The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

The Trouble with Kitniyos

Posted in holidays, rituals, synagogue life by Juliet on March 22, 2010

(Excerpts from my spiritual journal, March 1, 2010)

Reading my daily e-mails from the URJ is eye-opening. Many aspects of Reform Judaism attract me but I’m not 100% there yet.

In many ways, Conservative Judaism makes no sense whatsoever. If you really think about it, Orthodox and Reform Judaism have a logical consistency that the Conservative party-line lacks.

As for Reform Judaism, I find it REVOLUTIONARY that it can be easy. It can be personal. And it can be intensely spiritual.

I crave a spiritual practice with soul fulfillment.

Where do I find it? Glowing magical candlelight? The music of familiarly chanted prayers? A connection to my roots and ancestry by doing what we have done for so many generations? L’dor v’dor?

I hear people say this:

I’m not religious. I just try to live my life as a good person.

Or they say:

I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.

On some days, it seems feasible–brilliant even. A discovery.

But on most days it seems misguided. It seems crazy to feel you can make it up as you go along.

Does Judaism have to be hard? Does it have to be a long, often nonsensical-seeming list of taboos?

Where is the joy?

Take Passover, and the idea of kitniyos.

[In a nutshell, during Passover, we do not eat wheat, spelt, barley, oats, or rye. These are specifically mentioned by name in Exodus 13:3. Ashkenazy Jews take on an additional requirement of not eating corn, rice, peas, lentils, beans, peanuts, and often other foods as well. (The Ashkenazic ban on corn is why Dr Brown’s is acceptable but Coke isn’t, though you will sometimes see specially labeled Coke made with real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.)]

It seems so unnecessary. In a day and age of modern agriculture, we’re not going to accidentally mistake barley for spelt.

We’re not at the food bazaar bartering donkeys for grain.

And kitniyos takes a lot of joy out of Passover (especially if you are vegetarian like us. What the HELL are we supposed to eat for eight days? I mean, really.)

It takes the logic and beauty and simplicity and turns it into a big, complicated, onerous production.

Why do we have to do something that makes no logical sense in 2010 simply because “we’ve always done it this way”?

[I feel the same way about holidays that are celebrated for seven days in Jerusalem and eight days everywhere else. That custom dates to a time when messengers traveled to relay information about the Jewish calendar, and the extra day was tacked on to avoid inadvertently desecrating a holy day.]

So is the alternative to NOT DO IT AT ALL? To do it but not concern ourselves with the parts that don’t make sense? But then how do I know what is important to keep and what can be freely discarded? Reform Judaism is more self-guided than other streams. Am I really comfortable with that? Will we then get to a point where everyone’s doing their own thing so much that all of the Jewishness is leached completely out of Judaism?

Is the answer to “be Sephardic” for Passover? It feels wrong too to pick and choose from traditions but always only pick the leniencies.

All I know is, Passover begins with the first seder on Monday, March 29, so I’d better get clarity on these burning questions soon.


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