June 11, 2024
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June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Jews love sandwiches. From corned beef on rye to bagels and lox, Jews enjoy almost anything between two slices of bread. Most Jews would be happy to forgo the forks, skip the spoons and nix the knives, all in favor of hands-on consumption. In other words, most Jews would choose flatbread over flatware as long as the flatbread is stuffed with a delicious filling.

The term “sandwich,” however is not a Jewish term. Most historians attribute the “sandwich” moniker to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, a British statesman who lived during the 1700’s. As the legend goes, Lord Sandwich was an avid gambler and was searching for sustenance that he could quickly devour with his hands without missing a hand. He asked the staff to fetch him some bread stuffed with meat, a not uncommon practice among similarly addicted gamblers who refused to leave the table. Others took notice of Lord Sandwich’s eating-habits and, eager to mimic him, began ordering the “same as Sandwich.” As a result, the sandwich was born.

The Jews, however, created the sandwich concept much earlier. The Talmudic sage and scholar Hillel, who was born in Babylon in 110 BCE and died in 10 CE, incorporated a sandwich tradition into the Pesach Seder. He combined matzah and bitter herbs into a concoction that, in modern times, became known as the “Hillel Sandwich.” Some scholars contend that the “Hillel Sandwich” represented the inventor’s outlook on life. The matzah symbolizes freedom whereas the bitter herbs symbolizes hardships so, by combining them, Hillel was sending a message that, by the grace of Hashem, with the negative also (or eventually) comes the positive. Thus, the Hillel Sandwich is a sandwich of hope, especially in the face of trying circumstances.

Fittingly, some of Hillel’s most famous sayings would still make sense when a sandwich is added into the expression. For example, Hillel might say: “If I do not make a sandwich for myself, who will make it for me? If I make a sandwich only for myself, what am ‘I’? And if I do not make a sandwich now, when?” A similar sandwich-infusion would work when it comes to Hillel’s “Golden Rule”: “That sandwich which is hateful to you, do not serve your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and fress.”

When it comes to family vacations, few things are more important than the tuna sandwich. It does not require intense refrigeration and its pareve nature provides maximum flexibility for dessert and does not require waiting hours before eating milchig or fleishig. While a tuna sandwich rarely astounds, it also seldomly disappoints. It probably is the most reliable sandwich in the world, consistently delivering at least a moderate level of satiation and satisfaction. It actually is hard to make a bad tuna sandwich (just like it’s hard to make a bad chicken soup) and, if a sandwich fails to meet basic standards, you can usually blame it on the bread (but you can’t blame a bad chicken soup on the bowl.)

Many would argue that falafel in a pita qualifies as a sandwich but some sandwich purists would take issue with such a stance, insisting that a pita technically does not equate to two slices of bread. This, of course, begs the question: what is a sandwich? According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a “sandwich” is “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” This definition, particularly the reference to a split roll, supports inclusion of a stuffed pita. Thus, one could argue that a pita is a sandwich just like a hamantaschen is a cookie and hummus is a condiment.

In the interest of completeness, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary notes that the term “sandwich” includes “one slice of bread covered with food,” which also is known as the “Open-Faced Sandwich.” This leads to a philosophical question: is an incomplete or deconstructed sandwich actually a sandwich? For many sandwich purists, the open-faced sandwich presents an existential crisis. Such purists are quick to point out that in the culinary world, there are no open-faced hotdogs or open-faced hamburgers. In other words, either it’s in the bun or it’s not. The same principle would apply to stuffed cabbage, i.e., either it’s in the cabbage or it’s not. Thus, sandwich purists contend that an open-faced sandwich is merely a wannabe sandwich that lacks commitment. It is no more a sandwich than a baked potato is a knish.

Final thought: Eating a sandwich with a fork and knife is nearly as sacrilegious as eating an ice cream cone with a spoon. Word to the wise: if you dispense with the pretense, you will transition from utensils to utopia.

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