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Menachem's Story Blog

Having a Happy Purim
and Surviving Mishloach Manot

I guess it is a harder concept to understand than I thought. To me by now, I suppose, it has become obvious, second nature.

But I have to admit it wasn't always obvious to me either. One of correspondents, David, reminded me, in response to my earlier ramblings on the topic of not eating animals, "I had a Bnei Akiva madrich in Sydney [I guess he means me, though I don't recall the specific conversation] many moons ago, that told me that a Jew cannot be vegetarian because we must eat basar vedagim, meat and fish, on Shabbat and Chag."

My answer to him was honest, though not overly satisfying. I was merely repeating what my Rabbis taught me, Ein simcha bli basar -- there is no rejoicing without meat. But I now know this is an out of context quotation. It is talking about meat consumption in the Beit haMikdash, the Holy Temple of Yerushalayim. But even this may not be entirely true.

I look forward to eat partaking in the Korban Pesach, the Pascal Lamb, every seder night. An annual piece of flesh.

Even the Shlamim sacrifice comprises a variety of breads, in addition to the animal parts. And many korbanot have an option of bringing a Mincha, a meal offering, a type of oil cooked cake sacrifice, perhaps similar to doughnuts. Again, to repeat my premise, even in the Temple, other than on Passover, you didn't have to eat meat. Of course the Priestly class had more of problem, but other than to say that the Talmud does mention many Cohanim suffering from an intestinal disease due their high level of meat consumption . . . but I won't go there today.

I also noted to David, though I'm not sure of the relevance of my comment, that the words of the Shabbath Zmiroth are "meat and fish". As no observant Jew would eat fish after meat, what is the song trying to teach us?

Another correspondent, Esther, wrote, "It's about 'elevating the holy sparks' that are in the meat. Before the flood, it was like a 'direct exchange -- and they were vegetarians', after the flood, the whole process changed and became as such: the mineral gets elevated by the vegetable (grass "pumping" [sic] the minerals to grow) then the grass gets its own elevation though the cow eating it, then the cow 's turn by the Jew eating it . . . no need to eat so much, a little piece on Shabbos is enough . . .  (There is also another commentary saying that because Noah helped to save all the animals, he got a kind of moral right, so to speak, to consume meat)
gut Shabbos"

This is all very nice, bringing me pieces of Kabbalah. My general view of the application of the "hidden texts" follows, like most of my Jewish practice, the thinking of the Vilna Gaon. He states clearly that, in the absence of a clear ruling, we always follow the revealed halacha in preference to the unrevealed. I am only aware of one ruling in which the Gaon rules according to the Kabbalah, the wearing of Tefilin on the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot, Hol haMoed.

So while the stages of elevation mentioned seem like a nice idea, someone please tell me why it is relevant to my culinary behaviour. Why do I need a cow as an intermediary to elevate the vegetable? And what about all the squandered vegetable material that is frittered away by the world's pigs and elephants. That poor spark, loaded in a blade of grass eaten by these impure animals, has now been delegated to the a terrible fate. If we are to have an intelligent discussion, please bring concepts that an average Jew like me can comprehend.

As for just "a little piece on Shabbos is enough", logically speaking if each bite of cow or goat I eat elevates x sparks, then gorging half a dozen steaks each night -- perhaps x multiplied by 1,000 -- will raise the roof.

As for Noah, his passenger list included seven of each ritually pure animal as opposed to only two of "the animals that are not pure". Two ensured the survival of these species. However the five additional pure beasts were there for the ride, only to provide "sacrifices" after the flood, on dry land. Part of this sacrifice, I assume, as in the Temple services, allowed Noah to "eat" a portion after burning another.

The midrashim offer many reasons why man was now allowed to eat meat. My favourite, as I have noted before, is that pre Alluvion Man was probably "illegally" consuming flesh and now God "decided" to now sanction its ingestion, albeit with some restriction. The restriction, if fulfilled, serves to enhance God's status in the world. Though, given this permit, the Torah always refers to meat eating, outside of the ritual, as "lustful consumption".

Purim earlier today brought it all home to me. Sometimes you feel you're banging your head against a wall. I am not eating as I do out of missionary conviction, though I do believe I have a true message, as Rav Kuk wrote, that will, at the End of Times, also become obvious to all and this universal.

I have for years been making, I think, and my neighbours seems to be waiting for it to arrive each year, very interesting Mishloach Manot. For example I was making "Strawberry-Banana" juice for years before Prigat turned it into a big hit here in Israel -- and my version was pure, unadulterated fruit, not a liquid, saturated with refined cane sugar. The rabbi's wife won't let him eat any mishloach manot other than mine -- not to say that he doesn't sneak in some junk while she's answering the door.

This year I went to a lot of effort to bake whole wheat bread rolls -- two varieties, one with red onions and another batch with sunflower seeds -- Mmm mmm. I made hummus (a smooth, thick mixture of mashed chickpeas, tahina [sesame seed paste], oil, lemon juice, cumin and garlic) and some of my superspecial lentel paté. And for drinks, this year I introduced a new line, though not as original as my Strawberry-Banana brew. On our visit to New York fifteen months ago, we discovered Blossom Café, a "gourmet vegan" restaurant in uptown Manhattan -- it really is gourmet -- we love eating there -- we've consumed every item on the menu. Among their specialties are fruit and vegetable juices. They may charge seven bucks a glass, but we usually drink two each with every meal. Their menu lists the ingredients, but of course not the quantities (it may not be a secret; I never asked).

Sunday was Juice Experiment Day. I settled on two juices from the menu, I guess with my own twist. I gave each of my recipients a cup of "Ruby Red" and second of "Adam & Eve". Ruby Red comprises apples, carrots, pineapple and beetroot, and comes out a deep, dark red. It was a biiger hit than the Adam & Eve beverage, probably because Adam & Eve is made of carrots, apples and ginger. I love ginger, but it may have been a tad too strong sapor for my clientèle. Initially I put in too much ginger and had to juice more carrots and apples to dilute the sharpness.

Our friends are aware of our weird epicure, and I think have problems accepting it, living with it. I admit that the diet presents social difficulty, for example when inviting us over for a meal -- so we don't get invited out as much.

But it runs deeper. They are really unable to comprehend our lifestyle choice, much like the madrich quoted above. This is not meant to be a criticism of our friends. It is human nature to have trouble accepting what you have difficulty understanding.

Campbell in the China Study states that he does not label himself as "vegan". While I sometimes do use this label to define myself to people (other times as "vegetarian, but I don't eat milkstuff, fish or eggs which includes mayonnaise"), I know it is not a truth. My friend Menachem Berger introduces me as "the guy who won't eat anything that has a mother". Now that's not too bad a definition.

Campbell says that one can be a vegan and eat gelato and drink Coca-Cola all day long, clearly not the "healthy" direction he has adopted as result of his research. He prefers to define himself as living on a "whole food, plant based diet". This is an accurate definition. We don't eat anything refined: not white flour, white rice nor white sugar. Edible seeds should be sproutable -- if they don't sprout they have undergone refinement -- and by the way, sprouting them before preparation has many positive attributes.

I don't like the use of the word "diet" in Campbell's formulation. I know that putting your finger on an exact definition, imparting the connotative meaning, can be difficult, but calling this form of choosing one's food a "diet" puts me into the same ballpark as fad weight loss diets, Atkins, New Beach or fruit juice only for two weeks to name a few. I am not on a diet. I am not doing this for a few days, weeks or months.

And I think all of this together is the major source of our difficulty. Our friends know we don't eat "milk" chocolate -- well they don't drink milk -- but chocolate which is 50% to 60% is just a candy that has 40% to 50% refined sugar and a chocolate flavour. 100% fruit juice is good, but "fruit nectar" is 60% to 70%, perhaps higher, pure white sugar! The chocolate industry defines "dark chocolate" as containing a minimum of 70% solid cocoa content. I now only eat at least 85% content -- my current, strong, preference is for Lindt. But the power of commercialism brings about "I especially sent you dark chocolate". The Elite chocolate company has convinced the Israeli market that 60% is dark and distinguished.

Sixty percent is not great; lack of milk is not all that I care about; my taste buds now expect 85% -- less is too sweet. Yes, your tastes change when you eat real food and drop salt.

Nectar is not juice! Nor is a tofu-oil mix, with the requisite large dose of salt, sugar and some unspecified "flavours and smells" [not even claiming to be "natural"] added, held together by a nameless emulsifier, disguised as butter or cheese, food -- and possibly not even digestible.

People don't want to understand that food producers don't care about your health. No matter what they say. We're a trusting tribe. Manufacturers will aim to meet the minimum required "legal" requirements. Why would they waste money [=profits=bottomline] on your health and welfare? Most consumers always buy a cheaper alternative. Nectar is cheaper than juice because refined sugar is cheaper than fruit. I use silaan, thick sweet date juice or maple syrup, for cooking and other sweetening functions. Most stores, including "health food" shops, stock two, almost identical, bottles of each. One is [more than] double the price of the other. Why? Because one contains 100% dates or maple, and the cheaper alternative, maybe fifty percent, the remainder made up of pure sucrose, refined sugar!

My plea to you is, that even if you are not (yet) prepared to take the plunge and eat "correctly", at least understand those that have already swimming in the deep water.


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