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    Was Abraham a good cook? – Vayyera

    Abraham feeding the angels, from the 1728 Figures de la Bible

    Learning that he would have guests, Abraham runs to his wife and says, “Make haste: prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make cakes” (Gen. 18:6).

    There is something strange about this verse. If he is like many husbands who have no idea of what goes on in the kitchen he would be unlikely to give his wife culinary instructions.

    To say, “We’re having unexpected guests – can you hurry?”, on the other hand, sounds reasonable, and Sarah would probably not object, especially since hospitality was a well-known characteristic of her home.

    But to give precise instructions about what flour to use, and what quantity – does it really suggest a husband who is useless in the kitchen?

    There are two points to consider: why the fine flour, and why the three measures?

    Clearly Abraham senses that the guests are not ordinary people but Divine messengers, and they are entitled to special treatment.

    But three measures may be somewhat excessive. A Talmudic passage (BM 87) suggests that husbands tend to be over-generous when giving hospitality and that wives are more practical, knowing that family budgets are not unlimited.

    Another possibility is that Sarah is a renowned hostess and her trademark dishes include high-quality cakes. She makes no secret of her recipes and Abraham is really saying, “Please make one of your fine-flour cakes – but you’ll need to hurry if you can, because we don’t have much time before the guests arrive”.

    Since Abraham and Sarah are well known for their hospitality, this may well be the way the verse is to be understood. If so, it is one more contribution to the Jewish art of hospitality that has become one of our defining traits.

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