Friday, April 7, 2006

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A slippery slope for the Passover diet?

The Passover holiday starts next week. As Jews -- and philo-Semites -- begin to think about the Seder, they should check out this Joan Nathan story in the New York Times from a few days ago. It's about how Orthodox rabbis are lightening up on baking for Passover:

When Emily Moore, a Seattle-based chef and instructor, was invited to consult on recipes for Streit's Matzo, she assumed that the baked goods would have their traditional heft, because no leavening can be used during Passover.

Not so, said Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, a member of a prominent rabbinic dynasty, who oversees the company's ritual observances. Let the cookies and cakes rise, he told her. Let there be baking soda and baking powder.

"He acted like I was crazy," Ms. Moore said.

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.

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.

This is all to the good... indeed, as someone who, after careful empirical research, has determined that everything tastes better with bacon, I can only hope that small steps like the easing of Passover restrictions lead to larger reforms in the Kosher dietary laws.

Mmmmm..... baking powder.....

posted by Dan on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM


"Often, man is what he doesn't eat."

Ernest Gellner

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

Matzo, the unleavened bread, should be dense, heavy and unpalatable. Its purpose is to remind us (in an effective way, through food) of the sacrifices and sufferings of our ancestors that left the steaming meat cauldrons of Egypt for freedom. Rabbi Soloveychik´s innovations are wrong. Tasty matzo is NOT kosher.

posted by: jaimito on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

While I don't think bacon is going to made kosher anytime soon (sorry Daniel, it may be tasty but it's still assur -- forbidden to Jews - although the Talmud, in my rough paraphrase, says that holier is the one who has tasted the forbidden but doesn't eat it because it's forbidden), after moving to Israel 2 years ago (where I have lots of really tasty and kosher restaurants available to me not only year round but also on Passover) and becoming more observant, it has become clear to me that so much ignorance has led to this whole notion that Judaism=suffering and kosher food isn't tasty (see, everyone who thinks kosher wine=Manishevitz instead of nice French, Israeli, California wines that are just as good [if not better] than non-kosher wines). I think they have it confused with other religions. In fact, halakha (Jewish law) mandates us to be joyous on Passover and other holidays and this can be done through tasty and kosher food -- without radical legal changes. Unfortunately, this seems to be a secret to many American Jews.

Anyways, Chag Kasher v'Sameach (A Joyous and Kosher Passover) to you and yours.

posted by: amechad on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

Jewish friend: "During passover, I stick to my normal diet with the additional passover restrictions."

Me: "So that will be a bacon cheeseburger on Matza?"

JF: "Yeup."

posted by: Nicholas Weaver on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

"be joyous on Passover and other holidays and this can be done through tasty and kosher food". It can, but it shouldn't, since matzo (unleavened bread), and matzo ball soup, and the maror (bitter herbs) need to be indigestible to symbolize the hardships of the Exodus. Otherwise, we would only remember the seductions of slavery, the meat and onion dishes of Pharaonic cuisine.

posted by: jaimito on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

Apikorsus has a good blog post about this here

"In reality, none of these so-called leniencies are actually new. Jews who think that baking soda isn't kosher for Passover because it is "leavening" are simply mistaken. Only the "five grains" -- oats, wheat, barley, rye, and spelt -- can meet the halakhic definition of "leaven," or chametz. Baking powder typically contains corn starch, which is problematic for those who adhere to Ashkenazi custom, but the corn starch can be replaced with potato starch to make kosher for Passover baking powder. There is nothing wrong with the leavening per se.

Another supposedly new leniency is allowing legumes as well as grains such as rice and corn. According to the article, "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." This is not precisely true. Legumes were considered problematic because they were grown alongside wheat and rye so that the grains could benefit from their nitrogen-fixing properties. Corn and rice were later restricted because they could be ground into flour. Sephardic Jews never observed these restrictions. Instead, they carefully separated the legumes from their grain before Passover."

The Passover recipes accompanying the article include a Morrocan dish of Shad With Fava Beans, presumably to celebrate this "freer interpretation of the Passover pantry." Of course, since most New York Jews adhere to the stricter Ashkenazi practice, they won't be able to enjoy this dish during the upcoming holiday. For New York's Sephardim, on the other hand, eating fava beans on Passover is no novelty."
"Perhaps I'm being too picky. But it seems to me that American Jews have a tendency to make a big fuss over relatively unimporant matters while ignoring issues that are much more central to halakhah. This problem is exacerbated on Passover when many Jews assume a level of stringency to which they are not normally accustomed. Now, the New York Times and Joan Nathan are adding more confusion to the mix. Joan Nathan, at least, should really know better."

posted by: amechad on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

For New York's Sephardim, on the other hand, eating fava beans on Passover is no novelty.

It was Pesach, so I ate it with fava beans and a nice Manischevitz Concord Grape.

posted by: Mike Schilling on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

Tasty matzo is NOT kosher.

This ignores matzo's role as an excellent vehicle for the delivery of butter and salt.

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

"Joan Nathan, at least, should really know better."

When I was living in Austin some years back, Joan Nathan came to our Central Market for a celebrity cooking demonstration. It was on a Friday night.

She should have known better then, too.

posted by: Ron Gordon on 04.07.06 at 05:33 PM [permalink]

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