Hungarian Foie Gras Certified Kosher: Baruch HaShem

August 2nd, 2020|

Covid-19 pandemic aside, it has been a long and difficult road for Jewish gourmands and their glatt-kosher ilk, hungry for the divine taste of foie gras — off limits for the observant. Until now.

According to an item posted by the Jewish News Service, the Chief Rabbinical Council of Israel has approved the importation of glatt-kosher-certified foie gras to Israel. Reportedly, a member of the council, Rabbi Simcha Weiss, together with geese experts professor Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Rabbi Roei Ginon from the Chief Rabbinate, visited a slaughterhouse in Hungary last year operating under the Emih-Hungarian Jewish Community Association, headed by Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Koves, to closely monitor the process of fattening the birds.

Upon his return to Israel, Rabbi Weiss set up a team to develop a program to allow the importation of goose-liver products with glatt-kosher certification. And now, the Rabbinical Council has approved the committee’s recommendations. As such, Csengele Kosher Slaughterhouse in Hungary has become the first (and only) to receive glatt-kosher certification for goose liver.

So, importers of foie gras will now have to meet a number of new requirements in order for goose liver to be certified with a glatt-kosher stamp, according to a document developed by the Chief Rabbinical Council.

The document stipulates that the breeding and fattening farms be located within the same site. Also, that food for the geese should minimize the chances of esophageal injury to the birds. For example, corn kernels should be prepared in such a way so that they do not retain any coarse and sharp edges or contain any whole grains in the mix. It was also mandated that feeding should be executed through a silicone tube without any sharp points. And finally, the site must be inspected and monitored by a professional kashrut supervisor.

Even during a pandemic, some of the amenities of life remain. Baruch HaShem.

The New York The Jewish Week Will Go Digital-Only In August

August 2nd, 2020|

The New York Jewish Week is putting its print edition on hiatus, the 145-year old publication announced this month. The last print edition is scheduled for July 31.

Print news has struggled for years as technology takes over, and the Jewish news industry in particular has seen lower revenues and decreased pages, the announcement said. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has further damaged the paper’s revenue, forcing the publication to cut production costs and transform into a digital news outlet starting in August.


Methuselah: The Tree That Emerged From A 2,000-Year-Old Seed

August 2nd, 2020|

A tree grows in the arid soil of Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel. A subspecies extinct for nearly a thousand years, this Judean date palm was resurrected from a tiny 2000-year-old seed found in an ancient clay jar unearthed in 1963 by archaeologists excavating around Herod the Great’s palace at the ancient fortress of Masada.

Radiocarbon dating found that the seed, one of six preserved in the jar by the arid climate, dated from sometime between 155 BCE and 64 CE. Dubbed Methuselah for Noah’s grandfather, who lived to the age of 969, the palm represents the oldest verified germination of a seed assisted by a human.

Date palms once flourished in the Judean Valley and were an important source of food, shelter and medicine. The palm’s fruit — the honey of the “land of milk and honey” — was large, dark and seductively sweet.

When the Roman Empire invaded ancient Judea, thick forests of date palms covered the valley, from the Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. Over the centuries, the Judean palm was decimated by years of war and foreign conquest. Eight hundred years ago, Crusaders destroyed the last remaining specimens, rendering the plant extinct.

The seeds found at Masada were preserved and stored at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. More than 40 years later, Elaine Solowey from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, decided to try to resurrect three of the seeds.

She first soaked them in hot water to activate absorption, then immersed them in a nutrient-rich solution and fertilizer made from seaweed. On January 25, 2005, she planted them.

In 2010 Methuselah has reached a height of six-and-a-half feet. By 2015, Methuselah had produced pollen that was used to pollinate contemporary female date palms. It is hoped that Methuselah, now 2,000 years old, may yet become a father.

Arava Institute photo

With Quarantine, Arolsen Archives Adds More Than 120,000 Names

June 29th, 2020|

When the coronavirus prompted lockdowns, the Arolsen Archives — the world’s largest devoted to the victims of Nazi persecution — enlisted thousands of those quarantined to further the work of the archive’s “Every Name Counts” project. So far, the amateur archivists have indexed names from the archive’s enormous collection of papers, adding more than 120,000 names, birth dates, and prisoner numbers to the database.

The Arolsen Archives houses more than 30 million original documents containing information on the wartime experiences of as many as 40 million people, including Jews executed in extermination camps and forced laborers conscripted from across Nazi-occupied Europe. The documents, which take up 16 miles of shelving, include things like train manifests, delousing records, work detail assignments, and execution records.

The documents were gathered by Allied forces after WWII and stored. The archive began scanning and digitizing the collection in the late 1980s. In the last year, 26 million scanned documents have been posted online. The process is straightforward. Volunteers call up a prisoner list and type names, birthdays, prisoner numbers and other details into a form. To ensure that data is accurate, the information must be entered the same way by three different users. Participants say they relish the chance to make a meaningful contribution.

Indexing the names has a practical purpose for historians and the relatives of victims, said Paul Shapiro, director of international relations at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. But the project’s greatest value may be as a tool to help people trace their relatives’ fates and to keep the past alive, he said. “These collections are an insurance policy against forgetting…evidence that screams authenticity.”

Swen Pförtner photo/for AP

2,000-Year-Old Rooms Found By The Western Wall in Jerusalem

June 29th, 2020|

A two-millennia-old subterranean system of three rooms has been uncovered near the Western Wall. The three-room complex — painstakingly chiseled by hand out of bedrock prior to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE — is the first evidence of everyday life underground in the ancient city.

“This is a unique finding,”
said Israel Antiquity Authority co-directors Dr. Barak Monnickendam-Givon and Tehila Sadiel. “You must understand  that 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, like today, it was customary to build out of stone blocks. The question is, why were such efforts and resources invested in hewing rooms underground in the hard bedrock?” the archaeologists said.

The purpose of the three-room complex, hidden for centuries under a large 1,400-year-old Byzantine white mosaic floor, is still being investigated, but it may have served as a basement pantry, living space, or even a place to hide during raids, the IAA directors said, noting that perhaps the rooms were part of a larger public structure that has since been obliterated.

The rooms are spacious, about 2.5 meters by 4 meters; 2.5 meters by 2.5 meters; and a third room still being excavated that appears to be about the same size as the smaller space. The rooms occupy different floors connected by stairs.                           Photo by Shai HYaLevi/IAA

Wilson’s Arch At Western Wall Dates To Herod The Great

June 29th, 2020|

Named after the 19th-century British explorer and archaeologist Charles William Wilson, Wilson’s Arch is located at the northern end of the Western Wall, and prayer services frequently take place in the area beneath it. Recently, using radiocarbon dating and the emerging techniques of microarchaeology, Israeli scientists made a breakthrough in pinpointing its date of construction .

Wilson’s Arch was part of the Great Causeway, an ancient bridge linking Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to the houses of Jerusalem’s upper city. Construction has been the subject of much scholarly debate, with dates suggested from the time of Herod the Great (1st century CE), Roman colonization, or even the early Islamic period in Jerusalem (a span of about 700 years.)

The authors of a new study narrowed the dates of construction for the initial Great Causeway bridge structure to between 20 BCE and 20 CE, largely during the reign of Herod the Great. They also discovered a second stage of construction, between 30 CE and 60 CE, when the bridge doubled in size as Wilson’s Arch in its current form was finalized. Evidence suggests that during this period of direct Roman rule, many building projects around Jerusalem, including an aqueduct supplying water to the Temple Mount, were begun or expanded.


What Every Lox Fresser Should Know About Smoked Fish

June 29th, 2020|

So, you think you know smoked fish, huh? Well, let’s see. We’ll start with the basics. Salmon in the wild roam the waters freely, and where they are caught in their journey can affect the texture and flavor of the fish. Generally, they are lean and less fatty. Since fat is a significant component of flavor, wild-caught salmon tends to be less flavorful. Not only that, farmed salmon, less active than their cousins in the wild, have a smoother and more buttery flavor. (Bet those little factoids have surprised the purists.)

Now, a few words about hot-smoked vs. cold-smoked. Hot smoking (usually between 165 and 185 F) cooks the meat while flavoring it with smoke. Cold smoking (usually between 69 and 87 F for up to 30 days) preserves the meat.

Sable. This fish is actually black cod, but sable sounds so much more elegant, doesn’t it?  No matter what you call it, its flavor is sweet, buttery, and a touch salty. But the texture is silky.

Sturgeon. Ahh, this is the king of smoked fish, at least to some mavens. It is hot smoked, traditionally with maple wood to enhance its natural flavor, which is mild and somewhat sweet. Its texture is dense and meaty. You’ve got to taste it to understand it.

Whitefish. Whitefish, found in the Great Lakes of North America, run from 2 to 23 pounds. They are considered one of the best-eating freshwater fish — high in fat content, mild flavor, medium firm, sweet, delicate and smoky meat with large juicy flakes that peel right off the bone. Chubs, baby whitefish, are rich tasting, delicate and smoky, and are always sold whole. [By the way, if making gefilte fish is your thing, combine whitefish with yellow pike. No carp.]

Gravlax. This cured salmon dish dates to the 14th century, when salt was expensive and alternative methods were found to preserve the fish. The early technique that preserved the fish in dirt has been refined to a recipe calling for salt, brown sugar and dill. Gravlax, excellent at any time, is particularly delicious as hors d’oeuvres. Serve with a creamy dill sauce.

Kippered salmon. Preparation is the same as for baked salmon, but kippered salmon is hot-smoked, which flavors the meat. Either way, the whole slab is prepared, then cut into chunks. The belly section is succulent and sweet, the back section drier. Still mighty good.

Tuna. For smoking choose ahi tuna, or maybe yellowfin. Salted slightly and hardwood smoked, the tuna has a delicate, mildly sweet flavor and a dark reddish-purple color.

Brook trout. Brook trout live in the cold freshwater lakes and streams of the Great Lakes region. They inhabit shallow lakes in the north, and deep lakes farther south. To enhance the flavor, they are brined, refrigerated, dried and hot-smoked. The result is a smoky, salty, somewhat chewy delicacy, available whole.

Bluefish. Surprise. Bet you didn’t expect that. Living here on the North Fork, you learn that bluefish run in the Sound into the late fall, and when they run, they run in huge schools. It is not unusual to net 10-20 of them on a really good day. What to do with all that fish? Smoke it. The preparation is the same as for brook trout, and a hot-smoke for many hours — well into the night as your Shofar editor recalls — depending on the thickness of the fillets, yields something akin to out of this world. When done, refrigerate, share the bounty with friends and neighbors, and freeze the rest. Serve on crackers with a squeeze of lemon. A tam g’naden.

[This article was adapted from an item in The Forward by Len Berk, a 26-year Zabar’s slicer.]