The Origin of the Bagel

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Bagels and a Cup of Coffee

The German word Bügel means stirrup. It can also mean clothes hanger or it can refer to ironing, as in: "Ich bügel”, i.e. “I iron” (my clothes).

Because the American language does not include the “ü” sound, the word Bügel is here pronounced bagel.

The first bagel was baked by a Jewish baker in Vienna, Austria in 1683. He did so in honor of the Polish king Jan Sobieski, who is credited with contributing the pivotal strategy leading to the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Vienna on September 12, 1683. No doubt that battle marked the final turning point in a 250 year fight between Christians and Muslims over the fate of Europe.

It will be remembered that the Turks overran Constantinople in 1453 after a 100 year campaign to achieve that goal. The Turkish sultan Mehmet II renamed the city Istanbul, a name it has retained to this day. Prior to 1453, the Turks had already defeated the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Their victory over the Christians in 1453 led the Turks to occupy most of the Balkans, so they were able to besiege Vienna for the first time in 1529. Having failed to occupy Vienna that time, they tried again and again and finally were within sight of Austria's capital in 1683. There they were met by an Austrian and German army of 100,000 troops. The commander of the Turks, Pasha Kara Mustafa, commanded an army of 140,000 men. The battle between the German forces and the Turks seesawed all day until the Polish king Sobieski arrived with a heavy cavalry force of 20,000 men and charged the Turks downhill. The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting. One of the principal reasons for the Turkish loss was the failure of their cavalry to use the stirrup, which the Polish cavalry was using. Obviously, a man using a stirrup has a better chance of remaining on his horse than someone without a stirrup. It is surprising that the Turks did not use the stirrup, which had been introduced into Europe as early as the eighth century when the Christian Franks defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Franks won and prevented the expansion of Islam into France because their knights were using the stirrup and the Muslims were not.

Now you can see why the Jewish baker in Vienna baked the “bügel” bagel in honor of the Polish king. 

If you're drinking a cup of coffee with your bagel, understand that you owe the coffee to the Battle of Vienna as well. When the Turks lost the battle and ran from the scene they left behind numerous bags of hard brown beans which had not been seen in Europe before. The Austrians did not know what to make of these beans until Turkish prisoners told them that the beans could be cooked to make what the Turks called khafir.

Khafir is the Arabic word for unbeliever or infidel. The Arabs first found coffee among the Zulus of southeast Africa with whom they traded. They called the people Zulu Khafirs and hence the word coffee, which passed into the Turkish language first and from there into all other European languages. Remember that Turkish is an Indo-European language and is in no way related to Arabic, which is a Semitic language related to Hebrew.

Recently the Pope, Benedict XVI, worried publicly about the possible entrance of Turkey into the European Union. His worry stems from the fact that there are now millions of Muslims in Europe. In France alone, Muslims constitute 10% of the population. Italy is not far behind in accommodating a large number of Moslems. So large is Europe's Muslim population that it is today the second-largest religion in that continent even while Christianity is shrinking every year. The Pope, formerly a professor of history, is undoubtedly acquainted with the events of 1683. At that time Europeans believed that the Moslem threat had been defeated once and for all. As the recent events in London have demonstrated, this is not the case because, as the philosopher George Santayana said: "All we ever learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."  

Shalom u'vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) & Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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