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Old Traditions and New Norms

I love Passover, but I hate matza. Just the look of it and its dusty scent make my stomach turn for a full week. I eat the smallest piece required for the Seder and then I even skip the matza brei that Gali makes most mornings. So, what do I eat during these seven days? (I follow the Israeli/Reform way and skip the eighth day). 

As a kid I remember my mother baking rolls from matzo meal. The good thing was that the roll was flexible enough to put some cold cuts between the two halves and call it a sandwich, but the bad thing was that its texture and taste more resembled wet cardboard than a real piece of bread. But today, everything is different. With the meteoric rise of the gluten-free industry, the gastronomical options for Pesach are limitless. One night we ate chickpea spaghetti, and on another edamame fettuccini. The kosher McDonald’s in Jerusalem sells their burger in potato starch–based buns, the ice cream parlor serves French crêpes, and there is a serious debate over who serves the best pizza—all, of course, kosher for Passover. 

Even though there is no halachic prohibition to eat any of these items, it still feels somewhat peculiar when the Passover dinner table more resembles an Italian restaurant than my grandparents’ Pesach meal. There is a principle in Judaism that is called marit ayin, “appearance to the eye”, according to which one should avoid certain actions that are perfectly legal, because they might seem to other people to be in violation of the Jewish law. 

"The tzedaka collectors who do not have poor among whom to distribute, may change the money for other people, but not for themselves. The administrators of the soup kitchen who do not have poor among whom to distribute may sell [the food] to others, but not to themselves." (Talmud Bavli- Pesachim 13a) 

When you are the person at the temple who opens the tzdakah boxes and ends up with 100 $1 bills, it’s okay to ask someone to change the small bills to a $100 bill, but you should not exchange the money yourself, lest someone may suspect that when you put the bills in your bag you took the tzdakah money for yourself. At the same venue, if some of the perishable food you collected for the soup kitchen will go bad before you have the chance to distribute it, you should sell it and use the money for the poor. But you should not buy the collected food yourself, because it “doesn’t seem right”. 

This principle guided me throughout my life. Yet, with the rapid changes in technology, culture and social norms we may do better adhering to the principle of “Judge your fellow favorably”. Only a few years ago I cringed when I saw a grandson of a deceased person playing with his cellphone during the funeral, and I felt only slightly better when I realized that he was editing his eulogy. Today, almost half of the speakers use their phones and it seems normal (for most people). 

Should you avoid an Italian feast next Passover? I would during the Seder (brisket and gefilte fish are still the proper food), but as for the rest of the festival, the kosher for Passover pasta is my choice. 

B'shalom.

Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781