Whoa. I just realized that I havenít posted anything about FIFTY SHADES OF TALMUD: WHAT THE FIRST RABBIS HAD TO SAY ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHAT actually winning the Gold Benjamin Franklin Award in the Religion category. And I didnít even realize that my book had been a finalist in that category.
The awards were announced at a gala banquet in Portland on Friday, April 7. I hadnít gone for two reasons: 1] that was the weekend right before Passover started and I needed to be home to prepare for the Monday-night first Seder, 2] I never expected to win anyway. So I was at Shabbat services at synagogue that Friday evening when, to my horror and embarrassment, my cell phone rang. The few people who call me on my cell know better than to call me then, so I hadnít remembered to silence the ring, which is a loud, lively klezmer tune my husband recorded for me. I find the unique ringtone quite useful to distinguish other cell phones from mine when one goes off in a crowd.
I pushed the quiet button so quickly that nobody, except my husband, realized whose phone had rung. The rabbi made a cute comment about the Jewish music and services continued. A good friend had just undergone emergency bypass surgery the day before, so I checked to see who had called Ė just in case. At first I was confused to see my book shepherd Sharonís number. Then it dawned on me that she was at the Ben Franklin awards and that the only reason she would call me would be because Iíd won.
I went outside to call her back and it was true, Fifty Shades of Talmud was a Gold Winner. I was astounded, and immediately sorry I hadnít attended. But Sharon gave a cute speech to accept the award for me. Iím not sure how Iím going to use this to help publicize my book, but as soon as possible Iíve got my web mistress to find a place for it on my website. The beautiful crystal trophy arrived in the mail a few days ago, so at least now I can post a photo on Facebook, Google+ and my blog. Plus I have 1000 fancy gold award stickers to put on my book covers.
For more info see the IBPA Ben Franklin awards website
This last week Iíve been finalizing the details of my pre-Motherís Day book tour to the Washington DC area. Friday morning I catch a 6 am flight to Baltimore, and that evening I start with a Shabbaton for Bet Mishpacha. Then comes a hectic Sunday with 3 events in VA, DC, and MD Ė although I admit theyíre closer together than one would think for being in 3 different states [yes, I know DC isnít a state]. For those of you who live in those 3 areas, or have friends who do, here is my schedule below. Please come hear me speak about "Talmud After Dark."
April 28-29. Shabbaton at Bet Mishpacha. DC Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St NW [at Q St], Washington, DC 20036
April 30 - 9:45 am. Olam Tikvah, 3800 Glenbrook Rd, Fairfax, VA 22031
April 30 - 3 pm. Temple Sinai, 3100 Military Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015
April 30 - 7 pm. Temple Shalom. 8401 Grubb Rd, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
May 2 - 7 pm. Temple Rodef Shalom, 2100 Westmoreland St, Falls Church, VA 22043
May 5-7 - Scholar-in-residence weekend. Beth El Congregation of Baltimore. 8101 Park Heights Ave, Pikesville, MD 21208
May 7 - 6 pm. N Virginia Hebrew Cong Sisterhood, 1441 Wiehle Ave, Reston, VA 20190
May 8 - 6 pm. Greater Baltimore Hadassah region dinner. Location tba near Baltimore MD
May 9 - 7:45 pm. Beth Shalom Cong, 8070 Harriet Tubman Ln, Columbia, MD 21044
For links to the venues, see my website schedule
After posting about placing an orange on the Seder plate, I learned that there are plenty more non-traditional items that one might want to use in addition to the orange. An article in the Jerusalem Post in 2011 mentions olives and an artichoke.
In 2008, Jewish Voice for Peace promoted putting an olive on the seder plate as part of its Trees of Reconciliation project, which sought to donate 3,000 olive saplings to Palestinian farmers to replant trees torn down to make room for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. After that, olives started showing up on Seder plates as a call for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The Shalom Center recommended that celebrants include olives "Because for millennia the olive branch has been the symbol of peace, and we seek to make peace where there has been war." Why an artichoke? Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael suggested this prickly vegetable with the soft heart for the interfaith-friendly Seder plate. "Like the artichoke, which has thistles protecting its heart, the Jewish people have been thorny about this question of interfaith marriage."
By 2012, chocolate began showing up on some Seder plates [or actually was the Seder plate] as part of a campaign by Fair Trade Judaica to protest child slave labor in African cocoa fields. Recently the tomato made an appearance to symbolize solidarity with ill-treated and underpaid farm workers.
And this year concerns about refugees have led to not one, but two new fruits on the Seder plate: pineapple and banana. "In American colonial times, the pineapple was a symbol of welcome and prosperity," Rabbi Deborah Waxman, the president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, says in a YouTube video. "They were special gifts because of the great labor and expense required to ship them from the tropics. As we think about those in the midst of crossing through danger and into unknown lands, we aim to bestow upon them the gifts of hospitality and a sweet welcome." Other Passover observers have started adding bananas, in memory of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015 and whose father said bananas were his sonsí favorite treat.
Ironically, many ultra-Orthodox Jews will not eat bananas, tomatoes or pineapples during Passover because their rabbis have not approved these new world foods as kosher lípesach. Somehow this had not led to a ban on chocolate for Passover, only on milk chocolate, since meat is traditionally part of the Pesach meal. Which is why Jewish dark chocolate aficionados like me look forward to this holiday all year. For more info see these articles from the Jerusalem Post and JTA.
My previous post focused on the afikoman, a Passover item first mentioned in the Mishna. Eating the afikoman to end the Seder meal was an innovation necessitated by the Holy Templeís destruction, but the custom only became popular in the Middle Ages. Today, when there are thousands of different Haggadot, one of the newest innovations, popular among liberal Jews only in the last twenty years, is to add an orange on the Seder plate.
Itís one thing to differ on when to eat the afikoman, a practice whose origins are lost in antiquity. You would think that everyone would agree on the source of such a recent custom as the Seder plate orange. But many Jews, myself included, first placed one there because we heard the apocryphal story of Susanna Heschel [daughter of rabbi/scholar/author/theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel], who was speaking at a synagogue in Florida. After, or during, her lectureódepending on the storyóa man stood up and angrily declared that a woman belongs on a bima like an orange belongs on a Seder plate. To support women rabbis and their place on the pulpit, Jewish feminists put oranges on their Passover tables.
Later I heard that Susanna Heschel herself had disavowed this tale, and that the man, not necessarily from Florida, had shouted that a woman belongs on the bima like bread on a Seder plate. This statement is even more offensive to women rabbis since Jewish Law forbids the very ownership of bread during Passover. Not wanting to violate halacha, Jewish feminists used an orange instead of bread. But as I learned recently, the second story is closer to the truth.
The truth, from an article by Susanna Heschel herself in the 2003 "The Womenís Passover Companion," has a story from a 1980ís feminist Hagaddah about an outraged Rebbe shouting, "There's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the Seder plate." Heschel was inspired, but she couldnít follow it literally because "its symbolism suggested that being a lesbian was being transgressive, violating Judaism, which isnít true." She wanted to "call attention to the links between the homophobia that has made the lives of gays and lesbians so difficult and the gender discrimination experienced by Jewish woman." So she put a tangerine on her Seder plate.
Thus, while she originally placed an orange on her familyís Passover table for a combination of reasons that were indeed related to womenís marginality in Judaism, her fundamental message was to express solidarity with gay and lesbian Jews. She was appalled when she eventually heard the dubious tale where her idea and words were attributed to a man and her goal of affirming lesbians and gay men was erased.
The first Seder is Monday evening, and Jews all over the world will finish their meal by eating a small piece of matzah called the ďafikoman.Ē But what is the afikoman actually and when should one eat it? As with all Jewish holiday traditions, there is no one right way to do them. Today, the afikoman is seen as a substitute for the Pesach lamb sacrifice, which was the last thing eaten at the Passover Seder during the eras of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.
The Mishna in Pesahim 119b, which assumes the Holy Temple is still standing, states, ďWe do/may not conclude after Pesach with afikoman.Ē Clearly Pesach here means the pascal lamb sacrificed and eaten by families in Jerusalem on the first night of Passover. But the Talmudic sages disagree about the afikoman, as is seen in various translations of the Mishna. Rav says it means uprooting oneself and moving from house to house, which is why afikoman is sometimes translated as ďrevelry.Ē Shmuel, and several other rabbis, say it means dessert, which in Rashiís time were matzah sponge cakes, matzah wafer/crepes, and matzah fried in oil and honey. Rav Yosef explains, however, that Shmuel means that we may conclude the Seder with dessert.
After much discussion, the Sages agree that afikoman means dessert, and move on to the real problem: what to do in post-Temple times when there is no Pesach lamb sacrifice. Rava concludes that the remaining Biblical obligation for the first night of Passover is to eat matzah. Therefore one should not eat the afikoman-dessert after eating matzah, so that the taste of the matzah eaten during the meal remains in our mouths. Clearly this was a problem once it became the tradition to eat matzah, and say the blessing for bread, before the meal. So the custom arose of designating a special piece of matzah as the afikoman and not eating it until later, after dessert.
But at many Seders today, some people leave after dessert without staying to drink the full Four Cups. Thus we established a new tradition at our house. During the meal, the children search for the afikoman that my husband has hidden, and after they find it we continue with the Seder without eating dessert. By the time we finish all the songs and say the closing prayers, everyone has room for goodies, which are then served. A plate with afikoman pieces sits inside our front door so guests can take one just before they leave, thus ensuring that when all is said and done the taste of matzah does indeed remain in their mouths.