Archive for the ‘Being Jewish’ Category

Well it is Yom Kippur.  The first issue with this holiday is the name.  To the un-initiated it sounds like Yum Kippers! There is a lot wrong with those two words, ‘yum+Kipper’.  First off, in reference to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur there is absolutely nothing ‘yum’ about it! Mostly because you have to fast for twenty five hours and I mean fast, no food, no water, nada, zip nothing.  Secondly a Kipper is absolutely disgusting. A kipper is a whole oily little herring which has been split from head to tail, gutted and then salted or pickled.  My theory on such foods is pretty basic.  When you have to pickle or salt to cover the taste of the original food to make it edible, then it only stands to reason that the food being covered is pretty much disgusting.  I’ll give you another example. 

Gefilte fish, which is another Jewish delight, what is it you may ask?  Well there is no fish that is called a gefilte, so don’t even waste your time at your local petshop looking for one.  It is a white fish that is poached minced and stuffed into the fish skin.  Yum Gefilte!  But there is a way to make this food palatable.  How? You may be asking.  Well I’ll tell you, it is a little secret weapon called Horse radish.  Wait!  Don’t go running out to buy some gefiltes and horseradish because it can’t be any over the counter horseradish.  No it must be old school grandma made horseradish, or more commonly known as the moonshine of horseradish.  When grandma makes horseradish it doesn’t clear the sinuses it reduces a liquid pulp.  When you open the jar it brings tears to your eyes. 

Let us imagine you are not Jewish sitting down to eat at your Jewish friends house. Gefilte fish is on the menu.  But the first thing that assaults you is the overwhelming strong smell of the reddish sauce that sits in the middle of the table, that is the horseradish.  It is always fun to watch the newbie’s in this situation.  They see all the Jews shoveling heaping table spoons of this toxic sauce onto the plates.  Now the hostess brings out the gefilte fish.  They look harmless, in fact they look just like dumplings, except for the disgusting looking goop that usually accompanies them.  With a little care you remove the goop and plop a gefilte or two onto your plate, after the first bite the need for the toxic paint remover otherwise known as horseradish makes a lot of sense.  It doesn’t matter that it is burning your sinuses, it doesn’t matter that you can hardly see through the tears.  It doesn’t matter that it is so strong that the horseradish is eating away at the pattern embedded into the plates.  All that matters is that you get enough horseradish on the gefilte fish so you can no longer taste the fish, in fact the goal now is to simply kill your taste buds.  It has taken me years to realize that I just don’t have to eat any of it in the first place.

So, what does all this have to do with Yom Kippur? Nothing.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement for us Jews.  The day is supposed to be spent in synagogue, (Jewish church) in prayer.  You also don’t get to eat for 25 hours in a row.  Growing up there used to be Jews who would cheat and at least drink water.  But you are not supposed too.  What you are supposed to do is pray. You read your bible and you confess your sins and at the end of it all we trust that our sins have been absolved by god.

There is a benefit however aside from atonement of course and that is Leviticus 23:27 decrees that Yom Kuppur is a strict day of rest.  I like strict days of rest.  I decree that there should be more of them.  Unfortunately you cannot have a light without a dark to stick it in, because there are five other observances one must follow on this day of ‘rest’.

  1. No eating or drinking (already discussed above)
  2. No wearing of leather shoes, (like anyone can afford those anymore)
  3. No bathing or washing. ( Not a problem not going anywhere anyway, I’m resting).
  4. No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions, (okay so it’s may get a little smelly)
  5. No Marital relations. (I choose to believe that means no fighting or arguing of any kind)

This day, especially this year Yom Kippur takes on an interesting twist, I was born on Yom Kippur.  That’s right on October 7th on Yom Kippur I was born.  The Jewish calendar does not change.  So most years Yom Kippur does not fall on my birthday, sometimes it’s off by a week or two, but this year, just as it did 46 years ago the two dates collide.

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We wandered the dessert for forty years!  We literally, with whips to our backs built the Pyramids.  We sacrificed our lives on Masada rather than being forced to live under a system that went against our covenant with God.  We cannot eat bacon.  Our homeland is surrounded by people who would just as soon drive us into the sea rather than acknowledge our right to exist.  Our male children are circumcised…Whaa, back the truck up!  We cannot eat bacon?  Why? Why can’t we eat bacon?

I’ll tell you why, because we are Jewish, because we follow kashrut the Jewish law that deals with what we can and cannot eat.  Kashrut comes from Kaf-Shin-Reish meaning fit, proper or correct.  Food that meets the criteria is considered Kosher.  Bacon my friends, is not kosher!

So what exactly is Kosher?  According to the Torah (first five books of the bible which in a broad sense covers the entire body of Jewish teachings) land animals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud may be eaten. If the animal does not have these two qualities it is forbidden.  Pigs, badgers, monkeys, camels, rats and rabbits are out.  Cows, deer, goats, bison are in.

If they live in the sea you can eat it if it has fins and scales. Fish and mermaids are in. Catfish and shellfish are out.  Do you know what catfish and shellfish eat?  They eat the kosher fish’s poop!  So you tell me, which would you rather?

If they are birds:  Birds of prey and scavengers are out. Chickens, ducks and Turkey are in.  However some Jews tend to avoid turkey because,( and I don’t understand this at all but) at the time of the giving of the Torah we didn’t know about turkeys.  I would have thought God would have had all this figured out.

Of the winged swarming things (winged insects) there are a few that are allowed, however the Sages are not sure which ones they are so just to be safe we’ve outlawed them all, thank God.  However there was that time on my bicycle…

Rodents, reptiles, amphibians and insects? We don’t eat them.

Just because the animal is part of the ‘in’ crowd does not automatically make it kosher.  That would be far too easy.  The food in question cannot have died of natural causes, or killed by another animal. which means we must murder the animal.  Further, the animal must be free of disease or flaws in the organs at the time of slaughter. I know this may surprise you, but it doesn’t end there either.

The slaughter must be done according to a Jewish ritual of shechitah and the one who performs the ritual is the schochet.  This is not be confused with a schlemiel and a schamozzel  (a schlemiel is the guy who spills the soup, the schamozzel is the guy who the soup is spilled on). According to the Torah the soul lies in the blood.  Therefore all the blood must be drained from the animal at the time of slaughter.

Just because an animal meets all the above criteria does not mean all of the animal is kosher, for example we do not eat the back end of animals, which means I don’t have ever worry about eating a cows ass.  Think about it.  Nor do we mix meat and dairy products.  Heck we don’t even mix the dishes, meat gets one set, dairy gets the other. I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up. Not only that, Really good Jews have seperate dishwashers!

The above is by no means a comprehensive lesson in the laws of Kashrut. If you are truly interested you can always ask Google

The question, when starting this post was why do we keep kosher?  There are many theories, but when push comes to shove there is only one reason why we keep kosher.  The most common theory is health.  There are health benefits, the fact that the animal must be clean and healthy at the time of slaughter or how about the idea that scientists are finding that eating meat and dairy together often interferes with digestion. But health is not the reason.  

There are economic and environmental theories, for example the amount of food a pig consumes is disproportional to its value as a food source.  The camel is/was much more useful as a beast of burden, (it can carry a lot of stuff) than it was as a food source.   Good reasons, but not the reason.

The reason is much simpler.  Jews keep kosher is because the Torah tells us too.  Except for the draining of the blood the reasons of Kashrut are not explained.  We keep kosher because that is our covenant with God and we don’t question God.

I am not a very religious person.  I can’t even tell you I believe in God. But I am Jewish and proud of being Jewish and I am trying to understand my heritage/history because I believe it to be important.  For me the number one reason to keep kosher, or at least to understand kosher is simple because a Jew who observes (or at least understands and recognizes) the laws of kashrut cannot eat a meal without being reminded of the fact that he or she is a Jew.

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Matzo, mmm good! Not!

Seeing as my post on Chanukah proved to be so popular I thought it would only be right to try my hand at the story of Passover.

If you don’t know about Passover and went to a Jewish home during the first night of the holiday and rudely arrived really late missing the reading of the haggadah (the story of Exodus as told in the Torah) you may think that Passover is simply short for ‘pass-it-over’ as in: “Hey you, the one closest to the brisket do me a favour and pass it over

Chances are you will arrive before the reading of the Haggadah in which case you may think Passover is short for ‘pass-this-over’ because after the first two hours of being read to, (usually in Hebrew) you may find yourself thinking: “Can’t we just pass-this-over and get to the food already?

Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus when the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.  Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, no silly, not the car, the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month of the civil year, on the Hebrew calendar.  More simply put, the first month of the festival year.  This holiday, the most celebrated among the Jews lasts for seven days.

The telling of this story is the responsibility of the Jews to pass onto their ‘sons’ “And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” Exodus.13.8

The first two and the last two nights are special meals kicked off by the reading of the Haggadah. The meal ceremony starts at sundown and if you are lucky you start to eat around 9pm, during the reading of the haggadah you get to consume four glasses of wine, a crumb of bread, and a few measly bitter herbs that we dunk in salt water to remember the plight of the Jews.  This dunking is so nice, we do it twice!  Okay we do it twice to reinforce the tears shed.  But you also get to do fun stuff during the ceremony like:

 Dipping your finger in the wine 10 times and letting one drop fall to the plate for each of the 10 plagues.  One may think this is alcohol abuse but if you have ever had Manashevitz, (a kosher wine) then you might just agree that it is better on the plate then in your mouth.  

And then there is the fun game of ‘hide the Matzo’.  I have to admit I never knew the significance of the hiding of the matzo.  There are two ways to go about hiding the matzo, in some families the head of the table hides the matzo and the kids look for it at a particular point during the ceremony.  When found the kids get a little cash.  Some do the opposite the kids hide the matzo and get a little cash when the head of the table finds it.  Still makes no sense!  So, just for you my faithful readers I put in the leg work and asked Rabbi Google.  I didn’t like the first response, or the second or even the third.  The more I searched the more pissed I became.  The hiding of the matzo is a scam!  It has no religious significance, it tells no tale, and it represents nothing!  It exists because the evening is so long the powers that be decided to create this little task for the sole purpose of keeping the children awake and attentive during the ceremony!

Other than that you sit breathing in the aroma of wonderful food that sits in the other room waiting, waiting to be eaten as you slowly starve to death.  I think this is done purposely in order to truly understand what it is like to wander through the dessert for 40 years.  

I’m not going to go into all the Passover details, as there is way too much that goes on during the holiday.  But there are some interesting things you may want to know about…or the salient points according to me:

  • God helped the Israelites escape Egypt by inflicting 10 plagues upon the Egyptians before the Pharaoh would release his slaves.  The last one being that the first born son of every Egyptian would be slaughtered.  It could have been avoided if Ramsey had just listened to Moses when he said; “Let my people go” or at least when Charlton Heston said it in the movies.  My other favorite Charlton Heston line is; “Get your hand off me you damned dirty ape!”  But that’s another movie.
  • Speaking of the movie ‘The 10 Commandments’ which theatrically tells the story of the exodus. I think they need to re-make the movie and Angelina Jolie should play the role of Nefertiti. 
  • The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes saving them from the 10 plagues, hence the name ‘Passover’.
  • When the Pharaoh finally gave his word, the Israelites left so fast they didn’t even have time to wait for the bread to rise.  This was so traumatic that to this day Jews around the world have to eat Matzo (unleavened bread, see picture above) for seven consecutive days every single year.  Oy!
  • I couldn’t figure out why it took forty years to find the holy land.  Certainly somebody could have stopped and asked for directions even if the men wouldn’t I’m sure a woman would have.   Later I learned that this was a clever plan by God. You see when they reached Mt. Sinai the Jews went a little crazy and started making false idols and made a little party of it, as a punishment God made sure that generation never got to see the Promised Land.
  •  Moses led the Jews through the dessert for 40 years, yet Moses himself was not allowed to enter the holy land.  He wasn’t even allowed to cross the Jordan River!  I thought this highly unfair.  After a lot of time and research I found out that there was a moment when my people were getting really thirsty during the crossing and Moses started to doubt God’s plan and asked God; “Why? Why are you doing this, why am I leading these people through all this only to starve to death?”  God told Moses to tap the rock and in tapping the rock water appeared, but God was pissed at Moses for doubting his word and so Moses was not allowed into the promised land, the lesson here is don’t piss off God.
  • During the Passover ceremony there are four questions that the youngest male at the table is supposed to ask: 1 Why is it that on all other nights we eat both Bread and Matzo, but on this night we eat only Matzo?  2 Why is it that on other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs? 3 Why is it that on all other nights we dip our herbs once, but on this night we dip them twice? 4 Why is it that on all other nights we eat either reclining or sitting, but on this night we eat reclining?

You may notice that I have answered all the four questions except for one, the last one.  Could it be that I don’t know the answer?  No people, I have the internet at my disposal I have all the answers.   I didn’t answer the final question because in all my Passover’s past I never got to eat reclining.  I never even thought about it, and now I am feeling a little pissed off so figure it out yourself!  In the meantime grab your favourite pillow, relax and enjoy your freedom. 

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When I was in University a friend asked me if it was true that Jews created Chanukka because they were jealous of Christmas.  Yup, was my reply, 500(ish) years before the first Christmas we Jews knew that Christ was going to be born and the Christians, (who didn’t exist yet) were going to make a huge deal out of his birthday. Right there and then we decided that we were going to compete with that future holiday and have our own eight-day festival of light! We even created Chanukka Harry who would visit the kids and give them gifts of chocolate coins and the really good Jewish kids often got socks! To push it over the top we would play games with a dreidel.  Talk about raising the roof!

Living where I do I realize there is a lot of people who don’t really know the story of Chanukka.  Some of you may find this surprising, (others, not so much)  but I don’t know a lot about the holiday myself.  But, as a good Jew I have decided to take what little knowledge I have and fill you, my readers, with the story of Channuka…so put on your yarmulke.

Antiochus, (which rhymes with tuchas) IV Epiphanes, the King of Syria desecrated King Solomon’s temple.  Naturally this upset us Jews.  Truth be told Antituchas didn’t desecrate Solomon’s temple.  Antituchas desecrated the replacement temple built by Cyrus the Great.  Solomon’s temple was destroyed years earlier by the Babylonians but that story is for another time.  Cyrus did a great job and the Temple was dedicated in 515 BC. (see?  I know stuff). In modern times (20BC) Harod the Great renovated Cyrus’s via Solomon’s temple.  Word is the temple developed a nasty leak, in any case Harod did such a good job the temple became known as Harod’s temple.  I often never wonder what King Solomon thought about all the transformations, but alas, we have wandered off topic.

Where were we? Oh yes.  Antituchas desecrated Cryus’s temple which seriously pissed off the Maccabees.  Everyone knows you don’t piss of a Maccabee, after all they were a fearsome rebel army who took back and ruled Judea.  They founded the Hasmonean Dynasty, reasserting the Jewish religion and ruled from 164 to 63BC. 

Sorry I keep getting side-tracked.

So, Channuka is the rededication of this ‘second’ temple, the problem is that the Maccabees ran out of Olive oil.  Their wives must have been very upset.  I know my wife gets upset with me when I use the last of the evoo (extra virgin olive oil for you non-followers of Rachel Ray) and don’t let her know.  And I can only imagine how upset Rachel Ray gets.  Oy Vey!

I’m thinking the grocery stores didn’t have any evoo on hand because this shortage created more problems than one would think possible.   However all was not lost because we are, ‘The Chosen People’ and although there was only enough olive oil to keep the eternal flame alight for one night a miracle transpired and the oil burned for eight, yes count them eight days!  As it happens, eight days is the exact time that was needed to consecrate more oil!  And that my friends was how the festival of light began. 

Personally I like to take a moment or two each Chanukka to remember what it means to be a Jew.  You see there is another story linked to Chanukka.  The story of Hannah and her seven sons.  Hannah was a serious Jew, not Jew-ish like me.  It is because of people like Hannah and her sons that make the Jews the sturdy proud people that they/we are:

Shortly before the revolt of the Maccabees,  Antituchas arrested Hannah and her seven sons and tried to make them eat pork.  Being good Jews and putting their faith in the Lord they refused to eat the pork.  Jews don’t eat Pork, not even bacon!  Hannah watched as her sons were brutally tortured and eventually killed all because they took a stand to protect their beliefs.  They refused to give up all that they were just because another wanted them too.  It is for them that I put on my yarmulke.

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