One of the central Jewish feasts was and remains the Passover seder. The ceremonial foods eaten at a medieval seder had to be adapted as Jews migrated to northern and eastern Europe where the availability of some required foods was limited. The medieval rabbis’ discussions and decisions, folklore, and local traditions all had a role in changing many of the foods eaten at this feast. Matzah, the bitter herbs, the charoses fruit mixture, the type of wine, and the green vegetable all changed over the course of the medieval period to become what we are familiar with today.
Preparing and giving the the annual festive meal of Pessah became the core of Jewish self-assertion in the diaspora, and medieval Ashkenasic communities went to great lengths as to prepare the necessary food with utmost care. This is attested by a number of representations in illuminated manuscripts, such as Haggadot which were read during the Seder, but also by Mahzorim, festival payer books for the synagogue. At the same time, Christians insisted in spiritual interpretation of unleavened bread, the wine, and meat for the Pessah ritual and favored new legends, which accused Jews of food abuse, which led to repeated persecutions during the Pessah festival itself. The paper argues that the illustrations in Haggadot and Mahzorim attest to new and detailed food preparations which were performed as a communal ritual under rabbinic supervision in public, where men, women, and even children had to play part. The public display served to assure strict observance but also to calm down the ever suspicious Christian neighbours. In all, increasing ritualisation and public display served to strenghten communal coherence and defiance against danger as a new form of spiritual resistance.
This paper explores the creative strategies used by the (Conversos) of Spain to avoid the consumption of pork and related meat products (terefah) from animals considered unclean by Jewish halachic Law. An analysis of various inquisitorial files and literary texts reveals a spectrum of medical, religious and economic pretexts extracted under coercion by the victims of the Inquisition. Within the syncretic religion of these Conversos, dietary prescriptions could be considered a ‘lingering taboo’. Yet, although in a number of cases the preservation of these dietary laws were of no theological significance, this strategy may correspond to ‘semantic fission’ in which a secondary form and relegates the main element to a secondary position. The association of food consumption and heresy played an important role since early times.