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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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Davetta Wells Albuquerque April 15, 2017

What's gefilte fish like? Everything I find makes it sound very similar to tuna salad. Is that accurate? Reply

Judy Atlanta, GA November 1, 2017
in response to Davetta Wells:

Absolutely incorrect.
Gefilte Fish is fish, usually pike, carp, whitefish, etc. ground with onions, celery, carrots. Raw eggs are added as is matzo meal. It is cooked either in the skin of the fish, or in "balls" or "patties" in fish stock with onions, carrots, celery and seasoning. It is often eaten with grated horseradish. I love it!. Reply

Ed Greenberg Glens Falls, NY November 2, 2017
in response to Davetta Wells:

Not even remotely like tuna salad. It's ground up fish with spices that is cooked by boiling or occasionally baking. It is a tasty lump of cooked ground fish. It is usually eaten with horseradish.

An acquired taste. Reply

Tzipah CA 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? Reply

Anonymous London July 28, 2016

What about History? This is nice but I'm looking for the history of gefilte fish. Reply

Richard Roeders The Newtherlands 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.... Reply

Anonymous 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? Reply

Meira Shana San Diego CA 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. Reply

Tuth in Texas Texas via February 16, 2013

Fish Personally my preference is pickled herring! Reply

Laura NH 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 Reply

Anonymous USA 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? Reply

AMIN WAHYUDI Rembang, Indonesia February 14, 2013

Why consume fish ? I heard predator belongs to non kosher food. What about fish ? Aren't they predator ? Reply

Yisrael Dov Israel 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. Reply

captain Richard Roeders ND, DHM 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. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami 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! Reply

David A. Fairman Shiloh, Israel 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." Reply

Molly PA 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. Reply

Dmitriy CA February 13, 2013

Does it mean you can't eat any fish on Shabbat, unless it is boneless? Reply

avrom osipov vancouver February 13, 2013

gefilte fish I like it, but you have to be in the mood for it. I only eat it once a year. Reply

anonymous ottawa February 13, 2013

Fish bones Is it ok to remove fish bones when isn't Shabbat? Reply

Meira Shana San Diego CA February 13, 2013

Gefilte Fish not understood In the modern day, those who are not familiar with it, have faces full of disgust when gefilte fish is mentioned, even though they've never even tried a bite.

However, what I do is to tell them that gefilte fish is to fish what hamburger is to meat. Ground up fish vs Ground up meat.

I never learned to make gefilte fish - so the gel kind in the jar is revamped by me. I extract the gel from the jar, put it into a small sauce pan, add onion, sliced carrots, pepper, a bit of dill, and simmer until the carrot are the way I like them.

Let cool - and pour liquid and carrots back into jar, over the waiting fish. The onions get tossed.

Refrigerate and the next day ENJOY your 'homemade' gefilte fish. Almost as good as Mom and my two aunts made.

Freshly grated horseradish with some red beet juice added in top it all off - nice to see the sliced carrot on top just like in the olden days of my family get togethers. Reply

Anonymous USA February 13, 2013

What Kind Of Fish Is Gifilte (Fish)? Great article...but, what fish is used, at least bottled? Reply

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