Tag Archives: Kashrut

Honey: The Sweetness of the High Holidays (Video)


Are you ready for the sweetness of the high holidays? Want to add a touch of sweetness to your holiday experience? We have previously discussed this during our look at how honey is traditionally used to symbolize the sweetness of this holidays season, we dip our challah in honey from Rosh haShanah through Sukkot.

In preparation for the New Year our friends have asked me to give a brief word about the High Holidays. I wanted to take on this material in a new video, to help us keep this season of celebration and reflection sweet from beginning to end.

Blended Honey: This generally means that it is mixed with Corn Syrup or Sugar. This label shows that an unspecified majority of this product is made of fake sugars.

Blended Honey: This generally means that it is mixed with Corn Syrup or Sugar. This label shows that an unspecified majority of this product is made of fake sugars.

In addition, I would also like to give everyone advice for selecting honey.

In the past couple decades we have been seeing an increase of fake honey flooding the market. Please be aware that in many countries the words “honey” and “syrup” are used interchangeably (example:  miel  and marmelada in Spanish), which is very ambiguous. However for our purposed in performing a mitzvah we want the real stuff.

For cost saving measures and to simplify the processing of table honey, many brands have gone to blending honey with high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar with food coloring. Others have been stripped of their natural, nutrient giving pollen. Even worse yet, in Israel there has even been many cases of fake honey syrup being sold to the public. Make sure to always buy only 100% pure and natural honey with an appropriate kosher certification, and always check the label’s listing of ingredients to make sure it’s not blended. Please see the following articles which give us some good insight into modern issues relating to honey production:

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Parshat Acharei Mot (5774)


Leviticus 16 – 18

What Cooking Teaches Us About Ritual Purity

Meat CholentHave you ever had to make a savory dish like a roast or cholent, and find yourself first searing the meat before you utilize it for your dish? Ever wonder why you do that? Chefs seem to encourage this practice for the same reason some halachic commentators suggest this, but with a different intent. This week we get a rabbinic cooking lesson.

Previously we have been dealing with issues of ritual purity, what makes something tahor (ritually pure) and what makes something tumah (ritually impure). Leviticus has given us some pretty complex rules about what makes animals and people ritually pure, but now it is going to define what makes food fit and appropriate (kasher/kosher). Now if you have been following the parshashiot for the past few weeks you remember that we already dealt with issues of what makes something kosher. We were given the means to identify which species of living creatures are appropriate. We are also given a stern warning regarding their blood. In Leviticus chapter 7 we read:

You shall not eat any blood

in any our your dwellings,

be it from a bird or an animal.

Any person (soul)

who eats blood

shall have his soul cut off

from among his people.”

וְכָלדָּם לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, |

בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, |

לָעוֹף, וְלַבְּהֵמָה. |

כָּלנֶפֶשׁ, |

אֲשֶׁרתֹּאכַל כָּלדָּם— |

וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, |

מֵעַמֶּיהָ.|

Leviticus 17:26-27

Not to over simplify, but in general anything that is permitted to be offered as a sacrifice is also appropriate for human consumption. However, there is one specific thing that we are told to be careful not to consume from them, like their blood. So paramount is this command that we will see it reiterated for us here in this parsha as well, with the entirety of chapter 17 being about the issue of the consumption of blood. This is point that is often missed by readers, who wonder why it brings this up now. One can wonder, why does it bring up eating blood during a section about sacrifices and why closely after the issues of ritual purity?

In the past few weeks we dealt with the issues of purity relating to animals, we learned which are ritually clean for eating and sacrifice. We also learned about the purity of the human animal, studying the different physical conditions and ailments which also cause ritual impurity. Of course one of the most common among them are issues of blood. When one is considered ritually impure and untouchable while a person is in a state of bleeding, be it from wound or even natural states such as nidah (females issues). For blood where to continuously flow from a person, they are unclean and anything that flow touches becomes unclean as well. Garments maybe be laundered, but in some cases other items must be burned as the impurity cannot be expunged.

But this is a general principle related to ritual purity, that when blood leaves its natural place in the body it becomes a source of impurity. It renders a person unable to worship in the temple cult of the Mishkan.

This is something that people seem to understand but not really grasp, especially walking into the book of Leviticus where the whole topic sees to revolve around ritual sacrifice, with the offering up of flesh (basar, meat) and blood. Depending on the offering the flesh is either entirely burned, or a portion is taken to be eaten; depending on the form of sacrifice and offering being performed. However, during sacrifice the blood is always dashed upon the altar and never eaten. (Leviticus 7:6)

In this week’s parsha we get a deeper look into the significance of blood, and along the way we are instructed in how to deal with blood. All of chapter 17, which makes up the fourth reading and half the fifth reading, is about how to deal with blood. The fourth aliyah tells us that anyone who bring a sacrifice are required to have to blood brought forward to the altar. To not do so is to be treated as though that man shed human blood, and he is therefore guilty of a capital crime. (Leviticus 7:4) The blood is to be burned up, being drowned out by the fragrance of the burning fat of the meat rising to the heavens.

The Torah makes it clear, anyone who does not bring a sacrifice to the door of the tent, thereby allowing the blood to be offered up, will find his soul cut-off from among their people. This is true for the Israelite as much as the ger, the convert or the resident stranger. (v.10)

Likewise we are also told almost exactly the same thing for people when it comes to the consumption of blood. As our text ultimately demands:

Therefore, I said to the children of Israel:

None of you shall eat blood,

and the stranger who sojourns among you

shall not eat blood.”

| Al-ken amarti livnei Yisra’el

| kol-nefesh mikem lo-tochal dam

| vehager hagar betochechem

| lo-yochal dam

Leviticus 17:12

This is they key verse for this week. And this is indeed the central mitzvah which observant Jews focus in on while reading this parasha. This is really what it all boils down to, we must not eat blood. No one among Israelite society is to consume blood, native and stranger alike.

The Torah makes it pretty clear in the verses leading up to here, that this is a paramount commandment. This is not something that we should take lightly. It also gives us one of the reasons why. As we read:

And any man of the House of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My attention upon the soul who eats the blood, and I will cut him off from among his people.

For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have therefore given it to you [to be placed] upon the altar, to atone for your souls. For it is the blood that atones for the soul.”

וְאִישׁ אִישׁ מִבֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִן הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם אֲשֶׁר יֹאכַל כָּל דָּם וְנָתַתִּי פָנַי בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֹכֶלֶת אֶת הַדָּם וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתָהּ מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּהּ:

כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְכַפֵּר עַל נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם כִּי הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר:

Leviticus 17:10-11

I state that this is one of the reasons, because our sages make note that this is not the only reason why are not allowed to eat blood. We do not abstain from eating blood merely because it is used in the temple rituals of atonement. There is nothing mystical about it. Instead there is something very natural, simply respecting that it is the blood which gives life to living flesh.

This is reiterated for us in summation found in text and in the chumash commentary for verse 14:

For [regarding] the soul of all flesh its blood is in its soul, and I said to the children of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the soul of any flesh is its blood all who eat it shall be cut off.”

כִּי נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר דָּמוֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא וָאֹמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל דַּם כָּל בָּשָׂר לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ כִּי נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר דָּמוֹ הִוא כָּל אֹכְלָיו יִכָּרֵת:

Leviticus 17:14

Rashi further simplifies for us, “Damo hu b’makom hanefesh, shehanefesh taluyah bo / The blood is the place of the living soul, because the soul is dependent upon it.”

The blood is something that is sacred, because life flows through it. But unlike many cults of the world, we do sanctify the consumption of it. Instead we hold it so sacred that we do not eat it in any fashion. Jewish law is very detailed in prescribing how we avoid the consumption of blood, this is a central component of kashrut.

But why should we deal with this topic now? Why discuss it here among these parashiot? How does this relate to the other forms of impurity?

Simply put, the issues of blood purity and consumption of blood are not at all dissimilar. They both rely on a certain concept. That once blood has left its natural place in the body it becomes corrupt and dies, and thus it causes tumah – it transmits defilement upon being touched. So too when consumed.

The fact is that blood is a natural part of slaughter, but it is not natural for us to consume it. This dead blood was understood to cause harm. Our Torah tells us what to do with the blood. The blood of animals is treated with respect. The lifeblood of the animal after slaughter is to be poured into the dirt and covered. This is the way it is described when we are learn the “rules of the hunt” concerning trapping wild birds, for example. (v.13)

Most of us understand what this means for the process of slaughtering and the handling of kosher meat, as we know it today. The animal is ritually slaughtered, the animal is drained of blood, the meat is salted and soaked. In fact today meat which is kasher is over-salted.

What do I mean by over-salted? As we know korbanot – the sacrificial offerings were always salted. However, today we salt the meat a longer period of time and with the soaking remove any pooling blood that might have been displaced in the meat. The coarse salt – commonly known as kosher salt because it is commonly used for this purpose – it aids on the removed of the surface blood by drawing it to the surface, to be washed away in the soaking. Thus we do not consume blood. This is the standard by which we hold today.

Traditionally, as with the ancients, they seem to take extra care when handling their meat. Though it was undoubtedly bled, washed and salted they also applied one other step. They actually kashered their meat with a very different step than the cold water washing of today, they insisted upon chalitat basar – the scalding of meat.

Though the process is not well understood, this principle of halacha is prescribed and detailed for us in the meticulous code of the Misheh Torah by the Rambam. There he instructs us how to kasher in this methodology:

“How is it done? Rinse the meat initially. Afterwards, salt it very well. Leave it in its salt for the length of time it takes to walk a ‘mil.’ Afterwards, rinse it very well until the water turns clear and then immediately throw it into boiling water, not warm. [This is done] in order that the water will ‘close it up’ so that the blood will not come out.”

אין הבשר יוצא מידי דמו אלא אם כן מולחו יפה יפה, ומדיחו יפה יפה. כיצד עושה: מדיח הבשר תחילה, ואחר כך מולחו יפה יפה, ומניחו במלחו כדי הילוך מיל; ואחר כך מדיחו יפה יפה, עד שייצאו המים זכים; ומשליכו מיד לתוך מים רותחין, אבל לא לפושריןכדי שיתלבן מיד, ולא ייצא דם.

Mishneh Torah, Ma’achalot Asurot 6 § 10

Instead of the meat being salted for an entire hour, as is our halacha and minhag today, we are told here that meat was traditionally salted for 18-minutes (the time it takes to walk a Roman mile). However, in order to remove the rest of the blood and to seal the meat the Rambam prescribes chalitah – blanching.

During the process of chalitat basar meat is throw into boiling water, not mere lukewarm water. It is scalded in boiling water, utilized for both removing blood into the water and also sealing any blood-like juices into meat. The meat is thus blanched until is appears white on the outside, and then it is kasher – it is fit for consumption. The water is then tossed and not consumed, as discussed earlier.

Not what purpose what does this method suggested by the Rambam have? It may not seem apparent to most of us, as we most often think in terms of just not eating meat with blood inside of it. But Jewish tradition, as suggested by the text of this parsha, it suggest to us that the historic practice was actually more skewed towards the avoidance eating blood on its own own. Abstaining from eating blood as a separate entity.

Let us think in terms of cooking meat in water as the Rambam describes. Say we were making a soup or a stew, and we threw meat into the water while it was still cold or lukewarm. The meat will noticeably drain what ever fluids inside of it into the water. What ever blood might appear to be in the meat, it will drain into the water and thus color it red with its presence. To eat this, this would also be a transgression of the Torah’s prohibition to not eat blood in the most literal sense.

By scalding the meat the pores and surface of the meat is sealed, allowing the juices to remain inside. The water used for the blanching is then tossed out and the meat can then be prepared in what ever method afterward without fear of consuming the blood of the animal which one eats.

Thus we avoid eating blood, as a separate entity itself.

Now today we don’t have to worry about this as much as in prior days, so we do not regularly take this extra step. As stated, the salting period is longer and removes what ever remaining amount of stagnant blood in a much more efficient fashion. In the next half-century years after the Rambam the method of chalitat basar would be abandoned by many as halacha moved beyond that to our current methods, which we hold to be more efficient. Even the Shulchan Aruch would eventually rule the blanching method to be insufficient. (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 73; Rema, Yoreh Deah 67)

That is not to say that there are not those who do hold by the laws of chalitat basar to this day. There are people who contest that this is not just some complex chumrah and that since it is found in the codes of the Rambam it is something that must be maintained. However one feels about the development of the halachic process since the 10th century, we must keep in mind we are not allowed to just negate our mesorah and roll back to this method. In defense of the common Judaism practice of today I most point out the Mishneh Torah is said to contain laws that are not just practical today, but also those which will be re-instituted in the age to come – in the days of Mashiach, during the future Messianic age.

Simply put, it doesn’t apply to us today. But it sure gives us a lot to think about. The length that our tradition goes to avoid the consumption of blood, and to respectfully return it back to sacredness of the earth.

So what of this scalding method? For good cooks this method does not come as much of a surprise. Indeed in order to protect the moisture and the flavor of meat, most chefs do a similar process on meats before making a dish such as a stew or a casserole. But instead of boiling the meat, most often people brown the outside of the meat in a pan. The browning is not just about adding the right texture and firmness, but it also an important step needed for sealing the outside in order to keep the natural juiciness inside the meat.

As we are coming into the holiday of Pesach, we are often consumed with the issues of kashrut. That this parsha is among the ones that make us consider what makes food kosher is timely for us, at a time of the year when we are obsessed with just that. Removing the chametz from the house, and quite often replacing items in our kitchens to meet the challenges. Reviewing the laws of kashrut is apropos to the Passover season for all religious Jews.

As we start this Passover week I find myself like many of you, physically and mentally stretched to the limit. In fact this year comes with a few more physical challenges which become amplified by the stress and strain of the holiday rush. Overwhelmed by the demands of this holiday season, and the extra complexities it sets upon keeping kosher.

But then I have my many friends who are not as observant or are new to Judaism, who look at all the effort that many of us put into the Passover holiday and they get discouraged. That all they can do is abstain from bread and the like.

Some get embarrassed that they aren’t able to keep as strictly kosher as they would like. So before we end this lesson I want us to remember that kashrut is not an all or nothing deal.

Some of us, just out of natural sensitivity know to abstain from things like eating blood or eating forbidden creatures. We all have a spark of this kosher soul inside of us, even if we don’t realize it yet. We have certain things that are to our merit, if we consider it.

Yes, we should all strive for kosher living. But we ought not feel defeated if we still fall short in certain areas.

In closing I would like leave us with some words paraphrased from the sichas of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory. I think this entry says it the best:

The Torah records the laws of forbidden reptiles and insects of the ground after the laws of forbidden animals, fish and birds, in order to hint that even those Jews who are on a low spiritual level, and do not observe the Dietary Laws, would still avoid eating snakes and insects and ‘would not defile themselves [by eating] creeping creatures like the other nations.’ (Rashi to Lev. 11:46)

Here we see, once again, that however low a Jew may stumble in the service to G-d, evidence can still be found of his unique Jewish character, and his inner desire to return to G-d.”

Based on Sichas Shabbos, Parshat Shemini 5743

Kol Menacham Chumash, Gutnik Edition, P. 697

Related articles:


Parshat Tzav (2013)


Leviticus 6 – 8

Passover Cleaning: Purity of Home and Character

Punk Rock Seder PlateDuring this Passover (Pesach) season we are all so busy with the tasks of cleaning our houses and removing all of our chametz from our homes, I too feel so rushed by it. I apologize for getting this to you all just after the corresponding Shabbat for this Torah portion, but I hope this lesson finds you all well and enthusiastic for the upcoming holiday.

Pesach is called the Z’man Cheiruteinu – the Season of Our Freedom. We carefully consider each item of our homes and clean out any form of chametz – fermentation grains and leavening, which represent sin and pride in our lives that are holding us back. This is a matter we take very seriously, this act of spring cleaning and carefully consideration of even the minor things mirrors that type of ethical and spiritual checking that should be taking place in our personality as well. Only after we perform all this do we move on to enjoying a happy and kosher Passover, at a joyful table filled with food items on the Seder plate that will continue to drive home other symbolism through our sense of taste.

I want us to try to quickly look at this matter of “taste,” continuing with our topic from a previous study relating to taste and kashrut (see Parshat Tzav 2011). They are major issues that come into play in this weeks parsha, and deserve a very good review. I will try not to keep us too long because I know how much work everyone is putting into kashering their homes. But I think this lesson has some interesting points that help put this whole process into perspective for us, and maybe will even lend us some encouragement.

As we discussed last week there are many forms of offerings given by our ancestors, some of them were not just complete incinerations of the given donations, some of them were eaten. Even of the sin-offerings priests ate, so we see they were not complete holocausts and incinerations without benefit. (see Parshat Vayikra 2013 )

In regard to this we are taught in this parsha how to protect the holiness of these offerings, they were to be eaten in a sacred place and in an appropriate (kasher/kosher) fashion. The issue of sacredness and purity is going to be a major topic going through out the rest of Leviticus, what items and areas were considered sacred, and also what made one ritually pure to engage in public worship is a major theme of this entire book. Often times the way the sacrifices were done and who could partake in the eating had to do with issue of ritual purity, if one was clear both organically (health related) and morally to eat of the sacred items. That is why it is so important for us to learn about ritual purity through out this book of Leviticus.

In this parsha we read a statement related to the sacrifices and their sacredness, after stating that the priests are to eat them as a most holy item in the enclosure of the Courtyard of the Tabernacle. We are further informed concerning this:

“Anything that touches its flesh

shall become holy,

and if any of its blood is sprinkled on a garment,

[the spot] upon which it has been sprinkled

you shall wash in a holy place.

An earthenware vessel in which it is cooked

shall be broken,

but if it is cooked in a copper vessel,

it shall be purged and rinsed with water.”

| Kol asher-yiga bivsarah

| yikdash

| va’asher yizeh midamah al-habeged

| asher yizeh aleiha

| techabes bemakom kadosh.

| Uchli-cheres asher tevushal-bo

| yishaver

| ve’im-bichli nechoshet

| bushalah umorak veshutaf bamayim.

Leviticus 6:20-21

Anyone who is traditionally observant of Judaism cannot help but almost be distracted by this statement during our Passover cleaning. It appears to be talking about how to make vessels kosher. Though we can gain some good information regarding that from this section as helpful reminders of the kashering process, this is not actually what the text is really about.

In this parsha we are taught about the transference of sacredness through taste, that the essence of something is carried by the taste. Because of this anything that touches the hot altar absorbs the taste of that which is upon it and consequently becomes sacred too. (see Parshat Tzav 2011) The item that has been inadvertently consecrated therefore needs to be treated with respect as well. Every part of the offerings and their byproducts needed to be treated with reverences, including the remaining ashes (see Exodus 6:4, the first portion of this parsha) and the left-overs. It is this last point that is being raised now at this time.

This point is made by the Torah, by drawing our attention to a garment; something that isn’t a vessel at all. The only thing that makes it fit into this lineup is that it becomes splattered with remnants of the sacrifices, specifically with blood. Though our clause begins by talking about the meat (basar), in the instance of the garment it alternates to talk about the blood instead. Unlike the pots that can have the meat seemingly easily dumped out, the blood absorbs into the garment and it must be washed out completely before the garment can be removed from the holy courtyard.

This all seems to make sense to a lot of people, until we look at the one example sandwiched in between the examples of the completely laundered garment and of a copper pot that can be throughly washed out with water; in contrast we are curiously told that the earthen vessel must be smashed. Why does it tell us to do this?

The answer might not be apparent to many people, unless one has much experience with cooking and kashrut. Though a garment can possibly be washed out and spot cleaned as recommended, and a metal pot can be washed until there is no blood or fats remaining in it, the same cannot be said for earthenware. We are talking essentially about terracotta, which are porous and absorbent dry pots. Because of their porousness the fats and blood would easily absorb into these clay pots and saturate them, being released along with their flavor in any subsequent use. For this reason it is forbidden to reuse these earthen pots and they must therefore be smashed. Again, this is unlike the metal pots that have no crack or unseen holes in which to retain remnants of the sacred offerings and thus can be reused when clean.

This might not be immediately apparent to many people, most people don’t heavily scrutinize their food or their cookware. I am deeply reminded of this during this season, as my friends watch me rush in every direction cleaning and inspecting every little thing for Pesach. Like most people, I’m much more mindful and careful of what I have in my home and on my plate during the eights days of the holiday. Many of my friends find it odd, not because they are anti-religious but because they are so out of touch with their own food. People who can’t understand basic food production are usually more clueless when it comes to their dishes, it’s just too far removed from them.

Keilim: Cracked Earthenware, showing where food and potential chametz is hiding, deep into its material.

Cracked earthenware, showing where food and potential chametz is hiding, deep into its material.

So they stand by and watching me wash glasses, dunk pitchers, and boiling metal items to sterility. They look quizzical as I pack away my normal porcelain tableware, until I call them over to look at the undersides and insides of my vessels. Though most are glazed to keep from absorbing the food into them, you can see places where the protective coat didn’t take or where it’s cracked in time, some revealing deep stains of wine and spices inside the clay and porcelain body. I point out that what’s been festering there is something I’m avoiding with all my might during this holiday, symbolic of my clearing out of my old and sour character traits during this season of liberation. All of this is in aid of eight days in order to get in touch with a more purposeful existence and unadulterated sense of being.

Though this parsha is not necessarily about instructing us regarding kashrut but actually talking about respecting that which is sanctified, it does reveal to us the limitations of kashrut upon vessels in passing. Being raised during this season it is actually a very helpful reminder of the rules of kashering your kitchen, something we all need to understand to survive this season. But it is my hope that as we read this we don’t just skim over it, matrixing it into our current holiday routine, and failing to look at the bigger picture of what this section of Torah is about.

I also hope that as we inspect our possessions for the Passover holiday, that we don’t just assume anything about our emotional holdings anymore than we should about our general belongings; mindful that just because something looks firm and pure, sometimes the true nature is very different under close inspection. I would hope that just as throughly as we clean our homes we would also engage in a matching inspection of our own character traits, trying to find the cracks in our personality and ethics. Just like with old dishes, we need to look at old habits and attitudes. We need to look at them each and ask ourselves what can be cleaned up and reused, and which just need to be broken.


The Death of the Twinkie or Not? It’s Implications for Kashrut


The Death of the Twinkie or Not? It’s Implications for Kashrut
How the closure of “Hostess” Brands as we know it might create greater kosher advances

Hostess TwinkieIt may sound ridiculous, but with all the calamity in the world the one thing that has America reeling is the loss of the Twinkie. America just doesn’t seem to know what it’s going to do without what they feel is an authentic American staple. People have literally begun to stockpile. As we watch this it is kind of humorous to us people who were raised more on wise cracks surrounding their supposed lack of an expiration date than actually eating them. And we have all had our fill in entertainment being littered with subplots like in “Zombieland” where the main character Tallahassee seeks out a Twinkie as a prize in a post apocalyptic world. Some thought it would last forever.

But for us religious people the loss of this product isn’t really a drastic consideration though. Unless you’re a foodie, one who wasn’t always religious, has experienced them and always wondered what it would be like to have the Twinkie go kosher.

Some people might ask why would a Twinkie need to be kosher at all. What could be so offensive about it’s moist golden cake and creamy filling? Mostly that the moisture in the cake and the “cream filling” might actually be “rendered beef fat” as a base shortening. What you think of as a dairy dessert might actually be sugar and flour moistened by lard, “and/or/with vegetable shortening.”

Beef Fat in Hostess Cakes

Beef Fat in Hostess cakes in place of shortening

For this reason they have been untouchable for religious people, their loss won’t cause crisis in our kitchens. In fact this is a pretty good blow to one of the biggest temptation items out there is in the public sphere for good, one less foe for parents to have to fend off some might figure. But in actually Hostess closing it’s doors might strangely bring the Twinkie brand to observant people for the first time if current news is any indication.

Though Hostess is closing, the Twinkie brand is already proving to be an indispensable American icon that people are not content to do without. The only comparison there in this iconic status is the Oreo Cookie by Nabisco. But even the Oreo has gone through an evolution, one that we might be seeing played out with the Twinkie brand in a different way. There is one thing that is true of them both, both of the brands are indispensable and highly sought after. And some feel that substitutions just wont do, a knockoff wont fulfill their need for nostalgia.

It is this demand that made Oreo go kosher in the mid-1990s, their success. Oreo’s great success meant that it became a staple for desserts and ice cream toppings, one that manufacturer such as the large ice creameries wanted to include in their products but couldn’t because the white filling of the Oreo was sometimes lard based and jeopardized the kosher customer base of their products if included. This the other manufacturers saw as more harmful to their wholesome image than using generic cookies, all the while pressuring Nabisco to comply for everyone’s benefit. Nabisco did actually comply and converted their entire national operation over to become fully kosher, a lengthy and expensive process that required the blow-torching of all metal surfaces and replacement of every plastic item in their bakeries. This process of cleaning out the lard and replacing it with pure vegetable shortening was completed in December of 1997. It was hailed as the biggest advance in kosher eating in recent memory. They became a leader in moving away from lard and thus became an industry benchmark. It took years and millions of dollars in conversion costs, but they had the vision of not wanting to be on the wrong side of wholesomeness.

Little Debbie Cloud Cake

Little Debbie’s “Cloud Cake;” Kosher Certified by Rabbi Ralbag, Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam; Triangle-K Dairy. Nothing sinful about them at all!

Now one would wonder why with the advances in kosher food productions, today accounting for about roughly 40% of retail food in the supermarket, why Hostess did not go the distance and strengthen their customer base by having kosher certified dessert cakes such as Twinkies. This would have also opened them up to the halal and vegetarian customer bases. It is true that they already produced Wonder Bread, was has also up until now been one of the largest national brands of kosher ingredient, white bread; not pas yisrael, but still kosher and thus a great relief to many. It is also true that industry standards have been growing in the past two decades, with people moving beyond needless animal fats. Also the legal prohibition of trans-fats meant that in many cases companies had to overhaul their productions all together in order to meet the new legal guidelines. You would think with such make-overs being an industry-wide move Hostess would have followed through as a leader. The reason is quite obvious as to why they didn’t if we consider it. The parent company of Hostess/Wonder has already faced two prior bankruptcies and could not afford to make-over every surface of their production-line when they couldn’t turn a profit to begin with.

New hope for the Twinkie brand and its likely emergence as a kosher food product will likely be a result of the reality that someone else will take up the making of the Twinkie brand in new industry-standard facilities. This will also provide verifiable purity of the shortening by virtue that they would come out of plants and machinery that have never used pork or beef fats. The Twinkie production could be rebuilt from scratch and without the former hangups.

As the days progress it seems inevitable that another company will step up to the plate and purchase the Hostess brand including the Twinkie in order to produce it for the masses of begging fans. In fact there has been one company poised to move into this market for several years. The privately owned Mexican bread giant Bimbo – the staple branded table bread in Mexico – has been eying the brand since the 1990s. Backed by billions in successful revenues for both bread and dessert cakes Bimbo has also made a major name for itself north of the border as well by producing fluffy and delicious treats at affordable prices. No longer are they brands geared only for Hispanics who want a taste of home. (see “Next Twinkie Maker: Will A Mexican Billionaire Family Buy Hostess’ Orphaned Brands?” – Forbes)

Bimbo Truck

Bimbo Truck in the United States. In many places like Los Angeles and San Diego, CA and the surrounding areas you can even find Kof-K certified parve Bimbo white bread; notoriously inspired by the original Wonder Bread style

If it sounds ridiculous that a third-world company could come to be the holders and producers of one of American’s most iconic foods, we need to consider that there has already been a crossover between the Bimbo and American brands. Bimbo is already the licensed producer of Wonder Bread in Mexico, a sign of its quality and clout. And here in the United States that quality is further testified to by the fact that Bimbo is also entrusted to produce mini-frosted donuts for Entemann’s, a premium dessert cake producer that is common in many Jewish homes because of their long-standing history of bearing an OU-D hechsher. Bimbo also produces other kosher bread and dessert products here in the United States for Sara Lee, Oroweat, Thomas’ and Francisco. They have the market viability and real-world expertise in saving a branding under a new incarnation. It is likely that we will see an agreement made to seal an acquisition of the Hostess brands by Bimbo in the weeks to come, or at the very least another producer take up the product line in new plants and with new workers in their stead.

Until that happens most of us are going to wait in amusement to see if Twinkie the Kid hops back on the saddle again for another ride or just rides off into the sunset. Either way, if you can’t wait in suspense there is an alternative to the Twinkie, one that might actually be better than the real thing. The “Cloud Cake” baked by Little Debbie is slightly moister and (if you can imagine it) more spongy version of the Twinkie with a simple cream filling. Absolutely delicious and kosher bearing the Triangle-K Dairy hechsher; they are not chalav yisrael but they are free from lard so they really are something worth writing home to mom about.

Related links:


Parshat Bereishit (2012)


Parshat Bereishit (2012)
Genesis 1:1–6:8

Are you mad that G-d isn’t a vegetarian? When moralizing turns ugly

I must admit that I’m only half-kidding with the title of this piece. I say only half, because as a young punk I was a vegan for many years. That’s right, in the early 90s at a time when it was almost unthinkable in the middle of the steak-and-potato suburbs I was one of the first people to take up the animal-free lifestyle, and boy was it difficult to do. Also quite costly. Luckily the food industry has been subjected to the better nutritional guidelines and forced to use dietary substitutions for the everyday products we enjoy today, and by virtue of that we have no problem finding meat-free food products on our plates everyday. This advance in the industry also has an added benefit for those of us keep kashrut, long gone are the days when you could find yourself falling off the derech because you ate an Oreo Cookie, with the realization that it was very likely that creamy center might actually be rendered beef fat; today they are certified kosher and use vegetable shortening instead. We all hold by a generally accepted truth that less animal fat is better for us, up against an over saturated existence.

What does this all have to do with the Torah? Many people who want to get back to a purer existence take a good look at what life was like here in Parshat Bereishit, in the Genesis story, in order to see what life was really like in paradise. To get a glimpse of a life without disease and cruelty we look back to the Garden of Eden. One of the points made by the moral-driven vegetarian is that in this paradise G-d caused the plants, trees and herbage to sprout up and be food for us. The ground did not need to be tilled by man. There was no farming of anything, neither plant nor animal. There was an abundance of fruit that man lived off of until the ground was cursed by G-d for man’s sin. (see Genesis 3:17-19)

Actually we don’t really seem to have to consider the concept of meat eating until the story of Noah; only after the earth is further decimated by the deluge, and coming forth from the ark on to this changed environment does our story even begin to concern itself with the issues of what is a clean and unclean animal for human consumption. It is safe to assume, as most midrash does, that before this time people were vegetarian. (see Genesis 9:3)

sephirot4pngbbbCan we assume that this was also so for that animal world as well? No, I doubt it. For the animal, if it was not already so, our tradition points out that their descent began with the first curse of the ground after the sin of Adam and Eve. Rashi tells us that the consequence of the ground being cursed on man’s account was also consequential for the snake that tricked them, when the ground was cursed it now also brought up insects, flees and ticks that harmed the animals of the field that the serpent would live upon. According to our rabbinic sources, this seems to be the point at which the sanguine circle of life gets complicated. All of nature turns on itself.

So why am I not a vegetarian any more? The real reason can almost be summed up because I became more religiously observant. How can this be when I present all these ideas supported by Torah? Mostly, because I found I really liked meat. And it all happened on Shabbat. I can even tell you what stripped the “Meat Is Murder” patch right off me, it was a Buffalo Chicken Wing. My friends would invite me for Shabbat meals week after week. In honor of the sabbath the meals are greatly involved and time-consuming, stretching on for many courses; salad, fish, soup, chicken and/or meats, some sides and kugels, a few drinks and then desert. Everyone brings out the best that they have and presents it honor of Shabbat; the crown of the week. Every week my meal would pretty much end at the first course and I would linger. I didn’t drink alcohol or eat animal products so almost nothing was left. After a while people started feeling sorry for me, and the Jewish mothers would start in, “But you’re still hungry, I think you would like one. In honor of Shabbat try just one…” That was it, all of a sudden I remembered that I really did like it. I’ve been eating tasty little kosher treats ever since.

It wasn’t an issue of people forcing their ways upon me or brow-beating me. Quiet to the contrary. To be honest I’m sure that I judged people more for their “indulgence” than they did me. Aside from the common ethical concerns that I had about meat, it just wasn’t something that I personally liked. And in my experience, traveling the world, I knew very well that meat was not something that was a daily staple for most cultures. It was something that I was less accustomed to having regularly, therefore it was only incidental that it was something I hadn’t acquired a taste for it. But in these ultra-orthodox friends I found that their old-world experience was very much the same as mine. They had all the same ethical concerns, and even more than I had considered. And they also weren’t accustomed to eating obnoxious amounts of meat, so it was reserved for special occasions. And there is no more special of an occasional than Shabbat and Yom Tov (holidays). In this spirit people would follow the common custom of Judaism to have wine, fish and meat as symbols of joy and celebration. They would save all the best of their provisions for the end of the week; for Shabbat. They would honor G-d with the best of the produce of their labor. They honor G-d with the best of their foods, these are what most of us feel are the best of our best.

Most certainly we can look in our Jewish tradition and see many examples that idealize vegetarianism though out our midrashic and mystical tradition. Aside from that, for many it seems to simplify kashrut issues to abstain from meat (this is also another reason cited by the less accustomed to Jewish observance, to believe kashrut is merely a meat issue, which is far from true). Most of us live in a culture which already overdose it when it comes to meat, and can agree that we no longer have the need in the modern world to consume meat the way we did in the past because of a wider variety of foods available to us. Being less meat dependent seems like a natural humanitarian progression for many, as they see the benefits it has upon the body and environment. It is sensible and is animal sensitive. Even in the most orthodox of homes I’ve seen many families only have mere symbolic amounts of meat and fish; even if only the meat is a mixed in ingredient for a main dish, or the fish only found in the paste made for the salad dressing. We honor our traditions, but think it wise sometimes to not go overboard.

The problem I most often had to deal with in my own character and now in other people, is that the people who go overboard tend to be the vegetarians. I understand their feelings, but I also very much recognize how inappropriately people judge others for not being as “progressive” about their eating as they are. Today I don’t mind saying that I like to eat meat. At one time I didn’t, because my ethical concerns were not appropriately met; now with that satisfied for me in my convictions, the choice of eating meat comes down to an issue of my own satisfaction. I take joy in it, so it is the right choice for me. Furthermore, for health reasons being a vegetarian is not appropriate for me. And some people do deeply judge me for that, making all the sideways statements and giving me all the glaring. No really, people are that way, no matter what the case is; that is because it is disgusting to them so it should also be so for you; they even get angry when you don’t comply to their mores.

What started out in the relationship as “I love animals so don’t eat them” for some immature people ends up leading to slurred statements like “Your a murder for eating that.” Sure, its rare that it goes that far, but more and more I see people acting that way. What started out as a kindness, turned to negativity; somehow that is a natural tendency in this universe so we need to beware of it. And that is what we are going to talk about today. Where that comes from and how to grow beyond letting our values turn sour.

Believe or not this davar Torah really has little to do with vegetarianism, that’s just a bonus in a way; okay so I merely jest. I only use this example because it is something that I can relate to in my own life, and because in a lot of ways the elements of this example are very similar to a tragic situation pointed out here in this parsha with the story of Cain and Abel.

One of the horrors of the story of Cain and Able is the emergence of anger, and in tern violence in the world. We all know the story very well, because it ends with murder.

Our parsha relates the story as such, that the two sons of Adam and Eve grow up to become men. We see their story begin with them both picking a trade for themselves. Cain raises animals (tzoan; sheep and goats), and Abel tills the ground; they are both partners in farming, just two different aspects of it. When it comes time for them to thank G-d and worship each gives according to their own produce. Cain of his produce of the ground, and Abel from his animal stock. One is accepted, the other offering is not. In then end this leads to such a feeling of being slighted that Cain murders his brother Abel over it.

Even before we can get to the issue of the sickening sin of homicide, many of us who are of a gentle nature first find ourselves stumbling over this part of the narrative first. What is it about this offering that is different that G-d would lift His eyes to recognize one, and the other he doesn’t take the time to count?

For the most part, people stumble over the issue of what the type of sacrifice it was. In a world that because of idolatry is so used to sacrifice, which typically holds animal sacrifice higher than any other because of its costliness and rarity, we tend to sometimes miss the point and think there was something better about the meat over the fruits. I have literally seen illustrations in picture books with Abel happy and his smoke rising high, and then a sad and skinny Cain whose fruits just smolder down. This odd and gross view is more prevalent in the mindset of those who follow blood atonement heresies. We know this is not true by the simple fact that the Torah demands both meat and grain offerings all through out it, and more often incense of herbage. There is nothing more sacred or more binding about a meat offering over a meal offering, they both found their place in our tradition. We cannot jump to the absurd conclusion that G-d can only take pleasure in bloody sacrifice.

Instead we are forced to find another reason. It is very apparent to us if we just take a simple look at the text, the only distinction between the offerings aside from their substance, was the maturity of the substance. It seems to be more an issue of timing for that substance. We see that Cain offered after many days, at the end of days he took from his fruits and offered. Instead we see that Abel instead took from the first-born of his flock, he didn’t wait for them to mature even, he gave immediately. It is not a matter of what type of offering, but when it was offered. This is pointed out when the mitzvah was spelled out to the children of Israel in the Torah later on, “v’lakach’ta may’reishit kol pri ha-adama/ you shall bring the first fruits of all the land…” (Deut. 26:2) Cain brought his leftovers, Abel enthusiastically gave the first of his produce. G-d regarded the one that had given with the spirit of eagerness.

We need to dismiss from our minds the idea that G-d is caught up on the issue of meat and blood. If anything our tradition suggests to us the only person caught up with this issue is Cain. Our sages widely suggest that one person hung-up on it was Cain. Our midrash tells us that Cain did not think it right that his brother should kill animals to offer in sacrifice. If we think about it, only animals killed and consumed each other, humans apparently did not. It would be natural for Cain to see something that was not natural or desirable to them as people to be barbarism, and therefore felt that Abel was acting impulsively like an animal. Some midrashim even suggested Cain thought it better for Abel to instead wait and buy grains from him by trading from his animal products with him when there was more hearty produce to sustain them with, suggesting that his way was matured as well as more humane.

The problem with Cain’s attitude is he cannot get beyond the fact that he finds someone’s practice disgusting and unbecoming. This was not their way, only animals and G-d had ever slaughtered in such a way (when G-d made garments for Adam and Eve out of animals skins; see Genesis 3:21). Sure this offering was for the worship of G-d, it was not for their consumption, but our rabbis say that even this became a stumbling block for Cain. If it was not allowed for them as humans ordinarily to slaughter, he reckoned that if it was forbidden for them then it should also be forbidden of G-d. He is not just irritated with his brother, Cain is also disgusted with G-d for this.

Our parsha describes Cain’s reaction to G-d dismissing his offering as follows:

“…and Cain became very angry,

and depressed.”

| Vayicharah le-Kayin me’od

| vayiplu panav

Genesis 4:5

And herein lies the tragedy, his attitude of disdain for cruelty, which in itself is a chesed – a kindness – got turned around and lead to negativity and even extreme anger. For as progressive and idealistic Cain’s values for life is, his inability to see his own fault and instead become more concerned with the actions of others leads him to become annoyed – another meaning of the word charah. He becomes enraged over the killing of an animal and it’s acceptance by G-d as barbaric, do much that he doesn’t seem to notice the rising coldness that eventually drives him to murder his human brother. He respects the animals, but murders a man.

I want to sum it up this way, we need to keep in mind that people who are more concerned with other’s actions than their own; people who moralize heavily upon narrow pet causes tend to cause harm to others through their negativity. More often than not descending into judgmental speech and treatment of people. And as we know, to cause to bring shame or embarrassment upon a person is also counted as a form of bloodshed in our tradition; its not just causing blushing, its spiritually more harmful than most recognize.

Three Season Kabbalistic Wheel of MonthsAnd so it is for many people, for some reason it is natural in the universe that what starts out as concept of warm chesed (kindness), often finds a way of turning into cold gevurah (judgment) over time. And that is really the topic really at hand today. How is it that such a thing happens to people over time?

Kabbalistically, it is quite easy to understand. In fact before we can begin to understand anything else about Kabbalah it is essential that people learn this principle. It is presented to us in the Sefer Yitzerah that there are three “mother letters.” They are three archetypal letters and corresponding energies. Shin (ש), Mem (מ) and Alef (א); the Shin we are told represents fire, Mem represents water, Alef represents air. They are three positions in time we are told, meaning lengths in a journey; when we apply them to a year calendar (like in the Israel, which has only three distinguishable seasons) they correspond to Shin being the heat of summer, Mem being the coldness of winter, and Alef as Spring that is the temperate and airy balance between those two extremes.

In Kabbala, and indeed strongly stressed in Chassidut, learning is held up on the foundation of these three pillars. For those who study the ChaBaD school of thought it is important for one to work out their path of maturing the higher intellect (as presented in the upper three sefirot), they correspond like our letters above in a descending pattern; Chochmah is wisdom, Binah is discernment, but the balance of them both is the understanding called Daat. It’s more simply explained through the human emotions by the Breslov Chassidim and the GR”A (Gaon of Vilna) by placing the example par-excellence in the center of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. We begin with sefirot of Chesed (Kindness), Gevurah (Judgment) and work our way to the central balance of Tiferet (Harmony, understood as mercy); the ChaGaT school. In these mystical teachings of these great schools of thought the goal is to balance out our human flaws by coming to a harmony between extremities inside of us.

This pattern is something that we need to understand because it tends to play out in the minds and lives of people even if we aren’t aware of this; it is a natural principle in the universe. Sadly it is most often seen in the lives of religious people, and we as people of faith need to recognize this. People often start out in their religious or ethical journey out a creative spark of kindness. They are motived by love and kindness and warmth, but then as we tend to cool down as time goes on and often fizzle towards judgmental coldness. Now gevurah is not a bad thing, it actually means to become more mighty and strong; it is not mere negativity, the problem is that as some of us cool down as we “mature” in our understanding we tend to become as judgmental as we are knowledgeable. We often tend to start out less understanding but burning with passion like wild youth, but then as we become more mature and wise we tend to cool down and sadly manifest all the things we have come to know in judgementalism if we aren’t careful. Somehow we think we know better, so everyone else should as well. Our expansive kindness (chesed) can turn cold if we aren’t careful, and we can get stuck in the moralizing rut of being the frozen-chosen though our unchecked judgment (gevurah).

Our goal should be to find the balance between the two, the harmony of tiferet. It is the maturity beyond any one extreme, it is not the hot high road, nor the cold low road, it is the golden middle path between them both. It is neither overwhelmed with endless permissiveness seen in the example of chesed as being the essential drive of expansiveness present in the world and the personal character, nor is it trapped in the constrictiveness and desolate coldness of strong opinion and judgments as with gevurah, instead it is the beauty (another meaning of tiferet) that is found in the balance between the two that allows us to show mercy to others in self-control. In this Kabbalah and Torah challenge us to move beyond being thoughtless do-gooders or judgmental smart people, and become beautiful people of true mercy and harmony and understanding; in the balance of tiferet. We need to find that centered spirit of joy in our souls.


Kosher Meat: Once again, a tender subject


Kosher Meat: Once again, a tender subject
Does your meat live up to a “higher calling?”

In the past week most of us have seen near-hysteria arise both in communal discussion and over the media concerning the recent allegations being made as to the quality of kosher meat, as well as the business and labor practices of Hebrew National; who represents one of the most notorious American producers of kosher products, including hot dogs, whose standards they claim “answer to a Higher Authority.” The media interest arose after a lawsuit was filed which anonymously claims they do not live up to that trademarked slogan. (see “Hebrew National sued over non-kosher allegations” at CNN)

Before we get too far into the subject, it should be fair for us to put some of this information into perspective. It is important for us to all keep in mind why this is being played-out so harshly in the media. So far reporting is mostly relying upon public conjecture regarding the public’s feelings about the ethics of kosher food production in this country. Simply put this is because hard-hitting reporting, with interviews of people related to the case, hasn’t been possible because the petitioners are anonymous. There is no official statement from any religious groups at this point either, because the petitioners of this lawsuit are not a religious organization or kosher agency; in fact it is reported that the record states none of the petitioners adhere to kashrut, but are merely members of the general public that feel misled by the slogan of superior standards.

Though this case raises nothing but questions, and is a piece of litigation that people would ordinary brush aside as another case of a frivolous lawsuit, this story is riding on the momentum of public concern related to other scandals in kosher food production. And in those cases, no matter how we slice it and dice it, not all those allegations were so baseless. Most notorious is the Rubashkin’s/Aaron’s Best, Agriprocessors case which led to the raid of their Postville, Iowa plant in May 2008. Among the reasons cited for the federal raid was the violation of immigration, labor and safety laws. The plant was once the largest producer of Glatt Kosher meat, mostly meeting the needs of the growing Chabad-Lubavitch community.

Whereas there was a level out outcry from within the Jewish communities for some of the most conservative elements to want to defend Rubashkin’s, you will not be seeing the same level of concern shown for Hebrew National. Quite honestly, the defense of Orthodox communities of Sholom Rubashkin was out of necessity; we needed meat. There is not that type of demand for the Hebrew National product, so the vanguard defenders of kashrut seem to care-less for now.

Many years ago I had a conversation with a boss of mine who was a very prominent progressive rabbi about kashrut. I had mentioned once when planning for an event that it had become more expensive because of the use of glatt kosher hot dogs. When asked why they didn’t go with Hebrew National, he was quite confused when it was communicated that going that route would result in a huge loss of sales. People wouldn’t want the product. In fact, the local rabbinic supervision agencies demanded the highest level of kashrut because a higher quality of product was widely available in a large city like Los Angeles. If we wanted supervision, it had to be this quality. Though not adhering to kashrut himself, and being of an old school, classic Reform mindset it was beyond him to comprehend the concern. All he could keep asking was, “So you saying they are treif?”

Pretty much that’s how its come out in the more liberal Jewish media too with this issue. Because of the allegations surrounding Hebrew National many have been quick to ask, “Are they treif?” The answer to that question, so far, is no. Most of the concerns surrounding Hebrew National are ethical concerns, not related to kashrut at all. Simply put, ethical concerns are not normally taken into consideration when it comes to kosher food supervision. There are certain allegations regarding kosher law, however the claims regarding the application of the halacha is at best an infantile understanding of the inspection of regular Stam (Heb. regular, simple standard; that it meets the purpose) kosher meat. Stam Kosher is the level of adherence for Hebrew National under the supervision of Triangle-K.

Now again we must keep in mind, this is not up to the standards of Chassidic, Haredi, and Sephardic Jews who follow an even higher standard yet; Glatt kosher (Heb. mechaber; which means mehadrin styled standards of kashrut).  This standard does not permit certain abnormalities upon organs, in certain and select case that are determined by supervising rabbis during their inspections of the animal after slaughter. (see “What Is Glatt Kosher” by Rabbi Jason Miller)

Kashrut sometimes seems to be all about standards. In theory, the more observant you are, the greater level of standards of dietary laws you adhere to. But is there really a difference between the classes of kashrut?

Ironically, during the late 1990s I had this explained to me by Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin himself. He was traveling the country, and was well received by the local Lubavitch communities. Before he departed he had a chance to address the shul, as everyone was interested in hearing about the trends relating to the growing standards and availability. At one point he began to talk about his own product and the higher prices people pay at the check-out line. He related that its obvious there is a price difference between non-kosher and kosher meat, and glatt meat is even higher yet. Some are for mere economic reasons. But some of it is also related to the quality of the meat, as fewer animals meet the final-inspection, there is less of it, thus higher demand means higher prices. But then in the middle of his statement he candidly stated that halachically there was nothing wrong with Stam Kosher meat; it is not treif.

Without as much as a seconds pause I heard a woman yell from behind the mechitzah, “Good! It’s cheaper, we will go with that then!” Of course the whole shul busted up laughing. And cheerfully Rubashkin began to make the point to us that in reality the regular Stam Kosher meat met all the requirements of Jewish law, however it did not adhere to the customs of the Chassidic communities.

He cited the well-known halacha that we not to buy meat from a shochet that is of questionable sources. Even more so, people should adhere the halachic standards that have been set down by their communities. He stated that what people were paying for is assurance that the people who process their meat are of their own persuasion and adhere to the standards they hold dear. A sense of certainty is easier when the person is known because they are of their own sect.

In reality, he was right. In fact kosher certification with a recognizable hechsher marking is something more of an American trend, that has strongly taken root in Israel since the founding of State and then subsequently throughout the world as food production increased overseas. However, the laws of kashrut demand that a person be proactive regarding their food sources. Traditionally the different communities knew what was acceptable in their own region, and when in doubt they would ask their local rabbi. But kosher certification on a can or bottle is a modern invention, originating in America after the invention of the registered trade-mark. People trust the mark on the can, because they trust the agency that licenses that food producer to print that seal of approval on that product; the agency vouches for the product’s compliance with the Jewish dietary laws.

One benefit of greater kosher observance and demand worldwide is that you can find products bearing well-known kosher certifications just about anywhere. Better distribution has meant that the certainty of kosher supervision should reach as far as the distribution line of that product.

Problem is these companies are often so far away and so large that there is little personally known about them in order for people to make informed decisions regarding the product. In reality many are merely are going on their faith in the certifying agency, often times without even knowing exactly who the supervising rabbis really are. They just know everyone they go to shul with holds by that certification too. In their defense, it’s simply not possible for most people to know much about the food producer or the kosher supervisor when they are a large corporation that is producing for a whole region, if not the whole continent.

The allegations against Hebrew National are going to have to slowly play out in court. Until then this is being dramatized in the Jewish communities and blogosphere.

But it should be kept in mind, once again, that the Hebrew National product is no longer a major player in the Jewish community, mostly attracting non-Jewish customers who prefer the taste and follow their assumption that kosher means healthier. (see “Hebrew National – Answering to a Higher Authority?” by the Shiksa in the Kitchen) In a way it seems non-kosher observing people are shooting for standards higher than the industry benchmark, and observant Jews are shooting higher than the kosher standard to get the finest standards possible yet. In this hierarchy, at this point in the developed world we look at USDA, Stam Kosher, and Glatt like the ratings we assign eggs by B, A and AA-ratings; meaning good, best, best yet.

These are some of the most popular American hechshers – recognizable certifications of kashrut

For this reason people become upset when they hear a product doesn’t adhere to the standards they expect, they put their trust and they feel if the allegations are true then that trust has been broken. They don’t know the intricacies of kashrut so they trust someone else to assure that for them. In this way the implications and concerns transcends the Jewish community itself. And it is certain that this case will entirely center around the definition of what “higher standards” means, as the courts have refused to rule in the past on the issues of Jewish-law for obvious reasons. The controversy cuts at the heart of a much-needed consumer base for this product.

However, in my opinion there is going to be long-lasting consequences for the Hebrew National product no matter what the outcome of the lawsuit. Even if all the claims are found to be false, enough damage has been done in the public sphere that people are not going to quickly forget that allegations were once made. And that will be enough to justify many consumer’s doubts.

In reality Hebrew National is already at a disadvantage because of wide-held suspicion within the Jewish community due to commonly held misconceptions regarding their kosher supervising agency, Triangle-K. This is despite wide-held Rabbinic acceptance of their supervision in recent years (see “Major New Acceptance for Triangle-K/Hebrew National As Kosher” at JTC). True the suspicion of Hebrew National predates their relationship, but Triangle-K contracting as the independent supervisor did not remedy the pre-existing concerns of Jewish customers. Among the reasons cited by individuals is because Triangle-K does certify grape and dairy-related bread items as kosher; this is not a widely held custom, but it is in accordance with halacha and the rulings of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z”l. Because these customs have not been widely known or understood some have mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that their halachic understanding is erroneous, making their hechsher subject to suspicion. (see “Interview with Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag” at The Cannonist)

Though one should take to heart if their own personal rabbi tells them to not use certain products, it is not within our right as individuals to unilaterally designate something as non-kosher. In fact,  I have yet to meet a rabbi in my entire life that has attained the status of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in order to impeach his rulings regarding these matters. Simply put, until one has the status of Rav Moshe they are not within their right to proclaim any different; they are merely bound to adhere to their own minhag, but to overrule him is not permissible. To do so in public is lishon hara (slander), and personally  holds one responsible  of breaking the commandment to not act presumptuously against the Law. (see Parshat Shoftim)

The Triangle-K has already made public their response to the allegations against Hebrew National. The statement is directly from Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, who manages the everyday operations of Triangle-K. He is also a well respected posek, head of a beit din, and is further honored as the official Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam. (see “Triangle-K: Complaint About Kashrus Issues Of Hebrew National Outrageously False” at Voz Iz Neiase)

In the case of Hebrew National, just like Rubushikin’s, the main concern remains surrounding the ethics of their business. We must understand that most animal rights concerns will not be taken seriously beyond the scope of legal standards and ritual practice, because the activists are generally unwavering in their abhorrence of meat consumption all together; kosher consumers will not consider them objective. Those who do not feel compelled by coercive vegetarian sentiments, the moderate voices in progressive Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy, still feel that there must be some type of Jewish response made. One suggestion has been the Conservative movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek, which would independently certify the ethics and business practices of the company; meaning a secondary supervising agency in addition to the kosher supervisor.

Although the Hekhsher Tzedek does offer the progressive movements some type of representation, along with some quality and ethical assurances, it still does not hold much importance to many kosher consumers in order to command respect. We should also recognize that to some companies this is already being looked at rather coldly; being considered just another cumbersome threshold that might further complicates production. In fact some even go so far as to suggest that it may frighten away company’s interest in independent certifications for many mainstream food items all together. (see “Hekhsher Tzedek’s Law Problem” at the Daily Jewish Forward)

Though Hekhsher Tzedek can be considered a start if it takes hold, it is not the ideal. It is my personal opinion that it falls short of the traditional Jewish expectation of knowing one’s food sources. I feel certifications can and should symbolize the start of the process in whether or not we choose a product, but it shouldn’t end there. We should know more about the production of the products we buy, their fair business practices, their environmental record and their nutrition. And ideally we should accustom ourselves to buy local products and form relationships with producers. We cannot pretend to have any type of certainty with, in fact it’s hardly possible to feel any impulse to hold responsible, huge corporate producers whose deeds are out of sight and thus out of mind.

Looking back now I can see why it was so important for Rubashkin to go on tour. He had to try to make connection with the communities, there was no other way that people could really feel a sense of trust in a faceless company two-thirds of the continent away and providing for everyone from there and in between. Sadly, the crimes that he was found guilty of landed him 28-years in federal prison, which constitutes a life sentence for Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin. Though many see this as excessive, we need to recognize that the severity of his punishment seems to be in relation to the largeness of the crimes committed, and that are comparable to the size of their operation. His downfall is embarrassing to many observant Jews, sure. And it should be, because to some point we as kosher food consumers contributed to a crime of that magnitude by not asking enough questions and assuming too much as well.


Reflection:

When I was very young I was very concerned about the laws of kashrut. Many of the specifics of laws left me with questions because I wasn’t used to that level of kashrut. I often found myself, and even more so my friends who weren’t observant at all, tending to be more strict than necessary for my sake. Being part of a chassidic community I adhered to high level of kashrut so it seemed reasonable to be so concerned.

However one day in a discussion related to kashrut a personal rabbi of mine, who was also a very knowledgeable mashgiach himself, sat down and began to teach me certain aspects of kashrut that I was not familiar with. His observations and suggestions were fully supported, and completely logical. However, at one point someone overheard the conversation and said, “I’ve heard of that, but never held by that because it sounds too lenient.”

His response back was, “They used to say the same thing to the Alter Rebbe.”

The rabbi began to explain how in the lifetime of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, z”l) many critics of the chassidim tried to find issue with the Rebbe. One day they decided to quarrel with him over giving his approval for certain people’s chickens that were brought to him to inspect. The misnagdim insisted that they were not kosher. The Rebbe detailed issues of kashrut related to the birds, and being a master in Jewish-law who wrote his own Shulchan Aruch, he easily dispelled their claims.

But after they conceded to his points, he related to these contrary rabbis that he didn’t just give his approval but he also asked about the owners situation; did they have another bird and could they afford another, what was their level of necessity? For those who had other options available to them he wouldn’t invest too much time, but for those who really needed that meal he did everything in his power and knowledge to find a way of making that acceptable if possible; so that the hungry would not go without.

The rabbi made the point that Jewish-law is responsive to actual situations at hand and personal necessity. But he was also making a deeper point. We need to look at the situation at hand and think about it, not just jump to conclusions. The Alter Rebbe was applying halacha that was not easily understood, yet valid upon demonstration. This does not mean he was being lenient. Actually, quite to the contrary it shows his sophistication of knowledge.

He compared the situation to a doctor prescribing medicine for a person who came in with a bump. One doctor says it’s cancer and they should radiate right away. However, the doctor who the patient went to for as a second opinion was a cancer expert and says that it’s just a pimple that needs a simple cream to remedy it. The expert doctor is not being lenient, he is just knowledgeable enough to know the difference and not jump to extreme conclusions.

Kashrut is about being mindful. But we don’t need to jump to extremes to show how faithful we are. How religious we are should not be defined by how many people’s houses we are too stringent to eat at.


Passover: Health Foods and Nutritional Supplement Drinks


Passover: Health Foods and Nutritional Supplement Drinks
Quick tips on chametz-free healthy foods and alternatives for Pesach cooking
Also special instructions for Sephardim, those who eat kitniyot, and the infirm

Please note that product and brand information is updated and valid for Passover 2016 and subject to change!

For most frum and traditional people, substitutions are an everyday occurrence. Having to balance the issues of meat and dairy in a culture that has a pallet for mixing has led to people using a lot of health food alternatives to get some of those fusion flavors and still adhere to kashrut. It surprises many people that the orthodox don’t blink twice at mixing in adventurous health food options. No other time does this openness and experience comes in handy then at Pesach.

Some pesach food productsOrdinary during the year we make use of items such as Rich’s Whip as non-dairy whipped cream, Mocha Mix or soy milks for baking and table serving, milk-free cheese, tofu ice cream and cream cheese, and much use of meat alternatives (would pizza be the same without Soy-roni “pepperoni”?).

Unfortunately a lot of these products will not be any aid to many people during the Passover holiday. Many of these products contain ingredients taken from the five-grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats), most often are made with wheat and oat products (items such as xanthan gum, malt, flavoring, sweetening and thickening). Some are even fermented with the aid of grain and/or yeast (textured vegetable protean and tofu products).

KitniyotLegumes, Beans, Soy and Rice

Secondly, many health foods are kitniyot – made from legumes, beans and rice. Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe are most often accustomed to not eating any of these products (including corn, soy, etc.) during Pesach; in order to not confuse one with the appearance of eating chametz. However, these products are generally permissible to people of the Sephardic/Mizrahi tradition (Spanish-Jewish, Middle-Eastern) who are not subject to this ban.

Even though some kitniyot products are chametz-free, you will not always find a “kosher-for-passover” certification on them. This is because it would not be true in the case of most of America/European Jewry that is predominately Ashkenazi. Causing such confusion for Ashkenazim has been thought to outweigh the possible benefit to Sephardic Jews, who are not accustomed to making wide use of hekshers (rabbinic certification) and often know status of kashrut by asking their congregation rabbis and through communal knowledge regarding the local food offerings. [Update: as of late February 2013 the Orthodox Union has announced that they will begin to roll-out a Kitniyot certification. Though many of these products may not be immediately available this season, it shows an attempt to rectify the neglect by general kashrut supervision agencies by starting the cycle in food production at a time of year when we are scrutinizing items for yoshon as well. One should only utilize processed kitniyot products that are appropriately marked for passover or simply say “KITNIYOT” along with their certification symbol.]

The best way to know is to ask your own rabbi. But there are certain steps you can take in considering your chametz issues to help make this process easier and help save you time asking questions during this busy season. The rule of thumb is: if there is a kosher-for-passover certified product available one should utilize that product over and against the non-certified option.

We do have options for exploring chametz-free ketniyot items which is additionally provided for us by some of the kosher providers in order to aid us:

For simply raw items that are ketniyot there is no need for certification. However, we must bare in mind that many of these bean, rice, corn and like products are stored or processed on the same machinery as grain products. For Sephardim who do eat ketniyot, it is necessary to check through all the grains of the product to ensure that it has not been mixed with chametz grains. One should check the item visually and by hand 3 times (or as much as 7 times for commercial cooking) to ensure they are free from cross contamination.

Note: this checking should also be taken with quinoa as well; it has been brought to my attention by poskim who have gone to South America to supervise these products have seen quinoa harvested in areas nearer to the lowlands which are hospitable to grains.

The  Kashrut Administrator of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, stated in 2011:

“As a result of a recent investigation, the Star-K found it possible that quinoa’s kosher for Passover status is compromised when it grows or is processed in the proximity of certain crops. Therefore, quinoa will only be accepted with reliable Kosher for Passover supervision. The cRc approves the use of whole grain quinoa for Pesach on the following conditions:
  1. The quinoa is imported exclusively from Bolivia and packed by companies that pack whole grain quinoa exclusively. While there may be others Ancient Harvest, Trader Joe’s, and Sugat (a brand of quinoa sold in Israel) are brands that only import quinoa from Bolivia and only pack whole grain quinoa.
  2. The quinoa must be purchased and carefully inspected by hand before Pesach. This is done by spreading one layer of quinoa at a time on a board or plate and checked to be sure that there are no other grains or foreign matter mixed in with the quinoa. This does not apply to quinoa flour, pasta, or any other version of quinoa which are not permitted on Pesach.”

Specifics on Beans and Rice

It is possible buy such things as beans with some level of certainty. However, the selection of rice is a more complicated of an issue due to the common instruction of chametz based enrichment to white rice in many western countries. In fact it is generally required by law in the US. Though special passover runs of rice should be available again this year, just in time for the holiday; certified to be free of chametz based enrichments. Please refer to the following entry:

Another reason for why rice poses a problem, is that rice is often grown in shared fields or cycled after a harvest of barley, which is chametz. This leftover field barley can often be harvested with the rice and is hard to distinguish because of the shape and light color.

One should pay special attention when purchasing, so as not to buy from open bins. This is often the poorest quality, just like the beans in open bins are often more “dirty” and contain more waste such as rocks, so too bin rice tends to have more barely (trust me, I’ve been Mexican-American my whole life, I know whats up! I’ve seen the kids playing in them like a sandbox long enough to notice).

Oils

Oils are one of the essential ways of getting amino acids and essential vitamins. Good use of oil helps provide all the good cholesterol we need. Those of us who are dietary challenged often must make regular use of oils to supplement these needs.

The guide for to the Mashadi Youth Organziation (Hachodesh) states the following for Sephardim:

“For Sephardim there are no restrictions in using any regular oils. Soy, canola or corn oil which is Kosher for year round such as: Mazola, Kirkland or Wesson, may be used for Pesach. Any Extra Virgin Olive Oil may also be used.”

However, the Orthodox Union gives us the following recommendations that are helpful for Ashkenazim who adhere to the kitniyot ban:

“The earlier Poskim, including Rema, clearly indicate that oil made from kitnios is forbidden on Pesach, but some of the later Poskim suggest that such oil may be permitted because some of the original reasons for the minhag don’t apply to the oil extracted from kitnios. It is generally accepted to follow the stricter opinion in this matter, but the lenient opinion is sometimes considered as one factor in a larger decision.

“Therefore, on Pesach one may not use corn or soybean oil (a.k.a. “vegetable oil” ), and some do not use peanut oil either (see above regarding peanuts). Oil from olives, palm, coconut and walnuts are acceptable for Pesach use because the fruits they are extracted from is not kitnios. Minchas Yitzchok (III:138:2) suggests that cottonseed oil is kitnios, but in a subsequent teshuvah (IV:114:3) he reconsiders this position (see also Mikra’ai Kodesh, Pesach II:60:2); in the United States cottonseed oil is generally not considered to be kitnios but in Eretz Yisroel there are those who refrain from using it.

“Canola oil was first approved for food use in the United States in 1985 and there are those who therefore suggested that it is a “new” item which shouldn’t be included in the minhag, as per Iggeros Moshe cited above. However, the fault with this line of reasoning is that “Canola oil” is actually “Rapeseed oil” (a.k.a. colza oil) which has been used for centuries in Europe. [“Canola oil” is rapeseed oil specially bred to have less erucic acid (a suspected cause of heart disease) and therefore only this better variation of rapeseed oil is approved for food use in the USA]. In fact, Avnei Nezer (373 & 533) and Maharsham (I:183) specifically mention rapeseed and its oil in their discussions of kitnios. It is also noteworthy that canola often grows near oats, and therefore even those who might argue that canola isn’t kitnios would agree that all of the oats must be removed before the oil is extracted from the canola.”

As in all cases one should follow the tradition of their ancestors. If one is newly religious, they are not necessarily breaking tradition and committing an offense by choosing the tradition of their community or adopting a tradition that is different from the region of their ancestry. However, choosing and adhering a tradition should not be taken lightly and discussed with their community rabbi. (Generally, the custom for converts is to adhere to the traditional of their officiating rabbi in their conversion as that rav is a symbolic adoptive “father.”)

Flour and Wheat Substitutes

Though the soy and legume problems seem to be the most pertinent for health-foodies, we also need to consider the obvious; how do we get around flour and wheat product issues? For many people this is not just a Pesach issue, more and more people are becoming aware of wheat allergies and the effects it has on conditions such as celiac disease.

For those of us who eat gebrochts (yiddish: for broken; meaning broken matzah that is mixed with water), we often make use of matzah meal and matzah cake mix instead of ordinary flour which in all cases is considered chametz. Only wheat that has been watched from harvest to baking to ensure it has not come into contact with moisture is considered kosher-for-passover. Once wheat is baked it is not possible to become chametz. For this reason we use matzah meals which are tempered as it is less likely to become chametz due to this full baking process. It is ground into various grades of meal fineness and used for cooking and baking. Matzah meal is good for dumplings and stuffings; as it is course. Matzah cake mix is perfect as a flour and cake flour substitut; as it is much finer. This is the widespread custom for most Jewish communities to make use of cooked and wet matzah, though there is a ban for certain communities including some chasidim (hopefully we will discuss this in upcoming studies).

Because of the prevalence of people to adhering to a stringency to not eat gebrochts (namely Chabad chassidim) and the influence of wheat-sensitivities many kosher producers have begun to phase out use of matzah meal and substitute it with potato flour for cakes, cookie, dumplings and anything they would ordinarily use wheat for. Those who eat kitniyot can likewise make great use of corn flours and starches for baking and thickening needs. They both are excellent for baking and helping bind foods together.

Gluten-Free Foods

Many items on the market today are marked as gluten free. This has also become more and more the case with the rise of gluten-free diets. Though please note that “gluten-free” certification does not necessarily means it is free of chametz; only that gluten forming proteans were removed from these food product, while not removing the grain itself. This means that many of these products may actually be made of various forms of processed chametz grains. For this reason we avoid processed gluten-free food (pasta, cereals, cookies, etc.) unless they are certified as kosher for passover. (See: “Passover Status of ‘Glutten Free’ Foods” from the Kosher with Food Allergies blog)

Yeasts and Baking Powders

One of the obvious things about the holiday is that we do not make use of leavening. We eat unleavened bread. As explored last week when discussing matzah, we are not talking about using yeast. Chametz does not mean yeast, it means leavening; namely self-rising from a sour-dough process. (see “Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness?”)

Likewise, we do not use bread that is risen with yeast. But that does not mean that we are not allowed to make use of yeasts or rising agents. In fact the Orthodox Union helps clear up this confusion for people:

“As no bread or bread products may be used on Passover, we are obviously not referring to bakers yeast. There are many other strains of yeast which can in fact be kosher for Passover. Many of these are used in winemaking as well as for nutrients in fermentation products. Yeast is an excellent source of nitrogen and nitrogen is an essential ingredient in many fermentations. In order for yeast to be chometz free, it must be grown on a chometz-free medium. These often include glucose/ dextrose…”

So when it comes down to it, we need to be careful not to freak out when we see certain fermentation products that are certified as chametz-free.

But one area of confusion for many people. If we are not to permitted to allow bread to rise by becoming chametz, are we allowed to have fluffy grain products at all such as cakes, cookies and muffins? Though most of us are not master bakers and cannot get our hands on the commercial yeasts above doesn’t mean we have to eat sea biscuit. Make use of baking powders and soda, this can give just the lift one needs. To explore this issue we got some good starter reading for you:

The reason baking soda and powder can be used is because unlike yeast which metabolizes sugar in flour in order to produce CO2 (carbon-dioxide) bubbles, baking powders and soda do not. Sodas and powders cause a chemical reaction which causes a dough to rise but the food product is unchanged, whereas yeast changes the physical compounds and properties of the grain itself in its chemical process of leavening. Powders and sodas are not any more chametz than blowing air into a food with a straw.

This year our kosher-for-passover products seem to be Arm and Hammer, Geffen, Haddar, and Masphiach (“Kosher for Passover ONLY when bearing special certification”).

Food Supplements and Pesach considerations for the Infirm

As is widely known, our rabbinic law gives paramount prescience to our health and wellbeing. Our rabbinic maxim is: “pikuach nefesh docheh et hakol / the preservation of a life overrides all considerations. We are to live by this Law, not die by it. We must submit to any medical consideration that limits our ability to adhere to our religious obligations; be this fasting or taking on Pesach restrictions.

However, during Pesach we are careful to take extra consideration of chametz. The last thing most of us want is to be cut-off or alienated from the celebration and our community and therefore do as much as we can to adhere to a chametz-free Pesach. That does not mean we are not allowed to relax for the young and the sick. Being observant and relaxed are not mutually exclusive.

One of the easiest ways for us to relax is to allow kitniyot for people whose custom is not normally to eat them. The Orthodox Union advises us accordingly:

Kitniyot foods are permitted to someone who is ill or a child who requires them, and is not yet cognizant of Passover concepts. Even a healthy adult may eat kitniyot on Passover if he would otherwise have nothing else to eat. In these cases, one should be careful to ensure that the kitniyot foods do not contain chametz, chametz-processing aids or additives, were not processed on chametz equipment and are stored apart from other Passover foods, as well as served on separate kitchen utensils.”

Many of us who live in the big cities are very blessed to have a side range of food available to us that there is not a whole lot of need to utilize chametz as appropriate chametz-free equivalents are available to us. But one should carefully follow the advice of their doctors and personal rabbis before making any dietary changes. Often times the need to change over to Pesach foods requires a gradual transition to not shock one’s body, consulting a nutritionist would also be helpful.

Please refer to the full article:

Dietary and Nutritional Supplements Drinks (Ensure, Boost, etc.)

One of the main staples of my diet, and for anyone who is physically frail is the use of protean drinks and nutritional supplements. Nutritional drinks like Ensure are vitamin and protean enriched, though carefully formulated for easy digestion and free of common allergens. Though these products are almost always kitniyot, we do have some advice to follow when selection these products. This year’s advice and listing is also provided for us by the Orthodox Union:

Soy Milk and Dairy Substitutes

One of the most important parts of the modern diet is the use of soy/rice/almond/coconut milk and other dairy substitutes. These are useful ingredients in today’s kosher kitchens and on our daily menus. And essential parts of fortifying healthy, vegetarian and vegan diets.

As we won’t really find any with a kosher for passover certification in our local stores, and they certainly are processed foods. So how do we known which are chametz free brands for Passover?

Please refer to these resources by the OU:

The reason one needs to be especially sure to check their dairy-free milk products is because some of these products are blended with filtered wheat and oat milk (Example: most brands of EdenSoy Soymilk; including Eden Soy Original, Extra and Vanilla; as they use wheat and barley extract).

Unfortunately, there is no recommendion for soy coffee creamers, which are often are made with additional starches and other processed materials which are actual chametz.

Additional Considerations

One of the best ways of keeping things chametz-free is to cook from scratch. That is the other part of the Pesach preparations that is just as much hard work as the cleaning. But it is a fun and very healthy yearly experiment with getting back to preparing foods from their basic raw ingredients up. This is a perfect time of year to make decent use of fresh produce, natural meat and organic dairy products.

Just keep in mind as your preparing for the holidays to read labels and ask yourself all the right questions to yourself. Some things aren’t always so obvious. Remember, flour tortillas are not kosher-for-passover; they uses chametz flour and even bakers yeast! Neither is many brands of soy sauce, often actually made of fermented wheat. Consider the source and the additives added to stuff you eat daily, and you will see which foods are best to avoid for this holiday or to substitute for its duration.

Think along these lines and you will be on your way to a healthy and chametz-free home in no time.

I wish you all a joyful and kosher Pesach!


Parshat Tzav (2011)


Parshat Tzav
Leviticus 6-8

Judaism and Kashrut: Your Flavor-Savers

“All male descendants of Aaron

may eat of it, as an eternal law

for all your generations,

from Hashem’s fire offering.

All that touches them shall become holy.”

| Kol zachar bivenei Aharon

| yochelenah chok olam

| ledoroteichem

| me’ishei Hashem

| kol asheryiga bahem yikedash

Leviticus 6:11

Vintage 1950s UK Store Ad

Throughout Leviticus we see a lot of the laws for Kashrut revealed. Some of them are not directly related to food at all but are rooted in the laws related to sacrifice and the prohibition of idolatry. This week we will start to learn some basics about forbidden mixtures, and its social suggestions

As we come into the book of Leviticus we begin to read the description of the priestly service. It lays out for us the processes and procedure for going about the holy service of the sanctuary. Naturally the majority of the work is done by the priests in their various capacities. They are a consecrated people who perform the holy service unto G-d and therefore much attention is put into describing their actions and defining their conduct.

Among the things that priests did as part of their service was perform the various offerings. Many of these offerings were not just offered up to the fire, there were also portions of the various offerings that were eating by the priests. This is the case here with both sin and guilt offerings. A portion of the grain meal that was offered was to be taken and baked into unleavened bread and eaten by the priests.

What we see here is that all the food that touches the altar, that comes in contact with it’s holy fires becomes holy. Our Rabbis tell us that by coming in direct contact with the hot altar and the consuming fire of the elements upon it, the taste of that fire is transferred to the meal upon it. It begins to taste like the holy offerings and therefore should be treated holy, and eaten properly by the priests.

From this our rabbinic teachings derive the concept that anything that is cooked together transfers its essence, by means of it’s flavor. Think about it, we define something by its flavor. We eat something for the flavor probably more so than for the nutrients. This flavor being the essence of a food item, once it permeates and saturates another thing so that it transfers this taste, it become indistinguishable from that substance it’s seethed in. Thus the ruling of Judaic law is that if you cook kosher food with non-kosher food you render it unkosher as quickly as the taste is transferred. (see Pesachim 44b and 45a; and Zevachim 97a/b)

This is one of those points of Torah where the rabbis, parents and teachers point out saying “look, you need to watch what your mingling with because it’s gonna rub off on you!” When I was a kid I used to hear comments from adults about why we need to make friends among good company. I wasn’t always so fortunate to hear it put so nicely in my family, my often angry grandparents would spew something graphic to the tune of “if you hang out with crap your gonna end up smelling like it.” Frankly it used to piss me off. As true as the nature of social osmosis is, I didn’t find the words all that palatable. Besides there was too much wiggle room to debate the goodness of my wild buddies, or the justifiable nature of the situation I was in.

Of course we can argue our point like a teenager, our tradition even goes there. Philosophically our rabbis tried to deal with this issue when it came to applying this concept to kashrut, defining what was acceptable and appropriate. In Talmud Zevachim 97 the discussion is how can we say that mingling makes something inappropriate. Can’t we just as easily say that our mingling can transfers a good nature? This exactly what the scripture is saying after all, it touched something holy and became holy itself.

However, the scripture give us an example of how something “shall” become holy; meaning that it can become holy. This commandment is presented as a positive principal, it tells a step of how something can become consecrated. But it cannot overrule the facts that certain things are just nasty no matter how much contact you have with the pleasing. If it’s inappropriate by nature (think of the hooves, hide, etc. offered up in fire), heavy flavoring won’t make it any more consumable. All our positivity cannot rub out someone’s negativity.

Rashi, being the master of simplicity, in all his knowledge of our rabbinic tradition simply summarizes this principal when comments on this verse saying:

“However it is, that’s how it’s going to be. |

If it’s inappropriate, it shall be inappropriate. |

But if it’s acceptable (kosher) |

eat this thing like it’s a tribute.” |

 להיות כמוה

שאם פסולה יפסלו

ואם כשרה

יאכלו כחומר המנחה

Rashi (free translation)

If we got back to basics about kashrut – meaning kosher eating – we would see that some mitzvot pertaining to it have nothing to do with what is forbidden, but instead bring us to realizing we are a consecrated people. Our tables become like the altar itself, we take every day elements that are not special and by setting them aside for good use they become something special. So everything we eat, we eat it in a way that elevates our experience from just mere consumption to an observance of the specialness of our experience in life.

In our kashrut we copy in a symbolic way what was done in the literal sense everyday in the Mishkan– the holy tabernacle. The priests would take a small amount of the grain meal of the offering to make their own bread out of. Because of where it was taken from it tasted like the offering so it was treated just as sacred as the offering itself; be they sin offerings for the intentional, or guilt offerings for the unknown. So they ate it in a sacred place, during the allotted period of time the mincha offering was still being burned on the altar.

Now thinking about all of this, if I was to try to use this example from our tradition to try to teach lesson about social consequences I would do like the sages do. I’d be honest about it, and say it really has nothing to do with becoming “tainted” as much as protecting the distinct flavor of one’s essence. Id explain how you come from a special place, seasoned with the intentions and troubles of those who came before you that have made you unique. But it’s a good thing, such a good thing that you should be more respectful of your special character because it is something that is precious. And if you treat that special character in you as something precious, it can be just as holy as the very offering of the holy sanctuary itself.

So…. take that grandma and grandpa hahahahaha

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Parshat Tzav

Leviticus 1-8

“All male descendants of Aaronmay eat of it, as an eternal law

for all your generations,

from Hashem’s fire offering.

All that touches them shall become holy.”Kol zachar bivenei Aharon yochelenah chok olam

ledoroteichem

me’ishei Hashem

kol asheryiga bahem yikedash

Leviticus 6;11

As we come into the book of Leviticus we begin to read the description of the priestly service. It lays out for us the processes and procedure for going about the holy service of the sanctuary. Naturally the majority of the work is done by the priests in their various capacities. They are a consecrated people who perform the holy service unto G-d and therefore much attention is put into describing their actions and defining their conduct.

Among the things that priests did as part of their service was perform the various offerings. Many of these offerings were not just offering up to the fire, there were also portions of the various offerings that were eating by the priests. This is the case here with both sin and guilt offerings. A portion of the grain meal that was offered was to be taken and baked into unleavened bread and eaten by the priests.

What we see here is that all the food that touches the altar, that comes in contact with it’s holy fires becomes holy. Our Rabbis tell us that by coming in direct contact with the hot altar and the consuming fire of the elements upon it, the taste of that fire is transferred to the meal upon it. It begins to taste like the holy offerings and therefore should be treated holy, and eaten properly by the priests.

From this our rabbinic teachings derive the concept that anything that is cooked together transfers its essence, by means of it’s flavor. Think about it, we define something by its flavor. We eat something for the flavor probably more so than for the nutrients. This flavor being the essence of a food item, once it permeates and saturates another thing so that it transfers this taste, it become indistinguishable from that substance it’s seethed in. Thus the ruling of Judaic law is that if you cook kosher food with non-kosher food you render it unkosher as quickly as the taste is transferred. (see Pesachim 44b and 45a; and Zevachim 97a/b)

This is one of those point of Torah that the rabbis, parents and teachers point out saying “look, you need to watch what your mingling with because it’s gonna rub off on you!” When I was a kid I used to hear comments from adults about why we need to make friends among good company. I wasn’t always so fortunate to hear it put so nicely in my family, my often angry grandparents would spew something graphic to the tune of “if you hang out with crap your gonna end up smelling like it.” Frankly it used to piss me off. As true as the nature of social osmosis is, I didn’t find the words all that palatable. Besides there was too much wiggle room to debate the goodness of my wild buddies, or the justifiable nature of the situation I was in.

Of course we can argue our point like a teenager, our tradition even goes there. Philosophically our rabbis tried to deal with this issue when it came to applying this concept to kashrut, defining what was acceptable and appropriate. In Talmud Zevachim 97 the discussion is how can we say that mingling makes something inappropriate. Can’t we just as easily say that our mingling can transfers a good nature? This exactly what the scripture is saying after all, it touched something holy and became holy itself.

However, the scripture give us an example of how something “shall” become holy; meaning that it can become holy. This commandment is presented as a positive principal, it tells a step of how something can become consecrated. But it cannot overrule the facts that certain things are just nasty no matter how much contact you have with the pleasing. If it’s inappropriate by nature (think of the hooves, hide, etc. offered up in fire), heavy flavoring won’t make it any more consumable. All our positivity cannot rub out someone’s negativity.

Rashi, being the master of simplicity, in all his knowledge of our rabbinic tradition simply summarizes this principal when comments on this verse saying:

However it is, that’s how it’s going to be.If it’s inappropriate, it shall be inappropriate.

But if it acceptable (kosher)

eat this thing like it’s a tribute.

להיות כמוה

שאם פסולה יפסלו

ואם כשרה

יאכלו כחומר המנחה

Rashi (free translation)

If we got back to basics about kashrut – meaning kosher eating – we would see that some mitzvot pertaining to it have nothing to do with what is forbidden, but instead bring us to realizing we are a consecrated people. Our tables become like the altar itself, we take every day elements that are not special and by setting them aside for good use they become something special. So everything we eat, we eat it in a way that elevates our experience from just mere consumption to an observance of the specialness of our experience in life.

In our kashrut we copy in a symbolic way what was done in the literal sense everyday in the Mishkan- the holy tabernacle. The priests would take a small amount of the grain meal of the offering to make their own bread out of. Because of where it was taken from it tasted like the offering so it was treated just as sacred as the offering itself; be they sin offerings for the intentional, or guilt offerings for the unknown. So they ate it in a sacred place, during the allotted period of time the mincha offering was still being burned on the altar.

Now thinking about all of this, if I was to try to use this example from our tradition to try to teach lesson about social consequences I would do like the sages do. I’d be honest about it, and say it really has nothing to do with becoming “tainted” as much as protecting the distinct flavor of one’s essence. Id explain how you come from a special place, seasoned with the intentions and troubles of those who came before you that have made you unique. But it’s a good thing, such a good thing that you should be more respectful of your special character because it is something that is precious. And if you treat that special character in you as something precious, it can be just as holy as the very offering of the holy sanctuary itself.

So…. take that grandma and grandpa hahahahaha


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