A yummy guide for the perplexed: How Passover food became so much better

In contrast to popular opinion about the matzah holiday being a drag, recent changes in food trends made Passover in Israel a unique, and tasty, thing.

April 23, 2019 20:29
A yummy guide for the perplexed: How Passover food became so much better

Kosher for Passover burger and fries . (photo credit: TZVI JOFFRE)

Passover is one of those big holidays everybody has an opinion about. Like Thanksgiving, it presents a combination of family obligations and culinary demands that many find taxing, if not downright ridiculous.

For Jewish people around the world - from the most non-conservative people who might hold a Seder with an orange on their plate to symbolize the LGBT community, to the most strict Jewish families that avoid wetting matzah in liquids before eating them out of fear unbaked flour will rise - Passover consists of a big bundle of emotional and practical things to deal with.    

So imagine the delight of Israelis and Jewish people who visit the country when they discover an abundance of Passover foods that don't even look like Matza. Kosher for Passover burgers and fries, buns, pizza, and even sabich are tasty new additions to the ways in which Israelis know keep the tradition. Unheard of in diaspora outside of very large Urban Jewish communities where such foods are also found, but not in such variety.

A Jerusalem hot-dog stand announces in a large banner that their dogs are “safe for those who do not eat Qitniot [lentils]” as the buns are made from potato flour.

Aroma, which is a nation-wide coffee store chain, offers Kosher for Passover Burek, which they call ‘a Luxury Burek’. 

Cup of Joe offers Kosher for Passover Pizza, Kosher for Passover breads are freely sold in various stands across the country.

Hommus places also work at full steam with banners saying ‘Kosher for those who eat lentils’ for their Jewish patrons, Muslim owned places seem to lack the holiday spirit and offer fresh pita bread as normal.      

The main thing to avoid on Passover is the presence of hametz, or leavened bread. Therefore, after the traditional Passover cleaning, Jewish people avoid eating such foods (pasta, bread, beer) and must even relinquish ownership of them.

This is why every Passover the State of Israel officially sells its hametz, kept in special warehouses in case of a national emergency, to a non-Jewish person. The sale, which is mainly symbolic, is another aspect of the complexities of Jewish and non-Jewish relations.

Even if a Jewish person relinquishes all hametz by consuming it before Passover, throwing it out or selling it to a non-Jewish person, those who are very observant seek cat or dog foods which are kosher for Passover despite no cat, or dog, in human history being of the Mosaic faith.

Hametz, according to Jewish law, ‘contaminates’ all that it touches by making it hametz, which means that Israeli cows are fed special mixtures before the holiday to ensure their milk is not hametz and Israeli IDF soldiers are warned not to enter the shared dining areas in their base with a slice of bread or granola bar as these foods will violate the ability of observant troops to dine there.

IDF soldiers are able to consume hamtez in their private quarters, be they lax Jews or non-Jewish soldiers, but violating the IDF Kashrut standards is technically an offense that could land one in Military prison.

As a free country, non-Jewish Israelis as well as non-observing Jews can, and do, eat bread and bread based foods during the holiday if they so desire. With Tel Aviv, being the most progressive city, having the largest number of fresh-baked goods offering establishments and Jerusalem, being mostly conservative, being the hardest to score some bread in – until one pays a visit to the Muslim quarter.

As Israelis become more conservative, and perhaps more food-oriented, a flourishing of Kosher food places attempted to offer diners ‘fake bacon’ made from cured beef and ‘fake sea-food’ which is equally made from kosher food. While technically kosher, some Jewish thinkers frown on the innovation as it might lead observant people into temptation down a slippery slope. Kosher bacon might be as good as the real hog, but how would you know if you keep Kosher?

One principle of Jewish life is that of making a fence around the Torah, which is meant to avoid confusion in Jewish law, this is why Jews do not consume chicken-cheese sandwiches. The biblical instruction not to consume a calf in its mother’s milk had been expanded to include all meat-based foods, even those made from chickens, to avoid the appearance of violation. Another value is appearances [Marit Eyen] which is why one should not enter a non-Kosher diner, even if the intention is to get a Coca Cola, which is Kosher.  

Jewish communities around the world also evolved differently with mostly Speradic Jews consuming lentils on Passover and enjoying hommus, beans, and peas as part of their holiday diet and mostly Ashkenazi Jews avoiding lentils.

The reasons for this change, which is roughly seven centuries old, seem to be rooted in the assumption “better safe than sorry.” This despite the Talmud featuring Jews eating rice on Passover eve without any special hardships. 

Writing in France at the Middle Ages Rabbenu Yerucham noted that this custom is "foolish, unless people do it to make things harder for themselves, I know not why," yet his view was not accepted.  

Regarding foodstuffs like potatoes and corn, unknown among Jews before the new world was discovered, the same issue exists. While some Jews have no issues with eating a corn flour made tortilla on Passover others include corn in the list of “let’s not go there” foods.

Peanuts, another New World food, are accepted by some Ashkenazi communities but not all.

The wealth of opinions, communities, and Jewish habits makes a Passover trip to a market in Jerusalem or a Tel Aviv street quite the experience. With some Jews enjoying Hommus as they hail from Iraq, others snacking on peanut-based cookies, and others sticking to a Kosher for Passover hot-dog. All eating in the same street and under the same heavens.     

The changes in food technology and production have upped the prices for a slice of Pizza or a kosher dog for the time of Passover, yet offer Israelis a much greater variety as eaters and shoppers. Leading at least one woman this reporter over-heard on public transport loudly complain on the phone: “Everything is open, you can’t feel the holiday spirit anymore.”

The question seems this, what would Jews do if, nebekh, being Jewish would be easy or even, rachmones, delicious?

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