Tisha B’Av and Environmentalism

Romans Destroy Jerusalem - painting of city wall on fire
Romans Destroy Jerusalem

Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) which we commemorate this year on August 10 – 11, reminds us that over 2,600 years ago Jews failed to heed the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah, with the result that the first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the first of many negative things that occurred on that day, including the destruction of the second Temple as well.

Today there are many “Jeremiahs” warning us that now it is the entire world that is threatened by climate change, species extinction, soil erosion, destruction of tropical rain forests and other valuable habitats, and many other environmental threats. For example, as long ago as 1992, over 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including 104 Nobel Laureates, signed a “World Scientists Warning to Humanity,” stating that, “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course,” and that “a great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” More recently, some climate scientists are warning that we may soon reach a tipping point when climate change will spin out of control with disastrous consequences if major positive changes do not soon occur.

On Tisha B’Av, Jews fast to express their sadness over the destruction of the two Temples and to awaken us to how hungry people feel. So severe are the effects of starvation that the Book of Lamentations (4:10), which is read on Tisha B’Av, states that, “More fortunate were the victims of the sword than the victims of famine, for they pine away stricken, lacking the fruits of the field.” Yet, today over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its effects and almost a billion of the world’s people face chronic hunger.

Jewish sages connected the word “eichah” (alas! what has befallen us?) that begins Lamentations and a word that has the same root “ayekah” (“Where art thou?”), the question addressed by God to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps failure to properly hear and respond to “ayekah” in terms of stating “Hineini” — here I am, ready to carry out God’s commandments so that the world will be better — causes us to eventually have to say and hear “eichah“.

The reading of the book of Lamentations on Tisha B’Av is meant to wake up the Jewish people to the need to return to God’s ways, by showing the horrors that resulted when God’s teachings were ignored. The readings on Tisha B’Av help to sensitize us so that we will hear the cries of lament and change our ways. Rabbi Yochanan stated, “Jerusalem was destroyed because the residents limited their decisions to the letter of the law of the Torah, and did not perform actions that would have gone beyond the letter of the law” (“lifnim meshurat hadin“). (Baba Metzia 30b). In this time of factory farming, climate change and other environmental threats, widespread hunger, and widespread chronic degenerative diseases, perhaps it is necessary that Jews go beyond the strict letter of the law in efforts to prevent further environmental degradation.

This Tisha B’Av, I hope that we will begin to heed its basic lesson that failure to respond to proper admonitions can lead to catastrophe. The Jewish people must make tikkun olam (the repair and healing of the planet) a major focus in Jewish life today, and consider personal and societal changes that will improve the environment. By doing this, we would be performing a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s Name) by working to meet our mandate to be a light unto the nations.

All of us can and must contribute to this new stewardship, even with modest changes to our lifestyle. In 1999, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote, “Just as we don’t claim that people need to stop driving their cars completely, we don’t argue that they need to stop eating meat entirely. But reductions in both areas — driving and meat consumption — will certainly benefit the environment.

In view of the many threats to humanity today, I hope that Jews will enhance their commemoration of the solemn but spiritually meaningful holiday of Tisha B’Av by making it a time to begin striving even harder to live up to Judaism’s highest moral values and teachings. One important way to do this is by applying Jewish values in efforts to shift our precious, but imperiled, planet onto a sustainable path.

A Juicy, Tender Brisket

Brisket by Scottgaspar

Brisket photo by Scott Gaspar.

— by Elana Horwich

Brisket is incredibly easy to make and pretty hard to mess up: You can add a little too much of this, or a bit too little of that, but as long as you have a few basics, all of the flavors will meld perfectly with time in the oven to bring you a delicious, juicy brisket.

The problem with many briskets, however, is that they are either too sweet, too dry and/or too fatty. Furthermore, they can be both too dry and too fatty.

The brisket cut of meat is historically poor man’s food; it cost less than tender cuts of meat like filet mignon, but if cooked long enough will be just as tender.

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Megina: Passover Meat Casserole

— by Marcia Israel Weingarten

One of the staples of our seder meal is a Megina, sometmes refered to as “mina“, or a “meat quajado“. My mom’s is made with crumbled matzah mixed in giving it a quajado-like texture once cooked, and able to be cut into and served in squares. This mina version is often made with layers of soaked and softened matzahs and constructed more like a meat lasagna. I am sharing the recipe as my mom makes it for our family and as she has taught it in community cooking classes. This is one of those dishes you can customize to your liking, adding different spices for a differnt flair (think cumin or ras el hanout or even cilantro instead of parsley, to name a few). This version is made with ground beef, although ground turkey could be a substitute.

Full recipe after the jump.
Kaye Israel’s Passover “Megina” (meat casserole)

  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 lbs ground meat
  • 2 tblsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tblsp salt
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 cup farfel (soaked in warm water, and squeezed dry) or 4 sheets matzah (soaked in warm water, squeezed dry and crumbled)
  • touch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. Brown the meat with the onions in oil; transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
  2. Add the salt, pepper, parsley and farfel (or matzah). Add 2 beaten eggs at a time until 8 eggs are mixed in.
  3. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan (preferably pyrex type) and heat in the oven for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pan. Spread the remaining two beaten eggs to top of mix.
  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.

As with all things Passover… enjoy the opportunity to be with family and friends. Document your family recipes and traditions, cook together, enjoy the time. With each dish we serve and each traditional song we sing, we recall lovingly those family members who are no longer with us, whose recipes and memories are present at our table, and whose names we mention at various time throughout the evening (and throughout our many family gatherings).

Marcia Israel Weingarten is the creator of Bendichas Manos. “Bendichos Manos” which means “Blessed Hands,” is an exploration of the Sephardic recipes handed down in Marcia’s family.

Sinaia: Meat and Tahini Casserole

palestinian meat sinaiaFor the second week, I am getting through without smoking.

Memories from the last time I tried this made me believe that the task will be more difficult this time. On the one hand it’s encouraging, but then I think to myself that it really is not that complicated. What is the urgency in quitting? Why not smoke again?

Luckily I can transfer these lecherous thoughts to the kitchen.  Today I am thinking about a traditional Middle Eastern dish of seasoned ground meat baked with tahini sauce. Before we begin I should make one thing clear: Sinaia is entirely about the quality of the meat and the grinding. There is no choice but to grind it at home. I asked my wife if she would be able to stop by the best butcher we know to buy some meat.
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