Sunday, September 16, 2007

To eat or not to eat, that is the question

For the life of me, I can't find it in my e-mail, but I had a nice conversation with DovBear last year around this time about this post. I wanted to know how on earth a person could go half a day on Rosh Hashanah without eating when I thought it was assur/forbidden to fast on a holiday (other than a fast day, obviously). He replied, as I recollect, that "we serve G-d first." Well, yeah, but, we're still fasting. Okay, you can have a snack, just not a meal, he said.

So I ran it past my rabbi--who promptly nixed my new habit of having a hard-boiled egg before synagogue on Sabbath and/or holidays because an egg constitutes a small meal, not a snack. I had thought I'd be in the clear as long as I didn't eat bread. He said I was allowed to eat milk with cookies or cake, which is clearly a snack.

"But I don't want to have junk food, Rabbi--I want to eat something healthy!"

He finally came up with a "bypass strategy/work-around"--if I said the brachot (blessings) over the Torah (in Birchot HaShachar) and all three paragraphs of the Sh'ma, I'd be "yotzeh" (yotze-et?)--I would have fulfilled my obligation--having prayed first, and could eat anything I wanted.

That works perfectly for me, since I've been saying Birchot HaShachar and P'sukei D'Zimra anyway before going to synagogue on Sabbath or holidays for a couple of years now.

So I'm back to eating a hard-boiled egg before leaving for shul.

Of course, today would have different, it being the half-fast of Tzom Gedalia. On half-fast days, one doesn't eat between sunrise and sunset. (I've heard that some people break the fast after Mincha, or after Mincha-time, but I don't know whether that practice is really permissible.) Unfortunately, I noticed, Friday night, that I was sniffling again--and by Saturday afternoon, it was clear that I was rounding out my recent bronchitis with a full-fledged flu attack.

The weird part is that, while I'm sick enough that I could probably justify eating, I'm sufficiently under the weather that I can barely force myself to drink plain water. Last night, I was coughing so hard that I actually hurt my temporo-mandibular joint, which is some kind of a first for me.

And here I thought I was getting better. I actually had enough voice to sing on Rosh Hashanah, though not nearly at my usual loud-mouthed volume. (For a harmony singer, singing loudly is pretty much a necessity, unless you don't care that nobody but you, yourself, can hear the harmony.) I was hoping that I'd have enough voice back by this coming Friday that I could lead the Yamim Noraim/High Holiday tune for Yigdal, which I've been doing at our local synagogue for several years. This year, the Punster had to pinch-hit for me on Rosh Hashanah.

Well, we shall see. In the meantime, there goes the rest of my sick leave. :(

Monday, September 17 update:

Darn, here's that missing discussion with DovBear. And, apparently, I goofed--my rabbi did not say that I'm allowed to eat a hard-boiled egg before going to synagogue. But my acid reflux, which was aggravated by my recent bout with bronchitis, and which is also aggravated by the consumption of nuts (not to mention chocolate, citrus, tomatoes, . . . ), takes the nuts-and-fruit solution off the (literal) table. A hard-boiled egg is the only protein source that I can think of that isn't a big deal to put together and doesn't risk aggravating my health problem. So I'm afraid I'm just going to have to say "nuts!" to my rabbi's solution and eat a hard-boiled egg before going to synagogue anyway.

Sunday, September 30, 2007 update:

I showed my rabbi a Friday, September 21, 2007 New York Jewish Press article by Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen, "Food on the Sabbath Prior to Kiddush," stating that, according to some opinions, it's permissible to eat and drink, but not to have a full meal, prior to Musaf. His response was that, since I'm "weak" (I'm pretty sure that's the English word he used, though I forget the Hebrew), I'm permitted to eat a hard-boiled egg before coming to synagogue on Sabbath. (Presumably, the same would apply to a holiday.) I was hoping to get a more clear-cut explanation of why he had said that junk food, but not real food, was fine before shul, but I'll take any kula (lenient interpretation of a law) that I can get.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could be completely wrong here, but I thought that if you're going to eat before davening, the ideal thing is something with the generic "shehakol" blessing (some yogurt maybe?) Then fruit/veg/pastries (other non-hamotzi foods) are less desirable, and then bread is the biggest no-no. (Bear in mind, this all comes from the "something I vaguely remember reading somewhere" pile and is thus not tremendously reliable).

Mon Sep 17, 06:38:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That's the point, Woodrow--doesn't an egg need the brachah/blessing "shehakol"? I honestly don't understand why it should be okay to eat a pastry (which takes the brachah "mezonot") but not an egg, which, being "shehakol," is lower on the brachah scale of importance. What's the higher priority:
a) avoiding eating even the smallest meal;
b) avoiding eating a food that requires a higher-level blessing before eating (e.g., most fruit [blessing: p'ri ha-etz] and vegetables [blessing: p'ri ha-adamah]),
c) avoiding eating a food that requires an even higher-level blessing after eating (the grains and fruits considered indigenous to the Land of Israel, namely, wheat, barley, oats, rye, spelt, grape wine or juice, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, or dates).

Mon Sep 17, 07:10:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Commenter Abbi said...

Seriously, your rabbi sounds a little goofy. I'd shop around for another one.

Tue Sep 18, 03:20:00 AM 2007  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

1. You clearly are NOT allowed to fast on Rosh Hashana. I had a super frum rebbe once who made it a point to drink a glass of water prior to shul on RH, the only day of the year on which he did so.

2. Tzom Gedalia is a minor fast and your health is as they say "docheh" it so don't feel bad if you had to eat that day. (Parenthetically, why we fast on this day but not Yom Hashoa is beyond me). Anyway, I had a worsening headache on Sunday and finally broke the fast mid morning.

3. Regarding eating before davening, you may not like my answer, but since you're a woman and are not obligated in laws that have a specific time (like davening), I don't see why you couldn't eat breakfast. (prepares for pummeling). That being said, I think a responsible rabbi (orthodox or conservative, take your pick), would tell you that if there are health issues (diabetes, medications, etc) that you are not only allowed to eat first but obligated. G-d gave you this body and it's your responsibility to take care of it.

Tue Sep 18, 09:49:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i agree with most of what PT said.

Tue Sep 18, 08:37:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Abbi, goofy is not necessarily a description I'd choose. One of the reasons why I'm still blogging under a pseudonym is that my rabbi has already threatened once to sue me. I don't intend to give him any further ammunition.

Mark/PT, you know me--I've often been known to bite off more than I'm halachically required to chew. :) That said, I thought the whole point of my rabbi saying that I should recite the brachot over the Torah, then the three paragraphs of the Sh'ma was precisely to have me fulfill the minimal obligation and, having done so, be halachically permitted to eat. Weekday minyanim are not a problem--even on Sunday, when we start at 9 (which is probably halachically a bit late), we rarely end after 9:30 unless it's Rosh Chodesh. But how can one call the Sabbath a delight or rejoice in one's festival when one doesn't eat a thing until noon? A half-fast on Shabbat and/or Yom Tov??? I just don't get it. As long as I don't have bread before making kiddush, what's the difference what I eat? Again, I just don't get it.

Steg, you get the honor of cutting your halachic teeth rather early in your rabbinic career. I hope rabbinical school is going well. I guess my question is, if I'm permitted to eat once I've said the Torah blessings and all three paragraphs of the Sh'ma, why the restrictions, other than the one against eating bread before kiddush? As I asked in my second comment, what's the higher priority: avoiding a "meal," even if the food I eat requires only "shehakol" brachah; avoiding eating a food for which I'd have to say a higher-level brachah [ha-etz or ha-adamah]; or avoiding eating a food that would require me to say an even higher-level brachah [mezonot]?

Tue Sep 18, 10:35:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My custom on Shabbos/YT mornings is to have coffee with some food (candy, fruit, cheese), but to avoid mezonos and certainly hamotzi foods, and also to eat an amount that would constitute a snack and not a "meal". But this is all very much a matter of custom; I know some won't even have coffee with milk before davening. And I also know very "yeshivish" people who have cake before davening. To me the key is to eat a quantity/type of food that helps you get through davening without hunger distracting your kavannah, but something short of a full meal.

Wed Sep 19, 10:49:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Elie, that's pretty much my approach, as well. I want to eat just enough not to be distracted by hunger while davvening or listening to the Torah reading. For me, that means eating protein.

To the best of my knowledge, a hard-boiled has only 80 calories or so. What's the big deal?

As usual, my rabbi thinks that his way is the only way, I'm sure. Why else would he permit mezonot in the form of junk food, while expecting me to avoid just about anything healthy?

Wed Sep 19, 05:55:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, I follow the same criteria in terms of what I eat outside the sukkah - no mezonos (or "seven species" fruit), and not eaten a fixed meal.

Thu Sep 20, 10:42:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Okay, no olives, grapes, figs, dates, pomegranates, wheat, or barley, ("seven species" mentioned in the Torah) and no rye, oats, or spelt (info sought: where are these mentioned?). (Eek! No sardines in olive oil all week, and no olive oil on my tuna or salad! Soy and canola oils to the rescue! Not to mention a week without pomegranate juice.)

What about the other grains that are "honorary" mezonot, the ones for which one recites the "grain-product-except-bread" brachah (blessing) "mezonot" before eating but the brachah "borei n'fashot," the one for "miscellaneous" food, afterward? I thought it would be okay to eat rice outside the sukkah, but my rabbi gave me a song and dance last year about both rice and rice cakes when I mentioned them.

And what about less-commonly-eaten-in-the-U.S. grains such as millet, quinoa, and amaranth, which, I'm guessing, take the same brachot as rice? Am I stuck with "ha-adamah" starches such as potatoes, corn/maize, and plain kasha/buckwheat (a legume?? Who knew?) without varnishkes/bowtie pasta, not to mention potato and corn chips, all week unless I can get to a sukkah?

Elie (Ezzie, MOChassid . . .), do you know of any mid-town kosher fast-food place that will have a sukkah? It's considerably more than a short hike from my office to the Pizza Cave. :)

Thu Sep 20, 03:58:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose it won't do any good to say that as a female, you are patur [exempt] from sukkah, huh? :-}

Again, I am not paskining, I can only convey my personal practice. I do avoid the "honorary mezonos" foods (rice, etc.) outside the sukkah (or before shul on Shabbos), but fruits, veggies, and shehakol foods are OK, as long as I don't make a full meal out of it.

BTW, sardines/tuna in olive oil would be shehakol, with borei nefashos afterwards. The oil is simply a dressing/marinade for the food and is "batel" [nullified] in terms of bracha. So you can definitely enjoy your fish and salads under this model, unless the salad contains actual olives.

Fri Sep 21, 09:21:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Well, I guess it's good news and bad news, then: Hello, sardines; goodbye, rice cakes. Oh, well. The good news is that many corn chips and potato chips are parve. But, being one of those people for whom snacking on carbohydrates is more likely to make me feel hungry than full, I'm stickin' to a hard-boiled egg before shul.

Fri Sep 21, 01:08:00 PM 2007  

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