I didn’t know it at the time, but Friday evening would be our last time in our sukkah this Sukkot. [Read more…]
Photo credits: Adriana Katona
Sukkot is one of the three pilgrim holidays when the Israelites would go up to Jerusalem to celebrate. It was an agricultural holiday, as well as a reminder of the 40 years wandering in the wilderness before entering the land of Israel. Agriculture was central in their culture, so Sukkot was an important holiday. Today, Jews from all over the world travel to Jerusalem to celebrate.
It is a mitzvah to give gifts to the poor during Sukkot. What type of gift? The farmers of Ancient Israel were required to give a tithe, ma’aser, of their harvest (Numbers 18:21-24) to the Levites. This harvest consisted of wheat, barley, oat, spelt, and rye. In addition, they had to give a tithe of their production of wine, olive oil, fruit, and cattle.
Now that we’ve passed another Day of Judgment, we can ask ourselves what are we going to do with the life that we’ve been granted? Do we live up to our values, our ideals? Since my teens, I’ve been passionate about worldly causes, but it has always been a challenge to maintain the delicate balance between the sacred and the secular. [Read more…]
When the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, they carried the memories of the foods they enjoyed with them. Of all the vegetables, they missed fava beans the most. Fava beans, which have been in Egypt for over 8,000 years, have been found in the tombs of the pharaohs as part of the indispensable items that must be brought to the afterlife. Egyptian Jews have retained the tradition of eating fava beans when celebrating happy occasions. On the sixth night of Sukkot, a delicious soup made with fava beans, called Ful Nabed, is served. [Read more…]
After enduring many hardships in the New World, the Pilgrims finally succeeded in having a plentiful harvest. They were very grateful to G-d for providing for them, and wanted to find an appropriate way to honor G-d. They turned to the Bible for inspiration and found what they were looking for in Exodus.
They discovered “the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end” (Exodus 34:22), one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals celebrated in ancient Israel during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem. This feast signaled the end of the harvest, and the conclusion of the agricultural year of the Land of Israel. It is the harvest festival of Sukkot.
During Sukkot, it is customary to include the Seven Species of the Land of Israel in the sukkah, and to incorporate them into the menu. The seven most important plants that were grown in ancient Israel were wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates and olives (Deut 8:8). The Pilgrims consumed the foods from the New World such as turkey, corn, pumpkins, and cranberries.
For this Thanksgiving celebration, I have decided to return to the holiday’s roots. I will prepare the traditional New World bird with the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. It is a turkey brined in pomegranate juice, with wheat and barley couscous stuffing.
For the Pomegranate Brine
Adapted from POM Wonderful.
- 4 cups pomegranate juice
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh sage
For the Turkey
- one 15-pound turkey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- black pepper
For the Pomegranate Glaze
- 3 cups pomegranate juice
- 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
- black pepper
- Place the turkey in a large pot.
- Combine all the ingredients for the brine, and pour over the turkey.
- Cover the pot tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
- Pre-heat the oven to 325°F.
- Scatter the chopped onion, carrot, and celery in a large roasting pan.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, and place it over the cut up vegetables.
- Brush olive oil over the turkey.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Roast for approximately 4 hours.
- Boil 3 cups of pomegranate juice until reduced by half.
- Mix in the pomegranate arils and black pepper.
- Brush over the roasted turkey.
For the Couscous Stuffing
- 1 1/2 cups semolina couscous
- 1 1/2 cups barley couscous
- 3 cups boiling water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped figs
- 1/2 cup pitted, chopped dates
- Pour the couscous into a large bowl.
- Add the salt, boiling water, orange blossom water, and cinnamon.
- Stir all the ingredients together, and then cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
- Mix in the olive oil, raisins, figs, and dates.
- Sautee the almonds in a little olive oil.
- Sprinkle the almonds over the couscous.
Romania is blessed with rich earth and hot summers. When Sukkot is celebrated in the fall, the Romanian larder is rich with the summer harvest. Romanian Jews make use of this plenty when they prepare two famous specialties to enjoy in the sukkah: guvetch and mamaliga.
Guvetch is a vegetable stew, reminiscent of the French ratatouille. Sometimes, more than 20 different vegetables are used in its preparation. This recipe goes back to ancient times, when the Romans controlled the area that is now Romania.
Traditionally, clay pots are used, giving the stew a distinctive flavor. Guvetch is not heavily spiced, allowing the natural flavors of the vegetables to dominate.
Adapted from Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks.
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 8 plum tomatoes, sliced
- 1 eggplant
- 4 bell peppers, chopped
- 4 zucchini, chopped
- 1 cup parsley, minced
- 1 cup okra
- 1 cup green beans
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- olive oil
- black pepper
- Slice the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
- Rinse the eggplant, and pat dry.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pan.
- Sauté the eggplant until golden-brown. Set aside.
- Sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Set aside.
- Oil a casserole dish, preferably clay.
- Cover the base of the casserole dish with eggplant.
- Layer the peppers, zucchini, okra, carrots, and green beans on top of the eggplant.
- Spread the sautéed onions and garlic over the mixture.
- Top with tomato slices and parsley.
- Pour the vegetable broth into the casserole.
- Season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.
- Bake uncovered for 2 hours.
The traditional accompaniment to guvetch is a type of Romanian polenta called mamaliga. This dish also originates from Roman cuisine. The Romans subsisted on millet gruels, which were cheaper than bread.
In the mid-1600s, Venetian merchants imported maize, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes from the New World. The Ottomans introduced these new plants to their empire. The Romanian climate was beneficial, allowing these tropical vegetables to thrive in their new home. Corn quickly replaced millet as the grain of choice for mamaliga.
Customarily, mamaliga is served by slicing pieces with a thin wire. Consisting of only three ingredients, mamaliga is very easy and inexpensive to prepare.
Adapted from Food.
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Bring the water to a boil in a heavy pot.
- Add the salt and the cornmeal.
- Bring to a boil while stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Lower the flame, and continue stirring the porridge until it thickens.
- Check if the mamaliga is ready by dipping a wooden spoon in water. Insert the spoon into the mush. If it comes out clean, the mamaliga is ready.
My students ask me, “Rabbi Goldie, just what gives?
Is celebrating Thanksgivukkah really the way a good Jew lives?”
There is only one way I know to decide:
By the dreidel’s spin, you’ll have to abide.
Here is how it works, you should pardon the mention,
of these Five Thanksgivukkah Academic Spin K’vetch-tions:
- If your dreidel lands on the Hebrew letter Hey-and you answer correctly, you get to take half the “pot”.
Is Thanksgiving based on a Jewish festival, and which one?
- Should your dreidel land on the Hebrew letter Shin (outside of Israel) or Pei (in Israel) — if your answer is incorrect, half goes back into the pot.
What was the first of the three miracles of Hanukkah?
- If your dreidel lands on the Hebrew letter nun, for a wrong answer, all your winnings go back into the pot.
Does Hanukkah commemorate the first known dedication of the Temple?
- A correct answer when your dreidel lands on Gimel let’s you take everything that’s in the pot.
Whose idea was it to make Thanksgiving an American National holiday?
- Bonus Question, right or wrong, everything in each person’s pot goes straight into the tzedakah box!
When is the next time the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide?
Check your answers and record how well you did after the jump.
1. Is Thanksgiving based on a Jewish festival, and which one?
Some readers may have seen Internet articles suggesting that Thanksgiving originates from the Biblical harvest holiday know as Sukkot. The timing is usually close enough to make this seem plausible.
However, research reported by my colleague Robert Gluck in an article titled Did Sukkot Help Shape Thanksgiving? includes his discussion with Biblical scholar Jonathan Sarna. Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the Philadelphia-based National Museum of American Jewish History, explained:
The Puritan’s did not believe in fixed holidays. If it was a good season, they would announce a thanksgiving, but it’s not like the Jewish holiday which occurs on the 15th of the month of Tishrei (Sukkot). They did not believe in that.
Sarna then points Gluck to Diana Muir Applebaum, a Massachusetts-based historian who wrote the book Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History. She explains:
The Separatists at Plymouth did not create an annual holiday [of Thanksgiving]. Rather, a holiday that grew in popularity and stabilized into an annual celebration over the course of several decades was later traced back to an event that took place at Plymouth in December 1621.
Puritans accepted the Sabbath but rejected all other holy days in the Five Books of Moses as being given by God for only Jewish observance. The Puritans practice was to declare of day of thanks giving when the harvest was actually good, they did not adhere to regular festivals, it was not their way.
2. What was the first of the (at least) three miracles of Hanukkah?
The original “miracle” of Hanukkah was the collaboration of the tiny handful of remaining religious Jews with the vast number of non-observant Jews of the time to wrest Jewish sovereignty over Israel back from the occupying Syro-Greeks.
A second miracle begins with appreciating the relevance of this text, of Megillat Ta’anit Chapter 9:
During the days of the Greek Kingdom, the Hasmonean [Maccabees] entered the sanctuary, rebuilt the altar, repaired the sanctuary’s walls, replaced the sacred vessels and were engaged in its rebuilding for eight days.
So, we this is one source for knowing they were engaged in purifying the Temple. And the next miracle is that the Hasmoneans, known for their extreme (and later horrifically fanatical) piety, underwent a surprising shift in consciousness. Instead of waiting for the fire to come down from God to rekindle the altar, they lit it themselves.
So where did the idea of the miracle, of the little flask of oil lasting specifically eight days, come from?
Now our story has gone full circle: It could have come from Sukkot!
Another colleague of mine, Brian Field, reminded our rabbinic discussion list last week that this connection can be found in preserved texts that are not part of the Jewish canon. They are collectively known as the Apocrypha.
Of these, a Hanukkah narrative is found in II Maccabees 10 (see The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), where the Maccabees:
Celebrated the occasion [of winning back the Temple in Jerusalem] after the manner of the Festival of Tabernacles [Sukkot], and decreed that the eight-day festival in honor of the [Temple’s] purification.
To find the actual documentation of the story of the miracle of the oil lasting, which is given long after the original Hanukkah events, one must roll forward in time to the period of the Babylonian Talmud, where it is introduced in Shabbat 21:
What is the reason for Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Chanukah, which are eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.
For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days.
The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel [specific psalms] and thanksgiving.
3. Does Hanukkah commemorate the first known dedication of the Temple?
Hanukkah in Hebrew means “dedication,” and shares the same Hebrew root as hinukh, “education.” The rabbinic commentary Midrash-Pesikt Rabbati, chapter 2, offers seven “Hanukkahs,” i.e., points of dedication. Here they are in a translation by Rabbi Judith Abrams:
1. The Hanukkah of finishing creating the heaven and earth, which God observed by “turning on” the two great lights (the sun and moon) in the sky (Genesis 2:1, 1:17).
2. The Hanukkah of completing the wall enclosing Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:27), observed with lots of singing.
3. The Hanukkah of the successful return from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:17), observed with lots of singing and offerings.
4. The Hanukkah of the Hasmonean priests, for which we kindle the Hannukkah lamps, symbolizing their complete victory. The original menorah in this case was probably fashioned from spearheads turned into torches, since the original menorah had been taken away. (See Magic and Folklore in Rabbinic Literature, pp. 34-39.)
5. The Hanukkah of the World to Come (Zephaniah 1:12-1), in which the wealthy and unjust are utterly annihilated by God, accompanied with the sound of crying, this time cries of sorrow, not joy.
6. The Hanukkah of the princes’ anointing the altar (Numbers 7:84-89). After all twelve princes finished bringing their offerings of silver and gold items, the whole array, clanging mightily, we might suppose, accompanied by the bellowing of the sacrificial oxen, was followed with what one might call, “the still, small voice” that Moses hears from beyond the ark’s cover.
7. And the Hanukkah of the First Temple’s dedication (Psalm 30:1), celebrated with this psalm. (Pesikta Rabbati 2:3)
4. Whose idea was it to make Thanksgiving an American National holiday?
It turns out the idea came from a woman, Sarah Josepha Hale.
Several presidents ignored her missives petitioning for such a national holiday. Before her time, President George Washington held a national day of Thanksgiving, but did so only once. Various states, mainly in New England, had Thanksgiving celebration traditions, but held them on days different to each other.
So which president took Sarah Josepha Hale up on her suggestion?
I first learned the answer from my colleague Seth Goldstein, who shared how Hale, at the time a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival”:
You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
She also lobbied the presidents with pressure from her readers.
Our national holiday of Thanksgiving was established in response to her letter and because it served the strategic interests of the President, as the decision came came in the midst of civil war and several months following the Emancipation Proclamation.
He declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday on October 3, 1789 — 74 years after George Washington, and 243 years after the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on December 21, 1620.
Bonus Question: When is the next time the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide?
The first night of Hanukkah will fall out during Thanksgiving dinner-time in 2070, and then again in 2165.
Previously there were overlaps in 1888, 1899, 1945 and 1956, and since some states would, in days gone-by, use different Thanksgiving dates to the majority of the nation, there were two more overlaps as well. Since Thanksgiving has not always been held on the same day of the same week each year in the past, figuring this out is not as simple as it might seem.
To further complicate matters, those of us sitting down in gratitude to Thanksgivukkah’s latke-stuffed turkey dinners at roughly 4:19 p.m. after the first light of Hanukkah is lit in 2070, may be surprised that Joel Hoffman does not count first night overlaps as valid.
In his late-coming Nov. 24 article, Why Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Will Never Again Coincide Again, he only counts as valid whole days, not erev — “evening” overlaps. From a ritual point of view, that view is hard to swallow.
It is true that after the first night of Hanukkah overlaps of 2165 and 2070, no degree of overlap is presently scheduled to occur for tens of thousands of years into the future. This is because of the gradual drift between the secular solar calendar and our Jewish lunar calendar.
However, Jewish calendar adjustments are made from time to time to ensure Jewish holidays align with their intended seasons, so likely, that too will change. Learn more in our article, Next Thanksgivukkah in 80k Years? Wrong!
Nu? Did you have a good learning?
Or does it seem somewhat unfair,
when the origin stories we were raised with just do not square?
Where do you stand on this cosmic convergence?
Is it more than just a bonanza for merchants?
For this Hanukkah, may you be blessed,
to have gratitude that we are only spinning a dreidel, for we get to stay dressed!
Chag Sameach from Rabbi Goldie Milgram
A decorated sukkah.
— by Josh Berkman
With the holiday of Sukkot approaching, The Jewish Agency for Israel has launched Sukkathon 2013, an online contest to “identify the world’s most beautiful and innovative sukkah.”
For Sukkathon 2013, the Agency encourages Jews around the world to send pictures of their sukkahs to the address email@example.com or tweet it to @Jewishagency with the hashtag #number1sukkah. All submissions must be received by 11 a.m. ET on Sept. 23. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
“Sukkot celebrates the warmth felt by members of the Jewish community as they gather for meals in these intimate settings,” said Tali Aronsky, The Jewish Agency’s director of communications in North America. “We look forward to showcasing the artistry and creativity that exists within the global Jewish family and invite Jews who are proud of their sukkahs to show them off.”
More after the jump.
The Agency has assembled a judging panel that includes an internationally recognized architect, an art critic and an artist. The judges are:
- Pam Davidson, who was a principle architect in Cape Town before making Aliyah. She helped design the FIFA World Cup Stadium and the South African Heritage Storage Museum, as well as residential and municipality projects in Israel. She also blogs about architecture and Israel.
- Julia Weiner, who has been the Jewish Chronicle’s art critic since 1993. She also works as a lecturer in art history at Regent’s University London, on the education staff at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and advises the London Jewish Cultural Centre on their exhibition programs.
- Betina Schnaid, who emigrated to Israel from Brazil in 2011. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design, and represented Israel at the first “London Art Biennale” in 2013.
A Samaritan sukkah. Photo: Ben Sedaka
In Exodus (23:16), we are commanded to keep the harvest festival. The harvest festival referred to is sukkot. To this day, many of us build temporary booths outside, decorate them, and eat or even sleep in them. There also exists an ancient Samaritan tradition of building indoor sukkot. The Samaritans serve their guests unique treats, that hearken back to ancient Israel, during the time before the Babylonian captivity.
Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. They believe that are the offspring of the Jews who remained in Israel during the Babylonian Exile (597 BCE). When the Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia (538 BCE), they rejected the Samaritans, out of concern that their practices and beliefs had diverged during the decades of separation. The Samaritans built their temple on Mount Gerizim. They have a Samaritan Torah, and do not accept the Talmud, Mishnah, and Gemara. The Samaritans call themselves “Bnei Israel,” “the children of Israel.” According to the Talmud (tractate Kutim) Samaritans are to be treated as Jews when they practice the same customs as Jews, and as non-Jews when their practice differs. Since the 19th century, the Samaritans have been considered a Jewish sect, and referred to as Samaritan Jews. Today there remain two small communities of Samaritans, one in Holon and one on Mount Gerizim near Nablus.
Sesame Cookies recipe after the jump.
The custom of building sukkot indoors is a vestige of the persecution that the Samaritans endured under the Byzantines. In order to be able to preserve their traditions, they moved their sukkot indoors. They decorate their sukkot in a very exquisite way, with a ceiling that is a mosaic of fresh fruit. Guests who are lucky enough to experience this beauty are also treated to Samaritan hospitality: The Samaritans serve fragrant, savory cookies called Mekamar. They are a wonderful treat with hot mint tea.
Mekamar: Savory Sesame Cookies (Adapted from “The Wonders of the Israelite Samaritan Kitchen” by Benjamin Sedaka)
- 7 cups of unbleached flour
- 3 1/2 cups of semolina flour
- 6 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 1/4 cups vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups toasted sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 3 tablespoons ground fennel
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
- 1 3/4 cups water
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Knead all the ingredients together in a bowl.
- Pinch off walnut size pieces of dough.
- Roll each piece of dough into a ball, and then flatten onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Then, check to see if they are baked through, and bake for a few more minutes if necessary.
— by Hannah Lee
It’s hard to grow fruit organically in Pennsylvania, because we’re fortunate to get plenty of rain. So, farmers have to resort to using pesticides at less-sensitive times (such as before the flowers bloom) or Integrated Pest Management (IPM, which involves the judicious application of cooperative bugs). The beautiful etrogim (citron fruit) that Jews buy for the celebration of Sukkot are often laced with pesticides, so caveat emptor! You should not use them blithely in food preparation afterwards. Therefore, I was delighted to learn of a local man who’s been dedicated to growing etrog trees, and, after about seven years of experimentation, he’s succeeded in nurturing trees that bear fruit.
More after the jump.
Last year, Tablet published an article about a Presbyterian man, John Kirkpatrick, in California who is the only large-scale farmer of etrogim in the United States. Last month, the Jewish Telegraph Agency published an article on Matt Bycer, a Jew in Arizona who now raises about 200 trees. Working independently, Stephen Asbel of Lower Merion has been raising etrog trees for his own pleasure.
Stephen Asbel works as a lawyer (and has written for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice), but he has a passion and a green thumb for the etrog. After much experimentation, he now germinates them on the radiator in the dining room. Once the sprouts poke through the soil, he moves them to the sunny windowsill in the kitchen. He used to use grow lights in the basement — so many, says his wife, Lenore, that she worried that the police would raid them on suspicion of illegal horticulture!
During the warm months, he transplants them to moveable pots and brings them outdoors. However, the Pennsylvania winters are too harsh for the plant that hails from the Mediterranean (Greece, Israel, Italy, Morocco, and Yemen), so he brings them indoors. It’s important to not over-water the trees, so he lets the soil dry out between waterings. A successful strategy is the application of Dr. Earth’s Fruit Tree Fertilizer, about every three months.
A challenge for these trees growing indoors is the dryness of our homes, especially during the winter months when we use central heating. The dry air renders the trees susceptible to spider mites. Stephen hoses down the plants when they’re outdoors and he routinely mists them when they’re indoors.
The Asbel home — perfect for their family — is not large enough to house all the healthy trees he’s been able to bring to maturity. To my delight, when I called them to ask about getting a tree for my family, he was agreeable. After all, just as the proud guardian of new puppies from a beloved family pet, he wanted just the right kind of caretaker for his arboreal babies. Lenore delivered my tree yesterday and I’m super excited about making etrog jam, if not etrog vodka, in the future.
I now want to name my tree, but I am stumped for a suitable name, as the species is botanically both male and female, which means it can pollinate itself. Stephen pointed out that the etrog is not mentioned as such in Tanach, only pri etz hadar (fruit of the majestic tree), so he suggests that I name my tree Hadar. I love it, but my husband says not to name it until the tree survives a month in our home.