Saturday, April 11, 2009

Green beans at the seder

As a hostess, my mother is conscientious, even, you might say, fastidious. Mr. Ben learned this his very first Passover with us back in 2001, an experience so scarring it is no surprise it took him six years to propose. His reaction could probably be summed up by a friend at this Passover who leaned over to me and remarked, "There are so many rules!" Uh, yeah. But what would Judaism be without rules?*

I don't mind rules. I'm used to them. Don't stack the china. Don't mix patterns. Don't fetch something out of the kitchen yourself. Don't eat dairy with the meat meal (even if you're a vegetarian). Don't break anything. My mother has her own version of Leviticus and even though it isn't written down, she thinks the rules are self-evident and she doesn't quite understand why some people don't immediately get it.

She also puts on a beautiful Seder.

This year however she made one mistake. Green beans. That's right, friends. Green beans are not technically kosher for Passover and she served them at BOTH SEDERS. Oh the shame.

Green beans fall under a category of food called "kitniyot," which are permitted for Sephardic Jews, i.e., those from Spain and the Arab world, and not for Ashenazic Jews, i.e., most of us. This is because Jews in Spain & the Arab world had more freedom under Islam than Jews in Europe did under various tight-ass Popes and Czars. So while Sephardic Jews got to throw parties, write poetry, and generally have a good time in good weather, Ashkenazic Jews were stuck in dour shtetls, looking over their shoulders for Cossacks, and inventing new laws to make life even more difficult for themselves.

Well, I reject this tradition of suffering for the sake of suffering. Sure, much of my lineage is based in Lithuania and the Pale of Settlement (Russia/Poland, depending on the year). But my father's family originally hailed from Turkey. The fun-loving Jews! Those are my real spiritual ancestors, and they eat rice on Passover; rice, yes, and green beans too, and soybeans, and corn. There is no end to their wild ways.

My 96-year-old maternal grandmother seems to have absorbed some of this hedonism, even though she is descended from those drab, staid Eastern Europeans. When my brother and I were arguing back and forth about whether soybeans were permissible to eat, my grandmother interrupted us. "Do you know what I ate today?" she said. "A piece of bread."

Now that left us speechless in awe.

Happy Passover everyone! Happier still: only a few days left.



a-train said...

i had no idea about green beans!! this is very interesting! hopefully jewish kids across america will use this to avoid eating their vegetables

TLC said...

I had a good belly-laugh at your footnote... amazing. :)

jessebeller said...

oh, i love this post so much. the anecdote about the bread is so wonderful. i think everyone has a moment where they realize that a rule is only binding because we choose to follow it, and it's always a bit of a stunning revelation.

ester said...


and i should explain, because my credentials were challenged, that my father's family emigrated to Turkey after being kicked out of Spain, and from there went to Germany and changed its name. hence i am a "real" Sephardic Jew. at least sort of.

Danny said...

For the purposes of Passover, I consider being married to a Sephardic Jew as good as being Sephardic myself. Rice makes life easier.