Monday, April 02, 2018

A Recipe for Making a Different Night Even More Different

My Brother and Sister-in-Law hosted not one, but two, terrific seders this year. And generously, they let me hijack one of the steps to let me share a new insight I learned this year.

The third step in seder is Karpas, which we've always translated as 'green vegetable' and Google translates as celery. At this step in the proceedings we've always dipped parsley into salt water. The parsley represents Spring and rebirth while the salt water represents the tears of the Israelite slaves. We usually note that this step is a sort of an appetizer, though one you're not likely to order at a restaurant. (Mmmmm...tears...yum....)

This tradition was all well and good, until I watched this YouTube video which suggested that there's room for variation at this step. Apparently, the Babylonian Talmud sets out three requirements for this step of the seder:

  1. The item being dipped has to have the blessing borei pri ha’adama
  2. You can't use this same item again for maror (the bitter herb)
  3. You have to dip the item into *something*

The video suggested that within those bounds, there was quite a selection of options available to you. You could dip parsley in salad dressing, radish in guacamole or, get this, bananas in chocolate! That's right, bananas are considered ha'adma not ha'etz as one would expect.

So this year, along with parsley we had carrots, radishes, mint, yellow peppers and bananas. And along with salt water, we had lemon juice, honey, Sriracha, whipped cream and yes, chocolate, to dip in.

But the goal wasn't just to add new flavors, but to also experiment with symbolism. The green of the mint, dipped in the fiery red Sriracha is another way of experiencing the joy of renewal and the harsh lives of the Israelites, with the red of the Sriracha adding a nod to the blood on the doorposts that kept the angel of death away.

And sure, sitting with a pillow does add to the feeling that tonight you're a free person. But try dipping banana in Chocolate, and tell me you don't feel even more free!

Doing some follow-up research I've learned that while we may have been stretching the tradition a bit, we weren't totally out in left field. Some Jews used to explicitly dip into something red, though that brought with it its own challenges:

The common Ashkenazic practice is to dip the Karpas into salt water. However, if the origin of the Karpas is indeed in Joseph’s ketonet passim, one would expect to find it dipped into blood during the Seder. But blood is strictly prohibited as food in Judaism[xiv]; the consumption of it is a capital offense punished by karet; therefore, we should expect the Karpas to be dipped into a substitute for blood. In the Bible and subsequent literature, there are numerous references to blood representing wine and wine representing blood[xv]. The most preferred wine in ancient times was red wine[xvi] which indeed resembles blood.

In many countries, Jews used red wine during the Seder. However, after the widespread occurrences of the blood libel in Europe, whereby Jews were accused of killing Christian children and using their blood during the Seder, Jews deemed it prudent to substitute white wine during the Seder[xvii] for the formerly preferred red wine, thus preventing even the appearance of Christian blood on the table. Hence one was more likely to find white wine at the Seder table than red wine[xviii]. We are therefore more likely to find traces of the tradition of the Karpas being dipped into red liquids in non-Christian countries.[xix]

And Maimonides apparently preferred to dip Karpas into Charoset, which would also be a tasty tradition to try.

In the great tradition of my forefathers, I didn't properly prepare for Passover night and found myself a few hours before seder with no obvious way to serve dipping chocolate. So I looked around the kitchen and quickly crafted a tea-light powered fondue pot:

I took a tuna can and used a churchkey to puncture the sides and provide airflow. I dropped a tea light inside, lit it, and put a small metal bowl on top. In the bowl, I added 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.

I lit the candle at the start of the seder and by the time we hit Karpas, the chocolate was perfectly melted. A miracle perhaps? OK, let's not go that far.

One of the primary reasons for the Karpas step is to elicit questions. And let me tell you, the above experiment did just that!

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