New York Times Rosh Hashanah Food Recommendation: Butter-Drenched Chicken, Ice Cream
The Food section of The New York Times is greeting the Jewish New Year with an article that is going to make a lot of the newspaper’s Jewish readers unhappy.
Published under the six-column, section front headline “The Flavors of Mexico Come Home for Rosh Hashana,” the Times article includes at least three significant problems.
To start with, the newspaper mischaracterizes the holiday’s timing. The Times writes, “The holiday, which signifies the start of the Jewish High Holidays, begins this year on Sunday evening and ends Tuesday at sundown.” This is inaccurate.
Reform Judaism in America commonly celebrates just one day of Rosh Hashanah, not two. So for Reform Jews, the holiday ends Monday night. Personally, I observe two days of the holiday (or one long day, as tradition considers it) and it doesn’t particularly bother me to see the Times side with me and with Orthodox and Conservative Judaism on this issue. However, it does show a Times double standard. Whenever Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government endorse Orthodox Jewish practice and decline to embrace Reform Jewish departures from tradition on ritual matters such as marriage or conversion, the Times denounces the Israeli government as intolerant, hidebound, and insufficiently pluralist. So it’s odd to see the Times endorse a two-day holiday without even acknowledging the existence of the Reform one-day view.
It’s also not accurate that the holiday ends “at sundown.” As Hebcal explains, in fact the holiday ends, depending on whose opinion you follow, anywhere between 42 minutes and 72 minutes after sundown.
The second problem with the Times article comes in a passage describing experience in Mexico City of “the chef Fany Gerson.” The Times writes, “Ms. Gerson attended an international school, rather than a Jewish school, partly out of her father’s fear that the family would be ostracized because Ms. Gerson’s mother was a convert.” The Times doesn’t say whether this fear was founded or unfounded. Nor does the paper give the unnamed Jewish school an opportunity to respond. It leaves Times readers with the distinct and potentially inaccurate negative impression that Jewish schools are unwelcoming to children of converts. In fact, most of those schools have students pray the weekday morning prayers, which include as one of the core blessings a prayer for the righteous, including converts. These students may also study the Torah, with its story of Ruth, and the commandment to love the convert. The Times would have done better to delete the whole passage about the school, because the “father’s fear,” founded or unfounded, is not relevant to the topic of the article, which is food.
The third problem with the Times article relates to the newspaper’s proposed Rosh Hashanah menu of chicken soup, chicken cooked with “4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened,” and honey ice cream made with milk and heavy cream. The mixture of milk (butter, cream) and meat (chicken) is not kosher. The Times is recommending that its readers start off the Jewish New Year with a violation of the Jewish dietary laws.
Maybe the Times Mexican Rosh Hashanah recipes are so tasty that they can withstand, or even benefit from, a substitution of cashew milk in the ice cream or of Earth Balance Buttery Sticks for the butter. Maybe they aren’t. The newspaper doesn’t even mention that such substitutions are possible. It doesn’t seem to consider that any of its readers — perhaps the ones celebrating the two-day holiday — might be traditional enough about such things to care. As a Jewish Times reader and paying subscriber who often cooks the newspapers’ recipes, I am left with the distinct impression that the Times doesn’t care about me and other readers like me. Even more, I’m left with the impression that the newspaper is so clueless about Jewish tradition that it’s not even aware that it is insulting me.
It’s not the first time that the Times has memorably blundered with a Jewish holiday food article. A couple of years ago, the newspaper recommended that readers serve beef tenderloin for Passover. The paper later issued a correction: “An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that beef tenderloin is kosher and appropriate for Passover. It is not kosher, but other cuts of beef that are kosher may be used in the recipe in its place.” It’ll be interesting to see whether the problems with the Rosh Hashanah article — both having to do with the appropriateness of the butter-drenched chicken washed down with ice cream and with the accuracy of the description of the holiday’s timing and — generate a similar correction this time around.
More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.