Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An interesting holiday weekend

Now that I have a minute to spare--I've been up to my ears in typing-editing-formatting assignments, recently--I just wanted to mention what an interesting Thanksgiving Day weekend we had.

Saved by the, er, minyan
This year, it happened that, after speaking with friends from three different households, all of whom had family obligations on Thanksgiving, we found ourselves comtemplating making reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at a kosher restaurant. But then I ran into an old buddy of ours at my "kaddish minyan," which he sometimes attends when not helping another shul get a minyan.

It helped that I know he enjoys cooking.

"What are you doing for Thanksgiving, having everyone and his cousin over for dinner?"

He didn't miss a beat, bless him. "Yeah, you wanna come?"

It was a most unusual Thanksgiving dinner--since our host and hostess don't like turkey, they cooked up enough chicken to feed an army, with a white-potato dish instead of stuffing. The cooks among the guests brought homemade cranberry sauce, homemade parve pumpkin pie, and homemade parve muffins. The non-cooks--namely, us--walked in with store-bought parve sugar cookies and parve chocolate almonds bought from a kosher store, not from Fairway. (Note to self: Remember to bring those sugar cookies often, 'cause they like 'em.) We all stuffed ourselves silly.

It got more interesting after dinner, when the hosts' child handed out those tiny bottles made of chocolate and filled with liqueur. Chocolate? Liqueur? These ingredients opened the door to some major kashrut questions, and led to a "he said, she said" story.

He said: "They're kosher."

She said: "I'm not so sure."

So I said: "Let me see the box."

Long story short: They weren't even kosher, much less pareve.

Our hosts cook kosher meat only and have separate dishes. But this isn't the first time that we've had to deal with a dairy/chalavi dessert after a fleishig/b'sari (meat/poultry) meal in their home. I don't get it. And one time, when I asked whether the dessert was parve, the host got downright insulted. I concluded that we should always bring our own parve dessert to their home rather than risk causing offense simply by asking that question.

This reminds me of another friend who also keeps a kosher kitchen, but serves dairy desserts only an hour after a meat meal. I don't think she's of Dutch ancestry, so I don't understand why she follows the Dutch tradition of waiting only one hour between meat and dairy when most folks follow either the three- or six-hour traditions. Again, we just bring our own parve dessert.

Bringing a parve dessert also helps in situations in which we're not sure that our hosts understand even the basic rules of kashrut.*

Moral of the story: Don't make a scene, just bring your own.

I wish we all had our hang-ups :(
One of our would-have-been hosts for Thanksgiving dinner invited us to what she dubbed a "Thanksgiving Sheini" (Second Thanksgiving) dinner on Sunday because she wanted to have a turkey dinner with friends after having fulfilled family obligations. The food was great--our hostess is a wonderful cook--but some of the other guests were not so much so. One guest not only made several cell-phone calls during the meal, but even put on a pair of earphones right at the dinner table just to listen to some sports event. How rude can you get?

Look, if you want to spend your time on the phone and/or watching or listening to a sports event, do all of us a favor and just stay home.

*See also: Milk and meat mix-ups, or the missing-mashgiach mishaps--(mis)adventures in kashrut

Parshat Vayetz: A baby-making competition

You can read the details here.

Here's last year's version, with links to two other posts of mine and one by DovBear.

I can only comment that much of B'reishit/Genesis seems to illustrate what can transpire when a woman's worth is calculated almost exclusively based on the number of babies that she births or "adopts"--you end up with a barren woman telling her husband that, if she doesn't have a baby, she might as well be dead (B'reishit/Genesis chapter 30, verse 1). Personally, I find Rachel's story quite sad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parshat Toldot: Disabled persons on our family tree?

You can reach the basics here.

Here are some of my Toldot oldies:
Here's a new thought: Was Esau/Eisav/Esav learning disabled? He couldn't actually name the pottage/stew, calling it "that red red stuff" (ha-adom ha-adom ha-zeh), and didn't seem to have understood the value of a birthright (until later, after he'd sold it). (See B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 25, verses 30-32).

And here's an old-new thought, something that I've heard for years: Some say that Yitzchak/Isaac was developmentally disabled. There are points both in support of that theory and opposed. On the one hand, Yitzchak seems to have gone along with his father's plan to sacrifice him, he's the only patriarch who needed massive "shadchan*" intervention in order to get married, and he was deceived into misidentifying his own younger son by a simple placement of animal skins on the smooth-skinned son's arms and neck. On the other hand, he seems to have had some business sense. Your call.

*shadchan = matchmaker

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fun with the OU & the OK: Checking for bugs

Here's the short version from the Orthodox Union/OU. (That's the link I couldn't find when I wrote Food News 2.) While you're there, let's go to the video. (Here's another OU bug-hunting video that's less talk and more demonstration.)

From the OU's PDF, here are the instructions regarding broccoli:

Fresh broccoli, stems: Wash thoroughly.
Fresh broccoli, whole: Parboil for no more than 1 minute. Segregate each head individually. Look carefully at the branched area of each floret, in the crevice formed by two branches forking out from a singletrunk like a Y; spread apart each floret head and look through the florets, into the branch area; if 1 or 2 insects are found, continue examining the remaining sections of head; if 3 insects are found, the entire head should be discarded.

It gets better, folks (quoth she sarcastically)--here's the OK Kosher Certification organization's PDF re checking for bugs, and below are their instructions regarding broccoli:

Frozen Broccoli
Needs an acceptable kosher symbol (Bodek, Eden and
Golden Glow are acceptable with a kosher symbol on
the box).
Fresh Broccoli
Only Stems May Be Used.
Wash thoroughly. No further checking is necessary.

So, according to the OU, anyone with manual-dexterity limitations, vision problems, or lack of time and/or patience can't really check their fresh-broccoli florets "properly," and according to the OK, no one should even try.

Yep, when in doubt, throw it out.

Isn't bal tashchit also a mitzvah?!

And what about financial considerations? Have some of us gone overboard just because we can now afford to do so (allegedly)? Could our ancestors in the shtetlach of Eastern Europe or the parched lands of the Middle East have afforded simply to throw out half their produce?

Is there anyone who actually believes that our ancestors, when out picking wild blueberries (a) "open[ed] and inspect[ed] each berry for maggots,"or (a) could actually either find or afford enough sugar to "Sprinkle sugar on berries," and (b) had the ability, even as recently as maybe 90 years ago, to "refrigerate for a few hours" to see whether any maggots would come out for a snack?

The Hillel version (standing on one foot): Is all this really necessary, or even preferable? Whatever happened to common sense? When it comes to kashrut, modern technology may be a double-edge sword--just because we can do this, must we?

See also Bugged.

Curses, fooled again*: A catalog-shopper's lament

What good does it do that all of my favorite clothing catalogs are having sales when everything I want is already sold out? :(

*See "Curses, foiled again," and enjoy the linked video parody of "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle," itself a parody.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fairway-shoppers' kashrut alert: Parve becomes dairy

Since we were cleaning out Fairway yesterday, we thought we'd be nice and buy an extra box of kosher-pareve chocolate-covered almonds for our fellow and sister Israeli folk dancers. Imagine my dismay when one of the dancers pointed out that the hechsher on the almonds specified OK D(airy), not pareve, even though I distinctly remembered that I'd been buying those nuts because they were pareve. Was my memory really that far gone?

The good news is that, when we got home, I checked our remaining box of Fairway-brand chocolate-covered almonds, and they were, in fact, labeled pareve. The bad news is that both boxes of almonds that we bought last night are labeled dairy. I strongly advise those of my readers who shop at (any branch of) Fairway to check the labels on their Fairway-brand snack and/or dessert items to ensure that what they think is pareve is, in fact, still pareve!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

DovBear on resurrection: Originally a Jewish idea?

See here and here. Did Yitzchak/Isaac actually die at the time of the Akeidah/Binding of Isacc and was he resurrected by G-d, and, if so, did the Christians take the idea of resurrection from us (or did we and the Christians borrow it from pagan traditions)?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Parshat Chayei Sarah

You can read the basics here.

Here's my 2010 post on Chayei Sarah (with links). Here's my 2004 version.

And here's a thought from my Parshat Vayera: Something old, something new:

" why does Sarah disappear from the text? Where is her reward for having ensured the perpetuation of Avraham's lineage by offering her handmaid as a surrogate mother? Where is her reward for having waited over a decade after the birth of her handmaid's son to have a son of her own? Where is her reward for having saved Avraham's life twice--and enriched him in the process--by allowing herself to be passed off as only his sister and not his wife? Her reward is to have G-d, with her husband's cooperation, threaten the life of her only child? My own midrash: No wonder she dies in the next parshah--if this is her reward, why live?"

Some new thoughts:
  • I don't remember where I heard or read this, but someone commented that Avraham showed more respect for Sarah after her death than he'd shown for her while she was alive. Sadly, I think one could make a case (see B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 23) for that.
  • In B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 24, verse 16, Rachel (Sat., Nov. 10, 2012 post-Shabbat correction--Rivkah) is described as "b'tulah, v'ish lo y'daah," a virgin, and no man had "known" her. Is this just an example of what's sometimes called "biblical parallelism" (and might less poetically be known as the Bible's tendency to repeat itself?), or is it true, as I've heard, that "b'tulah" really means simply a woman who's never been married?
  • Why did Rachel fall (va-tipol) off of her camel when she saw Yitzchak/Isaac (see 24:64)? Was he really that good-lookin'? :)
Update, Saturday, November 19, 2011, 9:13 PM
  • Rachel (Sat., Nov. 10, 2012 post-Shabbat correction--Rivkah) fell off her camel before she inquired as to the identity of the man whom she saw in the field. Was it customary in the ancient Near East for a woman to dismount from her "ride" in the presence of a man of her own social class?
  • Interestingly, much of the story of Rachel's (Sat., Nov. 10, 2012 post-Shabbat correction--Rivkah) encounter with Avraham's servant would be, for all practical purposes, impossible in current Chareidi (fervently Orthodox) society, in which, especially for an unmarried person, speaking to just about any person of the opposite gender other than one's parent is considered scandalous behavior.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Food news 2

Here's the original.

Glatt gluten, so to speak
I recently noticed that the lentils that I've been buying, which have a hechsher (symbol indicating that it's kosher), also have a notice stating that the package contains soy and wheat. Oy. I have two friends who can't eat wheat, and another one who can't eat any grain containing gluten. Fortunately, Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff were kind enough to refer me to KosherQuest's No Certification Needed page, which states that dried beans do not need rabbinical supervision. I can only hope that any lentils I buy in the future, be they with or without a hechsher, don't contain gluten if the package doesn't list gluten--I don't know how strict the law is regarding allergen-listing.

Bugging out 2: My more recent reading
Naturally, I can't find it now, but last week I saw an online chart from the Orthodox Union giving a standing-on-one-foot version of how to check certain fruits and vegetables for insects, etc. According to the chart, one must worry about beans being worm-infested. Say what?! Now, not only do I have to worry about my lentils being gluten-free, I also have to soak them for half an hour and throw out whichever beans float to the top, if I remember correctly.

Worse yet, you should have seen the instructions for checking fresh broccoli--you're supposed to boil the florets briefly, then open them up and check for bugs in every place where two branches meet. Judging by the comments to Food News 1 (and some quotes from previous posts and comments that I included therein), there are differences of opinion within the Orthodox community as to how strict one must be in checking food for bugs. That's certainly good news. If every Orthodox Jew followed the current veggie-checking rules to the letter, it would be a wonder if any Orthodox Jew ever eat fresh vegetables and/or fresh fruit at all. Were our ancestors nearly as obsessed about insects in food, or is this something new under the sun?

Is there a mandoline in my future?
I follow a link from this "carnivals" post by Ilana-Davita to This American Bite's Kosher Cooking Carnival, where this recipe for Zucchini Pasta caught my eye, not only because of the ingredients but also because of the gadget displayed in the post--I'd never heard of a julienne peeler. Wow--you mean I could julienne veggies for stir-frying without buying another attachment for the food processor, which is hardly worth the effort of cleaning when you're cooking for only two? So I zipped over to ye friendly housewares store and procured myself a julienne peeler. Unfortunately, my new kitchen gadget has a safety cover for when it's not in use, but not for when it is in use. I'm seriously concerned that, unless I pay careful attention every second that I'm using this utensil, it might julienne my finger along with the carrot. Could any of my culinarily-gifted readers recommend an alternative that's equally easy to use and clean but safer?

A serious kashering problem?
My poor husband, trying to do the right thing by making Shabbat dinner this past early-sundown Friday, forgot that the pasta he was cooking--ravioli--contained cheese, and cooked it in a parve pot. In the good old days, this would not have been a big deal--we would simply have boiled up the pot and the lid and taken them back to parve. Our newest pot, however, has a tempered-glass lid, as is true of many pots nowadays. How on earth can one kasher a lid with a metal rim (which one kashers by boiling), a hard plastic knob ((which one also kashers by boiling), and a tempered-glass main section (kashered by soaking in cold water for three days?)? Sure, we can kasher one of our old dairy pots (with a metal lid) and make it parve, but what's going to to happen the next time we make a mistake? Advise needed. I'm sending this one to my "G-d Squad," in the hope that my rabbinical and/or cantorial acquaintances will be able to assist us.

Oh, by the way, see the first comment here, and add a few, if you'd like.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parshat Vayera: Tons to write about

. . . but not much time.

Here's a link to the basics.

Speaking of links, I've written plenty of posts about Parshat Vayera, since there's not much missing from it. :)

Quick notes:

I read somewhere that Lot's daughters must have known that they were not the only survivors because they were able to procure wine somewhere. On one hand, I think they might have carried it with them when they fled from Tz'dom/Sodom (Sodom). On the other hand, they'd been to Tzoar/Zoar, and surely must have known that there were other survivors. Methinks they were more afraid of getting stuck with their father in the mountains until he died and/or they were too old to have children.

Also, welcoming guests/travelers seems to have been of paramount importance to our ancestors.

I'm outta here--Shabbat Shalom!

Update, 9:29 PM, Sat., Nov. 12, 2011:

  • I never noticed before that HaShem never actually told Avraham/Abraham that He was planning to destroy Tz'dom and Amorah/Sodom and Gomorrah). (See B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 18, verses 16-21.)
  • I also never noticed before that Lot had four daughters, namely two unmarried ones and two married ones. Otherwise, he couldn't have (a) offered the townsmen two virgins and (b) spoken to his sons-in-law. (See chapter 19, verses 8 and 14 here.)
  • While we're on the subject of Tz'dom, I think the real sin of Tz'dom was not homosexual behavior (for which HaShem had not yet stated any prohibition), but attempted gang rape (see chapter 19, verse 5).
  • Alas, poor Yishmael/Ishmael. He turned out better than one might expect, for a kid who was tossed out of his father's house at the age of roughly 15 with nothing but a day's lunch. (See chapter 9-14.) As I said last year, "He [Avraham] shows hospitality to total strangers, yet sends his son Yishmael packing with nothing but bread and water. All HaShem said was "Sh'ma b'kolah," listen to her (Sarah's) voice. HaShem never suggested that Yishmael and his mother Hagar should be sent off into the desert with limited means of short-term survival and no means of long-term support. Judging by the text, Yishmael had to have been over 14 years old at the time of his expulsion. Avraham could have given him a parting gift of, for example, a small flock of goats. Why didn't he?"
  • So let me get this straight--HaShem orders Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak/Isaac, but an angel tells him not to?!!! (See chapter 22, verses 1-3 and 11-12.) I'm not impressed with either HaShem's command or Avraham's willingness to go along with it. For openers, "Why on earth (or in heaven) would HaShem want to stoop to the level of a pagan god and demand child sacrifice?" For closers, as I said last year, "Why is Avraham nicer to strangers than to his own family? He argues repeatedly with G-d not to destroy S'dom and Amorah (Sodom and Gemorah), but says not a word when G-d tells him to sacrifice his son Yitzchak."

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My husband's the nicer one of us

This past Friday night, we were invited by a local Jewish group to join some of our Jewish neighbors for a Shabbat/Sabbath dinner. Boy, were we surprised by what transpired.

Our hosts offered the guests three bottles of wine, none of which was kosher. To make matters even more interesting, there wasn't an uncut loaf of bread to be had. For lack of an alternative, we ended up making kiddush over orange juice (with a change of b'rachah/blessing to "sheh-ha-kol") and motzi (the b'rachah thanking HaShem for bread) over two slices of bread from the package that had a hechsher on it.

On the way home, I commented to my husband that I was surprised that a family that's so active in one of the local synagogues (not ours) would be so unaware of the traditional way to perform the Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve home rituals. His response was that this was a good learning experience for them. I had to agree, and to note that our hosts seem to be members in good standing of the B'nei u-V'not Akiva Late Learners Club.*

I also had to admit to my husband that he's a much more tolerant and less judgmental person than I am. One of the more interesting things that my husband said recently was that, if we were younger, it might be interesting to become Yeshivat Hadar scholars and do, for lack of a better description, egalitarian kiruv, seeking to encourage observance among egalitarian Jews. I daresay that he'd be much better at it.

*Sons and Daughters of Akiva. For background regarding Rabbi Akiva, see here.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Parshat Lech L'cha: To me, this makes no sense

You can read the basics here.

Why did HaShem choose Avram? No reason is given in Genesis, chapter 12, verses 1-3, though the rabbis have certainly created some fine midrashim (rabbinical interpretive stories) to try to explain this choice.

  • Sunday, November 6, 2011 update: My husband has the rather interesting theory that gaps were left in the Torah deliberately, to encourage us to come up with our own explanations.

Why did HaShem insist on this weird sacrifice (Genesis, chapter 15)? What was the point of killing those animals, since Avram wasn't going to eat them?

  • Sunday, November 6, 2011 update: The darshan (?--person who gave the d'var Torah/word of Torah/Bible discussion) yesterday at my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan said that this was a typical way of establishing a treaty in the ancient Near East, but that the unusual part is that only G-d (or G-d's representative fire and smoke), walked between the parts.

Why did HaShem not bother telling Sarai/Sarah that she was going to have a child before she offered Hagar to Avram/Avraham as a surrogate mother? Did HaShem want to create strife?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Autumn leaves+winter snow=widespread power outages

Here's my initial report--I suggest that you pay particular attention to the comments.

Here's a current report from CNN.

Long story short: With leaves still on the trees, the limbs and branches were far more likely to bend and/or break, taking down electric power lines along with them. I think I've heard that the situation is even worse than after Hurricane Irene. My husband and I are very fortunate, indeed, to live in one of the sections of New York City that has its electric power lines buried underground.
<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>