Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bake Your Own!

I stopped keeping kosher on passover after baking my first matza. My ex-wife was a non-Jew who came from a religious home and loved the ceremony and symbolism of religious holidays. She came up with the idea: let's bake them ourselves.

The experience of baking matzot was so educational and so meaningful, that it made the restriction on consuming baked goods seem entirely meaningless. a matza must be prepared in no more than 18 minutes, from the moment water touches the flour, to the moment it's out of the oven. Preparing the matza in haste created a vivid simulation of the runaway experience. We actually felt as though we had only that night to excape from Egypt.

Passover is about keeping the story of the exodus in the culture and bequething it to the younger generation. Baking matzot does just that, eating matzot doesn't. I live in a country in which beer is banned from the taps for seven days. We can't buy breakfast cereal this week if our lives depended on it. Even soda bottles must carry a "kosher for passover" emblem on them in order to be sold (soda water included). What does breakfast cereal have to do with our mutual heritage? nothing. How does any of this bread-crumb paranoia educate us? It doesn't. In fact, it causes many to feel disdain towards the holiday. It's sacriligious.

Placing a culinary taboo can be effective in distinguishing a portion of the year as sacred and instilling a sense of uniqueness in people. However, in this case, it shifts the focus from the essence of the holiday to sheer nonesense, which is something Judaism's always been good at, as our various shabbat obssesions nicely reveal. The OCD behaviour common among the haredim at this time of year (they don't drink with the meals, lest a drop of water touched the matza and rendered it "chametz"), is further proof of that.

I call for a return to our roots. Lets seek reason, rather than act automatically on rules that have degenerated over millenia into idiocy. Let's eat lovely whole-wheat bread, pizza and hamburgers in a bun throughout passover, and lets bake matzot. I know it's hard to believe, but they come out tasty too.

P.S. Within minutes of publishing this post, top notch poet and editor Eli Hirsh added his two cents. He tells that in many Israeli communities in which chametz is difficult to obtain, passover has become the holiday of baking homemade bread. If anynoe needed proof that the restrictions beat the purpose - you've got it. Hirsh suggests mixing both baking experiences. I certainly have enough of an apetite to deal with that.

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