Colorful illustration. On the left, the man holds the dishes over the fire. On the right, under a roof, two men kill sheep.

Preparing for Pesach: the slaughter of the lambs and koshering dishes

Illustration in the so-called "Golden Haggadah" produced in Spain, 15th c.
British Library, London


Special rules apply to the preparation of food for holidays. These practices developed over centuries—some date back to the time when Jews had their own kingdom and the Temple in Jerusalem; many arose in the Diaspora. Following the destruction of the Temple and the transition from Temple Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism, prayers and rituals celebrated at home and in the synagogue replaced Temple worship, and meals prepared in an appropriate manner played a symbolic role. The dishes of Jews in the Diaspora differ depending on where they live, but they share similar principles with regard to preparation and consumption as well as symbolism.
Black and white illustration. At the top, a few people gathered around the table. In the lower part there is a crowd of people in the synagogue.

Shabbat, a supper at home and a night service at a synagogue

Illustration in "Jüdisches Ceremoniel" (Jewish Ritual) by Paul Christian Kirchner, Nuremberg, 1734
Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
Title page of the book. Red inscriptions in the Hebrew alphabet. Around them decorative blue border.

"Makhzor", vol. 1: Rosh-ha-Shana

Includes prayers for Rosh Hashana. Warsaw, Piotrków, 1901.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
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"Makhzor", vol. 1: Rosh-ha-Shana
"Makhzor", vol. 1: Rosh-ha-Shana

Circle of life

September | October
Rosh Hashana Yom Kippur Succot
October | November
November | December
December | January
January | February
Tu B'Shvat
February | March
March | April
April | May
May | June
June | July
July | August
Tisha B'Av
August | September


Shabbat is a day of rest that begins every Friday at sunset and ends the next day when the sun goes day. It is perhaps the most significant part of Jewish observance. In the Book of Genesis, God created the world in six days, and on the seventh he rested. This set the precendent upon which Shabbat is based, that rest is an essential part of life and all other activities would be impossible without it. On Shabbat, Jews must abstain from any kind of work, and instead devotethemselves to prayer and family. They eat bread specially prepared for the occasion.
  • Decorative brass candlestick on a high leg with two places for candles.

    Shabbat candleholders

    Brass, Poland, 19th c.
    Old Synagogue / Museum of Krakow
  • A silver-yellow pocket knife with a short inscription in the Hebrew alphabet.

    Shabbat knife

    The knife bears an insciption in Hebrew: ”Shabat kodesh” (Holy Shabbat), before 1939.
    Old Synagogue / Museum of Krakow
  • Silver fish with blue scales and tail. It resembles a brooch.

    Travel besamim box in the shape of a fish

    Silver, enamel and gold, before 1939.
    National Museum in Lublin
  • Cassette lid decorated with small colorful geometric figures. They form a harmonious composition with a clear, large six-pointed star.

    Case for storing fragrance for a besamim dish

    Timber, brass and enamel, 19th/20th c.
    National Museum in Lublin
  • Plate in brass color. Its rim is decorated with small stars of David. The bottom is filled with an inscription in Yiddish.

    Havdalah plate

    Inscription in Yiddish in the middle reads: ” Good week, good year”. Brass, before 1939.
    Old Synagogue / Museum of Krakow
  • Two identical candlesticks. They are single, high and brass. Their leg is decoratively formed.

    A pair of Shabbat candleholders

    Norblin Factory, Warsaw, brass, silver, 19th c.
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • White square-shaped napkin with rounded corners. The wide edge is an openwork, floral decoration. On a smooth white center embroidered text in the Hebrew alphabet.

    Cloth for covering challah on a Shabbat table

    The cloth is embroidered with Hebrew text of the Fourth Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", 1930-1939.
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • Silver rose with petals curled into a bud. On a low stem 4 protruding leaves. The rose stands on a decorative small base.

    Besamim dish with a flower motif

    Silver, before 1939.
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews


Challah is the most widely known Sabbath bread being. One interpretation says that the word “Challah” refers to a portion of dough that was traditionally given to the Temple priests. After the destruction of the Second Temple, however, this piece was thrown into the fire to carry on the practice. The shape and size of Challah also contain symbolic meaning: the two loaves served on Shabbat refer to the double portion of manna given by God to the Jews on Fridays during their 40-year wandering through the desert, and the 6 strands in the two challahs symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel.


Pesach (Passover) commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egypt. It tells the story of how God chose Moses to lead the people out of slavery. As is written in the Book of Exodus, the Jews did not have time to wait for their bread dough to rise before fleeing Egypt, and hurriedly took unleavened bread with them for the journey. In commemoration of this sacrifice, leavened bread, flour and cereals containing leaven are not permitted during Pesach holiday. Pesach lasts for 8 days (7 days in Israel) and begins with a seder dinner. During the meal everyone gathered at the table reads from the Haggadah, a short book containing the story of Exodus and ceremonial acts that bring the narrative to life. Symbolic dishes served on a seder plate are consumed in the course of the narrative.
  • Illustration in intense colors. Set rectangular table. At the table a couple of people with different ages. Eating a meal.
    "Haggadah for Pesach"
    Illustrated by Artur Szyk, Jerusalem –Tel Aviv, 1961.
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • "Haggadah for Pesach"
    Publ. Jakob Brandeis, Prague, 1894
    Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv
  • "Haggadah for Pesach"
    Seder dinner illustrated. Publ. Tzvi Hirsch Segal Spitz, Offenbach, Germany, 1795
    Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv
Round plate in shimmering golden color. In the middle is the pearl star of David. Between the star and the edge evenly distributed 6 pearl petals. The petals form with the star the shape of a flower. On each petal there is an inscription in the Hebrew alphabet.

Seder plate

In the Ashkenazi custom, each dish had its own assigned place on the seder plate. Pocelain, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary, before 1918.
National Museum in Lublin
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Seder plate

Seder plate

A sweet brown mixture made from grated apples and chopped dried fruit and nuts which resembles the mortar and brick used by the Hebrew slaves to build the pyramids in Egypt.


Horseradish and romaine lettuce (or endive) – bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness and harshness of slavery.
Horseradish and romaine lettuce (or endive) – bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness and harshness of slavery.

Maror and chazeret

Seder plate
A roasted egg symbolizes korban chagigah (heb., "festival sacrifice") that was offered at the Temple of Jerusalem.


The obligation to eat matzah is fulfilled precisely during the seder. Everyone present at the seder table must consume at least two-thirds of a piece of matzo over the course of the evening.


A vegetable (not a bitter herb) representing spring – the season when Passover is celebrated – as well as , hope and renewal .


A lamb shank bone (or a piece of roasted meat) symbolizes korban Pesach, a sacrificial lamb that was offered at the Temple of Jerusalem.



During Pesach, a flat bread called matzo is consumed. It is made from flour mixed with water, in the shape of an oval or square with holes in it to prevent it from rising. The whole process cannot last longer than 18 minutes after which sourdough starts to form. Sephardic matzo is softer, resembling pita, while Ashkenazi matzo is harder, resembling a cracker. During the seder dinner, it is obligatory for each participant to consume at least two-thirds of a piece of matzo.
Metal construction. In the base, it resembles a chair without a backrest. The upper part consists of several rollers of different thickness.

Matzo-making machine

The machine was found after the Second World War near Siemiatycze. Before 1939.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
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Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish new year, commemorating the creation of humanity and reminds of God’s judgement. Traditional foods eaten to mark the occasion include apples dipped in honey which symbolise the hope for a sweet and happy year, circular-shaped Challah signifying the annual cycle, fullness and prosperity, and fish with a head—a sign of a new beginning. In addition, a number of foods are consumed (their selection depends on the region), the so-called simanim [Hebr., "symbols’] which stand for wishes for the new year. A special blessing is recited over them.
Yellowed sheet of paper. In the frame there is a fine black print in the Hebrew alphabet.

Blessings of food consumed on the Rosh Hashanah holiday

Printed card to be hung in the kitchen. Italy, 1850.
Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, closes the High Holy Days including Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance, during which God judges people. From sunset until sundown on the following day, a strict fast is observed to help a person in the process of repentance. The meal consumed before the fast begins plays a major role—it should be hearty, meaty, but not salty or spicy, to make the time of abstaining from food easier.
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Sukkot is a joyous holiday commemorating Jews living in huts in the desert during their flight from Egypt. During the seven days of the holiday, meals are eaten in a specially erected tent or hut—a sukkah—whose roof must be made of branches, leaving sufficient gaps to allow those inside to see the sky and stars at night. Festive meals are sweet, succulent, stuffed foods such as dumplings, stuffed cabbage leaves (holishkes), fruit and sweet pastries.
Container in silver color. In shape and texture, it resembles a peeled lemon. It has a dark metal petiole with a leaf. And an ornament on the oval part in the form of a small twig with leaves and flowers. The ornament is dark and metal like a petiole with a leaf.

A case for etrog

Such case was used during Sukkot for keeping the citrus fruit. Silver, after 1888.
Old Synagogue / Museum of Krakow
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Hanukkah is celebrated to commemorate the victorious uprising of the Maccabees in the 2nd century BC and the rededication of the Temple which had been recaptured from non-Jewish rulers. According to tradition, the Temple’s candelabrum, the menorah, remained lit for eight days despite the fact that they had oil for only one day. To commemorate this miraculous multiplication of oil, Jews eat deep-fried dishes such as latkes (Yid., "potato pancakes") or doughnuts. Since the Middle Ages, meals from cheese —cheesecakes, or cheese blintzes— are eaten during Hanukkah to commemorate the act of Judith who fed Holofernes with salty cheese to make him thirsty, then got him drunk and cut his head off.
The metal candlestick has 7 candles. The eighth is missing. Bell-shaped places for candles are arranged in a row on a low rectangular base. The background for the candles is a vertical wall attached to the base. The wall is filled with convex ornaments. Among them in the middle there is a candlestick motif, next to it 2 lions, on top 2 peacocks.


Silver, Poland, 18th c.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
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Tu b’Shevat

Tu b’Shevat is a holiday falling on the 15th of the month of Shevat, which marks the end of winter. This holiday is also known as the “New Year of the Trees”. In ancient times, the marking of the age of trees was important because Jewish farmers were required to make fruit offerings, and the amount of offerings depended on the age of the trees. Thus, many tree fruits are eaten on this day. In present-day Israel, children and teenagers plant trees to commemorate Tu b’Shevat.
Two large flat dishes filled evenly with fine multi-colored dried fruits. Next to them is a small plate with small round fruits.

Trays filled with nuts, dried and summer fruits on Tu B'shevat

Reconstruction by Rachel Rabi, Jerusalem, 1997.
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem


Purim commemorates the story described in the Scroll of Esther which in all likelihood took place in the 6th century BC during the Babylonian captivity. It was the miraculous deliverance of the Jews from the hands of Haman who planned to exterminate them across Persia. The holiday has a joyous and carnival-like character. Its vital element is performing plays referring to the biblical story of Esther, culminating in the hanging of Haman. The traditional food eaten on that day is a poppy-seed-filled triangular cake, the so-called hamantash, or Haman's pockets.
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Shavuot, also known as the Harvest Festival, was agricultural in nature back in Biblical times, as it coincided with the harvest season. During the rabbinical period, it began to commemorate God handing over the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. Festive dishes include dairy products, flour and fruit. According to tradition, on Shavuot, with the acceptance of the Torah, Jews were obliged to keep kosher. Since they needed time to producekosher meat, dairy meals prevailed.

Tisha b’Av

Tisha b'Av is a holiday that falls on the 9th day of the month of Av, commemorating the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. It is a holiday of mourning, preceded by three weeks of repentance, during which one must abstain from eating meat and drinking wine. The Shabbat that falls during this period bears the stigma of sorrow. On the holiday itself, there is a 24-hour fast that lasts from dusk until the evening of the following day. As on Yom Kippur, it is forbidden to eat or drink.
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Holidays: past and present
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