What is the interplay between story and law? The anecdote and scene, the strict ladder of if then, what?
Now, people are arguing over beans and rice, whether to eat them or not on Passover. It’s just the Conservative Jews, those who care about law but believe we have the right and the wisdom to interpret it.
The Orthodox, in their strict adherence to the right of us, are cleaning kitchens, dusting out corners, wrapping appliances and books in foil or packing them away to not dare transgress someone’s ancient interpretation of law.
And the Reform to our left have long embraced their belief in individuality and personal choice so law is never the crux of observance. Community is. Maybe God. Maybe personal spiritual attainment.
So where are we in the thoughtful middle?
The law forbids Jews to eat or own leavened foods, chametz, for the seven days of Passover. We already have fences around the law. We sell our chametz to Gentiles and duct tape our cupboards for the week so we don’t dare consume someone else’s bounty.
For those of us outside of Israel, our punishment for living in the Diaspora is an extra day, an eight-day holiday of restrictions and strictures.
And then there are the different customs between Jews of European origin and those from Africa and Spain and Asia. Ashkenazim, from the shtetls of Poland and Russia, don’t eat kitnyot or legumes. No beans. No rice. Sephardim eat all of that but not corn. Only Israeli Jews eat corn on Passover, regardless of where their ancestors originated.
It’s all a lot of mumbo jumbo of control, of no, of rigidity, of I can’t, and I have a really hard time finding the beauty at all.
So the Conservative rabbis who inhabit the middle ground, dwindling in number, but ever fierce in their fight to marry tradition with modernity, ruled this year that kitnyot are fine. “Go ahead, slather peanut butter on your matzah. Serve lentil soup at your Seder.”
It was never really law anyway.
We only believed it so. And in our competitions to be right, righteous and accepted in our communities, we’ve spent all the years of our lives until now buying special packages marked kosher for Passover, sealed in tight plastic wrap, a thousand dollars or more in the hole for one single week.
There is admiration and appall at building fences around the law in the Jewish world. Some people believe they’re being extra stringent, extra careful, they care so much about God that they won’t dare come close to violating one of the commandments.
But then there are the people who say, enough. I’ve had enough. I believe in my heart that love will reign and if I am mindful of the spirit of the law, I will follow its letter.
During the 10 years that I was Orthodox, my ex’s family used to prohibit grape juice matzah and egg matzah from the holiday. Although it was stamped kosher for Passover by the certifying bodies they deemed worthy of following, they locked the boxes away in the cupboard.
I was sad. Egg matzah has a sweetness that reminded me of all the things I liked about this holiday.
And then, on day eight, they brought out the boxes, and set them on the table.
“Go ahead – eat – they’re fine for today,” they said.
I never understood it. Not kosher enough for seven days but turn a corner onto day eight and all was well. As if law is only there as inspiration for personal choice and as long as you have a good story to wrap around it, all is well in the world.