Wednesday, April 14, 2010

אל תרבה שיחה

You know friends, there's something about me that's been on my mind recently, having to do with my verbal interactions with my peers and acquaintances. It seems that I'm rarely if ever the one to end any conversation. It's like I don't "believe" in ending conversations. Which is strange because it's diametrically opposed to my verbal nature as a child. Growing up, I would never exchange a word with someone I wasn't familiar with, and wouldn't say much to friends either. I was quite the nonverbal character. Since my early adulthood though I've been shocked at times to reveal the loquacious version of my personality. Studying the phenomenon as a whole though, I'm coming to think they're not only related, but a direct cause and effect. It's actually because of my quietness that I'm so talkative! Both due to my childhood "תעניות דיבור" and to my extremely limited social interactions as an adult, it seems I've developed a great hunger for that which I've been deprived of so long: speech.

On the other hand though I also have certain ideals at stake when effecting and listening to vocal cord movements. Firstly, I am a great admirer of the art of speech, and feel that it's all but been lost since a century ago, mostly as a result of modern communicative technology. My ideal is people who can continue a single conversation for days, and not even be strayed by a tangent. To me it's representative of mental wealth. Secondly, in regards to listening to others, I refuse to "space out" or stop a conversation abruptly because I find the subject matter uninteresting, and I base my behaviour on my own negative experience: I've been in many environments where my voice was not heard, since those I was speaking to either did not share my interests, or were objectively extremely dull and uninteresting people. Therefore I always make a point to listen.

Friday, April 9, 2010

נאמן באיסורים

Alas, I've been delinquent from recording my thoughts here for some time. Thankfully though, it was mostly due to my being involved in more constructive pursuits, and not to sloth alone. For example, I was able to stay by my Cincinnati cousins for Pesach, whom I don't often get a chance to see. Though there is an element of sloth involved nonetheless, since I find it so very difficult to take my vague, abstract thoughts and articulate them on a keyboard. I must have been at least 22 when I first started typing, and since then I haven't gotten much better!

Anyway, I know it's a bit late to be discussing this topic, but there are some things I'd like to verbalize in relation to Pesach. Or, more importantly, the status of certain foods on Pesach: It's well known that European Jews uphold a ban on the consumption of certain legumes on Pesach, a ban that the Oriental Jews never accepted. It's also well known that it's preferable to eat only foods marked by trustworthy rabbinic authorities as kosher for Passover.

The following event is the crux of my halachic concerns in this matter: On Saturday night my aunt asked if she would be allowed to purchase self-pop popcorn from the supermarket, considering that Sefaradim eat kitniyot. Now, before proceeding to my halachic decision to her, I'd like to insert parenthetically that for myself and many Sefaradim, Kitniyot is a semi-emotional topic, since it's a Sefaradi practice, and Sefaradi customs and halachic understandings are generally crushed under the Ashkenazic homogeneousity of Judaism. Especially in Israel. In Israel, even a product that already has a Sefaradi hashgacha saying that it's kasher l'Pesach for those who eat kitniyot will have another Ashkenazi certification stating in plain terms that it's not at all kasher l'Pesach, completely overlooking that a large segment of the religious population would find it acceptable. There are even many Sefaradim (in Israel especially) who refuse to eat kitniyot, in order to fit in with the Ashkenazim and their rules. Which is why our Poskim, for example Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, are very upset by the matter and are adamant that Sefaradim continue to eat kitniyot, and even suggest that Ashkenazim should recant their ban on it.

With that said, my aunt asked me if she could buy kitniyot. Of course my answer was yes. After she got it though, the eldest daughter (who's more religious, and somewhat influenced by the Ashkenazim) was upset she had purchased it, especially considering it had no "kosher for Passover" certification whatsoever. Which takes us into another topic: Is rabbinic certification necessary, and how much does it represent about a food?

This is obviously a very critical question in regards to kashrut observance, especially as it relates to Pesach, and I've gone from one end of the spectrum to another, mostly because of a girl! Naturally, I used to be very wary of food products with no hashgacha on them. Then I dated this Sephardic girl who's parents were ardent followers of Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi, who's known to be the most lenient possible authority in kashrut matters, and after argumentation over the matter, the seedlings of Abadi-ism were planted in my brain. His main premise is that mashgichim don't generally enter the factories where the food is being produced. And then again, take for example countries like Mexico and even France, where the Orthodox establishment produces directories stating which foods are kosher, even though they have no rabinnic certification.

In my belief, the whole concept of hashgacha is very recent, and doesn't jive well with the Talmudic tradition. What I mean is that it can be suggested from the Torah and the Talmud that one should take somewhat of a more active role in dietary observance than just going to the kosher supermarket and placing whatever you find pleasing into your shopping cart. The halachot of kashrut are not only for mashgichim. Until recently Jewish women were knowledgeable in every area of hilchot kashrut and were reliable for such things as soaking and salting meat, ensuring that meat and dairy didn't mix, checking for insects, and every other food-related law that today is only the realm of mashgichim. The Torah itself seems to direct people as to which animals they can and cannot consume, and when produce cannot be used, thus placing a great responsibility of decisiveness upon the individual. The Talmud too expects it's words to be repeated among all Jews, so that all can abide by it's teachings.

Another unfortunate development is kashrut observance is the proliferation of stringencies for no reason besides ignorance (which, again, is a product of Ashkenazi Haredism). Again, in the Talmud we find scenarios which we would be hard-pressed to approve of, but which the Talmud does. As in the situation where there is a pile of ten pieces of meat and only one is kosher; if you know which one is kosher you're allowed to eat it, even though it was in direct contact with non-kosher pieces of meat.

To me though, the first reason is the most important; how can you question the legitimacy of "trusting the ingredients" if the Orthodox Union also just trusts the ingredients. Even for Pesach. I've heard people say "How do you know if there isn't someone eating a sandwich on top of the conveyor belt?" That's a legitimate concern, which is equally applicable to foods that ARE "kosher" or "kosher for Passover". A story I enjoy relating on the subject is that of a young Lakewood housewife who made a Pesach cake for her husband. The husband thought the cake tasted a little strange and wanted to see what his wife used to bake it. She told him she used "Paysach flour" she got in the Pesach store. It was regular flour.

But this leniency is true on a halachic level as well: the aforementioned champion of kitnioyot consumption, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, constructed a book of שו"ת based on responses he gave callers during a halacha radio program. The book is called "יחוה דעת". In Vol. 2, responsa 62, he deals with the subject of lemon juice, made in Israel, which had small traces of bread in it. Now, you must remember that this was juice with no "kasher l'Pesach" label on it (at least, not before this ruling). He allowed it, basically because, while it's true that chametz isn't "בטל בשישים" on Pesach, it's בטל if it mixed in before Pesach, and then that amount is not considered to be "חוזר וניעור" on Pesach again. So the same is obviously true for things like popcorn, which is extremely unlikely to have had any bread or wheat kernels mixed in to it in the factory. That even if it did have a minority of bread mixed in, it's בטל before Pesach.

I also wish to speak about when to and when not to ask a rabbi about halachic matters, but I think that'll have to wait for the next post....