Baby, it’s cold outside …

Cover of Vegetarian Shabbat CookbookSo I’m tempted to heat up the kitchen with some new recipes. Browsing the library’s catalog, I found lots of new cookbooks to inspire me and I hope, my family.

For our resident vegetarian, we have the Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook by Roberta Kalechofsky & Roberta Schiff.  Worth the price of checking it out for the cholent variations alone! And for the other side of the table, I’ll bring home the Kosher Carnivore by June Hersh. I’m already drooling at the thought of roast duck with cherry port sauce.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a wealth of Jewish cookbooks from around the world.  Joan Nathan scours France in search of families’ secret recipes in Quiches, Kugels and Couscous.  In Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride, Reyna Simnegar explains the herbs, spices and other ingredients of her recipes along with tips on substitutions and short-cuts.

Classic Central Asian Bukarian Jewish Cuisine and CustomsThe Ottoman Turk and the Pretty Jewish Girl is part history, part cookbook and part genealogy of the author’s, Beyhan Cagri Trock’s, family. Each borek recipe looked more enticing than the next.  Similarly, Amnun Kimyagarov explains the many influences that show up in Classic Central Asian (Bukharian) Jewish Cuisine and Customs. I’m not sure how my family would react to tripe, but the pumpkin turnovers should be a hit.

If I want to channel my family’s central/east European heritage, 2 books jump off the shelves at me. The Jewish Mama’s Kitchen by Denise Phillips has all the basics of chicken soup (with a recipe possibly stolen from my mother), matzah balls, roast chicken, kreplach, knishes, and a sprinkling of Israeli staples.  Jewish Mama's KitchenThere are many color pictures and hints and words of wisdom from “mama.”  Feed Me Bubbe : Recipes and Wisdom from America’s Favorite Online  Grandmother / by Avrom Honig and Bubbe has a similar set of recipes (minus the Israeli) but is sprinkled with stories from Bubbe’s life.

And for a calorie-free dessert, I’ll curl up on my couch with On the Chocolate Trail by Deborah Prinz.  Rabbi Prinz takes us on a journey from the New World to the Old and back in the footsteps of Jewish travelers, merchants, and chocolatiers.

Check our catalog for these and many other cookbooks and general “foody” books. And if you can’t find them on the library shelf, look in my kitchen.

Talking the talk of the frum

Sarah Bunim BenorI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, HUC Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies about her book.

SFS: Congratulations on the publication of your new book Becoming Frum : How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism

SBB: Thanks!

SFS: I find that I’m struggling to form some of the questions. Do I use your terms of BT (ba’alei teshuvah, i.e. Orthodox Jews who grew up non-Orthodox) and FFB (frum, i.e. Orthodox, from birth)? or try to translate them?

SBB: Might as well use those terms and translate them on first use.

SFS: In your book, you describe how newly Orthodox Jews have to not only adopt the laws and customs of the Frum community, but also their speech patterns. What makes their language different?

SBB: The English speech of Orthodox Jews in America includes hundreds of words from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, as well as other distinctive features, like chanting intonation patterns, a hesitation click from Israeli Hebrew, and Yiddish structures like “staying by us” and “what do we learn out from this.” Orthodox Jews, especially those toward the “Black Hat” end of the continuum (in contrast to Modern Orthodox), tend to pronounce Hebrew words in the Ashkenazic way, like ha-LUH-cha instead of ha-la-CHA (Jewish law) and SUK-kiss instead of su-COAT (Holiday of Tabernacles). When Jews become Orthodox, they tend to pick up many of these features. Some of these newcomers go overboard in the use of these features, and others are more selective, using only those that feel authentic to them.

SFS: Many of these features sound like things my Yiddish speaking grandparents might have said. How did they become engrained as religious speech?

SBB: Good question. Yiddish is associated with Orthodox Jews for a few reasons. Although Orthodox communities have been in the US for centuries, a significant percentage immigrated to the US in the post-war era. So many of the middle-aged Orthodox Jews today are the children of immigrants rather than the grandchildren of immigrants. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Orthodox Jews maintain a strong ideological connection to Eastern European Jews. Many of the cultural practices I write about in my book – not just language but also food and dress – are influenced by the traditions of the recent Eastern European past.

SFS: When FFBs and BTs interact with the non-Orthodox world, do they use the same “frum-speak”? (what do you call it) or do they revert to more standard English?

SBB: Most FFBs and BTs are aware of most of the distinctive linguistic features of frumspeak (Orthodox Jewish English), and they avoid them when speaking to non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews. But some, especially new BTs who want to highlight their new identity, use them consciously. Some BTs and FFBs use some features unconsciously, such as “staying by them” and some of the distinctive pronunciations.

Becoming Frum book coverSFS: How did you decide to use the word “frum” in your title

SBB: I considered several titles without the use of “frum,” but I decided to use it because I wanted to give the reader a sense of the insider nature of language in Orthodox communities. I ran the title by many colleagues, including some with little knowledge of Jewish studies. Some felt that the use of “frum” was off-putting, but most found it intriguing and advised me to keep it.

SFS: and how much do you pepper your own speech with Hebrew or Yiddish words?

SBB: Frequently. But some of the words I use are different from those I heard in the community of my research. I say “drash” (interpretation, sermon) and “tikkun olam” (repairing the world), whereas those words are not common among Orthodox Jews. I did pick up some new words during my research, like “chas v’shalom” (God forbid), which I still use regularly.

SFS: I assume that there isn’t as extreme speech differences in other Jewish communities, e.g. Reform, Conservative, but do they also have distinctive characteristics?

SBB: Definitely. That will be one of the focuses of my 2nd book. Their distinctive linguistic features are mostly just Hebrew and Yiddish words.

SFS: One piece of your research that I found fascinating was that Jews who self-identify as “Black hat” use Ashkenazi (Central/East European) pronunciation even if their own family background is Sephardic (from Spain/Portugal) while some people who identify as Modern Orthodox use the Sephardic/Israeli pronunciation. Is this a rejection of their family history?

SBB: Note that many Modern Orthodox Jew do use Ashkenazi pronunciation, but that is one way to look at it, and maybe their parents feel that way.

SFS: What was the most surprising linguistic tidbit you encountered during your research?

SBB: Probably the periphrastic verbs. Sentences like this are common: “We do all that shtik to be mesameach the chossen and kallah” (we do those routines to entertain/gladden the groom and bride). It sounds weird in general American English to use “to be” with a transitive verb, and you don’t hear this construction much among non-Orthodox Jews.

SFS: You seemed to incorporate using social media tools as part of your research. What did you use and how did it work?

SBB: I used to research some of the categories of the Orthodox continuum: Modern Orthodox Liberal, Modern Orthodox Machmir, Yeshivish Modern, and Yeshivish Black Hat. With permission from the Frumster staff, I culled data from profiles (anonymously) and checked for correlations between these categories and various practices, like men’s tzitzit wearing, women’s hair coverings, and Yiddish knowledge. I also used data from blogs. But most of that research came after my initial ethnographic study, which was in 2001-2. Back then websites were not as common, and facebook and twitter did not exist.

SFS: I know that you also put a lot of thought into the book cover.  How did you decide on this image of Jews eating sushi?

SBB: I wanted an image of BTs doing something not common among black-hat FFBs, like snowboarding or eating some exotic food. Most exotic foods wouldn’t be recognizable in a picture, but sushi is. Ironically, sushi is becoming very common among Orthodox Jews, so the sushi won’t immediately identify these Jews as BTs. But I still think it conveys what I want to convey: that some BTs come up with unique cultural combinations.

SFS: Thank you for taking time to speak with me. I look forward to your next book!

Each Book a Unique Item

Contrary to the common wisdom one may hear in archives, I have over the years discovered a basic truth about printed books. Every book with any history is a unique item. This past summer I had the opportunity to catalog a number of especially compelling items for the Cincinnati rare book collections.

Volume with 18th century binding

A case in point involves three separate copies of a 1710 printing of Rabbi Isaac Abravanel’s (1437-1508) commentary on the Torah. One of them caught my eye immediately as it was in a contemporary binding. Note that I did not write “original” binding. The phenomenon of a book prepared and sold by a publisher in identical bound format is a phenomenon of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the eighteenth century printing and binding were two separate trades. Generally one purchased one’s book in unfolded and unsewn sheets and then took the sheets to the binder of one’s choice. Bindings could vary even at the point of origin depending on material and price. The other two copies were rebound at HUC, likely at the time of acquisition. One is half bound in leather and decorated paper over pasteboards. The other is in a standard library cloth binding.

I will describe these books individually, beginning with that in the contemporary binding. Each is about thirty five centimeters in height, and approximately six centimeters thick, making them rather substantial. By comparison, most academic books today tend to be twenty three to twenty five centimeters in height. In two of the books a solitary leaf of the index was bound in towards the end of text rather than at its correct place. In my experience, such mistakes did occur and can add to the interest of the individual copy.

The volume in the contemporary binding is bound in parchment over pasteboards with edges stained in red, a rather common and utilitarian binding for such a book. This copy’s history of ownership is of particular interest. The book itself has a Christian editor, one Heinrich Jacob van Bashuysen (1679-ca. 1750), a professor in Hannover in northern Germany. Its history of ownership includes two Jews and two Christians.

Signature of Mosheh ben Lev Oppenheim

The two Jews each signed the book in Hebrew as, respectively, Mosheh ben Lev Oppenheim, and Hananyeh ben Yitshak ben Lev Oppenheim, seemingly two generations of the same family. The two Christians signed in Latin script, the one as H. [Hermann] S. [Samuel] Reimari [Reimarus] [1694-1768] in 1714 in Jena, the other as S. Mauer, 1846. Reimarus is a famous philosopher and scholar of his time. He acquired his copy of the “Perush ha-Torah” as a student at the University of Jena. I have been unable to establish anything about either of the Oppenheims or about S. Mauer.

Signatures of H. S. Reimari, i.e. Reimaus, and S. Mauer

One of the owners added a ms. biography of Abravenel, “Vita Abarbanelis” to the upper free endpaper. This copy came to the Cincinnati library as a gift of Rabbi Max Landsberg (1845-1927), a noted American Reform scholar of his time.


Handwritten biography of Abravenel, “Vita Abarbanelis” in Latin

Gift of Rabbi Deutsch -with "alligator" grain decoration

The one in half bound leather and decorated paper came from the library of Rabbi Gotthard Deutsch (1859-1921), formerly an HUC faculty member.

The third copy includes three contemporary Hebrew inscriptions. In more recent times it was part of the collection of the Lemle Moses Klaus-Stiftung in Mannheim, Germany. Rabbi Karl Richter (d. 2005), who came from Mannheim to the U.S. in 1939, presented the volume to the HUC library.


While the text of these three volumes can be said to be identical, each has a story to tell unique to itself.

The Carnival strikes again!


Jewish Book CarnivalOnce again, we’re happy to pass on some great links from the Jewish literary blogosphere.

At Rhapsody in Books, Jill Broderick travels back to 18th century Frankfurt to review the Origin of Sorrow by Robert Mayer

On My Machberet, Erika Dreifus interviews Racelle Rosett, author of Moving Waters, a new short-story collection featuring a community of Reform Jews in Los Angeles.

The Jewish Book Council offers a big batch of reviews of new children’s literature.

Matti Friedman at the ProsenPeople compares technologies on the Codex v. the Kindle.

“How Jewish is relativity?” Jonathan Kirsch, Book Editor of The Jewish Journal asks in his review of EINSTEIN’S JEWISH SCIENCE .

Ya-Ya and Yo-Yo are the brother/sister protagonists in Sliding Into the New Year by Dori Weinstein. Ann Koffsky reviews this frum-lit book at

Kathe Pinchuk dives in (with knitting needles ready) to the newest Hereville graphic novel by Barry Deutsch

Barbara Bietz interviews Monique Polak, author of What World is Left (Orca, 2008)

At Jewaicious, Lorri gives a glimpse of Italy in her review of A Thread of Grace

Jewesses with Attitude features Moran Solomon, an amazing young Israeli athlete, who sang the Israeli national anthem when she realized that the competition sponsors forgot the get a CD with HaTikvah.

Sylvia Rouss waxes nostalgic about her time on Family Feud.

Three-in-One Notebook Special: The Whole Megillah speaks with author Linda Glaser, publisher Joni Sussman and illustrator Adam Gustavson about Hannah’s Way, published recently by Kar-Ben.

Shayna Galyan of Books and Beliefs reminds us of the importance of speaking up even (or especially) when we’re worried about being beaten down.

Bagels, Books, and Shmooze’s book club selection is older novel. Gay Courter’s Flowers in the Blood traces a Jewish family’s involvement in the opium trade in colonial India.

And here at Needle in the Bookstacks, we’ve had a busy month. In honor of Curiosity landing on Mars, I got curious about religion in science fiction. We are also very happy to welcome our first guest blogger; Maggie Anton, author of Rav Hisda’s daughter, describes how her research took a magical turn.