When was the last time you put ketchup on your food?
I am not talking about hot dogs, burgers, French fries or any other form of sustenance that is really just a cleverly designed excuse to ingest that spicy, sweet tomato sauce from a bottle. I’m referring to a nice, sit down meal where you take one look at the food before you and immediately squeeze a dollop of this delicious red paste onto your plate because clearly, everything is better with ketchup.
In my house – and I am sure many cooks will agree with me – putting ketchup on your plate is kind of insulting to whoever made the meal. The cook worked to create a certain flavor palette for their dish and here you are, adding a mass-produced condiment to mask the taste of the food. The nerve!
While some of you may think I am crazy and my feelings towards ketchup may spark some serious emotional debate, I want to take a step back to a time where adding ketchup to food was considered a stroke of culinary genius.
In the 1930s, a wave of immigration to the Land of Israel was underway from Europe and North America. Families packed their bags, boarded ships and made the journey to the Jewish homeland with the hopes of carving out a better life for themselves and for the Jewish people.
For the European or American housewife, the shift to running a household in the Land of Israel was drastic. The creature comforts they had known in their home countries were significantly reduced and many aspects of life needed to be adjusted to fit in with their new reality. Life in their new country was hard – there were people to meet, houses to build, land to cultivate, a language to learn and an incredible number of challenges to overcome.
When looking for comfort and familiarity in a new place, one of the first things people do is turn to the foods and flavors that have brought them that feeling of home over the years. Be it mom’s meatloaf or grandma’s chicken soup, those ingrained food memories bring comfort during difficult times. For these new immigrants, however, achieving those flavors was not so simple as the local produce and cuisine did not lend themselves to the recipes they were accustomed to in their native countries.
Enter Dr. Erna Meyer, an author and a teacher of cooking and nutrition at the WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) Domestic Science School, who had already written and published several works on running a household when she immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1933. Armed with the knowledge she had gleaned after several years of living in the Land of Israel, Meyer wrote a guide for WIZO intended for the fresh-off-the-boat housewife on how to properly run her household in her new homeland.
“How to Cook in Palestine” is essentially the housewife’s bible on acclimating to the Land of Israel. Printed in English, German and Hebrew side by side, the book was made to be as accessible as possible and even includes helpful elements such as measurement conversion, serving sizes and a small dictionary of important words translated from English and German into Hebrew. The book serves as a guide on how to use local produce and products in creating new homey flavors without trying to replicate the ones they left behind.
“The differences in climate and the necessary adjustments arising out of these differences compel the European housewife to make many drastic changes, particularly in her cooking – a change not so easy to achieve as it would seem,” wrote Dr. Meyer in the introduction to the book.
Faced with these changes, Meyer was concerned that an average housewife would find herself overburdened and overwhelmed with the task of keeping her family healthy, happy and well-fed. Her solution? Leave Europe behind and embrace the new world of cooking in the Land of Israel.
“We housewives must make an attempt to free our kitchens from European customs which are not applicable to Palestine. We should wholeheartedly stand in favor of healthy Palestine cooking.”
The book includes full chapters on cooking with vegetable oil in place of butter, how to navigate the world of exotic local spices and how to properly cook with electricity. Only once the housewife understood the changes she would need to make in her cooking would she arrive at the recipe section of the book. Dr. Meyer included a wealth of recipes for main dishes, sides, desserts, and drinks specifically tailored for local produce and protein options to help the housewife “to become acclimatized to our old-new homeland.”
Now, you may be asking yourselves what does this have to do with the great ketchup debate?
Interestingly enough, Dr. Meyer proved to be a big fan of ketchup and in her book, she strongly suggested women consider adding the condiment to their recipes as a way to complement the spices in the dishes and because “the rich red color is pleasant decoration to many foods.”
According to Dr. Meyer, “Tomatoketchup is made of a spicy seasoning and the pulp of boiled tomatoes. In this, the housewife has many spices combined in one and not only means of seasonings but also the tomato is one of those few vegetables which retains their vitamins after being boiled.”
It did help, of course, that Assis, a local ketchup and condiment producer, assisted with the publication of the book.
So, for those of you on the side of ketchup, it appears you have the full support of an expert homemaker – especially if you are living in Israel and are looking to dress your meat or fish. If that is the case, Dr. Meyer suggests, “One tablespoonful is enough but if a stronger seasoning is preferred, two or three tablespoonfuls may be used.”
Get a taste of “How to Cook in Palestine” with these recipes (one of which includes ketchup)!
Egg Plant “Liver”:
5 small egg plants, oil for frying, vinegar, salt, onion, ground pepper, fried onion. 1 hard-boiled egg. Cut the unpeeled egg plants into thin slices, fry in boiling oil and pass through meat mincer. Add the raw fried onions and the egg, salt and vinegar.
Fish and Vegetables:
Various root vegetables (bulbs of celery and parsley, beet roots, kolrabi) can be used. Ehred [sic] and boil the vegetables in a little saltwater until nearly done. Then put these in a deep casserole, which had been smeared with oil. And add any desired fresh fish, cut into portions and salted. Between the slices you can add some “Assis” tomato-sauce or ketchup. Stew over small fire, with tightly covered lid. For about 20 minutes.
This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.
Robert Lachmann with his secretary (Jerusalem, ca. 1936)
The weather-beaten stone marker atop grave number 15, row 3, sub-section 8 of the Jerusalem community plot of the Mount of Olives cemetery appears neglected, as if it has not been visited for many years. The gravestone contains just three words: “Dr. Robert Lachmann.” The records of Chevra Kadisha list the name of the deceased as “Robert Lachmann”, date of birth: unknown; parents’ names: unknown; date of death: 20th of Iyar, 5699, May 9th, 1939.
Who was Dr. Robert Lachmann, who passed away in 1939?
Born in Berlin in 1892, Robert Lachmann was the second of three sons born to Dr. Georg Lachmann, a Jewish scholar who taught at the Humanistic Gymnasium in Berlin, and Jenny Hendler-Lachmann, who was born and raised in London and graduated from Queen’s College.
Lachmann studied violin and languages, English and French at the universities in Berlin and London and took lessons in Arabic with Prof. Mittwoch. During the First World War he served as a translator for prisoners of war from North Africa and India at Wunsdorf, where he was first introduced to and became fascinated by Arabic and other non-European music. This work made him decide to do more research of Arabic music and culture. Following the completion of his master’s degree in musicology, at the University of Berlin (Humboldt University) he decided to focus on the music of Tunisia, and thus he became one of the pioneers of the study of Arabic and Eastern music.
Lachmann was one of the founders of the field of comparative musicology that later evolved in the United States into what was called “ethnomusicology.” But even this term does not fully convey the scope of the field or the materials studied in it. Indeed, non-European music was initially at the forefront of comparative music research, which began in post-WWI Germany and the Weimar period. The idea was to find that which was common among different forms of music, as well as what was different – the ancient roots of each form of music. This kind of research was best conducted when it was possible to record and play back the music from recordings, and to isolate and analyze elements from the various musical languages. Lachmann and his colleagues were of course also aware of music’s social, psychological and magical contexts.
As mentioned, Lachmann was born in Berlin and lived there until 1935. He completed his doctoral dissertation in 1922 and published articles on the music of Haydn and Schubert. However, his most significant work as a comparative musicologist was presented in his book Musik des Orients and an expansive article on the music of non-European civilizations, which he published in 1929. That same year, Lachmann decided to leave the Jewish community as he considered himself a Universalist and felt that his relationship with the community was nothing more than a troublesome nuisance. It was around this time that he began writing his memoirs about his military service as an interpreter in a prisoner of war camp during WWI, which are today preserved in the Sound Archive in Berlin.
With the rise of the Nazis to power, and despite being an assimilated, educated Jew, who lacked any strong connection with Jewish culture, he was fired from his post as a librarian of the Berlin State Library in 1933 and was left with no source of income. His options were to immigrate either to the United States, as many musicologists did or to Palestine. He chose Palestine—not because of any Zionist or Jewish sentiment—but because he was a scholar of Eastern music who saw the many possibilities to continue his research in the Land of Israel/ Palestine, with its many cultures, especially in Jerusalem, as well as its proximity to Egypt and other Arab countries.
Ruth Katz, who studied the life and activities of Robert Lachmann, claims that Lachmann was “uprooted,” and believed only in research, choosing Jerusalem for that reason.
Lachmann spent over three years packing up his library and archive in anticipation of his move to Mandatory Palestine. Even after immigrating, he traveled to Berlin several times, copying recordings on wax cylinders, including recordings by Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, copies of which had reached Berlin from Vienna.
Among Lachmann’s recordings which he made in Jerusalem on tin records, which mainly consist of Eastern music, was one song, a German children’s song, which Lachmann himself sang and whistled:
Vöglein im hohen Baum (Bird in the Treetop)
Vöglein im hohen Baum Klein ist´s, ihr seht es kaum tausend zugleich Wenn ihr vorüber geht wenn ihr die Farben seht freuet ihr euch
Before immigrating to Palestine and prior to the Nazi’s rise to power, Lachmann presented his research on Arabic music at the World Conference for Arabic music in Cairo in 1932. He met many Jewish musicians there, including Jewish Iraqi musician and composer Ezra Aharon, who represented the music of his country on behalf of the king of Iraq. Ezra Aharon immigrated to Palestine in 1934 and became one of Lachmann’s principal subjects of research and a major figure in Eastern music circles in Jerusalem and the rest of the country. Palestine Radio began its broadcasts in 1936 with a musical segment featuring Ezra Aharon playing the oud. He established the Arab Music Orchestra and composed many songs and compositions. Ezra Aharon, like Lachmann, did not think that his immigration to Palestine would prevent him from ever returning to Iraq, but political and military developments would soon reshape the region.
Before leaving Berlin Lachmann sought to establish a research center for Oriental-Eastern music and contacted representatives of the Hebrew University. He received a reply from the president of the university, Dr. Yehuda Leib Magnes, who invited him in 1935 to establish an archive for Eastern music. The intention was to establish a sound archive that would record and analyze recordings, with a studio, recording equipment and a sound technician.
And so, in 1936, Lachmann arrived in Palestine with a British government certificate, bringing with him copies of recordings made in Tunisia which had been stored in the Berlin sound archive. These were recordings made by Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, “the father of Jewish musicology” who had resided in Jerusalem from 1907 to 1921. He also brought copies of other recordings he had made, and records of Oriental music from both the Near and Far East that he had acquired for the archive. In addition he obtained funding to employ a sound technician who would work alongside him. This man went by the name of Walter Schor.
Lachmann’s work continued for about three years. The university had difficulty dealing with his personality as well as his research and goals. The budget he was allocated was renewed annually, until the end of 1938, when he was informed that funding would be cut off.
The Hebrew University, founded in 1925, did not understand the importance of Lachmann’s research and although when he arrived in the country he began to study Jewish music as well, the university’s administration did not see any point in the continuation of his research at the time
Once in the Land of Israel, Lachmann made some 800 recordings of Eastern music on tin records. The subjects of the recordings as he described them in his notes were: “Samaritan Music”–233 records; “Jewish Music: Kurds”–12 records, “Yemenites”–75 records, “Western”–51 records, “Other Communities”– 25 records, “Contemporary (Popular) Music”–34 records, “Arabic Music”: “Bedouins”–23 records, “Rural”–119 records, “Religious Music”–39 “Women and Children”–9 “Eastern Urban Music”–92 records, “Christians”–42 records, “Gypsies”–6 records, “Others”–9 records, Total: 769 records.
Recording no. 2 – The song “Yefe Nof” performed by Ezra Aharon (vocals and oud)
Recording no. 3 – Musical piece performed with the oud
In 1936 and 1937, Lachmann was invited to present a series of lectures on the radio in English. The musical demonstrations were taken from the tin recordings, and he hoped that in this way, he would help spread Eastern music along with his teachings, as well as obtain additional funding for his work.
Recording no. 4 – Lachmann at the end of his series speaks about his financial crisis
For years, all of Lachmann’s recordings were preserved by his student Dr. Edith (Esther) Gerson-Kiwi. She continued his work and maintained the Eastern music collection until the establishment of the National Sound Archive by Prof. Israel Adler as part of the National Library in 1965. For years, Gerson-Kiwi refused to hand over Lachmann’s material, until finally in the 1980s she transferred Lachmann’s recordings and her own to the Sound Archive. The archive containing Lachmann’s writings, notes and letters is in the Music Department and is accessible to researchers and visitors under the catalog number MUS26.
One could say that Lachmann was the spiritual founder of the National Sound Archive of the National Library. Generations of ethnomusicologists have continued on his path, with many continuing to study the musical field Lachmann devoted himself to—the music of the East.
Lachmann studied Hebrew and was interested in the tradition of Jewish musical performance—the pronunciations, liturgical hymns (piyutim) and women’s songs. He was especially interested in the songs of the Samaritans which had an ancient and magical sound.
Among his writings are handwritten pages in vowelized Hebrew, of lectures he transcribed into Hebrew for himself about the foundations of Jewish music, which, it can be assumed, he read aloud. Interestingly, he never recorded himself speaking in Hebrew.
He writes in “Lecture no. 1: the Foundations of Jewish Music – Reading the Bible A (Mus 26 C 19)”:
My lectures will deal with the music of Eastern Jews. Although it is not my intention to bore my listeners with details about the traditions of the various communities, I think it would be more useful to address the main elements of this music. Perhaps my listeners are hoping for a short, definitive answer to a favorite question: what is Jewish music? However, one of the aims of my lectures is to try to prove to them that there is no short, conclusive answer to this query.
I will not give them a definitive answer because the subject has not yet been thoroughly investigated. Jewish music consists of parts that have not yet been clarified, such as the cantillations and songs of Kurdish Jews, and perhaps the most interesting, the cantillations of the Karaites, and more. Before researching these, it is impossible to come to an absolute conclusion. There are certainly people for whom it is sufficient in this regard to rely on their beliefs and feelings and not on facts for the sake of drawing conclusions. But as we have decided, we must rely more on facts than on beliefs and feelings.
And secondly, I cannot give a concise answer to the question of the essence of Jewish music. Jewish music has undergone many changes and influences. Apart from that, each of its forms has its own social circumstances and musical principles and all will need to be addressed.
If we want to talk about Jewish music we must first of all think of the Bible. Indeed, the cantillation of the Bible is unique and there are doubts about whether it can be called music at all … there was and still is a tendency among the Eastern nations to see music as a force which can have a negative influence on the human spirit…
Lachmann goes on to discuss Samaritan music, which he views as ancient and having a magical power which he apparently did not find in Jewish music. He continues:
According to the magical approach, one can influence the natural spirits with certain special actions. Among these, the most important is the uttering of magical incantations. These chants are spoken by healer-shamans who are responsible for the health of the society and its success in the hunt as well as all important social issues in general. But in their belief, he [the shaman] is not the active force in all of these situations. He is just the vessel being used by the spirits to achieve the necessary magic. It is understandable then that the conjurer cannot utter the magical sayings in his natural voice.
This disguising of the voice is found also among the Samaritans and the wonderful impression left on the listeners from their style is achieved by the disguised voice. In other words, there are remnants of the magical approach in the Samaritan cantillation. Moreover, Samaritan cantillation is the only cantillation among the Near Eastern churches that preserves these clear remnants.
The next lectures will be devoted to the following topics: Foundations of Jewish Music 2 [Cantillating the Bible]; Foundations of Jewish Music 3 [Traditional Secular Music of Eastern Jews]; Foundations of Jewish Music 4 [Contemporary Jewish Music, the Definition of Jewish Music].
We learn from a newspaper article that Lachmann lectured on Eastern music in various circles, and these audiences also found it difficult to understand the broad contexts connecting Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Eastern Jewish music.
Lachmann died of an illness on May 9th, 1939. A telegram was sent to his brother in London from the university’s president Dr. Yehuda Leib Magnes. Walter Schor disappeared without a trace and conspiracy theories still abound about his actions in Palestine among those who knew him. Some say that he was accused of espionage. Lachmann was 46 years old at the time of his death. His research and recordings tell the story of Jerusalem and its voices. The establishment of the Archive of Eastern Music was ahead of its time but left its mark and has influenced the research and collection of Jewish and Israeli music in the Land of Israel and the State of Israel to this day. Robert Lachmann, an intellectual Jew, rooted in German culture, a lover of Eastern culture, a believer in science, died poor and alone and was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. From there he looks on and listens to the old and new voices of the East and of the Sound Archive of the National Library.
A ketubah is a traditional Jewish wedding contract. As such, it is not a particularly romantic item, and not just for the obvious reasons. Consider, for example, the four ketubot that were recently unearthed by the staff of the National Library’s Manuscripts Department on an old microfilm reel. These four documents appear to attest to a strange sequence of events, and they unfortunately represent the only evidence available…
The story begins in Italy. The year was 1842, and in the port city of Trieste (which served as a free-trade zone of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) the dear bride-groom Jehoiakim ben Shimon Schulhaff was being wed to the honorable virgin Leah bat Yaakov Gabriel. The groom’s signature and that of the two witnesses at the bottom of the ketubah sealed its validity. But, apparently, the groom did not hold up his end of the bargain, failing to financially support his bride, and soon enough she was married to another suitor.
A year and a half after the lavish seaside wedding at Trieste, a second ketubah was inscribed, but not signed, in another Italian port city, Ancona. On the thirteenth day of the month of Iyar, in the year 5604 (1844), the same young lady – Leah bat Yaakov Gabriel – was to be married once again. This time, the groom answered to the name Joseph ben Yehuda Schwarzenberg.
Neither the groom’s signature, nor the two required witness signatures appear in this second ketubah. This made it a matter of no consequence whatsoever for our honorable bride to be married yet another time, this time to (according to our best estimation) the former groom’s brother – Gershon ben Yehuda Schwarzenberg. Did this unusual arrangement for a wedding offer any benefit to the Schwarzenberg family? Perhaps they got a better deal on the catering? Whatever the reason – the ketubah indicates that this festive event took place on the sixteenth day of Iyar, only three days after the date on the previous ketubah. This time, the wedding was supposedly held on the Mediterranean island of Corfu, raising the possibility that the whole episode was a ruse meant to disguise the smuggling of the couple out of Italy. The third ketubah is also unsigned, meaning the union was never given the kosher seal of approval, the document remaining null and void.
This fact, however, served to enable the existence of the aforementioned fourth ketubah! This wedding would be held even further away from Italy, on the shores of the same sea but on a different continent. The event was to be set in Alcara (near Fustat), part of modern-day Cairo in Egypt.
Ketubah number four was composed and signed on the 29th of the same month and year as the previous two. The newlyweds were the same couple appearing on the Corfu ketubah – Gershon ben Yehuda Schwarzenberg and Leah bat Yaakov Gabriel. This time, the document was signed. Incidentally, in the ketubah we see here, the groom’s last name was written incorrectly (“Schwarsenbilgi”), indicating that the scribe was not familiar with Ashkenazi surnames.
The National Library’s Manuscripts Department is at a loss as to the meaning and significance of this strange affair. They even declined to comment for this article. At any rate, mazal tov to the newlywed couple!
The National Library of Israel is in possession of the largest collection of ketubot in the world. You can browse through them here.
Documents from the historic Afghan Geniza. Photo by Polina Aizenberg, the National Library of Israel
Some two dozen extremely rare treasures from the National Library of Israel’s Afghan Geniza collection are being displayed to the public for the first time as part of “Life in Medieval Khorasan. A Geniza from the National Library of Israel” at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The exhibition also features rare artifacts from the Hermitage’s collections that will give a fuller sense of life in Medieval Khorasan.
The Afghan Geniza presents virtually the only original documentation about this once-thriving Jewish community on the Silk Road, as well as the region’s Islamic and Persian cultures prior to the devastating Mongol invasion. The 11th-13th century documents provide an unprecedented glimpse into the day-to-day life, society, and economy along the Silk Road, the ancient highway which once linked Europe and China.
The National Library of Israel’s Afghan Geniza holdings comprise nearly 300 pages, some 250 of which were acquired in 2016 with the generous support of the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Salomon Fund. It is considered perhaps the most important find of Hebrew manuscripts since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th century.
Much of the collection comes from an archive of the eleventh-century Abu Netzer family of Jewish traders living in and around the city of Bāmiyān, a once-bustling commercial center located on the Silk Road. One fragment represents the earliest evidence of a rabbinic text found in Persian-speaking lands to the East of the rabbinic centers of Babylon. The collection, written in Persian, Arabic, Aramaic, and Judeo-Persian, also includes legal documents, liturgy, poetry, texts of Jewish law, a historical chronicle, and biblical passages.
“This is a particularly impressive find related to the lives and culture of Jews from this part of the world from the beginning of the second millennium,” explained Prof. Haggai Ben Shammai, a world-renowned expert on Jews of the Islamic world. According to Ben Shammai, the collection is of exceptional importance due to the previous dearth of first-hand accounts and evidence of Jewish life under local dynastic rule. Literary source materials had also been severely lacking until this discovery.
Another portion of the collection contains documents dating from the early 13th century, chronicling the broader Islamic culture on the eve of the devastating Mongol conquests of 1221. As a result of the destruction wrought by Genghis Khan and his army, almost no documentation of the Persian and Arabic culture and language of the region exists besides these documents.
Many items in the collection had been part of a local administrator’s archive, and contain administrative documents and fragments of religious and literary works, mainly in Persian. This material provides an unparalleled view into the workings of government administration, politics, and law in the region.
Though later Muslim scholars have written histories of the Islamic dynasties who reigned over the region, this singular collection of primary sources has shed light on uncharted areas of research including economics and geography, as well as social and political history.
NLI has digitized the materials and made them available to the international community of scholars and the general public. They will be preserved and displayed in the National Library of Israel’s new landmark campus, now under construction adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem.
David Blumberg, Chairman of the National Library of Israel Board of Directors, said, “We are grateful to our partners at the Hermitage for this historic collaboration. The exhibit highlights the National Library of Israel’s role as a dynamic international cultural center dedicated to promoting discourse and opening access to knowledge. It reflects the timeless Jewish values of treasuring the power of texts to unify, educate, and inspire.”
The exhibition curator is Anton Pritula, leading researcher in the State Hermitage Museum’s Oriental Department, PhD in Philology. You can read more about the exhibition here.
The exhibition has been made possible with the generous support of Barbro and Bernard Osher and The David Berg Foundation.
Information on the Afghan Geniza documents included in the captions above is based on research conducted by Ofir Haim.