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Jewish Holidays

Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan

With the caveat that we are not kombucha experts, we think kombucha is okay for Passover.

Here’s why: Foods that are normally kosher year-round are also kosher for Passover unless they are made (or contaminated in commercial preparation) with wheat, oats, barley, spelt, or rye.  If one or more of those five grains is used, then the food requires special preparation, e.g. matzah. The concern of Passover is not fermentation (wine, cheese, and pickles are all kosher for Passover), but rather fermentation of these five specific grains.

That said, many Jews will eat only those commercially prepared foods that are kosher certified, and our online search did not find a kombucha product with kosher for Passover certification.  

Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan

I want to make a menorah as a gift for a good friend of mine. If, due to design constraints, I cannot make the candle holders vertically uniform, would that be an issue?

What a special gift!

There are two types of menorahs. The first is a seven-branched menorah that hearkens back to the candelabrum described in the Bible that was lit in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. That menorah is the national symbol of the modern State of Israel. The second type of menorah is a hanukkiyah, the special lamp lit nightly during Hanukkah. It has space for eight lights plus a ninth “helper” light (shamash), which is used to light the candles or oil in the other eight holders.

We surmise that you’re referring to the hanukkiyah. According to Jewish law (halakhah), the lights of the Hanukkah menorah should be vertically uniform and in a straight line. However, there are many commercially produced Hanukkah menorahs that do not conform to these rules. Please send us a photo of the finished product – regardless of the design choices you make!

Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan

Mazel tov – congratulations on your upcoming marriage!

Although Jewish weddings may take place on the days in between the Jewish High Holidays, it is generally discouraged because during that period, also known as the Days of Awe, we are focused on the solemn themes of the season. In addition, because this period is an especially busy time for rabbis and cantors, you will be more limited in your options for clergy-officiants.

At the same time, some people consider the four days between Yom Kippur and the start of Sukkot to be especially auspicious days for a wedding because the wedding partners will have just experienced a period of deep reflection.  

Regardless of when during the year you decide to marry, check out these resources to plan a Jewish wedding.

Wishing you every joy and blessing!

We’d like to visit my mother-in-law’s grave on her birthday, but it coincides with the first day of Passover. Is it appropriate to visit her grave on Passover? If we do, should we light a memorial candle? 

In Jewish tradition, it is common to visit the graves of loved ones around Jewish holidays, especially before the Jewish new year. We think of our loved ones often, especially at significant moments in our lives such as holidays, lifecycle celebrations, and whenever something occurs that we wish we could share with them. We feel their physical absence keenly in these moments.

According to Jewish custom, it is preferable to visit graves before a holiday, so that on the day of the holiday, we can focus attention on observing or celebrating.

Judaism does not traditionally memorialize the birthday of loved ones who have died; instead, we mark the anniversary of their death, also called their yahrzeit.

With all that in mind, do what feels right for you and your family. You should check beforehand, however, that the cemetery will be open when you plan to visit because many Jewish cemeteries will be closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Typically, a yahrzeit or memorial candle is not lit at the grave, but rather in mourners’ homes. We light the candle shortly before sundown on the day before the anniversary of the date of death and it burns for 24 hours. We also light a yahrzeit candle on the final day of Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot. The worship service on the concluding morning of these holidays includes special yizkor memorial prayers that invite worshippers to remember loved ones who have died. Find a congregation near you to attend a yizkor service at the conclusion of Passover, Sukkot, or Shavuot.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell
picnic basket

A little-known holiday is Tu B'Av (the fifteenth of Av – which falls mid to late summer). Following the reflective nature of Tishah B'Av  and preceding Elul, a month of preparation for the High Holidays, Tu B'Av is a day marked by dancing and courtship. Ancient traditions note that on this day, young women, dressed in white, went out into the fields to dance and were followed by young men.

See also: 
Cause for Celebration in Israel: Tu B'Av, the Jewish Festival of Love
Why Does "The Jewish Valentine's Day" Matter?
What is Love? A Jewish Look at Giving and Receiving

Answer By: 
Rabbi Debbie Stiel
seder table

It is always a good idea to ask your hosts what you can bring for the seder, or the dinner. Your host might ask you to bring the hard boiled eggs, the kosher horseradish, a vegetable dish, grape juice or kosher-for-Passover wine. If they don't specify what to bring, it is still nice to bring kosher-for-Passover candy or chocolates (found in many grocery stores at this time of year), flowers, or wine (the bottle must say it is kosher for Passover). Remember, if you are preparing a dish, it cannot contain any flour or grain (wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats) or it must say that it is kosher for Passover on the box, and, probably best to check with your host about their level of observance.

See also: What to Expect at a Passover Seder

 

children at a Passover seder

On Passover, we can greet one another with “Chag Pesach sameach!” which means “Happy Passover!” and some people wish each other a "sweet Pesach," or, in Yiddish, a "ziessen Pesach." We can also say “Chag kasher v’sameach” (Happy and kosher holiday, referring to Passover’s food restrictions).  As on any happy holiday or festival, we can say “Chag sameach!” in Hebrew (“Happy holiday!”) or “Gut yontif!” (“Happy holiday!”) in Yiddish.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
gold and silver foil wrapped gelt

Hanukkah’s Money

The gelt of Hanukkah recalls the booty, including coins, that the Maccabean victors distributed to the Jewish widows, soldiers, and orphans, possibly at the first celebration of the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. Also, in ancient Israel, striking, minting, and distributing coins expressed Hanukkah’s message of political autonomy. The Maccabee’s descendants, known as the Hasmoneans, ruled Judea and issued coins. As the book of 1 Maccabees records, Syria’s King Antiochus VII said to Simon Maccabee, “I turn over to you the right to make your own stamp for coinage for your country” (15:6). Since 1958, Israel has minted commemorative Hanukkah medals, reforging this connection of coinage, freedom, and the holiday.

Money and Hanukkah go way back in other ways as well, including the very observance of the holiday. As early as the sixth century, the legal text known as the Talmud taught that the poor must celebrate Hanukkah even if they had to wander door to door to beg for the money to pay for the lighting materials, which in those days were probably oil, clay lamps, and wicks. Later, in Sephardi and Oriental (following the customs of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East) Jewish communities, people walked through their neighborhoods burning special grasses to ward off the evil eye in exchange for gifts or money at the Hanukkah season. Yemenite Jewish children were given coins to purchase sugar and red food dye to make a special Hanukkah wine.

With time, additional customs evolved related to giving coins at Hanukkah. Hanukkah came to be associated with the Hebrew word for education, chinukh. The gelt or money for Hanukkah supported Jewish learning. In the days of the Chasidic leader, the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698–1760), rabbis often traveled to distant villages to give instruction to impoverished and illiterate Jews, generally refusing payment. However, at Hanukkah, the instructors accepted coins and food as tokens of gratitude. Hanukkah gelt signified appreciative, though modest, compensation for dedicated Jewish educators.

All of that history and tradition resides in your chocolate gelt.

Ancient Israelite Coins

One of the early Israelite coins, produced during the rule of Antigonus Matityahu (40–37 BCE), the last in this line of Hasmonean kings, portrays a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum) on one side and the shewbread (offering) on the other, each symbol a reminder of the centrality of the ancient Jerusalem Temple to the Jewish people and the victory of the Maccabees over the Hellenists.


Excerpted from On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (Second Edition, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2017) by Rabbi Deborah Prinz. The book includes a chapter titled:  “Hanukkah and Christmas Chocolate Melt into Gelt.” She also co-curates the exhibit “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate,” on view at the Bernard Museum of Temple Emanu-El in New York City through February 25, 2018. Prinz is a popular speaker on topics connecting chocolate and Jews.

three teens each lighting a hanukkiyah

On Hanukkah, we can greet one another with “Hanukkah sameach!” which means “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Chag urim sameach” which means “Happy Festival of Lights.” As on any happy holiday or festival, we can say “Chag sameach!” (“Happy holiday!”)

And what about how to spell Hanukkah? A 2012 study from Evite ranks the most popular way to spell the holiday. You can clearly tell which one we prefer! 

Answer By: 
Rabbi Mark Washofsky
fall harvest

Sukkot, the Jewish festival of booths (a harvest holiday of thanksgiving), begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and lasts for seven days. The first day of Sukkot is a festival day; the second through seventh days are known as chol hamo-eid (intermediate days) of Sukkot. The day after Sukkot ends is Sh’mini Atzeret (literally, the assembly of the eighth day), on which Simchat Torah (the Festival of rejoicing in the Torah) also is observed. This day, too, is a festival day.

Adapted from: Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice

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