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Category Archives: halacha

Oh My How You’ve Grown!

“Siyyum” (SEE-yoom) is a word which means “completion”.

When people study a section of religious text – Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, etc – and finish it, they “make a siyyum” which is to day they have a little celebration to commemorate the job.

This has never made sense to me. So you read a book. It’s nice, but it didn’t seem especially party-worthy.

Added to this is the fact that, like almost every aspect of Judaism, people “study” in decidedly different ways. Some are extremely skilled hard-core students. They can read the text in the original language, have a vast amount of knowledge already under their belt, and worth with a study parther to tease every last drop of meaning and insight from the text.

Or some, like me, need to have someone read the text to them, having it translated as they go, and count themselves lucky if they can remember anything from one week to the next.

And the amount of learning varies as well. Some people make a siyyum on a single page. Some on a whole book. And some only when they’ve completed an entire body of work.

So what’s the point of a siyyum?

I pondered that the other day, as I was adding a mark on the doorframe in my 11 year old’s room, dutifully documenting his progress toward his dream of a promising career as a 6’7″ center for the Lakers (he’s currently 4’11. The kid knows how to dream big even if his genes aren’t on board.)

It occurred to me that, once our doorframe days are over, there isn’t much left in the way of marking growth.

There are a few milestones – driver’s license, first job, diploma, first “real” job, marriage, children, and so on. But those moments are few, and the timing is random, with no guarentee that we will achieve them (or in some cases even want to achieve them).

I came to the realization that day in my son’s room that in the Jewish world, where lifelong learning is not only laudable, it’s expected, a siyyum is the best darn doorpost ever.



Near the beginning of our Jewish Journey, the discoveries were grand, complex, and life altering. Looking back now, I can appreciate that we continue to wrestle with issues and traditions, but they are far subtler in nature.

For the record, we are now firmly settled in with 6 hours between meat and milk. While it has caused some in the family to become fleish-a-phobic (notably Pandora and daughter “I” – see “who’s who” on the side for details), overall we are managing well.

For the un-initiated, “fleish-a-phobia”  is the condition where one avoids eating meat now to ensure that they are able to have ice cream in half an hour should the opportunity present itself.

With all of that said, here was the view from our journey, circa 2010. You can find the original post here:

I know this is bothering me way more than it should. But it still is.

In our pre-Kosher days (or perhaps it’s more accurate to label them our “proto-kosher” days) we just focused on separating meat meals and milk meals. We didn’t change the dishes, we didn’t worry about utensils or containers. We simply avoided eating cheeseburgers, muenster-and-baloney sandwiches, or cheesey-beefy noodles.

Oh, and we steered clear of bacon-wrapped shrimp, of course.

Sounds simple, right?

Like most Jewish ideas, a seemingly simple idea can be totally bolloxed up by thinking about it too much.

It starts innocently: does “together” mean “on the same plate” or “on the same table”? If you go from one room with a cheese board to another room in the same house with lunchmeats, is that OK?

No, of course not. Because someone could be still savoring the flavor of a great piece of brie when they pop a delicate slice of brisket in your mouth and BOOM, you’ve mixed meat and milk. In your mouth.

(Side note: I used to do this all the time, but with chocolate milk. First you take a good long pull from the milk jug, leaving just a little room left over. Then you stick the end of the chocolate syrup bottle into your mouth and squeeze. Finally, shake your head vigorously until your vision blurs or you hear your neck snap. Then swallow. Everyone did that when they were kids, right?)

Ahem. Back to our discussion.

The Rabbis of Antiquity thought of that, of course (the cheese and meat thing, not the milk and chocolate syrup thing) and came up with a statement: don’t eat them together, and give your mouth time to clear itself of the previous food item.

For some Rabbis that meant either washing your mouth out or eating something that was neither milk or meat (a piece of bread fits the bill). Thus, they reasoned, you are pretty assured that bits of gouda aren’t still sticking around in your mouth when you start a bite of brisket.

Later on, Rashi was asked about time – like if you had a meat meal and didn’t eat bread, how long before you could start on a dairy dish? “Between meals” was the answer.

The problem was that “between meals” at that time was about 6 hours!

Skipping ahead, today we have the Dutch, who wait 1 hour, some folks from Germany who wait 3 hours, and everyone else, who waits 6. Except for the people who don’t.

Simple, huh?

So my family and I come onto the scene and try to answer the very earnest (and hungry) sounding K, asking if he can have mac-and-cheese for dinner even though he had a bologna sandwich for lunch.

A wrong answer looks like this: “Well, bud, let me look online, then get a book from the library, and then I’ll call the Rabbi and see what he says. I should know sometime next week.”

Originally, what we did was wait 1 hour either way (meat to milk or milk to meat). As we learned more, we waited NO time between milk and meat, but we still waffled about the time between meat and milk.

See, without a family history of waiting 3 hours, we’re TECHNICALLY obligated to wait 6. But lots of people we know only wait 3 hours.

On the one hand, we don’t want to just pick and choose observances to make it easy on ourselves. On the other hand, we don’t want to pick the hardest possible ruling just to prove how tough we are.

Honestly, we’re still on the fence about this. Like I said at the start of this post, I know this is bothering me way more than it should. But it still is.


VIDEO: Kosher Symbol Blues

While on one level, this is just a cute little ditty, on another it hints at some of the confusing and frustrating moments many of us have when learning to live with the mitzvah of keeping kosher.

Like many human endeavors, our efforts to make things clear have – to the un-initiated – made things even more confusing. does “P” stand for pareve, or for Pesach (Passover)? The answer – like many answers to Jewish questions – begin with the phrase “well, that depends…”

My Girlfriend “Betty”

I tend to play a little fast and loose when it comes to rules. I don’t exactly break them (at least, not usually), but I do tend to see how far they’ll bend.

How that translates to kashrut is that I’m don’t break a sweat when I cut a (cold) cold cut with the wrong knife. Cold is cold, after all. And I’m not always so careful about whether I use the dairy sponge or the pareve sponge to wash a (dairy or pareve) dish.

When it comes to kashrut, part of the reason I’m comfortable doing this is because of how far I am from the original Torah commandment. (And yes, I know that the Rabbinic commandments are (almost) just as important.) But we’re still a few kilometers from that truck stop.

How far is my dishwashing “faux pas” from the original injunction of not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk?

  • First, it’s not goat meat.
  • Second, it’s not meat at all.
  • Third, it’s not directly touching – it’s something (milk) touching something else (a pot or fork) touching something else (a sponge) touching something else (the pareve item).
  • Fourth, it’s not being done to “flavor” the other object.

I might have casually mentioned this to my Rabbi recently. I was expecting a knowing wink and a smile, an indication that yes, young grasshopper, I have learned The Way of The Kashrus.

Instead, his eyes bugged out a bit, and in tones that showed he was attempting to remain calm despite an overwhelming desire to hit me with a kosher clue by four.

“You can’t do that,” he explained. “Even though you are right – all of that is essentially ‘protecting’ you, you can’t work with that in mind as your initial plan.”

Then he started talking about some girl named “Betty”. Her last name is Eved, I think. The upshot is that (according to this girl, I guess) if you do some of the stuff I mentioned above by accident it’s OK. But you can’t expect or plan to do it that way because all that happens is people (ie: me) push the limits just a bit further until you actually do mess up a commandment.

It’s clear that Betty dated guys like me in High School. Or maybe she had brothers.

Anyway, I got the point: no planning to make a mistake. My wife will be so pleased to hear that yet another loophole in my “live fast, kosher as you go” philosophy has been closed. In the meanwhile, I am sure I’m going to make legitimate mistakes, and that Betty and I will have a chance to become better acquainted.

Parev-ect Dessert

At the end of the day, early on during our month-long adventure in Israel, we’re walking down the street toward Machaneh Yehudah (one of our favorite places to end the day), we arrive at this inconspicuous little bakery.

Typically laid back in an Israeli kind of way, there’s no worry about making everything appear hermetically sealed and fresh. Huge trays of cookies and pastries are out on the counters. There’s a soft hum coming from a flight of bees floating lazily around honey-glazed crescents stuffed with cheese. Challahs the length of my arm are stacked like cord wood at the front of the store, their aroma wafting out onto the street and doing a better job of advertising than any 5th Avenue marketing firm every could.

We’ve stumbled into Marzipan. And while we don’t know it yet, this small store is famous. And I mean it in a completely viral, word-of-mouth kind of way that predates texting and YouTube by 40 years. People who haven’t been back to Israel for 30 years still wax rhapsodic about this store. It turns out Marzipan ranks fourth on almost everyone’s short-list of places you MUST see when visiting: The Kotel, Masada, the Dead Sea and Marzipan. Read the rest of this entry

Emotions running hot and cold

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Here’s a list of Fun phrases heard (frequently) in my home since becoming kosher observant:

“That’s a milk dish” (not a dish to HOLD milk, mind you)

“No, use a pareve spoon”

“Switch the sink over so we can wash the meat stuff” Read the rest of this entry

Recycle, Reuse, Re-Kasher?!?

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There was a time, which I can trace back to any moment before we decided to kasher our home, when the decision to buy something for the kitchen (whether an appliance or dishes or a utensil) focused solely on whether we needed it or not, and if the price was worth the benefit from the item. (so by my logic a hand-blender is worth its weight in saffron, while a hand-held grater is overpriced at $1.50).

But now?

Read the rest of this entry