Photo by jbcurio/Flickr CC
The bottom line with Jewish rye bread is how it tastes. And it shouldn't taste like white bread or white bread with caraway seeds. Rye bread should taste like rye. A touch of sour, though nowhere near that of say, San Francisco sourdough or even the German rye breads.
Rye has a deep flavor, a flavor of the earth, a flavor full of character, a flat feel on the back of your tongue that gradually fills your whole mouth. And it should be chewy. Both crust and crumb should work your jaws. On a perfect day the crust should crackle. Other days it's just gonna help keep your jaws in shape.
If a baguette is the high note of bread, then rye bread is the bass. Steady, delicious, never wavering, it's rooted in the soil of northern Europe. Its sturdy texture and lightly sour flavor provide the perfect pairing for a thick schmear of cream cheese or sweet butter. Good rye has guts. And it's really, really good.
Based on everything I've learned here's what actually goes into a good Jewish rye bread:
#1 A Good Rye Sour Starter The old-style, Jewish rye starter is made by taking the previous day's fully baked rye bread--what our bread mentor Michael London and the bakers of the era in which he grew up used to straightforwardly call "old."