By: Joseph Jacobs
A decoction of the berry of the Coffea Arabica, supposed to be indigenous to Abyssinia, and introduced into Arabia in the fifteenth century. It soon came into common use throughout Islam, and was thence introduced into European civilization. Among the Jews of Egypt it became so popular as to be known as "the Jewish drink" (A. Isaaci, Resp. i. §§ 2, 3). In London, England, it is generally stated to have been introduced from Constantinople in 1652 by a Greek named Pasqua Rossie, who started the first coffee-house in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill; but according to Anthony A. Wood ("Diary," p. 19), Jacob, a Jew, sold coffee at Oxford two years before. The coffee-plant was introduced by the Dutch into Java about 1690, Surinam about 1718, and Jamaica in 1728. In the last two places Jews were largely instrumental in the development of the trade, with which they have been connected throughout its history, the largest holders of the berry in 1902 being the firm of Lewisohn Brothers of New York.
Many questions of Jewish law have been raised in regard to the use of coffee. Isaac Luria would not drink coffee prepared by Gentiles, and in this was followed by Ḥayyim Benveniste, who, however, permitted others to drink it. It has been decided that coffee may not be drunk before morning prayers, though water may; it had previously been drunk so early, especially in Egypt, as an antidote to influenza. Coffee is permitted on Passover, and even at the Seder service in addition to the four cups of wine that may be drunk. Jacob Marx of Hanover permitted the use of acorn coffee on the Passover, though the use of chicory was forbidden. If coffee is taken after the grace after meals, no benediction is necessary before tasting it, though some authorities demand one after it has been consumed. The drinking of coffee in coffee-houses on Sabbath was generally prohibited.
- Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ, s.v. , ;
- Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, pp. 264-265;
- New York Herald, Nov. 9, 1902;
- J. Jacobs, in notes to Howells' Familiar Letters, p. 662;
- I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, p. 138;
- L. Löw, Ges. Schriften, ii. 226, 236.