4 Sons & Sons

A discussion of Pesah/Passover generally and the Hagadah specifically. Please comment and contribute!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nishmat kol hai

The prayer of Nishmat (or Nishmas) is recited Seder night as well as, of course, Shabat and festivals during Shakharit. The gemara in Pesahim tells us to recite Birkat ha-shir after Halel which most folks identify as Nishmat. There is an intriguing tradition that part of this prayer was composed by the Christian apostle Peter. Anyone know anything about this?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bene Berak Seder II

Before continuing, read my first post on the subject. The only other Talmudic incident involving this same group of Rabbis is the famous “oven of Aknai” story.

Let's review that story from Bava Metsia 59. This group of rabbis was discussing the status of a certain type of oven. R. Eliezer declared it usable, the sages disagreed. R. Eliezer said "If the halakhah is as I say it is, let the carob tree prove that I am right" And the carob tree was uprooted and flew a great distance. "Who cares?" said the sages. "Let the spring show that I am correct" said R. Eliezer and the spring ran backwards. "Big deal", or in Hebrew, (Beeg Deel) said the sages. The same happened with the walls of the study hall although R. Joshua was able to convince them to bend rather than fall over.

Then R. Eliezer cried, "Let there be a voice in heaven declaring that the law is according to my opinion." This too happened. Did the sages admit defeat? No! They quoted the verse in Devarim 30:12. "The Torah is not in the heavens.", meaning that since the law is that one goes after the majority, that is the final word despite a heavenly decree. The heavenly voice said "My children have overruled me."

The scene in Bene Brak can be seen as a reconciliation between the parties involved. R. Sacks points out that R. Elazar b. Azaryah is the middle rabbi mentioned. The Gemara in Berakhot 46b holds that the highest ranking leader of a community sits in the middle. R. Elazar b. Azaryah was the temporary head of the Sanhedrin. (Arnow)

Judith Hauptman asks why this Seder took place in Bene Berak, a town associated with R. Akiva when R. Eleazar and R. Yehoshua were his elders. Wouldn't the younger pay respect by visiting the elder? R. Mordekhai Friedfertig points out more reasons why this meeting in Bene Berak might seem unlikely. Yehudah and Eliezer were teachers of Akiva and it might seem improper to travel to him rather that the other way around. Eliezer and Elazar ben Azaryah are of the opinion that the afikomen must be eaten before midnight so they couldn't have been at a Seder that lasted the entire night. (They could have finished the afikomen before midnight and continued the discussion. No big deal) Eliezer was of the opinion (Sukah 27b) that one should not be away from ones home on a yom tov (no Pesach getaways), so how could he be so far from his home in Lud on Seder night? Tarphon was of the opinion that one must drink 5 kosot at the Seder (More on this later). Wouldn't this have caused problems? (Maybe this is just a cultural difference, but today people will stick to their minhagim in another place within the confines of orthodoxy) Okay, why not say that all of these folks just decided to follow the minhagim of their host? In the case of "tanur shel akhnai" that we mentioned above, no one was willing to budge from their view. So they aren't necessarily the most compromising of sorts. The Sfas Emes points out that it never says explicitly that this meeting took place on Seder night. Perhaps it took place at another time. Friedfertig learns from this that we can find ways to participate in the lives of others with whom we have religious differences without compromising the integrity of our own positions.

How old is the Haggadah?

Pretty old, it seems. Not as old as the Bible, but older than the Mishnah. Before we get any further, let's keep in mind that we are dealing with the bulk of the Hagadah, mostly Magid and that plenty of stuff has been added over the years. Most of Nirtsah, for example, is relatively new.

Judith Hauptmann suggests that since there is no Hagadah mentioned in the Tosefta, that the early Hagadah was compiled between the time of the Tosefta and the completion of the Mishnah, between 70 and 200 CE. (Hauptmann believes, contrary to other scholars, that the Tosefta predates the Mishnah and was the source material for, rather than a commentary on, the Mishnah) .

There is an idea in the Haggadah that we start with genut, disgrace and finish with shevah, praise. We can see the early origin of the idea by looking at early Christian writers such as Melito who also used the technique in his Pesach sermons. He also included such familiar topics as the expounding of Devarim 26:5-9, expounding on pesah, matsah and maror, reclining and the meaning of the afikomen. (Bokser)

Friday, November 25, 2005

What people want

Like everyone else who blogs, I'm interested in what brings people to my little corner of the web. People who find my blog via search engines tend to be interested in 3 things.

1) Streimel. Since he was featured in the New York Times, people have been looking for his former, recently deleted blog. Streimel, was kind enough to let me reprint a Pesach-related post of his here. He is, apparantly, now at a new site: Conartistic.

2) Comments made by eligible bachelor Mar Gavriel seem to attract more attention than my actual posts. Even when I don't count the person googling "metzitzo" since that is obviously MG himself. (Who else spells it like that?)

3) Lesser-known biblical women seem to be of interest. My mentions of Idit (Lot's wife) and Bilhah and Zilpah (Yaakov's wives) seem to generate hits. Beli neder, I will try to blog about Shifra, Puah, Batyah, Serah bat Asher and other Pesah-related women in the future.

What would you like to see more of? Let me know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Pre-Thanksgiving post

In Hebrew, there are two words that translate into English as "freedom", herut and hofesh. R. Jonathan Sacks draws a distinction between these words. Hofesh is the freedom of a libertarian society. With no law, the strong inevitably prey on the weak. Herut recognizes G-d's law and provides for the liberty and safety of all.

Although, I'll be eating turkey with the Saintly Woman and our guests, I'm very uncomfortable with the holiday. Not because of Thanksgiving's Christian origins. I like Halloween. Who am I to talk? It's a much more serious reason.

It's hard to imagine a tragedy on par with the Shoah, but I don't think it's any exaggeration that this country's treatment of it's native population qualifies. That makes it particularly hard to be involved in a holiday that celebrates the cooperation between two peoples without recognizing the fact that one of those nations virtually wiped out the other. Just imagine Germany instituting a holiday trumpeting it's wonderful relationship with its Jewish community throughout history.

In the comments to this post over at the Goblin King, Alan Scott mentions a suggestion that we precede Thanksgiving with a more somber day of reflection. I like that. Maybe even a fast day (and not just so you can stuff more turkey down your gullet the following day) or at least some small gesture.

At the seder, in Avadim hayinu, we sing (although it's not in the original text) "'atah bene horin", "now we are free". This is the freedom of herut, imbued with responsibility. True, this country has been good to us, but we need to look beyond our own communities. Our yom tovim are not merely times of celebration, but of inspiration that are designed to affect our everyday behaviour. If we choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, we need to give it greater meaning than a day off with delicious food. Among its other great work, Mazon works within Native American communities. Every little bit helps. Let us truly become bene horin.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Aargh!

My sidebar is doing that again! Anybody know how to fix it?

Aargh!

My sidebar is doing that again! Anybody know how to fix it?

One more Va-yera post

Here's a little something from my incomplete set of Menahem Kasher's Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation (Torah Shelemah) that I recently rescued out of a dumpster. He quotes the Tanhuma Va-yera 4 in relation to Genesis XVIII:4.

Just as Avraham said
"ד יֻקַּח-נָא מְעַט-מַיִם, וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם; וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ, תַּחַת הָעֵ ץ
4 Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree. ",

as a reward, his children will be given the Mitvah of the korban Pesah, as it says in Shemot 12:3

וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם, אִישׁ שֶׂה לְבֵית-אָבֹת--שֶׂה לַבָּיִת. "They shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household"

the same root קח, to take being used in both instances. This is also related to Shemot 6:7

וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם "and I will take you to Me for a people"

As it says here נא, now, it says in Shemot 12:9 אַל-תֹּאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נָא "Eat not of it raw", the same word being used to mean raw.

As it says here "a little", it says in Shemot 23:30 מְעַט מְעַט אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ "By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, "

As it says here "water", it says in Ba-midbar 21:17 עֲלִי בְאֵר, עֱנוּ-לָהּ "Spring up, O well--sing ye unto it-- "

and etc.

Tongue!

In this week's Parasha of Va-yera, Avraham serves food to 3 individuals who may be men, may be angels, or according to the Ramban, something in between. Rashi tells us that he served them tongue with mustard. (Someone has got to explain to me where he gets that.) Since this event is said to have taken place on Pesah, the Hatam Sofer would eat tongue on Pesah, substituting horseradish for mustard which is kitnoyot.

On a (Pesadik) roll

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has another post comparing George W. Bush (as well as the Iranians and Al-Qaeda) to the biblical Pharoah.

Any thoughts, folks?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Shulhan Orekh II

While the Saintly Woman puts the finishing touches on our 2nd annual Shabat Va-yera dinner with Skully and Newt, I thought I'd add a few food-related morsels to our discussion.

In Morocco, Seder night is called Layl ha-Rass, Night of the Heads, in reference to the sheep heads that are eaten. (Lublesky)

Moroccan Jews traditionally eat white truffles, French-style doughnuts called "beignets" that are made with matzah meal and cakes of honey, almonds, and cinnamon during Passover.

The foods of Mitsrayim that Bene Yisrael crave in the midbar are garlic, leeks, onions and melons while the foods associated with Erets Yisrael are grapes, figs and pomegranates. What is the difference? The foods of Egypt mature under or on top of the soil. They are dirty when harvested. Israel’s foods are grown on vines or trees above the ground. This reflects the spiritual elevation of Bene Yisrael in the Exodus. Another explanation is that the fruits of Egypt are annuals, they need to be replanted year after year. Grapes, figs and pomegranates are perennials. They produce for many years from one planting. The spiritual parallels can be easily derived. (Arnow, David. Creating Lively Passover Seders. Woodstock, Vt. : Jewish Lights, 2004.)
Shabat Shalom

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Linkage

I truly hate the term "link dump", but that's essentially what this post is. A bunch of neat stuff going on in the blogosphere (I'm also not sure how I feel about that word).

Skully has been asking me to find her something connecting cats to Pesach. The Goy Wonder has some thoughts here.

Gil Student links to a devar Torah that I intend on printing up and reading over Shabat about this week's Parashah. In Va-yera, Avraham demonstrates his famous trait of hospitality to 3 malakhim (messengers or angels). I had always heard that this took place on Pesach (as mentioned in the poem Omets Gevurotekha at the end of the seder), but apparently there are other opinions.

The new supergroup blog Maven Yavin (great name) has a neat post by Lamedzayin on tekhelet. As I started to read it, I thought to myself "Wow, this is neat. I wish I could make some tenuous connection to Pesach, so I could link to it." Then I read the 3rd paragraph. Maybe for my next birthday, the Saintly Woman will get me some snail snot stained threads. Speaking of my birthday (zayin Adar, you have plenty of advance notice), I don't own the Guggenheimer or Bokser books.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bene Berak seder I

One of the first bits in Magid is the story of the sages in Bene Berak.

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻעַ וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבְּי עֲקִיבָא וְרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן שֶהָיוּ מְסֻבִּין בִּבְנֵי בְרַק, וְהָיוּ מְסַפְּרִים בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל אוֹתוֹ הַלַּיְלָה עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ תַלְמִידֵיהֶם וְאָמְרוּ לָהֶם: רַבּוֹתֵינוּ, הִגִּיעַ זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית.

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining in B'nei Berak. They were discussing the exodus from Egypt all that night, until their students came and told them: "Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!"

The origin of this account is unknown, although there is a very similar report related in Tosefta Pesahim 10:12 regarding R. Gamaliel's circle at the home of Boethus bar Zonin in Lud. Why did the author of the Hagadah include this story rather than the one in the Tosefta? Baruch Bokser, in his Origins of the Seder, theorizes that it is because R. Gamaliel studied the halakhot of Pesach while the 5 Rabbis studied about the story of the Exodus, a topic of wider interest. The Mekhilta Pisha (18) deals with this topic in a more straight forward fashion. R. Eliezer quotes the Wise son's question (Ex. 13:14) as proof that even those who are experts in Torah need to engage in study Seder night.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sodium

In a previous post, we touched upon the famous story of Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt.
Parshablog has an interesting post suggesting that perhaps that was not the case. He also has some interesting Harry Potter theories.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Who knows 14?

These last 3 songs of the seder are thought to have been composed in Judeo-German (which later evolved in Yiddish). Although they were originally only found in Ashkenazi Hagadot, Sephardic publishers in Livorno, Italy who had close contact with Austrian Jews later became the chief source of Jewish books for communities that had fled from Spain to Syria, Iraq, Persia, etc. (Guggenheimer)

Ehad mi yodea is a variation on a Christian carol that goes up to 12. Variations include Latin, German, English, Spanish, Italian and include some of the same symbols for each numbers. Archer Taylor believes that it originates from Sanskrit. While it has been thought to have been cribbed from the German version, there have been recent attempts to show that it is older, used for other contexts than the seder. Some French scholars attribute it to the ancient Druids. Some are starting to think that the Hebrew may have preceded the European versions. (The Passover Song of the Kid and an Equivalent from New England William Wells Newell The Journal of American Folklore > Vol. 18, No. 68 (Jan., 1905), pp. 33-48 ; Songs of the "Twelve Numbers" and the Hebrew Chant of "Echod mi Yodea" Leah Rachel Clara YoffieThe Journal of American Folklore > Vol. 62, No. 246 (Oct., 1949), pp. 382-411 )

In Ceylon and Cochin, versions of this song, often bawdy ones, were sung on Shabbat the week of a wedding. (The Schocken Passover Haggadah by Nahum N. Glatzer)

The number 13 is considered positive in Jewish literature. Guggenheimer posits that the Christians diabolized the number which is connected to G-d's universal kindness (because it is referred to in the 13 attributes of God?) whereas Christianity holds that salvation is for a select few. This seems a bit arbitrary although I'd be interested in hearing this further explained.

The gematria of Ehad (one) is 13. G-d is one and includes all other things. If you take all the numbers in this song you get 91 which is equal to the gematria of Hashem Elokim. (Toras Emes)

Why only go up to 13? Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to top the “attributes of G-d” but also because 14=dai (or more sensationally transliterated “die!”), enough.


Avadim hayinu

Rabbi Arthur Waskow compares the Pharoah of the Exodus to George W. Bush (as well as Al Qaeda).

Friday, November 11, 2005

Four are the Mamas

The last part of the seder involves the singing of various songs of comparatively late origin. One of these is "Ehad mi yode'a?" "Who knows one?" In later posts, I'll deal with the scholarly debate over its origins as well as the English version that my family and I'm sure many others sing. But for now, let's discuss the number four, which in and of itself will be a topic that we'll return to.

Arba imahot, four mothers, sheloshah avot, three fathers. The three fathers are easy. The patriarchs, Avraham, Yitshak and Yaakov. How many matriarchs are there? I never gave this much thought until a few years ago. Take a moment to count them. Sarah, Rivkah, Rahel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah. Most people agree that the 4 matriarchs are the first four women mentioned. The reason being that Bilhah and Zilpah were concubines and not full wives. I believe this is in a Gemara in Berakhot. I have a lot of trouble accepting this answer, especially in the context of the seder night.

The commentators debate as to what the purpose of the Israelite's servitude was. Perhaps the most common suggestion I've seen is that the children of Rahel and Leah either did or could potentially look down on the children of Bilhah and Zilpah. Putting the entire nation through the humiliation of slavery puts everyone at the same level. No one could look down on another (if only this were the case) since we all came from the same humble origins. That is why the idea of only four matriarchs grates on my nerves.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, in his Haggadah, said that the four, in fact, were Rahel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, but he did not cite any sources and I haven't seen that anywhere else.

Shabat Shalom.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lamb!

An extraordinary idea is brought forth in the Mekhilta Pisha 5 and Shemot Rabbah that the karban (sacrifice) was simply a means to convince the Israelites to perform Berit Milah, a prerequisite for bringing the karban. (Bokser, Baruch M. The Origins of the Seder. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1984.)

The Mekhilta de Rabi Yishmael at one point suggests that as soon as someone converts to Judaism, they should immediately bring the karban Pesach. Although the Mekhilta later rejects this idea, the fact that it was even suggested underscores the importance of the karban Pesach. Both the first Pesach and the Pesach with Joshua at Gilgal contain elements of conversion. At both points the men are circumcised and the Bene Yisrael (Children of Israel) miraculously crosses a body of water which can be seen as representing a mikvah (which is an element of conversion). Yosef Carmel

Aryeh Kaplan points out that the karban Pesach was roasted with its head between its knees, a body position associated with prophecy in the Tanakh. (Meditation and the Bible.)

Barley!

Mississippi Fred MacDowell has another great post on the Karaites. He mentions in passing that 'Anan ben David, an early major Karaite scholar felt that lehem 'oni, poor man's bread (meaning matsah) could only be made of barley. While that's not terribly interesting, the rest of his post is. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Details - Bullets

Those of us who are, to some degree or another, shomer mitsvot (observant of Jewish law), put a high premium on details. Every year, we use a laminated piece of construction paper that my cousin made in grade school to determine how much matsah and maror we are required to eat at the seder. Does it really matter if we eat a little less than the requirement? Well, yes. Yes it does. If we eat slightly less than the minimum are all of our efforts in vain? Will God strike us down for that? Well, no. That's silly. The question is where to draw the line.

All of the strange rituals that we go through on Pesah night are for one purpose. To remind us that G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt. Some would ask, couldn't we do that without all of the arcane symbols? Do the mitsvot have any inherent meaning or are they a means to an end? I think most of us would place the answer somewhere in the middle. But where?

Case in point: Recently, I was shown a hanukiyah that belonged to an aquaintance of mine. (We'll call him Reuven) It was contructed out of spent bullet casings. It had been made for Reuven by an army buddy during World War II. Reuven's company did not have a Jewish chaplain and he had taken on those duties himself. He had kept the hanukiyah and has used it every year ever since. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by assuming that it means a lot to him. I would also speculate that in addition to the sentimental value, the object's history adds to the religious significance of performing the mitsvah of lighting the hanukiyah.

Here's the thing. It's not kosher. Obviously so. (To those of us who went to day school.) There was a part of me wanting to scream that fact out loud. Another part of me was yelling back "Who cares!?" Well, apparently, on some level, I did.

My point, if I indeed have one, is that we need detail-laden symbols. Why read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man? Why not simply say that racism is bad and be done with it? Hell, why listen to Beethoven's fifth symphony, just play a C minor chord (or a Schenkerian analysis) and go home. Why do we need a whole Torah to tell us to love our fellow human beings? Because that's the way we're wired. That's what makes us human. The details.

Did that make any sense or am I just pulling things out of my butt when I should be in bed asleep?

First Fruits

The heart of Magid and indeed the entire seder is a group of biblical verses from Devarim, along with interpretations. A basic question is, why use these verses? Something from Shemot would be a bit more of an obvious choice. One homilitical answer that I think is quite good, is from Shira Smiles is that these verses are in the first person and on Pesah we need to feel as if we were pesonally involved in the Exodus.

A more realistic answer (from Louis Finkelstein) is that the Jews of the 3rd century B.C.E. (which is when Finkelstein believes Magid was established) all knew these verses by heart as they were recited as part of the mitsvah of Bikurim. Therefore even the illiterate would be familiar with the content of the Hagadah.

However, the Hagadah omits the last two verses of bikurim. These pesukim deal with being brought into the land of Israel. In exile, these verses may be too painful to recount. (Glatsner)

The commentators discuss the purpose of the first fruits. The Rambam sees it as an act of humility, recognizing the kindness of G-d. The Abarbanel sees it as an excersize in subduing one’s passion. The self-discipline of taking the first fruits and giving them up. The Akedat Yitshak sees it as recognizing G-d’s power and admiting that everything comes from Him and not us. (Leibowitz)

Sorry that my sources aren't all that clear. Part of my notes were on a computer that was stolen out of our moving van.

Favorite Hagadot

My Dad suggested that I poll my regular readers for their favorite Hagadot. His votes (which I heartily agree with) are the classic Maxwell House Hagadah and the Moss Hagadah which is one of the most exquisite books ever produced. I also like the Guggenheimer "Scholar's Haggadah" which presents the Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Yemenite versions side by side as well as a detailed commentary.

One bit of housekeeping. As far as I can tell, I have 3 more or less regular readers (everyone else say hi so I knows you exist!). One posts comments interspersed with Hebrew. The other 2 don't read Hebrew. I don't want to ask folks to stop posting be-'Ivrit, but perhaps you could inlcude the English and/or transliterated words? Or not. We'll see what works. I just want this blog to be accessable and interesting to the widest audience possible.

Speaking of which, let's see if I can get Hebrew to work : ממי אפחד

Ok, to look forward to: A guest post from my Dad on the murderer we once had at our seder. One from Skully on food-related folklore and symbolic foods at the seder. And the Saintly Woman tells us why she hates the four sons so much. Looking forward to more guest-posting. Don't be shy. No post too scholarly or too silly.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Open and Closed Doors

There was a custom to leave the doors open during the seder so that anyone who was in need could join. Yemenite Jews kept the doors open for a different reason. In case, Mashiach would come, they could make a hasty departure to Israel. In Libya and Djerba, the exact opposite would take place. No guest were allowed on Jewish property. Several explanation have been proffered. Perhaps, this was in emulation of the karban Pesach, when only Jews could partake and one had to place reservations, so to speak, in advance. Also, Pesach was a time when people would spy on Jews and make false reports. One source claims that, in the past, so many people had taken advantage of Jewish hospitality on Pesach, that one needed to take precaution. Arabic translations from Libya of Ha lakhma render the phrase “whoever is hungry, let him come and eat" as “whoever is hungry, let him come and taste nothing”! (From here)

Cantata of the Bitter Herbs

What happens when one of my favorite record labels releases a recording of a cantata by a composer I've been wanting to get into about my favorite holiday? Disappointment.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Lions & Snakes

According to Avrohom Blumenkrantz, the Ari (Isaac Luria) would only hold his seder at a four-legged table. If anyone can explain this to me, I would appreciate it.

Also, Blumenkantz says that if an Ashkenazi starts eating kitniyot, he will be bitten by a snake. (I am not making this up).

Olives and memory

Some Jews in Fez and Sefrou refrain from eating black olives during Nisan. Why, you might ask, do they deprive themselves in this way? Because it is believed that black olives cause forgetfulness (although olive oil improves the memory) and we are commanded to remember God bringing the Jews out of Egypt (always, but the month of Nisan in particular).

Bedikat kaved?

According to Herbert C. Dobrinksky's A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs, Moroccan Jews do bedikat hamets slightly differently than the rest of us. Instead of merely hiding pieces of bread, they include slices of grilled liver (in mini sandwiches maybe?). I suppose this makes it easier to find. Just follow your nose!

Blood on the Doorposts in LA

Did you know that on Passover in Los Angeles, Jews have a custom to smear sheep's blood on the doorposts?

Did you also know that LA Jews do kaparot on the day of Rosh ha-Shanah?

Were you also aware that in the City of Angels, first born Jewish sons are auctioned off the highest bidder for the honor of being the child's godparent?

Did you know Kohanim are a religious sect?

Well, then you haven't read Wayland D. Hand's "Jewish Popular Beliefs and Customs in Los Angeles" in the Journal of American Folklore (sometime in the early 1960's)

He (somewhat tersely) apologized for these errors in July 1961.

Bananas!

Speaking of karpas and berakhot, I've heard that Elizabethan Jews had trouble remembering that the correct berakhah for bananas was bore peri ha-adamah. The local rabbi instituted that one year everyone use bananas for karpas. The only thing that I hate more than bananas is bananas dipped in salt water.

Potatoes!

In perusing The Encyclopedia of Hasidim, edited by Tzvi M. Rabinowicz, it says that in Ropczyce, they would use potatoes for karpas using the blessing of "bore peri ha-adamah" whereas during the year they would use the blessing of "sheha-kol". I've never heard of saying sheha-kol on potatoes. Does anyone out there know about this?

Potatoes!

Return of Streimel (Sort of)

This is the first in what I hope to be a long series of guest-posts. I have tried to convince Streimel to make a glorious return to the world of the blog with a brilliant new essay on Pesah. He declined. In lieu of that, however, he polished up last year's Passover post and allowed me to present it for you folks. (He has taken his old posts off on his own site). Take it away, Striemel!

When I told a business associate that he wouldn't be able to call me from Friday 7pm to Monday 9pm he asked me if this is the 'silverpaper' holiday. He is Jewish by birth but cares about nothing more. A few years back he had a spasm of spirituality, it didn't even last long enough to have him register the names of the holidays, but he did remember the silver paper all over the house. He is right - I thought after putting down the phone with him - this is all about silver paper. Silver paper in the fridge, on the counters, around the backsplash and above the stove - the whole kitchen is engulfed in the shiny metallic retro look. We even use it to wrap the cooked, steamed, fried, baked eggs or any other different version of eggs that we eat. I wonder what this Yom Tov was about before silver paper was invented. This year we went for the first Seder night to my oldest brother, where my parents were, and the second we made ourselves at home. My wife could not understand why I wanted to go there the second night too, for I am usually the one who complains that it is too hectic with all the grandkids screaming around. I couldn't tell her the truth that it is much easier to get away with things at his house than when I am in my house leading the services and all the eyes are on me. The first night I made sure not to sit myself according to my seniority. I sat closer to the center of the table and sat my kids around me so I could 'take care of them'. I knew that the kids are not going to be there most of the time, but rather play with their cousins, which left me ample maneuvering space. Then I took myself the task of pouring everyone's cup דרך חרות; it is a laborious tasto giveve everyone exactly what he wants. Most went on the tried and true Kedem light wine; some needed a combo of Bartenura and grape juice. I noticed that the younger ones insisted on wine while the ones who have their own grown-ups diluted it with grape juice. My father had grape juice only. I am beginning to suspect him with heresy .I am not a big wine drinker and I am not fond of grape juice either. Drinking four cups of it is not really 'my cup of tea'. I made sure to bring along a non-see-through Silver כוס to use for the required ארבע כוסות. I got away with drinking a sip and a half at every turn. Reciting the הגדה wasn't bad either. I enjoyed the singing and the discussions of the meaning of the בעל ההגדה. When things got really boring I read and re-read the שיר השירים while wondering if it was written by the Rebbe זי"ע would we still think of him as holy. The מצות worked out pretty well too. I took the biggest כזיתים handmade sure that everyone sees what a big צדיק I am. Only, I made sure to start way after everyone, I leaned to the left as much as I could and started throwing down bits and pieces on the floor while dropping a few in my mouth too. Getting up I coughed a little ancomplained thatat the ערב פסח מצות this year is so thick and is really hard to chew it up in the two minute allotment. We went into this discussion on how long a כדי אכילת פרס is. I noticed during the debate that my youngest brother in-law who just got married is not participating. He didn't talk till after כורך. I couldn't take ithat thehe beat me in being a צדיק.

מרור (bitter herb) was the easiest of all. Nobody really noticed how little I put from the horseradish into the lettuce. There was none. I dutifully dipped it into the חרוסת and started munching on it. When my father started coughing loudly, I did too, when his face turned red so did mine. Soon all the male members were smacking their lips in exhilaration at the good fortune we had this year that the מרור stayed fresh and bitter. Everyone was coughing and turning colors, but no one outdid me. At one point, I wondered who else is also only playing and has no real מרור in his lettuce. I was going to wrestle my brother in in-law's portion from his hand and shake it out for everyone to see when I thought the better of it. It might have actually contained מרור and by doing it, I would have exposed myself.כורך was ok. I enjoyed the sandwich. Again, I didn't shove it down my throat in two minutes but nobody noticed. My kids enjoyed it too and asked for seconds. At this point, we were dangerously close to 12:55am "חצות". I was hoping that no one would notice but this newly wed had to announce it. My father had long ago heard of this אבני נזר that somehow makes you eat the אפיקומן twice. Since then the Seder night became longer with two hours. We all hurriedly ate another כזית, my father having said that because it's only a ספק we can rely on eating only one כזית. I waited until the newly wed started eating to take two כזיתים and I made sure that everyone notices it. He turned red in his face and I was a happy man. It was worth swallowing those big chunks of Matzoh. For שלחן עורך, I had no appetite anymore. The eggs in salt-water זכר לחגיגה didn't appeal to me. My son insisted on repeating the 'תורה' that we eat an egg because it is the same day in the week as תשעה באב is, thus destroying the little leftover appetite I still had. My mother insisted that if I don't eat I should come help in the kitchen, which I gladly did. I noticed that one box of eggs is already finished. There are 30 eggs on a tray and probably 18 trays of eggin a na box. Do the math. Earlier in shul, someone by יעלה ויבוא said חג הביצים instead of חג המצות. This empty box gave it some new meaning. We finished after three. I fell asleep thinking how great it is to be a Jew. אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו The second night was disastrous. I had to drink all the כוסות, swallow all the כזיתים, and say the הגדה from cover to cover. My daughter wanted to know by שפוך חמתך how come one who sees אליהו הנביא is not supposed to say anything and could it be that my son saw him. I understood her question when I saw my son smirking knowingly. I explained the best I could when my son wanted to know if nobody is allowed to say if he saw him or not how do we know that he came? I see a little אפיקורס in the making. My other son insisted that I take him to ספירה in shul, claim that 'everyone in his class is going'. Oh, what a classic. When my neighbor came knocking on my door to accompany me to shul I had no choice and went, my son in tow. The ecstasy and frenzy that I enjoyed not so long ago at the מצוה of ספירת העומר is gone, never to return. Sometimes I regret it though. Chag kosher Ve'sameah.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Modern Slavery

One of the greatest sources of shame in the modern state of Israel is the problem with sex trafficking. We cannot be comfortable with our freedom while this disgusting crime is being commited in the holiest of places.

Help out.

Mar Gavriel has a great related post that brings new meaning to the Fast of Ester.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

House of Bondage

Some Iranian families have a practice to whip each other with scallions (symbolizing the Egyptian taskmasters whipping the slaves) during Dayenu. Some families have everyone take turns around the table. In some households, it degenerates into a free-for-all. I have to remember to try that minhag out this year.

Here is a Haggadah for the sadomasochist community (pdf) html version. As far as I have read, this is work friendly.

Karaite Haggadah

On the Main Line has a very interesting post on the origins of Karaism.

Here is a Karaite Haggadah

PS Why does a nice Jewish blog have a Jesus reference for a name?

Dreaming of a (not so) Blue Pesah

Truly horrifying.

Magdil/Migdol

Speaking of Heinrich Guggenheimer's book, here is my all time favorite tidbit from that work. Also mentioned in the encyclopedia Judaica. You know how in bentshing we say magdil yeshu'ot malko (Great salvation giveth He to His king) during the week and migdol yeshu'ot malko (He is a tower of salvation to His king) on Shabat and Yom Tovim? Ever wonder why? The weekday version is a quote from Tehilim 18:51 and the Shabat version is from II Shemu'el 22:51. It is theorized that in early siddurim, the sources of this verse was indicated with the abbreviation "be-sh.b." meaning in Shemu'el II. Later generations took it to mean be-Shabat, on the Sabbath.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Pesah in Korea

There is an old Korean custom that on the 14th on the 1st lunar month of the year, no one would leave the house. They would not eat rice, only bean pulse and bitter herbs. In Seoul, they would tie a red string to the outside door handle.

Clark, Charles Allen. Religions of Old Korea. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1932.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Shulhan Orekh I

Food fun facts! or Fun food facts!


Two main dishes are often eaten at the seder to symbolize the Pesach and Hagigah sacrifices (The Schocken Passover Haggadah. New York : Schocken Books, 1996.)

Some add a fish course, these 3 main courses symbolize Mosheh, Aharon and Miriyam as well as the 3 foods that are to be eaten in the days of Mashiah: the Leviatan, the Ziz (an enormous bird) and the Shor ha-Bor, the behemoth. The fish also symbolizes the fish that the Israelite women would bring the men during the time of slavery to increase their sexual potency. (Wolowelsky)

Various tidbits about Karpas

Various tidbits about Karpas

Salt water is connected to the idea of having guests. According to the Midrash, Lot's wife alerted the people of Sodom to the fact that they had guests (the folks in Sodom didn't take kindly to visitors) and was thereby punished by being turned into salt. (Don't remember my source, my notes just say Ha-Kohen) Sandy Eisenberg Sasso takes the opposite approach saying that Lot's wife Idit turned to look back at Sodom out of compassion for its inhabitants. Therefore, the salt water is a symbol of compassion, even for our foes.

Some Mizrachi (particularly Syrian, Indian and Iraqi) communities use lemon juice for karpas.

The Tosefta mentions sweetbreads or intestines! dipped in salt water towards the beginning of the Seder with the karpas coming with matsah and maror. (Hauptman, Judith. "How old is the Haggadah" Judaism. Winter 2002.)


The word karpas is found in Megilat Ester meaning a fine, richly colored fabric. There is a connection with karpas and Yosef’s multicolored coat. The brothers dipped the coat in blood to convince Yaakov that Yosef had died and this set into motion the events that brought about the slavery in Egypt.

Edit: Mar Gavriel had the following to say in the comments area:

According to Prof. Guggenheimer (in his book The Scholar's Haggadah), the words karpas (fine white linen) and karafs (celery) are both Farsi. Whoever provided the vowel-points for the mediaeval song "Qaddêsh u-Rechatz" only knew the consonants KRPS from the Meghilla, so he vocalized them as he had found them there.Even in Latin (and Greek, IIRC?), the word carbâsus means the sail of a ship, (which was made out of linen?).

Check out Mar Gavriel's blog. It's much cooler than mine. He had some interesting thoughts recently on women leyning but I'm too lazy to find the exact post. Around Rosh ha-Shanah maybe?

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