Actually, It's the Palestinians Who Are Appropriating Jewish Culture

Mor Altshuler
Mor Altshuler
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The 'Asif' culinary center in Tel Aviv, this month.
Mor Altshuler
Mor Altshuler

Hanin Majadli accused chef Naama Shefi and Ashkenazi Zionists in general of “cultural and culinary appropriation” (“Israel's guide to foodwashing Palestinian culture,” July 23). In her view, presenting Palestinian foods as Israeli cuisine reflects “the injustices of the occupation, discrimination and cultural erasure of the Palestinians in Israel.” Also included among Majadli’s appropriators were “Jewish cuisines from Arab countries and North Africa” that developed amid the surrounding Arab cuisine.

Her claim about North African cuisine is apparently about couscous, a dish Ashkenazi Zionists have come to love. Couscous is made of cooked semolina – a kind of flour known as solet in Hebrew – that is mixed with oil.

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But couscous was known thousands of years ago as the “grain offering” that was sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem: “And when anyone brings a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour [solet]; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon” (Leviticus 2:1). Incidentally, frankincense was added to the recipe’s spices.

As for Palestinian freekeh (toasted green wheat), wheat and roast barley, they were all mentioned among the courtship customs of the Biblical Boaz, who gave roasted grain to Ruth the Moabite in the fields of Bethlehem. It was from their relationship that the House of David arose.

Nor is there any need to go back as far as the Bible. In southeastern Turkey, kubbeh, the glory of the Palestinian kitchen, is called “Jewish kofta” – that is, Jewish meatballs.

Jews invented kubbeh because it was their custom to eat meat on Shabbat, but it is religiously prohibited for them to slaughter animals or cook on that day. Before the refrigerator was invented, the solution was to wrap ground meat in dough and fry or bake it on Friday, so it wouldn’t spoil over Shabbat.

Similarly, eggplant and hummus, also ostensibly from the Palestinian kitchen, are mentioned in the records of the Spanish Inquisition as characteristic Jewish foods that could be used to identify people who formally converted to Christianity but secretly remained Jews.

As was proven by the late Prof. Menachem Felix and many other people, there is almost no vegetable, fruit, spice or cooking method now ascribed to the Syrian-Palestinian kitchen that is not mentioned in the Bible or the Mishnah, and that didn’t migrate with the Jews when they were exiled from their land. Even in the cold climates of Eastern Europe and Ashkenaz (the medieval Jewish term for what is now Germany), where the Jews were unable to use their original raw materials, they maintained the principles of their cuisine until they returned to their homeland.

That’s how the ancient Jewish cuisine of the Land of Israel turned into one of the cuisines appropriated by Muslim nomads after they burst forth from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, conquered the entire region from Mesopotamia to Egypt and appropriated the foods of all the peoples who lived there.

The greatest irony of all is olive oil, which has become the symbol of the Palestinian people. Olives are one of the seven species the Bible cites as acceptable offerings in the Temple, but they had a special status in the Bible because olive oil was used to anoint kings and priests and to light the menorah in the Temple. King Solomon paid with olive oil for the cedar trees he bought from King Hiram of Tyre to build the Temple (I Kings, 5:25).

Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century, in his book “Natural History,” that olives from the Land of Israel were beautiful and full of oil, and therefore they were imported to Rome (Nissim Krispil, “A Bag of Plants,” p. 169 in Hebrew). And there’s a hypothesis that the Roman occupiers uprooted the Jews’ olive trees to destroy their olive oil industry, which competed with their own.

Fortunately for us, Islam forbids drinking alcohol, so the Muslims definitely did uproot the vineyards of the Land of Israel and destroy the wine presses. Therefore, Majadli can’t claim that Israel’s flourishing grape-growing and wine-making industries are also an appropriation of the Palestinian kitchen.

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