Published On: Wed, Dec 24th, 2014

Jews, Chinese Restaurants and Christmas: Tradition or Stereotype?

It’s a cliche, a stereotype, or whatever you want to call it, but even Jewish politicians seem to believe there is some credence to the unofficial Jewish “tradition” of eating out at Chinese restaurants on Christmas. The Atlantic explores the reason for this by talking to New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan.

During Justice Kagan’s confirmation hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham asked her where she had spent the previous Christmas. Her reply was, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” Senator Chuck Schumer explained,  “If I might, no other restaurants are open.”

But is that the reason, because Chinese restaurants are the only places open? Jennifer 8 Lee, producer of “The Search for General Tso” thinks it has something to do with the relationship between Jews and Chinese, who were the two largest non-Christian immigrant groups in New York in the early 20th century. The appeal of Chinese food to Jews, “reveals a lot about immigration history and what it’s like to be outsiders.”

In addition, Ed Schonfeld, who owns RedFarm, a well-established Chinese restaurant, thinks Chinese food was kind of a gateway drug to non-kosher food for recent immigrants who still wanted to keep to tradition, or were not yet ready to adjust their tastebuds or stomachs to meat and dairy combinations. ” Chinese restaurants were the easiest place to trick yourself into thinking you were eating Kosher food.” While pork and shellfish abound in Chinese cuisine, the treif character of the food is hidden, just as bits of pork in eggrolls or cubes of meat one could decide is chicken. Also, meat and dairy combinations are forbidden by Jewish law, and in Chinese food, dairy is notably absent.

Lee says, “I would argue that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of American Jews. That, in face, they identify with it more than they do gefilte fish or all kinds of Eastern Europe dishes of yore.”

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