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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Meme - gacked from browngirl

List 5 things which are basic common knowledge in your culture, which people outside are unfamiliar with. This is not about obscurity, but something everyday to you, that others go "bzuh?" at.

Some of this is Orthodox, some is culturally Jewish.

1. Even if you don't keep kosher, drinking milk with a meat dinner is slightly gross.
2. Shrimp are NOT kosher. Neither are Reuben sandwiches.
3. Single people do not bring dates to weddings. If they do (after asking if they can), everyone will assume there will be another wedding in the near future. Consequently, you don't see "and guest" on invitations.
4. "The Holidays" happen in the early fall.
5. Your mother makes the best chicken soup ever.


1. Agree totally. Milk for me is for breakfast or with freshly baked cookies, not with other meals.

2. Shrimp I understand. Why Reuben sandwiches? Is it because of the meat/cheese combination, or is there another reason?

3. Interesting. Thank heavens I didn't marry some of the single people I went with as guests to weddings.

4. What are the early fall holidays for you?

5. In my family tradition it's fried chicken :) Actually, my mother's sister made the best since she was "the cook" in the family.

Very interesting meme--thanks for sharing. I'll have to think about this before I can post my own response.

2. It's the meat and milk thing. Meat and milk is, in fact, more forbidden than either pork or shellfish - one can own pork or shellfish, or have benefit from it (profit or feeding it to a pet, for example), but one cannot own meat-and-milk or have benefit from it. I could feed a cat lobster, but not cheeseburger. (Meat in this case is defined as "from a kosher animal." Feeding one's cat ham and cheese is just fine.) Example - I have a sock yarn that's treated with shrimp and crab chitin. I'm not eating it, so it's perfectly fine for me to knit socks with it. If it were made with a combination of meat and milk products, I couldn't do that.

3. We went through that a few years ago - my brother-in-law took his then-girlfriend. And they broke up a few months later anyway. (He's married to someone else now.)

4. The early fall holidays are the High Holidays - the Jewish New Year, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Celebration of the Torah. They pretty much take up an entire month, and make us wonder why everyone else goes nuts over Thanksgiving (one big meal, no restrictions as to time or place or type of food). Given when the Holidays fall and my own work schedule, I'll be lucky to get in three days at my desk this coming year.)

5. Chicken soup is sacred. :)

Interesting Tidbit - where the dominant culture is Muslim, you can substitute "Pork" for "Shrimp" on number 2. This is because Pork is not generally available so no one eats it anyway, but Muslims are permitted shellfish, so the fact that Jews don't eat shellfish is what they know.

Hmm. Interesting. What about milk/meat? This last, I find, is the most obscure of the dietary restrictions.

I don't know. Morgan and I don't separate them like you do; we take the biblical commandment literally, so the Muslim co-worker who noted with surprise that Jews are forbidden pork (she thought it was JUST shellfish) would not have had the opportunity to make the same observation vis-a-vis milk and meat. I do know that Muslims will combine milk and meat in their cuisines. Pizza with beef Pepperoni is very common in our Arab run Pizza shops.

No goat stroganoff, then?

See my response to MuseClio.
And you know, Toffutti makes a perfectly reasonable Sour Cream replacement so if you want Goat Stroganoff, by all means have at it! Issues of Merat Ayin aside, of course.

I know that. I actually make a very nice faux Beef Stroganoff.

This was my father's line, you see. (Actually, he never ate milk and meat cooked together. Ham, yes. Shrimp and clams, yes. Butter on his corn-on-the-cob and cheese sauce on his broccoli with chicken meals, yes. Ham and cheese, for that matter. But never beef cooked with milk. EVER.)

You take it literally as in no goat baby cooked in the milk of is mother? Not trying to be snarky, am curious.

Pretty Much. I do infer it out to other mammals, so I won't cook meat in the milk of is species. I'll eat a cheeseburger, though, because the meat is no longer cooking and the cheese is no longer milk.

That said, I do often have guests that I DO separate for, and I have the skills and knowledge to do it.

You do know that the Talmud treats cheese exactly the same as milk, right?

And I treat the Talmud (and law codes, and responsa literature) as a fascinating record of prior generations' struggle with the question of how best to implement Torah in their generation. It sometimes saves me reinventing the wheel, it sometimes makes a case that I disagree with. It sometimes shows me a minority opinion that I do agree with. But, when all is said and done, I don't grant it the authority that you do. This is the core difference between Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism - we consult the Halachic tradition for advice, but we draw our own conclusions. My conclusion is that the bulk of the Halacha concerning the separation of milk and meat are fence laws around fence laws around fence laws. At the core of it lies the prohibition on seething a kid in its mother's milk, but the rest? An addition to the law, a deviation to the right. By the time it gets to Maimonides' prohibition on mixing milk with fowl the relation between the praxis and the law d'oraita that inspired it has become so distant as to be lost in the shuffle. This is the way I see it, I understand that for you the Halachic literature is binding, and I respect that. Besides, it means that if we ever share a meal, it will have been you that did the cooking ;)

But, enough of my kefirah; I did not set out to compare Hashkafah, I think we each knows where the other stands.

This isn't a question of Talmud, it's a question of necessary Oral Law passed along at Sinai. Clearly the command of "thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk" cries out for explanation, as does "on it thou shalt not do any creative work" or "slaughter them as I have commanded you" when there was no literal command, or definition of "creative work". These sorts of things are prima facie evidence that there was an Oral Law from the moment of Revelation. Because without the explanations, the Torah would make no sense. Even if you postulate that Moses and his court constructed those explanations, they're still As Old As The Torah.

Another evidence of Oral Law is that major details of the mitzvot are universally agreed to in the Talmud and Midrash. Minor details are argued over, textual derivations are constructed for major details, but the text treats most of the major details as "things we all know are true, we just have to figure out how they are related to the text." So EVERYBODY knew that "eating milk that had been cooked with meat" was forbidden, it was then a Rabbinic exercise to link that with sources in the Biblical text.

So, whatever your view of the Talmud, whether you regard Oral Law as human construct or Divine guidance, know that it has been always, within the living memory of the Jews, regarded as law, not to eat meat & milk that were cooked together (and doesn't the cheese melt when you put it on the burger?). It's not a question of "how best to implement Torah in their generation" (which a lot of it really is), but a question of "always-accepted law".

And it's not "Maimonides' prohibition", it's Rabbinic i.e. Sanhedrin. You're off by over a thousand years. You've got to follow the paper trail. Fortunately, in the 15-1700s, numerous commentators constructed cross-reference notes in the major texts, so you can follow an idea up & down between Torah, Midrash, Talmud, Maimonides, Shulchan Aruch, later commentators, etc.

See, this is my problem with the Reform position of "study the Law and decide for yourself which parts are relevant to you". The Reform system doesn't give you the tools to actually study the Law. Too many people are working only from English translations, which have their own agendas.

You're not dealing with something that's a later accretion, it's something that even in the time of the Talmud was taken to be "how we've always done it, so we may as regard it as having come from Sinai". Chicken and milk, that's Rabbinic legislation. But beef and milk, that's settled Torah law.

And you're probably going to dismiss this as "Oh, that's Orthodox", but the ideas you're talking about, they come with a paper trail, at least to the Talmud and Halachic Midrashim, which predate the Mishna.


I'll agree that the Mishna is a codification of tradition as it stood in its day, but I don't know if I'd go so far as saying that those traditions are "as old as Torah." The Mishnah recorded the state of practice as it was at the time of its authorship. But practice changes more quickly than one might think.

A quick example: I remember a time when Honey Cake made from Matzah Meal was a very common Passover treat. It has, in recent years, been becoming harder and harder to find as Non-Gebrokts cakes displace them. The practice of avoiding eating Gebrokts seems to me to be a relatively recent phenomenon, but I expect that in a generation or so, in certain communities, it will be regarded as a miSinai practice.

I would like you to point me to the first source you know of for the Chicken/Milk thing, because you have me curious.

As for Reform not giving people the tools to actually study the Law, I can't really argue with that. However, I have been doing my level best to buck that trend, learning biblical and mishnaic Hebrew; that Translation is Interpretation is a given, and I am perennially grateful for having acquired the ability to encounter the texts in the original.

Reform is, itself, also udergoing some slow changes on that front. Reform schools are teaching more praxis than they have in prior generations and Reform rabbis are graduating from HUC with a stronger grounding in Halachah than in the past. Our young people are learning Hebrew, our Gerim are learning Hebrew, and more and more attention is being paid to text study.

How far back does the paper trail for the Halachic Midrashim go? What are the textual sources, what remains extant? I do realize there is quite a lot of stuff at Qumran that attests to a textual tradition, but it sounds like you may be aware of other materials as well.

Not much of a paper trail. But the midrashim are the *old* way of organizing ideas, by parsha in the Torah coupled with free association by similar words. Rebbi's revolution in the Mishnah was to organize things topically.

As for Qumran, 4QMMT indicates that the Pharisaic view of history, where the Rabbis had the upper hand in deciding how things would be done in the Temple, is accurate, because the Qumran people, who seem to be Sadducees (per Lawrence Schiffman), argue on positions taken in the Mishna and Baraitot - which were composed by the Pharisees and their successors the Rabbis.

So there's indirect evidence that the body of knowledge that we call the "Oral Torah", which became the Mishna and Talmud, existed at least 100-150 years before the Common Era, in that the Qumranites were arguing against it.

The halachic midrashim are often considered to have originated before the Mishna.

Chicken and milk being Rabbinic legislation is in Mishnah Chullin ch. 8, explained on p116a in the Talmud. Potential explanations for the three repetitions of "thou shalt not seethe" are in one of the halachic midrashim, I don't remember which, brought in English (where I saw it) in Neusner's "Introduction to the Midrash". The final one, that the ban is on cooking, eating and benefiting, is brought down in the Gemara Chullin 115b. Even so, they found alternate derivations for cooking and benefiting in isolation.

And there are too few Reform schools. I know the elementary-school librarian at Rodeph Sholom - he goes to my Orthodox synagogue in Flatbush. A former neighbor went through Reform Hebrew school and Hebrew High School for 10 years, and realized at the end that she had learned nothing. So she started going to Orthodox sources & schools, to try to find out about Judaism. She's about my age, early 40s, so maybe things have changed, but my impression from the debates over trying to introduce more "traditional" practice (in the early drafts of the 1999 Pittsburgh Principles) is that too many Reform Jews complained "you're trying to make us Orthodox".

Looking at that list, from what, about 10 years ago, of more traditional things to introduce, well, they weren't Orthodox readings of those practices. Which shows simply that lots of Jews don't even know about the reality of other groups within Judaism, only the picture painted by their own leaders with their own agendas. I see similar ignorance among Orthodox Jews, myself included.

We're all age-mates. The state of Conservative Jewish Education was similarly dreadful when I grew up in the Conservative movement. I spent some time in an Orthodox youth group as a teen, but it just didn't work for me. I found a home in Reform Judaism as an adult. I am consistently blown away by what the Reform religious school at my shul puts out in the way of knowledgable young Jews; It blows what I grew up with in Conservative and what my Friend Scott grew up with in Reform right out of the water.

If the movement decides its going to adopt stuff and the adults don't want to do it? The movement implements it in the Religious schools and camps. Its created quite a lot of generational tension in the movement, but the kids coming up can hold their own among Conservative and even MO peers. I envy them for getting a better education than I did, but I'm proud too that its happening.

It took me a long time to accept the idea that, given the Written Torah, the existence and coeval revelation of an Oral Torah, in fact THE Oral Torah which we continue to have today, was necessary. Belief in the divinity and continuity of the Oral Torah was the last hurdle before I could call myself Orthodox.

Studying two books, that I can only think their authors would be horrified at the minimalist positions I derived from their writing, helped me to this position: Maimonides' Introduction to the Mishnah Commentary, and R' Zvi Lampel's "The Dynamics of Dispute".

As I see it, there are things that had to have been given with the Written Torah to make it comprehensible - kosher slaughter, meat&milk, the Sabbath labors, and the 13 exegetical principles among them. Also the 37 "laws of Moses at Sinai" - details that are a) universally accepted, b) never disputed, c) do not have a scriptural derivation. If they weren't given at Sinai, they are treated as such, because of the above three reasons. The fact that Qumran tefillin, from a sect that opposed the Rabbis on major halachic issues, from a period 350 years before the Mishnah, follow the same rules as we do, bolsters that.

Beyond that, other major details of mitzvot are treated as Toraitic if they are derivable by the 13 Principles from the Torah text. So whether they were given at Sinai or not, they are treated as such, particularly those where it's pretty clear the text is constructing a derivation for a pre-existing rule.

As for the telephone game, which was my problem with the question of accurate transmission, well, first off, there are the undisputed rules. So we can take them as accurately transmitted, because of massive error checking.

Further, the Oral Torah was a more live document, unwritten. So if I posit God's hand in the universe, even to the limited extent of Maimonides, I am driven to conclude that whether it is exactly what was given at Sinai or not, it is what God willed the Law to be as of the time of its being written down.

As an analogy, if we were to find Moses' holograph Torah scroll, and there were textual differences between that and our scrolls, we would not be obligated to revise our texts, because God willed that the Torah be written as we have it today. History happened, and God directs history, at least for the Jews, because of our special relationship with Him.

That's how the Oral Torah works for me. However, Reform Judaism doesn't work for me:

The rationalizations of Jews 150 years ago, tempted by the open society of Enlightenment, all too quick to throw off observance, hold little water for me. Nonobservance came first (starting in the 1780s-90s), then the synagogues of non-observants, who started to call themselves Reform Jews (the Hamburg Temple in 1817), and only 25-30 years after that did we start to see textual rationalizations of nonobservance, from Abraham Geiger and co. 50 years after people were throwing off observance.

So Reform as an intellectual continuation of tradition doesn't impress me. Judaism has laws that were universally accepted for 1850 years at least, and then some people threw them off and rationalized it. That's not a legal position that can be considered to actually dispute the Law, that's just a totally new system.

The Torah is our Declaration of Independence, our founding document whose literal reading is not taken to be dispositive; the Mishnah the Constitution of Rabbinic Judaism (and all Judaisms today are descended from Rabbinic/Pharisaic Judaism); the Talmud and responsa and codes the later legal literature.

That a bunch of guys decided to go off and start a militia on a Hamburg ranch and throw off the Constitution, doesn't change the binding nature of the Constitution, we're just not in a position to enforce it today.

As an analogy, if we were to find Moses' holograph Torah scroll, and there were textual differences between that and our scrolls, we would not be obligated to revise our texts, because God willed that the Torah be written as we have it today.

I agree that we would not be obligated to revise our texts, but I differ with you on the reasons. לא בשמים היא is the text that comes to mind. Torah is in our hands, and scribal errors, whatever when may think of the divine hand in them, become part of our tradition.

History happened, and God directs history, at least for the Jews, because of our special relationship with Him.

I'm frightened to ask what this means to you post-Holocaust. If I see God's hand in that, or in Rwanda, or in Darfur then the Angry Atheism of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens has the potential to look good. But thankfully no, I see a God who, like a parent who knows that the children must be allowed to learn from their mistakes, does not direct history, but rather who looks on in frustration wishing he could intervene, but knowing that his doing so would do nothing to foster our maturation is a people or as a species.

Lo bashamayim hee, exactly. History happens. Sinai was a long time ago, but we have to do the best we can with what remains of the authentic Revelation.

As for God after the Holocaust, yes, I know there are those who claim that the Holocaust was caused by Reform. I abhor that, not least because it leads to a contradiction of the fundamental life-choice of those who make such claims.

That is, if the Holocaust is some kind of revelation of God's will for the relative goodness of various ways of Jewish life, then clearly Reform and Modern Orthodoxy are the way to go, because the US was completely spared, German Jews had six years to get away, but Poland, Russia, Austria-Hungary, etc. had nowhere to go, and all died. God saved the Reform and the liberal German Orthodox, and destroyed the Orthodox and Chasidic strongholds in Poland and Ukraine and Hungary.

So it's a claim that destroys itself.

If I see the Hand of God in the Holocaust at all, it would be in Hitler opening up a third front, and stepping up the Final Solution, and thus overextending himself, so that there would be a saving remnant. He did not allow Hilter to win, and thus kill all the Jews in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The prophecies say there will always be a saving remnant, and that's the extent to which God intervened. A small change, just to make Hilter burn himself out before everything was lost.

As for Rwanda or Darfur, that too draws me towards the limited view of Divine Providence proffered by Maimonides. The Chasidim and Kabbalists talk about angels guiding every blade of grass, but Maimonides talks about individual Divine Providence extending only to Jews, and even then perhaps only to the righteous. Otherwise, He only uses General Providence for the human species, as he would for any other species - spotted owls or blue whales. What one population does to another, as long as it doesn't involve the Jews, is really their own doing.

And as most of the world only understands military might as the true power, is it any wonder the Messiah is supposed to be a military leader? so that the world will come to recognize God in that era? that My House be called a House of Prayer for all the nations?

I still remember being surprised, and then sheepish, about shellfish.

...I really didn't mean all that alliteration.

It's a mistake I've seen a lot, actually. Shellfish isn't as pervasive a food as bacon, I guess.