Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"My Way"

This one may just be me thinking about something nobody else cares about.  Wait, couldn’t I say that about everything I write?

Last Saturday marked the eighth and final day of Passover.  For me, that meant I could stop eating matzo and revert to leavened comestibles– bread, cakes and cookies, and my newfound favorite, pretzel buns.  

That’s the deal on Passover.  For traditional reasons you can look up in your Hagaddah, leavened foodstuffs are forbidden for eight consecutive days of eating.  (Note for Hagaddah-free families:  Since the Israelites liberated from Egypt had no time for their baking bread to leaven, we remember their precipitous departure by eschewing that lack of leavening opportunity by eating (unleavened) matzo.  (And suffering the concomitant gastroenterological consequences.  Hint:  It’s extremely binding.)

The thing is, I have been for the most part – excluding pretzel buns and the odd poppy seed bagel – attempting, for amorphous health reasons, to remain essentially gluten-free, avoiding wheat, rye, barley, phlegm.  No, phlegm is what you get from eating gluten. 

Anyway, matzo itself is substantially wheat.  (Wheat) flour, water, plus some mysterious element holding it together, the matzo recipe being not dissimilar to paste.  (Hence, the binding.)

Fortunately in recent years, advanced scientific technology has developed gluten-free matzo.  (“I chose ‘Research’ to cure serious diseases, but they stuck me with ‘gluten-free matzo’ experiments.  Say goodbye to the Nobel Prize.”)

The problem is… no, let me get right to it… I opted to… no, let me say this first…

Written explicitly on the outside wrapper of the gluten-free matzo box are the words,


Conundrum For This Current Exercise:  I observed Passover by eating matzo for eight days.  I broke the rules by eating the wrong kind of matzo.

That’s the story.  There was a Passover directive.  I acceded to that directive.  But I changed it a little.

Or, to hardline believers, I ignored it entirely.  Eating a clearly-labeled, unsanctioned version of matzo.

Question:  Did I comply with the Passover injunction?  Or commit an unforgivable faux pas? 

My choice was hardly a life-saving necessity – “Eat gluten and die!”  Gluten-free matzo was a personal preference and nothing more.  To the hardliner, however, it was the equivalent of eating bread.   To them, I had consumed a counterfeit Passover, matzo-resembling cracker.

And therefore,

I had transgressed.  (Although I did stop eating actual bre… yeah, those guys don’t care.)

Here’s the thing:

“Are you doing it right, or are you not doing it at all?”

Or at least that was the thing when I went to the Toronto Hebrew Day School.

Since then, I have learned that there are “gradations of religiosity”, almost as many, in fact, as there are people.  Today, the majority of us simply do what we choose to do in this regard, including doing nothing.  I virtually did nothing for a substantial portion of my adulthood. 

Only one rule now seems to apply:  Your rule.  Which you can alter whenever you feel like it.  I did.  Out of the 713 prescribed Jewish instructions, I have over recent years assimilated seven of them.  It used to be six less.

Sometimes, the rules themselves change. 

This year, some authoritative rabbinical commission determined that, contrary to previous proscription, it was now acceptable on Passover to eat rice.  This alteration felt strangely disorienting.

“Rice is forbidden.  (SNAP OF A RABBINICAL FINGER)  Rice is okay.”

What happened?  And what, if anything, has been lost by its inclusion?

RICE:  “It feels nice being included.  We were always jealous of farfel.”  (Matzo flakes prepared as an alternate side dish.”)

The new changes are understandable.  Our current culture champions personal empowerment.  Which makes sense when opposing subjugation, abuse or inordinate passivity – “What I’d really like to do is … (SIGH) Never mind.”  

But when the rules, once dutifully surrendered to, are rejected, and we go, “I’m running this show.  I’ll make up my own rules” –

“I eat pork but only in restaurants and though the leftovers end up in the refrigerator, they remain exclusively in the Styrofoam.   They never gets close to touching the plates.”

… I don’t know, could we be possibly somehow missing the point?

To feel fully empowered, is it really necessary to maintain total dominance over everything?  Total control seems to turn everyone into God, although of a less impressive variety.

“Do you think ‘God’ created the universe?”

Well we know we didn’t.

Anyway, that’s what happened this year – I rewrote the Passover matzo rule.  And I do not entirely feel great about it.

I’ll tell ya something.  Notwithstanding the “misbelievers” – those who subvert their beliefs for destructive purposes – I harbor a lingering envy for the “purists” on both sides.  They slide their chips onto one number – 

“Faith” or “No Faith” –

And they never think about it again.

While I, as reflected above, am still struggling.

And it never goes away.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Rice sounds like it's in the position of some drugs on the official anti-doping list. Caffeine was OK, then for a time in the late 1980s it was banned above a certain amount (which I gather was easily exceeded by drinking coffee), then it was OK again. Meldonium was OK until January 1, when it was banned, and 100 or more athletes have since tested positive for it, apparently because they stopped taking it a little too late. And so it goes.

Genuine question, though: unless you have celiac disease what's the point of banning gluten?


Yair said...

Well, technically you're only required to eat your matzo on the first night, and even then, not a lot. For the other days you're not allowed to eat the leavened stuff (or, really, even have it around), but you're not obligated to eat matzo, so that might help your digestion/congestion issues next year. I assume that's also the reason why they say it's not for the seder - that's the point where you're required to eat matzo, so I guess their's isn't considered proper. So you can relax. No transgression there. Although that would make for a more boring post.

As for not eating rice, that was just a custom from a time when grains would mix, so you might have accidentally had wheat with your rice or beans or whatever and that would get wet, rise and so on. People just find it difficult to break such customs, but rice was never forbidden, so allowing it is not so difficult. Since only European Jews had this custom, other Jews have no issue with eating these other things during Passover.

Of course, the real question is what you choose to do and why. Technically, picking and choosing isn't kosher (see what I did there?), but if you don't do it for religious reasons, then it doesn't really matter.

Fred from Scarborough said...

These days I cannot give the benefit of the doubt when someone says they are gluten free. My visceral reaction is "give me a break". Who heard of gluten before 2010? Sorry Earl.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know your religion endorsed such ritual. I feel so guilty when I pass by a beautifully dressed, fashion forward fully-covered woman, at the grocery store. My favorite nitrate free hot dogs, wieners, well I'm from Chicago so don't get me started on the best condiments, boring! But yeah, because they eschew pork or something, it's like eliminating a peanut allergy. You literally have to wipe every doorknob, who wants to deal with any of that? Can my new Islamic community still hang out with me if I don't give up bacon?