Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Passover food.

This will be the first time since 1975 (when I wasn't Jewish and didn't care) that I'll be mostly alone for the eight days of Passover. Melina will be celebrating in New York and Zed will be eating whatever those crazy Jewish hippies in Middletown cook up.

UPDATE: Melina just informed me she's going up to Middletown to eat with the crazy Jewish hippies, too. Remember, these are the people who thought it was a good idea to toss ten pounds of raw potatoes into a wok with some pre-cooked eggplant slices ...

I have a nice invitation for seder tonight, but after that ... without somebody to complain to, seems a lot less fun to eat Passover food ... guess it will also be the first year in a long time I won't be making our delicious charoset recipe (one of the best foods ever created) or home-made matzoh...

ANYWAY ... I'm sure anybody who's interested has already seen this, but it reminded me of the amusing arguments I had with my ex-father-in-law and others about Passover food. Coming to Judaism as an adult I had two kinds of objections:

  • Why are people expending so much time and effort to make incredibly fancy foods - without grains or leavening - when the point of Passover was that the food was made quickly so we could get out of town? Were they carrying nusstortes out into the desert? Even though we all have a sweet tooth, I can't see the wives taking the time to make this stuff before running out of the house...

  • Why are the rules so arbitrary? I thought, for instance, that puffed wheat - "shot from guns" - and popcorn should be ok - no moisture touches them at all. Why aren't chappati and tortillas ok, they're flat and unleavened? And if rice was ok for the Sephardim, why wasn't it ok for the Ashkenazim? I didn't see two different sets of rules in the torah...

Extracts from
It's Passover, Lighten Up
By Joan Nathan for the New York Times, April 5, 2006

The biblical prohibition against leavened bread at Passover — which begins on Wednesday night — has kept observant Jews from using any leavening at all. Cakes and cookies of matzo meal (ground matzo), matzo cake meal (which is more finely ground) and nuts can be tasty, but dense.

So it will surprise many Jews — it certainly surprised me — that among the profusion of products that most Orthodox certification agencies have approved for Passover are not just baking soda, but also baking powder. ... Rabbi Soloveichik said: "They're just minerals. What do we care about minerals?"

Some rabbis are lifting other dietary prohibitions that they say were based on misunderstandings or overly cautious interpretations of biblical sanctions, and because they want to simplify the observance.

"The holiday has become overly complicated, and people are turning away from the rigorous practice of it," said Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg, the senior rabbi at conservative Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

Last year, Rabbi Wohlberg said it was permissible for his congregants to eat legumes ... They are ... increasingly accepted by many Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, particularly in Israel.

"I have also talked to a lot of young mothers over the years whose children, for example, are lactose intolerant and want to use soy milk," Rabbi Wohlberg said. "But soy is a bean and hasn't been permissible."

The restrictions have their roots in the Book of Exodus, which tells of how the Israelites fled Egypt in such haste that they could not let their bread rise and become "chometz" in Hebrew. Only unleavened bread, matzo, is eaten during the eight days of Passover, in memory of the Israelites' hardships and in celebration of their escape from slavery.

Jews avoid flour or grains, for fear that they might become leavened even without the addition of yeast. (Matzo meal, since it's already been baked, is less likely to rise and become leavened.)

Matzo, a simple mixture of flour and water, must be made in less than 18 minutes to avoid the possibility that the dough could ferment and then rise before being baked. "The Talmud says that it should take no longer to make matzo than the time to walk a Roman mile, which later generations understood to be 18 minutes," said Dr. David Kraemer, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

At Passover, some ultra-Orthodox Jews will not eat matzo that has become wet, including matzo balls. Instead of matzo meal, or the fine matzo cake meal, they use potato starch in cakes and other dishes.

But rabbis in even some of the most Orthodox associations say chometz does not refer to all leavening.

While kosher for Passover baking soda and baking powder can be hard to find in supermarkets, they have been available in Orthodox neighborhoods for years. Erba Food Products, of Brooklyn, made kosher for Passover baking powder in the late 1960's.

The ban on legumes is connected to the ban on leavening. Jews in medieval Europe began to keep beans and lentils, as well as grains, from the Passover table because until modern times they were often ground into flour. The use of rice and corn were later restricted, too, by some Jews. But Sephardic Jews of the Middle East continued to eat them at Passover.

At the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort and Country Club in Puerto Rico, Robin Mortkowitz, a therapist in Fairlawn, N.J., who became Orthodox when she married, was swept away by new foods like sushi made from quinoa, the sesame-seed-sized kernel cultivated in the Andes that many certifying agencies have ruled is not a forbidden grain.

"With people becoming more sophisticated, we have to step up the food program," said Sol Kirschenbaum, an owner of Levana restaurant in New York, which arranged the food at the Hyatt. "It's wild mushrooms and grilled rack of lamb, but I still need to have chicken soup and gefilte fish for the 60- to 90-year-olds."

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At 6:33 AM, Blogger Tamar said...

Happy Passover! I, too, am alone ... that is, without my son. I celebrate with the memories of spring flowers and sunshine of Israel days.

I love the two kinds of objections! Especially this one:
"Why are people expending so much time and effort to make incredibly fancy foods - without grains or leavening - when the point of Passover was that the food was made quickly so we could get out of town? Were they carrying nusstortes out into the desert? Even though we all have a sweet tooth, I can't see the wives taking the time to make this stuff before running out of the house..."

Put a huge smile on my face.
Thanks! and Happy Days!

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not Jewish, so much of this is lost on me, but Slate has a 'Two Minute Haggadah':


At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


also you should really know that the Jews are a TOTALLY different community than the flaky hippies! two different groups. The Bayit people make a delicious, complete, wonderful dinner every shabbat and finish it on time every time with no disasters. anyway, students aren't even making the dinner

watch out with those assumptions. . .

and you broke my heart with the charoset. seriously. I don't know what I'm going to do.

-your son

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi i'm doing hw about judism and the writing over took me! wow! thank u 4 helping me


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