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1 What the heck is hand-washing? The Rabbis of the Mishna (100 b.c.e. - 200 c.e.) instituted the practice of ritually washing hands prior to prayer, the fulfillment of commandments and the consumption of certain foods. There are various reasons given for the practice including, but not exclusively: 1) tumaat yadaim - impurity of the hands, 2) commemoration of Temple practices and, 3) cleanliness. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem there were complex rules of ritual purity primarily aimed at maintaining distance between carcasses, animal and human, and the priests, their accessories and food. Included in this framework was a series of laws governing immersion in ritual baths (mikvaot) and hand-washing. Priests washed hands and feet (from a giant samovar) before entering the Temple - just as Muslims do today before prayer. Jews maintain the practice of washing hands upon waking and prior to prayer. (Maimonides, the 12th century Spanish/Egyptian rabbi, maintained that Jews should wash their hands and feet every morning.) The laws of purity also applied to non-priests as these people would tithe and donate food to the Temple and priests and the food had to be pure. In the 16th century Rabbi Yehuda Loew, also known as Maharal, (famous for creating the Golem) discussed hand-washing and suggested that today when the Temple was in ruin the practice was primarily about cleanliness. Whichever reason you ascribe to, the hand-washing we do today before eating bread is special. It is a combination of both ritual cleanliness and hygiene. It is customary to do it with a widemouthed cup with an unblemished lip - i.e. no spout or chips. Many people wash two or three times on each hand. This is only necessary if the hands are dirty as the first one or two applications serve to remove dirt. One may pour a number of ounces of water onto each hand and then raise them while drying and recite the blessing: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh Haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al netillat yadaim. Blessed are You Adonai, our Lord King of the Universe, who commanded us in respect to the elevation of the hands. The blessing is not about cleanliness or purity as the commandment is about consciousness and sanctification. Were this not the case then we would not wash our hands with a cup if we had just washed them with soap. The ‘what the heck is’ series is brought to you by Rabbi Mordechai Rackover of Brown RISD Hillel.

2 A Kitchen Confessional ! There are a lot of clichés concerning Jews and food. And, just like the notion of “Jewish time” is a poor excuse for being late, so too are the clichés poor excuses for some of our behaviors in relationship to food. In preparing to write this it occurred to me that there aren’t very many chores left in the world that are as critical, personal, and labor intensive as food. We have dry cleaners for our clothes. Gardeners for our lawns, growing food has become a luxury – it means you have land – and not a necessity. But cooking, no matter how much take out you eat, is still a labor-intensive and critical chore. Another aspect of cooking and food is that by its nature, the aspect of our lives that is the most involved with shipping, transporting, and importing. True we get oil from overseas and clothes from Asia. But we don’t consume clothing on a daily basis, and no matter how much you drive, your oil intake doesn’t compare to your food intake in terms of carbon and waste. With all of the above in mind I came to think about the idea of looking back at my year in food. There are two times of the year when Jews take stock. At Passover we clear out our homes obliterating any crumbs of leaven, preparing to reenact the Exodus from Egypt. And, during the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, we again take stock, obliterating any crumbs in our soul as we prepare to leave the bad behind and head into a year focused on the good. As we approach Yom Kippur I thought this would be a good time to take stock, not only of my spiritual and moral self, but also of my culinary self. In the familiar mode of the Yom Kippur viddui, the confessional, I present a list of reflections. These reflections range from the lighthearted to the serious and are to be read to awaken thought and mindfulness in one of the most important areas of our lives – how and what we put in to our bodies.

3 For the offense of eating and running For the abuse of white sugar For the lie of “one ‘last’ piece of pie” For the shortsightedness of eating fruit imported from half-way across the globe For the lack of fortitude in ignoring the warnings and drinking a 64oz Slurpee For seeking comfort in that childhood favorite that wasn’t meant for an adult stomach For the violation of eating in front of the TV For fooling ourselves in saying “I’ll do any extra thirty minutes on the tread mill” For not checking the pantry before going shopping For ignoring the prophet Michael Pollan in eating California lettuce in the eastern time zone For setting the wrong example and Giving-in to the whining and buying those cookies For forgetting our bags For wastefully not clipping coupons For pretending that this time I’ll wash-up in the morning before I go to work For thinking of myself and not the world by using disposable pans and plastic plates For buying that fish even though there may not be any left in 5 years For not trying new foods For not using an oven mitt and burning yourself for the ‘millionth time’ For tasting and not washing the spoon For Double dipping For not using leftovers

For all of these and more. For the sins that hurt others and those that hurt me. For each one I am sorry. I will try harder in the year to come to improve myself, my family and my home, the planet Earth, through my kitchen and my belly.

4 Rabbi Believes Montreal Food is Sexier Published November 12, 2011 at http://

I had written a blog post about making homemade ravioli from yuntoff leftovers. All food is an expression of sensuality and sexuality, and that’s how my friend Charlie read the post. “It was kind of…erotic” he said in a Facebook IM. And then I realized that that is my problem with food in America, at least in large swathes of America: it is no longer erotic. Not even sexy.

Food here is moribund. As the dictionary says, “in terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigor.” The biggest food news in USA Today last week: the McRib Makes a Comeback. Really? The McRib? A pork patty pressed into a shape that mimics baby-back ribs (bones and all, which normally one discards rather than eating) covered in sugary nasty sauce and pressed into a white sesame seed bun. The McRib is like Frankenstein crossed with a Kardashian; a grotesque attempt to artificially synthesize the perfect piece of meat. To substitute surgery for sensuality, and hope no one knows the difference. The McRib. That’s the big story. Nowadays I keep kosher but I have a foodographic memory and I remember the McRib. It was nice. I liked that the bun was ovular and not round; it felt ‘other’ in a sea of burgers. I was turned on by the molded pork patty, but I never sat shiva for it. I wouldn’t have signed a Petition for its return. Yet, there it was on the front page of, in all it’s sickening sugar and white bread glory. And what does this have to do with Shtetl? I’m a Montrealer in exile. I am approaching over half of my life away from the sacred land of the Habs and the Expos, ob”m and R.I.P. I miss it. But I like my job and my students and my tax rate and health insurance. But I miss Lafleurs at 2am, Mrs. Whytes with every meal, Schwartz’s before a game at the Forum ob”m, Souvlaki (anywhere) and really at anytime. And this sexually charged ravioli made me realize that the food I miss is sexy. Obviously I need to explain because really Lafleurs’ on St.Denis is anything but sexy at 3am with a drunk rolling in his own vomit at the front door. What’s charged about the food that I remember in Montreal is that it is made with care and swagger. It is fatty, rich, unapologetic and real. Consider the humble patates-frites. The chain restaurants in this country use frozen fries that are unceremoniously dumped into oil

5 with one hand while the other presses down on a timer. In my memory, at Lafleurs’ the potatoes were cut in the shop, they were not peeled, or, if they were it was without much care. The fries then took a bath in a 5 gallon plastic bucket strategically placed on the floor between the fryer and the trash and filled with water. They were unscientifically cooked in batches – not once, but twice. Imagine if McDonalds or TGI Fridays started double cooking their french fries? It doesn’t compute. Why would any company concerned with profits even consider it? It’s true that I’m romanticizing, but it’s my memory so I’m allowed. I also think of trips to Schwartz’s with my dad. When I was a kid it still had an apostrophe. The briskets were just stored in the front window. Piled up. It was nasty and sick yummy. Unapologetic – “Hey, this is where the meat goes. Don’t like it? Go to The Main.” The waiters were unpleasant and no one cared. You got a half hot dog and a piece of liver with your steak. What? A liver? Sexiness is about really being yourself. It’s the opposite of pornography. Sex porn and food porn are made up; they have a function, but they are always ultimately unsatisfying — because they are unreal. Deeply sexy people are utterly and totally themselves and manage to still be attractive and desirable. Montreal food at its best is just that. It is authentic, rich, unapologetic and the way it has always been. I suppose that this is more than a eulogy or a love letter. This is, I guess, an embracing of the Montrealer in me. The one that doesn’t say in the fast foody way that Americans do “have a nice day” to every person that passes me on the street or at work. It is an ode to honesty and clarity. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get mentality that loses a little more footing every time the media celebrates the re-release of the McRib. Montrealers! Shtetl Residents! Eat your fatty luxuriousness and continue to thumb your nose at the rest of the continent. Embrace with love your waiter who won’t speak to you in English. Realize that honesty and the Montrealer way are bound together with eros and emes (truth). Oh Wilensky, how I miss thee.


Film/Text/Jews Using popular media to explore Jewish text, culture and religion Class This Week:

Sex in the Holy City: the comedy of sex in the Talmud & Film

•Learn about the Rabbi Under the Bed! •Consider saying a blessing on sexual relations •Watch Woody Allen Clips - Laugh •Eat good snacks

This learning experience will be a combination of film, text, and other media. All texts will be in English. No background necessary. All welcome.

Wednesday Tuesday Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday Tuesday Tuesday Wednesday

Jan. 28 Feb. 3 Feb. 11 Feb. 18 Feb. 25 Mar. 4 Mar. 11 Mar. 18 Mar. 25 Apr. 1 Apr. 7 Apr. 14 Apr. 22

Topic Introduction: Why this course? - How to read Superman, Moses & Jesus: Heroes and Myth Sex in the Holy City: the comedy of sex in the Talmud & Film See “Waltz with Bashir” (Ticket with course commitment) Discuss “Waltz with Bashir” Pre-Purim: Esther in Comics and Culture Power & Powerlessness: Schindler’s List & Exodus Man, Woman, Torah: challenging sex roles The iWorld: technology, pre-technology, & the Sabbath The Ten Commandments & Prince of Egypt Haggadah: telling stories, art, & text Kabbalah: how to blow your mind and stay sane Closing Reflections & Party

Rabbi Mordechai (Michael) Rackover is the Associate Chaplain for the Jewish Community of Brown University and the Rabbi of Brown RISD Hillel.

Rabbi R. is available any time for conversation, exploration or learning. 401.863.2733

Rabbi Rackover's Experimental Portfolio  

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