[God’s] blessing.” Sufganin
forms the basis of the modern-day Israeli sufganiyot phenomenon.
During the 14th century in Provence, the custom to eat sweet desserts during Hanukkah was also cited by Rabbi Kalonymus ben Kalonymus “[The women] bake the dough and make different kinds of tasty food from the mixture…and above all they should take fine flour and make sufganin and iskaritin (bumuelos) from it.”
By exploring our sources for this culinary tradition in the Sephardic Studies Digital Library, we can see how bunuelos—and the multiple, contested spellings of the term—made their way across the Sephardic diaspora.
A page from Sefer Heshek Shelomo, courtesy of Richard Adatto.
According to the first Ladino translation of the Torah printed in Hebrew characters and published in Istanbul in 1547 and subsequently in Ferrara during 1553, the manna, which God provided to the children of Israel, tasted like bunuelo in honey. Gedalia Cordovero — the son of the famous kabbalist Moshe Cordovero — edited a glossary of non-Hebrew words in the Torah and translated them into Ladino. In 1588, this Sefer Heshek Shelomo was first published in Venice, and according to the anonymous author, the word sapihit is translated as binuelos or benuelos.
In 1739, the Ladino Bible translations published by Abraham Asa in Istanbul, and later by others in Izmir and Vienna, all describe the taste of this heavenly food as “binmuelo kon miel.” [Constantinople, 1738; Vienna 1813; Izmir, 1837; Constantinople, 1873 and 1905.] In contrast, Rabbi Jacob Huli, in his famous biblical commentary written in Ladino, Sefer Me-am Lo’ez, offers an additional spelling, stating that manna tasted like bilmuelos.
“I yamaron kaza de Yisrael a su nomre magna; i el komo simiente de kolantro, blanko, i su savor komo bunuelo kon miel.” [Istanbul, 1547].
“I la kaza de Yisrael yamo su nombre man; i era komo simiente de kolantro, blanko; i su savor komo binmuelo kon miel.” [Istanbul, 1873]
In summary, according to Sephardic sources going back to the 16th century — with clear links pointing back to the first century CE — the bumuelo is associated with sapihit, the taste of manna during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Over time, bumuelo itself wandered into Hanukkah history, along with sufganiyot (sufganin) and latkes (levivot), as oily treats commemorating the Hanukkah miracle. Today in Seattle it is commonly pronounced burmuelo or birmuelo. However you pronounce it, we can all agree that it is indeed a heavenly food.
“Savoriad i ved ke Ashem es bueno, bienaventurado el varon ke se avrega en el temed a Ashem.” Taste and see that Hashem is good. Happy is the man that takes refuge in Him. – Psalms 34:9
We are grateful to the following individuals and synagogues for providing numerous Ladino books to the Sephardic Studies Collection including those used for this research.
- Sefer Heshek Shelomo : ve-hu he-etek kol mila zara sh-be-kol ha-mikra mi-lashon ha-Kodesh le-lashon La’az. Published in Venice, 1547 or 1625. (Courtesy of Richard Adatto from the Albert Adatto Collection)
- Arba’a ve-esrim: im La’az u-perush Rashi. Published in Constantinople, 1739. (Courtesy of Richard Adatto from the Albert Adatto Collection)
- Sefer arba’a ve-esrim : helek rishon ve-hu hamisha humshe Torah. Published in Vienna, 1813. (Courtesy of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth)
- Sefer arba’a ve-esrim : helek rishon ve-hu hamisha humshe Torah. Published in Izmir, 1837. (Courtesy of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation)
- Sefer Tanakh : Sefer Tora, Neviim, ve-Ketuvim: El livro de la Ley, los Profetas, i las Eskritoras, trezladado en la lingua Espanyola parte primera. Published in Constantinople, 1873 and 1905. (Courtesy of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation)
- Sefer Me-am lo’ez : es deklaro del Arba’a ve-Esrim en Ladino. Published in Izmir, 1863, (Courtesy of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth)
- Additional thanks to Isaac Choua, a student at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University, for providing the text and insights into Saadia Gaon’s Arabic translation.
Links for Further Exploration
Ty Alhadeff, “New Light Shed on Sephardic Sources for Hanukkah Heroes.”
Gil Marks, Encylopedia of Jewish Food, (New Jersey, 2010)
Emily Alhadeff, “The Great Doughnut Schlep.”