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The Jews changed English food – but they paid a price

TJI Pick
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Published: 30 December 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

British Jews gave the English fish and chips and bagels - but their eating habits stoked deadly hate.

There it hangs in the Jewish Museum, the proud banner of the Jewish Bakers’ Union. It shows two bakers shaking hands by their feet lies an ear of wheat, and a tinned loaf.

Why, you might ask, was there a separate Jewish union?

The Jewish bakers were among the Ashkenazi Jews who came to Whitechapel in the early 1880s in flight from pogroms. They settled in and opened the kinds of businesses they had owned in the Russian Pale, including bakeries.

Except they baked to a different timetable; Jewish bakers opened on Sundays, when other bakeries were shut. They needed their own union to defend them against the rage of gentile bakers.

And they survived. Jewish bread became a part of the London food world, culminating in the Brick Lane Bagel Bakery, beloved by clubbers to this day.

The story of Jewish food in England is a story of conflict and resolution. Sometimes, the conflicts have a body count.

The fact that the meat of England is pork, not beef, is bad news. Pig giving and sharing were especially important to the poor. If the Jews refused to eat delicious pig and tasty bacon, then what did they want?

The blood libel answer — that Jews sacrificed and ate Christian children — was one of England’s “gifts” to the world.

In 1190, tensions came to a boil in York on the Sabbath before Passover, which for urban Jews may have involved trading with the Christian community, and thus inadvertently reminding them of their difference.

FULL STORY How the Jews changed English food - at a price (Jewish Chronicle)

Photo: The Jewish Barkers Union banner (Photo: Jewish Museum London)

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