Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Quinoa has been a breath of fresh culinary air in the non-kitniyot Pesach kitchen, and has restored dietary sanity to us Ashkenazim. But the kitniyot zealots are lurking. The OU, for example, is equivocating on quinoa’s non-kitniyot status . The battle for quinoa is underway, but if we all work together, we can win this one.
Remember when peanuts were not considered kitniyot? Probably you don’t. But when Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was asked about peanuts in 1956, most Ashkenazim were eating them on Pesach. And not only that, but Rav Moshe argued clearly and unequivocally that peanuts should remain permissible, and that they should NOT be lumped in with beans and legumes. (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3, 63) The only reason we don’t pack up peanut butter and jelly on matzo for our Chol HaMoed outings today, is that our forbearers buckled before the kitniyot zealots of their day. And those of us who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
The kitniyot zealots of Rav Moshe’s day used arguments quite similar to those being raised by the forces conspiring to deprive us of quinoa today. The rabbi who posed the peanuts question was “astonished” that Ashkenazim were eating peanuts, for “he had heard that there is a place somewhere in which people are making flour ” out of peanuts, and further, “he had heard that peanuts are planted in fields in the same manner as other kitniyot are (i.e. they too share uncomfortable proximity to grains) ”.
But Rav Moshe, while acknowledging that these are the concerns that motivated the custom of not eating kitniyot, nonetheless dismissed the idea that the peanuts ought to now be added to the prohibition. To begin with, he points out, not everything out of which flour can be made is kitniyot, with potatoes being exhibit “A”. Additionally, not everything that may come into contact with grain is considered kitniyot, as pointed out by Taz and Magen Avraham, the classic commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. In short, Rav Moshe concludes, the category of kitniyot includes only those items which “were explicitly prohibited, and those which are widely known [to be included]”. Further, he states, “the Sages of recent generations did not want to add new items” to the kitniyot basket, even as they would not permit that which already was customarily not eaten. . Rav Moshe continued, “and accordingly, in many places the rabbis did not want to prohibit peanuts. And in places where there is no custom prohibiting them, one should not prohibit them, for in matter such as these one should not be machmir (stringent).” Rav Moshe spoke. But we just didn’t want our peanuts badly enough.
The quinoa game is ours to lose my friends. To win, all we need to do is to keep eating it (and to check the raw quinoa for any foreign matter before cooking it, the same way Sefardim check rice). If it becomes our minhag (custom) that we eat quinoa, then the halachik argument is settled. So let’s fight for our quinoa! And then turn our attention to cooking up the most meaningful, inspiring Pesach that we can.
Chag Kasher v’same’ach to all!
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February 26, 2013 | 11:56 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Dr. Ruth Calderon’s Knesset speech has created more buzz around the Jewish world than any speech like it in the history of the State of Israel. Probably because nothing remotely like it has ever happened before. The unexpected, unprecedented, yet incredibly moving sight of a non-Dati woman passionately teaching Gemara in the Knesset has captured the attention of Jews everywhere. Most of the reaction has been extremely enthusiastic. I think it might turn out to be one of the most pivotal moments in the last 300 years of Jewish history.
As a religious people, we still haven’t figured out how to engage modernity. Since the mid-18th century we have been trying to figure out how Judaism should respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by the Enlightenment and Jewish political equality. To this end, we have created political Zionism and Haskallah, Reform and Reform’s counterpoint Orthodoxy, Historical Judaism, Conservative Judaism and host of other movements and frameworks, each one intended to help us live Jewishly either in concert with, or despite, modernity. None of these approaches has proved completely successful, which is why there are so many Jews who are not connected to their roots, but each has made contributions, some of enormous historical import.
For the most part, the State of Israel has known only two of the models, Orthodoxy and secular Zionism. Both have contributed enormously to the strength and vitality of Israeli society and the rebirth of our people in its land. At the same time though, each is irremediably limited in its ability to forge a Jewish-Israeli identity that can carry the country forward. Even as we are eternally indebted to secular-Zionist ideology for creating and building the State of Israel, its weakening grip on successive generations of Israelis is well-documented and a cause of great concern. And while Orthodoxy can rightly claim credit for numerous important achievements, such as Israel’s living by the Jewish calendar in a meaningful way, and largely preserving Jewish tradition around life-cycle events, it has not – and by its internal rules frankly cannot – accommodate the thinking, the needs and the choices of most Israelis. As an Orthodox rabbi here in the States, I know only too well that the Orthodox community lacks the halachik tools and the theological leeway to satisfactorily address many people’s principled, ethical concerns around issues of universalism, intellectual honesty, and the religious inclusion of women and of gays. I obviously believe that Orthodoxy nonetheless has enormous contributions to make (through, for example, its joyful acceptance of the Divine will, and its willingness to be counter-cultural in its approach to standards of physical modesty), but like secular Zionism, it will not lead the Jewish people to redemption, at least not in the foreseeable future.
With the emergence of people like Ruth Calderon however, and with the emergence of self-described “secular” institutions of classical Jewish learning such as Alma, and Elul, and Bina, we are seeing a development that just might step into the breach. A new way of thinking and learning and behaving as a Jew in the modern world which can actually serve as a vital partner and ally of traditional Orthodoxy, living in dynamic intellectual and spiritual interchange with it, and with it weaving a net of Jewish life that will capture so many who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
It takes great courage of course to enter this kind of partnership and alliance, but the first signs of a willingness to do so where on display as Ruth Calderon offered her “shiur” in the Knesset.
February 12, 2013 | 7:39 am
Posted by Rabbi David Wolkenfeld
The first time I heard Rabbi David Hartman speak was in the summer following my “shannah aleph” year in Israel between high school and college. After spending a year in the yeshiva one of my teachers invited me to accompany him to a panel discussion taking place one evening at the Machon – the Shalom Hartman Institute – in Jerusalem’s German Colony. I barely remember what was said that evening by any of the panelists – including Rabbi Hartman. But I do remember the thrill of encountering a vibrant Jewish intellectual conversation that was taking place outside the walls of my Orthodox beit-midrash. Hearing about his death this week, at the age of 81 (an age that does not seem old when considering a scholar with so many insights left unsaid), has caused me to reflect on his legacy within my own life and work.There are two ideas that have become central to my own worldview and teaching that I learned from Rabbi Hartman. Additionally, his place within (and outside of) contemporary Orthodoxy has an additional message for the future.
The quest by Jews, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, to translate the message of Judaism into something with universal significance was, to Rabbi Hartman, a mistake. The Torah is not a universal book with universal significance to all people. Rather, the Torah should be understood as a particular book about the relationship between the Jewish people and God. One therefore cannot turn to the Torah for guidance about other nations, other religions, and their place in God’s universe. That just is not what the Torah is about.
The Torah is a book for Jews to learn about our relationship with God and our responsibilities to God. We need to look elsewhere to learn about other people. In his “Heart of Many Rooms” Rabbi Hartman explains:
When revelation is understood as the concretization of the universal, then “whose truth is the truth?” becomes the paramount religious question and pluralism becomes a vacuous religious ideal. If, however, revelation can be separated from the claim of universality, and if a community of faith can regain an appreciation of the particularity of the divine-human encounter, the pluralism can become a meaningful part of Biblical faith experiences…
This passage, quoted in Professor Alan Brill’s excellent book “Judaism and World Religions” is a core text when I teach about the possibility of inter-religious pluralism from a Jewish perspective. It always strikes a chord with students and I believe it offers a productive way forward for Jewish understandings of other religions.
Rabbi Avraham Kook had imagined the State of Israel as a messianic synthesis of traditional Orthodoxy and the vitality and creativity of secular Jewish nationalism. A utopian visionary, Rabbi Avraham Kook wrote that only in the aftermath of the First World War (“the war to end all wars”) was it appropriate for sovereignty to return to the Jewish people. Rabbi Avraham Kook died in 1931 and it was left to his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook to interpret his father’s messianic hopes for the State of Israel in light of the actual State of Israel that arose in the aftermath of Holocaust and war, and that continues to fight wars for its survival. For Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, and his students – many of whom occupy positions of influence throughout Israel today – the existing State of Israel can be identified entirely with the messianic state of Rabbi Avraham Kook’s writings. This Messianic Religious Zionism has fueled the idealism, energy, and fervor of the Israeli Religious Zionist community and has brought it from the margins of Israeli society to its center. But there has been a steep price as well. Messianic Zionism has coincided with an intransigent stance regarding territorial compromise as a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Whether one has a more right-wing or a more left-wing political orientation, one can see the problematic nature of a theological position that locks the Religious Zionist community into absolute rejection of all territorial compromise. Coming as the Religious Zionist sector achieves political prominence, Israel’s leaders are denied the flexibility to act proactively on behalf of Israel.
Rabbi Hartman’s book “Israeli’s and the Jewish Tradition” articulates an alternative theology for Religious Zionism that is not connected to identifying the State of Israel as being located on a specific point in the process of redemption.
Today we have an opportunity to reestablish the normative moment of Sinai, rather than the Exodus story, as the primary framework for evaluating the significance of Jewish history. To be religiously significant, a historical event does not have to be situated between the moment of the Exodus and the coming of the Messiah. It can be significant by encouraging us to discover new depths in the foundational moment of Israel’s election as a covenantal people… In reestablishing the Jewish nation in its ancient homeland, Jews have taken responsibility for all aspects of social life. The divine call to become a holy nation committed to implementing the letter and spirit of the Torah must influence our economic, political, and religious institutions. Through the establishment of the state of Israel, we are called upon to demonstrate the moral and spiritual power of the Torah to respond to the challenges of daily life.
In the aftermath of the Six Day Way, the Messianic Religious Zionism of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook gained increasing ascendancy within the Religious Zionist community in Israel. Rabbi Hartman has been one of the most vigorous and articulate opponents of Messianic Religious Zionism and has offered a compelling theology of Religious Zionism that is rooted in the rebirth of Jewish peoplehood in its fullest expression and not in the expansion of Jewish settlement throughout every inch the historic Jewish homeland.
Rabbi Hartman’s final book, The God Who Hates Lies, written with Rabbi Charlie Buckholtz was the subject of a critical review in Tradition “the journal of Orthodox Jewish thought.” The review was intelligent, respectful, and raised objections to Rabbi Hartman’s thesis that I thought were cogent and compelling. However, reading the review left me with a feeling of sadness. In publishing the review, the editors of Tradition (a group that includes many of the individuals I most respect) were acknowledging that responding to and evaluating Rabbi Hartman’s ideas was a priority for the “journal of Orthodox Jewish thought” but it had been many years since Rabbi Hartman himself had been published in Tradition. In the fifteen years or so that I have been a reader of Tradition, the journal has published erudite rejections of partnership minyannim, a respectful and thoughtful critical review of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s theology of Jewish-Christian relations, and a scholarly rebuttal of Tzvi Zohar’s book on the history of conversion standards. All of these episodes illustrate that the Modern Orthodox intelligentsia recognizes that there are ideas and phenomenon taking place at the periphery of our community that demand a response. But, the advocates for these new paths and ways of thinking are relatively absent from our journals, our schools, and our synagogues.
No idea deserves acceptance just because it’s new. And I personally often sympathize with more conventional and traditional ways of thinking and behaving. But it seems that we have become more afraid of the “wrong idea” in contemporary Orthodoxy than we are excited about discovering the next “right idea.” Too often our scholars devote more effort to rebutting a solution they dislike than they devote to using their Torah scholarship to create new solutions to the problems facing our community.
Figures of great influence and authority within contemporary Orthodoxy, (such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on religious pluralism and Rabbi Yehuda Amital z’l on non-messianic Zionism) have shared ideas that Rabbi Hartman had developed years earlier. His intellectual legacy is broad within Orthodoxy and his ideas are easy to find. But it is harder to find the voice of Rabbi Hartman himself. There is much to celebrate in his legacy after such a productive and rich life, but for the Orthodox community, the absence of Rabbi David Hartman from our communal discourse is a warning for the future.