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Tartans Go Kosher: Scottish Rabbi Gives The Traditional Cloth A Jewish Spin


Here's a headline we did not expect to read this week - "First Official Jewish Tartan Unveiled." The headline's from the newspaper The Scotsman. Tartan, of course, is the distinctive plaid fabric fashioned by proud Scots into everything from scarves to pants to kilts. And the first kosher tartan was created by a Scottish rabbi, Mendel Jacobs. Rabbi Jacobs is on the line now from Glasgow. Rabbi Jacobs, thank you for joining us.

MENDEL JACOBS: Thank you. Good afternoon.

KELLY: Nice to speak to you. Now I have to start by asking - are you wearing the tartan right now?

JACOBS: I'm actually not.

KELLY: (Laughter) I'm so disappointed. I have gotten to see a picture of you wearing it. And it's a very distinctive pattern, blue and white. Tell us what it looks like.

JACOBS: Yes, so in the main body of the tartan design is blue and white, symbolizing both the Israeli flag - which has the magen David, the star of David - and the Scottish flag, which has the saltire, also being blue and white. The silver color symbolizes the silver jewelry that adorns Torahs, which are kept in the synagogue, and gold, which represents the Ark of the Covenant. And thereafter a deep red-burgundy color for the kiddush wine used to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish celebrations.

KELLY: So clearly a lot of thought went into the design. Tell us how the idea for this first came about.

JACOBS: Well, it was a friend of mine, one of my congregants, who came to me and explained that there was a Sikh tartan being created by a particular family. And he brought to my attention that there has never been any official Scottish Jewish tartan design being registered. And so we joined together, along with Brian Wilton, who's from the Scottish Tartan Register, and then went to the largest Scottish tartan weavers here in Scotland and then confirmed on the shades of the colors that would form the design.

KELLY: This cloth is kosher. What is required to make a fabric kosher?

JACOBS: (Unintelligible) Prohibition that we can't wear wool and linen in the same garment. So in the facility where the garments like kilts and other clothing are manufactured, there's no trace of linen there at all.

KELLY: Now I can hear your voice that you are Scotland born and bred and raised. And I've read in The Scotsman that you're the only rabbi in Scotland who was actually born there. As far as you know, is that true?

JACOBS: Absolutely. I mean, there have been previous rabbis that have come and gone that were born in Scotland. But currently, I'm the only Scottish-born rabbi living in Scotland.

KELLY: And how many Scottish Jews are there in Scotland? I mean, it's a small country, about 5 million people total.

JACOBS: Yes. So there's approximately 10,000 Jewish people living throughout Scotland.

KELLY: Is it challenging to keep kosher in other ways in Scotland, Rabbi Jacobs? I'm wondering, for example, you know, can you find kosher scotch? Can you find kosher haggis, the national dish of Scotland?

JACOBS: Yes. So there are kosher stores here, and of course we've made sure that there is a supply of kosher scotch that we can enjoy. And indeed, I'm involved in the supervising of this process to make sure that the sherry casks have only contained kosher wine.

KELLY: This is the casks in which the whiskey is stored.


KELLY: And what about the haggis?

JACOBS: So yes, haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep's pluck, as it's called - heart, liver and lungs. So in its true form, it isn't by any means strictly kosher.

KELLY: No (laughter).

JACOBS: But we managed to come up with a kosher similar-looking version.

KELLY: All part of being true to your Jewish faith and being a true Scotsman.

JACOBS: Absolutely.

KELLY: That's Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, the man behind the first official Jewish tartan. Rabbi Jacobs, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JACOBS: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.