Monthly Archives: March 2010

What About Corn?

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

It started with a simple tweet. Little did I know that I would be spending my morning figuring out the details of a law on kashrut.
Yesterday, I went onto MJL’s Twitter account to tweet a cool fact about the permissability of eating quinoa on Passover: Because it is a new world crop, quinoa did not make the kitniyot list because medieval Ashkenazi rabbis didn’t know it existed.

Simple. Direct. I didn’t think much more of it. But then we quickly got a response that stumped me. If quinoa is acceptable on Passover, what about other new world crops? If medieval rabbis didn’t know about corn, why can’t we eat it on Passover?

I made a few phone calls, and even stumped some learned rabbis. Finally, I got in contact with Rabbi Yaakov Luban of the Kashrut department at the Orthodox Union. He led me to an article he wrote about kitniyot that discusses new world crops, including potatoes, peanuts, corn, and yes, quinoa. He writes:

One possible distinction is that corn exhibits many characteristics of kitniyot (it is threshed, winnowed and milled and used in bread, and it often grows near other grains)…The ambiguity about the distinction between peanuts and corn is responsible for the controversial status of quinoa. Another New World grain, quinoa has been a source of much halachic debate. Though quinoa was the staple grain of the Incas, it was almost eradicated by the European conquerors and was all but forgotten until it was reintroduced to the world in the 1970s. Clearly no minhag existed about quinoa. 

So there you go. Now, I can’t eat corn bread. Feel free to ask any of your questions any time over Twitter. Now you know that we actually try to answer them.

Posted on March 25, 2010

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Little Lush

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Yesterday, we announced the winner of our Best Seder Ever contest. Here’s another of our favorite entries.

sederI wasn’t kidding when I said there were more than a few stories about underage drinking. No, I’m not going to post the names of everyone who submitted stories about their 4-year-olds sneaking a bottle of candy-flavored wine and getting toasted — what, you want that the police should crash every seder in town?! Instead, I’m just going to share this one with you.

Far and away, this was a favorite among all the MJL staff. It’s a shorty, but it’s a sweetie. Thanks to Art Siegal of Seattle, WA, for sharing this fond memory…and let’s take it as a morality lesson for the rest of us.

When I was 8 years old living in a small town in New Mexico the three Jewish families in town held a joint Seder.

I was encouraged to drink the four cups. Even though they were small I got drunk, sick and vomited. I was miserable.

Alcohol has not passed my lips since, and I am now 91.

Come back to hear more Best Seders Ever for the rest of this week, only on MyJewishLearning.

Posted on March 25, 2010

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Dairy Seder

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

After the fullness and bloated-ness of eating an entire piece of matzah in one sitting, the way we do during the Passover seder, and then a huge meal, you’d think that a cool, soothing bowl of ice cream would go over pretty well. Well, not if you’re having a meat meal and you keep kosher!

No surprise, the New York Times — which I’ve stopped thinking of as a newspaper and stared conceiving of as a really good blog — has an article about it. Plenty of good lines about Jews and assimilation, but not much in the way of answering the pertinent question: What do you do at a dairy seder, anyway?

Last year, we ran an article on being vegetarian and healthy on Passover. My wife emailed Rav Shalom, who runs our old yeshiva, Simchat Shlomo in Jerusalem. He’s an old-school Montreal carnivore, but his wife is a macrobiotic
cook and a vegetarian. They know a thing or two about this problem — they’ve been dealing with it for decades. Here’s what they said (Itta’s questions in bold; Rav Shalom’s answers in roman):

As I’ve never done a dairy Pesach, I wonder, what do you do about the zeroah {a shankbone from an animal} that goes on the seder plate? I asked a rabbi here and he said just separate it from the meal by putting it on two pieces of foil and it’s fine.

That’s what I do. But I keep it slightly wrapped and just ever-so-slightly visible, lest some carnivore will lose all sense of self control and attack it in the middle of the orderly ‘seder.’ {That’d be one of Rav Shalom’s puns; “seder” is the Hebrew word for “order.”}

Matthue uses beets anyway, but I was just curious to know what other vegetarian households do.

“Beets” me why he does that. Does it have something to do with ‘beeting’ the Egyptians and with the maka {plague} of blood?

It’s become semi-common practice among vegetarians to use a beet in place of the animal-bone, because beets bleed. It’s kind of more complicated than anyone thought, although MJL’s article on vegetarian shankbones does a bunch to clear it up.

Posted on March 25, 2010

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Make Kwanzaa Cake for Passover–If You Dare

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

I don’t watch a lot of Food Network. I like cooking, but I really don’t watch much TV anymore, and when I do, I want to see people fighting and then making out, not stirring things. The point is, I don’t really watch the Food Network, but I once saw about 15 minutes of Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee and it pretty much made me lose all hope in humanity. She was all, “Buy a cake! Spread insane amounts of icing on it! Your kids will love it!” I’m sorry, but do we need a show to tell us that? No, we don’t.

Anyway, today I was reading this article about this guy who made a meal of all Sandra Lee recipes and it was so gross. And he mentioned that Lee is famous for making a Kwanzaa cake that Anthony Bourdain called “a war crime on television.” So then I had to watch that video, and really, it is appalling taken to a degree I didn’t even know existed.

And after watching that I wondered if maybe Sandra had any Passover recipes because wouldn’t that be hilarious? And also, it would kind of point out exactly what’s wrong with the way people cook for Passover, right? But sadly, though the Food Network has 76 articles about Passover (including one called Creole Farfel Kugel) none of them are courtesy of our girl Sandra. Bummer.

But then I realized: The Kwanzaa cake is made with angel food cake, which is already Kosher for Passover. The other ingredients are: icing, cinnamon, cocoa, apple pie filling, and nuts. All of that stuff is fine to eat on Pesach! You could make this cake and serve it at your seder, but–and this is very much not in the spirit of Sandra Lee–you would probably have to make the cake from scratch, and the icing, and probably even the apple pie filling, too. Instead of semi-homemade, it would be actually homemade. Which might make it good. You should try it and find out! And if you do, please take pictures and send them to me.

PS- Oh Holy God I just found Sandra’s Star of David Angel Food Cake. It involves pearls.

Posted on March 25, 2010

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Jewsteria Lane

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Nora Rubel is the author of the recently-published Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination. In her first post, she wrote about kosher and ethical food. Ms. Rubel will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

jewish authors blogI just published my first book, Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination, a book which deals with contemporary tensions among American Jewry. While I was working on it, my family moved to a beautiful neighborhood in Western New York. Our house was chosen primarily for its 1930s Arts and Crafts style and charm. Sidewalks and vintage street lamps lined the street, which was in a great location.

Little did I know that I was about to move into what is essentially a microcosm of American Jewry, as well as into the pages of my book. We knew that the area was a relatively Jewish one, but I think we were unprepared for quite how Jewish it was. Located within an eruv, our neighborhood is where our town’s haredi Jews live. Our particular block is made up of a mix of wig-wearing and black hat Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, and hard-core Reform and interfaith families. I know there are local Conservative Jews, but they don’t live here.

Within a short time of moving in, we became aware of the street’s character — joking that the street was so safe for the kids on Saturday because hardly anyone drove. We were soon approached by a neighbor who confided that he was relieved when he discovered that we weren’t Orthodox (too many of them already). My first impression of the street was thus one of sharp divisions, proving my book’s argument.

However, over time, I began to romanticize the pluralistic nature of my street—thinking perhaps I had overstated the original hostility I had picked up on. Many of the religious women in the neighborhood were nothing but nice doubting the devout nora rubelto me (in spite of my nose ring and non-Jewish husband) and when the weather was nice, outdoor socializing between the various strands of the tribe was not uncommon. But as I began to become closer with these neighbors — and I started to think of many of them as friends — I learned that there are even deeper divisions beneath the Midwestern pleasantries that exist here. One woman’s skirt is too short, another’s house is not kosher enough. As an academic, I frequently critique the need for categories, yet recognize that this is still how we see the world. And the contemporary Jewish world is one framed by sharp—yet complex—categories.

There’s a house for sale on my street again, and I feel my neighbors’ eyes upon it — waiting to see who will move in (and what sort of hat the new neighbor will sport).

Nora Rubel is the author of the recently published Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination. She will be blogging here all week.

Posted on March 25, 2010

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You Can’t Say That in Shul

This entry was posted in Culture, Texts on by .

Did you know that there are swear words in the Bible? True story! In Parashat Ki Tavo when God is warning the people about what will befall them he uses a word that’s considered so foul we’re not allowed to say it out loud. The person reading the aliyah is supposed to read it as a completely different word, which is slightly less foul. You can look this up (Deut 28:27, Samuel I 5:6, 9, 12) if you’re in the mood for something yucky. I looked up the real word, and apparently it means tumors in the anus or vulva. In contrast, the word we say instead is often translated as hemorrhoids, or in the words of the Brown Driver Briggs “straining at stool.” Definitely yuck.
BidenFbomb_20100323123241_640_480.JPG
I bring this up in reference to Vice President Joe Biden’s use of the F word yesterday, and the scrambling of various news sources to report on it without using the word itself. Here’s a roundup courtesy of Wait Wait Don’t Blog Me:

The New York Times: “Mr. President, this is a big … deal,” [Biden] said, adding an adjective between big and deal, that begins with ‘f.’
FOX News: “This is a big f—ing deal,” he informed the president, without shorthanding the adjective in the sentence.
The Los Angeles Times: Headline: Vice President Joe Biden embraces health care bill signing with profane term
Newsday “This is a — big deal,” he apparently told Obama while shaking his hand. And where you see — in the quote above, imagine a word that starts with the letter F.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution: Biden then embraced the president and said in his ear — loud enough for the mikes to pick up — “This is a big [expletive] deal.” And he didn’t say Fargo.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just pick like a code word? People use fudge pretty frequently, right? Or how about something really off-the-wall, like penguin, or sassafrass. “This is a big sassafrass deal.” It works, right? Or they could just go with the Jewish model, and take a similar but less gross idea. “This is a big heavy petting deal” just doesn’t work as well, though.

Posted on March 24, 2010

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Harvest of Jews

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Birthright NEXT is the organization that follows up with ex-Birthright Israel participants to figure out how to incorporate their experience into their everyday lives — effectively, how to take a week of living Jewish and to help people figure out how to make their own lives more Jewish.

harvest to harvestOne of the ways they do this is hooking up Birthright NEXTers with volunteer programs — in particular, volunteer programs that deal with hunger. In a holiday where we’re celebrating freedom and plenitude, it’s important to remember that, at the same time we’re voluntarily abstaining from eating bread, many Americans and humans are doing the same thing, even though they don’t have a choice.

Birthright ran one program like this last autumn, during Sukkot, and they’re planning another one this Passover season. Jeremy Moses tells it how it is in the original blog post:

Harvest to Harvest, running between Sukkot and American Thanksgiving, does all the hard work for you. All you have to do is go to this website and enter your zip code, or country you live in if outside of the US. Their system generates a list of volunteer opportunities in your area that you can be matched up with. Then, if you create an account, the website will track your hours.

If you’ve got any interest at all in volunteering, visit the site and take a virtual tour. Anyone, not just Birthright alums, can use the site.

Posted on March 24, 2010

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Preparing for Passover: Choose a Haggadah Supplement

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Maybe you, like me, hate the seders. Fair enough. But if you do (and even if you don’t) there is a way to make them (possibly) less painful. If you have a particular pet cause that’s at all connected to the Jewish community, and especially if it’s connected to social justice in some way, chances are there’s a haggadah supplement that you can easily print out and add to your seder to make it more relevant and interesting. Here’s a little roundup of supplements (all free) that I found:Passover091.jpg

The American Jewish World Service offers a variety of resources to help you share your commitment to social justice at your seder. They include a great bunch of readings for families and children, as well as a seder reading, a Passover sourcebook, and the four questions of social justice. Download any or all of these here.

J Street works out how the Passover narrative will resonate with our global struggle to define what Israel will be in the 21st century in its seder handout and leaders guide, both available for free here.

University of Pennsylvania Hillel has put together a seder supplement through a group called Moral Voices. The supplement focuses on human trafficking, a widespread problem locally, nationally, and globally, and an issue that we might naturally consider on a day when we’re celebrating freedom. Download the supplement here.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor of Tikkun, wrote a wonderful and thorough Passover supplement for the Huffington Post. The supplement is a year old, but still relevant, and very well done. Check it out. Read and print it here.

Tikkun also put out a supplement for this year, which is less hopeful than last year’s but excellent nonetheless. Get it here.

Rabbis for Human Rights provides a number of different resources to help you lead discussions about human rights in Israel and around the world at your seder table. They have a nice interfaith perspectives supplement, and one that specifically addresses Gaza. Download them here.

Jewish Funds for Justice created a supplement focused on issues surrounding immigration. It’s very good, and smoothly connects the themes of being a stranger in a strange land with the exodus. Get it here.

Want to make your seder more eco-conscious? Try this supplement by artist and illustrator Mat Tonti.

Do you just really want to skip the seder altogether and do a Passover pageant a la that awesome episode of Sports Night? You do? Well, try the free Shpieling Haggadah. Download it, print a copy for everyone, and hand out parts when people arrive. I call dibs on not being Rabban Gamliel.

Posted on March 24, 2010

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Terrible Israeli T-Shirts Exposed

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Walking around New York, it’s very easy to point out the tourists on the street. They walk slowly, closely guard their pockets and are wearing their “I Heart New York” shirts. Of course, the shirt thing is not a phenomenon exclusive to New York. I’m sure if you went to Los Angeles, you’d see plenty of “I Heart Botox” t-shirts.

But perhaps the worst offender of the terrible tourist shirt is Israel. This was a well kept secret among the Jews that we buy terribly cliche shirts while visiting the Old City. But Dan Hopper of Best Week Ever has ruined it for all of us.

On a recent trip to Israel, Hopper took pictures of the worst t-shirts he found. I’m embarrassed that I’ve considered buying some of these in the past. Check out what he found.

I’m also kinda sad that I haven’t been in Israel since MJ died, meaning I haven’t been able to buy this awesome shirt.

michael jackson israel

Posted on March 24, 2010

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy