Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Chag is Over!

The holidays are over -- at last! I don't say this entirely out of excitement, but it will be interesting to get back to the regular humdrum of my academic life. I spent Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah at Chabad, eating in the sukkah with friends and neighbors and playing with the children and then dancing around as the Torah bounced about in the room. It was joyous, by golly, and this being my first year observing these holidays? Well, I feel good about where I am going. The holidays that follow Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are staples in my life now and as an eternal covenant.

What else is new? I got a copy of "Going Kosher in 30 Days" in the mail earlier this week from The Jewish Learning Group. If you'll recall, I blogged about this book earlier this year (in July actually), and they actually sent me a copy! I've only read through the introduction, but I'm already quite excited about the book. I think it might have come in more handy when I wasn't living a kitchen-less college lifestyle, but as I anticipate not getting a meal plan next semester, I'm going to be living a crockpot/microwave/toaster lifestyle that will allow me to do the kosher thing on my own terms. (Okay, I never mentioned it but the vegetarian thing just didn't work out.) Add to this that Evan has decided to go "kosher style," I am finally tagging on no MEAT no DAIRY, period. Before I would rationalize chicken/dairy because it isn't a kid in its mothers milk (as opposed to goat meat in goat milk and beef in cow milk), but, well, I'm going the distance. I know the reasons behind the ruling, and I know that I don't necessarily agree. But the ethical reasons are compelling even if the rabbi's reasons aren't necessarily. Then again, as "Going Kosher" says: "... mitzvot that are observed solely 'on faith' ... are the purest demonstration of our faith and dedication to G-d's Words."

But it's on that note that I offer up a couple little explanatory morsels on things that I've always wondered about and haven't really understood. The challah thing has been something I've wondered about for years and years and have meant to ask about or look up, and yet haven't. The other is something new that I have been exposed to recently that I was curious about. Although I agree with the "Going Kosher" take, I also think it's important for us to understand why we perform the traditions and mitzvot that we do. If there's anything YOU have wondered about, let me know, and I'll fix you up an answer straight away!

+ Why do we say the hamotzi over two loaves of challah on Shabbos and festivals? This has perplexed me for eons, seriously, for years, and I never got around to looking it up, I just understood that that was how things were to be done, and even when I made the blessing myself, I'd make sure I had two challah loaves. This double loaf -- lechem mishneh -- represents the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites were wandering in the desert during the 40 years. The manna did not fall on the Sabbath or holidays, instead a double portion fell before the Sabbath and the holidays.

+ Why during the blessing after the meal -- birkat hamazon -- is there a hand-washing portion? So technically the hand washing is meant to happen before the birkat hamazon, so I'm confused (still) about whether the portion before the birkat hamazon is something different or related. But at any rate, the practice is prevalent in Orthodox communities and is more a tradition than a mitzvah. It was instituted for health reasons (back when people ate with their hands more) and there is even a ritual dispenser (called mayim acharonim) that is used to dispense the water. The practice appears in Talmud, but it's sort of up in the air from group to group as to whether it's really binding.