Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ochel, ochel everywhere, but not a bite to eat

Okay, I’ll stop being a wiseguy and translate: ochel = food.

DovBear published a post about Rosh Hashanah (New Year) on his blog, and I noticed that people kept commenting on how hungry they’d gotten, waiting until after services to eat. So I e-mailed him about that, and we had an interesting discussion:

Me: What's the halachic problem with eating a no-bread snack before shul on Shabbat and/or Yom Tov? I don't get it.

G'mar Chatimah Tovah.

DovBear: You aren't supposed to take care of yourself so to speak before you take care of God so to speak. The rule is if it is something a king would serve on his table you can't eat it before you have davened

(and this is true every day of the year)

Me: That's no big deal on a weekday, but on Shabbat and Yom Tov, you're essentially supposed to "fast" all morning? So "fasting" is both assur [prohibited] and er, chayav [obligatory] (?) on Shabbat and Yom Tov? Sorry, I can't make much sense of that. How the heck can one call Shabbat oneg [a delight] when one is hungry? And this is "v'samchta b'chagecha [You shall rejoice on your holiday]?" Okay, maybe I'll drop the strawberries and just eat the hard-boiled egg (with blueberries, which I eat for medicinal purposes and which are sour half the time anyway). That's not exactly food fit for a king.

DB: Raw fruit is probably ok.

And there are all sorts of other outs. Ask your local rabbi.

So I asked my local rabbi.

He said that, before praying, one is permitted to have nothing that might be considered even part of a meal. Therefore, one may have black coffee or tea with sugar. One is not permitted to add milk.

But rabbi, I’ll starve on Shabbat!

He said that one is permitted to say the brachot (blessings) over the Torah, then the three paragraphs of the Sh’ma, then have a snack, but not a meal. Mezonot (grains or grain products other than bread) are permissible (I didn’t know that), but bread is not (I knew that). You may have milk, too. (No such luck—I’m a bit lactose-intolerant.) But you are not permitted to have a hard-boiled egg, because that’s considered a small meal.

So, in other words, I can eat all the junk food that I want, but I’m not allowed to eat anything healthy like, ya know, protein?

We settled on a rice cake smeared with almond butter, which killed both birds with one stone—it gave me a smidge of protein without any “real” mezonot. (Since rice is not one of the “five species” of grain mentioned in the Torah—wheat, rye, oats, barley, or spelt—I’ve never really been sure whether one recites the brachah/blessing for mezonot, non-bread grain products, or the shehakol blessing for miscellaneous foods over it.) In the long run, I’ve found that the easiest permissible snack is a handful of nuts and raisins, with a “dessert” of fresh blueberries.

So, for those of you who were wondering, that's what I ate for most of Sukkot. Every day for lunch, I had a bag of raisins and nuts, on the assumption that anything bought from a newsstand is, by definition, a snack, since kiosks that sell newspapers don’t sell meals. And every time I ate dinner at home instead of in a sukkah, I made a meal of snacks such as the aforementioned rice cakes with almond butter topped with raisins, a handful of baby carrots, and fresh fruit. I didn’t eat any bread or “real” mezonot outside of the sukkah.

I've been trying to publish a couple of hyperlinks in this post for almost half an hour. Ya think maybe if I attempt to insert them all the way down here, Blogger will stop refusing to publish them? I promised DovBear that I'd link to his blog, so I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.


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