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WouldJew Believe #12

Odd, outrageous and interesting facts such as...bad breath is grounds for divorce?

by

CHEF JEFF NATHAN ABOVE THE FRAY ... ER FLAY ?

Can an Irishman – even one who's a culinary giant – beat a Jew, also a culinary macher, when the subject is chicken soup with matzo balls? Feh! And Chef Jeff Nathan, owner of Abigael's, New York's largest kosher restaurant, set out to prove it – on TV – when Chef Bobby Flay challenged him to a showdown – on Throwdown !

Can an Irish cook beat a Jewish cook when the subject is matzo ball soup?

For those of you who who've never heard of the show and Bobby Flay ... he's a Grand Poobah over at the Food Network where he hosts a host of shows, and is an Iron Chef. On Throwdown, the famed restaurateur, whose specialty is Southwestern cuisine, surprises the very best chefs with a challenge. So, when he went Kosher, of course he showed up at Abigael's to lay the gauntlet down to our Chef Jeff, the papa and host of public television's international,New Jewish Cuisine, and author of Adventures in Jewish Cooking, and Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers.

The task: Chicken soup with matzo balls! Whose is better?

The Throwdown, which first aired in April, got off to rousing start! Poor Flay, who's more at home with grits than matzo balls, took a few lessons – and brought along a Jewish colleague. He was scared ... real scared. Recipes, shmecipes! Truly good chicken soup with matzo balls is an art that has taken us thousands of years to perfect. And Flay thinks he can fly on one lesson?

Then, at Abigael's, both were off and running. Flay, of course, was out-Jewished by Brooklynite Nathan, who can not only make it all -- from babka to tabouleh – but everything before, after, and in-between! But more, Nathan can tell it ... with personal anecdotes and Jewishkite that's in his DNA. As the contest progressed, the great chicken soup hurdles were clear: matzo ball floaters vs. sinkers, and seasonings.

Our Chef Jeff, not to be outdone, prepared his signature dish: Sephardic Chicken Soup with Sofrito and Herbed Matzo Balls. Hmmmm. (I don't know what Flay did.)

To remove any hint of bias, one of the judges was renowned food author, Joan Nathan! (And no, Jeff and Joan are not related!) Anyway, with two to die for soups with perfect matzo balls – the heat was on.

And the winner? Who else .....? You can watch a repeat of the match on Throwdown with Bobby Flay, May 15, 2009, 2:30 PM ET/PT. Check your local listings for the Food Network channel and to re-check times in your area.

A SHORTY: GARLIC AS GROUNDS?

We all know that the keys to any successful shidduch (marriage) are the three C's: Caring, Compatibility, and Commitment. But did you also know that yet another "C" is Clean Choppers? When Tel Aviv University and the Warner-Lambert Co. sponsored the First International Workshop on Bad Breath in 1993, Shlomo Goren, former chief rabbi of Israel, informed the conference that Jewish law makes bad breath a legitimate ground for divorce! So, want to keep your mate grounds-free – and smiling? Think mouthwash.

Want to keep your mate grounds-free – and smiling? Think mouthwash.

"POLITICAL" PESACH? WOULDJEW NOT BELIEVE

Many faithful online "news-Jews" were saying, "What a wonderful country!" when an E-mail was widely circulated saying that: 1.) Al Gore and Tipper would be attending a Seder at their son-in-law's home. 2.) Bill and Hillary Clinton will be attending the Seder at the home of their daughter Chelsea's "steady." 3.) Ex-mayor of NYC, Rudy Giuliani's wife would be busy preparing their Seder. 4.) And finally, the Obamas would be enjoying a Seder at Michele's cousin's house.

Personally, I received no less than 27 missives from faithful WJB watchers, so naturally, as an honorable reporter, I felt duty-bound to report the truth.

Here it is (I think):

1.) The Gore's daughter Karenna Aitcheson is married to a Jew named Andrew Newman Schiff.

Now, whether mama and papa came to Seder ... or even whether the Schiffs had a Seder? Do I know? No.

2.) If, by Chelsea's "steady," the reference is to Goldman Sachs banker Marc Mezvinsky, once again ... who knows? However, Seder attendance somewhere wouldn't surprise me, as the Clintons have a host of Jewish friends who would extend an invite (including my cousin, who I have to call ... )

3.) It's more likely the Giulianis would roll Easter eggs than matzo balls. Not one of his three wives have been Jewish, including the current Mrs. Giuliani, nee Judith Nathan, nee not-Jewish.

4.) Ah-Ha! The E-mailer came close, but no cigar with the Obamas. They didn't stop on for charoset at Michelle's cousin's house. Instead, the Obamas held their very own Seder in the White House. The first ever!

SCHLEMIEL, SCHLEMAZAL...

Yiddish and Yinglish devotees of course realize there are a disproportionate number of words that start with "sch." There are also a disproportionate number of "sch's" who are idiots and losers, for example, "schmendrik" and "schlimazel." Another is "schlemiel." But ... this particular word, which means an ineffective, inoffensive bumbler, has an unusual literary history.

The Yiddish, "schlemiel" ultimately derives from the Hebrew "Shelumiel" which roughly translates to "my peace is God" or "God is my well being." Yet ... the term has come to mean a lowly fool in literature and Jewish culture. Nineteenth century German author Adelbert von Chamisso named his novel's bumbling protagonist Peter Shelumiel. E.T.A. Hoffmann used the term in a story, which later became part of Offenbach's opera "The Tales of Hoffmann." In 1971, literary historian Ruth Wisse, took on the tsimmis in her book, "The Schlemiel as Modern Hero." Today, in Hebrew, the reference "Shelumielesque" suggests ineptitude to the point of hopeless.

How did the word morph from such a lovely meaning to one of our classic fools? Here are the prevailing theories.

1.) On Chanukah a different section of Numbers 7 is recited daily, recounting the offerings of the tribal chieftains at the dedication of the Tabernacle (mishkan). On the first day, the first chieftain's name appears, and so on. On the Sabbath, of course, more is read, to a larger congregation. Due to the permutations of the Hebrew calendar, the fifth day never falls on Shabbat. So, which chieftain never gets that spotlight? Shelumiel ben Tsurishaddai!

2. In a Talmudic midrash (Sanhedrin 82b) Shelumiel is identified as Zimri, a bad-nick who got mixed up with Cozbi, a Midianite princess, and was killed at sword point by Aaron's grandson Phinchas (Numbers 25).

3. 19th-century Austrian Jewish scholar, Marcus Weissmann-Chajes, in his collection, "Osem Bosem" ("Treasury of Perfume") suggested that as, "most poor people were of the tribe of Shim'on," (Genesis Rabbah) and Shelumiel was its chieftain, his name became associated with "luckless."

No matter what the reason, it's unlikely that parents will "honor" the hapless chieftain, and name their sons Shelumiel.

Published: May 2, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) charlotte, October 21, 2009 12:34 PM

hi - thanks for an interestng article. I am working on a thesis about Gimpel (from Isaac B. Singer's "Gimpel the fool") as a shlemiel figure. Can you help me with sources, books etc. in which i can find the information you have mentioned? Thanks in advance!

(5) Feivel Peltz, May 10, 2009 9:44 AM

Ain't it the truth!

Fascinating truths - and not from mesechta Bubba Meiseh

(4) Andy, May 5, 2009 7:02 PM

A recipe for another good article.

(3) Brian, May 5, 2009 1:32 PM

The Cure

Bad breath can be banished with a wee sip of Glycerol (pure glycerin). It is 3-carbon alcohol, sweet, non-volatile, non-intoxicating, highly hygroscopic. When swished around the back of the tongue and swallowed, it instantly dehydrates and kills the sulphurophile bacteria there responsible for most bad breath. Lasts quite a while, and tastes good (60% sweetness rating). Also treats psoriasis, burns, abrasions, arthritis pain, and is a fine nasal decongestant (dab a little inside each nostril, takes about 15 minutes to work). Cheap, >$1/oz.(30 ml.). Never leave or stay home without it!

(2) Leonard Marcus, May 5, 2009 11:23 AM

Why the German spelliing?

Sure, Shelumiel. Sure, Shabbat. But why do you stick those German c's into your transliterations from slang Yiddish--schlemiel and schlimazel instead of shlemiel and shlimazel. Don't be a shmo! Drop those c's!

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