Monthly Archives: March 2018

Mar 23

Weekly Words – 23 March 2018

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Weekly Words  by Rabbi Adam- 23 March 2018

Annual Pre-Pesacḥ 7-Point PSA:

1. Flour is not cḥametz. If it’s sealed and has not been exposed to water, it won’t become cḥametz. Obviously, you can’t use flour for much during Pesacḥ, but since it is not cḥametz gamur (totally cḥametz) as many people treat it, it is perfectly fine to put flour away in a sealed cupboard. Bonus points if you use a vacuum container or similar.

2. Matzah doesn’t become cḥametz until 18 minutes after you stop kneading the dough. As long as you continually work the dough after adding water, you do not start the clock until you leave it alone. This means that if you make matzah at home (it’s fun, try it!) you do not start counting the 18 minutes the second the water touches the flour. As long as you are kneading and interacting with the dough, you don’t have to start counting at all and can knead all day without it becoming cḥametz! Once you leave the dough alone, you have 18 minutes from then to have finished the cooked product.

3. Kitniyot is a custom, which – while anyone is welcome to keep it – is not obligatory (on anyone.) During Pesach, the word kitniyot takes on a broader meaning to include, in addition to legumes, grains and seeds such as rice, corn, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, peas and lentils. If you do refrain from eating kitniyot, it still doesn’t work like cḥametz – you can eat from a shared plate and simply remove the kitniyot.

4. Glass is non-porous and can be kashered, including for Pesacḥ. If you’re unsure if something is porous, take R’ Haim Ovadia‘s advice: boil 5 habañero peppers and put them on the utensil, rinse it off, then put plain cooked rice on it and eat the rice. If your mouth is on fire, the material is porous.

5. Selling cḥametz is meant to be an extreme dispensation for cases of serious economic loss (businesses, whisky collectors, etc.) The ideal is to consume your cḥametz before Pesacḥ or to donate what remains to a food bank before the holiday. That said, we will be selling cḥametz through the synagogue, and if you have chametz you’re unable to get rid of, please let Ruth or I know and we’ll send you a form to be included in the sale.

6. Many things are perfectly fine to buy for Pesacḥ, even during the holiday, without a kosher for Passover hechsher, or any hechsher whatsoever. A great list can be found online at: https://www.kashrut.org/files/127059807.pdf

7. The point of the Haggadah and the Seder is to educate, and to provoke the attendees to ask questions (other than ‘What page are we on?’) It’s far better to do less of the traditional text (or do it in English) and provoke a conversation than blast through the Hebrew text with everyone there zoned out.

Wishing everyone a happy week of cleaning, kashering and Pesacḥ preparation! As always, if you have any questions about what you need to do to get ready, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Mar 20

Weekly Words – 16 March 2018

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Weekly Words by Rabbi Adam

Although we find ourselves in the awkward period between Purim and Pesach, there was actually quite a significant holiday this week: Pi Day. 3/14 (which is how Americans write 14 March) is of course reminiscent of the start of Pi as a constant expressed in decimals (3.14). For those who can’t quite recall their maths from school, Pi is such a significant number for a few reasons: 1) it expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, 2) it is completely irrational, and the digits which follow the decimal place continue unto infinity in a pattern that defies all patterns and appears completely random.

What we now call Pi was known to the ancients as well. Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek civilisations had all puzzled out at least the basics of Pi millennia ago. Yet what about that other ancient civilisation that still survives, our own? The rabbis actually did have a knowledge of Pi and they certainly had inherited many geometrical sensibilities from the ancient societies in which our ancestors had lived. Yet they also gave it a distinctly spiritual meaning.

Notable among those who tried to explain Pi from a Jewish point of view was R’ Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides): ‘You need to know that the ratio of the circle’s diameter to its circumference is not known and it is never possible to express it precisely. This is not due to a lack in our knowledge […] but it is in its nature that it is unknown, and there is no way [to know it], but it is known approximately.’

In this way, Maimonides justified the rabbis thinking of Pi as ‘three and one-seventh’, even while acknowledging that it was far more complicated than that! Yet the approximations we make for the sake of ease aren’t down to laziness – ideally they’re a recognition of the fact that we can never really know the true number that Pi represents.

In that, Maimonides is right. We can’t ever know. We can calculate Pi to a million digits and still be no closer to ‘the truth’. On a day on which we celebrate science, on which Albert Einstein was born and which will be the ‘yahrzeit’ of Stephen Hawking, we could do with the dose of humility that the rabbis brought to Pi. Yes, this irrational number is one of the most important in the universe, but like many of the most important things, we can never know it completely, we can only make an approximation. Happy Pi Day!

For more on the rabbis and their calculation of Pi, look here.