Rabbi Diaries: Chocolate Drinking in Eighteenth Century
The diary of Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai (known as the HIDA who lived from 1724– 1806) may be the first document to identify the personal chocolate use of a rabbi. Azulai mentions chocolate at least ten times and reports widespread chocolate drinking among the Jews of Europe.
Selected to be a messenger from Israel to European Jewish communities due to his erudition, the HIDA, of Sephardi descent, was born and educated in Jerusalem . He published over 60 works of Jewish law and prayer, plus his travel diaries. Some consider him to be the greatest Sephardi scholar since Joseph Karo, author of the authoritative Jewish code known as the Shulchan Aruch. During his travels he drank chocolate, ate chocolate, and was gifted chocolate. On a very mountainous journey in a snow storm from Cuneo, Italy, to Nice, France, he confessed that he had become so ravenous that he “had some raw chocolate and I ate about a litre.” That was unusual then since chocolate was primarily a beverage and not produced as an edible. In Amsterdam the HIDA celebrated a bris with chocolate and sweets in 1777. After services in Montpellier, France, he drank chocolate with the synagogue’s main benefactor and other members. His hosts entertained him with chocolate in Italy, France and the Netherlands. Here are his chocolate diary entries:
5516/1755 25 Teveth from Nice to Cuneo. Over snowy mountains, very hard trip…“ Mercifuly I had some raw chocolate and I ate but a litre…”
5534/1774, Iyar 20, just before Shavuot, Livorno, Italy. “And they brought me gifts: S. Leon, coffee and chocolate.”
5537/1776 Shevat 21, Trieste, Italy. Meeting with leaders of the council. “But the first and prime force in everything was S. Marco who sent me a large vessel full of coffee and chocolate … ”
5537/1776 Montpellier, France. Thursday. “I went to the synagogue established by the deceased Melinde and his widow supports the synagogue. They conduct themselves according to the rites of the Four Congregations [Carpentras, Avignon, Lisle and Cavaillon]. After prayers I drank chocolate with the said widow together with some of the Yehidim.”
5538/Heshvan 16 1778, France. “Later I went to drink chocolate with S. Samuel Astruc; then I went to dine at the home of … ”
5538/Kislev New Moon 1777, Sunday, Vayetse. “ … in the morning I drank chocolate at the home of S. Judah and Haim bar-Mordecai who are called by the name of Lange.”
5538/Teveth 6 5538 1777, Monday. “I drank chocolate with Solomon Ravel.”
5538/1777-8 Teveth 27, Amsterdam. “The eve of Monday; we found in the village of Dragehave a Jewish householder living there with his family. On each holy Sabbath a minyan came there to pray and they had a Sefer Torah. We stayed there some three hours and they regaled us with chocolate and other delicacies.”
5538/1777-8 Amsterdam, Adar 27. “Thursday I went to visit some gentiles with S. ibn Dana: Britano, Pibelsman, Carlo Vernandi. They did me much honor, especially Pibelsman who gave me two pounds of home-made chocolate.”
5538/1777-8 Amsterdam Iyar 6. “Next morning, an hour before mid-day, I went to the circumcision [of the son of S. Moses ben Isaac Israel Soasso] where I found all the Parnessim, his friends. They made me stay for the meal which consisted of … and various sweetmeats. I did not wash hands for eating the bread but only ate some sweetmeats and chocolate.”
The European Jewish communities of the mid-eighteenth century enjoyed their chocolate, especially when entertaining a scholar and emissary from the Holy Land. Azulai was fortunate to have been sustained and warmed by that hospitable chocolate in his arduous travels and meetings. His hosts modeled a delicious welcome for rabbis.