Nov 212014


According to Jewish tradition on this date in 164 BCE Judah Maccabee rededicated the temple in Jerusalem after he had defeated the Seleucid Antiochus IV and cleaned out all the Greek statuary and other profanations. The Jewish feast of Hanukkah (“Dedication”), thus, commemorates the restoration of Jewish worship at the temple. For centuries Hanukkah was a relatively minor celebration in the Jewish ritual calendar because, unlike major holy days such as Passover and Yom Kippur, it has no basis in the Tanakh (Hebrew biblical canon).

Judea was part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt until 200 BCE when Antiochus III of Syria defeated Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt at the Battle of Panium. Judea became at that moment part of the Seleucid Empire of Syria. Antiochus III wanting to conciliate his new Jewish subjects guaranteed their right to “live according to their ancestral customs” and to continue to practice their religion in the temple in Jerusalem. However in 175 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus III, invaded Judea, ostensibly at the request of the sons of Tobias. The Tobiads, who led the Hellenizing Jewish faction in Jerusalem, were expelled to Syria around 170 BCE when the high priest Onias and his pro-Egyptian faction wrested control from them. The exiled Tobiads lobbied Antiochus IV to recapture Jerusalem. As ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells us:

The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months.

When the temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned brit milah (circumcision) and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple (the sacrifice of pigs to the Greek gods was standard ritual practice in ancient Greek religion).

Antiochus’ actions provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias (Mattityahu), a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BC Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader.


By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

The version of the story in 1 Maccabees states that an eight-day celebration of songs and sacrifices was proclaimed upon re-dedication of the altar, and makes no mention of the miracle of the oil. In fact, the miracle of the oil, which is central to Hanukkah, has been repeatedly questioned for its historicity since the Middle Ages. Because of its lack of Biblical authority Hanukkah was, for centuries, considered of minor importance. Now, because of its proximity to Christmas, it has taken on much greater importance in countries where Christmas is a mega-fest of display and consumption – acting as a rival festivity. As such it has adopted many Christmas customs such as the Christmas tree, redefined as a Hanukkah bush, with classic Jewish symbols, such as the star of David, replacing santa and wise men.

Hanukkah is not a Sabbath-like holiday, and there is no obligation to refrain from activities that are forbidden on the Sabbath, as specified in the Shulkhan Arukh. Adherents go to work as usual, but may leave early in order to be home to kindle the lights at nightfall. There is no religious reason for schools to be closed, although, in Israel, schools close from the second day for the whole week of Hanukkah. Many families exchange gifts each night, such as books or games.


Each night, throughout the 8 day holiday, a candle or oil-based light, is lit. As a universally practiced “beautification” (hiddur mitzvah) of the mitzvah, the number of lights lit is increased by one each night. An extra light called a shamash, meaning “attendant” or “sexton,” is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher, lower, or to the side of the others. The purpose of the extra light is to adhere to the prohibition, specified in the Talmud (Tracate Shabbat 21b–23a), against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah miracle. This differs from Sabbath candles which are meant to be used for illumination and lighting. Hence, if one were to need extra illumination on Hanukkah, the shamash candle would be available, and one would avoid using the prohibited lights. Some, especially Ashkenazim, light the shamash candle first and then use it to light the others. So all together, including the shamash, two lights are lit on the first night, three on the second and so on, ending with nine on the last night, for a total of 44 (36, excluding the shamash). It is Sephardic custom not to light the shamash first and use it to light the rest. Instead, the shamash candle is the last to be lit, and a different candle or a match is used to light all the candles.

The lights can be candles or oil lamps. Electric lights are sometimes used and are acceptable in places where open flame is not permitted, such as a hospital room, or for the very elderly and infirm. Most Jewish homes have a special candelabrum referred to as either a Chanukiah (the Sephardi and Israeli term), or a menorah (the traditional Ashkenazi name); Many families use an oil lamp (traditionally filled with olive oil) for Hanukkah. Like the candle Chanukiah, it has eight wicks to light plus the additional shamash light. Since the 1970’s the worldwide Chabad Hasidic movement has initiated public menorah lightings in open public places in many countries.

The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within,” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle (i.e. the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure). Accordingly, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. It is customary amongst some Ashkenazi Jews to have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardic Jews light one for the whole household. Only when there was danger of antisemitic persecution were lamps supposed to be hidden from public view, as was the case in Persia under the rule of the Zoroastrians, or in parts of Europe before and during World War II. However, most Hasidic groups light lamps near an inside doorway, not necessarily in public view. According to this tradition, the lamps are placed on the opposite side from the mezuzah, so that when people pass through the door they are surrounded by the holiness of mitzvot (the commandments).

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There are two main traditional foods for Hanukkah, latkes and sufganiyot (more or less a jelly doughnut). They are both traditional because they are fried in oil – symbolic of temple oil. There is a long North African Jewish tradition of associating sfenj (small, round, deep-fried donuts) with Hanukkah. In Israel, where Central and East European Jews mingled with North African Jews, the Yiddish ponchkes (similar to the German Berliner, the Polish pączki, or the Russian ponchik) became part of this tradition. The ponchke-style sufganiyah was originally made from two circles of dough surrounding a jelly filling, stuck together and fried in one piece. Although this method is still practiced, an easier technique commonly used today is to deep-fry whole balls of dough, similar to the preparation of sfenj, and then inject them with a filling through a baker’s syringe (or a special industrial machine). This method has resulted in the modern sufganiyah being identical to the German Berliner. As such I do not find them as interesting as latkes.


The “modern” latke is a potato pancake which is known across Europe and the Middle East (and Africa due to colonial influence). As such, it is not especially Jewish. In fact much of what has come to be known as “Jewish cuisine” is a collection of the different cooking traditions of the Jewish diaspora worldwide. It is a diverse cuisine that has evolved over many centuries, shaped by Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), Jewish festival, and Shabbat (Sabbath) traditions. Jewish cuisine is influenced by the economics, agriculture, and culinary traditions of the many countries where Jewish communities have settled and varies widely throughout the world.

Until the potato was introduced to the Old World there could not have existed potato pancakes there, Jewish or otherwise. Latkes must have been made from other vegetables. So a challenge I throw out is to make this kind of pancake with a vegetable indigenous to the Old World. The first possibility that springs to mind is to use mashed legumes such as lentils or fava beans (as in Indian cuisine). Another choice would be roots such as celeriac, parsnips, turnips, or carrots, or a mix. If you want, use the potato recipe I am going to give here but use 2 cups of cooked and mashed legumes or grated vegetable in place of the potatoes. I’ve done this many times. Yum.

Potato latkes can be tricky if you do not follow certain simple rules (ask me how I know !!). The key issue is to avoid them becoming soggy. So . . . peel and grate 2 cups   of potatoes. Soak in cold water then strain, repeating as many times necessary until the water runs clear. This helps leach out much of the starch – which you don’t want. Drain them, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can by placing the potatoes in a colander and pressing hard with wadded paper towels until they are as dry as you can get them.

Beat two eggs with salt to taste in a mixing bowl and add the potatoes. Mix well. At his point you may add other ingredients such as finely chopped onions (very common), parsley, tomatoes, whatever you want. Purists add nothing else. In many recipes you will find people adding flour or other starches. Under no circumstances do this. You just got rid of all the starch; why add it back?

Heat good quality olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. The quantity of olive oil is cook’s choice. I use about ¼ inch because the whole idea is to remember the temple oil. Besides, I think it works well. Meanwhile, take about ¼ cup of the mixture, shape it into a ball, then flatten it to form a disk. How flat is also cook’s choice. They should not be too thin, in my opinion, but traditions vary.

Fry 2 or 3 latkes at a time, turning once when the bottom browns. Drain on wire racks and serve warm.

I like mine plain as a side dish, but there are no rules here. As an appetizer you can serve them with a dollop of sour cream or what you will. At Hanukkah many Jews eat them with a sprinkling of sugar or something sweet, especially at tea time

Yield: about 8

Apr 102014


Today is the birthday (1829) of William Booth, a British Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General (1878–1912). William Booth was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, the second son of five children born to Samuel Booth and his second wife, Mary Moss. Booth’s father was relatively wealthy by the standards of the time, but during William’s childhood, the family descended into poverty. In 1842, Samuel Booth, who could no longer afford his son’s school fees, apprenticed the 13-year-old William Booth to a pawnbroker. Samuel Booth died on 23 September 1843.

Two years into his apprenticeship Booth converted to Methodism. He then read extensively and trained himself in writing and in speech, becoming a Methodist lay preacher. Booth was encouraged to be an evangelist primarily through his best friend, Will Sansom. Sansom and Booth both began in the 1840s to preach to the poor of Nottingham, and Booth would probably have remained as Sansom’s partner in his new Mission Ministry, as Sansom called it, had Sansom not died of tuberculosis, in 1849.

When his apprenticeship ended in 1848, Booth was unemployed and spent a year looking in vain for work. In 1849, he reluctantly left his family and moved to London, where he again found work with a pawnbroker. He tried to continue lay preaching in London, but the small amount of preaching work that came his way frustrated him, and so he resigned as a lay preacher and took to open-air evangelizing in the streets and on Kennington Common.

In 1851, Booth joined the Reformers (Methodist Reform Church), and on 10 April 1852, his 23rd birthday, he left pawnbroking and became a full-time preacher at their headquarters at Binfield Chapel in Clapham. William styled his preaching after the U.S. revivalist James Caughey, who had made frequent visits to England and preached at the church in Nottingham where Booth was a member, Broad Street Chapel. Just over a month after he started full-time preaching, on 15 May 1852, Booth became formally engaged to Catherine Mumford. In November 1853, Booth was invited to become the Reformers’ minister at Spalding, in Lincolnshire. Booth married Catherine Mumford on 16 June 1855 at Stockwell Green Congregational Church in London. Their wedding was very simple, as they wanted to use their time and money for his ministry. Even on their honeymoon Booth was asked to speak at meetings.


Though Booth became a prominent Methodist evangelist, he was unhappy that the annual conference of the denomination kept assigning him to a pastorate, the duties of which he had to neglect to respond to the frequent requests that he conduct evangelistic campaigns. At the Liverpool conference in 1861, after having spent three years at Gateshead, his request to be freed for evangelism full-time was refused yet again, and Booth resigned from the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion. In consequence he was barred from campaigning in Methodist congregations, so he became an independent evangelist. His doctrine remained much the same, though. He never moved very far from basic Methodist beliefs.

In 1865 Booth was in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside The Blind Beggar public house some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his preaching that they invited him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent.  The tent was set up on an old Quaker burial ground on Mile End Waste in Whitechapel. The first of these meetings was held on 2 July 1865.

Booth soon realized he had found his destiny, and later in 1865 he and his wife Catherine opened ‘The Christian Revival Society’ in the East End of London, where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays, preaching to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes. The Christian Revival Society was later renamed The Christian Mission. Slowly The Christian Mission began to grow but the work was difficult and his wife wrote that he would “stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn, and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck.” He held evening in an old warehouse where boys threw stones and fireworks through the window. He continued however, and also opened “Food for the Million Shops,” that is, soup kitchens, apparently shrugging off the constant derision.

The name The Salvation Army developed from an incident in May 1878. Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton and said, “We are a volunteer army.” When his son Bramwell Booth heard his father say this he said, “Volunteer, I’m no volunteer, I’m a regular!” William instructed Railton to cross out the word “volunteer” and substitute the word “salvation.” The Salvation Army was modeled after the military, with its own flag (battle colors) and its own music, often with Christian words to popular and folk tunes sung in the pubs. Booth and the other soldiers in “God’s Army” would wear the Army’s own uniform, “putting on the armour,” for meetings and ministry work. He became the general and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as officers. Other members became soldiers.

Though the early years were lean ones, with the need of money to help the poor an ever growing issue, Booth and The Salvation Army persevered. In the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries, notably the United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden and others, including to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, Cape Colony, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.

Often the beginnings in other countries occurred through the “salvationist” activities of soldiers who had emigrated. With some initial success they would contact London to send officers to organize the cause. In Argentina, a non-salvationist wrote to Booth saying that there were thousands of British people there who needed salvation. I find it slightly odd that the writer should emphasize the British immigrants, as needing salvation more than Argentinos; it’s worth a smile in hindsight. The four officers sent in 1890 found that the British were scattered all over the rural areas, mostly in the south in La Pampa and Patagonia, working as sheep farmers. But the missionaries started ministry in English and Spanish, and the work spread throughout the country – initially following the railroad development, since the British in charge of building the railroads were usually sympathetic to the movement.  (As a small aside, this harks back to my post on Brunel yesterday. British engineers were in the forefront of railroad development in South America because of Brunel’s work).


During his lifetime, Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, traveling extensively and holding salvation meetings. He regularly published a magazine and was the author of a number of books; he also composed several songs. His book In Darkest England and the Way Out not only became a best-seller after its 1890 release, it set the foundation for the Army’s modern social welfare approach.


He proposed a strategy to apply the Christian Gospel and work ethic to the problems. His book speaks of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor can be trained in agriculture, training centers for prospective emigrants, homes for prostitutes and released prisoners, aid for the poor, and help for alcoholics. He also laid down schemes for lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort for the poor. He adamantly affirmed that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it was the task of each Christian to step into the breach.

Booth was always an evangelist and never departed from his ministry of conversion. In his introduction he writes:

I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.


William Booth was 83 years old when he died (or, in Salvationist parlance, was Promoted to Glory) at his home in Hadley Wood, London. At the three day lying in state at Clapton Congress Hall 150,000 people filed past his casket. On 27 August 1912 Booth’s funeral service was held at London’s Olympia where 40,000 people attended, including Queen Mary, who sat almost unrecognized far to the rear of the great hall.

The following day Booth’s funeral procession set out from International Headquarters. As it moved off 10,000 uniformed Salvationists fell in behind. Forty Salvation Army bands played the ‘Dead March’ from Handel’s Saul as the vast procession set off. He was buried with his wife Catherine Booth in the main London burial ground for 19th century non-conformist ministers and tutors, the non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

The Salvation Army came under a lot of criticism in Booth’s lifetime, and has continued to have a mixed reception for a variety of reasons – mostly concerning its vast wealth and moral stances.  But I will bypass this topic here. You can look it up if you are interested.  I have many friends who are Salvation Army officers and they are all hard working decent people, laboring to do good in the world.  They all play brass instruments, of course, which is mostly how I know them.  My son played trumpet at Salvation Army kettles for years.  So here’s a little tribute to Salvation Army brass (for the musicians in the audience – Salvation Army bands normally use the cornet rather than the trumpet, including sometimes the Eb soprano):

I was surprised to discover the relationship between the Salvation Army and doughnuts.  Here’s a video to explain with some good vintage footage:

It’s only 44 seconds long, but if you cannot view it, essentially, “Salvation Army lassies” became legendary in WW I, and again in WW II, for giving free doughnuts and coffee to soldiers.   They chose doughnuts because field kitchens generally did not have ovens to bake cakes or cookies.


Here is a recipe taken directly from a Salvation Army website:  You might want to substitute something healthier for the tub of lard, although lard is superior for frying.  If it were me I wouldn’t let them cool either.  Fresh doughnuts straight from the fryer are unbeatable.  It’s easy to halve the recipe if 48 are too many for you.

Salvation Army Lassies’ Donut Recipe

Yield: 4 dozen donuts


5 C flour
2 C sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 ‘saltspoon’ salt
2 eggs
1 ¾ C milk
1 Tub lard


Combine all ingredients (except for lard) to make dough.

Thoroughly knead dough, roll smooth, and cut into rings that are less than 1/4 inch thick. (When finding items to cut out donut circles, be creative. Salvation Army Donut Girls used whatever they could find, from baking powder cans to coffee percolator tubes.)

Drop the rings into the lard, making sure the fat is hot enough to brown the donuts gradually. Turn the donuts slowly several times.

When browned, remove donuts and allow excess fat to drip off.

Dust with powdered sugar. Let cool and enjoy.