A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 12/25/2020
Last Friday night, during Ask the Rabbi, Jonathan King inquired, “Why is it customary for Jews to eat Chinese food on Christmas?” I responded that since Chinese restaurants are generally open on this holiday, it is convenient for Jews to dine in or order Chinese take-out.
But I knew that there must be more to it than mere expedience. Turns out, Rabbi Joshua Plaut in his book, "A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis The Season To Be Jewish," gives a more erudite explanation.
The first evidence of Jews eating in a Chinese restaurant dates back to 1899. Eating Chinese food was considered “safe treif.” As Plaut explains, “Jews in Chinese restaurants are eating all sorts of non-kosher food items such as shellfish, pork products which are hidden in a wonton or in some type of eggroll. So you're able to partake in this wonderful delicacy without actually knowingly eating this non-kosher food item.”
He added, “in Chinese restaurants, there is no use of milk. So this is a place you can engage in eating this food that seemingly is OK and kosher but really is not and still have a smile and delight in it without feeling guilty.”
Rabbi Plaut provides one further reason for why Jews eat Chinese on Christmas.
“The Chinese restaurant was a safe haven for American Jews who felt like outsiders on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you become an insider. You can celebrate somebody else's birthday and yet be amongst friends and family and members of the tribe, thereby the outsider on Christmas becomes the insider.”
This evening, my family will be enjoying Chinese food for our Shabbat dinner. Perhaps you will as well. Chī hǎo hē hǎo (eat well and drink well) and Shabbat Shalom!