Jewish Soul Foods: Jewish Foods and their Mystical Meanings by Carol Ungar

Jewish Soul Foods: Jewish Foods and their Mystical Meanings by Carol Ungar

I just received SUCH a wonderful book– a newly-released cookbook called Jewish Soul Foods by author and blogger Carol Ungar which explains the spiritual roots of the traditional Shabbat menu: the fish, chicken soup, and meat etc. we consume every Shabbat kodesh. WOW! Shabbat food will sparkle not only with yummy taste but also with mystical meaning after reading. I love this book!

Here’s a short excerpt from Jewish Soul Foods
jewish soul food
Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. That rarified experience flavors the Shabbat food. The
Talmud relates that when Antonius, a Roman nobleman…noticed that the food had a better taste than it did during the week. “Why ,” he asked. “Because,“ said Rabbi Judah “the Shabbat itself seasons the food.”

Not only do Shabbat foods taste good but because they have their roots in the manna, the
spiritual food that sustained the Children of Israel in the desert, Shabbat foods are fortified with
soul purifying powers. That is why eating the Shabbat foods can yield more spiritual elevation
than fasting…

Fish for Shabbat

Fish is the quintessential Shabbat food. Dag, the Hebrew word for fish, has the numerical value seven.

Of course, Shabbat is the seventh day…Fish are part of this world but also separated from it—-the underwater world is an alternate reality. Shabbat is also an alternate reality and Jews who live according to the Torah also live in an alternate reality.

Because oceans and rivers are natural mikvahs or ritual baths (one can perform ritual immersions in any natural body of water), fish live in purity. The Torah is compared to water. Fish also recalls the Leviathan, the ancient monster fish which G-d saved to feed the righteous in the worldto come. Because they breed prolifically, fish are also symbols of fertility and Shabbat is a time
for procreation.

Why Chicken Soup with Noodles?

Soup is another one of the magical sevens. Its Hebrew name marak, adds up to seven in Gematriya, the ancient Jewish art of word-letter math.

In case you’re wondering how, here’s the math. Mem=four (yes, it’s usually forty but in this system of calculation the zeroes drop off). Resh=two and kuf = one, yielding seven, as in the Seventh Day and the Holy Sabbath.

Chicken soup can’t be eaten alone…[Some people] add noodles, which are called lokshn in Yiddish. Lokshn can be parsed as “lo kashin,’ or “not difficult,” indicating a wish for an easy week to come. The inseparable sticky
noodles have been likened to the Jewish people whose lives are stuck together…

Garlic is for lovers

Friday night is the time for marital love and also the time to eat garlic, which the Talmud
says has aphrodisiac properties. Baking or roasting tempers the stinking rose; softening the
cloves and neutralizing the smell. In Jerusalem baked garlic spread on freshly baked challah is a
favorite Friday night treat.

1 head garlic
¼ cup best quality olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt
Peel outer layers of skin off one garlic head and separate cloves. No need to peel each clove.
Sprinkle olive oil and a few grains of kosher salt on top
Bake uncovered at 350º F for twenty minutes or until soft.
Serves 4-6.

The Main Course: Meat
The Hebrew word for meat is basar, which in the ancient mathematical system of gematriya adds up to seven. (bet= 2, sin=3, resh=3) This is mispar katan. That means that the zeroes drop off.

Seven refers to the seventh day, Shabbat and also the Hebrew word kodesh which means holiness. Shabbat foods contain a spark of holiness. That means that when one eats on Shabbat, the source of the food (the fish, the meat, etc) reaches its ultimate purpose because it’s physical energy (the calories it contains) is transformed into spiritual energy when those calories are expended in prayer, or Torah study or other holy activities.

Fabulous Farfel

Farfel, the once ubiquitous gravel-shaped noodle known as the Ba’al Shem Tov’s tzimmes, is soul food in its truest sense—it’s a food that speaks to our souls.

In Yiddish, the word farfel is related to another word, farfaln which means wiped out, over, finished. Those little oddly shaped noodles remind that us an old week is over and that it’s time to begin again; a very important idea…

Apple Compote

Because tapuhin, which are commonly translated as apples, feature in the Song of Songs , King
Solomon’s allegorical poem recited in some synagogue on Friday nights, the mystics like to eat
apples on Shabbat.


No one knows where the word cholent comes from. Scholars relate it to the French words chaud
leut or slow heat. Traditional Jews see in it the Hebrew “she talin” meaning “and it shall rest,”
referring to the Shabbat stew’s lengthy cooking period, It has even been suggested that cholent
is a contraction of the words “shul ends” referring to the end of the Shabbat morning prayer
service, which is traditionally followed by a lunch featuring cholent.

Regardless of its etymology, cholent and its Sephardi equivalent hamin (which simply means
“hot food” in Hebrew) are integral to the Jewish day of rest.

…Cholent and hamin are among the best-loved of Shabbat foods. The aroma of the slow cooked beans,
meats and vegetables perfumes the whole house with the scent of Paradise.

Click here to order Jewish Soul Foods at 33% off!

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  1. Batsheva

    Wow Chana, what a pleasant welcome to Shabbat this week. Thank you for sharing!


    There is recent publication called “Seudah Secrets: Nissan-Av,” by Rabbi Dovid Meisels, author of the popular Secrets series. He shares hundreds of customs regarding traditional Jewish foods, as well as the many reasons, all culled from midrashim, Chazal, and the sefarim hakedoshim, for why we eat them. Whether it’s as a segulah for health and parnassah, or to help increase one’s emunah and yiras Shamayim. Israel Bookshop Publications

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