Passover Seders move to nights that work for busy lives:
Sundown Monday signals the start of Passover, the most observed of Jewish holidays, a night when Jews follow the biblical mandate to gather, eat and retell their story of liberation. Unless, that is, they already did it over the weekend or plan to some other night this week.
Mostly to accommodate busy work and travel schedules, more American Jews are holding their Seders — the elaborate ritual meal at the heart of the eight-day holiday — on different nights, not only on the traditional first two nights.

I’m generally a live-and-let-live kind of guy when it comes to religious observance. You do what works for you; I do what works for me; it’s better to be observant in the way you can be than to do nothing; and so on.
But this, I have to admit, seems like a bridge too far for me.
It would be more convenient to schedule the holidays for times when I’m not busy, or when I’m already visiting my family, or when my wife has a few days off from work. I mean, if we could celebrate Passover at the same time as Christmas, then we wouldn’t have to take a couple of days off from work. Or if we could celebrate Passover at the same time as Rosh Hashana, we’d be able to knock off all at the same time those few days of religious observance that most American Jews agree are sancrosanct. Then a whole lot of people wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle that Judaism seems to represent for them for more than a couple of days a year.
Part of me thinks it’s better that these people celebrate Passover on the wrong day than not at all. But part of me is pretty sure religious observance isn’t principally about your convenience.

Passover Seders move to nights that work for busy lives:

Sundown Monday signals the start of Passover, the most observed of Jewish holidays, a night when Jews follow the biblical mandate to gather, eat and retell their story of liberation. Unless, that is, they already did it over the weekend or plan to some other night this week.

Mostly to accommodate busy work and travel schedules, more American Jews are holding their Seders — the elaborate ritual meal at the heart of the eight-day holiday — on different nights, not only on the traditional first two nights.

I’m generally a live-and-let-live kind of guy when it comes to religious observance. You do what works for you; I do what works for me; it’s better to be observant in the way you can be than to do nothing; and so on.

But this, I have to admit, seems like a bridge too far for me.

It would be more convenient to schedule the holidays for times when I’m not busy, or when I’m already visiting my family, or when my wife has a few days off from work. I mean, if we could celebrate Passover at the same time as Christmas, then we wouldn’t have to take a couple of days off from work. Or if we could celebrate Passover at the same time as Rosh Hashana, we’d be able to knock off all at the same time those few days of religious observance that most American Jews agree are sancrosanct. Then a whole lot of people wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle that Judaism seems to represent for them for more than a couple of days a year.

Part of me thinks it’s better that these people celebrate Passover on the wrong day than not at all. But part of me is pretty sure religious observance isn’t principally about your convenience.

(Source: Washington Post)

# holidays # Judaism # Passover

What is your preferred non-hametz pasta substitute?
jakke

I can’t say there’s really anything during Passover that I prefer. The truth is that after two days of Passover, I’m ready to be done with Passover.

But, to answer your question, I’ll go with matzah farfel.

Relatedly, who has Kosher for Passover recipes for me so that my family and I won’t be totally miserable for eight days?

# Judaism # food # Passover # holidays

In my last post, I wrote about explaining the laws of kashrut to our nanny and I ended with this paragraph:

Keeping kosher is something we do; it’s part of our tradition and part of who we are. But it’s not the easiest thing to explain. I mean, it’s easy enough to say, “There are a bunch of passages in the Torah that are all about dietary restrictions and Jews have stuck with those for an awfully long time.” But it takes a good deal more than that to explain why those dietary restrictions are ones that we — in this house in this time and place — still find meaningful and worth following, especially since we don’t read the Torah literally and we don’t take to heart all of the rules-and-regulations passages from right alongside the passages about keeping kosher. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to explain oneself to others … despite, or perhaps because of, the difficulty that often attends making sense of one’s beliefs and actions.

And so a number of people wanted to know why I keep kosher.
In the first place, it’s a return for me to the way I did things when I was growing up. My grandparents kept a kosher home and so did my parents; I went to a private Hebrew day school from kindergarten through eighth grade. So keeping kosher was the standard for me until high school. I didn’t keep kosher in high school, college, or graduate school. Returning to it now that I have a family of my own is a sort of homecoming for me.
But it wasn’t necessarily a choice I would have made for myself. It was my wife’s idea and it was important to her; when we drove out to Nebraska from Virginia back in 2008, she suggested it and, over many hours in the car, we debated and decided to give it a try. It was actually pretty difficult to do when we lived in Lincoln; there was no kosher meat available in the city until Trader Joe’s opened shortly before we moved, so we had to drive to Omaha and stock up on frozen meat. Most of the time, we were de facto vegetarians. Despite the challenges, I have to say that it was a great feeling to know that my grandparents could eat anything in our house, using the proper dishes and silverware, when they came to visit. My grandfather never would have said anything, but I’m sure it was a concern when he visited me during my grad school stint in North Carolina. 
Having moved to Omaha, it’s much easier. The Jewish community is larger here and there are many more kosher items available in the grocery stores.  Buying kosher meat, separating dairy from meat, choosing to have a whole bunch of sets of dishes, or asking questions about ingredients when you’re at a restaurant are all things that could be a hassle but, at this point in my life, they bring a sense of intentionality to a meal. Rather than just choosing anything from the fridge and putting it on a plate, each meal represents an opportunity to pause and consider what’s important to me.
Finally, and very much related to the last point, keeping kosher has become something that’s a part of our identity because we’ve joined a vibrant Jewish community here in Omaha and we’re raising our kids in that community. Keeping kosher is something we do to explain Judaism to our kids; it’s a connection with the history and tradition of the Jewish people. And it’s part of consciously creating a particular identity as Jews in a place where Jews are a very, very small minority. My sense is that this will pay dividends as the kids get older, as their Judaism always will have been a clearly defined part of who they are just as it was for me.

In my last post, I wrote about explaining the laws of kashrut to our nanny and I ended with this paragraph:

Keeping kosher is something we do; it’s part of our tradition and part of who we are. But it’s not the easiest thing to explain. I mean, it’s easy enough to say, “There are a bunch of passages in the Torah that are all about dietary restrictions and Jews have stuck with those for an awfully long time.” But it takes a good deal more than that to explain why those dietary restrictions are ones that we — in this house in this time and place — still find meaningful and worth following, especially since we don’t read the Torah literally and we don’t take to heart all of the rules-and-regulations passages from right alongside the passages about keeping kosher. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to explain oneself to others … despite, or perhaps because of, the difficulty that often attends making sense of one’s beliefs and actions.

And so a number of people wanted to know why I keep kosher.

In the first place, it’s a return for me to the way I did things when I was growing up. My grandparents kept a kosher home and so did my parents; I went to a private Hebrew day school from kindergarten through eighth grade. So keeping kosher was the standard for me until high school. I didn’t keep kosher in high school, college, or graduate school. Returning to it now that I have a family of my own is a sort of homecoming for me.

But it wasn’t necessarily a choice I would have made for myself. It was my wife’s idea and it was important to her; when we drove out to Nebraska from Virginia back in 2008, she suggested it and, over many hours in the car, we debated and decided to give it a try. It was actually pretty difficult to do when we lived in Lincoln; there was no kosher meat available in the city until Trader Joe’s opened shortly before we moved, so we had to drive to Omaha and stock up on frozen meat. Most of the time, we were de facto vegetarians. Despite the challenges, I have to say that it was a great feeling to know that my grandparents could eat anything in our house, using the proper dishes and silverware, when they came to visit. My grandfather never would have said anything, but I’m sure it was a concern when he visited me during my grad school stint in North Carolina. 

Having moved to Omaha, it’s much easier. The Jewish community is larger here and there are many more kosher items available in the grocery stores.  Buying kosher meat, separating dairy from meat, choosing to have a whole bunch of sets of dishes, or asking questions about ingredients when you’re at a restaurant are all things that could be a hassle but, at this point in my life, they bring a sense of intentionality to a meal. Rather than just choosing anything from the fridge and putting it on a plate, each meal represents an opportunity to pause and consider what’s important to me.

Finally, and very much related to the last point, keeping kosher has become something that’s a part of our identity because we’ve joined a vibrant Jewish community here in Omaha and we’re raising our kids in that community. Keeping kosher is something we do to explain Judaism to our kids; it’s a connection with the history and tradition of the Jewish people. And it’s part of consciously creating a particular identity as Jews in a place where Jews are a very, very small minority. My sense is that this will pay dividends as the kids get older, as their Judaism always will have been a clearly defined part of who they are just as it was for me.

# Judaism # food # Nebraska # Omaha # kids # religion

On Nannies and Keeping Kosher

We hired a nanny a little over a month ago, both because we wanted our daughter to have some one-on-one care before she becomes a middle child and because we don’t see a lot of benefit in putting an infant in full-time daycare.

The whole thing is working out really, really well. The woman we hired is fantastic; she takes our daughter to the park or to the library and, when she’s taking care of both kids (our son goes to daycare three mornings a week to hang out with his friends), she takes them to a museum or to the zoo. The kids took to her immediately and all the behavior issues that crop up whenever there’s a big change were quick to dissipate. They’re napping much better at home than they ever did at daycare and, as a result, we get to spend more time (and more quality time) with them after work.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge to having an entirely new person spending a great many hours in our house is trying to explain the notion of keeping kosher. The simplest part is showing her the different sets of dishes and silverware, and explaining which is used for which type of food. Then there’s a basic list of commonly-eaten kosher and non-kosher animals. From there, it gets trickier: “Also, don’t mix milk and meat. And, for some reason, chicken counts as meat but fish does not.” And then, “We have to read all the packaging of everything before we buy it because, for example, a lot of the cheese you might find in a grocery store is made with animal products and is, thus, not kosher.”

But all of that is ultimately just a memorization game. The hard part, as expected, is explaining why. Keeping kosher is something we do; it’s part of our tradition and part of who we are. But it’s not the easiest thing to explain. I mean, it’s easy enough to say, “There are a bunch of passages in the Torah that are all about dietary restrictions and Jews have stuck with those for an awfully long time.” But it takes a good deal more than that to explain why those dietary restrictions are ones that we — in this house in this time and place — still find meaningful and worth following, especially since we don’t read the Torah literally and we don’t take to heart all of the rules-and-regulations passages from right alongside the passages about keeping kosher. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to explain oneself to others … despite, or perhaps because of, the difficulty that often attends making sense of one’s beliefs and actions.

# kids # daddy blogging # nanny # Judaism # food # religion

reblogged from
CNN’s headline reads “Hillary Clinton must once again win over some in Jewish community” and the text of the article implies that Clinton might have some problems with the Jewish community in 2016 because of her affiliation with the Obama administration and its refusal to be as belligerent toward Iran as the Netanyahu administration insists is always appropriate.
The trouble is that all the data about “the Jewish vote” in the article itself completely undermines the headline — unless by “some” the author meant fewer than 30% of Jewish voters:

According to a 2012 report by The Solomon Project, a nonpartisan public policy organization, Jewish support for Democrats has grown since the 1990s. When Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and 1984, he garnered between 31% and 37% of the Jewish votes. But starting in 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected to the White House, American Jews began to gravitate to the Democratic Party.
In fact, at no point between 1990 to 2008 has a Democratic candidate for the presidency won less than 70% of the Jewish vote. In 2008, Obama won nearly three-quarters of the Jewish vote.
But history is also changing.
In 2012, Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win less than 70% of the Jewish vote when 69% of the community supported the president.

In other words, if Clinton fails to make herself seem any better than Obama, who has been vilified for no reason as the worst American president when it comes to Israel, she might only manage to garner 70% of the Jewish vote.
So, yeah, I’m sure her advisers are telling her to spend as much time and money as possible in order to ensure that the four decade stranglehold that the Democrats have had on “the Jewish vote” doesn’t somehow magically disappear for no reason.

CNN’s headline reads “Hillary Clinton must once again win over some in Jewish community” and the text of the article implies that Clinton might have some problems with the Jewish community in 2016 because of her affiliation with the Obama administration and its refusal to be as belligerent toward Iran as the Netanyahu administration insists is always appropriate.

The trouble is that all the data about “the Jewish vote” in the article itself completely undermines the headline — unless by “some” the author meant fewer than 30% of Jewish voters:

According to a 2012 report by The Solomon Project, a nonpartisan public policy organization, Jewish support for Democrats has grown since the 1990s. When Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and 1984, he garnered between 31% and 37% of the Jewish votes. But starting in 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected to the White House, American Jews began to gravitate to the Democratic Party.

In fact, at no point between 1990 to 2008 has a Democratic candidate for the presidency won less than 70% of the Jewish vote. In 2008, Obama won nearly three-quarters of the Jewish vote.

But history is also changing.

In 2012, Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win less than 70% of the Jewish vote when 69% of the community supported the president.

In other words, if Clinton fails to make herself seem any better than Obama, who has been vilified for no reason as the worst American president when it comes to Israel, she might only manage to garner 70% of the Jewish vote.

So, yeah, I’m sure her advisers are telling her to spend as much time and money as possible in order to ensure that the four decade stranglehold that the Democrats have had on “the Jewish vote” doesn’t somehow magically disappear for no reason.

# media # politics # Clinton # Israel # Judaism # religion # CNN

Pidyon Ha’Ben

I participated in my first Pidyon Ha’Ben ceremony today.

For those who aren’t familiar with the whole concept of Pidyon Ha’Ben, here’s some info straight from Wikipedia:

According to the traditional rabbinic interpretation, in the early part of the Bible, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, the duties of a priest fell upon the eldest son of each family. The first-born was to be dedicated to God in order to perform this task.

Following the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, after the nation had sinned with the Golden Calf, the priesthood was taken away from the first-borns, and given to the tribe of Levites, specifically to the KohanimHigh PriestAaron, his children, and their descendants. At the same time it was instituted that the first born of each family should be redeemed; i.e. they would be ‘bought back’ from the dedication to God that would previously have been required of them.

The ceremony is relatively rare, so I was both honored and very pleased to be asked by good friends of ours here in Omaha who wished to redeem their first-born son by offering me some sheqalim in exchange for him. I was happy to oblige in making the trade and the cantor from our synagogue helped out to make the ceremony a really beautiful one:

The Shulkhan Arukh states that when a Jewish woman gives birth to a firstborn male by natural means, then the child must be “redeemed”. The father of the child must “redeem” the child from a known Kohen representing the original Temple priesthood, for the sum of five silver Shekels, or equivalent in country’s currency (if it has silver currency of the correct weight). The procedure does not apply when the father is a Kohen or Levite, and does not normally apply when the mother is the daughter of one.

As “a known Kohen,” my grandfather participated in these ceremonies with some frequency for many years; I felt a particular connection with him today in taking part in my first.

# Judaism # religion # kids

I'm not Jewish. Is it wrong that I feel weird when Jewish friends willingly and happily eat pork or other non-kosher foods?
roguepriest

Well, I can’t tell you how you ought to feel.

But I’ll say this: People, Jewish and not Jewish, often apologize to us when they order non-kosher food in front of us. I’m not sure why they do this, especially those who aren’t Jewish, but I’d say it happens two-thirds of the time.

And I don’t think we’re especially “judgy” about keeping kosher. What we typically explain to people is that we keep kosher in our home and we’re vegetarian or pescatarian (if the fish is kosher) when we go out to eat. This position is, in itself, a compromise; we know many people who wouldn’t eat at a non-kosher restaurant at all. Given that we make this compromise in order to be (relatively) observant of ancient dietary laws in our modern world, we know that what we do doesn’t have any bearing on what other people do or what we expect of others.

This works for us and we’re comfortable with it. We wouldn’t presume to tell other people what’s good for them.

# Judaism # questions # religion # food

I’m spending the weekend trying to figure out if my grandfather attended the Vizhnitz “Beit Israel” yeshiva (pictured above) in his hometown of Vișeu or the Satmar yeshiva in nearby Sighet.
Stories in the family suggest the latter, but I can’t figure out why his parents would have sent him out of town when he could have remained at home.
This is part of a little side project of mine; I’ve just started working on a historical narrative about the first 35 years of my grandfather’s life.

I’m spending the weekend trying to figure out if my grandfather attended the Vizhnitz “Beit Israel” yeshiva (pictured above) in his hometown of Vișeu or the Satmar yeshiva in nearby Sighet.

Stories in the family suggest the latter, but I can’t figure out why his parents would have sent him out of town when he could have remained at home.

This is part of a little side project of mine; I’ve just started working on a historical narrative about the first 35 years of my grandfather’s life.

# history # Romania # raison d'être # religion # Judaism

The Top 10 Posts of 2013

In the last couple of days of 2013, by way of reflection on a successful year of blogging, I’ll be linking to my Top 10 posts of the year.

These are the posts that drew the most unique eyeballs; the list doesn’t include the About page, where several thousand people each year go to find out whose writing they’re reading, the Ask page, where people write in with questions or to say kind and unkind things to me, or the front page, which is always the top draw since it’s the way that people access the site directly (rather than via some referring site).

Perhaps you missed some of these posts. Or maybe you just want to have another look since it’s been a little while. Feel free, of course, to share them with friends and loved ones because each click tells me that you’d like for me to keep writing these sorts of things.

Here, then, are the 6th-10th most viewed posts of 2013:

#10. That time the Republican leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives casually used an anti-Semitic slur during a debate on a bill (4/18/13)

#9. “Here We Are Now Entertain Us,” a manifesto against the whole notion of “edutainment”: that it’s equally if not more important for college courses to be entertaining than educational (5/13/13)

#8. “Althouse: The Clinton clot plot thickens… or thins… with anti-coagulants,” in which a Wisconsin law professor suggests that Hillary Clinton was probably faking a blood clot to avoid testifying about Benghazi (1/1/13)

#7. That time conservative pundit Erick Erickson made a whole bunch of claims about the “real” Jesus, who was wrathful, vengeful, and could definitely throw a haymaker (5/24/13)

#6. That time a graduate student at the University of Nebraska repeatedly used the n-word during a discussion on whether or not student government members should avoid using derogatory language and then tried to turn the whole ensuing mess into a free speech issue (12/3/13)

See you here tomorrow for the Top 5!

# raison d'être # Nebraska # Wisconsin # Clinton # Erickson # Twitter # racism # politics # education # Oklahoma # apology # terrible apologies # religion # Judaism # anti-semitism # internet


Kosher cops: Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is seeking to establish a “kashrut police” in effort to broaden the authority’s power over businesses that present their merchandise as kosher but have no rabbinate-issued kashrut certificate. Inspectors of the “kashrut police” would wear identification badges and even uniforms.

Who will procure for me an official identification badge and uniform so that I can present myself as the “kashrut police” for both Purim and Halloween 2014?

Kosher cops: Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is seeking to establish a “kashrut police” in effort to broaden the authority’s power over businesses that present their merchandise as kosher but have no rabbinate-issued kashrut certificate. Inspectors of the “kashrut police” would wear identification badges and even uniforms.

Who will procure for me an official identification badge and uniform so that I can present myself as the “kashrut police” for both Purim and Halloween 2014?

# Judaism # Israel # comedy # food # Halloween # Purim # holidays # religion

reblogged from

Oh, a comedian!

But seriously, my Christmas afternoon and evening involved helping out at the synagogue for the annual Men’s Club Kosher Chinese Buffet. This year, we had more than 125 people in attendance and more entrees than a Friday night dinner at my grandmother’s house.

We set up, we cooked, we ate, we served, we ate, we cleaned, and we ate a little more. My sense is that no one went home even remotely hungry and we still had plenty of food left over to take home and to give to others.

Major thanks is really due to the core crew — especially David, Ben, and Mike who came in early and stayed late — so that a slacker like me could swoop in for a few hours during naptime and after bedtime.

If your synagogue isn’t serving up a ridiculous amount of kosher Chinese food every Christmas, well, you just might want to think about moving to Omaha …

# Christmas # Judaism # holidays # food # Omaha # Nebraska

For How Long?

For how many more days will pretty much everyone I speak to inquire as to whether or not I had a Merry Christmas? Through the weekend? Into next week? Into the new year?

Unrelatedly, how was your Christmas? Merry?

# holidays # Judaism # Christmas # comedy

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