Silver Chair, Polygamy, and Mount Sinai

Rabbi Gershom ben Yehuda, widely known as Rabbeinu (our teacher) Gershom, lived in 10th century. He can’t really be called a Renaissance man, since he pre-dated Renaissance by a couple of centuries, so let’s call him a pre-Renaissance man. Like some other medieval Jewish scholars, he was also a scientist, a mathematician, a physician, and as a profession, he created highly artistic, unique jewelry. Rabbeinu Gershom was married to a wonderful lady called Devorah, but, to their sorrow, they had no children. After years of trying (and not getting any younger!), Devorah suggested that her husband take a second wife. He did. They had a son, if you want to know, but it bears no relevance to our story.

At some point in his eventful and adventurous life, Rabbeinu Gershom finds himself in Constantinopol where he sets up a gold and silversmith shop. All goes well until the little princess, King Basil’s daughter, falls seriously ill. This may sound like a made-up story, but historical records show that Gershom ben Judah, a French Jew, a jeweler by trade, was called upon to practice medicine and saved the princess’ life. Appropriately grateful, King Basil withdrew a previously issued decree against all Jews. The King and Jewish goldsmith cum doctor became good buddies.

It is said that we usually bring our own misfortunes on our heads. One day, Rabbeinu Gershom happened to describe King Solomon’s legendary golden throne to his friend King Basil. Well, you know how kings are – like little kids: I want the same! And you make it for me! King Basil, though, was no King Solomon, and there wasn’t enough gold in his treasury for this project. He did, however, find enough silver, and the project commenced. However, the wise Rabbeinu was far from enthusiastic. He had warned the king that he could not vouch for the integrity of his helpers, and some silver might go the wrong way. The king, fired up with the idea, did not even want to hear it.

It took several years, but the incredible mechanical silver throne was produced. On each of the six steps leading to the actual chair, a pair of animals extended a foot as the king ascended, and when he sat down, a silver eagle brought down a crown and held it over his head. A miracle of miracles, a wonder of wonders! Only one person was unhappy, the King’s closest adviser, who kept whispering into the royal ear all kinds of suspicions about the amount of silver allegedly stolen in the process.  “We need to weigh the chair, to be sure, ” he said, and the king agreed. There was only one problem: there wasn’t a scale big enough, and nobody would undertake constructing one.

But the master himself, Rabbeinu Gershom, knew how to do it.  “It is so simple, – he said to his second wife, – put it on a boat, mark the waterline, take it off the boat, mark the new waterline, take a bunch of stones and fill the boat to reach the chair’s waterline, then weigh the stones. Easy!” “Wow!” – exclaimed the lady who was quite a socialite, and immediately broadcasted the misplacement theory all over the palace. Thus the chair was weighted, and found lacking in weight as compared to the silver issued from the treasury. The wonderful artisan was imprisoned in an isolated tower without food or drink, to die of starvation.

During the night, he heard someone crying. His first wife, his beloved Devorah, made a decision to die with her husband. And the great scientist and inventor came up with the solution on the spot. “Nobody is going to die! – he said, – get me these five items, and we’ll live happily ever after.” She got all five: a woodworm, a beetle, a silk thread, a rope, and a cord. You can figure out the rest. The worm was let loose to crawl up the wall, the beetle chased after it, a silk thread was attached to the beetle, a rope to the thread, and finally, the cord was delivered to the window, and the prisoner escaped.

Without going into many details, Rabbeinu Gershom and his faithful wife Devorah did live happily in Maintz, Germany, where he established the first center of learning in that region and earned a reputation of a foremost legal authority, “The Light of the Exile.” Among some of his famous legal rulings, valid today, is the decree against polygamy. Can you blame the man?  Another, less known one, is the prohibition to open and read other people’s letters. With e-mails, text messages, and sundry social media today, this law becomes extremely relevant!

What does all this have to do with food? In addition to all his other accomplishments, The Light of the Exile was not adverse to culinary delights. Specifically, he mentions Fludn, or Fluden, flat cakes stuffed with nuts and honey, sometimes mixed with little dough balls called Teigelach (diminutive from teige -dough), served on most Jewish holidays.  He cites the Talmud, although the Talmud does not specify the filling, but the dessert is supposed to symbolize manna, and the two crusts surrounding the filling represent the two layers of dew protecting manna on both sides.

Fludn 2.jpg

Let’s make teigelach first. Just mix flour with eggs, water, and olive oil, add a bit of sugar or xylitol, and knead. I use spelt flour, so I am calling it gluten free, but please consult your physician first.

dscn0901-cutting-dough-sm

Roll the dough into thin ropes and cut the ropes into small pieces. Now, you can leave them like that, or you can form squares or balls. I do balls for a simple reason: as children, we were allowed to roll them as a reward for good behavior.

2056464_orig

You can bake or deep fry them until golden brown. I prefer to deep fry, and it is one of the very few things I deep fry, but it takes only a few minutes, and they come out crunchier. You can use teigelach as croutons for soups and salads, or even as a cereal, but right now we are ready to make fludn.  To do that, you mix them with roughly chopped walnuts, honey, and some more olive oil, and bring it all to boil. Let this mess simmer while we discuss alternative shapes and forms.

Fludn 1.jpg

Once the filling is ready, you can put it between two crackers, two thin cookies, or, as I have discovered recently, two little waffles. For Passover, we used matzoh meal to make teigelach and matzoh for layers. On Purim, we used leftover Homentashen dough for layers, cut fludn into triangles, just like Homentashen, and scribbled designs on top. I have discovered a fascinating article about the carved wooden forms used for fludn layers, some of them triangular for Purim, and some square or oblong, for other holidays (http://www.jewishgen.org/Bessarabia/files/familyMemoirs/IdaWeinhouseFluden.pdf).

dscn0922-finished-teiglach-sm

For High Holidays, however, and the subsequent Sukkos and Simhas Torah (Rejoycing of the Torah), we have always eschewed the flat fludn and fashioned a mound instead. Some recipes include raisins, dry fruit, or candied apples, but I follow my grandmother’s purist view: On Simhas Torah we celebrate finishing the yearly cycle of Torah reading and starting the new one, so it is only appropriate to serve a dessert that looks like Mount Sinai, “the most humble of all mountains,” without any frills, but also the sweetest, where the Law was given.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cup spelt flour (if using white or whole wheat flour, take 1 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1/4 cup more
  • 2 tablespoons water or more if needed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or xylitol
  • 1 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup vegetable oil for deep frying

PROCEDURE

  • Sift flour, add sugar or xyiltol.
  • Whisk eggs with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and water. Add to flour, knead. Add water if needed.
  • On a floured surface, roll dough into thin ropes. cut ropes in small pieces, roll balls.
  • Bring vegetable oil to boil, deep fry dough balls until golden brown and crunchy, about 3 – 5 minutes.
  • Remove from oil, dry well. Mix with honey, walnuts, 1/4 cup olive oil. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until a solid sticky mass is formed.
  • Transfer to a serving platter, form a mound.  Serve room temperature.

Enjoy!

Advertisements

32 Comments Add yours

  1. Wonderful post-loved the history and the recipe 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh how I love this! 🙂
    Interestingly, there is also a Sephardic version called “pinonate”. Now that you’ve reminded me of it. I’ll plan on making it soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Ronit! Just curious, is the Sephardic version made with pine nuts or pistachios?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The original recipe indeed called for pine nuts, but by now any nut is used.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for clarification 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant Dolly rich in ingredients and history..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I am glad you liked it!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Sounds really good, I love the fact that I learn a lot from you. I don’t know much about this traditional cuisine. Thanks for sharing Dolly

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Myra! The more I research, the more I find how all so-called traditional cuisines are interconnected.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. lilyandardbeg says:

    What a lovely story (and I don’t mind stories that are not entirely food related-if you ever wanted to use one that is just a great story, I’ll be absolutely happy) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, but I have made myself a promise that I will not deviate from the recipes and go on a story tangent again. Once is enough. Over the holidays, my husband met a lady who is familiar with my blog (I wasn’t there so I don’t know who she is) and who also likes my writing. I will still continue writing about food, though. As Chekhov said, picking up an inkwell from his desk, “I can write a story about this inkwell, if you want.” I don’t presume to be a Chekhov, of course, but I also believe that the topic does not matter.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Anupriya says:

    Yum Yum 😀 😀 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I thought,” Silver chair, how inter– WHAT?? Polygamy??” So, you had my attention from the git go!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You won’t believe it but Raizel and I made this for the first time too! Thank you for posting this! I wish I would have seen it earlier. It might have spared me a lot of grief. Hope you had a wonderful holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sorry I didn’t get it out on time to help you! I hope yours came out delicious and Raizel was happy and proud! One of the Rabbi’s little girls commented that multicolored sprinkles would’ve looked like flowers on Mount Sinai. I thought it was a great idea for next year. Beautiful Yom Tov, lots of new people in shul. I hope yours was great as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Raizel was VERY happy and proud. We rolled them into balls, and I think it was great practice. It was a very nice yom tov. We are meeting new people and I love having family time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am very happy to hear that!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Great story with delicious food! Living them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Aquileana says:

    Great recipe and history associated to it… Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, and my best wishes to you as well!

      Like

    1. Dear Sally, thank you so much for mentioning me and reblogging my post – what an unexpected honor!

      Like

    1. It is so interesting to me how different people relate to different parts of my story. Thank you again!

      Like

  11. oldpoet56 says:

    Excellent article. I great history lesson but you done went and got me hungry and it’s 3 AM, shame on you girl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yah mahn, but you don’t talk correct Carribean: it’s done GONE!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s