Friday, March 2, 2001

Shabbat-O-gram, March 3, 2001

 Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

(This week's Online Spiritual Journey is found at the bottom of this O-Gram)


Purim -- Megillah Reading: 6:30 Thursday evening

On Purim it is a mitzvah to hear the Megillah, to give at least one package of gifts of food (Mishloach manot) to a neighbor, to give to at least two poor people (Matanot l'evyonim) and to enjoy a festive Purim meal (Seudat Purim).

Shabbat Candlelighting on Friday: 5:38 PM

Kabbalat Shabbat service: 8:00

Shabbat Morning: Pesukey d'zimra (preliminary service) 9:15 AM. Shacharit at 9:30. Mazal Tov to Mark Shlyankevich, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.

Children's Services: 10:30 (in the Chapel and Kindergarten room)

Torah Portion (Tetzaveh). The Learn Torah With commentary can be found at
and Chancellor Schorsch's commentary at
Because of its proximity to various special Sabbaths that have their own special prophetic portions, the Haftorah for Tetzaveh is rarely read.  Rarer yet is the occurrence when it is read for a second year in a row, as is the case this year.  The last time it was read three years in a row, according to Rabbi Shelly Switkin, was 1976,77,78.  The next time? 2098, 99 and 2100.  Why does this matter?  Well, for one, because it's my Bar Mitzvah Haftorah.

Because this is really a three-day Purim weekend (see last week's O-Gram), we'll be talking about the Book of Esther at services on Shabbat morning, asking the question, "Where does fiction start and history end?"

Shabbat Ends: 6:30 PM Saturday

Mazal Tov to Aryn Lieberman and Matthew Grossman, who will be married on Saturday night, and to parents Sam and Naomi Lieberman and Jerome and Phyllis Grossman.

Daily Minyan: Sunday at 9, weekdays at 7:30 AM. While we normally do have at least ten at each service, please e-mail me to let me know if you wish to be here for a yahrzeit and want to make sure we have a minyan that day.


Bring creative noisemakers and come in costume (adults too). We'll have lots of prizes and surprises, fun for all ages! Purim is not just for Kiddies anymore. It's a time for all of us to exclaim to the world how proud we are to be Jews and to see just how much fun being Jewish can be.
Join me on Sunday, March 11, at 8:45 or at 11 AM, for an introduction to the fascinating and confusing world of Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. This fourth grade family program (for our Religious School and Bi-Cultural fourth grade families) is also open to the entire congregation. You've got questions? We've got answers!

MINI PARLOR CONCERT: Sunday, March 18, 11-Noon, featuring the family Pasternak in a delightful mini-concert of instrumental and vocal arrangements of Klezmer, Hebrew, Israeli and Yiddish music. Pre-concert reception at 10:30

By popular demand, we'll be organizing an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class within the next few months, with the goal of completing the course in about a year and preparing for an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah service in May of 2002. The course of study will be taught by our senior staff and include some synagogue skills and a basic overview of Jewish history, customs and ceremonies and texts. We will gladly accommodate all levels of Hebrew proficiency. If you are at all interested, please contact the education office (322-6901 X306).

YOM HA-SHOAH: The Legacy of the Generations
This year's community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day program, to be held here on the evening of April 19, will focus on the second and third generations of survivors. If you are a child or grandchild of a survivor and would be interested in sharing your story, please let me know. How have the stories you grew up with changed your life? What do you feel is your special legacy or obligation as the descendant of a survivor? The program will feature brief testimonies given by people of all ages, including children, and we will be collecting additional written testimonies to be distributed that night.

The Council of Churches & Synagogues invites you to the sixth offering in its "Christian Jewish Perspectives Series", Mar. 20, 7:30 p.m. at the JCC of Stamford. "Spirituality vs. Organized Religion" featuring Rabbi Joshua Hammerman and Rev. Dr. James Kowalski, St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) Workshop, March 18, 12-2:30 PM, at Agudath Sholom.  It is very important that more Beth El members participate in this vital organization that does such important and work in preparing Jews for burial in a dignified and loving way.  For more information, contact Stephen and Penny Block at 316-0519.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism first-ever Tri-Regional Shabbaton/Convention: Mar. 23-25, hosted by Congregation Knesset Israel - Pittsfield, MA. For information call (800) 594-7098.

We're doing it again! "BOOKS & VIDEOS 4-KIDS" A program designed to share children's books and children's videos (new or used, but in good condition) with kids who need them. Please donate your books/videos and place them in the box near the Temple office, and we'll make sure they get to agencies which help kids here and in Israel. Funds are also needed to pay for shipping them to Israel. Collection will take place Mar. 1 - 30. Sue and Alison Greenwald, 329-1662.

BETH EL CARES, the social action arm of Temple Beth El, has begun a letter writing campaign to the soldiers in Israel to let them know we care and are thinking of them. You may write whatever is in your heart.Special Beth El Cares cards are available in the synagogue office for FREE. You may use your own stationery or cards if you wish. Everyone can participate…adults and children. School age children may write a card and younger children may draw a picture.Because the Israeli government cannot give out names, you can address your card to "Dear Friend" or whatever salutation you choose. Please bring your cards back to the
synagogue office where they will be sent collectively to Israel. Beth El Cares will pay for the postage.

Check out the photos from last week's dinner dance (including a new roll just added), as well as up to the minute information on TBE, at

Currently on (to subscribe to our bi-weekly e-letter updating you about the latest features on, go to
Our jobs and announcements board constantly has new listings:  check out opportunities like civil rights and social justice fellowships, student service and activism conferences, National Youth Service Day, community service jobs, and more!
Here’s our offering of features and resources for Purim (March 9-10)
·       Wondering where to give your Purim tzedakkah? Danny Siegel and his extraordinary mitzvah heroes can help.
·       Who Tells Our Tales?: How can broadening the perspectives in “official” tellings of history empower social activists of all kinds?

Looking to download a good Jewish calendar for your desktop?  Try You'll like it!


Spiritual Journeys on the Web: The Great Debate -- Latkes vs. Hamentaschen

There have been many great debates in world history: Lincoln vs. Douglas, the Scopes trial, and of course that all time classic, "tastes great" vs "less filling." Jews have been avid debate fans ever since Abraham took it to the limit with God over the future of Sodom. But no debate has stirred up Jewish passions over the years more than the one that we feature today: Latkes vs. Hamentaschen. And so it is only natural that this great debate has spilled over onto the pages of the Web. Dozens of sites analyze this great match-up, giving it the hype it deserves. This is the Super Bowl of Kosher Culinary Combat. And for rabbis and academicians, this is the Super Bowl of "pilpul," the art of taking Talmudic logic to absurd extremes.

1) Setting the Stage

Why the Big To-Do about Latkes and Hamentaschen? A good "taste" of what's at stake is presented poetically at, where Rabbi Scott Curdin writes:

Of all Jewish foods
for eatin' and noshin'
none is as great as a
big hamentaschen.

"Now hold on one minute,"
perhaps you might say,
"I beg to differ
and contend right away...

... that there is one other food
that Jews love and do savor
for its wonderful taste
and its delicate flavor.

Observe here the latke,
what a joy to behold,
with its glorious flavor
all crispy and gold.

So the stage is set, and the stakes are high indeed. Two delicious foods, two joyous holidays, one stomach, so little time... According to, the debate has a long, illustrious history. From its roots at the University of Chicago over fifty years ago, the question of the superiority of the latke or the hamentaschen has been a subject of spirited debate across the country. Williams Professor Steven Gerrard gives his proof in favor of the Hamentaschen at If you can figure it out, you're a better person than I.

2) The Feminist Analysis

Spinning its way around Cyberspace for several years now is a fascinating feminist critique by U Penn professor Robin Leidner, found at Whatever you do, don't forget to read the footnotes!  Leidner makes a persuasive argument, based on considerable fieldwork, that "when one takes into account the gendered division of labor, family power dynamics, norms of sociability, and the structural conditions of participation in a late-capitalist, post-industrial economy, the hamentash is far more suitable for incorporation into the feminist vision of an
egalitarian and non oppressive future than is the latke."

Carrying the feminist approach perhaps a bit too far, this past Purim at Mount Holyoke College, one professor argued for the hamentash side while wearing a triangular g-string, positing that the pastry is a more appropriate taste treat for a woman's school given the its similarity to the female anatomy.  A psychology professor countered with Pavlov's research on salivating dogs, which indicated that circular stimuli (aka latkes) induced more doggie drool than triangular stimuli (aka hamentaschen). His latke-teammate, an economics professor, admitted he'd never actually seen either food until that day but nonetheless "invoked complex economic theories and argued that 'the hamantasch alleges a center that will hold, but we know in this society that the center will not hold.'"

3) The Halachic Approach:

I read about the Mount Holyoke debate at In that article, entitled "Ah Love to Latke Baby," Marjorie Ignall also informs us that,

"Latke recipes are a huge source of obsessiveness, self-righteousness and control-freakitude. Should one rinse the grated potatoes? Does one press out the moisture with a paper towel? Onion or no? Is a food processor permissible or must the latkes be laced with bloody knuckle chunks to be kosher? According to halachic expert Professor Raphael Finkel of the University of Kentucky, one must "slaughter the potato with a quick double cut, holding the knife so the blade is facing up, attacking the potato from underneath. If there are any eyes on the potato, they must be facing up, so the potato doesn't see the knife coming. The stroke must sever at least the main artery of the potato, although according to Rambam, this is difficult with our modern potatoes, which have no arteries."

Continuing along those lines, we find this Halachic tour de force at (I've edited out the Yeshiva-speak slightly to make it more accessible to the general reader)

A). You can only make 1 bracha on a Latke; while if you eat the dough and filling separately, you can make 2 brachas [Boray Minay M'zonot and BVoray P'ri Ha'etz]. We all know that 2 brachas are better than 1.

B). The whole essence of the mitzvah of latkes is something secondary to the actual latke - namely the oil. Hamentaschen
on the other hand has its essence tied into the actual hamentash - not what it's cooked in! Also, by baking the hamentash with a little oil sprayed on the cookie sheet, you can even fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah on Purim!

C). You can make a m'zuman [quorum?] on the basis of a single person eating hamentaschen (it has to be of sufficient quantity that you would wash and bentch on ) (to say Grace after Meals). How is this? (It surprised me too until I figured out the answer). The hamentash has 3 corners- which obviously is in remembrance of the 3 Patriarchs (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov). Now if you're eating something in honor of them, don't you think that at least 2 of them would answer when you bentshed?

And finally, check out another Beth El,, to find this undeniable claim in favor of the Hamentaschen:

You know what happens when you put one latke upside down on top of another? You get two latkes - one on top of the other. But put a hamentaschen upside down on top of another. A Star of David, that’s what you get- that’s Jewish content!

4) Nosh This Way

Check out for a number of Latke and Hamentash links. I also saw some nice serious stuff at this site, in a side bar about why Jews make such a big deal about food anyway. As Reb Moshe Waldoks once put it, "Noshing is sacred." So, nu, why?

"Food and its preparation have become the soul of a people. A Jew, strongly influenced by his dietary laws, is careful of what he eats. Food, therefore is elevated to the level of his spiritual needs. Almost everything that a Jew chooses as food has either symbolic value or is connected with some aspect of the history of his people. The Jew has faith in his food; and it is a faith that encompasses the wholeness of his life. His chicken soup, to choose just one day-to-day example, is another version of snake-oil, elixir, panacea, "good for what ails you." It is pure mysticism, suggesting that the faith of a people lay in their habits and grow out of them.

The Jew's deep belief in food, his conception of its healing powers, the elan of eating and dinner table wisdom, without which a meal becomes a chore, is inseparable from his formalized inclinations. Judaism, what a Jew believes, and Jewishness, how he lives, become the same thing. All religions have an assortment of festivals, ceremonies, or holidays. Some of these involve the exchange of gifts, some a trip to the country; unforgettable works of art have been created in their names. They are all aspects of a paraphernalia that enlarges a religion and welds its adherents to it. This is how ritual nourishes and replenishes mystique. The Jewish faith includes all or much of this sort of ritual in the orchestration of its religious life; but it has added one unique aspect which keeps the Jew in daily touch with the spirit and evolution of himself: food. This causes a fact which is not as regrettable as it is astounding: A Jew can stop believing in the rules of his religion and still be a Jew. No other religion, I believe, can make that statement."

5) So, it's Hamentaschen by a Knockout?

The Purim pastry clearly is the favorite on the Web. But think about it. When, after all, do we have these debates? On Purim, naturally, when Purim Torah (i.e. Pilpul) is so prevalent. That gives the H-tasch an unfair "home kitchen" advantage. When we approach Purim, we're just coming off of Hanukkah (eight days of latkes) and haven't had a hamentasch in nearly a year.  We've been shedding off latke pounds for a couple of months and the Clearasil bill hasn't been fully paid.  No wonder the latke suffers in these debates.

So I tried one more tack: I searched on Napster. Fortunately, the Napster filters haven't taken hold yet (once they do, we'll be able to download only the Star Spangled Banner, some versions of Kol Nidre and a few Gregorian Chants). One song was there for Hamentaschen. But then I plugged in "Latke" and sure enough, suddenly the page was full (mostly with Debbie Friedman's Latke song, but there's a Klezmer one too).  In the music world at least, the Latke reigns.

When you think about it, the two foods are really complementary. The Hamentasch symbolizes the quintessential Diaspora festival of Purim, yet is eaten by far more people in Israel than over here. Purim is HUGE in Israel, even when extremists try to spoil the fun (which seems to happen much too often); but Purim is only beginning to find its legs over here. Meanwhile, the latke symbolizes the greatest victory of the Jewish people fighting for freedom in the land of Israel --- and yet that delicacy is far, far more popular in the Diaspora than in Israel. In Israel, the Ashkenazic latke takes a back seat to the sufgania, the jelly doughnut, also fried in oil.  What we need to do is synthesize the two festivals. Maybe we need to create a triangular sufgania.  Make it Pesachdik, fill it with apples and honey and fry it like a blintz, and you've got the perfect Jewish holiday food!

6) Bottom Line.

This thing is so big that even the Universalists are getting into the act, at

Maybe it would be best to heed the wise words found at There, Rabbi Paul Root Wolpe of the University of Pennsylvania, declares, "After pondering the question deeply for ten or fifteen minutes, I determined that a fundamental flaw has been made in the choices of cuisine offered. Any true historian of Jewish cuisine knows that neither the latke nor the hamentaschen is the true, primordial, undisputed champion of Jewish cuisine. No, there is a food more basic by far." His choice?  Why, herring, of course. 

7) The Real Bottom Line:

The latke wins. Why? Because I like 'em better.

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