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Thursday, June 16, 2016

A bizarre story has been popping up in Arabic news sites today about the origins of a Jordanian dish called mansaf.

Mansaf is lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur.

According to a supposed expert in Jordanian folklore, the dish was invented to help slaughter Jews.

Hamed Al-Nawaisa says that the root n.s.f in Arabic means to blow up, to destroy or demolish. Arab women would tell the guests that their dish is “destroyed” (munassaf), meaning that all traces of undesirable parts of wheat were cleared from it.

But then the article claims that Wikipedia (Arabic) has another version, with a story about an ancient “Jordanian Arab” king and Jews.

It is well known that Jews must not mix meat and dairy products. So there was a “Jordanian Arab” king called Mesha (in fact he was 9th century BCE Moabite, not "Jordanian Arab." The Jordanians are pretending that they are descended from Moabites just like the Palestinians pretend to be Jebusites or other Canaanites.)

Mesha asked that his people (who were familiar with the Jewish kosher law) to cook meat together with milk in order to be sure that his people were not Jewish and were hostile towards the Jews and violate Jewish beliefs.

When he was told that his entire people indeed cooked meat in milk, he announced that he was destroying/demolishing (nasf) his pacts with the Jews who “betrayed him and violated all their pacts with him”.

The last sentence of the article sums it up:

“And this is the reason that this dish was named mansaf, because it destroyed (nasafat) the pacts/agreements/treaties with the Jews, and then Mesha declared war against the Jews, and defeated them badly."

The main Arabic Wikipedia entry on mansaf says nothing of the sort but the Egyptian Wikipedia does say this story.

I see mention of this legend in recent years. This writer says that Mesha then used the mansaf as a lucky meal before all battles with the Jews, and that the food itself today is a declaration of eternal Jordanian enmity towards the Jews. He recommends that mansaf be served often to ferret out Jewish spies in Jordan who would naturally refuse to eat this dish.

While the story is fiction, the fact that it is reported and believed so readily is a sign of how eager Jordanians and other Arabs are to cling to an illusion of military superiority over the Jewish nation - and how they are all too happy to ascribe antisemitic origins to the food they eat.

(h/t Ibn Boutros)

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