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Jewish Cookbooks
see caption below

Yetta Reisler and another girl. Chicago Daily News, Inc., photographer. 1907. Chicago Historical Society. DN-0004635

bibliographic record

Jewish cookery offers readers a variety of ways to study Jewish traditions and home life, especially as they are shaped by women through their culinary efforts. Cooking was women's domain in a Jewish household and most cookbooks were intended for women and written by them. The Library's collection of several hundred Jewish cookbooks includes the first one known to have been published in the United States, Mrs. Esther Levy's Jewish Cookery Book, on Principles of Economy, Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers, with the Addition of Many Useful Medicinal Recipes, and Other Valuable Information, Relative to Housekeeping and Domestic Management (Garden Grove, Calif.: Pholiota Press, 1982, TX724.L4 GenColl; Philadelphia: W.S. Turner, 1871; RBSC). A Jewish calendar listing feasts and the special instructions for preparing for the Passover holiday document literacy among the middle- and upper-middle-class Jewish women to whom the cookbook was addressed in 1871 and the attempt to impart to them a basic knowledge of Jewish customs.

Hinde Amchanitzki's Lehrbukh vi azoy tsu kokhen un baken (Textbook on how to cook and bake) (New York: S. Druckerman, 1901; TX724.A47 Hebr) is the first Yiddish cookbook published in this country. Like Levy's and most, but not all, other Jewish cookbooks, it contains recipes that are kosher, a Hebrew word meaning ritually proper or fit to be used. Jewish cookbooks usually contain sections that specify what foods can be used in cooking and instructions on setting up and keeping a kosher kitchen. Food columns that appear in the Anglo-Jewish, Yiddish, and Hebrew press and in specialty periodicals discuss keeping kosher, provide recipes, and include advertisements that give a picture of Jewish foodways. An early example of this genre is the Organized Kashruth Company's Kosher Food Guide (New York, n.d.; BM710.K67 GenColl). Its stated purpose was to be a “guide to the observant Jewish woman desiring to uphold the traditional dietary laws.” Some forty-eight thousand Jewish homes received its inaugural issue in 1935.

Several generations later, food-writer Joan Nathan expanded her award-winning book Jewish Cooking in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998; TX724.N368 1998 GenColl) into thirty-nine half-hour programs by the same name televised by Public Broadcasting Service stations (Jewish cooking in America with Joan Nathan, MBRS). Nathan's book and television series, both replete with interviews, early photographs, and advertisements, document the authentic culinary and cultural practices of Jews past and present in which women have played such a prominent role.


Abusch-Magder, Ruth. “Cookbooks.” In Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore (New York: Routledge, 1997) 2 vols. 1:281-87.

Nathan, Joan. “Food.” In ibid. 1:460-64.

(For other discussions of cookbooks see General Collections Cookbooks and Domestic Jounals and Rare Book and Special Collections Collections Formed by Women.)

Cookery, Jewish
Jews—Dietary laws
Jews—United States—Social life and customs

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