Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Negotiations Continue...

My thread on the Orthodox forum continues to produce unexpected results.

After some more conciliatory overtures, we have had some good discussion of halachah around pidyon ha-ben and other issues. When another poster jumped into the thread last night with a really aggressive response to me (yes, to me more than to my posts), the Orthodox posters I'd been corresponding with took him to task, and backed me up. Very gratifying.

I think "hit and run" is a good term for these kinds of posts, having seen them on other forums. You've gotta wonder what motivates someone to come in for a one-time slam, instead of hanging around and trying to reach understanding.

To those who say the baby's not Jewish, I offer up the following picture from our recent ultrasound:

Couldn't resist. ;)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Earth Day

It takes 12 acres of biologically productive land to supply my current lifestyle.

I took the Ecological Footprint quiz at that Soferet Aviel Barclay pointed us to over the weekend. Wow. The website also said:

In comparison, the average ecological footprint in your country is 24 acres per person.
Worldwide, there exist 4.5 biologically productive acres per person.

I get points for eating local, organic food, sharing a car with my hubby (carpooling), and not using huge amounts of electricity. On the downside, I eat too much meat (knew that), should walk more (my midwives agree), and should probably try to change my habits to take better advantage of daylight hours. But my goodness, what is everyone else in the country doing? 24 acres?? Geez.

VERY thought-provoking. Thanks, Aviel!

Friday, April 21, 2006


Well, all forums are not created equal.

I've been shipping my pidyon ha-ben questions around to a couple different forums, and thought I'd try to get a halachic opinion on a site where people actually seemed up on the kinds of Torah sources I was seeking. Culture clash. Big time.

So here's the issue: My husband's a kohen (patrilineal priestly class), but I'm a convert. (This is a forbidden marriage, back when we had a Temple and kohenim still did something besides the priestly blessing.) If a Jewish woman's first-born child is a son, and her husband (the father) is NOT a kohen, they must "redeem" him - basically, give a kohen a few coins to recognize that a kohen will have to fill the ritual role for the baby. This also traces back to the death of the firstborn in Egypt - our sons were spared, and this is a way to recognize that and thank G-d for their continued lives, by making an offering to those designated to serve G-d directly.

So, since our marriage renders hubby unfit for Temple service (and not allowed to do priestly blessing), is our child, who is "chalal," (not a functional kohen, and his children are not allowed to marry kohenim) someone who needs to be redeemed? Do we do pidyon ha-ben or not? And when he has a son, is it done?

Here's the reply I got:

The Kohain who married or had forbidden relations with one of the three women mentioned above is still a Kohain and the off-spring does not need a Pidyon HaBen. However the Kohain is forbidden to raise his hands for the priestly blessing until he repents and divorces or ceases to have relations with said mentioned woman. The child of such a union is a Hallal for generation upon generation though all male off spring. His daughters are forbidden to marry Kohanim. In short the man messed up badly and needs to repent and refrain from being with the woman. HAD THE GOOD L-RD WANTED THE COUPLE TO MARRY IN THIS LIFE TIME, HE WOULD HAVE HAD THE WOMAN BORN PERMISSIVE TO THE KOHAIN. G-D TESTED THE SOUL OF THE KOHAIN AND HE FAILED HIS TEST MISERABLY!

Be well and pray for the peace and welfare of Am Yisrael, guard your Mitzvos and health

The disjuncture between the tone of the post and the signature was actually pretty funny. A subsequent poster informed me that this issue might be moot since it didn't sound like I was really Jewish - and questioned the validity of our marriage, since it is based on Jewish partnership law, instead of acquisition law.

"There's no way a serious Orthodox convert would enter into a marriage without proper kidushin, or permit herself to "live" with a Cohen. If she did, even that conversion would be in doubt."

Umm, yeah. So, apparently, if you have halachic questions, you're assumed to be (or to want to be) traditional Orthodox. And if you aren't Orthodox, you aren't Jewish, so don't bother posting halachic questions.

And then people wonder why there is so much tension between the different denominations...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Overdid It

Well, Pesach is great, and cleaning is therapeutic, but apparently pregnant women shouldn't lift furniture, even to vacuum up chametz. ;)

I've managed to pull/tweak/wig out something in my hip/pelvis and now it hurts to walk, so I'm planning to stretch, take some baths, and start a yoga class next week. My midwife assures me this is all normal and not to worry.

On the good side, the baby seems to be enjoying matzah granola as much as I do - about half an hour after I eat it, he wakes up and starts swimming around, which is really fun. And yes, it is a "he" - we know for sure after last week's ultrasound. How weird; he really seems more like a person, now.

Of course this means having to plan a bris. Since I'm such an info-holic this means lots and lots of research into different techniques, complication rates, ceremonies, practitioners, etc. One of the most fascinating things I found was an article in the British Medical Journal, No 6993, Volume 310, 1995. Basically, they found that sugar water (sucrose) seems to be an effective pain-prevention or pain-reducing substance in infants. Compared to babies given plain water, those given sugar water cried less and heartbeats returned to normal sooner when doing a painful foot-pricking jaundice test. This makes sense to me, given how sweet breastmilk is, and how it seems to comfort babies. I guess the mohels know what they're doing with the Manishevitz!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Almost there...

Eggs? check.

Matzah? check.

Maror? check (fresh AND prepared!)

Parsley? check. Well, check it soon to see if it's unwilted in the water glass in the fridge. And check the garden to see if the fresh stuff is big enough to cut. And check that the neighborhood cats haven't visited the garden recently.

Lamb bone? check. right in the freezer where we left it last year.

Kitchen cleaned? check.

Chametz removed? check tonight with a candle (cool! this is fun)

Everything kashered? (ha ha ha... we still have another day, right? right??!)

Sanity? checked at the door. This is Pesach preparation, who has time for sanity? Scrub! Boil! Then go take a bath and a nap.

Hag sameach to everyone!!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

OK, so I'm totally addicted the the Baby Center Jewish board. With Passover starting next week, there have been some interesting food issues on the Board lately that got me thinking...

For most of my Jewish relatives, Passover seems to mean a set of dreary restrictions on diet choices. No bread? No pasta?! I, on the other hand, really look forward to the special dishes we only make at this time of year, like my favorite breakfast: matzah granola. It reminds me of the anticipation I used to feel as a child (long before being Jewish) for Christmas. Of course, I can't make my grandmother's Swedish spice cookies for Passover! (hmm, or can I?... I'll have to play with that recipe this summer.)

So it's fascinating to me when I find that things I'd taken as hard-and-fast halachic rules about what's kfp turn out to be not so certain. Example:
recent article in the New York Times
on the orthodox tradition of using *Kosher for Passover* baking powder and baking soda!!

My only interpretation of this is that chemical leaveners must have been restricted on the basis of "putting a stumbling block before the blind" - i.e., an observant Jew using chemical leaveners may put less knowledgeable Jews' understanding and practice at risk. If the less knowledgeable person eats or sees this food, he may not realize it's been lifted with baking soda and think it has yeast. Knowing the cook as an observant person, the less knowledgeable Jew could thus be led astray into non-halachic practices by accident, thinking, "well, so-and-so made leavened cookies so it must be ok."

I was also intrigued by one woman's question about serving lamb on Pesach - kosher or no? I LOVE lamb, and have done braised lamb shanks for Passover int he past, but got the sense from some (Ashkenazi) cookbooks and sites that this was sort of tacky, if not downright forbidden. So I thought I'd do some exploring, and found the following halachic commentary (as cited on a Passover site that seems to be coming out of Switzerland):

According to the Mishnah Talmud, you may not roast a lamb for the Pesach Seder, since in the Temple era, the paschal lamb was only permitted to be slaughtered in the Temple in Jerusalem, roasted, and then eaten at a Pesach Seder in Jerusalem. Rambam comments, "Where it is accepted practice to eat roast meat on the night of Pesach one may do so, but where this is not accepted practice one may not do so and this is a decree of the sages so that people should not think that it is paschal lamb. However, everywhere it is forbidden to eat roast lamb at the seder."

So, roasted lamb is a no-go everywhere, other roasted meat may be ok if all your neighbors do it, but what about braised lamb? Or boiled lamb? Or fricassed lamb?

"The Tur" [Oraĥ Ĥayyim 476] is more circumspect. It says that one may not eat a lamb that has been roasted whole over a spit.

The Sephardim, as elsewhere in Passover food laws, seem less concerned with adding additional restrictions to the earliest prohibitions, so non-roasted lamb is ok at the seder, particularly if you know it wasn't ritually slaughtered and roasted in Jerusalem before being shipped to your Passover table. I'm pretty sure my Oregon-gown lamb hasn't flown around the world, so we're good to go there.

As far as I know, Swedish-Irish Jews are neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi - in fact, they are so rare they probably constitute their own category. Since my dear husband has mixed ancestry, we can swing either way on this, so this year seder will feature a Moroccan feast (without the rice - can't go quite that far) with braised lamb, fava beans, and a Sephardi cooked charoset with no nuts.

Almost makes all the cleaning worth it!