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Passover Passages

March 25, 2013

Tonight is the first seder! Yea!

Seders can actually be quite fun. The rest of Passover has a way of dragging on and on. My mother and my sister are coming into town and I won’t be able to bring them to my favorite restaurants. That’s fine. I’m not expecting any sort of accommodation since I’m well in the minority of those abandoning hametz for the next eight days.

Some religious observations I find to be crazy making. Others I think make a ton of sense. For the curious, here’s what I’m giving up this year (in addition to how I plan to survive the week).

First a little condensed biblical storytelling and a summation of the whole purpose of the holiday.

So the people of Israel (the dude, not the country) were enslaved in Egypt. Life was hard. We had a chance to escape, so we left. But first we gathered provisions. Someone thought to bake bread, probably not imagining they would be wandering in the dessert for the next forty years. Anyhow, they rushed the whole process and the bread turned out hard too.

Now to commemorate the occasion we eat hard flat bread ourselves.

The point is for the Jewish people to relive the experience of the exodus from Egypt every year. It’s to remember that once we were slaves. It’s to take a moment out of our nice comfortable lives and remember that life was really hard for our ancestors. So we eat matzah, which is lovingly called “The Bread of Affliction.” I wish I were making that up.

How this turned into a prohibition against wheat, barley, spelt (also known as farro), oats, and rye is a little confusing. And really, it’s not that important. These are the five forbidden grains during Passover. We call them hametz. Hametz is bad.

However, over time the list of  grains to be avoided grew to include rice, millet, legumes, peas, caraway, fennel seed, mustard, garlic, corn, soybeans, and peanuts. These are known as kitniyot.  There are some people who will eat some of these and avoid others. And then there is a push by the The Kitniyot Liberation Front to free people from the tyranny of these outdated prohibitions. I find myself in their camp.

But while I may thumb my nose at kitniyot restrictions, you have them to thank for the kosher for Passover Coke, and other seasonal products that are made with sugar instead of corn syrup.

So those are the basics. The big Passover 201 questions have to do with how kosher for Passover cakes made without hametz help us to suffer and remember our enslavement and wandering through the desert. There were no boxes of Manischewitz Honey Cake mix in the Sinai. For that matter, there wasn’t brisket or kugel.

Giving up bread makes sense to me. And I’ll do my best to avoid hametz. But I’m also fine with eating brisket from Capital Q even if there is wheat and corn on the premises and the brisket might have somehow gotten a crumb of forbidden grain on it at some point in its existence.

Avoiding hametz also means giving up whiskey and beer for the week. That will be sad. It’s just another reason though that I’m thrilled with the release of Albany Distilling Company’s new rum. More on that later this week.

But I’m going to eat kitniyot like a boss. Watch me put peanut butter on matzah and eat rice and beans. I’d be tempted to make some chana masala and lamb curry, but to have these without beer might really be sad.

Then again, if the point of the holiday is to suffer, perhaps that’s perfect.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2013 11:35 am

    Wait… I thought matzo was made with wheat… but you’re not supposed to eat wheat… but you are supposed to eat matzo… I’m confused.

  2. theresa518 permalink
    March 25, 2013 12:06 pm

    And I thought the Catholics had a lot of conflict and confusing rules……

  3. -R. permalink
    March 25, 2013 2:11 pm

    The significant other absolutely loves Streit’s Egg Matzos when they come out for their seasonal appearance at Price Chopper. She will literally stock up for the month after Passover when they’re long gone; and while she’s not Jewish, but she will go through three boxes a week fairly easily. I myself always chuckle at the “for the aged and infirmed” slogan on the side of the box, but I find their crisp blandness completely noncaptivating. So, (without sifting through Google for the next hour), why are egg matzos only for the aged or infirmed?

  4. March 25, 2013 2:35 pm

    Just thinking about eating matzah is giving me a stomachache. I’m happy to have had a Sephardic grandmother, which makes me feel more entitled to kitniyot and also happy to have a sticky date charoset on my table.

  5. March 25, 2013 11:51 pm

    Wait a minute. I’m not Jewish but I just came from a Passover dinner and I have to take exception. Does not hametz refer to a dough that has been allowed to rest more than 18 minutes, during which time wild yeasts could presumably infiltrate? (That is a question.) If matzoh is not made from wheat, what is it made from? You don’t answer that and neither does a web search which says matzoh is made from “matzoh meal”. That’s not very helpful.

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