Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone

What Is Gefilte Fish?

What Is Gefilte Fish?

E-mail

“Gefilte fish” is fish prepared in a certain manner, a dish traditionally enjoyed by Ashkenazi Jews on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Before discussing gefilte fish, let’s first take a moment to discuss why it is customary to eat fish on Shabbat. Here are a few of the reasons given:

  1. In the Torah’s account of the creation of the world, the word “blessing” is used three times. The first is regarding the creation of fish, the second regarding the creation of man, and the third regarding Shabbat. When a human eats fish on Shabbat, he is thus the beneficiary of a triple blessing.
  2. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a gematria (numerical value). The letters of the Hebrew word for fish, dag, add up to seven. We therefore honor Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, by eating fish.
  3. At the time of the messianic redemption, there will be a feast at which the Leviathan, a giant fish, will be served. Shabbat, the day of rest, is a microcosm of the messianic era. As such, the fish we eat on Shabbat is in anticipation of the “day which will be a complete and perfect Shabbat.”
  4. Perhaps most importantly: eating fish is an integral part of oneg Shabbat—the obligation to enjoy and engage in pleasurable pursuits on Shabbat.

Now, to answer your question about gefilte fish:

In Yiddish, gefilte fish means “stuffed fish.” Originally, the recipe for gefilte fish called for the flesh of the fish to be removed from the skin, ground up and mixed with other ingredients such as eggs, spices, and ground onions and carrots. The mixture was then stuffed back into the skin, and cooked or baked. The laws of Shabbat prohibit removing bones from fish,1 making fish consumption a bit tricky. Boneless gefilte fish circumvents this problem. In addition, including all the additional ingredients in the ground fish stretched the amount, so that poor families would have enough for the entire household.

Nowadays, the gefilte fish mixture is usually not stuffed back into the skin, but the name remains. Gefilte fish can be bought ready-to-eat in jars, in frozen rolls—or you can prepare your own. Click here for some recipes.

Enjoy!

All the best,

Rochel Chein, for Chabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

Removing bones falls under the category of borer, “selection,” one of the 39 creative activities prohibited on Shabbat. Click here for more on this topic.

Mrs. Rochel Chein is a member of the chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (28)
February 17, 2013
Gefilte Fish - bones/head, carp
1. I thought carp was a bottom feeder and not allowed;
2. if bones are not to be eaten why is it ok to cook the gefilte fish with the head and bones?

Oh, and what happens if during eating the gefilte fish a bone is found? Is it then thrown away?

I love that Judaism allows for questions and questioning.
Meira Shana
San Diego CA
February 16, 2013
Fish
Personally my preference is pickled herring!
Tuth in Texas
Texas
jewishbrevard.com
February 15, 2013
Gefilte Fish Really ?
Gefilte Fish in truth, is much more than we understand. It is yes, a "product," but a product that involves removing fish, marine life, from the environment where they live, breath, bear their young, and survive. Scientists now know that all fish, including crustaceans, feel some form of suffering and trauma when slowly suffocating out of water. WHy wouldn't they?
The oceans today, are being polluted and acidified with excess Co2 to the point that the life of oceans, corral reefes, are dying. Overfishing is emptying the waters and killing tens of millions of non-target species.
As a Jew, it is my obligation to protect my health, the environment(CREATION) and to never cause needless suffeirng. Fish DO suffer and are mostly being bred in ocean factory farms, fed antibiotics, and marine life that DOES eat fish, such as whales, sharks, seals, dolphin, are being mercilessly slaughtered as they compete with a destructive industry. See Youtube "Global Depletion." Dr Oppenlander
Laura
NH
February 14, 2013
fish bones
"Eating fish with bones on shabbos is completely mutar, you just need to take the fish from the bone and not pick the bones out of the fish." What could the distinction possibly be?
Anonymous
USA
February 14, 2013
Why consume fish ?
I heard predator belongs to non kosher food. What about fish ? Aren't they predator ?
AMIN WAHYUDI
Rembang, Indonesia
February 14, 2013
Common mistake
While borer might be a nice added benefit of eating gefilte fish, it is not the reason our ancestors ate it. The real reason is that fish was not cheap and sometimes hard to come by so by grinding it up and adding filler you can make one fish feed more people ( as you mentioned). Eating fish with bones on shabbos is completely mutar, you just need to take the fish from the bone and not pick the bones out of the fish.

Also it is very common to have real gefelte fish, not just the fish balls. And many have the custom that the head of the house gets the head of the fish and starts with the eyes.
Yisrael Dov
Israel
February 14, 2013
gefilte(r) fisch
In the previous age and before WW 2, when the Jewish community was much larger than now in my country, the Netherlands, on Shabbath eve was it common to serve carp, a kosher fresh water fish, indeed fried in it's own skin, with bones or even boneless and prepared hours before Shabbath began.
But carp seems not to be available anymore, so most people use seafish as salmon, halibot, codfish or dorado or other kosher fish.
captain Richard Roeders ND, DHM
February 14, 2013
Where are the fins?
This is a true story! One of my close gentile friends the first time he saw gefilte fish in the jar asked me, "where are the fins, how do they swim?" I told a little lie, may G-d forgive me, that they live in a special lake, and just kind of bob around in the water. When we want to eat one, we just scoop it out with a net. To this day he appears satisfied with my explanation. I know spreading rumors is bad, but sometimes my evil impulse gets the best of me, and I cannot help myself!
Dr. Harry Hamburger
Miami
February 14, 2013
I heard that when Israel crossed Yam Suf, there were all kinds of food and delicacies in the walls of water. There were also fish whose job was to filter out the bacteria, to keep the food fresh. Suddenly there appeared some strange bacteria, so Moshe called out to them "Go filter, fish."
David A. Fairman
Shiloh, Israel
February 14, 2013
often gefilte fish is made from white fishes like pollock, whiting and I think most famously pike. But it can also be made from salmon. For anyone who hasn't tried the "modern" version of premade gefilte fish, I can't recommend enough the frozen loaves of gefilte fish which you can find in most major cities where a lot of Jews live. It doesn't even compare to the bottled stuff of the 1950s-1980s. No fish jelly here! Just deliciousness all made and ready to go - and the comment of baking is a good one...sometimes boiling makes it watery, but baking gives it a firmer texture.
Molly
PA
Show all comments
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG