Is it cholent or stew?

cholent kiddushMy wife and I had a debate this shabbos over whether or not the brown matter taken out of the crock pot at lunch was cholent or stew. It had potatoes, meat, bones, and beans in it, it had a soup consistency, and it smelled like cholent, yet there was something stew-like about it. I voted cholent, she voted stew. I reminded her that much of the cholent served nowadays, after the frum food revolution started in the mid 90’s, can possibly considered stew by much of the population, but that many of those who served it still considered it to be cholent. I was a bit angered, because in my mind – any warm brown substance that comes out of a crock pot on shabbos afternoon should be considered cholent, but what if it becomes changed so much that it starts to resemble something that may not be cholent, do we still call it cholent.

How much leeway does one have in the cholent department? Is there any rule to exactly what cholent must contain or what it can’t have? Although I have my own rules about what I call cholent, they tend to be my own tradition and not the tradition that our cholent forefathers had. Does it really matter when the change from cholent to stew happens? Who would actually decide such things, is there some sort of round table with a bunch of white bearded sages sitting around making decisions for people who would never talk to such a person about their food preferences?

I think I remember the first time I saw chickpeas in cholent, I was horrified, it wasn’t as bad as the first time I had whole wheat challah (most of the times really bad, even though it’s still so “cool” that people automatically like it) but there was something odd about chickpeas in cholent. It ruined the texture and I began to wonder whether or not chickpeas were even allowed in cholent. It wasn’t until later that I found out that chickpeas, lentils, eggs, cumin, hot peppers, and other foreign exotic spices were found in the cholents of spehardim. There has long been a jealousy of sephardic food amongst the ashkenazim, we may exhibit racist attitudes towards them, but at least they have something called “taste” in their traditional foods.

Then came the crunchy people and they put sweet potatoes, corn, quinoa, wheat berries, and seitan in their cholents. Some of them even used brewers yeast and that Briggs unfiltered apple cider vinegar that is ubiquitious in every crunchy hippie household. Was that cholent? Did they even have corn in the shtetls of eastern Europe where cholent was invented? Was this against the tradition created by the sages of yore? Could we even call such a thing cholent.

I’m sure my wife and I are not the first to have this debate. I’ve eaten at peoples houses where they called lentil soup cholent. I’ve seen people put a chicken in the crock pot with other cholent-esque ingredients and call it cholent. Chicken is one of those things that doesn’t ever belong in cholent, but it’s better than a parve cholent. What would our ancestors say when they learned that we were eating parve cholent in the treife medina. It sounds like blasphemy to me.

I was thinking about how Orthodox Judaism is kind of like cholent. When I was growing up, being Orthodox meant you kept shabbos, kept taharas hamishpacha, and kept kosher. Whether or not you watched TV, went mixed swimming, or voted democrat didn’t really change your affiliation. Maybe I grew up in simpler times, before the image consciousness of the more right wing factions of Judaism spread to the more left wing factions. Until I went to yeshiva, I didn’t know that yarmulke type, women’s hair covering style, and what party you voted for meant so much to people, to the point that they would say you weren’t practicing Judaism.

Is it possible to have varying types of Orthodoxy, or is it all under one umbrella that for some reason is held by bearded guys in hats and suits. How did we come to the point that the only changes to mindset and tradition within Judaism have to be approved by folks who have made themselves into the spokespersons for Orthodoxy. Modern Orthodoxy is not father from authentic Judaism than that of the Chassidim, yet for some reason it’s thought to be.

Of course, there is a point when cholent becomes stew, but it’s such a gray line that it isn’t possible for one person or group of people to decide. There is no cholent spokesperson, there is not spokesperson for Orthodox Judaism.

Of course we could take this the other way and say that there are some folks claiming that fruit soup is cholent long after the cholent became fruit soup.

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