Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Jewish Rituals and Laws --- How to Survive in the Emerging Orthodox World

Since hitting the big 5-0, a recurring theme for me is reflecting on how the world has changed in my lifetime. An invitation to a phone conference being held on "New Jewish Rituals" supercharged my thinking about how Judaism -- particularly Orthodox Judaism -- has undergone major renovations in my lifetime, and even since receiving semicha / ordination. Herewith is my list of innovations, with the best I can do at understanding what they mean.
  • Glatt - This actually refers to the checking of lungs of large mammals that have been slaughtered to confirm that the animal had no serious lung diseases before being slaughtered. Begun as a practice among Hasidic and some Sephardic Jews, it spread like wildfire among Jews who felt that they were paying too little for Kosher meat. Soon, the word Glatt was (incorrectly) appearing on turkey and chicken products (which cannot, by definition be Glatt Kosher), thanks to the Orthodox Union, and even on fruits and vegetables, thanks to the enterprising Asian-Americans who operate fruit and vegetable markets in the Orthodox 'hood.
  • Yoshon - I've been trying to get my arms around this baby since first hearing about in the late 70's. It seems to have something to do with only using flour that has been sitting around since before one or another holiday. I'm told by its followers that this does not impact on the ability of Kosher bakeries to bake stale goods.
  • Vort - This was the way that my grandparents referred to a type of skin growth. Apparently, among Yiddish speakers, it also means "word." Which then grew to mean a word of Torah. Which then grew to mean an engagement party in which someone might utter a word of Torah. Which then grew to become a "must" event for those Orthodox Jews who felt that they were paying too little for a Jewish wedding (see above, under "Glatt")
  • L'Chaim - I think this was said in Fiddler on the Roof. It's what you say on any alcoholic beverage shared with good company. Except that it's also the name of a new event, which also celebrates an engagement. My son tells me that there is a difference between a vort and a L'Chaim, but I am clearly not getting it. Frankly, I keep on calling a L'Chaim a Betayavon (bon appetite) or B'hatzlacha (to success). It's all Hebrew, so it's all good. And probably Betayavon and B'hatzlacha are probably just as appropriate as ways to look at these events.
  • Cholov Yisrael - I once heard Dennis Prager referring to this as "milk that comes from a cow that wore tzitzit (fringes)." Pretty good definition. OK, it also had something to do with a time at which the locals would adulterate cow's milk with that of non-Kosher animals. Although modern authorities such as the late Moshe Feinstein authorize as kosher any milk that is under USDA standards, the cholov Yisrael market offers yet another opportunity to overpay for kosher food (there appears to be a recurring theme here).
  • Bodek - Jewish law requires that you wash vegetables and fruits to make sure that there are no visible bugs on them. Apparently some contemporary authorities, following Roosevelt's New Deal and predicting Obama's stimulus package, decided to create thousands of new jobs for the unemployable by requiring that vegetables be checked using magnifying glasses, light boards and quite possibly, airport metal detectors. Why make keeping Kosher easy, when you can up the ante? Yet another way to make sure that you're paying more for the thrill of keeping Kosher.

If you have other favorite Orthodox innovations of the past half-century, please be sure to add them by commenting. Oh, and don't worry...I'm equal opportunity; there will be plenty of space to point to some of the liberal Jewish innovations of my lifetime as well.

B'tayavon.