Home Food Good news for the lactose intolerant on Shavuot

Good news for the lactose intolerant on Shavuot


Unlike other Jewish holidays, only one festival, Shavuot, has become synonymous with dairy foods. There are people who would be happy to sit down to a table groaning under the weight of blintzes and kugel and onion soup and quiche and cheesecake. The problem is that they are lactose intolerant and all that dairy food can leave them with an upset stomach and worse. Or perhaps they can’t indulge on dairy because they are watching their cholesterol. So what to do? Check out the dairy substitute advice on the web.

How serious is the lactose intolerance among Jews? According to a paper from American Family Physician, estimates of lactose intolerance range from 2 per cent in persons from Northern Europe to 60 to 80 per cent among Ashkenazi Jews. (Perhaps. But that number seems a bit inflated to me when I think about the last time I watched people dive into a spread after a brit milah.)


A study cited by the Wikipedia entry on lactose intolerance suggest that the rate among Sephardic Jews is slightly lower.

If you, like blogger Ksenia, have an intolerance to lactose, Shavuot need not be totally dairy free. Ksenia points out that some dairy foods are relatively lactose-free (yeah aged cheeses!) And some are not (boo ice cream.) Some other lactose facts:

  • Natural aged cheeses like Parmesan have only trace amounts of lactose, as most of it is drained off with whey during the cheese making process.
  • The small amount of lactose that does remain is changed to lactic acid, and should be OK on your stomach.
  • As a rule of thumb, the higher the fat content, the lower the lactose content. Though this rule doesn’t (sadly) apply to ice cream, it’s actually what makes butter safe to eat even if you’re lactose-intolerant.

(Always check with a professional before venturing out of your safe food zone.)


Phyllis Glazer writes in the Jerusalem Post, “For drinking and in many recipes, soy milk is one alternative to regular milk, and there are various brands available … Other possibilities are coconut milk, rice milk, oatmeal milk and quinoa milk (though after tasting I personally wouldn’t buy any of the last three).


“For coffee and baking, many people are happy to use parve cream (happy because they either aren’t aware of all the chemicals in it, or don’t care), or products like ‘Better than Cream Cheese’ (which considering all the fat and stabilizers it contains, doesn’t seem any better to me). There are also several types of virtual cheese, individually wrapped slices sold primarily in health food stores. And for dessert, it’s easy to find non-dairy ice creams in every supermarket (non-dairy, but chemical rich). Ichh.”


Chabad presents a blintz recipe with an assortment of non-dairy fillings including apple, nut, low-carb potato (“Mix equal amounts of cooked potato with cooked cauliflower and some fried onions”) and parve “cheese” (“In a small pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Drop in small amounts of egg white, breaking up with a fork. They will look like curds of cheese.”)


As for the emblematic cheese cake, I came across several recipes that call for tofu cream cheese (aka Tofutti), along with non-dairy heavy cream and soya milk. Interestingly, the Parve at Sinai Cake uses “silken” tofu and advises against a cream cheese substitute product, like Tofutti. This cake “can be made gluten-free, too, with tapioca flour which is made from cassava, a tuber of the bitter variety of yucca.”


And now, a halakchic reality check. If dairy makes you ill, don’t feel guilty about skipping it. As the Aish HaTorah rabbi explains: “Eating dairy on Shavuot is only a custom, whereas ‘enjoying yom tov’ has the status of Torah law. So when the two ideas conflict, as in your case, it is better to preserve your enjoyment of the Shavuot holiday and not eat dairy.”


What to do on Shavuot When You’re Lactose Intolerant, Dr. Rachael Turkienicz

In What to do on Shavuot When You’re Lactose Intolerant, Rachael Turkienicz goes back to the source to explain one of the reasons we eat special foods on this holiday. On Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of the Torah and the binding of the Jewish people to God, we are reminiscent of the verse from the Song of Songs, “Sweetness drops from your lips, Oh bride; Honey and milk are under your tongue…” Song of Songs 4:11


Thus milk – and dairy products – have become so identified with the holiday. But, Turkienicz adds, “for someone who is lactose intolerant, it doesn’t need to only be dairy because the verse also mentions honey. It also mentions sweetness. So there is a way to continue to have that connection continue to celebrate Shavuot with the same verse informing the food only switching over from the dairy food to the sweetness of the food. … So if you’re lactose intolerant my suggestion would be for Shavuot would be to stay away from the dairy use the dairy substitutes but definitely also include honey, include sweetness. Think of that verse and enjoy the holiday to its fullest.”


“The connection between Torah, God and Israel, it’s all still there.


As someone with multiple food sensitivities – including an allergy to dairy – Deborah A. Beverly has tried to keep strong the social aspect that goes with it. “I connect with my family and the community despite the foods. …


“But even as I’ve tried as best I can to maintain my connection to other Jews around food, I’ve made new connections along the way—with other people who have food allergies. We form our own underground community at events. We help each other find the gluten-free dessert someone brought or warn each other away from a salad laced with dairy. So, even as I’ve learned to not let my food allergies hinder my social and spiritual life, I’ve built new connections and found an additional community that understands exactly why there’s more to Shavuot than cheese blintzes.”

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