Hamantaschen. Illustration: Nadav Yahel
Hamantaschen. Illustration: Nadav Yahel
Magazine

Hamantaschen – Haman’s Ears

A Jewish invention, a spelling mistake or a tradition taken from Christianity? The tales of the origin of Hamantaschen are as varied as their filling

If you Google “Why do we eat Hamantaschen (Haman’s ears)?”, you will be drawn into the rabbit hole of folklore, historical anecdote and murky conjecture. As with anything related to food, asking “Who made it first?” will not necessarily get you an unequivocal answer, suffice it to say that Jews don’t hold the patent on eating ears. An Andalusian cookbook from the 13th century describes a fried dough pocket, filled with pistachios and seasoned with rose water, called “adhon” – “ears” in Arabic. The concept of fried dough also reached the Jewish community in Spain, and Rabbi Don Yitzhak Abarbanel even suggested that the fried strips of dough called “ears” actually symbolize the manna from heaven given to the Israelites.

According to food researcher Gil Marks, the connection between those fried ears and the evil Haman first appeared in 1550, in a satirical play by Yehuda Leon. The play was performed at the Purim carnival in Mantua, Italy, and one of the characters in the play confused the eating of manna from heaven with the eating of evil Haman’s ears.

The character in Leon’s play probably referred to the same ribbons of fried dough that Don Yitzchak Abarbanel also mentioned, similar to the fazuelos that Spanish expats prepare to this day, but the idea of ​​getting sweet revenge on Haman appealed to other Jewish communities, who created their own local versions of Haman’s ears: from the palmier, which was adopted by the Jews of France, to Gosh-e Fil – bites of fried dough eaten by Iranians. Other communities upped the ante and created dishes that symbolize the eyes, fingers, hair and even the teeth of the evil Haman.

The idea also reached Germany, where the “Mohntasch” – pouches stuffed with poppy seeds – became “Hamantasch” – “Haman’s pockets”. Any resemblance between the triangular shape of the cookies and the ear is purely coincidental, and that didn’t stop us from looking for other reasons to eat them: over the years legends emerged about Haman’s triangular hat and his pockets full of bribes; about letters that Mordechai the Jew hid inside stuffed pastries; and about the triple power of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who subdued Haman and were thus immortalized in the three pointed cookie.

Haman from Frankfurt

According to another lesser known story, evil Haman, whose ears we eat, was actually a German baker. Vincent Fettmilch was the head of the bakers’ guild in Frankfurt, who saw himself as the “new Haman”. In 1614, Fettmilch led the professional guilds in the city in an uprising against the new emperor. Among other things, he demanded a reduction in the number of Jews in the city and to lower the interest rate that Jews charged on loans. After the emperor’s death, Fettmilch led a pogrom among the city’s Jews and they fled. Two years later, a few days before Purim, Emperor Matthias ordered Vincent Fettmilch to be hanged – and some say that just before, his ears were cut off. The story was recorded in a text that was named “Magilat Vinz” and was celebrated in the Jewish community in Frankfurt as a second Purim.

Going back to the question of “Who made it first”, researcher Dr. Yom Tov Levinsky claims that it was the Christians: “Judas Ear” or by its scientific name Auricularia auricula-judae is a fungus that grows on tree trunks with a creepy resemblance to a human ear. According to legend, after handing Jesus over to the authorities, Judas Iscariot hanged himself on a tree, and the tree grew mushrooms in the shape of ears. These mushrooms were apparently eaten at the “Good Friday” meal before Easter, and were later replaced by stuffed triangular cookies. “There was a mutual influence here between our customs and those of the Christians,” argued Dr. Levinsky, “the Christians learned from the Jews to jeer at a traitorous Judas, and the Jews learned from the Christians to eat the ears of evil Haman.”

So let’s regroup, why do we eat Hamantaschen on Purim? No matter which of the explanations you choose to believe, in the end it is Jewish wit at its best: when we make evil sweet, when we give a terrifying foe triangular ears and yellow teeth, when we turn our anger, lust for revenge and anxietiey into good fun (and a good carb) – the Jewish spirit wins.

From classic to vegan – recipes for Haman’s ears

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