Pater Noster and Amidah – the language

In my last post I have looked at the structure of the Christian prayer Pater Noster and tried to align it with the Amidah. In this post I am going to look at some of the language.

The language of the Amidah is Hebrew (like most Jewish prayers). There are many arguments for thinking that the Pater Noster was originally given by Jesus in Aramaic (the commonly used language at the time) or Hebrew (the language of prayer). But it has come down to us in the gospels in Greek. I don’t speak Greek, so I am basing myself on the English translation here.

Our Father in heaven
Often Christians cite this personal, intimate adressing of G-d as a crucial difference of their faith to Judaism. This isn’t quite correct. Of course there are lots of instances of "Lord, our G-d", or "G-d, king of the world" in Jewish prayer. But the concept of G-d as a father is present as well. A famous example that has inspired quite a few musicians is the prayer "Avinu Malkeynu" that is used for Rosh haShana (new year) and Yom Kipur (day of atonement). It literally translates to "our father, our king" and asks for forgiveness of our sins. But the Amidah contains the phrase as well, in blessing six (also in the context of forgiving our sins).

Hallowed be your name
Jewish tradition has always assigned a special meaning to G-d’s name. When G-d shows Himself to Moses in the burning bush, He reveals His name to him. During the time of the temple, G-d’s name was used only once a year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest. The name was too holy to use in other circumstances, there paraphrases like "Adonay" ("Lord") or "Eloheynu" ("our G-d") were used. Today the holiness of G-d’s name has expanded even to these designations and orthodox Jews use them only in prayer. In everyday life "haShem" ("the name") is used to refer to G-d. Jewish liturgy is full of calls to sanctify G-d’s name. In the Amidah, blessing three has "You are holy and Your name is holy" and "we will sanctify Your name in the world", blessing eighteen has "for everything Your name may be praised and glorified". The well-known Kaddish prayer, that is also said in every service, starts with the words "May His great name be exalted and sanctified" (in Aramaic). These are only a few examples that underline the importance of G-d’s name in Jewish prayer.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, […] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
All these lines could as well be part of any Jewish prayer. The Amidah prays for sustenance (blessing 9), forgiveness (blessing 6) and deliverance (personal in blessing 7, communal in blessing 15). Jews, similar to Christians, await the coming of the messiah when G-d will reign as king over all the earth. The Amidah talks about the coming of the messiah in blessing 15, and about the rebuilding of Jerusalem (which will also happen in the messianic era) in blessings 14 and 17.

As we also have forgiven our debtors.
You may have noticed that I left out this line in the above. I have written in my post about the structural similarities that the Amidah is no place for our promises. Still, it is implicitly understood in all pleas for forgiveness from G-d, that G-d can only forgive sins against G-d. Sins against another person must be forgiven by that person. So Jews do (must!) also forgive their debtors.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
This is a very common theme in many prayers, I’ll just give two examples where the language is very very similar. The first is from the Aleinu prayer which is said at the conclusion of every prayer service: "For the kingdom is Yours, and You will reign for all eternity in glory as it is written in your Torah: haShem shall reign for all eternity" (Wikipedia doesn’t have the second part, you have to take my word for it). The second quote is from 1 Chronicles 29 verse 11 which is recited when the Torah is removed from the ark at Shabat morning services: "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as head above all."

So, in conclusion, most lines of the Pater Noster would not be out of place in a Jewish prayer. Many sound really familiar to a Jew (if you translate them to Hebrew, that is). Does this mean that Jews should pray the Pater Noster? No, by its history it has become a Christian prayer, maybe even the quintessential Christian prayer. And Jews do not use prayers from other religions. But the text itself doesn’t have anything really objectionable from a Jewish point of view (in contrast to other prayers, e.g., the Credo, the Christian statement of faith).

Pater Noster and Amidah – structural similarities

A central prayer in Christianity is the Pater Noster (or the Lord’s prayer), which Jesus taught his disciples. The central prayer of every Jewish prayer service is the Amidah (or Shmone Esre). Both are roughly from the same time. But are they in any way similar?

In this post I am going to look at the structure of both prayers. The Pater Noster is pretty short. As my Jewish readers might not know the prayer, here is the complete text as given in the gospel of Matthew [this is from Wikipedia, I am confused about what the actually used English version is, sorry if I got it wrong; it doesn’t really matter though, we are concenred with the content and structure here, not the exact words]:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9–13)

The Amidah is pretty long, it consists of 19 blessings (or petitions) that can be grouped into three sections: praise, request and gratitude. What I am going to try to do in this post is to associate the lines of the Pater Noster to the parts of the Amidah. As the text of the Amidah is pretty long, I will only give you the topics of the blessings, you can use any siddur (Jewish prayer book) to look up the complete text, but it doesn’t matter so much for our purpose here.

The first part of the Amidah (praise) consists of three blessings:

1. G-d, helper of our forefathers
2. G-d the almighty who raises the dead
3. G-d the holy one

There is a very nice correspondance of the first part of the Amidah to the first two lines of the Pater Noster. The first blessing/line establishes who we are talking to, each with a special twist that ties into the self image of the religion. Judaism’s main concept is the chain of unbroken tradition starting at the forefathers and continuing onward. G-d is the one who chose the Jewish people and helps them throughout history. In contrast this, Christianity uses a location,heaven, to specify who is the addressee of the prayer. I’m not very well versed in Christian theology, but to me this has associations of universalism, G-d is not with any special human group, but he is there for all of us – just like Christianity claims to be more universal than Judaism [I might be totally off here though]. The second line of the Pater Noster corresponds to the third blessing of the Amidah in invoking the holiness of G-d as way of praise.

The second part of the Amidah (request) in the weekday version consists of thirteen blessings which I am not going to list here completely. Rather I will put the rest of the Pater Noster as given by Matthew here again and after each line I will indicate the corresponding blessing of the Amidah in brackets:

Your kingdom come, [15. Coming of the messiah]
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, [9. Sustenance, a good year]
and forgive us our debts, [6. Forgiveness for all sins]
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, [7. (Personal) Redemption]
but deliver us from evil. [7. (Personal) Redemption]

As you can see most of the topics of the Pater Noster are reflected in the Amidah (we wouldn’t expect the reverse to be true, as the Pater Noster is so much shorter). There is no explicit place where the Amidah prays for G-d’s will to be done in heaven and earth, but there are a few sentences that start with phrases like “yihye ratzon miLfaneycha” or “yihye leRatzon” (both meaning something like “it shall be your will”), so I would argue the idea that G-d’s will is the thing that really counts is definitely there in the Amidah. That there is no line parallel to forgiving our debtors is probably due to the fact that nowhere in the Amidah we are talking about us. As an example here the translation of the complete blessing about forgiveness:

Forgive us, our father, for we have erred. Pardon us, our king, for we have wilfully sinned. Because you pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, G-d, the gracious One, who always forgives.

All blessings in the Amidah follow the same pattern. First a concrete petition (here to forgive). Followed by a reason why G-d should do whatever we ask for, usually appealing to some attribute of G-d (here his pardoning nature). The last sentence thanks G-d in advance for doing what we ask for. The Amidah is not a place for us to tell G-d something or promise something. Its purpose it to praise, petition and thank him.

The version of the Pater Noster as given in Matthew stops at this point, but in the protestant version of the prayer (and maybe in others?) there’s an additional line:

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

The most similar part of the Amidah would probably be when Kedusha is inserted into the third blessing as it is repeated aloud. In this part the community praises G-d as the ruler of all whose glory fills the earth. Praise is the first part of the Amidah, not the last (although every petition ends with a praise, or rather a thank-you-in-advance-for-doing-what-we-want as discussed above).

The third and last part of the Amidah (gratitude) contains a plea that G-d hear our prayer (and restore the temple), thanks for everything we have, and finally asks for peace. All of this is missing in the Pater Noster [you know, haughty war-loving ungrateful Christians – just joking!!].

So, is there a 1-to-1 correspondance? No. Are there similarities? Yes. Are these surprising? Maybe not so much. If you want something from someone, it is common courtesy to say something nice first, then proceed to what you actually want and in the end thank in advance or say someting like "you are so great". This is what both prayers do. It would be interesting to look at other prayers from other religions that were definitely not influenced by Judaism to see if this format of prayer is exceptional or universal.

Pessach is over, you can come out of the kitchen now!

I spent Easter at my (non-Jewish) boyfriend’s family and as you probably know Pessach started on Easter this year. I was reluctant to go at first, because things get so complicated in a non-kosher kitchen on Pesach, but my boyfriend talked me into going and so I went with my own dishes and lots of stuff (we went by car, so this was possible, yay!).

The original plan was that the family do their thing and I prepare my own food, but as his mother wasn’t feeling so well, we changed plans. So "we young people" prepared all of the meals – "we" pretty soon meaning myself alone. This setup made meals much easier and there were very few screw-ups, but it meant that I basically spent the whole time in the kitchen. Next year I’ll definitely cook in advance and come with a bag full of prepared meals that I only have to heat!

So what did I cook? Indian potato curry, Spanish tortilla, imam bayildi (Turkish eggplant dish), carrot salad, potatoes with cream cheese, carrot soup with ginger. I also ordered egg matza with onion this year which turned out to be very yummy.

An advantage of going away for (most of) Pesach was that it made cleaning easier. Of course I still had to clean, but I didn’t have to empty out the kitchen to make space for the Pesach stuff, and I didn’t have to kasher the oven and stove for use on Pesach. I used the time I saved to prepare the hagada and it was the best-prepared seder I have ever done. Yay again :)

Invite a convert to your seder!

This heartbreaking snippet comes from a post about the difficulty of being a convert on family-oriented holidays:

Here’s what will happen: I’ve bought tickets for the two seder meals at the local Jewish community. It’s an Orthodox synagogue, but as common in Germany, only the rabbi and maybe five other families are religious. The rest is made up of ancient Russians, who go to the Seder because they’ve been promised a lavish meal with their all-time-favorite dishes like chicken soup, beet salad, and – most importantly – alcohol. Much alcohol, this time. I’ll take a seat among that illustrious group of people forty years my senior. Then I’ll give my whole attention to the vegetarian dishes for about three hours while the others happily chat in Russian and ignore me. I’ll stay till we’re done with the Seder, walk home, and cry.
(Nadine Grzeszick: Passover: A Plague to Converts)

I have felt the same way, experienced the same thing. In ten years, I have once (1 time, exactly) been invited to a holiday by a Jewish family. A few times I have celebrated with a group of Jewish student friends far from home (fun), or a bunch of other converts (fun, but also awkward), most holidays I celebrate with the community (more or less fun depending on the people). To have nowhere to go on a holiday, is the worst.

But everybody can help the lonely converts. Let Nadine have a better seder this year! Jewish families – invite the converts, the lonely students, the baal teshuva, and all those who have nowhere to go. And you, the lonely ones – do something, invite other lonely people. Even if you throw a party for your non-Jewish friends, don’t sit at home, alone, in the dark. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Dovid Mordachai: What the Hell are Kitniyot?

It starts with a funny discussion/rant about the logic of kitniot, then a small song. Have fun!

A few comments:

  • "it looks like a grain" is also among the reasons given for kitniot. Crop rotation explains why legumes (beans, peas, etc) became kitniot, but I don’t think it fits for rice or millet. Here the similarity to grain is a better explanation.
  • There’s way more reason to forbid maize/corn than potatoes because corn is actually botanically in the same category as the grains that become chametz (see my post on maize/corn).
  • Actually that people make peanuts kitniot is a good example for his argument that kitniot is a custom and a decree by rabbis. Although Rabbi Moshe Feinstein decreed them to be non-kitniot, the people want them to be kitniot (see my post on peanuts). It seems people like to expand the list of kitniot.
  • Not all kitniot are beans, rice is isn’t a bean, it’s a cereal grain. Botanically speaking if we were to say that beans and cereal grains can be kitniot, this would mean we should make peanuts and corn kitniot, but not quinoa and coffee (see also my posts on quinoa and coffee). That might be a semi-rational route to take, but it’s still

Other that that I pretty much agree that if people want to continue to not eat kitniot, that’s fine, but don’t expand the list every year!

Kitniot index page

Pesach is rapidly approaching and I get more and more hits from search terms like "hemp seeds kitniyot" (5 searches in the last 30 days), "why is sunflower oil considered kitniyot" (2 searches), "are pumpkin seeds kosher for passover" or "is safflower kitnios". To collect all the kitniot posts I have written in one place, I have created a page with an index of all my is-X-kitniot posts. I will update it whenever I write new posts.

Pessach sameach veKasher!

Who’s who of my community

From the lofty heights of theology I come down to reality. It is my blog, so I can whine a bit if I want to. Again I’m struggeling with my path and thinking about abandoning everything. It’s not theological doubts, or that it is difficult to live as a Jew (although it really is!), or antisemitism that might make me leave Judaism. It is the feeling that my community doesn’t give me anything and there is no point in going there.

I live in the middle of Jewish nowhere, with only a very small community here. This is the typical attendance list for a Friday kabbalat shabat service: The rabbi, the chazan (cantor, prayer leader), 2-3 old Russians, 2-3 (Russian) yeshivah guys, 2 converts, the messianic woman, the foreign Jewish visitor, 1-2 would-be-converts, 1-5 non-Jewish visitors. The last three in this list vary and may be male or female.

Now let’s see who I will talk to at kiddush. The rabbi, the yeshiva guys and the successful converts are all very haredi and all male. I’m female and more modern. Mostly they don’t talk to me and anyway they disappear pretty quickly because their wives are waiting at home with the children. The old Russians are pretty much secular, but have known each other for possibly 20 years and we cannot talk because we have no common language (they only speak Russian). Anyway, they are about two or three times my age. So who’s left? Usually, I either help the would-be-converts or the visitors to understand what the service was about, explain various Jewish holidays and try to prevent the messianic from talking too much about crazy stuff. Or I talk to the Jewish visitor and tell him that yes, this is normal turnout.

There is just nobody I can be friends with. The differences in age and/or outlook are too great. Sometimes a student or an intern is new in town, but after she/he has been to services once, she/he never shows up again. Why should she/he? We have a student group, I’ve been there a few times. They are nice, but I am not a student anymore and feel just too old for the crowd. And I’m inconveniencing them, because I’m the only non-Russian and they have to switch language for me (which they can do without a problem, but somehow normally they prefer to speak Russian).

So why should I go to services or community events? Why should I even make an effort to fit in? At the moment I really don’t see the point. And that makes me very sad.

Multiple authors of the Torah and literal truth

In my last post I have written about the question of whether the Torah’s relevance or divine origin are negated if it were written by multiple authors (spoiler: I don’t think so). In this post I would like to offer my opinion on why this topic is still so hotly debated in so many places of the J-blogosphere.

I think the issue people actually mean when they discuss the authorship of the Torah is this: Does every single word in the Torah come directly from G-d? This matters, because halachot (religious rules) are attached to different spellings, certain words in context, or a specific order of verses. If the document is written by a human and not dictated by G-d, all of this may not mean anything. Note that here even divine inspiration does not quite suffice. It has to be word-by-word revelation if you want to attach meaning to every letter.

But this is really in no way connected to the authorship problem. G-d can dictate different parts to different people. Even if G-d dictated X to person A and then (maybe even at a later point) told person B to insert Y at place P, the result is that the text is directly from G-d. G-d can choose several people to write down his exact words, it really does not matter who or how many people wrote the document if it is the word of G-d.

At this point we can get sidetracked by several seemingly related questions. Why are there different writing styles? What about similar documents like the Code of Hammurabi? Why would G-d "trick us" by making the Torah appear like one book written by one author? Or conversely, by making it appear as the work of several people? But while these questions might be interesting to discuss as theological questions, they do not say anything about whether the Torah is the word of G-d. If I believe the Torah is the word of G-d, I can explain everything in a consistent way. Also, if I believe the Torah is not the word of G-d, I can explain everything in a consistent way. There cannot be a proof for G-d’s authorship anyway. Fundamentally it is a question of belief.

So, in my opinion, people feel threatened by the possibility of multiple authors to the Torah because they take it as an attack on their literal reading of the text. Somehow people automatically assume that multiple authors means human authors. The automatic response is not "G-d talks to many people and he ordered each person to insert exactly this exactly at this point", but "you are a heretic". But this does not follow. The fact in itself that there are different writing styles or multiple authors does not automatically does not automatically mean G-d cannot have dictated every word*. While I don’t really share the view that every word of the Torah has been dictated by G-d verbatim (more on that later, maybe), if you want to believe that, I don’t see a logical reason why absolutely have to reject the documentary hypothesis.

Ok, I read this again later, too many negations in this sentence. Let’s try this: G-d can have dictated every word, even if we somehow were able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that different people were doing the writing.

Does it matter who wrote the Torah?

Lately I have read a few things about "who wrote the bible" aka the documentary hypothesis, refutations of it and such things. I am not sure what I believe and I haven’t researched it enough to offer any opinion. What I want to talk about is the question whether it really matters.

So the basic dispute is about whether the Torah (the five books of Moses) was written by one person (Moses), or by several (at least four different people). I think there are two questions to be asked: If it were true that the Torah was written by several people, what would that say about (a) its relevance, and (b) its divine origin.

So, first let’s look at relevance. Would the Torah be automatically irrelevant if written by several people? No. Books written by several people can be relevant. There is no one claiming that the entire Tanach or the Talmud was written by one person. Both books are still pretty relevant for most Jews. Christianity bases the faith of Jesus on the gospels and there are four of them, written by different authors. I don’t think anybody claims they were written by the same person. They are still the basis of the faith in Jesus. So no, single authorship is no requirement for relevance.

What about divinity? Does "divine" mean "single author"? I don’t think so. Tanach and Talmud are not just any books, they are divine (maybe it’s not the same level of divinity as Torah, but still). For Christians all four gospels are divine books. I’m sure there are other examples of multi-author revelations in other religions. If G-d can inspire one person, he can inspire several persons. Even if instead of "inspire" we use "revelation" in the sense of G-d dictating every word, there is no inherent problem. There are Christians who believe that every word of the bible was dictated by G-d (Verbal dictation). This definitely means G-d dictated to different people, but surely G-d can do that. So no, a multi-author document can be divine.

To summarize: Having multiple authors does not in itself make the Torah irrelevant or the work of mere humans. Unfortunately most proponents of the documentary hypothesis present it in a way that at least implies one of the two points. But this doesn’t mean this is a justified conclusion.

Pessach-related stuff from my search terms

It’s always fun to see which search terms people used to come to my blog.

what is safflower used for
I’m not sure, I only know you can make oil out of it which presumably can be used for everything other oil is used for. I have a post on whether safflower seed oil can be used on pessach (spoiler: yes).

isswiss muesli hametz
Muesli usually contains some of the five grains that are chametz: Wheat, barley, rye, spelt, oats. So I say, yes, it’s probably chametz – unless it’s kosher-le-pessach muesli ;)

kasha kitniyot
If we are talking about the same thing, kasha is some porridge-like stuff. Whether it is kitniyot depends on what it is made of, usually that would be buckwheat, sometimes millet or other grains like wheat. Wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats are chametz. Buckwheat and millet are kitniot.

string beans on pessach 2013
The situation does not change (or at least should not change) for a specific year, so the answer from 2013 should still be good for today. Unfortunately the situation seems to be tricky, divided between those that say that there is no problem with string beens as they are vegetables, and those that say they are beans and thus kitniyot (links and discussion in my post about beans).

is sodium bicarbonate chometz?
No it is not! (this is relevant because baking powder is made out of sodium bicarbonate)

is ginger kitniyot
No, it’s a root, not a seed, why should it be? The question is valid for other spices that are seeds, though.

“pumpkin flour” passover
Ok, I have no idea what you mean, but most people say pumpkin seeds are not kitniot and so if you make flour out of it that should be fine.

Chametz – a lesson in empathy

Three incidents made me think about the connection between pesach and food allergies or diet choices. A while ago I wanted to invite a friend and she told me that she is lactose intolerant and gluten sensitive. As I am a vegetarian it took us some time to find a dish we could both eat. Another time one of my guests for pesach was lactose intolerant. And finally I remember myself at several occasions bringing my own food for pesach to make sure I have something to eat.

One message pesach teaches (in my opinion) is to make people more sensitive to the fact that some people have limitations in what they can or cannot eat. Some by choice, some not. And that it can be difficult to find food that accomodates this need – just like finding kosher lePesach food can be difficult.

Pi in the Torah

If something has a diameter of 10 cubits, what is its circumference? We all learn at school: take the diameter (10) times Pi, so we get 31.415 and small change. What does this have to do with the Torah? Simple, there is a verse in I Kings 7:23 where it seems that King Solomon (or whoever wrote it down) got his maths wrong:

And he made the molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and the height thereof was five cubits; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.
(I Kings 7:23)

What do most people think? Easy, the number 30 given in the text is just an approximation when you approximate Pi by 3. Case closed. However, you can apparently prove from this that the Torah must be divine, because it contains the value for Pi. How? Well…

The word circumference is kav (written as kuf vav) in Hebrew, but in this verse it is written with an extra he at the end. There are several occurrences in the Torah where you pronounce something different than what is written, this is called kri vs. ktiv. Some people argue that there is hidden meaning in them. So in this case Pi is hidden in there and finding it works like this:

  • The numerical value of “kuv vav” is 106 (kuf = 100, vav = 6).
  • The numerical value of “kuv vav he” is 111 (kuf = 100, vav = 6, he = 5).
  • 111 / 106 = 1.04716981132
  • Pi / 3 = 1.0471975512

These ratios are the same, so the exact value of Pi is hinted in this verse – because G-d put it there.

First obvious objection: But the two numbers are not the same, they differ after the fifth decimal! TrueTorah replies that the thickness of the walls of the vesser may not be included in the calculation or that the vessel may not have been perfectly round. This does not really make a lot of sense, why would a hint to Pi be included in the description of an object that is not really round? And if there is some sort of approximation going on – why start any explaining? We could stay with the face value of 30 being an approximation.

Next objection: Why wouldn’t the ratio be Pi directly, Why Pi divided by 3? Why not use 106/111? Why 3 and not 2 or 4? Too many degrees of freedom, a statistician would say. There are many other fractions that give an approximate value for Pi (Comment by nachman on December 29, 2013 at 8:15 PM). And if you are free to change nominator and denominator or multiply a fraction with other things, there are many many possibilities of finding something. Or something else (tomorrow’s stock values anybody?).

And the next objection: The Vilna Gaon is credited with this interpretation. Wikipedia says he lived in the 18th century. The source given in the TorahTrue article is a journal article from 1962! Good values for Pi have been known earlier, we can assume Jewish scholars knew them as well. So why did nobody notice this before? And if it is that difficult to find, why put it there in the first place?

Last objection: Even if we accept this is a reference to Pi, it does not prove that G-d put it there. The old Greeks and Egyptians knew that the ratio between a diameter and a circumference of a circle is fixed and calculated various approximations (Pi – Antiquity). So a maths freak might have put the reference into the text as an inside joke
( Happy Pi Day ).

So I really don’t think you can make an argument for the divinity of the Torah out of this. This does not mean that the Torah is not divine either or that there is no G-d. Just that this is a stupid argument and should not be used to convince people to believe in Judaism.

Happy Pi day!

Note: This post was scheduled to appear on Pi day even though it is shabat, but written beforehand.

Why are beans kitniot (an attempt for a historical explanation)?

In the post on beans and kitniot I mentioned crop rotation as a possible reason for the fear that beans and grain may become mixed up. I just found an interesting article that explains why this was only a concern for Ashkenazim but not for Sephardim:

But there is a good reason for the emergence of this custom in specifically Ashkenazic lands. Ashkenazic communities, and the custom of kitniyot, originated in the temperate regions of northern France and the Rhineland. The climate there differed from the Mediterranean climate of Sephardic communities in two key respects: its summers were far milder, and it rained all year around. Each of these elements produced a change in agricultural practices. The milder summer meant that one could harvest twice each year, once in the winter and once in the summer, thus making the land more productive. Specifically, it was in the temperate regions of northern Europe that the three-field system of crop rotation was developed.
When the same field is used to plant a type of grain one year and a type of legume the next year, there are inevitably stray stalks of grain growing amongst the kitniyot. Under the two-field system of the Mediterranean and Middle East, a field would be planted one year and left fallow the next. Thus, legumes were not planted as frequently, and even if a particular field was changed from grain to legumes, there would be two years’ separation between the crops. The admixture of standing crops would have only been an issue in Ashkenazic lands.

A second difference pertains to the sheaving of harvested grain. In semiarid lands, crops were harvested in the early summer and gathered in the autumn, before the start of the rainy season. Thus, Shavu’ot, in the early summer, is a harvest festival, while Sukkot, in the early autumn, is a gathering festival. Because there was no rain expected during this interval, the harvested grain could be left in sheaves or heaps out in the field where they grew; there was no concern that rainfall would ruin them. This was not the case in Ashkenazic lands, where rain could fall any time throughout the year. There, special structures had to be built for grain storage near the fields. Since there was more than one harvest throughout the year, the same granaries were used for different crops—grains during one harvest and legumes during the next. Thus, the very structure where wheat had been heaped a few months earlier would be home to a heap of legumes just a few months later. Once again, this concern was completely absent in Sephardic lands.

(Elli Fischer: Why Sephardim Eat Kitniyot but Ashkenazim Don’t)


What is chametz really?

In a previous article I listed the five grains that can become chametz: Wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.

Where does the list come from? It appears in the Talmud, Mishna Pesachim 2:5, which lists in Hebrew חיטים (chittim), שעורים (se’orim), כוסמין (kusmin), שיבולת שועל (shibbolet shu’al) and שיפון (shifon). The only certain translations that can be mapped to actual species of plants are the first two, chittim means wheat, and se’orim is barley.

The other three are unclear. Rashi translates kusmin as spelt, shibolet shu’al as oats and shifon as rye which gives the above list. But according to the research of Dr. Yehudah Felix as reported by Rabbi Dov Linzer in Are Oats Really one of the 5 Species of Grain?, he seems to have confused some things. Spelt makes the list, though as a candidate translation for shifon. The other two are probably another type of barley and emmer wheat. No rye and no oats.

So what do we do with this information? Do we change the list? And what are the consequences? Oats are the only one of the traditional five grains that does not contain gluten and people with gluten sensitivity rely on the opinion that one can fulfill the obligation to eat matza with matza made from oats. Have they been making invalid brachot? Conversely, if anybody ate emmer wheat on Pesach, is he punished with karet (cut off)?

We can get to a similar problem fron another angle. Scientifically speaking, what does "leaven" really mean? Rabbi Gidon Rothstein in his article A More Flexible Future Orthodoxy argues that maybe the sages just assumed what was common knowledge at the time, they took for granted that these five were the only grains to become leaven. Now we have a greater understanding of the processes behind leavening, for example we know that yeast is a crucial ingredient. If the list of five species is not tradition handed down from Sinai but the sages’ own interpretation, he argues that we might well include all leavening agents to the category of chametz.

While there are only slight chances that either scientific understanding of leavening processes or an identification of the exact species denoted by the Hebrew words in the Mishna will change the traditional list of grains that can become chametz, this is another fascinating instance where science and Tora collide.

Mr. Spock

A hero of my childhood has died. Leonard Nemoy, better known as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, is dead. I have spent countless hours watching the series (re-runs, I’m much too young), the movie, I have read every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on and played Spock in countless hours of make-believe stories. Now he is dead. It feels like part of my childhood has ended.

Star Trek may not be Jewish, but it represents many Jewish values. Spock, like every person aboard the Enterprise, was honest, trustworthy and reliable, behaving with intelligence, sensibility and integrity. If I had to chose one word, I would say he was a real mentch. Spock tried to maximize his abilities and to become more than he was. He never stopped learning. But instead of being focused only on his own gain and advancement, he also selflessly gave everything for the community when needed. In the words of Spock himself: "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".

Spock has values that he takes pride in and defends. But instead of isolating himself, he reaches out to other cultures and tries to understand them. The mission of the Enterprise is to "seek out new life and new civilizations". With the understanding that we might not love everything about a different culture, nor do we need to love it, but we should normally respect it. The crew of the Enterprise often treads the fine line between respect for others and standing for their own values. Because if we tolerate everything, our values become arbitrary. But if we cannot accept the rights of others to lead their lives according to their values, we become tyrants. And sometimes we might even need to rethink our values in light of the new things we have learned.

Star Trek, with Spock as one of its central and most well-known figures, shows us a future we would be proud to have. A time to look forward to, a united earth with no wars. Where people work together with respect and integrity. Where there is tolerance, but also a grounding in values. Where the pursuit of knowledge is one of the greatest goals. Maybe even a time that has messianic traits.

The world has lost a symbol. But, with the words of Dr. McCoy when Spock dies in "The Wrath of Khan": " He’s really not dead, as long as we remember him". And we will.

Goodbye Mr. Spock. We will miss you.