Lox and Cream Cheese

How did this become a Jewish tradition?

(Credit: Pexels user lulizler)

Technically, lox is brined salmon which is not cooked, but it’s mostly used to refer to smoked salmon, eaten for breakfast in Jewish communities. It’s often eaten on a bagel with cream cheese and some other toppings.

There is nothing inherently Jewish about lox, other than the name (it’s Yiddish for “salmon”; sometimes spelled “lacks”).

My Jewish Learning claimed that the Jewish tradition about this didn’t originate in Europe, but in America.

[…] there is no evidence that the Jews of Eastern Europe ate it in the shtetls. The widespread availability and interest in lox did not come about until Eastern European Jews arrived in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

However, MyRecipes.com claims the opposite:

Brining salmon is a Scandanavian tradition, but it was also popular among Eastern European Jews. Some of these people immigrated to the U.S. and brought their affinity for brined, cured, and smoked fish with them.

Bagels also apparently have some Jewish connections too:

In 1267, a group of Polish bishops forbade Christians to buy any foodstuffs from Jews, darkly hinting that they contained poison for the unsuspecting gentile. At some point, the theory goes, Jews were allowed to work with bread that was boiled, and they created the bagel to comply with his ruling.

The cream cheese and salmon combination seems weird, and the source of the combination is disputed. Jews cannot combine dairy and meat, but fish is neither, so it can be consumed with cream cheese.

Why I Looked It Up

I can’t remember. I knew it had some Jewish connection. I saw a woman eating it on a Sunday morning at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, and I remember thinking that it seemed like a very New York thing to do.


Added on January 16, 2022

In an article entitled “The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years” a professor of linguistics says:

The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably “lox,”” and that’s exactly how it is pronounced in modern English,. Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means “smoked salmon.” It’s really cool that that word hasn’t changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish.

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