Just Say 'Nu?': Second Helping

Categories of Kosher

Jewish law divides permitted food into three main categories:

The categories are pretty straightforward, once you know that poultry is considered meat — an instance of divine grace that has kept khayder cafeterias chicken à la king-free since before the time of Jesus, because meat and dairy may not be eaten together. Parveh food — neutral food, the Switzerland of the kosher kitchen — includes fruits, vegetables, fish, and any drink without milk or cream in it.

Idiomatically, parveh means “nothing special, lacking any particular qualities of its own, bland.” It’s used more often than you might expect:


Because you’re supposed to wait six hours after eating meat before you eat any dairy, flayshik has come to be associated with long-lasting effects:

means, “Why don’t you join me in a drink.” It’s the sort of invitation that implies a bottle in front of you. You can’t use it to invite an object of lust or affection for a drink:

would make a great rhythm and blues song. It means, “Wanna fool around?” in the sense of “Why don’t we give it a whirl and see where we end up?” I can still remember the kid version of Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”:

Less recreationally, a person who makht zakh flayshik is someone who has finally taken the plunge, as they’d say in English, and opened up a business of his or her own.


A meal is known as a MOOLtseit. Like English, Yiddish recognizes three mooltseitn, along with frequent snacks:

Lunch is also known as MIteg, which is often thought of as a hot meal, as distinct from the sandwiches of oonbeisn. Free food is generally distributed in one of two forms:

KIbed or KIdesh

Kibed, from a Hebrew word meaning “honor” or “respect,” is what someone offers you if you drop by their home. It’s also the snack or refreshments that follow meetings, school plays, and other such gatherings in which eating isn’t the main object: “I have no interest in the organization, but they have pizza at the kibed,” tells you a great deal about speaker and organization alike.

Kidesh, literally “sanctification,” is the name for the food and drink served after a synagogue service, especially in the morning, as you’re not supposed to eat before you’ve said your prayers. Depending on the synagogue, the time of week and the nature of the occasion — a simple Sabbath, a bar mitzvah, a groom’s pre-nuptial call to the Torah — it can range from depressingly meager to shockingly lavish. In the synagogues that I attended in my youth, a weekday kidesh usually consisted of a shames, a bottle and a box. A shames (rhymes with “pumice”), whose title gives us the English “shamus” for “private eye,” is a factotum, a synagogue employee who takes care of whatever needs taking care of: setting up chairs, keeping the Torah scrolls in good repair, supervising and even leading services, teaching bar mitzvah kids, setting up the kidesh and cleaning up after it. Breakfast in most of the synagogues that I went to consisted of the shames doling out two — precisely two — Manischewitz brand Tam Tam crackers to each worshipper, while his self-appointed helper, a sort of unter-shames, poured each of us a shot of whiskey. On special occasions, there’d be a piece of herring, too. No water, no juice, no coffee or tea. You’re thirteen already, you’re a man; swallow your rye or you’ll be late for school. I had trouble explaining myself to junior high teachers at the public school that I attended — and not because I was slurring my speech.

A Saturday kidesh in an upper-class shul can be an actual buffet meal, complete with strictly kosher pseudo-shellfish made from Alaskan pollock, that cost the donor thousands of dollars.


Using the Yiddish names for the following common or typical foods will help you give the impression that English isn’t really your first language. If you’re really good, you’ll get halfway through the Yiddish name, then stop to correct yourself, and offer an apology: “I used to love [or even better: dream of] these back home.”


Widespread use of Lipitor and other statins has resulted in the virtual disappearance of the graip-frukht, or grapefruit, from the lexicon of day-to-day Yiddish.

A Yiddish Version Of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”

reFRAIN /chorus:

reFRAIN /chorus:

reFRAIN /chorus

Adapted from “Just Say Nu,” by Michael Wex. Copyright © 2007 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

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Michael Wex

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Just Say 'Nu?': Second Helping

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