Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Faux Judaism: Some further thoughts

Here's my link (with comments) to Rejewvenator's original post concerning "Faux Judaism . . . the divorcing of Jewish practice from reality . . . living in an imaginary sphere of halacha [Jewish religious law] that is only tangentially connected to the real world.."

I'd like to add my two cents.

B'rachot (blessings)

1) I bought a book that's supposed to tell me which b'rachah (blessing) to say over various foods, but some of the foods aren't listed. Surely there are Orthodox Jews who eat quinoa. And what about croissants? A person is supposed to recite the b'rachah "borei minei mezonot" over pastry, but is a croissant consider a pastry or a type of bread? I asked an Orthodox acquaintance, and got the rather interesting answer that a croissant is a pastry, but if you make it into a sandwich, you have to "wash" (do "n'tilat yadayim," the ritual handwashing before bread). Gee, thanks, that certainly clarifies matters. Not. :(

This leaves, of course, the more fundamental question: Isn't it enough to thank HaShem for food? Is it necessary for us to be so obsessed about exactly how we thank HaShem? Do we truly believe that HaShem will be upset if we make the "wrong" b'rachah?

2) While we're on the subject of b'rachot over food, here's something else that I find a bit hard to swallow (you should pardon the pun): In both Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals, recited after every any meal that includes bread) and the "snack" blessings over foods for which Israel is supposed to be famous (wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt, dates, olives, grapes, figs, and pomegranates), why is there such an obsession with Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel? I thought we were supposed to be thanking HaShem for food. Were these prayers of any relevance to those of us or our ancestors who lived in the days after the destruction of the Second Temple and before the founding of the State of Israel?

Tefillah (prayer)

As Rejewvenator said, "Our davening [praying] has turned dry and distant from our hearts . . ."

From a comment to this post of mine:

Larry Lennhoff said...
The entire fixed corpus of Jewish prayer is, IMHO, the triumph of keva [fixed form] over kavana [focus, intent]. . . . a more common benefit I get from prayer is the recitation of the world's longest mantra. Even if I'm not paying close attention during the silent amidah the quiet rhythmn I'm reciting under my breath has its own beneficial effects.)
Thu May 07, 10:42:00 AM 2009

Here I am, trying to recite the Kaddish for my mother with a focus on what the words actually mean, while the guy in the row in front of me is chanting it in a ritualistic fashion. What disturbs me is that his "rendition" sounds more "authentic," while I feel constrained to recite the Kaddish quietly lest I give the impression that I'm trying to be "holier than thou" simply because I'm trying to pray with feeling.

Have we Jews, as a group, become completely unaccustomed to thinking about the meaning of the words of the prayers as we're saying them? Does the fact that our services and rituals have become so lengthy over the centuries militate against reciting the words with feeling, simply because doing so would take too much time? (I speak from experience--I find it very difficult to davven with kavannah [pray with focus] unless I pray at roughly half of what most regular davveners would consider a normal speed.)



Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Bracha on Quinoa:
Q4) What is the bracha for quinoa?

A4) Quinoa is not one of the five special grains, and therefore could only recieve either an Ha'adoma or Shehokol depending on how it's used. If you grind it up and make it into a cake then it's shehokol, if kept whole - then Ha'adoma (see the Read more from the question on Kamut).

Thu Jul 02, 11:41:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Stop being such a self-conscious jew and pray the way your heart tells you to pray.

Fri Jul 03, 12:29:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, thanks for the information. I just bookmarked the link.

Steve, I've spent years trying to learn the traditional prayers and many of the psalms and biblical and rabbinic quotes that are included in the siddur/prayer book in order to be able to participate fully in communal prayer. But I'm constantly torn between davvening/praying as part of a tzibur/community and davvening in my preferred fashion. I don't think either "side" will ever fully "win."

Obviously, the tzibur takes precedence when one is saying Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish. One simply can't davven/pray at one's own pace and say Kaddish 5 minutes after everyone else does. I'm not sure that a Kaddish is even valid if no one responds.

Fri Jul 03, 11:37:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

my suggestion: Study the words of the Kaddish. They're not difficult. Essentially, without intending to be flip, it's "God is Great. He's really, really, really, really great. And bring peace. I mean that, so I'll say it in both Aramaic, and then finish off in Hebrew."

Then, say the kaddish with the tzibbur, and keep the thoughts generally in your mind.

And a plain croissant almost certainly requires washing and ha'motzi, although the whole issue of pat ha'ba b'kisnim is a very complicated issue. A chocolate croissant, on the other hand, if it's a snack would be mezonot, if it's intended to be the start of a meal, would require washing and ha'motzi.

Mon Jul 06, 02:20:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

You're a wiseguy, JDub. :)

Oy, all this spilled "ether" simply because I couldn't figure out whether it was possible for "flake" pastry to be considered bread. Thanks for the information.

Mon Jul 06, 08:23:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I'm also confused about the circumstances under which mezonot 'promotes' to pat (bread). Does it apply to non-cake like mezonot like pasta?

Tue Jul 07, 08:45:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...


I'm not a rabbi, although I play one on tv, but the issue is whether "bread" means davka "flour, eggs, water, yeast" (yeast being optional, since matza is definitely "bread"), or whether it can mean what I defined as bread plus other ingredients. The issue is called "pat [or pas] ha'ba b'kisnim".

Let's say we have something that has so much fruit or fruit juices, plus the ingredients mentioned above, such that one wouldn't consider it bread. One can make a mezonot on it UNLESS one is intending to "koveah ha'seudah" on the item (i.e., start the meal, as opposed to merely eating a snack.) Pizza is the great example. Some folks hold that if you eat a slice as a snack, it's pat ha'ba b'kisnim (sauce and cheese), so you make mezonot. But if you eat more than a slice, it's a meal, and you should wash and make ha'motzi.

Some do hold that one can apply the same rationale to non-bread like mezonot, but to be honest, I had never heard that before I saw it on a website so don't hold me to it.

I'm also machmir on this. I don't really believe in "Mezonot rolls". Since I never really eat them outside the context of a meal, I will wash on them. Since I don't snack on croissants, but would consider it a meal, I treat it as bread. A chocolate croissant is a more difficult question, since it is assuredly pat ha'ba b'kisnim, but am I making a meal of it?

Tue Jul 07, 08:56:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

My understanding is that Matzah is NOT bread. Because of the lack of yeast and rising, it isn't bread. During Pesach, Chag Hamatzot, we honor the consumption of Matzah and promote it to Hamotzi. The Sephardic custom is (or maybe was, they seem to be adopting Ashkenazi practices rapidly) to call it Mezunot during the year, and Hamotzi during Pesach. The Ashkenazi custom is to call it Hamotzi during the year, lest we forget during Pesach and call it Mezunot.
Regarding the Mezunot rolls, the Sephardim are MUCH stricter in what constitutes Pat, so if juices or other ingredients are involved, the "bread" is not bread.
There are three issues involving grains: washing/Hamotzi/Birkat Hamazon. You need to wash if you eat bread with your hands, we have a custom of doing so at all times, but strictly speaking, if you ate a bread soup bowl, you might not have to even if you ate the bread later (consult a Rabbi, this is an area that I am VERY unclear). Hamotzi is required for bread... Birkat is required when you eat a sufficient amount of grain (not sure of the measurement, I believe it's around 50 grams). If you eat a large bag of pretzels (Mezunot), you are required to Bensch afterwards, even though you didn't make Hamotzi.
Ashkenazi custom derives from the fear that people will link Hamotzi and Birkat, forget Birkat after sufficient mezunot, that we expressly link them and make Hamotzi on a "meal" of Mezunot.
Slice of pizza is a snack (Mezunot, no bensching), a few slives of pizza is a non-bread meal, so for Sephardim, Mezunot/Birkat, and Ashkenazim promote the pizza to Pat to avoid forgetting Birkat and do Hamotzi/Birkat.

Mezunot Rolls are created for Sephardic custom in environments where washing would be inconvenient, and simply doing Mezunot/Birkat works. Because Ashkenazi custom is to do Hamotzi in those circumstances, the Mezunot roll doesn't help, because it's still Netilat Yadaim/Hamotzi/Birkat.

Consult your own Rav, this is what I recall from that chunk of the Mishnah Beruah, and I remember thinking that it was pretty dumb at the time... but most of the Ashkenazi "stringencies" feel that way, oh no, if we usually do A&B, and only occasionally A&C, people might think A&B are linked, so let's just link A&B and throw out A&C... OTOH, Ashkenazi Jews were historically VERY ignorant, especially in comparison to our Sephardic brethren.

Tue Jul 07, 10:00:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thank you JDub and Miami Al. I'm getting an education in some of the laws of kashrut here.

Tue Jul 07, 12:50:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

Al, I don't believe you are correct. Yeast is not a necessary ingredient. One might argue that Ashkenazi matzah is too crispy to be called bread, but a pita made bedouin style (flour, water and thrown against the aish tanoor) would certainly be considered bread, even absent yeast. http://bit.ly/1sSysW

Egg matza is a closer call, since it has fruit juice (and is prohbited to Ashkenazim, other than children old folks, and sick people). But one could perfectly be koveah a se'udah on matzah (for example, when we forget to make challa) on Shabbat.

I wonder whether you are thinking of egg matzah, which Sephardim consider mezonot.

In any event, this simply reminds me I need to refresh myself on the laws of pat ha'ba b'kisnim.

Tue Jul 07, 03:25:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

On the other hand, while it's true that I'm getting quite an education here, it's also true that all of us--myself included--have forgotten my original point:

"This leaves, of course, the more fundamental question: Isn't it enough to thank HaShem for food? Is it necessary for us to be so obsessed about exactly how we thank HaShem? Do we truly believe that HaShem will be upset if we make the "wrong" b'rachah?"

How did we Jews get to be so obsessive?

Tue Jul 07, 05:34:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

not a question of obsessiveness. It is a system. It is a belief that since the beit ha'mikdash was destroyed, the only way we truly have to worship Hashem is to walk in the daled amot of halacha.

while some may fetishize aspects of halacha, it's not halacha for the sake of halacha, but because it is all designed to direct our thoughts to God.

And, BTW, many poskim say, you use the most specific bracha, but if you use the more general bracha (either by mistake or out of ignorance), it's all good. So, for example, I should make a borai pri ha'etz on an apple, but if I make a ha'adomah, it's still good (the apple does grow from the ground, no?) Now if I could just convince my 6-year old that not every bracha is a mezonot (the most common one they do on snack in school.)

Wed Jul 08, 07:52:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

jdub, if you read the link that you included, the last paragraph of that section will inform you that Matzah is considered Mezunot by Sephardim. It's not the yeast per se, it's that it's not bread (indeed, the requirement for Pesach is to eat Matzah instead of bread, so clearly it can't be bread).

Sephardim promote Matzah to bread to make Hamotzi for Pesach since during Chag Hamatzot, we eat Matzah in place of bread. Ashkenazim promote year round to avoid confusion. Egg Matzah is another matter, and has NOTHING to do with the Sephardic custom of switching to Mezunot for juice breads, and instead has to do with a differing of opinions as to whether Matzah has to be just Flour and Water, or simply has to be unleavened... While the Halacha ought to follow the lenient opinion (based on how we normally pasken), this becomes a case of we are stringent and avoid the minority issue to be machmir on Pesach, though permit it for those that need it.

Correct though, it is preferable to use the specific, but you have fulfilled your obligation with the general. A truly ignorant Jew, taught Sheakol and Hamotzi could fulfill all their obligations provided they go to Shul on Shabbat and hear Kiddush there.

Wed Jul 08, 10:13:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...


I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions you draw from this, but this is intellectually interesting! First, it says matza is bread (for Ashkenazim). Full stop. Not "it should be mezonot, but risk of confusion." Do you have a citation for that? I'd be interested in seeing that.

Second, with regard to our Eastern brethren, one argument for why it could be mezonot is the crumbly nature of it. In other words, bread doesn't crack (there is a whole discussion in the Shulchan Arukh around the issue of pat ha'ba b'kisnim about crackers vs. bread). So, would a Ben Sefarad make a mezonot on a yeastless pita such as I described earlier? I'm willing to bet that they would. But I haven't looked into this issue in 15 years or so, so I'm due for a refresher.

Wed Jul 08, 01:46:00 PM 2009  

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