On the Chocolate Trial
A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao
By Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2012, 237 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 19, 2012
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz and her rabbi husband drove around many countries to uncover information about chocolate, using the time to enjoy its different manifestations. She shares interesting facts about chocolates and the countries and cities she visits as well as three dozen menus in this engaging book.
Among many eye-opening facts, Rabbi Prinz tells us that Columbus discovered chocolate in 1502 in the new world he discovered and introduced it into Spain around 1520. Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and not permitted to live in Spain until 1950. Yet some of Columbus' crew, including the first European to set foot on the new land, and perhaps even Columbus himself, were Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity.
Whether or not Jews discovered chocolate, many people are convinced that it was Jews who brought chocolate making to France. They may have also been the first people in France to develop chocolate Easter eggs. However, in the seventeenth century, Bayonne, France, instituted many anti-Semitic laws including a prohibition against Jews selling chocolates on Sundays and Christian holidays, and in 1761 Bayonne citizens tried to stop Jews from making chocolates entirely.
People so enjoyed chocolate that Mexicans poisoned a bishop for prohibiting women parishioners from drinking chocolate during Mass. Mexican Jews used chocolate for welcoming the Sabbath because wine was scarce. Many Jews give Chanukah gelt (coins) made from chocolate during the Chanukah holiday without realizing it is a copy of the St. Nicholas custom. Lots of ancients in the Americas believed that chocolate had magical powers including the ability to attract sexual advances. (Could this be one reason men bring chocolates to women?)
Jews were expelled from England and kept out for centuries, but when they were allowed to settle there again in the mid-seventeenth century, they introduced the idea of coffee houses that served hot chocolate. In eighteenth century Denmark the guilds didn't allow Jews to be involved in most businesses, so the Jews successfully pursued trade in tea, coffee, and chocolate, which became known as "Jew trades" until Jews were allowed to become citizens in 1814.
In summary, this is a delightfully written fact-filled book on a delicious subject.