Shabbat & Passover Newsletter April 29 & 30, 2016

Posted May 4th, 2016 by Or Shalom London with No Comments
Shabbat & Passover Newsletter April 29 & 30, 2016

Passover Day 7

Posted May 2nd, 2016 by Or Shalom London with No Comments
Passover Day 7

April 29, 2016 ▪ London, Ontario

Chag sameach.  In December, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which makes halachic decisions for the Conservative Movement, approved a teshuvah allowing Jews of Ashkenazi descent to eat kitniyot on Passover.  It’s been a big topic of conversation around the shul the past week or two.  Who knew that rice and legumes could be such a window into important aspects of our Jewish lives?

One factor, I think, has been significant in determining whether to adopt this practice in our own kitchens.  It depends on how much we need our Judaism to be rational.

There’s certainly plenty of evidence that the Ashkenazi custom of eschewing rice, beans, corn, and especially peas and green beans is far from rational.  The Torah prohibits eating leaven on Passover; the Mishnah specifies that the term refers to products made from wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt that have had time to rise.  As you may have noticed, nothing in these texts should raise your suspicions about peanuts.  Yet, many Ashkenazi Jews have regarded peanuts as prohibited on Passover.

In his teshuvah on kitniyot, Rabbi David Golinkin examines the origin of the Ashkenazi custom of avoiding kitniyot on Passover.  Few of them would appeal to the rational-minded among us.

For instance, one of the earliest explanations is from Rabbi Asher of Lunel, who lived in the early 13th-century.  He points out that the word for hummus is either hiftzei or himtzei.  If the latter, himtzei, well then, that word sounds like chametz, so we shouldn’t eat hummus on Passover.  It’s an explanation that would make any sane etymologist cringe.

Another great one is recorded by Rabbeinu Peretz, a 13th-century French rabbi.  He notes that kitniyot are cooked in a pot, and dishes from grains are also cooked in a pot.  If we can eat one dish cooked in a pot, namely kitniyot, we might become confused and think we can eat any dish cooked in a pot, including ones made from grains.

It’s really hard to imagine anyone actually making this mistake.

For people who want logic in their Judaism, the recent CJLS teshuvah allowing Ashkenazi Jews to eat kitniyot on Passover is very appealing.  Kitniyot are not leaven.  The historical justifications for the prohibition against kitniyot on Passover are nonsense.  It is not logical to avoid eating kitniyot on Passover.

That said, I haven’t eaten kitniyot this Passover, and there’s a good chance that I won’t next year either.  It doesn’t much bother me that the rule against kitniyot isn’t rational.  I don’t expect Judaism to be rational.

Rather, Judaism is a system of halacha.  We usually translate halacha as “Jewish law,” but it comes from the root “to walk.”  Judaism provides a way “to walk” through life.

And life is often not rational.  People lose livelihoods for reasons over which they have no control and could not have predicted.  People get sick.  Love fades.  Accidents happen.  Bad leaders are elected to office.  Natural disasters strike close to home.  I expect Judaism to guide us through these losses.

Sometimes this process is aided by rationality, but sometimes it is not – because life is often not rational.  In a few moments, many of you will recite Yizkor.  You will ask God to remember someone you love who has died.  A world of irrationality is contained in Yizkor.

To begin, what on earth (or in heaven) could it mean to ask God to remember?  Surely, God does not forget.  Moreover, God is timeless.  This person you love is not in God’s past, so what would remembering mean?

On a less cerebral level, you will recite Yizkor because you lost someone you love.  Where is the rationality in that loss?

Perhaps you lost a spouse who you still can’t believe – every morning when you wake up – isn’t there next to you.  Maybe you lost a parent, someone who loved you completely, who softened every blow the world threw at you, who rejoiced at your every success.  Or maybe you lost a parent who threw some blows at you too or who was emotionally distant or just plain mean.  Maybe you lost a child you only got to love for a few years, for whom you never got to see what kind of adult he would become.

Where is the rationality in that?  There is none.  At the level of love, pain, regret, longing – any of the intense emotions – the loss that leads to Yizkor makes no sense.

Judaism doesn’t try to make it make sense.  Rather, it gives you four times a year to feel these emotions within the supportive environment of your congregation.  Sometimes, reciting Yizkor helps, but sometimes it doesn’t, and it isn’t really predictable from year-to-year or person-to-person whether reciting Yizkor will help.  Loss is not logical, and all Judaism can do is try to comfort you in it, and sometimes that is not logical either.

Through the lens of Yizkor, kitniyot, really are, as their name implies, “small things.”  But their illogic helps us recognize the illogic of the life that Judaism is here to help us walk through.  Sometimes the journey will be no more rational than not eating kitniyot on Passover.  In neither situation, does Judaism necessarily try to make sense, and that’s ok.  Rather, Judaism tries only to provide a path, and that, I hope, will be enough.

Passover Day 7 Devar 5776

Sisterhood Shabbat May 7

Posted May 2nd, 2016 by Or Shalom London with No Comments

sister shabbat may 7