Did Freud Eat Kosher?

Did Freud Eat Kosher?

My mother didn’t talk much about her early life in Vienna, but one of the things she told me was that Sigmund Freud’s wife used to buy kosher meat from one of her uncles. I recently learned the identity of this uncle: It was Siegmund Kornmehl, who had a kosher butcher shop on the ground floor of 19 Berggasse,* where Freud’s home and offices were located. (It’s now the Freud Museum, with the butcher shop as its art gallery.) My great uncle and Freud shared an address for some 44 years, until the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938.

Some people have expressed doubt to me that the anti-religious Freud would have eaten meat from a kosher butcher shop. Setting aside the whole questioning-the-veracity-of-my-mother problem, that strikes me as a nonissue. There’s a big difference between eating kosher meat when it’s convenient and keeping kosher, i.e., observing Jewish dietary laws on a regular basis.

Consider a modern-day equivalent. A Jewish-born atheist in Manhattan who likes hot dogs lives upstairs from a vendor who sells Hebrew National franks. Does he walk several blocks out of his way to find a guy selling mystery wurst because he doesn’t believe in God?

I think not.

What makes meat kosher?

As the famous Hebrew National “We answer to a higher authority” ad campaign posited, you don’t have to be Jewish to want to eat kosher meat.

The Jewish laws of kashrut, based on Old Testament injunctions, are complicated and arcane but the relevant ones with regard to meat are that only certain parts of certain animals can be eaten, and those animals have to be killed according to rabbinically supervised ritual slaughter.

But here’s why eating kosher meat might be considered particularly desirable. In addition to the failure to conduct the ritual slaughter properly, meat can be deemed traif  (not kosher) if the animal is deemed to have been in poor health. From the Wikipedia entry on kashrut (kosher practices):

The body must be checked after slaughter to confirm that the animal had no medical condition or defect that would have caused it to die of its own accord within a year, which would make the meat unsuitable. These conditions (treifot) include 70 different categories of injuries, diseases, and abnormalities whose presence renders the animal non-kosher.

So…no worries about mad cow disease from kosher meat. Nor can sausage include additives that might be deemed nonkosher for any of the above reasons, i.e., wrong animal, wrong body part. You’ll never find pig snouts or cow hooves among the ground-up ingredients of kosher kielbasa.

Back to Vienna

That’s not to suggest gentiles in pre-World War II Vienna would have sought out kosher meat. Antisemitism was rampant in Austria, even before the Anschluss. The blood libel persisted, and anything strictly associated with Jews, especially ritually slaughtered food, would have been suspect.

There’s also no doubt that Freud enjoyed a bit of pork.

So Freud’s wife, Martha, would have had to get her traif somewhere else than from Siegmund Kornmehl’s kosher meat emporium — possibly at one of my great uncle’s other butcher shops, which were not pig averse. But both Freud and his wife were brought up observing Jewish dietary laws. And Freud’s favorite dish was tafelspitz, boiled beef. Why wouldn’t Martha like the convenience of just going down a flight of stairs for high-quality beef and why wouldn’t Sigmund want to eat it?

*UPDATE (2018): The Freud Museum Vienna initially identified Siegmund Kornmehl’s shop downstairs from Freud as being kosher, but that was inaccurate. As the ad below indicates, the shop at #19 Berggasse was not kosher after all — but the branch just down the block, at #15 Berggasse, was. This doesn’t change my hypothesis, then; it just means that Martha had to walk a few steps more to get her kosher beef.

Also — I now know that Freud thought that eating kosher food would make one ill; when he was courting Martha Bernays, he warned her against indulging in her family’s traditions. So I don’t doubt that Martha — who returned to lighting Shabbos candles after her husband died — would have done her kosher meat shopping on the sly.

50 Responses to Did Freud Eat Kosher?

  1. Kim Clune says:

    I’d learn to eat – and love – Pakistani food every single day if it was convenient. (Nothing is particularly convenient to where I live.) So, I can absolutely see why Martha would visit your great uncle’s shop.

    I love that your discovery of the Freud museum/art gallery is leading your down this path. Can’t wait to see where it takes you (and me)!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Now I’m thinking about what food I would eat every single day… It would not be boiled beef, like Freud, that’s for sure, though Viennese pastries are another thing entirely. Thanks for your good wishes and for continuing the conversation on this new venue. It’s a lovely welcome.

  2. Interesting, Edie. how could a kosher butcher also have a butcher shop that not only wasn’t kosher but served pork? wouldn’t that taint the kosher shop? I know nothing about meat or butchers but found that odd… (I do know a bit about religious fanatics)… anyway, I look forward to your new blog… humanizing Freud.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks for coming by, CeliaSue! My guess is that he probably didn’t use the same butchering instruments, but that’s an interesting question.

  3. Note to Sigmund: Ms. Edie Jarolim recently wrote web articles about her dog Frankie in which she dissected every bit of Frankie’s behavior, including why he ate his poop.

    Now she’s writing about you. How does that make you feel, Sigmund?

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Turnabout is fair play, isn’t it? Or do you mean Siegmund with an “e”, the butcher? Confusing, isn’t it? But in any case, both are far beyond caring. Which is a good thing!

  4. Lori R. Cohen says:

    In response to CeliaSue, it might be possible to have a kosher and non-kosher shop– it’s also possible that people who really cared about kashrut didn’t shop at Edie’s great-uncle’s story because they knew he blew both ways. As the Freuds ate non-kosher meat, they wouldn’t care about whether or not the standards of the other Siegmund were up to snuff, so to speak.

    Today, assuming the authorities who police these things would grant Mr. Kornmehl a hechsher (kosher certification for his store) would have someone there supervising the store at all times to make sure he didn’t sneak meat from the non-kosher store into the kosher one when he ran low on a particular kosher item.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Lori, what an interesting insight — and productive avenue for research. I have a feeling that the Kornmehls (whether Siegmund or his butcher brothers, Martin and Rudolf) were the only game in town when it came to kosher meat. But this is something I will definitely be looking into.

      Thanks very much for coming by.

  5. I like the look of your new blog!

    Very cool…


  6. Congratulations! I’m totally hooked! And, I love the tag line.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks for coming by, Deborah, and for mentioning the tag line. I’ve got to admit that it’s one of my favorite features.

  7. Lydia Davis says:

    What an interesting combination of topics–I’m looking forward to reading more about all of them. And I’m getting quite an education by just following the links (tafelspitz leading to Emperor Franz Josef and the names of all those muscles…). I wonder what my dreams will be like tonight?

  8. Great starts to the new blog, Edie! I must say that the blog by-line is brilliant!!

  9. Fantastic start, Edie … and now you have me thinking about the kosher meat thing. It seems in to me the animals must also be raised and slaughtered humanely to be approved – is that correct? Kosher butcher shops may be a new trend for those trying to navigate our crazy world of food production.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I can see a Hebrew National hot dog in your future, Amy (or, if you’re not careful, in Ty or Buster’s future)!

  10. jim clarke says:

    Interesting, Edie, and funny. I smiled all the way through.

  11. Judith says:

    Fascinating…even to a staunch vegetarian!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      But I knew you when… and especially recall Hibbard’s plan for the all-meat restaurant with food in the shape of vegetables.

  12. Absolutely fascinating post. I had no idea!

  13. Pamela says:

    I’m sorry but I’m still stuck on the name Kornmehl. I find it fascinating that your great uncle became a butcher instead of a baker.

    Now that sounds like something Freud might have a comment on. Or, at the very least, Jung.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      You’re on to something, Pamela. There were millers in the family in the past — the early 19th century I believe. By the late 19th century they must have gotten tired of grain and wanted something a bit more hearty to eat. I’m not sure whether it’s the choice of profession or your fascination with it that you think might require professional attention, however…

  14. Congrats, Edie, on launching Freud’s Butcher! I learned more about eating kosher than I knew before and am glad to see your inimitable humor creeping in, too. Look forward to future posts. Jillian

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I actually learned a heckuva lot about eating kosher while I was writing the piece too! Thanks for your good wishes and for coming by.

  15. Wynne Brown says:

    Fascinating — I’m so glad I stopped by! And, interestingly, I had my first Hebrew National hot dog this past July 4 (they were on sale). YUMM! I don’t eat hot dogs often, so why not eat really good ones, ones that don’t contain floor sweepings (or worse)?

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      So nice to see you here, Wynne! I confess to buying Trader Joe’s chicken sausages most of the time, but if I’m going to buy from a street vendor, it’s Hebrew National all the way.

  16. Mel F says:

    So fascinating! I honestly didn’t know much about kosher meat before reading your post. I knew that it had to be specifically harvested (odd word to use I know), but I did not know that only certain parts could be used or that an animal could not be sick or unhealthy.

    There was certainly genius in this as we can only see now. Out meat is so suspect anymore. I think I may have to go kosher!

    BTW – I agree with your supposition. Convenience is everything. I bet Freud felt the same way.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Mel, congratulations: Your comment was the first to accidentally get trapped by the spam filter of this new blog. I don’t know exactly what that means but since we’re both fans of spam collages, I think we should take it as an auspicious sign!

      Most restrictions in the Old Testament don’t have have much application to modern life although zealots try to apply their tenets (selectively). This is one nice exception to that rule.

  17. Buzzy Gordon says:


    Cute. You might want to submit this to Jewish Ideas Daily or JTA; they sometimes like to feature interesting snippets like this.


  18. Jill says:

    As a new family member…I wanted to let you know how impressive your blog is. Nice to finally get some recognition!

    The Kornmehls were a quiet lot-the family started out in the corn milling/making (korn-mell) business in the 19th century but then went into the hosiery field in Tarnov, Poland. The mystery of why one branch of the family went to Vienna and became butchers is yet to be solved…..

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Jill — welcome! I hope you and the other new found members of the Kornmehl family will come to visit often and, even better, will contribute. I can’t wait to learn more about the family.

      I knew about the corn milling but I had no idea about the hosiery. As for the butcher business, as I joked to one of my friends in another comment here, maybe they got tired of all that corn and wanted something more substantial to eat…

  19. judie fein says:

    very interesting, edie. my ancestor was named Kornblatt or Kornbluth, and Kornmehl is not far from that–i think yours means, literally, corn meal. we have so much corn in our ancestry, which certainly tells you what they ate, in addition to kosher meat. i love the personal nature of your post, and the ancestral quest. thanks for sending!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Yes, you’re right, it’s cornmeal (though one Google translation doc I was looking at had it, humorously, as “wheat flower” — don’t ask!) I’m curious: Do you know what “blatt” or “bluth” mean? Thanks for your nice words. I recall telling you about this project some months ago, when I wasn’t sure where it was going (I guess I’m still not)…

  20. Barbara Radcliffe Rogers says:

    I’m fascinated to see where this website will take you — and us as your readers. It’s certainly off to an interesting start!

  21. Lydia Davis says:

    Judie’s question about the meaning of the name Kornmehl incited me to go and do some digging. I had assumed that Kornmehl meant “cornmeal.” But in German, “Korn” actually means “grain.” One site said that the name as adopted by the Jews (when they were compelled to take last names) originally meant “dealer in grain.” “Blatt” in German means “leaf,” so Kornblatt could mean “leaf of grain” (blade of wheat?) and another site said that Kornbluth was related to the German “Kornblute” meaning “grain blossom.”

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Interesting… so we might have been the Millers (good thing we weren’t… way too common). I recall that Google translated Kornmehl as “wheat blossom” at one point, and I was completely confused but now I wonder if there’s a generic grain that could be translated as wheat too.

  22. Lydia Davis says:

    To add to the confusion without even leaving the English language: I thought I remembered that when the British say “corn” they don’t mean “our” corn but some kind of grain. It’s true–over there, “corn” can refer to whatever the principal kind of grain is that is grown in a particular region–i.e. wheat in England, oats in Scotland. Who would have thought of calling your oats “corn”?

  23. In a time of Olympic frenzy I give you a ten. Your post is eductional and humorous. Can I have more? How about a rematch. Gold!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      What a nice thing to say, Barbara! As a woman who has to drag herself to the gym, I particularly appreciate the metaphor because I never imagined doing anything Olympian. The closest I’ve ever come is feeling like I’ve completed a writing marathon, and that’s never been on purpose!

      Oh yes, there’ll be more. Stay tuned…

  24. […] I’ve subsequently discovered, Frau Freud didn’t keep kosher, as the poem posits, though she bought kosher meat — an important distinction. But that […]

  25. […] whether the shop in Freud’s building was kosher or not? I argued in my first blog post, Did Freud Eat Kosher?, that Martha Freud would have bought meat at my great uncle’s kosher butcher shop, right […]

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