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Meet the Jewish mustard maven who founded a museum for his favorite condiment

14 8 32
24.09.2021

JTA — The 16th-century kabbalist Moshe Cordovero and the Jewish philosopher Nachmanides both compared the universe to the size of a mustard seed. The biblical commentator Rashi — who lived 100 miles from Dijon, France — believed that Abraham served tongue with mustard to the three angels who visit him in the 18th chapter of Genesis.

Long before there were Jewish delis, mustard apparently was important to Jews — but not just Jews.

“Mustard is in almost every religion and every culture,” said Barry Levenson, the founder, curator and CMO (chief mustard officer) of the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin.

“There’s a passage in the New Testament about the 1/8-inch of a mustard seed. There’s also something in the Quran about how the balance of your future could be determined by a mustard seed. Mustard is universal, not only as a condiment but in terms of its legends.”

Founded in 1992, the mustard museum is often listed as one of the most unusual museums in the United States, typically drawing around 35,000 visitors a year. But last year it closed for six weeks due to COVID-19. Both the museum’s revenue and Levenson’s mental health took a hit.

“It was devastating,” Levenson said. “We have a donation box because we don’t charge admission at the museum, so the donations totally stopped. It was very hard, but we’re recovering.”

To distract himself, he focused on his part-time teaching position as an adjunct professor of food law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he has taught for seven years.

Fortunately, the museum is recovering. Since May, it’s had a steady stream of visitors, and Levenson........

© The Times of Israel


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