The Best Passover Reads, 5772

A large part of what I do for JID is sift through hundreds and hundreds of items posted online in an effort to find the good stuff (which is then sifted further to post the best stuff). You would not believe how much Pesach-related material appears every year. Every local newspaper, Jewish and general, has something on it. There's not a lot to get excited about, but there is the occasional piece that makes you sit up and pay attention. Here are this year's Pesach pieces that quickened my pulse a bit:

  1. 1. Leon Wieseltier's review of the New Ameratzishe American Haggadah. Yes, it's a hatchet job and he overstates the case, but the central critique seems to be that re-inventing the wheel (in this case composing a brand new translation of the haggadah) does not necessarily mean doing it better. It's part of a larger debate about innovation and conservatism (see, for example, Zak Braiterman's response to Wieseltier, and the earlier exchange between me and Braiterman).Link
  2. Judith Shulevitz has a Levinasian reading of the Talmud's derivation of the requirement to seek out hametz with a light. The contrived scriptural acrobatics point toward a deeper theological anthropology. Terrific.
  3. Howard Jacobson muses on the poem "Dayenu". Jacobson is the greatest living Jewish writer (in English). Here, he comes up with witty and profound sentences like: "The Dayenu is a series of self-generating conditional clauses, composed, if you like, in that most kop-dreying of all tenses, the Judaeo-hypothetic-preconditional, in which problems are imagined in advance of their occurring, imagined, indeed, in spite of their having been averted, and there is no fathoming the sequence of causation: Do our travails precede our giving thanks, or does our giving thanks occasion our travails?"
  4. Thanks to S. of On the Main Line and Dr. Paul Shaviv of CHAT, we can now listen to Pesach tunes of 370 years ago. Read the whole story here.
  5. This is not limited to one article, but it is certainly a trend: Pesach has long had a culture of chumra, but it seems that things may be starting to change (or maybe it's a function of my shifting vantage point). This year, I've seen popular pieces about a kezayit being the size of an olive, about scaling back what is included in kitniyot, about going easy on the Pesach cleaning, and about not using horseradish for maror (see also this earlier article; this last one is not really a kula, but when I was growing up the general sense was that horseradish was the "real" stuff and that lettuce was some sort of leniency). Trend or no?

That's it (so far) for 5772. Take a look at some posts of Pesach past for more goodies.


yehupitz said...

Great choices and comments. Baruch She'Kivanti on a few. To wit:

I thought Leon overdid the cruelty that is the sine qua non of negative reviews by hoity-toity professors, but he was essentially on target.

Re: Chumros, witnessing the trend of pulling back on the over-chumra-ization of Pesach has restored some of my faith in the principle that Orthodox Halachic evolution is guided by Divine Providence and some modicum of reason. Sure there are hiccups, but I believe (or perhaps "hope" is more accurate) the trend should be healthy. Overturning a half-millenium-old minhag is doomed to failure. That's why I think the pro-Quinoa crowd has a chance, while the Leshem proposal does not. Corn and Mei Kitniyot have already been canonized and there's no turning back.

I am part of the anti-horseradish party too. And while pleased with the development, I am pleasantly surprised that we haven't been put into Cheirem.

The Shulevitz piece is brilliant, of the type I would have assumed you wrote, had I been asked to guess.

Moadim L'Simcha

ADDeRabbi said...

I wonder if there's a difference in attitudes toward kitniyot between Ashkenazim in the US and in Israel. There; pretty much everything KFP is for Ashkenazim, and the only nafka mina is really kitniyot products themselves. Here there are many products that have a KFP for kitniyot eaters. This availability makes for much greater flexibility when making purchases even for those who don't eat kitniyot.

Let me give you an example: the other day, I was at a supermarket and wanted to buy almonds. Whole almonds. Both packages on the shelf were KFP for kitniyot eaters only. In the ingredients, it was listed that it may contain trace amounts of gluten, soy, and peanut.
In the States, I would not have used such a product, because gluten is real chametz. But once it has the Sephardic KFP, it means there's no gluten in this run and I'm not concerned about the trace amounts of kitniyot.

Another example: I made popcorn today to eat on Shabbos.
In the US, it would have been virtually impossible to do this because where are you going to get KFP popcorn (if it were theoretically possible for the 8th day of Pesach to be on Friday)?
Here, I bought the KFP popcorn (Badatz Beit Yosef!) and looked into the question of using Pesach utensils to cook chametz (I did use a Pesachdike pot for the popcorn).

I don't think that kitniyot is a silly or stupid minhag and I have not intention of getting rid of it. But the fact that there are so many products available that are KFP for kitniyot eaters gives those of us on this side of the pond the ability to rely on certain commonsense "kulot" that the Ashki-dominated kashrut system in the US would not allow.