#blogExodus – Learning


#blogExodus prompts

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #blogExodus prompts

Passover, as such, is not particularly associated with learning. The next Pilgrimage Holiday in the calendar, Shavu’ot, commemorates the giving of the Torah and is celebrated by learning, traditionally all night. But on Passover we are primarily occupied with doing and telling, not so much by learning.

Still, there is no question that a lot of learning is involved where Passover is concerned. To begin with, every person who is in charge of cooking for this holiday has got to learn about the arcane and complex laws regarding chametz, and also kitniyot if you are Ashkenazic. The latter refers to non-chametz food that was put out of bounds for us by rabbis of the past who were afraid eating it might lead to chametz contamination. Sephardic Jews are apparently much smarter than Ashkenazic ones, as they have been able to eat rice on Pesach for many generations, while we Westerners have been forbidden from it because it might be mixed with a chametz grain.

With the proliferation of new foods such as quinoa and amaranth, which are grasses and not grains at all, the rabbinic establishment is grudgingly allowing some brands to be eaten. Back in Eastern Europe you ate potatoes and were grateful, but in the New World we are achieving some liberation. There are stories of North American rabbis in the past who tried to ban bananas and turkeys for Pesach, but fortunately nowadays the rabbis are learning new things, too, and not reflexively banning things because they are not familiar with them. Sweet potatoes, squash and other North American starchy vegetables can easily replace grains on Pesach, and on every other day as well.

Then, of course, there is the preparation of the Seder itself. In my family, we always try to add some new element each year if we can, so of course there is quite a bit of learning involved there, too. As my children have grown older and more involved in the running of the Seder, we all learn things that we didn’t know before. That is the best part of all.

What are you learning this Passover?

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