Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Bar Mitzvah? Why at 83?

Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently the dad of a friend of mine had a ‘second’ bar mitzvah. I didn’t know this was a thing. Why would someone want to go through all that again?

Darling Bemused,

Come here and let me pinch your cheek. Being called to the Torah as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah shouldn’t be seen as some onerous chore, though at 12-13 most of us did feel that way. Trust me, when it is something you yourself are choosing to do, it’s a different story.

Now to answer your question. In the Pirkei Avot- the Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Tema states that 70 is considered a "ripe old age.” In Psalm 90, Moses says that “the measure of a life is 70 years.” So, if one has the good fortune to live past this age it is as if they are given a second life. By starting at 70 and adding 13, one gets to 83. This is where the age of a second bar mitzvah comes from.

Now there are those who like to point out a) you become a bar mitzvah at 13, whether or not you are called to the Torah. (12 if you are a girl, we advance so much earlier.) 
b) one should be living a life of Torah from that point on, so the idea of a second bar mitzvah is mishegos. — Some people take all the joy out of symbolism.

What these points don’t take into account the spiritual re-connection that this being called for a second bar/bat mitzvah evokes. Any chance to re-connect with one’s Judaism should be honored and a cause for celebration.

As my friends at say so eloquently: May we all merit to live that long!

Tanta Golda

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rice, Corn, Beans...Kosher for Passover or not?

Dear Tanta Golda,

I went to a Seder a few days ago and my hostess was shocked that I had put peas and baby corn into the salad I brought. Peas don't rise, what's the deal?
Pensive and Confused

Dearest Pensive,
Oy! This is a question that comes my way every year. If you know anything about Jews, you know there's no straight forward answer.

The Torah specifically prohibits five grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. That's it. Period. End of discussion. Or is it?

Well, as is typical, certain rabbis felt this wasn't stringent enough. Apparently they they didn't feel they were experiencing the deprivations of the exodus enough. Or maybe they felt their wives had it too easy in the kitchen. Whatever the case - they determined that the list of restricted foods should be larger.

Now, this list of 'extras' various depending on where you trace your ancestry from. Ashkenazi Jews typically also avoid peas - in fact any legume, corn, rice, and sometimes peanuts. These items are referred to as Kitniyot (translated as ‘small things’ )

Sephardim - those who trace their lineage to northern Africa, Israel, or the Iberian Peninsula, have somewhat less stringent prohibitions. Corn and peas may be eaten after being thoroughly checked. Some eat rice, some don't. (as always - if these things are important to your observance, check with your rabbi to see what is acceptable in your community)

Why you may ask? Tanta Golda has been told two possible reasons:
All of the above can be ground into a flour and someone walking by might think you were eating chametz. Apparently the rabbis were afraid of what the neighbors might think and weren't on good enough terms to explain the confusion. Holier-than-thou oneupmanship at its silliness.
Reason number two is that these items were/are often stored near the forbidden items during the rest of the year and might have picked up some minute bits of chametz so that when they are cooked, you would also be ingesting chametz. Really? Only these items might have picked up chametz? Why so selective? Why not just ban everything in the pantry? Such mishegos.
Tanta Golda was very pleased to see that this year two groups agreed with Tanta Golda and ruled that both Ashkenazim and Sephardim should be permitted to eat rice, corn, and kitniyot during Pesach. These groups were the Responsa Committee of the Reform Jewish Movement, and the Responsa Committee of the Israeli Conservative Movement. For more information on the foundation of their decisions you should check out this article.

Passover Food Restrictions Explained

In the end, you should do what your heart says is right when observing Pesach. Me, I'm going to follow the Torah, eat peas and snack on popcorn.

Chag Semeach!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Can You Kabbala?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I recently attended a Tu B’Shevat seder and the Rabbi mentioned the Kabbalists. So, I got to wondering: just what is the Kabbalah? And - is it true that your are supposed to be 40 before your study it?

Curious Questioner

Dearest Questioner,
 An excellent question - especially as we get closer to he holiday of the ‘hidden’ - Purim.
The Kabbala is considered the ‘mystical’ side of Judaism. Now, don’t start thinking crystal balls, turbans and incense. Nor does it imply anything dark or sinister. Rather it is a search for ‘hidden’ inner meaning.

Let me backtrack a little. Most of the Kabbala is found in the Zohar which was ‘revealed’ in the thirteenth century by Moses De Leon. Leon claimed that the Zohar was actually his compilation of rabbinic writings from older sources, especially second century rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. Most scholars think Leon embellished this link to give the Zohar more ancient credibility. Today, mysticism is an integral part of Chasidic Judaism, and the Kabbala is often cited as source material for passages in their prayerbooks.

Now, Tanta Golda has never studied Kabbala herself, so she has relied on her trusted sources to help answer your question. Perhaps the best definition for Kabbalah comes from Tzvi Freeman at He describes it this way: Inside your body breathes a person—a soul. Inside the body of Jewish practice breathes an inner wisdom—the soul of Judaism…
The discovery of this inner wisdom is Kabbala.

Another name for Kabbalah is “Torat ha-Sod.” Commonly mistranslated as “the secret teaching.”
Kabbalah is not a secret teaching. It is the teaching of a secret. Freeman goes on to explain:
“The secret teaching” means that we are trying to hide something from you.
“The teaching of the secret” means that we are trying to teach something to you, to open up and reveal something hidden.

Why should the student of Kabbala be at least 40? Because, by that time one is considered to have attained the maturity to fully understand the questions and answers inherent in its study. In practice, people younger than 40 have studied Kabbala, but only after the person teaching them determined that they possessed the requisite level of maturity. Kabbala purists say that it is something to be studied one-on-one with a well learned teacher, not something to be consumed en masse in a university course, or through ‘popular’ literature.

Does Tanta Golda believe this? Meh. Does her opinion matter? You get to make this determination. Let me close with this anecdote:

Tracey R Rich, with, cites one Orthodox man, who when introducing a speaker on the subject of Jewish mysticism, said basically, "it's nonsense, but it's Jewish nonsense, and the study of anything Jewish, even nonsense, is worthwhile.”

Be well my kindeleh! Keep sending in your questions to