The Feast of Jethro, or Seudat Yitro in Hebrew, is an ancient tradition celebrated on the Thursday before parashat Jethro (this week’s parasha) by Tunisian Jews. Vered Guttman reports for Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):
Young Tunisian Jews read the Torah at the al-Ghriba synagogue on Djerba (photo: AFP)
Also known as the holiday of the sons, the feast celebrates the sons of the family (daughters can enjoy it too) and is almost like a doll’s party – the meal is served on small dishes, including miniature cups and flatware (think saucers, dessert forks and shot glasses.)
Mini challahs are baked, and cookies and candies in the shape of children and animals are part of the feast.
The meal starts with sweets, including candies, halva and Tunisian staples like makroud (farina and date cookies) and debla. Tunisian Jews who immigrated to France added Pièce Montée (croquembouche) as a regular component of the feast.
The sweet opening is followed by a meal of vegetable pies called maakouda, salads, green fava beans, and the main course is always stuffed pigeon.
The guests recite poems and read from the Torah, as with any Jewish holiday.
The explanations for this unique tradition vary. Some link it to the story told in Parashat Jethro about Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, breaking bread with Aharon and the Israelites.
Other explanations are related to the community itself. Some people believe the celebration has to do with a plague that killed many in the community, mainly men and boys.
The plague ended on the week of Parashat Jethro and the sick were healed after eating pigeon soup (hence the stuffed pigeon for the feast). Another explanation may be that this Torah portion is the first time young students get to read the 10 commandments on their own, and the celebration is for them.
Personally, I assume the reason pigeon is served for the main course due to the small-plates, small dishes theme, where a pigeon fits in much better than chicken. Pigeons are common in Arab cuisine, but are hard to find in Israel or in America.
I went for cornish hen instead, and stuffed it with Middle Eastern flavors or citrus, dried fruit and almonds. Serve it on a small salad plate with a dessert fork.