New York cheesecake is thick and dense, just the way I like it. I have never been predisposed to smooth French cheesecakes. But whether New York style or French, cheesecake is a Jewish food. “A Jewish food?” you might ask, “I thought those were limited to bagels, chicken soup, and hummus.” But cheesecake is indeed a Jewish food, made most popular this time of year because of the holiday of Shavuot.
A holiday under the radar for most people, including those in the Jewish community, the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the first harvest, the ripening of the first fruits, and most importantly, the giving of the Torah. The holiday is celebrated by late-night study sessions and meals largely consisting of fruits and dairy, such as cheesecake!
According to Jewish folk tradition, there are several reasons for cheesecake to be associated with Judaism and the holiday most noted for the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai around the year 1250 BCE. First, since this is when the Torah was given, the rules for eating meat had not yet been given, so the Jews largely stuck to milk products only, or, in other words, a diet rich in dairy. A second reason is that the Torah itself is actually likened to milk in the phrase “milk and honey” (Song of Songs 4:11), as is the journey to the land of Israel (which “flows with milk and honey” Exodus 3:8-17). Between the references to milk and the lack of Kosher meat laws, dairy played a very important role in the early diets of the Jewish people, a tradition that carries on today.
Sometimes it is tough to find a spiritual connection to Judaism, particularly through a holiday as obscure as Shavuot. And sitting in the synagogue doesn’t always do it for me. But cheesecake and God—that is something that I could get my mind (or should I say mouth) around.
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