Many religious rituals are very literalistic. During Passover, we cannot eat leavened bread because the Israelites feeling Egypt had no time to let their bread rise. Other foods associated with the processing of wheat are also commonly avoided; Ashkenazis avoid most grains, beans, corn, and soy. What does this literal interpretation afford? Certainly a study of history. To understand why one may eat quinoa but not barley during Passover, one must consult the Torah and midrash for the original commandment and interpretations, and learn that quinoa was a new world grain that would never have come into contact with the grain-processing machinery of the Israelites. But does it impart a better understanding of the urgency with which the Jews fled Egypt?
If I were a rabbi designing a ritual commemoration of Passover I think I might declare that no food may be eaten that takes more than 5 minutes to prepare- and that includes processed foods! In other words, a PBJ might make the cut, but a cooked pizza, soup, or snickers bar from the vending machine would not. Food would have to be fast and simple- no time to prepare! Of course, I do see the point of eating matzah, as this is our approximation of the food the feeling Jews did eat. On the other hand, perhaps a modern day Exodus would in fact involve a lot of vending machine food and fast-food drive-throughs- we’ve got 30 minutes to leave the city; quick, pull in to McDonald’s! Of course, this plan does not conceal the identity of the absconding group- so maybe leftovers would be more appropriate. We’re leaving under the cover of night- dump everything in the fridge into a plastic bag!
I know that refugees do not typically enjoy hot meals of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, so I do find it interesting how well most modern Jews eat during Passover. I guess in that sense the rabbis chose symbolism over simulation- after all, parsley reminds me of spring about as much as chopped apples and nuts resemble bricks and mortar.
I’m not really sure what conclusion I’ve reached here, if any, except that rituals this old often strike an interesting balance of the literal and the symbolic, and certainly demonstrate how much life changes over the ages and how much stays the same. Our lives may be filled with luxury during Passover, but the absence of bread is still felt acutely by many who observe Passover.
I have not been very observant of Passover this year. Rachel and I did hold a seder for my family, and that was a great experience. We think kale chips will follow parsley in years to come! Rachel’s powerpoint seder, projected onto our flatscreen TV, was also a success. I did not follow the food restrictions most of the week because of eating out constantly with my family, but I did follow them this weekend, minus the one frozen girl scout cookie. Matzah ball soup, matzah pizza, smoothies, and charoset galore. Tonight I made a beautiful Passover-friendly dinner and then ruined it suddenly and thoroughly by mindlessly pouring nutritional yeast all over my food… how more directly could I possibly violate the no-yeast rule?? I plan to try a little harder tomorrow and Tuesday, and hopefully feel a little more deserving of the feast of chametz that awaits Tuesday night!