Thursday, March 31, 2011

And Another Thing....

When we still lived in New York, I had a chat with my cantor on this whole issue of kitniyot. His response to me was that he never puts himself in a situation wherein he might have to eat kitniyot.

This is the wrong answer.

At Pesach, we celebrate perhaps the most seminal moment in Jewish history. We, as a nation, left slavery. We did it together. We should never set this particular time aside as a period not to eat with other Jews when those other Jews keep an otherwise normative (and tasty!) kashrut custom.

All I am saying is give peas a chance.

On another note, I was teaching my weekly class this morning. In the weeks prior to Pesach, we go through some different haggadot. The last time I counted (two years ago), Jennifer and I had over 90. Two of them got some extra discussion today.

The first is called the Rylands Haggadah. It is a 14th century illuminated manuscript from Catalonia. The commentary is wonderful. It has in it 80+ piyutim with some connection to Pesach. The most striking to me is the one that talks about being locked in their homes. Apparently, the local authorities in Spain did not allow the Jews out of their homes during Holy Week (the week prior to Easter). Also, in Catalonia, it was the custom to dip the karpas in the haroset instead of in salt water.

The second Haggadah is called "Pessach Haggadah 1729." It is an illuminated Ashkenazi text. Two things struck me. The first was a rather graphic, R-rated picture as part of the illumination. Jesse believes that this is entirely about marketing. The second thing that struck me is a pet peeve. In this context though, it is fascinating. This text is entirely in Hebrew. The Hebrew of the Haggadah is relatively simple Hebrew. Anyway, this Hebrew text is replete with vocalization errors. Every page has multiple mistakes. Rather than react with my usual derision on issues of grammar, I am perplexed and fascinated. The only conclusion I can draw is that the artist copied the text from another Haggadah that lacked all of the vowels. Then, he filled in the vowels on his own. Please note that for anyone who has done even a superficial study of Hebrew grammar, the errors were obvious. Jesse picked it apart with little trouble.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tyranny of the Rabbinate

So I am sitting here with a friend mentally preparing for Pesach. Are we talking about the haggadah? Are we talking about the process of kashering a kitchen? No. We are talking about quinoa.

And why are we talking about quinoa? Are we talking about what a wonderful source of nutrition it is? No. Are we talking about how well it would complement a seder meal? No. We are talking about a rabbinate that has raised ignorance to the level of piety. In so doing, it has taken a food that was permitted five years ago and rendered it forbidden. I think I missed that class when I was in Seminary.

It is simply impossible for a food to be added to the list of kitniyot when no one knew of its existence until 20 years ago. None other than the Igrot Moshe states this clearly. That, apparently, is not good enough for our local va'ad (unnamed, but you all know where I live).

As long as I am on this diatribe, you should know that we can get a wonderful kosher for Pesach dijon mustard up here in Toronto. I send it to several friends in the US. I just checked on a brand of natural peanut butter. The friend with whom I am sitting is so incensed with this ignorant piety that her family has gone off the deep end. Her children will nosh on popcorn during the seder. We will also get hummous and tehina to go on our matza. A lovely lentil dahl is also wonderful, healthy, and a welcome change from the other foods we eat year to year.

You have an obligation to enjoy your food at Pesach. In my mind, that obligation trumps the silliness of a minhag that really should go away, and certainly should not be extended. Moreover, the Talmud tells us that we will be called to account for every legitimate pleasure we ever deny ourselves. I will not deny myself legitimate pleasures, particularly at the holidays. I will never answer a kashrut question that denies you such pleasures.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ring of Fire

Good evening all.

Just for the record, I am home. I am not in Japan.

That being said, the goings-on there have cause little more than high waves where I was, roughly 1600 kilometres to the south. The Navy has not asked me to go back to assist in disaster relief.

The Japanese people are resilient and stoic. They will weather this nightmare. I have no doubt.

In the meantime, I urge all of my faithful readers to donate something to support relief efforts.