Monday, April 21, 2008

Get Naked Against Chametz

With only a sock to protect his private parts, a 27 year old seminary student stripped down in a supermarket in Bat Yam that was selling chametz (leavened bread) over Pessach. Protesting the government's decision to allow the sale of chametz in restaurants and supermarkets - areas deemed not public by the new law - this student reasoned if this particular market was private according to the law, he could romp around in his birthday suit.

Despite his failed methodology, I applaud this student for taking a stand on an issue much deeper than the availability of hamburger rolls: the very identity of the Jewish people in a Jewish state. In fact, the same argument can be applied to the sale of pork products. The Jewish State was founded by and for Jews by Ben Gurion and his cohorts, on the basis of Jewish history and halachic law, and so how can chametz be sold publicly on Pessach, or how can a law be passed to subsidize pig farmers?

Let's face it, if someone is desperate enough to have some toast this week with their morning coffee, they will find it; and if someone must have bacon with their scrambled eggs, they will find it as well, and they will pay premium price for it. Once the Torah becomes a bargaining chip or merely a symbolic cultural heritage, all is lost in terms of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.

Zionist history will note that Ben Gurion - a self-proclaimed secular Jew - always carried a Tanach in his pocket, attended a weekly Bible study group, and encouraged a small group of Ultra Orthodox Jews to be an integral part of the early settlement of the land of Israel. He and the other founders believed that it was the Torah, its observance and its faith, that kept the Jews alive since the beginning of their travails on this planet, and certainly through the Holocaust.

Has that appreciation and respect disappeared to such a degree, that we Jews must ourselves become anti-Semitic? How do we expect the international community to honor our needs for survival in this modern day of terrorism, when we are chipping away at our existence from the inside?

On that note, I propose a positive change in the halachic world of Pessach tradition, abolishing the concept of kitniot, an outdated food custom which continues to divide needlessly between Jewish ethnicities. When a Sephardic and an Ashkenazic Jews can sit at the table together over Pessach and eat sushi, we will be one step closer to unifying our own nation.

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