And on the 8th Day they Created Gebrokts: Passover Ironies – by Malki Rose

Alex’s Note: For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Jewish festival of Passsover (known in Hebrew as, Pessach), it is more than a simple commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and liberation from slavery. The celebration lasts eight days, with the first two nights devoted to elaborate, ritualised dinners. Even devoutly irreligious Jews celebrate in this way.

Jews who are more observant also adhere to a strict dietary regime that precludes anything containing chametz. The literal translation of chametz, is, “leavening” and it refers to any form of fermented product (in matters of yeast, not wine), or anything that might cause fermentation.

The observance of this practice over the eight day period is a remembrance of the speed with which Jews had to leave Egypt: they did not have the time to allow their bread to rise – to leaven. For this reason, Jews eat matzah throughout Pessach, and remove anything that might cause leavening before the festival.

Malki Rose muses on this tradition, and the Jewish tendency to let rituals, such as the pre-Pessach war on chametz, to get thoroughly out of hand.

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By Malki Rose

For some reason, Pessach preparations seem to be getting sillier and sillier.

Last year we just vacuumed the carpet, this year we vacuumed the ipod. We used to cover bench-tops in foil or plastic, and restrict kashering (making kosher) to just sinks, stoves, ovens and cookware.

Now we seem to be kashering and cleaning everything we ever have and will come into contact with.

A recent publication in the Beth Rivkah (religious Jewish girls’ school) newsletter features a witty piece of writing about a girl who marvels at the need to de-chametz the ceiling and chandelier. She deduces that they must have enjoyed a recent chametz-containing tea-party on the ceiling.

It’s a little ironic that a festival celebrating our liberation from slavery sees us scrubbing frantically at nooks and crannies nobody ever  knew existed and finding ever new and interesting ways to break our backs cleaning items which have little or  nothing to do with the entire Passover experience.

One passage in the Haggadah (special text guiding the Pessach celebrations) reads, “Pesach, Matza and Marror (bitter herbs): whoever talks about these things at length is praiseworthy.”

In reality, this phrase has been reinterpreted as, “Scrubbing, aluminium foiling and filling lungs with cleaning chemicals: whoever does these things at length is praiseworthy.”

A friend of mine is currently on a spiritual journey in Egypt’s Sinai Desert – a suitably ironic place to spend this festival.

But there is a definite logic to his actions. He has spent a great deal of his time living, as he would, say “like Avraham Avinu” (Abraham, our forefather), sharing and reflecting on the lifestyle of Sinai’s Bedouins, with the occasional modern convenience.

Many of the Bedouin ways, he tells me, have not been eroded by the modern world – their style of eating, cooking, travelling, and their social and spiritual customs.  The Bedouin life is a memory of how both Jews and non-nomadic Arabs once lived. It’s an interesting thought, and yet too many on both sides find our obvious common origins abhorrent.

If we can move beyond this, however, the Bedouin customs and attitudes can provide valuable insight – not least into the way we celebrate Pessach.

If a Bedouin were to travel for a period of eight days, for example, he would have to consider, first and foremost, his source of sustenance. Considering the barren nature of the environment in which Bedouins live, preparedness for the full eight days would be crucial.

Anyone who has ever stored food of any kind knows that the single greatest enemy to its preservation is moisture.

So if the Bedouin travels on a journey of eight days, he knows that to maximise its lifespan, his food must not come into contact with moisture of any kind.

A food already containing moisture, like bread, would not last as long as a drier food, like a cracker of some kind, which if stored properly could last for possibly weeks or even months.

My friend in Sinai therefore wonders if our matza was less a case of “bread of affliction” – born of a necessity to flee – than simply a necessity for a wandering people. In that case, our affliction was less about the rush that prevented leavened bread, than the affliction of being cast into the desert and wandering for 40 years.

Whatever the case, we seem to have gone far beyond the desert origins of the festival.

A good example is the tradition of not eating gebrokts, matzah which has come into contact with moisture – that means no matzah balls in the soup. This tradition is practised by Chabad and a number of other orthodox groups. It’s a funny old custom, because it begs so many questions about what is and is not chametz.

Does a person who keeps gebrokts also brush his teeth after consuming matzah? Or does he allow the matzah to remain in his teeth for several hours during which time it would most definitely come into contact with moisture and become leavened? And in a similar vein, does this person also encourage his digestive system to process the matzah at a faster rate so that it then also does not become leavened in his stomach?

There is a point, and I believe we passed it long ago, where the extent to which we add to a mitzvah (commandment) simply becomes ludicrous. In doing this, we belittle the mitzvah rather than beautify it.

There was a time when we walked as a nomadic people out of the land of Egypt. Where once we’d settled there as free men, we became slaves and became wanderers, and carrying a flat preservable sustenance on our shoulders.  But what is of even greater importance is that with us we took our families, our children, and animals, our history and memories with hope for a Homeland, where our wanderings would eventually cease.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get this matza out of my teeth before it rises.

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10 Responses to “And on the 8th Day they Created Gebrokts: Passover Ironies – by Malki Rose”

  1. jenny_batesman says:

    Just wondering if there is such a term as a “Jew of convenience”,

    I saw a clip of Jennifer Aniston and she is a famous American of Greek heritage, but they claim her as their own in Greece, while she does not campaign or care about Greece’s problems according to some critics..”Greek in my heart not in my mouth”she knows only limited Greek.

    Surely that may also apply to you guys.

    Any thoughts?

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  2. Malki Rose says:

    Hey Jenny, while I do understand the concept you are alluding to, I am not sure of this relates to the article.

    Would you care to expand on this.

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  3. jenny_batesman says:

    http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/32122/is-israel-a-nation-of-jews-of-convenience/

    The above article relates to your item and the sociological term jew of convenience….

    Please take a look,Jen

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Jen.

      Thanks for the link.
      Actually, I have some Greek family, so I’ve seen the cultural dilution I think you’re referring to in both groups. While they the Greek and Jewish experiences have a lot in common, there are a few key difference. It would make for an interesting post! :)

  4. jenny_batesman says:

    That’s really refreshing to hear , yes specific groups have differences but hate the cliched response……..

    ” Greeks and Jews are the same, Italians and Greeks et al.

    Simplistic ignorance is evident when people say those things.

    There’s a specialization in the school system amongst many,many other things that are too numerous to mention now.

    Great Alex and thank-you for that post and your comments!!

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  5. Morry says:

    I think that living amongst Bedouin was amongst my most bizarre and wonderful experiences. They have developed a plethora of their own norms and customs which are very different to ours, and I have learnt the importance of a basic education, and the pitfalls you can encounter if you lack one. Without knowing, you can embarass and insult a kindly, good-natured host, with something as silly as admiring his watch, then refusing it when he offers it to you. Ultimately the trade for the watch would have been one of my female travelling companions, and I would have added another insult by refusing that.

    It’s really worth investing time in basic cultural research when travelling …. well, that’s the lesson I ultimately took away, as well as a wonderful set of stories that I never passover the opportunity of telling, and which never fail to amuse.

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  6. jenny_batesman says:

    Identity.

    If you could also incorporate that individuals take the worst from both cultures in their identity, Anglo,Australian and Jewish, that is significant as well!!

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Jenny.
      I don’t know that I would be happy identifying what constitutes the “worst” aspects of Jewish culture, let alone Greek. There are certainly problematic elements when trying to reconcile ethnic cultures with Australian mores, though.

  7. jenny batesman says:

    Hey Alex, there’s always a Jewish sociologist you could invite to write about this, that would be great to see!!

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