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What Is Gefilte Fish?

What Is Gefilte Fish?


“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.


All the best,

Rochel Chein, for


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 Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (32)
March 5, 2017
History of Gefilte Fish
Do we have anything that helps us figure out where the idea of ground fish patties came from and how far back?
July 28, 2016
What about History?
This is nice but I'm looking for the history of gefilte fish.
May 13, 2016
what is "gefilte fish"
Interesting article but the author forgot to tell us what kind of fish it was originally. In the "old days" Carp was used for this dish, a fresh water fish...Nowadays not in common and possibly not advisable cause of the water pollution everywhere....
Richard Roeders
The Newtherlands
May 12, 2016
my mother used to make gefilte fish served cold in a gelatin mixture with sliced carrots called "galle". Can anyone tell me how to make it?
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
Personally my preference is pickled herring!
Tuth in Texas
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
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?
February 14, 2013
Why consume fish ?
I heard predator belongs to non kosher food. What about fish ? Aren't they predator ?
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