Roman artichokes declared unkosher by Israeli Rabbinate prompt global crisis

According to a report published by the Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has declared that carciofi alla giudia, “Jewish-style” artichokes, are traif or unkosher.

“A few months ago,” writes reporter Davide Lerner, “Israel’s Rabbinate banned imports of a ready-made version of the dish, ordering its immediate removal from shelves.”

The issue, according to the report, is that artichoke leaves may contain insects that are impossible to remove before cooking.

The consumption of insects is strictly forbidden by Jewish law.

A “common problem with vegetables,” write the editors of Chabad.org (a leading English-language resource for explanations of Jewish traditions and law, including dietary laws), “involves possible insect infestation. The prohibition against consuming insects, even very tiny ones — as long as they are visible to the naked eye — is mentioned five times in the Torah and is very strict.”

“Some particularly severe problem vegetables are artichokes, asparagus, brussel [sic] sprouts, cauliflower, and leafy vegetables.”

Here’s what the Rabbinate’s Import Division head, Rabbi Yitzhak Arazi, had to say, as quoted by Haaretz: “The heart of the artichoke is full of worms, there is no way you can clean it. It cannot be kosher… This is not our policy, this is Jewish religious law.”

It’s not clear what prompted the Rabbinate to reconsider this dish (above), which traces its roots to the Renaissance and beyond.

One of the most popular foods served in Rome’s historic ghetto, carciofi alla giudia are made by flattening the artichoke buds and then frying them in olive oil until tender. The artichoke was prized by ancient Romans and modern Romans still flock to the Jewish quarter to enjoy Jewish-style artichokes (not to be confused with Roman-style carciofi alla romana).

I have eaten the dish in Rome many times but have never seen the “ready-made” kind. I was able to find this version in a jar online. But canning or jarring the dish would seem to defeat the recipe’s essence: the delight is delivered by the delicate crunch of the gently bitter leaves balanced by the sweetness and tingling sensation produced by the thistle’s heart.

The Rabbinate’s ruling seems to apply to pre-packaged carciofi alla romana and it remains unclear whether or not the made-to-order version will also be deemed traif.

Lerner writes:

    Removing the signature dish from a restaurant renowned for its Roman-Jewish cuisine led to some awkward conversations between customers puzzled at not finding it on the menu and embarrassed hosts. When the restaurant manager negotiated a revised version of carciofi alla giudia being on the menu, disappointed restaurant patrons commented that it was not the same.

Read the Haaretz article here (accessible for free if you register with the site).

Jews across the world are known for their love of wordplay. And the piece in the English-language Haaretz inspired some true nuggets:

“Artichoke on this” (the title of the article).
“It breaks one’s [artichoke] heart” (a comment).

Special thanks to the inimitable Francesco Bonfio for bringing this story to my attention.

Image via seventyoneplace’s Flickr (Creative Commons).

One thought on “Roman artichokes declared unkosher by Israeli Rabbinate prompt global crisis

  1. Those who are so concerned about this kind of thing (which is also raised as an issue with romaine lettuce and strawberries) seem to forget that the ancient Wise Ones of Blessed Memory who formulated the details of the kosher system most likely ate strawberries, romaine, and carciofi without a care in the world.

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