Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why eat herring with your hands?

There is apparently a specific shul in the neighborhood where the older mispallelim, at shaleshudes, eat herring with their hands. My father always suggested that the basis of this is minhag avoseinu beyadeinu.

But recently, Dr. David Segal related the reason they themselves give for it (as far as I understand; unless it was his original joke...).

Towards the end of parshas Noach, the pasuk states:

ב וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם, יִהְיֶה, עַל כָּל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ, וְעַל כָּל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם; בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה וּבְכָל-דְּגֵי הַיָּם, בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ.2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teemeth, and upon all the fishes of the sea: into your hand are they delivered.



Yosef Greenberg said...

Indeed, it is a well known Chasidic minhag. It is seen in the Chernobyl/Skver/Rachmastrivka dynasties, as well as others. They put great emphasis on eating fish on Shabbos as well.

I don't recall the source, but I know where to look if you're interested.

joshwaxman said...

of eating fish, or of eating fish with one's hands?

i recall an old joke: it is shaleshudes in the shteibel, and there is ONE piece of herring left in the plate. everyone -- the nine chassidim and one yeeke -- is eying it hungrily. suddenly the lights go out; a second later, a great cry. then lights come on and there are nine hands on the plate, and a fork through all of them.



Yosef Greenberg said...


Actually both. Many, if not most, sects of Chassidus stress the importance of eating fish. Some, as noted above, also have the minhag to eat it with their hands.

joshwaxman said...

but seriously, if there is such a custom of specifically using hands, then yes, i would be interested in it.

i do know that the church was originally very much against the use of forks. they said that where God had given us natural forks (=hands), it was impious to substitute artificial ones in their place. i could *imagine* a similar approach among some of acheinu bnei yisrael...


Anonymous said...

Great post!

Re: Eating With Hands

R. Yossi and R. Yehudah were eating porridge out of the same bowl, one with his dirty hands and the other with a utensil. The one eating with the utensil said to the one eating with his hands: “Until when will you keep feeding me your excrement?” The one eating with his hands said to the one eating with bark: “Until when will you keep feeding me your saliva?” The lesson: to be considerate of hygiene and germs, especially as it affects others. Nedarim 49b, cited on the website by Rabbi Gil Student

-Ari Enkin

Anonymous said...

Our fondness of Sushi comes from the "Alte Heim" Cause Herringis just Jewish Sushi

frumheretic said...

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why chassidim are so makpid on mayim achronim!

Shlomo said...

"As for the fact that many hasidic rebbes handle the food at the tish with their hands, it would appear that this is the natural outcome of the belief that it is in the intimate physical handling of the food, as well as its consumption, that the zaddik sanctifies it and elevates the holy sparks within."


shmuel said...

The minhag with its reason is brought in Darchei Chayim vesholom

joshwaxman said...

the minhag for fish, or for rebbes to hand out food with their hands?

if the latter, i found this:
ראינו אצל רבינו שבהיות הפשטידא (קיגל) תם מאוד שיד סולדת
בו הי׳ מבוץ כ״פ למסור שיריים להמקבל דייקא לידו ולפעמים אתז
ושהה בנתינתו כדי להרגיש רתיתת התמימות היטב עד שצהבו הידים.
(כ נ ר א ה לסגולת ה א מ ו נ ה א ש ק ו ד ש ל ה ׳ . ו כ נ ״ ל ב ם ׳ ש ל פ ״ ז ) .

if the former, can you give me a more precise maar makom?


Yosef Greenberg said...

Dr. Segal was right, it seems.

See here from the Munkatcher Rebbe.

You weren't serious in your imaginings, I hope. They do use forks in other occasions. Regardless, would it have been such an issue the Church was mechaven to the same thing?

Yosef Greenberg said...

Whoops. He does write there that the Rebbe never used a fork.

He didn't use a spoon in this case either, though.

joshwaxman said...

cool! thank you.

bli neder, i'm going to develop this into a post for tomorrow.

kol tuv,

Yosef Greenberg said...

My pleasure.

Please try not to be too sarcastic in tomorrow's post. ;)

Anonymous said...

Eating herring with your hands is a typical dutch custom! The dutch lift the herring above their heads and catch it with their mouths.
Etymologically, there is a tradition that 'haring' (herring) comes from 'heer' meaning 'lord' which is why haring used to be spelled as 'heering' in old dutch. The word 'heer' ('heir') has armylike connotations, the fish swims like a lord through the water. The dutch, living below sealevel, are 'lords' of water too historically, mastering the water not by war but by respecting and making peace with the water.

Anon from the Netherlands

Anonymous said...


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