To Eat or Not to Eat: Kitnyot that is!

Every year at Passover the great debate rages: to eat kitniyot or not.  Kitniyot are a classification of food that Jews of Ashkenazi descent (European) do not eat and Sephardic  Jews (Mediterranean) do eat them.  For example, Ashkenazi Jews would not eat rice on Passover and yet, Jews from Morroco, Spain, or Turkey would absolutely eat rice on Passover.  Some Jews won’t eat corn or corn products like corn syrup (which is ubiquitously in almost everything processed here in the U.S.). Corn of course can be turned into corn meal.

Kitniyot is a classification of foods that includes grains and legumes such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Some forbid not only the grains and legumes but also any products derived from them  such as peanut oil or sesame oil!  The prohibition in the Torah for Passover forbids the eating of Chametz which comes from 5 different grains only: wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu’al (two-rowed barley, according to Maimonides; oats according to Rashi) or rye.

A custom grew in the South of France in the 13th century to include a larger and larger group of grains as kitniyot.  Because people might get confused about what was permissible and what was not! Prohibiting kitniyot was a way to make sure that no one violated the rule of possessing chametz. The Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chaim 453, defines kitniyot as those grains that can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chsmetz grains, yet are not halachically considered in the same category as chametz.

The Conservative Movement of Judaism several years ago felt that so many people were worrying about whether or not a product had kitniyot in it or something derivative of kitniyot that they did away with the category permitting kitniyot because people were losing sight of the holiday by being enslaved with the food prohibitions.  The point of Passover is to celebrate freedom!

I know when I lived in Israel for a year, Passover in 198,3 I attended a seder of distant relatives.  All were vegetarian and had been born in Israel.  Needless to say I was shocked to have been served rice because growing up I know we were not allowed to eat it.  I learned from that experience about kitniyot and the differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish traditions.

So as Passover approaches you too will have to answer the big debate—kitniyot? Yes or No on Passover?

In either case, I wish you and yours a joyful, sweet and kosher Passover!

From Ganut l’Shevach: reflections on Passover and the Supreme Court

Read my latest blog post on Reform Judaism’s blog.

Happy Passover and Chag Sameach

The Balance of Power and Strength

Two weeks and Two days-that is how long we have been counting.  For 16 days we have been working on spiritual repair and correction.  First within ourselves and then carrying that tikkun into the world.  This period of reflection between Pesach and Shavuot are marked with spiritual preparation and purification in order that when we stand at Mt. Sinai we are ready to receive the revelation in its fullness. It will mean that we can see and understand and know the glory of God that revels the truth of Torah and history to us.

Today we reflect on Gevurah sheb’Tiferet  Might and strength within Balance and Compassion.  Today is a reminder that our strength and absolute power must be mitigated by compassion.  Today is a reminder that absolute power and strength can be destructive and so we must use this day to learn the balance of our power and authority.  This can make change in a more authentic and spiritual way.  All this week each of the sephirot are located in the sephira of Tiferet.  Tiferet connects all the sephirot and is at the core of the Tree of Knowledge.  This beautiful and balanced ideal helps bring out the various sephirot in a safe and beautiful way.  Tiferet balance Compassion and Strength.  Try that today.





































Some are still Slaves

Wishing all a wonderful Pesach.  I hope the journey from slavery toward freedom brings you hope and renewal.   For some people in our world today they are slaves. They “belong” to another human being.  Slavery exists in 21st century sadly.  Passover comes to remind us that if one person is not free then we are all not free.  Don’t just say the words, “Avadeem Hayeenu”  Once we were slaves but now we are free-but imagine all those for whom slavery is their state of being.

Whether in war-torn Congo or south east Asia, or women enslaved in lives of prostitution in Europe or the sweat shops of downtown Los Angeles, we who have been born in freedom must be called to work for the true freedom of others.  

Happy Passover.

What bikkurim do you have to offer?

Parshat Ki Tavo

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

This week our Torah portion gives us very specific instructions about certain responsibilities of the Israelite nation once they cross over the Jordan River and settle in the Promised Land.   This first mitzvah described takes place only after the Children of Israel will settle in the land and plant crops and then harvest them.  This won’t happen right away.  It will take a number of years for the Israelites to control the land and completely settle it and then begin planting and harvesting.  But following the first successful harvest the first fruits of that harvest, called the bikkurim, will be offered to a priest before the altar of God. The Torah and Moses imagine a future time, a time of bounty fulfilling the covenantal promise.


And then the individual farmer must recite very special words.  These words recount the collective history of the Israelite people.  The years of conquest and taming of the land may take years. Yet this ceremony is designed to help the individual Israelite farmer see himself in the line of descendants from Abraham, a part of the covenant now fulfilled through him!


We don’t know enough about the actual archaeological evidence of the conquest of the Land of Canaan. The Bible mentions the conquest of Jericho and Ai but these cities only existed later in history.  So we can’t be sure of exactly the time frame of capturing the land.  But once the Israelites established their nation on this land the offerings of their harvest must be in part dedicated to God.   The words in this week’s portion that begin:


“My father was a wandering Aramean, and with just a few people he went down to Egypt and sojourned there.  And there he became a great nation, mighty and numerous.  The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; and they imposed hard labor upon us.  We cried out to Adonai, the God of our ancestors; and Adonai heard our plea and saw our affliction, our misery and our oppression.  Then Adonai took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, with signs and with wonders.  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Adonai, have given me.”


These are words that we still recite today but now not at the first harvest (Shavuot) but in connection with our Passover Seder.  Our tradition has preserved an early memory for all of us to partake in.  It preserved it to keep us connected to the land of our ancestors, to their customs and to covenantal promise made to Abraham.  This same passage that we read in this week’s portion is the central section of the Haggadah.


As my teacher Professor Noam Zion writes in his “The Family Participation Haggadah” by Noam Zion and David Dishon, (p. 81)


“Why does the Pesach Haggadah’s central midrash focus on the story of the first fruits, which is associated with Shavuot?  Perhaps the point is that Pesach is not only about the move from slavery to freedom, but from economic dependence to productivity, from the vulnerability of the alien to the security of the citizen.”



In Parshat Ki Tavo are instructions for when the Israelites become citizens of the land.  We preserve this memory to connect us to that land and to the idea of transformation of the individual from foreigner to resident citizen.  The offerings of the first harvest to God help us affirm that we have put down roots and transformed ourselves and the Land.


At this time of year we are thinking about our own transformations and the process of Teshuvah. What might we harvest and offer as a gift to God as we enter a New Year?


Are You Down for the Count?

Happy Passover one and all.  I hope your Seder was joyful and yummy too.

Tonight many will celebrate a second seder but what makes tonight so different is the counting of the omer.  It begins on the second night of Passover and culminates 50 days later in our next festival of Shavuot.  Each night (or the next day) we count off marking the passing of time in anticipation of the gift of Torah at Mt. Sinai.  We are waiting for the Divine Revelation.

This spiritual practice of counting the Omer (an omer is a measure of barley) is commanded in the Torah.

You shall count for yourselves — from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days… You shall convoke on this very day — there shall be a holy convocation for yourselves — you shall do no laborious work; it is an eternal decree in your dwelling places for your generations. -Leviticus 21:15-16, 21

For seven weeks we count each day.  The mystics help us count by invoking aspects of the Divine each day and each week.

The seven aspects of God are


Gevurah=Justice and Discipline

Tiferet=Harmony and Beauty

Netzach=Endurance or Eternal

Hod=Humility, Glory

Yesod=Foundation, bonding

Malchut=Sovereignty, leadership

Each of the seven weeks are dedicated to these in this order and each day of the week is dedicated to these in order.  So tonight the first night is Chesed in Chesed.  It is a night of loving kindness in lovingkindness.  Tonight focus your heart, your soul, your essence on the totality of love. Love of self, love of family and friends, love of life, love of God.  Love in the face of hate or hurt. Receive it and give it freely.

Tomorrow night will be Gevurah in Chesed.  Justice  or Discipline in love.  Think about how we express love and the boundaries it requires.  It takes practice to love and takes patience to love.

Thursday night will be Tiferet in Chesed or beauty in Lovingkindness.  Beauty is not just the superficial beauty but beauty of the soul.  How will you express this idea of beauty in lovingkindness-through gentleness? Through consistancy? Beauty in lovingkindness in the poignant opprotunity to help someone achieve their goals.  Help some one out today from a place of selfless love.

So you can see how this unfolds.  The next day is Netzach in Chesed and then Hod in Chesed, then Sunday is Yesod in Chesed and Monday night is Malchut in Chesed.  Then we will have completed the first week and on to the next week’s counting which will be defined by Gevurah!

And onward toward the fiftieth day and Shavuot.

So are you ready to count?  Ready to practice a different kind of spiritual discipline and ready to give and receive at a deep soul level?  Get counting!

Post Season Joy

The Playoffs are rockin’ in earnest.  Halliday’s no-hitter. Lincecum’s 14k’s.  The Yankees usual dominance. The post season of Major League Baseball is in literally full swing.

I have to say a bit wistfully I don’t know really who to cheer for.


I do own a Yankees hat.  But that’s the only one of the playoff teams.  I know it is weird for an Angel fan to have a Yankees hat. But I think it is left over from one season when my son was on a Yankees team!  The truth is the Yankees have dominated the Twins in post-season play not just this year!

It is hard to cheer for the Rangers since I am used to rooting against them. But they will likely put the Rays out of their misery.

I guess I could root for a National League Team.  Giants make sense since I am the anti-Dodger. But the Phillies look so good and I have never been a Braves person. Not even sentimentally to win one last one for Bobby Cox.

I am just grateful that there is still baseball to watch.  No matter the team. I love the game! But you already knew that.

I am just happy the 2011 schedule has been announced with a shortened spring training and an April 1 start. The Angels will be at the Royals. Hmmm, I have never been to Kansas City.  Baseball and BBQ…before Pesach. Sounds about right.   First time the season will not start on a Sunday or Monday in a very long time!  But it just means baseball will be back sooner.

Onward to the World Series.