Tag Archives: Holidays

Thou Shalt Not Forbid, IV Four-Inch Matzah

By Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Everybody “knows” that matzah can be made only from closely guarded wheat which was ground under strict supervision and baked into thin crackers. We also expect the hand-made matzah to be almost burnt, and we are aware of many observant Jews who would not eat “Gebrakht”, or wet matzah. There are even those who constantly sweep matzah crumbs from the table into bags to avoid their leavening. In a conversation I had with a colleague about this strange practice, he commented that God is surely very happy upon seeing his fervent believers keeping his commandments with such zeal. I concurred that if we could attribute human emotions to God, there we be some happiness there, but, again in human terms, it would be more like “yeah, my favorite sit-com is on”.

The obsession with matzah dryness, thinness, and ash-like qualities has become an economic burden and a social divider, even though it has been around only for three or four hundred centuries. Here is what R. Yaakov ben Hakham Tzvi Ashkenazi of Emeden, aka Yaavetz (1697-1776), has to say in his commentary to the statement of the Tur that one should not soak wheat before grinding it, as was customary in Talmudic time to make the grinding easier[i]:

The ruling of the Gaon [that one can buy commercial flour for matzah] is correct, and it follows the clear ruling of the Talmud that one could buy unleavened dough baked by non-Jews. There is only a requirement that the matzah eaten for the mitzvah of the Seder-night [מצת מצוה]will be guarded from the moment of kneading. Therefore, if one bought commercial flour and kneaded it for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah, he doesn’t need any other matzah… some Geonim were strict regarding soaking wheat, but that is only for מצת מצוה, and even that is an exaggerated stringency which goes against the Talmudic discussion which indicates that it is an obligation to soak the wheat… I therefore cannot fathom the great concern of the Magen Abraham[ii] regarding the ruling of a rabbi who allowed people to use commercial flour, and even demanded that the rabbi would fast and repent for his ruling.
Why do those who take a strict approach toil for no reason to forbid that which is permitted according to the Talmud? They would not even allow it at a time of need, and they demand atonement for nothing.

As history proved, the toil of the strict rabbis was not in vain. The exorbitant prices of supervised matzah, the anxiety of those who fear that their matzah will turn to hametz right there on the table, and the religious walls erected between people based on the fine print on their matzah packages, are all a result of the push for stringency.
In that context, it is interesting to read the following words of Shulhan Arukh[iii]:

If, on Pesah, one found a piece of bread at home, and he doesn’t know whether it is hametz or matzah, he is allowed to eat it.

מצא פת בפסח בביתו, ואינו יודע אם הוא חמץ או מצה, מותר אפילו באכילה

The Mishnah Berurah explains:

דין זה הוא לפי מנהג זמנם שהיו אופין מצות עבה קצת ולא היו חלוקין בתארם מככרות של חמץ
This law is in accordance with their practice of baking thick matzah which looked like hametz loaves.

R. Haim Mordechai Margulies (1780-1820) attests to that practice, and explains that the concern about wetting the matzah applies only to those very thick matzot in which pockets of unbaked dough can hide: [iv]

There is no concern [of unbaked pockets] with thin matzah… in places where they still bake thick matzah, the rabbis should warn them not to make them more than four inches thick.

To summarize the discussion so far, these are practices of baking matzah which were prevalent in our not too recent past:

  1. Soaking wheat in water to make grinding easer.
  2. Buying commercial flour for matzah baking, if other flour is not available.
  3. Requiring supervision from the moment of kneading the dough only.
  4. To be strict, one would require supervision from the moment of grinding.
  5. Matzah would be made very thick.
  6. Avoidance of making the matzah wet applied only to thick matzah.

The question should be raised: were there negative consequences to the triumph of the strict approach, despite the warnings of Yaavetz, or was he the short-sighted one?

Part 2

Yesterday I posed this question: Were there any negative consequences to the triumph of the strict approach [not allowing commercial flour], despite the warnings of Yaavetz, or was he the short-sighted one?

It would be difficult to answer the question objectively, since the results cannot be measured in clear-cut numbers, quantities, or phenomena, and are rather a matter of attitude. I, however, do believe that had other rabbis heeded the call of Yaavetz, they would have saved observant Jews a lot of trouble and heartache.

While the ruling of Yaavetz was not a call to drop all cautionary measures and use only commercial flour, he wanted people to understand the definitions of hametz and matzah for two reasons:
1. To allow them to rule for themselves in changing circumstances.

2. To eliminate the hametz-anxiety factor.

Unfortunately, Yaavetz’s attempts have failed and as a result, we look back at centuries of increasing anxiety around matzah consumption. The anxiety manifested itself in the decision of many observant Jews to not eat matzah on Pesah [except for the first two nights], the war against the matzah-baking machine [which originally was no more than a dough flattening device], many years of inability to have matzah in the Soviet Union, exorbitant prices for “extremely kosher” matzah, the fear of getting the matzah wet [which also ruins the Seder and does not let one enjoy any meal], and ridiculous articles in the papers about the black-clad Hassidim watching over parched wheat fields in the driest parts of the U.S. We can just imagine the next generation of wheat grown on waterless diet under umbrellas.

In that context, it is worthwhile to present another famous and “daring” ruling of Yaavetz regarding Pesah, where he explains why were people baking very thick matzah. It was, you guessed it, the disastrous result of another “strict” practice[i]:

אי איישר חילי, אבטליניה למנהג גרוע הלז, שהיא חומרא דאתיא לידי קולא, ונפק מנה חורבא ומכשול (תחת אשר חשבו להתרחק ממנו מרחק רב) באיסור חמץ גמור! כי מתוך שאין מיני קטניות מצויים להמון לאכול ולשבוע, צריכין לאפות לחם מצה הרבה. בפרטות העניים ומי שבני ביתו מרובים, ולא יספיקו להם תבשילים הרבה לשבר רעבונם, מוכרחים על כרחם להספיק להם מצה די לחמם לביתם וחיים לנערותם. מתוך כך אינם נזהרים בעסה כראוי וכחובה, עושים אותה גדולה הרבה ושוהים עליה מאד, וקרוב הדבר שנכשלים באיסור כרת, רחמנא ליצלן. גם המצות עומדים להם ביוקר, ואין יד כל אדם משגת לעשותם די הצורך לבני ביתו… וקטניות נמצאים בזול בלי טורח ובהתר. ואתו לאמנועי משמחת יום טוב, בסבת חומרא שאין לה טעם וריח! לכן אשרי שיאחז צדיק דרכו, יתן אוכל למכביר ונפץ את עלולי החומרות הזרות אל הסלע

If I were able, I would abolish this terrible practice, which is a stringency that leads to a leniency. It is destructive and (instead of guarding themselves from it, as they have hoped) it causes people to stumble with the prohibition of consuming genuine hametz! Because the masses are not permitted to consume legumes, which would have sustained them and satisfied their hunger, they must bake large quantities of matzah, especially poor people and those with large families, who cannot afford meat and vegetables, and they need to rely on matzah as their daily bread. They therefore make large batches of dough [also: thick matzah] and they are not careful to bake it as necessary. Those people probably transgress the prohibition of not eating hametz.
[Commercial] matzahs are also very expensive and many people cannot afford buying them for the whole family, while legumes are cheap, and can be easily and permissibly bought.
They lose the joy of the holiday for a stringency which has neither flavor nor fragrance [i.e. meaningless.]
Blessed be the righteous man [who will permit the consumption of legumes on Pesah], will provide food in abundance, and will smash on the rocks the consequences of these alien stringencies.

The last sentence of Yaavetz is very powerful and it shows his frustration with the “stringent” practices which flourished around Pesah. He laments the fact that the rabbis do not look beyond the immediate halakha and do not assess the long-term consequences of their “strict” ruling. He does not only call for the abolition of the practice, but also for that of its “alien consequences”.

He emphasizes the importance of seeing the whole picture, and also uses a Hebrew term החומרות הזרות which resembles the term עבודה זרה- idolatry. In other words, he believes that those who choose to add prohibitions to the original requirements of halakha are practicing paganism.

It is a dire warning to all those who pile stringencies upon stringencies to stop and think whether they adhere to the intention and will of the Giver of the Law, or maybe they are erecting an altar upon which they worship alien gods, the embodiment of their own fears and anxieties.

[i]מור וקציעה סימן תנג: תשובה דגאון מתקנתא היא, אתיא שפיר אליבא דהלכתא כפשיטותא דגמרא דבצקות של גוים אדם ממלא כרסו מהם, ולמצוה הוא דלא נפיק עד דעבד שימור מלישה ואילך. הילכך אם לקח קמח מן השוק ולש אותו תו לא צריך למצה שמורה אחרת כמ”ש הרא”ש בפשיטות. והטור בודאי קאי ליה בשטתיה דאבוהי מסתמא, דלענין דינא לית בה ספקא. אלא שגאונים אחרים החמירו בלתיתה למצת מצוה בלבד, ואף זו חומרא יתרה היא נגד סוגית התלמוד דמסיק מצוה ללתות במצה דמצוה ורבא קבע בה מסמרות כדאיתא התם, אבל למלא כרסו מבצקות דגוים לית דין ולית דיין, דשרי אף לכתחלה ואצ”ל ליקח קמח מן השוק שלא בשעת הדחק, עאכ”ו בשעת הדחק, שאין בו בית מיחוש.
מעתה לא ידעתי מה החרדה הגדולה אשר חרד עלינו במג”א בהוראת חכם אחד שהורה ליקח קמח מן השוק, ושוב גזר תענית על שגגתו. ולא ירדתי לסוף דעת המחמירים הללו דטרחי בכדי במ”כ, לאסור את המותר מדעת חכמי התלמוד לכתחילה, ואתו אינהו וגזור תעניתא אף לדיעבד ושעת הדחק, כפרה בכדי לא אשכחן
[ii] R. Abraham Abele Gombiner, famous for his commentary on Shulhan Arukh, 1635-1682.
[iii]שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות פסח סימן תמו סעיף ד
[iv]שערי תשובה סימן תסא
וכבר כתבתי שהדבר שמואל כתב שברקיקין אין חשש נפוחה וכן נוהגים עתה שלא לדקדק כלל במצות רקיקין רק כשרואה האופ’ בביאת המצה לתנור היא מנפח ועולה כדרך עוגות חמץ והם בקיאים במעשה ידיהם להכיר אי הנפוח מחמת חימוץ או לא אך במצות עבות קצת יש ליזהר ולדקדק בחילוקים שנזכרו בפוסקים ובמקומות שאוחזין מעשה עבות בידיהם מוטל על המורה למדרש בפרק’ שיזהרו שלא תהיה עבה טפח

A Yizkor Meditation in Memory of a Parent Who Was Hurtful

A Yizkor Meditation in Memory of a Parent Who Was Hurtful

Mahzor Lev Shalem, a new mahzor of the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movement .

See the 7th page in this excerpt. (Page 292 of the Yom Kippur Yizkor service)

Yizkor service, Mahzor Lev Shalem

About this mahzor:  It presents a complete traditional liturgy, as well as having creative liturgical developments presenting the theology and gender-equality of non-Orthodox Judaism. It contains a variety of commentaries from classical and modern-day rabbis, gender-sensitive translations, and choreography instructions (when to sit, stand, bow, etc.)  It offers more literal translations of the prayers than previous non-Orthodox mahzorim. English transliterations are offered for all prayers and lines recited aloud by the congregation. The page layout surrounds prayers with a variety of English commentaries and readings, as one finds in classical rabbinic commentaries.

To learn more about mahzorim for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur click here.

Mahzor Lev Shalem

Thanksgiving

Jewish prayers to recite on Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

(A) “Thanksgiving Day” “Gates of the House: The New Union Home Prayerbook”, p.79, CCAR, 1977, Ed. Chaim Stern.

(B) Some rabbis have proposed this order of tefilot: Page numbers are from “Siddur Sim Shalom” (Ed. Jules Harlow, 1985). Most of these readings can also be found in the Rabbinical Assembly’s “Weekday Prayer Book” (Ed. Gershon Hadas), the “Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book” (Ed. Morris Silverman.), “Siddur Hadash” (Ed. Sidney Greenberg) and the newer versions of Siddur Sim Shalom.

a) Pslam 100 (Mizmor L’Todah) [p.60]

b) Prayer for Thanksgiving. p.816. One version has verses from Psalms, Ben Sirah/Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah

c) “America: Founded on Biblical precepts”, p.821-823. Verses from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and Biblical verses which inspired these documents.

d) Shulkan Orekh: The Thanksgiving meal

f) End with the traditional grace after meals (Birkat HaMazon)

Also see:

A Seder for Thanksgiving, by Reform Rabbi Phyllis Sommer
A Prayer for Thanksgiving By Rabbi Rick Jacobs (URJ)

Halakhah

Many in the right-wing Orthodox Jewish hold that there are theological and halakhic issues with Jews observing Thanksgiving as a holiday – as “observing a holiday” is a specific theological and halakhic issue within Judaism. This isn’t an issue of fundamentalists attacking secular culture; they are asking some deep questions about (a) what does it mean when the government asks us to observe a holiday, (b) especially one involving prayer, and (c) does accepting this annual celebration as obligatory become tantamount to adding a new holiday to the Jewish calendar?  The great majority of religious Jews in Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism accept Thanksgiving as valid and meaningful. An overview of the issue is here. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/is-thanksgiving-kosher/

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Jews should not say tachanun (penitential supplications) during Shacharit (morning prayers) on Thanksgiving.

Question: What would Jews celebrate Thanksgiving, as we give thanks every day in our prayers?

Answer: Jews have three separate Thanksgiving / harvest festivals in Judaism: Shavuot (feast of weeks), Sukkot (feast of tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover). The first Thanksgiving was actually based on Sukkot by the Pilgrims, who were very much influenced by the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.)

Question: Why commemorate a holiday instituded by Pilgrims, as they were Protestant Christians, who neither shared our faith, nor shared our belief in religious and national freedom?

Answer: It is true that first Protestants that came here were not seeking a country in which to have religious freedom, but rather to have religious freedom for themselves only. All other religions, including all other forms of Christianity were anathema to them. Their thanksgiving was on July 8, 1630, and marked the first Thanksgiving of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However – and this is not well known – this was only the beginning of an evolutionary process. That event is actually _not_ the Thanksgiving festival that we observe today.

Over a century later, the first issue of the First Continental Congress as they met at Carpenters Hall was “Can we open the business with prayer?” Despite their diversity of religions, after fierce debate, inspired by delegate Sam Adams, their first official act was prayer. The First Prayer Proclamation of 1775 asked the whole continent to set aside a day to pray and fast together. It had an electric effect, uniting the American people in spirit, a year before the Declaration of Independence.

The next act in the evolution of Thanksgiving was from the era of President George Washington. A few months after his inauguration, he issued “Presidential Proclamation Number One”, his Thanksgiving. He voiced his personal conviction that “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.” His last Thanksgiving in 1795 captures a nobility never exceeded by any president when he asks God to: “…impart all the blessing we posses, or ask for ourselves, to the whole family of mankind.”

Thanksgiving was celebrated by Americans for a number of years, but eventually fell into disuse. Then in 1863 president Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven…we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God.” He restored the neglected Presidential proclamations of prayer and thanksgiving during the tragic years of Civil War. “Intoxicated with unbroken success,” he wrote, “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and reserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation in many years; since then every President has issued at least one a year. And it is _this_ which is the root of the modern Thanksgiving.

Some material quoted and adapted from the Thanksgiving Square homepage:
http://www.thanksgiving.org/

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America’s Biblical Heritage

From Siddur Sim Shalom

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution of the United States
 
Justice, justice shall you pursue,
That you may thrive in the land
Which Adonai your God gives you.
– Deuteronomy 16:20
 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
– The Bill of Rights
 
Proclaim liberty through the land for all of its inhabitants.
– Leviticus 25:10
 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
– The Declaration of Independence
 
Have we not all one Creator? Has not one God created us?
– Malakhi 2:10
 
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Abraham Lincoln – Second Inaugural Address
 
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift sword against nation,
and they shall not again experience war.
People shall dwell under their own vines, under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid.
– Micah 4:3-4.
Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays

The Scroll of Pain and Sorrow

Two days in the Jewish year stop for the reading of a scroll that is not the Torah. On Purim, we listen to the Scroll of Esther. On Tisha B’Av, we listen to the Scroll of Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations….

Eicha was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonian army. It is written in a literary form that we don’t hear much in the 21st century: it is a lament, a passionate expression of grief and heartbreak….

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Two days in the Jewish year stop for the reading of a scroll that is not the Torah. On Purim, we listen to the Scroll of Esther. On Tisha B’Av, we listen to the Scroll of Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations.*

Eicha does not mean “lamentation.” As with all the names of the books in the Hebrew Bible, it is the first significant word of the text, in this case, the very first word. It is both a word and a howl of pain: “HOW?”

Eicha was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonian army. It is written in a literary form that we don’t hear much in the 21st century: it is a lament, a passionate expression of grief. It is both highly structured (an acrostic) and full-throated in its expression of heartbreak.

We don’t…

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