Archive for the 'Mitzvah' Category

At Vegans’ Weddings: Beef or Tofu?

“I know it’s your day, but it’s not all about you…Why have a wedding if you’re going to be like that [serve only vegetarian options]?  Just print a bumper sticker.”

Did this article that concluded with this choice comment in today’s NY Times Sunday Styles section annoy others as much as it annoyed me?  Of course weddings should reflect one’s values, so if you’re kosher, or vegan, or vegetarian, why wouldn’t you serve kosher, vegan, or vegetarian food?  As the vegan Kathleen Mink quoted in the article said, it was  a “no brainer” to have a vegan menu at her and her husband’s wedding.  But another vegan pastry chef served meat at her wedding because she was afraid celebrity chefs like Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud would think she and her husband “were crazy” if they didn’t serve meat. 

Sukkot Drash Tishrei 21 5770/Oct. 9, 2009

Author’s note: The following is a drash I gave at my shul two days ago. My shul, Havurah Shalom in Portland, Oregon, is a participatory congregation.


We are in the final days of Sukkot, one of Judaism’s three harvest festivals, and one of my favorite times of year. The traditional observance of Sukkot: building a booth, decorating it with greens and seasonal fruits and veggies, eating and sleeping under its roof through which we must be able to see the stars, all highlight and make holy things we do every day: living in our homes, eating meals together, even sleeping. Perhaps this is why I look forward to Sukkot so much, or perhaps that it often coincides with my birthday (I’m still young enough to enjoy rather than dread it), or perhaps simply that it happens during the autumn, my favorite season of the year.

Judaism is particularly connected to food, and Sukkot especially to the bounty of our fall harvest. Now is the time for the first apples of the season, in all their amazing varieties, for winter squashes, for root vegetables, and for the last of summer’s abundance: the tomatoes, the zucchini, the pesto made from homemade basil. It is a time to celebrate the simple pleasure of growing and cooking and eating.

A Meditation on Fasting


I have to admit that I’m pretty surprised that none of the contributors at Jew and the Carrot has mentioned anything about shiva asar b’Tammuz, or the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day that fell this year on July 9th. I don’t mean to wag my finger – I’m not keeping the fast days either – nor compete with Rabbi Mark Hurvitz’s elegant post regarding fasting as a mode of consciousness-raising about Darfur. But I do think it’s worth contemplating what it means, as a Jew, to refrain from food. Frankly, the topic of fasting should be a part of our collective conversation, in the aftermath of the AgriProcessors and Rubashkins fiasco, of what it means to be kosher.

Yid.Dish: Waste Not, Want This Green Bean-Feta Salad

Winter's last frozen veggies become an early-summer salad

Fresh, local green beans should be here any day, now – but when they aren’t available, I rely on the frozen ones from Trader Joe’s. I like that TJ’s haricots verts are less waterlogged than many other brands of frozen green bean, and I appreciate the way each bean seems to have been individually frozen (rather than being suspended in a rectangular ice block), so that I can grab and cook just a handful or two at a time, knowing that the rest of the package won’t end up going to waste.

That last part is key, because my family is on a mission to cut down on wasted food —  not only for economic reasons, or even just because I hate it that an estimated 25% of the produce purchased in this country ends up in the garbage, but also because, from a religious point of view, it seems absurd for us to bother with separate forks and spoons for meat and dairy, but flout what Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch called “the first prohibition of creation” – namely “bal tashchit” (literally, don’t destroy) – the commandment against wasting.

A (Theoretical) Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegetarian Activist and a Rabbi

Thanks to Richard H. Schwartz Ph.D. for his latest guest post.  His previous post on not eating meat can be found here.   For a long time, Richard has been trying to start a respectful dialogue in the Jewish community about his views on vegetarianism, but has had very little success.  Below is a fictional dialogue that he hopes readers will use it as the basis of similar dialogues with local rabbis, educators, and community leaders.  Richard would also welcome an actual dialog with a rabbi.


Jewish Vegetarian Activist: Shalom rabbi.

Rabbi: Shalom. Good to see you.

JVA: Rabbi, I have been meaning to speak to you for some time about an issue, but I have hesitated because I know how busy you are, but I think this issue is very important.

Rabbi: Well, that sounds interesting. I am never too busy to consider important issues. What do you have in mind?

JVA: I have been reading a lot recently about the impacts of our diets on our health and the environment and about Jewish teachings related to our diets. I wonder if I can discuss the issues with you and perhaps it can be put on the synagogue’s agenda for further consideration.

A Fruitful Lesson

Fig. 10

On Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the Torah, we also celebrate the offering of the first fruits in the Temple, the bikurim.

The offering was a supremely humble gesture: the fruits which form first on a tree are often smaller, less perfect, only hinting at the abundance to follow. In ancient Israel, these offerings were gussied up, surrounded by the more beautiful fruit which grew later, brought sometimes in gold baskets, accompanied by flutes, processions. All the trappings of art and wealth were used to beautify the offering. Yet without the small, perhaps wrinkled fruit of the bikurim, there could be no offering.

It was at this moment of offering that the Torah teaches us to recite the story of redemption, the same one we now read in our Passover haggadah. The story was also a garland, as it were, for the bikurim offering, connecting our history to the very physical redemption of another spring and another growing season.

Consuming our way to Olam Ha’Bah?

photo by Sir Mildred Pierce

For some reason, I get stopped all the time in the produce section at Whole Foods. I don’t know what it is about me that suggests why I would be able to explain the difference between lacinato and regular kale, or whether golden beets are as sweet as red ones (especially since neither of these vegetables were part of my diet as recently as a year ago), but there must be something.

However, I’ve had an encounter that I can’t shake. I was standing by the grape tomatoes, trying to decide between the organic ones from Florida (but were they the product of slave labor?) and the local greenhouse tomatoes from Connecticut (fewer food miles, but what about pesticides?), when a woman about my grandmother’s age began talking to me out of the blue. You could tell she was in a bit of sticker shock at the Whole Paycheck prices, and she said to me, “You know how much these are at Shoprite? 99 cents.”

A Charitable Project That Hits Close to Home


Earlier today, a friend was kind enough to share an article with me that addressed several of my interests: cooking, charity and the Pittsburgh Jewish community. The first two have had a prominent position my entire life, and the last only came into my frame of interest when I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh this year.

The city’s local paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recently featured a piece about a class called “Not Your Bubbe’s Cooking…But Close!” an initiative taken by the United Jewish Federation Women. The class serves two very important functions: teaching young Jewish women to cook traditional Jewish foods, and benefiting the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry. Each class member pays an $8 fee that goes directly to the pantry, which has a budget of $235,000. Sadly, living in the city has shown me how great a homelessness problem there is in the area, and more donations and assistance in securing funds are needed.

While the class is benefiting a good cause, it is also doing the mitzvah (good deed) of passing Jewish traditions on to the next generation. “We had young women who were looking to learn traditional ways of cooking Jewish foods and, at the same time, to have a social experience and meet new people,” says Federation director Samantha Rothaus. She devised the program along with Jennifer Jones, the young adult director.