Thursday, April 21, 2016

How is This Blog Different from All Other Blogs?

The goal of this blog is to bring some freedom to the Pesach table.

Haggadah CoverDue to a personal issue (see below), I did not update my Haggada until today.

Unfortunately, as a consequence, the new Leader's Edition is showing on Amazon but not (as of this writing) available which means that 2nd-hand bots have boosted the used price to $2,510.99! That must be some Haggada!

If Amazon lists it within the next couple hours, it may be available with 1-day shipping. Otherwise, you can download the pdf for free and print it yourself by making a small donation here:

Or get the full 2016 Pesach Kit (includes Haggadas, activities and more) here:

What's new this year?

1. Fixed typos
2. Added some more suggestions of how to keep the Seder moving (including places to skip if necessary)
3. Added some food-for-discussion during the meal ("Shulchan Orech").

What's old? The popular tips-and-tricks section; the rich midrashic glosses on the story, the suggested questions to throw out at various junctures.

And the cover, as you can see above.

My blog silence for two weeks was due to the ongoing saga of my Dissertation, which you've probably tired of hearing about by now.

Yesterday was the big day - the long-awaited "Defense". That means when a panel of scholars grills you about your research, your methods and your conclusions.

It ain't over until that final copy is submitted and signed (mid-May), but there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. So no champagne just yet.

If you are looking for some additional Pesach inspiration for your table, you may consider printing and sharing this story:

Former prisoner of Zion Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich recently retold the Seder he made his last year in a Soviet gulag prison, where he was kept in a closed cell for three years for the "crime" of having observed the Shabbat.
  In jail he told his cell mate Hillel that they should hold a Passover seder, but due to the dangers and difficulties Hillel was skeptical, leaving the rabbi alone to try and scrounge the required foods for the festive feast.

He had a small postcard with a picture of a seder plate from the Israel Museum that he had received from Israel, which was not confiscated because it had nothing written on it. Thanks to the picture of the seder plate he had the entire order of the seder written down to remind him what he needed.

Rabbi Mendelevich then detailed how each ingredient he needed miraculously came within his reach. It started when a flu began spreading around the prison, and the jail's administration gave each prisoner an onion for their health. He put it in water to get green sprouts he could use for maror.

Next up was matzah, and fortunately he was allowed to receive two pounds of bread. His sisters agreed to send him matzah from Israel, but they arrived broken into small pieces because the guards thought they contained a secret message.

His father had sent him raisins, and the rabbi collected the sugar doled out to the prisoners which he then put in a jar together with the raisins and water, hiding the jar by a hot water pipe under his bed in hopes it would ferment and become wine.

Then he had another stroke of good fortune, finding herbs growing from under the asphalt of the exercise yard. He took the small herbs breaking through the hard asphalt to be a symbol of freedom, and gathered them for his karpas.

He did not have a chicken for the seder shankbone, but he did have chicken soup flavoring cubes sent to him by people from Kibbutz Yavne in Israel.

Finally to wrap up his preparations he asked the guards for a copy of the Pravda Communist propaganda paper, which he used to craft a seder plate.

As Passover arrived he approached Hillel and surprised him with the ingredients he had assembled. They found that the grapes had turned to wine, and Hillel had his first real seder according to Halakha (Jewish law).

Then another miracle occurred - the next morning Hillel was taken from their cell. Rabbi Mendelevich thought he was transferred to another jail, until Natan Sharansky - who currently serves as executive chairman for the Jewish Agency - told him he was released the same day together with his other friends, and was already in Israel.

In Israel Hillel told the rabbi's sisters about the seder, and they were relieved to learn that even in prison their brother succeeding in being a free man. "It depends on you and not on the conditions," concluded the rabbi.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
and a Happy and Holy Pesach

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Friday, April 01, 2016

No foolin'?

The goal of this blog is to bring some food consciousness to the Shabbat table.

Kosher for the CluelessI can still recall the day my grandfather ("Pop") explained kashrut to me.

We were sitting in his office.

He had the corner office at the Firm. He was senior partner.

Pop puffed his pipe. He leaned slightly forward in his roomy black leather chair. It was the biggest chair I had ever seen and once in a while he let me sit in it, briefly.

At such moments, he always smiled and his eye twinkled. It pleased him to share his wisdom with me.

"Years ago," he began (nowadays people say, "in the olden days," but for Pop, it was always, "years ago..."), "Jewish people didn't eat pork because it was susceptible to trichinosis. It was for health reasons. Nowadays, we don't have that concern, which is why we don't need to worry about the dietary laws anymore."

I wonder if Pop ever considered the fact that Romans and Chinese and many other nations "years ago" ate a lot of pork. Were they suffering epidemic raters of trichinosis? If so, kashrut must have given the Jews a remarkable advantage. How were the Jews able to keep the secret for so long?

And what about all the other non-kosher animals? What about the slaughtering rules? What about the blood issue? What about the milk and meat business? What about orlah and shevi'it? What about the fins and scales business? What about the Forbidden Fruit?

Years later when I started to keep kosher, I visited my grandparents and made all kinds of trouble with my diet.

With that same smile, and that twinkle, Pop said to me, "Haven't you ever heard of the expression, 'When in Rome'?"

"Sure," I said, "But look what happened to them - they're gone and we're still around!"

He chuckled.

And all the kidding stopped when a great-grandson named Seinfeld was born.

Question for your table: What do you think is the purpose or meaning of kashrut?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here's a link to the above book.

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