Southern Jewish Life, Deep South, December 2021

Page 46

rear pew mirror • doug brook

Talmud of Ugiyat Mazel (Fortune Cookie) Having Chinese food on the evening of Dec. 24 is as Jewish as sneaking a Twinkie during the afternoon break on Yom Kippur. Some believe this wanton wonton tradition began because, in ancient times (the early 20th Century), Chinese restaurants were the only places open on Erev Christmas. But it actually goes back much further. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years and 40 nights. Several times, the Torah refers to it as Midbar Sin (Desert of Sin — pronounced like “seen,” not like “naughty deed”). The name of China in Hebrew is also “Sin” — pronounced and spelled the same way. To this day, rabbinic scholars never admit to endlessly debating about whether the Israelites wandered through the desert all the way to China, or if Midbar Sin is just the part of the desert to which China offered free delivery. It should therefore be no surprise that the recently discovered Mishnah tractate Bava Gump contains a chapter known as the Talmud of the Fortune Cookie. It provides exquisite (read: excruciating) detail about all matters related to the fortunes found within fortune cookies, for those interested in ensuring the fortunes come true. The following is a mere taste of the chapter — a potsticker before this Talmudic meal. ***** This is the law of the cookie-based fortune. If a fortune cookie contains no fortune, it’s considered unfortunate. For a fortune to come true, one must consume the entire cookie. One must consume the cookie only after reading the fortune, not before; much like how one consumes the challah after reciting Hamotzi. Rav Telfone, the great communicator, said that failure to eat the entire cookie would bring about a misfortune; specifically, the exact reverse of the fortune itself. His son, Rav Celfone, got great reception for his belief that not eating the entire cookie merely rendered the cookie unfortunate. Both rabbis said that eating the cookie prior to reading the fortune nullifies the fortune, again with Rav Telfone going further to say that it would also bring misfortune. If one eats the cookie with the fortune still inside it, both rabbis agree that the person will likely choke, rendering the fortune irrelevant unless it said something akin to “something will soon take your breath away” or “your future will get you all choked up.” If one tears the fortune, Rav Celfone says that it simply renders it unfortunate. Rav Telfone says that it brings about misfortune in reverse of the fortune. Rav Celfone asks what if the fortune tears during its initial removal from the cookie? Rav Telfone says that if it was torn during initial removal due to it being stuck, because it is forbidden to break the cookie before consuming it, it’s possible that the Big G will instead of inflicting misfortune allow it to be merely rendered unfortunate. If the cookie is received already broken, it is most unfortunate indeed. One cannot expect the fortune to come true from a broken cookie. Rav Celfone differed with his father in saying that receiving a broken cookie should not prompt one to ask for a refund. A fortune will come true when it comes true, but no sooner than six hours after eating meat, and a wait of 30 minutes before swimming. If a fortune cookie contains two fortunes, Rav Celfone says that one is doubly fortunate. Rav Telfone believes that you must choose one or the other. Rav Celfone disagrees because, by Rav Telfone’s own logic, choos-

Fortunate wisdom for ancient readers

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December 2021 • Southern Jewish Life


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