The Passover and the Invention of the Sandwich by Hillel

    April 2011 Passover          
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Passover and the Origin of the Sandwich

By Jane Bichmacher de Glasman *

Even who doesn't have profound Jewish knowledge knows that Passover is the “Jewish Easter” although, actually, the opposite is true, Easter is the Christian Passover. But that is not the main issue I want to discuss.

Even traditional Jews associate Passover to a dinner, referring like this to Seder. But Seder, in Hebrew, means order, related to the 14 steps to be followed, and only the 10th, Shulchan Orech, the Set Table, corresponds to the meal itself.

I would like to focus in the step that precedes it, the 9th: Korekh, which consists of eating matzah (unleavened bread) with maror (bitter herbs) together. Of the three matzot that are placed on the table of Seder, we take the one of top, the same is broken in two parts and with bitter herbs is formed a sandwich. As we read in Haggadah (= narrative, corresponding to the book that is read in the Seder):

This is a remembrance of Hillel in Temple times — this is what Hillel did when the Temple existed: He enwrapped the Paschal lamb, the matzo and the bitter herbs to eat them as one, in fulfillment of the verse, "with matzot and maror (the bitter herb) they shall eat it."

Following, everybody eats "Hillel’s sandwich".

People usually think that the origin of the sandwich is German, after a man decided to eat a sausage inside bread.

According the historical-literary record presented in the Haggadah and represented in the Seder, we realize that the sandwich is Jewish: two matzah pieces with bitter herb stuffing. And more: vegetarian sandwich with touches of Japanese typical food (the wasabi used to make sushi is our bitter herb). For all this, there is nothing more "fashion" than the millenarian Sandwich of Hilel!

Maybe the taste today is not of the most appetizing. But we should remind that, although Passover Seder involves foods, they have a character more symbolic than eatable. So much so that the main tray that is placed on the table, to show the main food stuffs to be consumed - its function is pedagogic.

In a humorous way, we could summarize the Jewish festivities to the following logic and order: "They tried to destroy us. God saved us. Let’s celebrate eating!"

Unfortunately a series of ritualistic aspects and events associated to Passover were responsible for the death of thousands of Jews. Marranos, Anusim or Cripto-Jews (forced converts to Christianity who kept their Judaism secretly) were secretly watched and arrested durring Passover as heretics, by the Inquisition. The later accusation of "ritual murder" caused the massacre and/or expulsion of several European communities: Jews were accused of killing Christian children to make matzah with their blood, what is an absurd for who has any idea of Kashrut (dietary Jewish laws) that absolutely forbids the ingestion of blood. This together with the accusation of Jews being called "God killers" (Jews accused as murderers of Jesus), followed by the burning of Judas (practice very known in Brazil). Also the annual super-cleaning required for Passover, that linked to other Jewish practices of hygienic character (as the baths, changes of clothes, cares with the dead and sick people), which served to save the Jews throughout history from dying so much as others in epidemics like the Black Plague - and again, because of it, they were accused of causing them, determining their persecution and massacre...

Although in the last decades the Catholic Church, particularly, is trying to recognize errors of the past and to apologize for them, certain prejudices are very difficult to be eradicated of the popular culture, what in Portuguese language even determined negative and pejorative connotations to many words like "judiar", "judiaria", "judiação", and the association of Jew to usurer, stingy, frequent image in jokes >

As historical truth, the Jews, originally shepherds, farmers, artisans and liberal professionals, were forced to work in other trades due to restrictions imposed to them in the Medieval Era, as to possess lands, etc.

But, to conclude, the great joke in this case is that, being the sandwich actually a Jewish invention, how could the Jews not have patented it? The Jewish inheritance would not be just spiritually so rich, but reinforced by millions of dollars of royalties - paradoxically paid by McDonalds, Burger Kings, etc. even in Passover - when the Jews cannot consume bread and are not allowed to benefit from the sale of their own invention, the sandwich...

* * * * *

* Full Professor of UERJ, founder and former Coordinator of Jewish Studies Center and Hebrew Department (Federal and State Universities of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)


from the April 2011 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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