Jewish Culture and Bagels: What’s the Deal?
Whenever a bagel makes its way into the conversation, comments about its ties to Jewish culture are never far behind. The two are one of the most famous pairings in history, right up there with Bonnie and Clyde and macaroni and cheese! But like most notable duos, the humble beginning is shrouded with mystery and legend. So let’s take a minute to consider what we actually know about the relationship between Jewish culture and bagels.
The common story about how the bagel became a quintessential symbol of Jewish cuisine takes us back to 17th century Poland. Rumor has it that the bagel was a creation of an anonymous Jewish baker as a tribute to King John III Sobieski in return for saving Austria from Turkish invaders at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. But that legend has its share of critics. Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, for example, argues that the story was born out of popular folktales that were based on the special relationship that Sobieski had with the Jewish people.
So why do bagels go hand in hand with Jewish culture? Balinska explains that part of the story is true – bagels did originate in Poland, but more than half a century earlier than the popular myth. The first mention of bagels occurred at the 1610 Jewish Council of Krakow, which instituted regulations for how much money families could spend on celebrating the circumcision of a baby boy. The word bagel actually comes from the Yiddish word “biegen”, which means to bend. It is thought that bagels developed in concert with other popular breads of the time, such as pretzels and the strikingly similar Polish counterpart, the obwarzanek.
Have you heard any other stories of how the bagel came about? Let us know on our Facebook page or via the comments box below.
Caitlin Reardon is a rising sophomore at The University of Chicago and a freelance content writer for St. Pete Bagel Co.