Friday, March 8, 2013

PESAH: Medicines and non-edible products

Sephardim are allowed to use or keep during Pesaḥ any product which is non-edible, i.e., unfit for human or animal consumption even if they might contain ḥameṣ.  For example: Cosmetics, glues, paint, colognes, perfumes, soaps, detergents or any other cleaning products, etc.  In all these cases there is neither a need to check for the absence of ḥameṣ, nor for any kind of Kosher for Pesaḥ certification. 
The consumption of medicines or vitamins in the form of capsules or non-chewable pills is permissible. When the medicine or vitamin  comes in the form of a hard swallowable pill, even if it would contain a ḥameṣ by-product it is considered "non-eatableḥameṣ" (eno ra-ui leakhilat keleb). However,  chewable pills, syrups, powder-drinks, supplements drinks and/or any other flavored and/or chewable medicines or vitamins, should be certified Kosher for Pesaḥ or one should make sure that they do not contain any ḥameṣ ingredient in their composition.  
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed explains that this is Halakhic criteria is followed also by  most Ashkenazi rabbis. He also clarifies that today virtually all pills are made with corn-starch and almost none with wheat-starch (because of celiac patients).  Therefore, one can use take during Pesaḥ any swallowable (non chewable) hard pill and there is not need to check its ingredients.  
It is advisable then, when possible, to ask the physician to prescribe for Pesaḥ the medication in the form of non-chewable pills. 
Needless to say that in the case of a serious medical condition any necessary medicine should be taken. 

Food that is suitable for animal consumption is forbidden to keep during Pesaḥ. If one has a pet, therefore, one should get food that does not contain any  ḥameṣ product.   Click here  to see the Star K list of pet products Kasher for Pesah. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC    5.35 pm 

Shabbat ends in NYC:      6. 36 pm

Click here to watch "A band of migratory birds in Israel, simply AMAZING"

THE REAL ACTION STARTS AT 07:00 when a falcon attacks the flock. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

PESAH: Some differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions.

1. qiniyot. As we explained yesterday, the Ashkenazi custom is to refrain from eating rice and any other kind of seeds during Pesaḥ. This is called isur qitniyot (the prohibition of legumes).   Now, even though the Ashkenazi custom forbids the consumption ofqitniyot during Pesaḥ, qitniyot products could be kept during Pesaḥ at one's home and there is no need to throw them out or sell them (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, penine halakha, following SH. A. Rama, 453:1). 

Also, as pointed out by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,  although the Ashkenazi custom  is to forbid qitniyot during Pesaḥ, that is  only when the qitniyot constitute the majority of that product (more than 50%) but if qitniyot are present in a smaller proportion (corn-syrup, corn-starch, etc), the food is not forbidden (see Mishna Berura 8-9).

Now, you can see the book of rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Penine halakha online, here

2. eno hozer vene'or.   The Sephardic tradition holds that if a food does not have a ḥameṣ ingredient or by-product in their basic composition, but has a ḥameṣ additive or ingredient in a proportion smaller than 1.6 (or 1/60) of the total product (usually an additive), if that food was elaborated before Pesaḥ, that food is permitted for Pesaḥ.  Whereas for the Ashkenazi custom,  it does no make a difference if the food was done before or during Pesaḥ: even a minimal amount of ḥameṣ (0.001) renders the whole product non-Kosher for Pesaḥ. 

There are many practical consequences to this rule. One of them is that for the Ashkenazi custom every product to be consumed during Pesaḥ has to be done under strict Kosher for Pesaḥ Rabbinical supervision, i.e., in a food factory, the criteria to avoid the presence of ḥameṣ would be, in practical terms,  the same as the criteria applied to avoid the presence of an allergen in the food product: a complete ḥameṣ-free environment and the prevention of even an accidental ḥameṣ's cross-contamination.   

Genesis 12:3  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

PESAH: The case of rice

 Rice, corn, and any other seeds, legumes or grains which are not one of the five grains (wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats ) are not
ḥameṣ and do not become ḥameṣ even when they are fermented. 
The Ashkenazi custom, however, is to forbid the consumption of rice and other grains (qitniyot) during Pesaḥ.  Why? The Ashkenazi tradition does not consider rice as ḥameṣ. The reason for the abstention from rice on Pesaḥ is that it was common to find grains of wheat mixed with rice. Either because the fields where rice was grown were usually nearby or within the same fields where wheat was grown, or because whole-rice grains and wheat-grains look alike, and if they were sold by the same seller in the market it was possible that grains of wheat could be mixed accidentally with rice or other grains.  As we will later explain, the prohibition of ḥameṣ during Pesaḥ is so severe that even one grain of wheat could render a whole food as forbidden for Pesaḥ.
Sephardic Jews are divided on the issue of rice. Moroccan Jews and other Jews from North Africa also avoid eating rice during Pesaḥ. While Persian and Syrian Jews consume rice during Pesaḥ. However, to avoid the possibility of the accidental presence of a grain of wheat in the rice, the Persian and Syrian custom is to check the rice very carefully three times before using it for Pesaḥ.   
One should also abstain from buying enriched rice, which sometimes could be enhanced with yeast or wheat starch. Brown rice could also be used, provided it does not have other additives

For a different reason, and unrelated to ḥameṣ, some Sephardic families refrain also from eating chick peas (ḥumus) and certain types of beans. In this matter, every family should follow its own tradition.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What is Chametz?

As we have explained, during Pesaḥ we cannot eat, benefit from or even posses ḥameṣ. But, what exactly is ḥameṣ? Ḥameṣ (or Chametz) is any fermented substance -solid or liquid- that comes from one of the following five grains: wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats.

The ḥameṣ type fermentation takes place after eighteen minutes, from the moment one of these grains or one of its by-products comes in contact with water. 

Some common examples of ḥameṣ products are: Bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, fiber-drinks, cereals, baby foods, whiskey and beer.

The following three factors need to be present simultaneously for a food to be considered  ḥameṣ.

(i) Flour or any other product derived from one of the above mentioned five grains.  A fermented food product which is not or that does not contain any element coming from one of the five grains is not ḥameṣ. (tomorrow, BH, we will explain this subject better).
(ii) Water: as we explained yesterday when flour coming from one of the five grains is mixed exclusively with fruit juice, without water, is not ḥameṣ (see here).  

(iii) Time.  The maṣa (Matzah) has two of the three elements that render a product ḥameṣ: flour and water.  But it is entirely baked before eighteen minutes have passed from the moment water and flour came in contact.  Time, therefore, is the main difference between ḥameṣ and maṣa

The prohibition of ḥameṣ includes another element, a food additive which the Tora calls se-or. Se-or (grain yeast) is a catalyzer of the fermentation process. In other words, once you have a dough, flour and water, mixed together the fermentation process could take place in 18 minutes, or you can add se-or / yeast and the fermentation process will be faster.  All the prohibitions ofḥameṣ apply to se-or as well.  


Monday, March 4, 2013

Understanding Enriched Matzah, Egg Matzah and Matzo Meal.

The simple maṣa, made of wheat flour and water, is known in Hebrew as leḥem 'oni, the poor's bread. However, when the maṣa is elaborated with regular flour but instead of water,  fruit juice and/or eggs, oil, or honey is used, that maṣa is called maṣa 'ashira, or enriched Matzah.   Maṣa ashira cannot be used for the seder of Pesah but, for Sephardim,  it can be consumed during the rest ofPesaḥ. Many times maṣa ashira does not come in the shape of a maṣa but as cookies, pastries, or cakes.  It is important to know that even if a minimum amount of water is mixed with these fruit-juices, oils, etc.  the whole product will become ḥameṣ. That is why the preparation of maṣa 'ashira requires a strict rabbinical supervision. Most of these maṣa 'ashira products are elaborated in Israel. See for example this or this.

 The Ashkenazi custom is to refrain from maṣa 'ashira, becuase, as we explained , if one drop of water falls accidentally into the mixture of the flour and fruit-juice dough, it becomes ḥameṣ. Ashkenazi Rabbis would authorize maṣa 'ashira only for the elderly or ill. In the Ashkenazi jargon maṣa 'ashira products are popularly known as "Egg Matzah" ( see for example here)

Another element used to elaborate Kosher le Pesaḥ food is Matzo-meal (in Hebrew, qemaḥ maṣa. See here).  Matzo meal is made by finely grinding the maṣot into a breadcrumb-like consistency. According to most Rabbis maṣa crumbs do not become ḥames anymore, even when mixed with water.  The products made with Matzo-meal (the typical Ashkenazi food is Matzah-ball or kneydlekh) do not belong to the category of maṣa 'ashira and, provided they are duly supervised, they are permitted for Sephardim and most Ashkenazim.  Hasidic Jews follow a more stringent rule and do not use Matzo-Meal in Pesaḥ.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hand made Matzah vs. Machine made Matzah

 In general, when an item (or one of its parts) is made to be used for a miṣva, a Tefilin for example, it must be done with the specific intention of being used for the fulfillment of that miṣva.  The leather-straps used for making a Tefilin, for instance, can not be coming from left overs of leather used for manufacturing shoes or other items. The leather to be used to make a Tefilin has to be produced specifically for the purpose of fulfilling the miṣva of Tefilin. Before processing the leather, the artisan says explicitly: leshem miṣvat tefilin, [I'm processing this leather to be used...] for the purpose of the miṣva of Tefilin.
Similarly, in the case of the maṣa ( in English "Matzah") the maṣotthat will be consumed during the first two nights of Pesah (maṣot miṣva) must be elaborated with the purpose of the miṣva of eatingmaṣa. According to some rabbis this purposefulness is part of what gives a maṣa its status of shemura (Rabbi E. Melamed). 

Normally, the maṣot are made by the Jewish workers with this intention in mind. But what about the maṣot that are made mainly by a machine? Do we consider that the "human intentionality" extends, so to speak, from the worker that activates the machinery to the machinery itself, or is this process discontinued as soon as a non-human factor intervenes? Although many rabbis agree that this is the case, to avoid this debate some rabbinic authorities recommend to use for the two nights of Pesah--when eating maṣais mandatory-- a maṣa that was elaborated by hand.

Therefore, if one can find and afford it, one should get hand mademaṣot for the first two nights of Pesah. If not, one can use for the first two nights maṣa shemura made by machine.