Karpas Platters and Do-It-Yourself Marror (w. pics!)

This is how we roll at our Seder.
  • For karpas, a vegetable appetizer in a dip, we use different kinds of vegetables and different kinds of dips. Each dip has some sort of educational of symbolic value. This year it's:
    • Strawberries and bananas dipped in chocolate. These are generally considered fruits, but in fact their berakha is "ha-adama. " Great teachable moment (I've heard that R. Teitz of Elizabeth, NJ used to do this, for that very reason).
    • Artichoke - same reason, and also because we're having Seder with my gourmet sister-in-law.
    • Potato latkes in applesause - that's just becuase it's fun and yummy.
    • Celery in peanut butter - celery is a traditional karpas food among Ashkenazim, and peanut butter is so that my kids have very clear memories that our family custom is to eat peanut products on Pesach and not treat them as kitniyot. (see Igrot Moshe OC 3:63).
    • Parsley in saltwater, because that's what my forebears did.
  • For marror:
    • I accept Ari Schaffer's contention that horseradish is a relative latecomer to the marror menu and is likely not a true species of marror. It is increasingly common for poskim to recommend making the berakha of al akhilat marror on something in the lettuce family (several Israeli poskim say this, and I've heard that R. Schachter and R. Willig at YU rule this way as well).
    • Nevertheless, I have horseradish with korekh. After all, the Seder is about preserving and continuing memories, and I do not want to forget - or want my kids to forget - the centuries of sojourning in those cold Ashkenazic lands. 
    • So what do we make the berakha on? Prickly lettuce (lactuca serriola) and bitter lettuce (l. variosa). It grows wild, as a weed, all over the place. I found enough in my (admittedly overgrown) backyard for the Seder. This is a really interesting plant that has a long history and some fascinating medicinal properties.

Strawberries and bananas dipped in chocolate, ready for use as karpas

 Lactuca Serriola growing, picked, and in my son's hands


Rav Eliezer Melamed on Kitniyot (and the elusive mung bean)

Over the past year or so, one of the project's I've been working on is the editing the translation of R. Eliezer Melamed's (thus far) 14 volume Peninei Halakha series, which is fast becoming the Religious-Zionist Shulchan Arukh. Our original plan was to release the volume on Pesach in time for the holiday, but we did not complete the work in nearly enough time. It will appear next year instead.

Nevertheless, we have decided to release one chapter as a preview/teaser. Embedded below is the chapter on kitniyot. In the introductory letter, I note that a lot went into making this translation as precise and accurate as possible, and nowhere is this more evident than in the list of kitniyot species at the beginning of section 4.

I spend about a day researching the identities of each species listed by Rav Melamed (all of which appear in earlier literature). The most difficult to pin down is a species called sapir in halakhic works. It appears in several lists of kitniyot, but without any translation into any other language. I eventually found that it appears in Rambam's laws of kilayim in Mishneh Torah. From there I contacted a friend who is a botanist and a talmid chakham. He did not know the identity of this species, but sent me on to mishna Kilayim 1:1 which mentions it among several other species of legume. R. Ovadia of Bertinoro translates it as cicer - chick peas. This species already appeared on R. Melamed's list. Rambam, however, translates it into Arabic as ma'ash.

From there I consulted with an Arabic-speaking friend, who was unfamiliar with the word but helped me navigate Arabic-language websites. We eventually found that it refers to a species known as mash beans, or she'u'it mash in Modern Hebrew. The English equivalent is "mung beans", and a look at cognates in other languages shows that both "mash" and "mung" descend from the term for this bean in central Asian languages like Urdu and Farsi. Mystery solved.

I bring this up as an illustration of the degree of precision used by Rav Melamed, and which we used in rendering his works into English.

Chag kasher ve-same'ach, and stay away from the mung beans.
Without further ado, Rav Melamed's chapter on kitniyot.


Ruth Calderon's Speech, Yair Lapid's Religion, the Temple Mount, and Tattoos

Events in Israel and around the Jewish world remain as interesting as ever, and I've tried to contribute a bit by writing when I have the opportunity (i.e., when I'm paid to write; can't afford the lucrative work-for-free opportunities).

Having been inspired by Ruth Calderon's inaugural Knesset speech, I contacted several Jewish media outlets about translating the speech, and the New York Jewish Week agreed that it would be important to get this remarkable speech in front of the English-speaking Jewish world. The translation, like the speech, was shared far and wide and was adapted as subtitles on the original speech. Here is a link to my translation:

Yesterday's events at the Kotel have drawn, as usual, a global audience, but as many of you know I have long advocated viewing the struggle for women at the Kotel and for Jews on the Temple Mount as fundamentally linked. So in addition to the standard articles, we have this from Matti Friedman, exploring the increasing relevance of Har Habayit. He quotes me at the end of the article and links back to a blog post I wrote on the subject last year. Here's hoping that attitudes continue to deepen, soften, and converge.

Elsewhere on the Israeli scene, I analyzed Yair Lapid's well-known Ono College speech from over a year ago, in which he "conceded defeat" to the Haredim. It was a remarkable speech, which articulated a vision for a new type of Israeli secularism. In his tone, Lapid has certainly distanced himself from his father. But is that change merely tactical? Check it out:

Finally, on a different note, I explore, in the New York Jewish Week, the ancient Jewish ban on tattoos. There is a talmudic argument about whether the ban is due to the perception of tattoos as a pagan practice or is simply not rational - whether as a taboo or divine fiat. I contend that this ancient argument continued through the medieval debate and continues to frame the contemporary debate as well. This was a fun article - it combines quotes from the Torah, Tanakh, Talmud, and Maimonides with references to Lenny Bruce, Amy Winehouse, Drew Barrymore, The Nanny, and Curb your Enthusiasm. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!