Several years ago, Rabbi Deborah Prinz and her husband Rabbi Mark Hurvitz were traveling in Bayonne, France. While glancing at a placard in one of the museums they were visiting, Rabbi Prinz was shocked to read that Jews had brought the fabrication of chocolate to France in the 17th century. As she would come to realize, Jews played a vital role in of early production and distribution of chocolate in Europe. Even as far back as Christopher Columbus whom some have speculated might have been Jewish and some of his crew may have been converso. If true, then it would have been Jews who brought cacao to Europe.
Regardless, the expansion of chocolate consumption coincided with the expulsion of Jews from Spain and later from Portugal. Later on, Jews were actively engaged in candy making as well. This bit of history, previously unknown to Rabbi Printz started a journey that has taken her and her husband to Holland, Belgium, Spain and even recently to Mexico to follow the chocolate trail so deeply connected with our Jewish ancestors. (to read more about their travels read here and here). An important part of Jewish history she said should be included in Jewish education.
At the food conference Rabbi Prinz presented these findings and shared stories from her travels as well as shared some amazing kosher chocolates she brought back from Mexico. For an ethical eater, chocolate poses a unique set of problems like additives and the place of origin. Cacao is grown in some of the worlds poorest areas in the Southern hemisphere yet it is a luxury enjoyed throughout the Northern latitudes. Rabbi Prinz shares many of the concerns raised by participants in her session and indulges her love of chocolate by purchasing chocolate that is fair trade and processed in a natural way. Her personal favorites that fit with her own ethical standards as well as tastes, include Valrhona and Occumare.