Tag Archives: Passover

Parshat Bo (5774)

Exodus 10:1 – 13:16

Jews Sure Have a Lot of New Years Celebrations!

The New York Ball in 1978

I would like to wish a happy New Year to all my friends and fellow students in Torah learning. I start our lessons off excited after a celebrating our emergence into the new civil year. Which gets me thinking, us religious Jews sure have a lot of New Year days.

If you think about it, we are just a few months off from Rosh haShanah (Hebrew, “the head of the year,” the start of the year) which begins our civil calendar; this the fiscal year in Jewish legal terms. And of course we have TuBiShvat, the new year for the trees which marks the renewal of nature; this comes later this month

However in the Torah, we have one New Year identified for us. Here in this week’s parsha, we are told that the first of the heads of the months (“rosh chadashim”) will begin here (“rishon hu lachem l’chad’shai hashanah / to you it shall be the first of the months of the year”). From the month of Nissan, the month of liberation from Egypt and the celebrating of Passover, we are told to begin counting our months. This is one of the first mitzvot the Torah relays to us, one that is given even before the full revelation of the Torah at Sinai, it is for us to observe the months. Starting here, starting now.

This year I found myself with great revelry celebrating the coming of the civil new year as it passed this week. Generally I’ve been ambivalent about the Gregorian New Year, the reboot point set for the common culture. But this year I found so many legal and civil things coming to fruition with the New Year (the start of the Affordable Care Act, important new environmental ordinances, etc.) I just had to celebrate. Plus I get to leave a lot the financial and emotional stress of the last year behind me, and take a sigh of relief.

I think that is what the observance of the New Year is about. It’s about having a chance to start over. To draw a line, and on the other side leave behind all the burdens of the that we need to leave to the past.

Our Torah does reinforce this view, when the suffering of the children of Israel becomes too much G-d has them start over with a new year and challenges them to demand their freedom. I would hope that as we come into a new year we celebrate a new and better self, and then we work like mad to achieve that freedom.

Though it may seem annoying to many other people that we have so many new years observances in out Jewish culture, and even more so as we observe the new years observed by our own local cultures though out the world. But I think it is beautiful that we have all these points to start again. And the truth is we can start over at any time, if we just choose to recognize it and celebrate it.

Now you might have a lot of problems, you might be finding it hard to let go. You might be asking yourself how people can even ask you to celebrate, even though you still have all these hang ups? The truth is a new start always begins in misery and darkness.

Our Torah tells us that the children of Israel, and both Moses and Aaron, were to observe the start of their new-found freedom while they were still in Egypt, a fact that is revealed at the start of this discussion about the activities of the exodus and Nissan in Exodus chapter 12.

As the moon passes into the New Moon cycle Moses points to the sky and tells them that this is the sign of the start of these new months. But if we think about it, as he reveals the start of the months there is no moon in the sky to signal this new start. The sky and the land below is dark.

New starts generally begin in darkness. This is truth that has been recognized to be so since the most ancient times. Whereas the first spring month of Aires has always been observed as the start of the actual year, and has been so for scientific and previously for legal purposes for as long as humans remember, when the sun is bright and triumphant over winter.

The months conversely have been classically recognized to begin in darkness, at the New Moon. This understanding was often exploited by pagans and magical workers, who would begin the workings in the darkness of the month in hopes their spell would follow the cycle of the moon and grow stronger as the moon waxed bright in the heavens. The hope was that when the full moon came the problem would go away, or something dramatic would happen to change their fate.

While we might frown upon and mock the superstitiousness and occultism of these people, in some ways our culture also has some touches of this type of observance. This earthy, cyclical mindset can be applied even to Judaism as well. And it is even mandated by the Torah, being reclaimed in a different fashion for a holy purpose.

Immediately after we begin counting the months, Moses prescribes for the Hebrews the actions of preparing for Passover. They begin early in the 10th day of the month of Nissan, exactly 180-degrees opposite Yom Kippur – the day of atonement – which falls six months later on the 10th of Tishrei. As the moon has begun to grow to a crescent one is to prepare for their sacrifice, and then clear out all the chametz – the leavening in one’s home and possession. So that on the 14th of Nissan, on the full-moon of the month of Spring, we can observe the Passover Seder in order to celebrate the miracle of our freedom.

We keep an ancient tradition, though with the thought in mind that we are working towards something good. We aren’t just engaging in wishful thinking, hoping that our struggle will be magically resolved for us. The Torah shows us that this process of acquiring freedom and redemption is an active process. There is more to this victory than showing up at the winners circle!

Coming out of so many civil holidays, one might even get a bit annoyed that I bring up Pesach now. Because Passover is a lot of work! More so than any other time of the year. Most all of us are familiar with the difficulty of cleaning for the holiday. Literally everything in our house is inspected for chametz. It is this substance, leavening and its agents, that we seek to get rid of as they are representative of sin and pride in our lives. In that time of renewal and rebirth, we work harder than any other time of the year in order to achieve a new level of freedom and liberation in ourselves. Free from the negative “additives” that will ferment and sour in our lives.

On the first Pesach, they started their process of deep introspection and inspection four days before. When they started the processes of keeping the pascal lamb. For four days they kept the animal for the sacrifice close by. Not just so they could proudly display the animal they chose for the mitzvah, but to also continuously inspect the unblemished nature of their sacrifice.

Though the Torah says in this case we are to take the lamb on the fourth day, it does not necessarily mean that future sacrifices were mandated to be done on that day. Today in the modern age, we don’t have the ability to observe the mitzvah of the sacrifice so we don’t worry about the animal aspect. We instead focus more so on this cleaning away of the chametz, the sin and pride inside of us. And we begin this process much earlier, purely out of necessity as the complications of modern life has caused the fermentations of chametz to creep into the oddest place in our daily lives.

For a new start, we need to commence with inspecting our sacrifice. For us religious Jews, we need to consider our service before G-d. Is our avodah pure, complete and unblemished? Our being and our homes, are they chametz-free, or are there some odd bits of sin and arrogance still riding along with us? Have we shelved some of this away unwittingly? Has some of this fallen into the cracks and is need of being removed from our lives?

Freedom can start today if you want it. The Hebrews weren’t free yet when all this is spoken to them, yet they began to prepare their lives and ready themselves in an pure fashion. They did their part, with the understanding that G-d would reciprocate and do His part to aid their liberation. They corrected their lives, and got ready to walk into a new way of life. But it all really began with the children of Israel following G-d’s command to observe that they were starting over, to put the past behind and start counting from the here and now.

Now even though the break for a new start might not be obvious right away, we need to realize and observe it as our new rosh – our new starting point. Like the new moon which is hidden, it might not be obvious right away and we need to be patient. Though the fact is our fresh start begins at the blackest part of the night, during the moonless nights of new moon. Renewal and redemption most often begin when its darkest in our lives.

We need to prepare ourselves and do this hard work of self-inspection first. If we are committed to this then our passover will surely come, and we will be able to be free and unashamed as we celebrating in the full moonlight!

You can decide to start over any time, my friends. You can start with a new year and new resolutions at any time. And it doesn’t need to be connected to any religion or culture.

In our spiritual lives as Jews, we can also find many places to make a fresh start. Every month, we also have another starting point that we can easily mark; every time Rosh Chodesh comes. The truth is we can start over at any time. You don’t need to wait for another New Years day to come in order to get a chance to restart. Freedom starts today, if you recognize it and do something about it.

Happy New Year, here’s to a fresh start!

Related articles:

Parshat Vayikra (2013)

Leviticus 1 – 5

 Matzah and Marinades: Leviticus in Light of Passover

Our parsha and this new book of the Torah begins with and is also summarized by the words of its first verse:

“And [He] called to Moses

and Hashem spoke to him

out of the Tent of Meeting, saying…”

| Viyikra el-Moshe

| vayadaber Hashem elav

| meohel moed lemor

Leviticus 1:1

This books reveals a discussion that is initiated by G-d, the people had previously out of fear asked that Moses address G-d for them. (see Exodus 20:14-17) Rashi says that though the voice of G-d was spoken and able to be heard by all, to most of the people it was perceived as a small voice. But in a private audience G-d spoke with Moses, who heard his message loudly and clearly in order for it to be articulated to the people. This is because G-d spoke to him in from one set place, the Ohel Moed – the Tent of Meeting.

No ChametzNow we must ask ourselves what the Ohel Moed actually is.

At times we see that G-d spoke with Moses near this place, as we see earlier in the Exodus journey where Moses pitches his own tent in order to meet with G-d outside of the camp. When Moses arrived the presence of G-d would descend as a cloud outside of the entrance of the tent and speak with Moses. Moses would sit in there and commune with G-d, and his assistant Yehosuah ben Nun – Joshua, the future judge and his successor – would stand there as a constant attendant to these discourses. This is a moed, a meeting place but it’s not yet the Mishkan – the Tabernacle sanctuary. However Rashi sees this as a precursor to the Mishkan. (see Exodus 33:7)

And of course we have the Mishakan also spoken of as an Ohel Moed not far off in the same book of Exodus. There we see that G-d does not speak to Moses as he sat inside that moed, but instead G-d spoke from inside of it. This is very different, at this point the Tabernacle is stationed in the very middle of the camp as a dedicated sanctuary to G-d. The presence of G-d fills the tent and speaks from inside, to Moses who stood outside of it as the presence of G-d was too overwhelming for him to enter. (see Exodus chapter 40)

Our Torah speaks of the Ohel Moed in different fashions even over the small span of a few chapters, but by that we see that the Ohel Moed is a concept instead of a rigid and specific proper noun. Its like the American presidential Jet, which ever plane the President of the United States occupies becomes designated Airforce One. A moed is a designated place out of time and space. It refers to any temporary place that was occupied by the presence of G-d before the establishment of a permanent Temple site.

It is the second of these meanings that is going to drive this book of Leviticus. Not only is G-d going to speak to Moses from this place, but he is also going to speak to him very specifically about the manner of conduct for this site and the rituals concerning it. He is to relay these commandments to the people.

G-d begins to speak to Moses, and to the people through him, the words, “Ki-yak’riv mikem kar’ban / when any man brings….” G-d speaks to Moses very definitely in this statement, not if the people want to bring an offering they should do this and that, but when the do they do. Our sages contend this place of meetings was created out of their need. Moses spoke with G-d at his tent because the people needed someone to represent them at their request, then later G-d provided them a tent of worship because they immensely needed that form of expression as graphically acted out in their repeated experimentation with foreign religion. As we go into this book we need to dispel from our minds that G-d needed anything from these rituals and institutions, but realize at a fundamental level the people needed a form of spiritual expression and representation. These institutions were created for human necessity to connect spiritually.

This might be hard for us to understand because for the most part in our culture in the west we have been conditioned into thinking that the primary purpose of the Temple rituals was as a remedy for sin. We will see that at the end of our parsha there is going to be the laws laid out for sacrifices relating to sin – the chatat offering for foolish sins and minor infractions, as seen in chapter four and the first half of chapter five. Then there is the guilt offerings – the asham – for unintentional sins and for misuse of sacred property, for which a person first must pay restitution before drawing near in sacrificial worship again; this is seen in the latter part of chapter five. I must note in review, it is interesting that we see no remedy for intentional sin mentioned at all provided in the Temple offerings.

However the bulk of our parsha here is going to concern itself with laying out the other more normative forms of offerings that were given in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

In chapter one it is mostly going to deal with detailing the laws pertaining to Olah – to burnt offering, specifically of animals. It will define that when one wants to bring such an offering they were able to bring from the cattle or herd of their flocks. This was a special offering entirely for worship, therefore no part of it was eaten by anyone. There were options ranging from bulls to small birds, allowing people of all classes to offer as they could afford. But it clearly only allows animals as meat offerings, only the savory meat of animals proper for consumption would be permissible. Olah means to go up, specifically for the smoke of these meats to rise up as a “ruach nichoach l’Hashem / savory fragrance to Hashem,” or a sweet smell. It would go up entirely in smoke, often mixed with other forms of sacrifice as well. It is easily regarded as a true sacrifice because of the forfeiture of its alah, the cost associate with it.

Of course not all offerings were complete sacrifices, and indeed not all of them were for sin. We also have the Zibach Shlamim – the Peace Offering, or Well-Being Sacrifice. We need to understand that this name does not mean it was offered up completely (shalem) in smoke, but that it was zibach (animal sacrifice) as an act of completion (shalam). This was an offering brought by a person who had something to celebrate. At the end of any endeavor or in celebration of any event a person could bring an offering that would be added to the altar of the daily offerings, the fatty parts offered in fire while the celebrants and the priests would feast upon a portion of the meat. This was a sort of thanksgiving offering, which is discussed at length through Leviticus chapter three; a meal shared between the celebrant, the priests and G-d.

But the heart of the sacrificial system we have the Mincha offering – the grain or meal offering discussed in chapter two. This really was the most common form of Temple offering. It also held special restrictions like the animal offerings of the Olah, making it on par with the meat offering as a “kaddosh kadoshim / a most holy thing.” (see Leviticus 2:3) In a way it helpful for us to start by thinking of chapter two as being the grain and fruits leg of the Temple offerings; the first chapter was meats, now the second chapter is all about fruits.

However the Mincha offerings was more than just an organic alternative, it was the most common of the offerings, so much so that it was offered up everyday in the afternoon. The commonality seems to stem from a few factors, among them being the fact that grain offerings were inexpensive and accessible for all to contribute. Secondly in this agrarian society first-fruits were in a constant cycle of ripening and needing to be offered in gratitude to G-d. Though this Mincha offering is almost a mixture in between the Shlamim and the Olah, because whereas it is sacred and not consumed by the ordinary Israelites, it may be consumed by the priests. A handful portion of grain from it would be offered on the open-air altar, and then the priests would eat the rest of any grain in the form of unleavened loaves of bread. Essentially all the daily Mincha offerings were Kosher l’Pesach – Acceptable for Passover.

But for just a second, I want us to hold up and look at the Mincha offerings. Grasping the rules for it are not actually all that complex, the grain offerings lacked the fat and some of the fragrance of the fatty meats offered on the altar. That is essentially why the hides were not burnt, but the fatty meats were offered up for the savory smoke that would raise up from it as it burned. In order that the grain offering rise up in simular fashion it was mixed with oil and frankincense, fats to help it burn and incense to provide the ruach nichoach – the fragrant scent. The grain offering was thus dressed so that it would also produce a sweet smoke that would fill the camp and rise to the heavens. It was further seasoned with salt, just like the flesh of the animal sacrifices, to further show that its grain was on the same level of holiness as that of the flesh of animals. In fact we are warned to not forget this salting for any offering. (see Leviticus 2:13)

However for the grain offering there are two select restrictions that accompany it in this parsha. Though theoretically they also apply to the other offerings as well, they are concerns that only primarily rise when considering grain offerings:

“Any meal-offerings

which you shall offer to Hashem

shall be made without chametz,

for any leavening and honey

you shall not offer as an offering to Hashem.”

| Kol-haminchah

| asher takrivu l’Hashem

| lo te’aseh chametz

| ki chol-se’or vechol-dvash

| lo-taktiru mimenu isheh l’Hashem.

Leviticus 2:11

As we look at this commandment I hardly need to translate the word chametz – we understand this to mean leavening. But as we can see there are clearly two different words offered for leavening here in this parsha; the first is chametz, the second is se’or. During this Passover season we are careful to clear out the chametz from our homes. We do not just look for yeast in our house, we look for any form of fermentable or fermentation product in our homes. Any untempered grain product that is left wet will begin to decay and turn chametz given enough time to rest and undergo this chemical process. This is often helped by sugar and heat as catalysts to this process, which is why bakers and brewers carefully monitor these factors.

If any product that is grain can become chametz under the right conditions then we must ask ourself what se’or is and what distinguished it from satisfactorily being covered by the term chametz. Se’or is a type of chametz, and we also look for any of these types of chametz also during this season, but it is not just a latent form of chametz. Like the honey the se’or is an additive, like a yeast-cake. However, fundamentally it is the same, in that yeast additives were created by leaving a piece of dough aside to grow as a starter batch, this sour-dough starter that would be added to a new lump of dough with the sweetener in order to quickly aid the rising of the bread. The word se’or comes from root word se’ar which means a remainder, it is the rest of a mixture or the other part that is left behind; this is because a sour-dough process is merely utilizing a left over piece of chametz from a previous lump of dough.

In light of this during this season it is common for all Jews to review every item in our homes, to remove all forms of chametz. We take this very seriously because chametz represents sin and pride, things that we should remove from our lives during this time of relection and liberation. We don’t merely remove the intentionally and obvious like the se’or, but we also actively and primarily engage in seeking out the latent and less obvious manifestations of chametz – of sin and pride in our lives. Here at the start of our spring harvest season, and indeed our spiritual and celestial New Year, we deal with chametz and sin before their ripened fruits sour upon us.

Ordinarily we reckon our tables as symbolic altars already, doing our sacred mitzvot upon it, things like kiddush, motzie, havdalah and learning. Religious Jews are careful to eat kasher – that which is acceptable and appropriate – the food that we place upon it is as carefully considered as if it were given as an offering, never placing improper mixtures upon it just like we would never allow on the altar of the Temple. But during this Pesach holiday we get to further raise our tables to sacred status by also not placing any form of chametz on it in the same manner that chametz wasn’t allowed in the sacrifical offerings. During Pesach our table is given one more profound way of modeling sacredness in our homes and lives as we abstain from chametz.

We can see an understanding for why we shouldn’t add chametz to our offerings, but by itself we see no clear reason to prohibit the offering of honey. What could be so wrong with sweetening the offerings? Adding a bit of honey to the meat would marinate the animal offerings beautifully and if added liberally to wheat it would make a sweet cake out of the plain flour.

Our great rabbis also provide us several reasons why should not offer chametz or honey, the Rambam tells us that the idolaters were of the custom to only offer leavened bread and sweet foods with meats smeared with honey; we are not to follow after like manner, therefore the scriptures do not allow honey or leavening upon the altar at all. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:46) This would make sense, a lot of the machmir restrictions we apply to foods is because of the association with idolatry.

However our tradition still has much room to weigh in with symbolic reasons. The Sefer haChinuch likens theses two prohibited substances to two type characteristics that we need to overcome if we are to really repent and offer a truly atoning sacrifice. First off we must not be lazy, chemtz is created when a lump of dough is left resting and isn’t worked. (see Soft Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness) Its culture begins to spreads through it and inflates the lump as it rests, but will not do so while it remains worked. In constrast, repentance is an active process that we must engage in before G-d and in making restitution to the people we have wronged. While honey likewise represents the yetzer hara (the evil impulse) in another fashion, its sweetness represents lust and unbridled desire. A prohibition against honey is a stand against that sweet-tooth that we need to keep in check as a repentant person.

The Rebbe Maharash – Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the son of the Tzemach Tzedek also teaches us that there are two symbolic and mystical reasons why we are not allowed to offer up chametz or honey. He warns us that we should learn to not be people of extremes, even things as seemingly simple as leavening and honey are harmful if generously applied.

He teaches us that chametz represents the type of person that is constantly bitter and angry at the world. In fact all chametz (leavening) is rooted in chamutz – in bitterness, which is its shoresh (root-word). This is representation of a bitter soul, of the type of person that is constantly mad at the world. This is representative of the man with a chip on his shoulder, constantly ready to argue with anyone. The person who is ever critical and unable to see anything good in the world.

And then in contrast there is the other type of extremity as represented by honey, of the person that is overly sweet and cordial. They are constantly cheerful and nothing ever phases them. They have a hard time seeing the bitterness and evil caused by sinful people in this world. A saccharin sweetness that seems almost unnatural because it covers up the true bitterness present in anything, for which we are warned leads to judging both the wicked and righteous of the world by the same relativistic standard.

The Rebbe Maharash thus teaches us that we must learn to not be people of extremes, we must neither be too bitter nor too sweet. This quality control of the sacrifices, by neither allowing chametz or honey, hints to the type of control we must master over our emotions.

I think these are all great ideas to keep in mind as we put aside our sweet and fluffy challah and bring out our matzot during this passover season.

Kitniyot: Eating Beans and Rice During Passover

Issues relating to the eating of Kitniyot for Sephardim and the implications of new hechshers

BeansUpdated and Current for Passover 2016

Every years as I begin to prepare for the holiday I once again start the lengthy process of cleaning for the passover holiday, scrutinizing ever item and removing chametz (leavening) items for the holiday. As I’ve explained before, we are not jut talking about items with yeast and simple wheat in them. During the passover holiday we take special attention to clear out and items with displays any sort of grain based fermentation; this represents sin and pride. Annually we do a spring cleaning of the home and the soul during this time of the celebration of our freedom. (see Parshat Vayikra 2013)

Once the Passover season rolls around I tend to get flooded with emails asking questions about Pesach kashrut and cleaning tips, more often than not from people who are asking my advice regarding the customs of eating rice and beans during the Passover holiday. As I observe the Sephardic tradition, being of Spanish extraction and custom, I have some experience regarding the eating of these forms of legumes during these Passover season. Though I am not a rabbi and cannot give specific rabbinic approval for certain items and practices, I do have a lot of experience in how to apply these types of kashrut from years of observance. Here are some tips and resources that can help people who are new to passover observances, or are new to consumption of kitniyot during the holiday.

For those who want a rundown of the basic, traditional approach towards kitniyot I would recommend the following insightful article for starters:

For those who live in Israel, there is some level of certainty to buying kitniyot products that are certified “Kosher for Passover” under the supervision of Badatz Beit Yosef and other independent Sephardic rabbis. However, generally these products have not been imported to the Americas because local rabbinic supervisors have had no experience certifying kitniyot for Pesach for non-commercial use. The reason, simply put, is that the majority of North America’s Jews are Ashkenazi and regard themselves subject to a ban on kitniyot products, as they do not have a custom allowing for the eating of them. Historically there was not much of a demand for pesach kitniyot to begin with, and the general consumers seemed more concerned that possibility of confusing the status-quo of kosher certification outweighed the benefits of satisfying a slim minority.

oukitniyotThankfully that has changed, the Orthodox Union in America has announced that they will begin to certify items labeled “KITNIYOT” for those who are accustomed to eating them during Passover. Just like meat and glatt products are certified by their explicit labeling “MEAT” or “GLATT” under their OU certification, kitniyot products will likewise state “KITNIYOT.” Please note, this does not mean that kitniyot will be certified with the normative OU-P certification, which historically is placed on all items that are Passover appropriate. Any OU-P item should be assumed to be kitniyot free unless marked, in the same manner that parve items bear only an OU with no additional categorization. Please see the following announcement for details:

The Star-K has also rolled out their own certification of products appropriate for the Sephardic community under a project known as Star-S Project. By Passover 2013 they should be releasing their first product, non-chametz Carolina Rice, on a special Passover run. See the following related announcements:StarS

Though this was announced last-minute and most of us have yet to find these products on the shelves this year, there does seem to be an attempt by the establishment to rectify a general neglect in our society for the minority population of Jews and for those who on account of health reasons require kitniyot to supplement their diet. This is especially egregious considering many of these species are native to our own shores, while the reality has been that Israel has advanced beyond the United States in kosher certification in a proven fashion that demands we catch up. At this time of year kosher supervision is especially critical and gearing up for identifying yoshon items of the spring harvest, it does make this season an optimal time to make a change in labeling, even if these products wont find their way immediately to our tables.

Kosher for Passover Bamba in the USA, bearing a OU-Kitniyot certification. March 2013 (Los Angeles)

Kosher for Passover Bamba in the USA, bearing a OU-Kitniyot certification. March 2013 (Los Angeles)

So what can one do until we start seeing these newly certified items rolled out? Those who are lucky enough to live in the larger North-Eastern American communities should already be accustomed to finding some access to kitniyot that are chametez-free. Many local Sephardic rabbis do certify small runs of things such as rice for Pesach, these can often be found at the local kosher market or Sephardic synagogue just after Purim. Please be aware that there is never enough to go around, and some places even take waiting lists or merely drop a single shipment that everyone scrambles for so you do want to plan ahead.

If you cannot get your hands on one of these shipments or these products are not available in your area, don’t fret! There are also other ways you can acquire consumable kitniyot. The truth is that for the most part we don’t need to worry about chametz contamination of our kitniyot product in their whole, raw and unenriched form. Grain is most often not grown in shared or cycled fields with most legumes, and if mixed it is clearly evident for removal.

This is true for most kitniyot except for rice, which is easily mistaken for barely gains and commonly grown in shared fields with wheat. For this reason rice is the most scrutinized of the kitniyot.

It also posses problems related to enrichment, which supplies dietary supplements often derived from grain and even wheat sources. Which is coated over the rice in a starch powder form. Though these enrichment minerals do not identify their source on their labeling most of the time, rabbinic supervisors do usually identify which brands and types of rice are not enriched with chametz for that year.

Though the following recommendations have been made since Passover 2013 by the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate (Sephardic), one that breaks with their advice of former years:

“…the Star S has responded to requests made and they have supervised a non enriched variety of the Carolina rice. This is free of additives, but it has NOT been checked 3 times, as must be done before Passover! While for many years we have been able to investigate, with the assistance of Kashrut experts, the different ingredients used in the enrichment, and the processes that are employed to do so, we are no longer given access to that information! We will therefore only be able to provide brand names of rices that are not enriched. Regularly used brands such as Goya, Uncle Bens, River and Regular Carolina could not be determined as acceptable and alternatives must be used.”

In 2015 they again stressed:

The staple of the Sephardic Passover diet is Rice. It is the #1 question. Which rice is good? Most supermarket brands of rice are enriched. The enrichment is diluted with starch in order to distribute it evenly on the rice. This can be a corn, rice or a wheat starch base. Unlike for the past 25 years, we no longer have access to the detailed information about the enrichment processing ingredients, and therefore,

We do not recommend enriched rice.”

This year – for Passover 2016 – their recommendations for rice are as follows:

White Rice: Any unenriched or organic rice is acceptable. Star-SP has made a special run of certified unenriched Carolina.  It is not pre checked. Please check 3x according to our custom! Super Lucky Elephant brand (Star K) available at Costco and Walmart. Sugat brand from Israel. Kitniyot OU, Kitniyot.

Short grain: Nishiki, KoKuho and Cal Rose brands (K-ORC) are also enrichment free. They can be found at Wegmans and most Oriental stores. Also Lundberg’s Organic (not mixes).

Brown rice: Any brand without additives. The brand at Costco looked very clean and easier than most to check.

Basmati: Deer Brand, Himalayim, B&J brand or any unenriched.”

Pure wild Rice: (looks like short black sticks is acceptable without a marking: it is from the grass family, not a legume at all

Though theoretically all unenriched rice is appropriate for Pesach consumption, one should pay special attention when purchasing to not buy from open bins. This is not just because of the lack of labeling to identify enrichment. This is often the poorest quality, just like the beans in open bins, are often more “dirty” and contain more waste such as rocks. Likewise bin rice tends to have more barley contamination.

However, we must  also keep in mind that sometimes legumes come with chametz directly from the field as well. Rabbi Isaac Farhi of the JSOR thus stresses this point:

“It has been our custom throughout the generations to check all rice three times before Pesach. While in Arkansas, I was informed that the crops are rotated yearly, and that it is very common to find grain in rice fields. Although there is equipment to remove any non rice pieces, it is not 100% effective. Please be advised that every year grains are found in the rice, check carefully.”

This can also be verified by this report, from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture as well:
“Soybeans, corn, and wheat are typically rotated with both rice and cotton in Arkansas to reduce weeds or insects and to improve soil fertility.”

The use of more efficient irrigation methods today allows farms to more readily rotate their crop. Of course this technology and method is also used in other states as well, including Oklahoma. This poses a risk for cross contamination during harvesting.

It is precisely for this reason that all rice that is purchased, whether or not it is certified as Kosher for Passover or “KITNIYOT” per it’s certification, needs to be checked by hands for chametz contamination. This requires the examination of each grain of rice, and the common custom is for rice to be inspected three times by hand.
This is stressed by the Star-K:
“Despite the fact that these rice products are meticulously cleaned in the factories with advanced machines, the Gedolei Haposkim of the Sephardic kehillot feel that the established custom of checking the rice, grain by grain, three times is still required. Therefore, STAR-S-P certified rice products should be checked, grain by grain, three times prior to its usage on Pesach.”

This applies to all rice, including the Carolina Mehadrin (Star-S), which is assured to not be grown near or packaged with chametz machinery of any form.

This is similarly the case for all Sephardic agency certified rice, including that which is Mehadrin certified. For more information regarding the checking of rice please refer to the following article by Rabbi Eli Mansour, of Sephardic Congregation Bet Yaakob (Syrian):

Though it might seem tedious for people to check their rice, we must remember that this time of year it is important to be as machmir as possible. In actuality, the process of checking really is not much more tedious than normative process of checking ordinary store-bought legumes, except that we insist on checking several times. Rabbi Mansour offers the following advice in the above mentioned guide:

“One spreads the rice out on a white surface, so that any dark kernels will be visible and evident, and he checks the rice three times. It is preferable not to perform all three inspections in immediate succession, as he may grow fatigued after the first or second time and not inspect properly. One may not trust a minor below the age of Bar Misva or Bat Misva to perform this inspection.”

Though there are not any authoritative seforim that concisely describe the kashrut concerns for those who are kitniyot observant, we have much to draw from by following the customs handed down from generation to generation. Carolina MehadrinThe custom of checking rice in this fashion is something that is well established for all Sephardic communities. It seem that the perceived tediousness of inspection explains in part explains for why some Sephardic communities (including some Moroccans), despite being permitted, do not consume rice at all to avoid this cumbersome task.

One should follow the advice of their own community rabbis concerning the checking and consumption of kitniyot, often times they will have the best grasp of the local food offerings and their production quality. Sometimes these offerings will extend beyond the obviously certified products.

Thought the new kashrut classifications do promise to make many more products available to the consumer, we should also recognize that this is also a clear response by the kosher supervising agencies to reinforce the concept that no processed, consumable items should be utilized unless they bear proper certification or you are advised by your rabbi. This is especially important to stress to the newly observant, who often assume that kitniyot consumption is a leniency that readily allows one to eat most regular foods during the Passover holiday. As we see kitniyot is not necessarily “easier,” it is an active minhag that is also demanding and should not be regarded as the mere absence of a prohibition.

No matter what tradition we are from, this holiday does offer us a time to get more in touch with the basics of natural, organic and unadulterated foods that are free from major restrictions and limitations. Hopefully these guidelines can help us select more food choices with certainty for a truly joyful and kosher Pesach.

For additional information regarding selecting kitniyot Passover products, please refer to the following resources:

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Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness

Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness
Is it permissible for one to have soft matzot for Pesach?

Soft Matzah

Soft Sephardic-styled matzah waiting to be packaged.

Some people love matzah. I’m not necessarily one of them. I mean I use matzah meal for cooking throughout the year, but I’m not a fan of machine-made matzot. You know them. They come in boxes, which makes sense for some of us as they closely resembles the taste of the cardboard container itself. No really, those crispy crackers taste good when you start the week. But usually a few days in you start to understand the whole “bread of affliction” metaphor. Most of us don’t say it because of the dry lump in our throat, or because we are more preoccupied with the mirroring one in our digestive track.

All I have to say is, suffer no more! Get soft matzot! That’s right, I said soft matzah bread for Pesach.

I would love to do a good blog about the history of matzah. But most of us know this history quite well, and realize that the crispy crackers that we have today are a result of a fully automated process that was created about 150 years ago. Even if we use handmade matzot, their evolution to a bread identified by its perforations and crispy thinness has sustained as mehadrin and machmir (stringent) to the point it is almost universally utilized as our only style bread for Pesach in the greater Jewish world.

But it wasn’t always so. More precisely, it isn’t always so. For some Sephardim and Mizrahim, automation is not widely known in their communities and they still utilize homemade or community made matzot that are according to the pre-Industrial, handmade method and retain a fluffiness akin to Pita bread.

How is this possible? The issue of chametz (leavening) comes down to not allowing our flour to rise. It rises without even introducing yeast. In fact, historically we need to understand people didn’t usually go down to the local Food4Less and get a packet of yeast. It was done by fermentation of actual flour itself, like the sour dough process in which decay and fermentation in flour spreads its leavening to the rest of the dough, so that it will rise with appropriate heat and time to rest.

The last detail is part of the trick. As long as the dough is not allowed to sit more that 18 minutes it will not become chametz. As long as the dough is kept kneading it will not leaven. In the Sephardic world it was common practice for whole teams of people to keep working the dough to keep it from this form of leavening. The resulting dough, being more worked would become softer and retain some of that even once baked. The minhag also allows for thicker matzot too, thus explaining why they are akin to everyday pitot or laffa bread.

Under Sephardic rabbinic supervision such matzot can be found in many major cities worldwide. They are even more greatly available in Israel. But the question arises for some, are they appropriate for Ashkenazim to eat as well? The answer is answered for us by HaRav Aviner(I have also provided his matching Hebrew statement):

ש: האם מותר לאשכנזים לאכול מצות רכות

ת: אמנם יש אוסרים, ומודים שבעבר היו אוכלים אבל חדלו (הגרשזא הליכות שלמה פט הערה פ) ושאין מסורת להתיר. אבל אין גם מסורת לאסור, ומוזכר ברמא שהמצות היו עבות (תס ד) אז בהכרח היו רכות, וכן בשערי תשובה שם שהיו מגררים את המצות עם מין פומפיה, סימן שהיו רכות. והגר אשר וייס מתיר מעיקר הדין רק חושש כי אין בקיאים ברכות (בסוף ההגדה סטו). אבל עדות המזרח כן בקיאים. וכן הגר צבי שכטר מתיר בסיכום מותר

Q: Is it permissible for Ashkenazim to eat soft Matzah, like the Sefardim?

A: There are those who forbid it. While they agree that in the past Ashkenazim did eat it, they ceased doing so (Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halichot Shlomo chap. 9 note #80) and there is no tradition (Masoret) to permit it. But there is also no tradition to forbid it, and the Rama (Orach Chaim 460:4) mentions that the Matzot where thick (and must therefore have been soft). And the Sha’arei Teshuvah writes there that they would prepare them with a type of grater, which is also a sign that they were soft. Ha-Rav Asher Weiss writes that the basic Halachah is that they are permissible, but he is concerned that we are not experts in making them soft and there is therefore a concern about Chametz (at the end of his Haggadah, siman #15). But Sefardim are experts. And Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter also permits them. In sum: It is permissible.”

So there you have it folks, us weird Sephardim got it right somewhere. Not only that, its proper for everyone’s use and not just us “orientals.”

In keeping with current standards for Pesach food preparation, they are all expertly prepared in under 18 minutes; which makes them equally on par with all the standards as that of crunchy matzot.

Now this announcement isn’t exactly a comfort to the masses, as they are still hard to get if you don’t live in a major Sephardic Jewish community.

One of the reasons they are now becoming more widely available today is because of the of aid of modern technology as well. Such soft matzot tend to dry out very quickly and usually have to be used the same or next day. Though freezing has allowed them to last longer. But if your don’t live in one of the major communities its unpractical to try to buy these matzot and have them shipped to you as the cost of shipping can easily be double the cost of the product itself; they need to be shipped overnight in order to remain frozen. Nonetheless you can order them online.

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