior Jewish identity. In the mind of many an enlightened German Jew, Ashkenazim represented insularity, backwardness, moral, and even physical degeneracy. By contrast, the Sephardim of old Andalucía were seen as worldly and morally, intellectually and physically superior. Efron provides numerous examples in his book of Ashkenazi public figures who laid a claim to this legacy for the reasons enumerated above.

Efron:

“No one better exemplifies the romantic tendency to venerate the Sephardim…than Theodore Herzl. With his vivid imagination and highly developed theatrical sense, this Budapest-born resident of Vienna construed for himself an imaginary lineage, wherein he claimed to be descended of Sephardic Jews. In one…his paternal great-grandfather, a Rabbi named Loebl, had been forcibly converted to Catholicism. After fleeing the Iberian Peninsula, Loebl emerged in Constantinople, whereupon he openly returned to Judaism…for his own sense of self and his own self-image Herzl concocted this fantasy wherein Loebl was no longer the Slovenian Jew of reality but the Spanish Jew of Herzl’s desires…Herzl longed to be anything but an Ashkenazic Jew from Central Europe.”

Instructively, Efron notes, “Lest one think that Herzl’s invention reflects a decidedly 19th century sentiment, in the course of writing this book, I had conversations with a surprising number of Ashkenazi Jews who declared to me that their families had originally come from Spain.” Efron dismisses this out of hand. Although in a personal correspondence he does concede that some Sephardim did make their way to Eastern Europe but overall the claims of Sephardic descent are, in his words, “A desperate cry for Jewish yikhus [noble descent].”

Beider:

“Then you have several sources which claim that the famous Yiddish writer Isaac Leib Peretz is said to have Sephardic ancestors, likely due to numerous Sephardic Jews called Perez or Peres.”

This is no mere rumor or hearsay; Y.L. Peretz’s Sephardic ancestry has been the subject of much discussion over the years. The respected Yiddish literary critic, S. Niger Charney in a tribute article to Peretz published in the 1952 Yivo Annual of Jewish Social Science devotes considerable space to this particular family tradition. While Charney does calls call his Sephardic ancestry “a theory” and wishes there was documentary substantiation, he notes:

Though it has to this date not been definitely substantiated, Rosa Peretz Laaks, a close relative of the poet, tells in her memoirs that “the Peretz family possessed a genealogical document which states that the family originally came from Spain.”

Charney cites two other prominent Yiddishists who speak of Peretz’s Sephardic heritage including Zalman Reyzen and the playwright Aaron Zeitlin who himself quotes the respected Jewish historian Dr. Yitzhak Schipper to the effect that “there was a definite tradition in Peretz’s family regarding their Sephardic ancestry.”

During the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam (referred to as the mahamad), considered one of the wealthiest Sephardic Jewish communities in Europe (if not the world) would often hand over some money to poor indigent Sephardim and send them to settle far away (these were referred to in Portuguese as despachos).

According to Inquisition archives, with the help of  Ton Tlelen, Although most of these people were sent to places that had well-established Sephardic communities, some of them were also sent to overwhelmingly Ashkenazic Poland.

What follows is the Hebrew year, the names and the destinations of five such despachos(which they all have in common, namely Poland):

5448, Merari Belogrado Polonia
5455, Nieto de H.H. Usiel Polonia
5461, Mordehay Cohen Polonia
5462, Rahel Cuna Polonia
5474, Abraham Israel Guer Polonia (apparently a proselyte to Judaism).

One of the names, Usiel is of particular interest. He is referred to as a descendant of Hakham Uziel. This, according to Tielen, must be Hakham Isaac Uziel who died and was buried in Amsterdam in 1622. Uziel went to Poland in 1752 according to the archival document cited above. From another archival document from Poland, this time a list of Sephardim who migrated to Zamosc in the years 1588-1650, we come across one Abraham Uziel (whose name appears in the official documentation in the polonized form Uzelowicz).

Did the Uziel family in Zamocs occasionally experience the arrival of new family members? This would indicate that the Sephardic community in Zamosc did not die out soon after it was established – as many historians claim – but rather that it continued to exist well into the 18th century. It would otherwise be difficult to understand why the mahamad would for all practical purposes dump a member of a prominent Sephardic family in middle of Poland.

Above all, we must recall, as I did in my opening passage citing from Ms. Lavie, the distance between Sepharad and Ashkenaz is not all that great in the great scheme of things. Lavie mentions her Alfasi antecedents arriving in Poland from the Sephardic diaspora at some point in the distant past. One must recall that Jewish Diasporas were rarely stagnant; there were constants comings and goings from Sephardic centers to Ashkenazic centers and vice versa. As early as the 11th century, there was travel by Spanish scholars to Germany as well as by German and French scholars to Iberia . One of the most famous Ashkenazi scholars to settle in Spain was Rabbi Asher ben Jechiel who relocated to Toledo in the 14th century.

Other Jews in Poland have maintained very interesting traditions of Sephardic descent. Rabbi Yosef Wallis who heads the Israeli Orthodox Arakhim organization recently led a delegation back to the home of his tragic direct ancestor Rafael Valls on the Spanish island of Majorca. Valls was one of 37 secret Jews burned at the stake there in 1691 for refusing to renounce their Jewishness.

According to a profile in the New York Times:

Rabbi Wallis, 64, who was born in Israel and raised in New York, is the son of two Holocaust survivors from the Dachau camp. His father [a scion of Hasidim of the Gerrer sect from Pabianice, Poland], he said, remembered an old family Bible, lost during World War II, with the name of Rafael Valls at the top of the list of ancestors with birth and death dates that listed him as burned at the stake.

As we move further south in Eastern Europe, the preponderance of evidence for Sephardic settlement increases. In Hungary, as late as the 19th century the Synagogue of the Frenkim (a term that was commonly used by Ashkenazim to describe Sephardim) was located in Budapest. According to Kinga Frojimovics and Géza Komoróczy in “Jewish Budapest; Monuments, Rites, History, Isaac Almuslin” who lived in Pest in the last decades of the 18th century was a Frenk too. Adolf Agai (1836-1916, a Hungarian writer, journalist and editor reminisced about his Sephardic grandfather. “My late grandfather [Agai refers to him as Don Yitzhak in other places], founded the Frenk Synagogue in Budapest in the 30s [1830]. These Sephardi Jews dispersed from Spain all over the world, retained their mother tongue, Spanish, with great love and care. The older generation still speaks it at home. Old Castilian and ancient Andalusian chants and zemirot sounded at my grandfather’s table on holidays, where we used to eat an ethnic pastry filled with spinach.” Adolf Agai, “About my great-grandfather”, 1907 as cited in Jewish Budapest p. 33

I would be remiss if I omitted mention of recent DNA studies that have established the Sephardic origin of two very prominent Ashkenazic Rabbinic families, namely the Hassidic Twersky dynasty from Ukraine, and the Katznellenbogens, a very old family that was originally thought to have immigrated to Italy from Germany in the 16th century.

One can perhaps draw an analogy between Sephardim in eastern Europe and ethnic Armenians who arrived en masse to Poland where they were heavily engaged in commerce. In Lviv (Lemberg) for instance they constituted a significant percentage of the city by the 16th century. However, by the 17th century, they had begun to adopt Catholicism and rapidly assimilated among the overall Polish population. They would eventually lose their dominant position in international trade to Jewish merchants.

The Sephardim of Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe came at the invitation of several powerful local leaders. They engaged heavily in all manners of trade. Eventually, some would return to their points of origin while others would assimilate among the Ashkenazic majority. Some would “ashkenazify” their names while others would choose to retain their original surnames.

Beider comes to the conclusion that “very few” Sephardim made it to Eastern Europe, I contend, in light of the evidence-only some of which I present here- that a significant number of Sephardic Jews did indeed make it to Eastern Europe. I further believe that their history deserves thorough examination and study.

Joel S. Davidi Weisberger is the founder of the Jewish History Channel and a historian specializing in the history of Medieval Jewry and the Sephardic Diaspora. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Exiles of Sepharad that are in Ashkenaz,” which explores the settlement of Sephardic Jews in various parts of Eastern Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. He may be contacted at [email protected]

A la Karte: Boutique Kosher Catering

If you keep kosher, and you need to attend a business lunch in a non-kosher restaurant, what do you do? If you have a large family, and you are charged with cooking a kosher holiday meal for everyone, who can you call? If your family is Ashkefardic, and you would like to please all of their palates, who can cook authentically for both traditions? The answer is A la Karte Boutique Cuisine & Catering.

You don’t need to bring a brown bag to a lunch meeting in a non-kosher restaurant. Thanks to A la Karte, you may order something off the menu, and your dish will be kosher, while your lunch companions will get the regular restaurant fare. How is this possible? A la Karte has an arrangement with several restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area to provide kosher versions of that particular restaurant’s cuisine. Of all of A la Karte’s boutique offerings, this one grabbed my attention the most.

IMG_0115With Rosh Hashanah approaching, many of us are planning a festive meal for our family and friends. It’s a lot of work! A la Karte is a wonderful resource. It is possible to order all of the traditional recipes from the extensive menu, no matter how large your group is. Best of all, A la Karte will deliver.

Ofelia Cohen, the proprietor of A la Karte, was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Coincidentally, I also grew up in Caracas, where the Jewish community was half Ashkenazi and half Sephardic. Both of us celebrated the Jewish holidays with Ashkenzi and Sephardic friends. We are used to serving foods from both traditions at our festive meals. A la Karte offers a unique menu for Rosh Hashanah, which features many of the foods, we remember enjoying during our childhood. You will find traditional Eastern European fare such as gefilte fish next to fiery North African chraime.

AaW_ic_L7mZg5z1rCVjHjyLTfGq5Chef Cohen trained as an architect before she fell in love with food. This background is put to good use in a service she calls tablescaping. For those who are too busy or artistically challenged to set a beautiful holiday table, Ofelia is available to take care of it.

She just signed a lease for a new location in Bala Cynwyd. A la Karte will be moving to the space currently occupied by Coopermarket, at 302 Levering Mill Road. Her vision is to create a prepared food kosher mini market. It will serve take out lunch or dinner, with eat-in option in a communal table. She hopes that guests of different walks of life have conversations there. She would like to see interactions between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and totally secular Jews, all enjoying delicious kosher food together.

Ceviche: A Sephardic Gift to Peru

A Niche for Peruvian Fish Dish of Cevice at your Shabbat Tisch!

 

The origin of ceviche, the Peruvian national dish of fish in a citrus marinade, may be a Jewish Sabbath dish from the Iberian Peninsula. Some experts believe that a type of ceviche existed in Peru long before the Spanish arrived, in the form of raw fish flavored with fermented passionfruit juice. Escabeche is a type of fish dish that was typically served during Shabbat dinner in Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. The Jews adopted this method of preparation from the Persians. It was so well loved that it was even mentioned in “One Thousand and One Nights,” the collection of Arab folk tales.

To prepare escabeche, very fresh fish was cleaned and mixed with vinegar, olive oil, fresh laurel leaves, whole peppercorns, and wine. It was allowed to “cook” in this liquid for several hours. The escabeche was served cold. When America was colonized, many Sephardic Jews left the Iberian Peninsula to escape the Spanish Inquisition. They brought their recipes with them.

The conquistadores brought citrus fruits and onions with them to America. The recipes for escabeche were tweaked in the New World, and perhaps fused with the local Native Ameircan traditions. Sardines, Tuna, Mackerel, Hake, and Cod were used to make escabeche in Spain and Portugal. In Peru, Sea Bass and Flounder are popular choices in the preparation of ceviche. Instead of vinegar, fresh lime was used in the marinade.

This summer, try this refreshing way of preparing fish.

Photo by PROFoodie Buddha https://www.flickr.com/photos/foodiebuddha/

Photo by PROFoodie Buddha

Ceviche Clasico
Adapted from Pisco Trail

  • 1/4 Lb. very fresh sole or salmon (preferably sushi grade), cubed.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt.
  • 1/2 tsp. minced jalapeno pepper.
  • 1 tbsp. minced red onion.
  • 5 thin slices habanero pepper.
  • 1 boiled sweet potato, cubed.
  • Fresh coriander, minced.
  • 2 limes, juiced.
  1. Place the fish, salt, lime, onion, jalapeno and habanero peppers, sweet potato, and coriander in a bowl.
  2. Serve on a small plate.

Saving the Old Synagogues in Turkey

— by Nisim Ben Joya

Etz Hayim Synagogue

Etz Hayim Synagogue in Izmir, Turkey.

The old synagogues in Izmir, Turkey comprise the only complex in the world of adjacent synagogues in a unique Sephardic architectural style.

Dating back to the 16th century, they were built by deportees from Spain and their descendants, following the Spanish Expulsion of 1492. Considering their deteriorating condition, it is obvious that without massive and quick intervention, there is a real danger that some of these treasures will cave in completely.

Approximately five years ago, the Mordechai Kiriaty Foundation received a call from the Shazar Center and the Avi Chai Foundation to save the ancient synagogues in Izmir. This was the genesis of the Izmir Project.

senyora 1The Izmir Project was created to preserve and restore the nine salvageable of the original 34. The main goals of the project are to preserve this unique heritage for future generations. There is a plan to establish a Jewish Museum on the site of the old synagogue compound.

The Jewish Museum of Izmir will tell the epic story of the deportation of Jews from Spain. It will allow visitors to experience firsthand the unique culture of Sephardic Jews. It will also allow Muslims to get to know and understand Jewish culture and traditions, and to appreciate Izmir’s earlier practice of tolerance and acceptance of Jews.

Sephardic Hanukkah: A Dairy Celebration of Daughters

Judith kills General Holofernes. Painting by Vincenzo Catena.

— by Ronit Treatman

The story of Hanukkah is often portrayed with images of brave, muscular male warriors, such as:

There were Greek-Syrian soldiers, fighting on behalf of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The Greek-Syrians looked fearsome in their armor, and heavy metal swords as they deployed their weapon of mass destruction, the war elephant. The Maccabee men fought back, using homemade slings and maces, and guerrilla tactics.

The Maccabees were victorious after seven years, and Hanukkah is the celebration of this victory. Hanukkah means “dedication”: The Second Temple in Jerusalem was purified and rededicated once the revolt was over.

However, it is acknowledged that the Maccabee victory would not have been possible without the support of the brave Jewish women. It is the tradition in parts of the Sephardic world that the seventh day of Hanukkah is reserved especially to celebrate the women and girls of the community.

Sambusak recipe after the jump.
Hannah (Second Book of Maccabees 7:1-41) is honored for losing her seven sons, and her own life, for not worshiping King Antiochus’ idols.

In some Sephardic communities, the seventh night of Hanukkah is called chag habanot (festival of the daughters). On this night, women get exclusive use of the synagogues to study Torah, bless their daughters, and celebrate. The men take care of the children, and prepare dairy treats for the women.


Sambusak.

It is customary to eat dairy foods because of the heroism of Judith. Judith was a beautiful young widow, who lived during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar (400 years before the time of the Maccabees). She caught the eye of General Holofernes, who had been dispatched to besiege the fictitious city of Bethulia (probably Jerusalem).

When Holofernes tried to seduce her, she plied him with salty cheeses and wine. He became so inebriated that he fell into a deep sleep.  Seizing this opportunity, Judith cut his head off with his own sword.  

When she displayed the severed head to Holofernes’s soldiers, They were so terrified that they fled, ending the siege. Over time, Judith was believed to be an ancestor of the Maccabees, and this narrative was associated with Hanukkah.  

Sephardic men pamper the women during chag habanot by preparing a special dish called Sambusak.  

Sambusak is a type of hand pie, which originated in Persia. It is made of pastry or yeast dough, filled with a combination of several types of cheese, some of them very sharp. These flavorful cheeses are a reminder of General Holoferne’s weakness, skillfully exploited by Judith.  To save time, many cooks use frozen puff pastry.

Below is a recipe from the Jewish community of Baghdad.

Sambusak B-Jibbin (Cheese Sambusak)
Adapted from Mrs. Lamaan Heardoon

For the dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons quick-acting dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  1. In a bowl, place the water, yeast, and sugar. Mix well, then let rest for 15 minutes.  
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, and knead the dough.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and place in warm spot. Allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.

For the filling:

  • 1 cup grated feta, kashkaval, kasseri, or parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • ground white pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  

Assembly:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Pull off a walnut-sized piece of dough. Roll it out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface.
  • Place a teaspoon of filling at the center of the rolled-out dough.  
  • Fold the dough over into the shape of a half moon. Pinch the edges shut.
  • Place on a cookie sheet covered with a piece of parchment paper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden-brown.

An Unknown Country: Documentary on Ecuador’s Jews

— by Ronit Treatman

Exotic, tropical Ecuador is a paradisaical destination for a romantic vacation. But who knew that it was also a refuge for Jews fleeing the Holocaust? They joined the Sephardic community, which had been there since the beginning of the Spanish colonization.

Emmy award-winning producer and writer Eva Zelig has been producing a new documentary about this community’s story, which is also that of her own family, for the last three years. The project was largely financed by a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.  

Easy Sesame-Date Rosh Hashanah Strudel

— by Ronit Treatman

Would you like to impress your family and friends with an exotic strudel for Rosh Hashanah, that’s also economical and easy to make? Known as a traditional Viennese pastry, apple strudel originated with Romanian and Hungarian Jews as a food for the Jewish New Year. This recipe is a unique Israeli fusion of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Rosh Hashanah customs.

Dates are one of the simanim, or symbolic foods, of the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder. The word for date in Hebrew is תמר “tamar,” which contains the verb תם “tam” (to end). In the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder, dates are eaten with the prayer (below the jump) that our enemies be consumed. For this strudel, flaky puff pastry is layered with creamy sesame paste, crunchy walnuts, and velvety date puree. You can bake it yourself in a few easy steps. All you need is frozen puff pastry, Medjool dates, raw sesame paste, and chopped nuts.

Prayers and Full recipe after the jump.
Sesame-Date Strudel

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates  
  • 1 cup raw sesame paste
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg
  • Confectioner’s sugar for garnishing
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  3. Process the pitted dates in a blender, with a bit of boiling water, until they form a thick paste.
  4. Unfold the puff pastry onto the parchment paper.
  5. Spread 1 cup of raw sesame paste on the pastry.
  6. Spread 1 1/2 cups of date paste over the sesame paste.
  7. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the date paste.
  8. Fold the pastry over the filling.
  9. Pinch the edges shut.
  10. Beat the egg with one tablespoon of cold water.
  11. Brush the pastry with the egg wash.
  12. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the strudel is golden-brown.
  13. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Prayers over dates

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּתַּמּוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.

Source: Chabad.

Traces of Sephardic Heritage in the Catalan Cuisine

— by Espe Teruel

The current cuisine of any people is the result of many causes: tradition, culture, customs, native products, and the influences of different cultures that have been present at some point in history nearby that nation. In the current Catalan cuisine we can find conspicuous traces of inheritance from the Sephardic cuisine. They have undergone the typical evolution of time, and adapted to local products.

Sephardic Jews from Spain brought to the cities of the Ottoman Empire and North Africa a taste for olive oil, almonds, citrus, saffron, and sweets made with eggs and egg yolks. They brought with them the expertise of using spices, and flower essences, such as rose water or orange blossom water.

More after the jump.
There is an old Sephardic proverb that says, “What you ate or did not eat does not matter. What matters is that you sat at the table.” This shows that just as in the Catalan culture, the important thing is not so much the menu, but if you shared your meal with others, making it a social event.

Here are some examples:

L’aperitiu

In Catalunya, especially on holidays and other celebrations, meals usually start with what we call “L’aperitiu” (which could be equated to “meze”). Small quantities of more or less elaborate appetizers are served. Many of these dishes recall the Sephardic custom quoted.

L’escalivada

A dish of grilled vegetables, especially eggplant and peppers, but you can add others such as onion, garlic, tomatoes and all dressed with olive oil, salt, garlic and parsley. According to some experts, this dish could be considered a local evolution of the medieval Sephardic almadrote (cheese and garlic sauce)”.

Escudella i carn d’olla

This dish, labeled as Catalan today, could have originated, as Claudia Roden explains in her book “The Food of Spain,” in the adafina, the large pot with plenty of food inside that Jews cooked over low heat in Friday night to have it ready on Sabbath, in which you can not light the fire (similarly to cholent).

Espinacs a la catalana

In this dish we can see the evidence of its Sephardic origin in its ingredients: It’s a delicious combination of spinach, raisins and pine nuts, seasoned with garlic.

Cigrons amb espinacs

In the Sephardic cookbooks, another recipe usually found is “stewed chickpeas with spinach.” This is another dish that we cook today in Catalan cuisine. There are as many variations as cooks, but they are essentially based on the aforementioned Sephardic dish.

Postre de Músic

The “dessert of Music” is a typical Catalan dessert, made with various dried fruits and nuts, accompanied by sweet wine, like in Tu B’Shvat. Drying the fruits was the way to use them out of their season.

Fideuà amb aioli

The recipe for this dish is based on a typical Sephardic way to cook the noodles: it starts with sauteing the noodles in oil until golden-brown, unlike other styles, in which the pasta is placed directly into the broth.

Pa de Pessic

The “Country of Pessic” biscuit is popular in Central Catalonia, especially in the city of Vic. It reminds us of Pan d’Espanya, or “fluffy Sephardic bread.” In Catalonia, this is the standard basis of Easter cakes. Not so for the Sephardim, who do not consider it ksoher for Passover, as it is made with self-rising flour.

Bunyols de vent

Historically, those donuts are a Jewish pastry that has been prepared since the tenth century to celebrate Chanukah. Due to the proximity of the holiday with All Saints, they also became part of the Christian repertoire. In Catalonia, they are traditionally eaten on Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent.

Bunyols Empordà

The “Bunyols de l’Empordà” are typical to the region of Empordà. We can find the Sephardic version of this recipe under the name “Biscochos de anise,” or anise donuts.

Ensïmada de Mallorca

Typical to the island of Mallorca, this pastry is crafted with all kinds of fillings such as pumpkin, cream, and chocolate. The spectacular sweet has its ancestry in the “Kalabasa Rodanchas,” a Jewish specialty.

Panellets

Marzipan began as a sweet for Passover, one of the many that are made without flour. It is made with almonds, hence its name in Ladino, “almendradas.” Many varieties of marzipan are made in Catalonia. Pine nuts, coconut, almonds, cherries, coffee, quince, and lemon are some of the ingredients included.

Espe Teruel was born in Premia de Dalt, a village in the province of Barcelona, ​​in 1962. She grew up in a bicultural environment, in which the customs of her parents, who came from Andalusia, were combined with those of Catalonia. She is fond of cooking, and wants to know the different cuisines around her, especially those of the Mediterranean.

Reclaiming the Anusim: the Sephardic Perspective

— by Carlos Zarur

According to an article in eSefarad ,”A decision by the ultra-orthodox rabbi Nissim Karelitz recognizes that the Chuetas of Mallorca, who were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition and remained a distinct group within Mallorcan society until the 1970s, had the right to call themselves Jews.” How do Sephardic Jews view this?

Some in the Sephardic community ask themselves, “who is this Ashkenazi rabbi to make that decision?” They believe that the Chuetas of Mallorca never stopped being Jews.  Even if they did not practice Judaism, they preserved the Jewish identity by avoiding intermarriage at all. Mallorcan Secret Jews (Xuetas) are halachically Jewish, since they did not intermarry for centuries.

More after the jump.
Since medieval times, the Sephardic sages ruled that Ashkenazi Rabbis do not have powers of decision regarding Sephardic matters, and vice versa. Halachic Sephardic sources say it very clearly: Crypto-Jews, Anusim, or Conversos are Jews, as well as their children, if they have hazzaqqa (force of tradition of being Jews), endogamy (marrying only other anusim or other Jews), Jewish genealogy, and the proven historic practice of Jewish customs.

Sadly, there are not too many scholars, anthropologists, or rabbis qualified to determine who is who in the Crypto-Jewish world. Modern day rabbis, even those who are Sephardic, are not aware of how the Halacha sees these people. They are not trained to research the Crypto-Jewish phenomenon, since they are not anthropologists, or trained in anthropological research.

Ashkenazi and Sephardic hakhamim (learned scholars) disagree on Halachic matters on how to deal with the Crypto, or “secret” Jews. Sephardic rabbis have always helped secret Jews to return to the open Jewish practice, without any kind of conversion. Ashkenazi rabbis always asked for re-conversion, which makes sense, since Ashkenazi rabbis were not part of the Sephardic world and were not aware of the phenomena.

For a secret Jew, it is very insulting to be asked for a conversion (an approach supported by many mainstream Sephardic Jews, anthropologist, and some rabbis). These conversions are pasul (invalid) and totally non-Halachic. Of course, each case should be individually analyzed by knowledgeable people, using very strict criteria. After all, there are several cases of fake Crypto-Jews.

Carlos Zarur holds Masters’ Degrees in Jewish studies in the areas of Comparative Religious Studies, Sephardic Studies, Marranism Studies (Crypto Judaism), Peripheral Jewish Communities, Culture and Customs of Oriental (Mizrahi) Jewries, and Western and Eastern Sephardic Culture and Customs. He also has done field research in Crypto-Judaism in several countries in Europe and the American Continent, Syrian Jews, and the Jews of India. As a Professor, he has taught at the University of Colorado in the Anthropology Department and The Jewish Studies Program.