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We Hereby Claim the Sandwich For the Jews

Hillel’s invention predates that English earl by centuries!

Marc Tracy
July 26, 2011
A demolished Hillel Sandwich.(Lisa G/Flickr)
A demolished Hillel Sandwich.(Lisa G/Flickr)

Lapham’s Quarterly has litigated four “Who invented it first?” food disputes. And it turns out that the sandwich—defined, if you like, as the method of preparation by which the substance is placed between two slices of starch—was not invented by its namesake, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, but rather (and really, we should have known this) by Rabbi Hillel, the eating of whose eponymous sandwich, in which bitter herbs (usually horseradish) are placed between two pieces of matzah, is a requisite part of the Passover Seder.

But why call it a “Hillel Sandwich”? It’s a bit anachronistic to allow the latter-day English earl’s nomenclature to prevail over the ancient Babylonian rabbi’s invention, no? (I mean, there’s Orientalism for you!) Please leave suggestions for what the humble, brilliant sandwich should be called instead in the comments. And please, try to be more creative than just “the Hillel,” which as everyone knows is already a special kind of sandwich that involves corned beef, pastrami, and cole slaw, served with a side of guilt and traditionally consumed while standing on one foot.

Food Fight! [Lapham’s Quarterly]
Related: Hillel [Nextbook Press]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.