Jewish Woman Cooking on Friday, Alphonse Levy
This is a drawing on a postcard from 1886 showing a Jewish housewife preparing food for Shabbat. The title of the picture is “ פרימסעל, Les Vermicelles” meaning noodles. These words are in French and Judeo-Alsatian (Yédisch-Daïtsch), a language spoken by the Jews of Alsace. The woman is standing in the kitchen next to a young boy who may be her son or grandson. She is cutting the noodle dough with a knife. On the table is a challah and some egg shells. The caption translates from French as: “It is Friday, a housewife prepares the noodles for the main meal of Shabbat.” It is possible that the housewife is preparing Spatzle, a typical egg noodle dish common to the Alsace region at the time. The egg shells on the table are a hint that these are in fact egg noodles. The noodles might also have be served during the Shabbat meal either as an addition to chicken soup or for Kugel, another traditional Jewish food eaten on Shabbat.
On the wall behind the housewife is a plaque which reads “Mizrach” (East). This is a traditional sign that symbolized the direction of Jerusalem, the direction in which Jews pray. In many Jewish homes it is traditional to hang artistic wall plaques inscribed with the word Mizrach, with scriptural passages such as “From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, the Lord's name is to be praised” (Psalms 113:3), with kabbalistic inscriptions, or with pictures of holy places. These plaques are generally placed in rooms where people pray, such as the living room or bedroom.
To the left of the Mizrach plague is a traditional Shabbat lamp or Juden Stern. The lamp would be filled with oil and lit before Shabbat, thus providing light throughout the Friday night meal.
Alsace is situated in the East of France on the German border. The Jewish community in the area is one of the oldest in Europe. The first mention of a Jewish community in Alsace is from the twelfth century, but Jews are thought to have lived in the region from around 1000 CE. Despite pogroms and hardship, Jews have lived continuously in Alsace, peaking at the end of the nineteenth century when it numbered more than 35,000 people. The Alsatian Jewish community had its own unique traditions but was also greatly influenced by the German-Jewish community. One of the features of this community was their language, Judeo-Alsatian (Yédisch-Daïtsch), which was a mixture of Middle High German, Old Alsatian, Medieval Hebrew, and Aramaic.
This picture was one of a series of postcards by the French-Jewish artist Alphonse Levy (1843-1918). From Alsace himself, Levy is known for his pictures of the life and traditions of both Alsatian and Algerian Jews.
This resource can be used in Jewish History lessons on Jewish communities in the Alsace region, their tradition, culture, and food.
Jewish Studies teachers could also focus on the "Mizrach" plaque on the wall and it's purpose. Jewish study teachers can also use this image when teaching about Shabbat and preparations for the day in different generations.
French teachers can use this postcard when teaching the history of the Rheine Valley region.
This postcard can be used to illustrate the tradition of making Spatzle in Cooking classes.
What food is the woman preparing?
What other food do you see on the table?
Who are the two characters in the picture?
What day of the week is it?
What is hanging from the ceiling to the woman’s left?
What is hanging on the wall?
Reading Between the Lines
Why do you think the woman is preparing this specific food on a Friday afternoon?
Why are there egg shells on the table?
Why would a picture like this feature on a postcard?
Why is there a picture with the words on the wall?
What does it signify?
In the background, there is a Mizrach plaque and a Shabbat lamp. Have you ever seen either of these objects? If so, where did you see them?
Have you ever eaten Spatzle, or noodlesas part of a traditional Shabbat meal?
Do you have any memories of preparing Shabbat food with a relative? Share your stories.
Think of a typical Jewish food. Create a short clip about the food you have chosen on animoto.com. Explain where it originated, how it was originally made, and how it has evolved over time. Make sure to include pictures!