Bagels for Passover by Kate Havard Apr 12, 2014 20:31:18 GMT -5
Post by shira on Apr 12, 2014 20:31:18 GMT -5
Bagels for Passover? That's Hard to Swallow
Tikvah fellow Kate Havard on how the Passover ban on leavened foods inspires new ways to rewrite tradition, for good or for ill.
Traditionally, the weeklong Passover holiday has not exactly been known for its culinary attractions. That was by design: The matzo that Jews eat to remember their deliverance from slavery is a flat bread, unleavened because when the ancient Israelites fled Egypt they didn't have time to wait for dough to rise. Matzo is known as the bread of freedom. But because the holiday also commemorates the Israelites' 40-year stint wandering the desert, matzo is sometimes called the bread of affliction—a description that takes on another meaning by about Day Six, when you realize that the matzo you had thought at first tasted delightfully nostalgic is actually about as tasty as a year-old Saltine.
Any food made from grains that are chametz, or leavened, meaning allowed to ferment and rise—that includes wheat, oats, rye and barley—are banned for the holiday. It can put a crimp in menu-planning, but that has always been part of the point of Passover.
Lately, though, a movement has developed that offers deliverance for Jews who might feel that they are gastronomically suffering. The five-star Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem created a stir this month when it announced that it planned to add bagels to its Passover menus when the holiday begins on Monday. The bagels are made with boiled matzo meal, and thus are kosher for Passover, and they come complete with lox and cream cheese. There are plenty of recipes for Passover bagels floating around the Internet, though from photos they seem to produce poor, lumpy substitutes. The Inbal version, on the other hand, looks smooth and golden, almost indistinguishable from what you'd find at a New York bagel shop.
The Passover bagel is just one of many imitations of the forbidden chametz food that Jews banish from their homes right before the holiday. Every year, the bakery chain Sprinkles Cupcakes features flourless chocolate cupcakes for Passover, adorned with a blue Star of David sprinkle. The treats, unfortunately, are not prepared in a kosher kitchen, though many Jews for whom "kosher for Passover" merely means "no bread" find them an acceptable substitute.
Then there's the variety of kosher-for-Passover products available at a typical supermarket. The kosher food maker Manischewitz offers a number of cake mixes, including a red velvet option. There's also blueberry pancake mix, cereal made from tapioca and potato-based pasta shells.
One has to wonder: Is all this an example of enduring Jewish ingenuity or a Golden Calf made of carbs? Allison Josephs, who writes the popular blog Jew in the City, sees no problem with creating food that mimics nonkosher fare. "What is chametz has a very specific definition," she says. "It's flour touching water for 18 minutes."
That's when fermentation begins. To Ms. Josephs, no chemical reaction, no problem. "Keeping kosher is about connecting an everyday action like eating to some transcendent purpose, to gratefulness," she says. "It's more about the work involved. It's about mindfulness."
Ms. Josephs argues that the work involved to ensure that the food has been prepared properly (in a kosher kitchen) ensures mindfulness. Indeed, year-round she feeds her family fake shrimp, soy cheeseburgers and other recipes that remind her of her nonkosher childhood. But it's still hard work.
"When you're looking for those recipes, you're checking labels, and you're thinking about something larger. You don't just breeze through and accidentally wind up with a Passover bagel in your mouth," she says.
Some scholars, however, are less convinced. Elana Stein Hain of the Shalom Hartman Institute in New York notes that Talmudic sources (rabbinical commentary on the Bible) are split on the topic of loopholes. One source praises an early rabbi who during a famine stretched the rules by getting engaged to 300 women so that they would all be entitled to food from their husband-to-be. Yet other sources lament how "nobody venerates the law like the older generations did," Ms. Stein Hain tells me. The value of the letter-of-the-law approach, she says, is not that everyone gets to eat cake on Passover, but that it "offers a balance between change and stability."
But does eluding the Talmudic law undermine the religious experience? Yes, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles suggests. "There's something powerful about the feel of Passover, about the meals and the ethos being essentially different," he says. What Jews eat during Passover should remind them of the struggle of bondage, he says, and "if it's too much like the rest of the year, you lose it." Matzo is "supposed to have a bit of that hurried, unfinished quality to it," Mr. Wolpe adds. "Obviously it's not as good. Otherwise you'd eat it all year."
Ms. Havard is a Tikvah fellow at the Journal.