Chulent?

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In a September post, I suggested people were welcome to send me their favorite chulent recipes. I wished to post them altogether and then link to kcc (the Kosher Cooking Carnival) so that they would be included in the next edition. A few people have answered; I’ll post their recipes tomorrow along with a few links.

But first a few explanations about chulent, also spelled cholent.

Etymology:

Max Weinreich traces the etymology of cholent to the Latin present participle calentem, meaning “that which is hot” (as in calorie), via Old French chalant (present participle of chalt, from the verb chaloir, “to warm”). One widely quoted folk etymology, relying on the French pronunciation of cholent or the Central and Western European variants shalent or shalet, derives the word from French chaud (“hot”) and lent (“slow”), but it is categorically rejected by professional linguists. Another folk etymology derives cholent (or sholen) from the Hebrew she’lan, which means “that rested [overnight]”. This refers to the old time cooking process of Jewish families placing their individual pots of cholent into the town baker’s ovens that always stayed hot and slow-cooked the food overnight. (Wikipedia)

This is what the dictionary says:

a Jewish Sabbath dish of slowly baked meat and vegetables, prepared on a Friday and cooked overnight.

About.com has a a longer definition:

Cholent is the quintessential Jewish food. Jewish law prohits lighting a fire and cooking on the Sabbath. So how can an observant Jewish family eat a hot, nourishing meal on the Sabbath? Cholent, a slow-cooked, bean-barley stew, has been the answer for centuries. Legumes are not only suited for slow cooking and nutritious, they are also economical.

If you have time, you can read a longer and more personal article by G. Erdosh on jewishmag.com.

The Litvaks

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A summer post written by Leora gave me ideas for a lesson on the Jews of Lithuania, or rather this provided me with a concrete example of a vanished community that the Holocaust destroyed.

Since I did not know much about the Jews of Lithuania, I bought and read a book Jew Wishes had recommended, The Litvaks: A Short History of the Jews in Lithuania. Isn’t the virtual community wonderful? Although it deals with the whole period when Jews lived in Lithuania, this book concentrates on the years 1918-1945. Now a French book, Les Litvaks L’héritage universel d’un monde juif disparu, about which I heard a review on Sunday has just been released. Its authors spoke about it and have helped me understand the particularities of the Litvak community.

The word Litvak comes from the Polish Litwak and means Lithuanian yet specifically refers to a Lithuanian Jew. The term Lithuania is slightly misleading if you think of the country as it is today; the map on Wikipedia gives a fair idea of the size of Lithuania in the Middle-Ages.

The first Jews arrived in Lithuania great numbers from the 12 th century. They came from the Rhine Valley from where they had been driven away by the crusades. The Jews were famous for their talents in crafts and trade and were therefore encouraged by the authorities ruling the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to move there to help develop the country. The same thing happened with Turkey when the Jews were forced to leave Spain in 1492.

At that time Lithuania was not a Christian country yet; it only formally adopted Christianity in 1389, which probably explained why the authorities had no prejudice against the Jews and thus granted them far more rights than in any other part of Europe. Thus in 1388, the Jews were granted a special charter. This is its preambule:
In the name of God, Amen. All deeds of men, when they are not made known by the testimony of witnesses or in writing, pass away and vanish and are forgotten. Therefore, we, Alexander, also called Vytautas , by the grace of God Grand Duke of Lithuania and ruler of Brest, Dorogicz, Lutsk, Vladimir, and other places, make known by this charter to the present and future generations, or to whomever it may concern to know or hear of it, that, after due deliberation with our nobles we have decided to grant to all the Jews living in our domains the rights and liberties mentioned in the following charter.

Thus the Lithuanian Jews formed a class of freemen subject in all criminal cases directly to the jurisdiction of the grand duke and his official representatives, and in petty suits to the jurisdiction of local officials on an equal footing with the lesser nobles (szlachta), boyars, and other free citizens. (Wikepedia). In the book mentioned above I was surprised to read that, at that time, hitting a Jew was a serious an offence as hitting a noble men.

These equitable laws allowed the Jews of Lithuania to reach a degree of prosperity unknown to their Polish and German co-religionists at that time. It also allowed them to develop a unique culture and religious organizations.

Unfortunately this Golden Age ended when Poland was partitioned – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was part of Poland – in 1793 and the Jews became subjects of Russia.