Shavuoth and The Book of Ruth

Ezekiel’s Vision by Laya Crust

This week we have a series of interesting readings. It is Shabbat Nasso which would normally be accompanied by the haftarah that introduces Samson. In the haftarah an angel comes to a farmer’s field and tells a childless woman that she and her husband will have a child. The baby boy is to be raised as a nazir- a person who is not to cut his hair or partake of grape products. When invited to join the farmer and his wife for dinner the angel rises to heaven in a fiery flame.

There are two haftarahs for Shavuoth. One is Ezekiel’s vision of beings with four faces appearing in lightning-filled skies. The other haftarah is a section from Habakkuk. He uses amazing imagery to describe Gd’s power over nature.

Ruth Gathering Grain by Laya Crust

On Shavuoth we read the Book of Ruth. It is a story of famine and poverty, loss, love, loyalty, and redemption. There are scenes that hint at the meanings of Shavuoth. Shavuoth is a harvest/ first fruits festival, and the celebration of “Matan Torah”, the giving of Torah. Ruth shows dedication to Gd and Judaism, and the story takes place during the harvest season.

There are allusions to food and agriculture in the stories of Ruth, and Samson’s parents, and of course in the holiday itself. Today we live in a world so far removed from the biblical setting that it’s hard to remember how our ancestors were tied to the land. They ate simply and in the most basic of ways. Ruth was poor. She gleaned from the corners of the fields where those in poverty gleaned. She was offered a meal with Boaz’s workers. At the mealtime there were only three items on the menu: a morsel of bread, vinegar (either sour wine or the brine of pickled vegetables), and roasted or parched grain. (Ruth: 2:14)

Ruth and Boaz by Laya Crust

Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi had returned to Canaan because of a famine in Moab. They had no means of support so Ruth was dependent on charity, the aforementioned grain found in the corners of a field. The simple meal she shared brings to mind the difference in the availability and abundance of food today as compared to biblical times. Bread is easy for us to buy or to make with dried yeast. Our ancestors ate sour dough bread, bread that would have taken a couple of days to go through the rising and then the baking process.

Most of us are very removed from the land and from the difficulties of basic food cultivation. Maybe, during this time of Covid-19 isolation we can eat a little more simply and appreciate what is available to us, even when we think times are a little tough.

Here is a recipe for ricotta cheese that you can make for one of your meals. Add a sourdough flatbread, fresh cucumbers in vinegar and dill, and some toasted grain, and your meal might be like the meals eaten by Ruth, Naomi, and Samson’s parents.

Fresh Ricotta

4 quarts/ litres whole milk

1 1/2 tsp salt

6 Tbsp. lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar

Line a sieve or colander with 4 layers of cheese cloth. Suspend over a large empty bowl. Bring the milk and salt to a low boil. As soon as it begins to boil take it off the heat. Add the salt vinegar or lemon juice. The milk will separate. Skim off the curds with a slotted spoon and put in the seive or colander. Continue until the milk has completely separated and there is only whey in the pot. Refrigerate.

The whey can be used in muffins, bread dough, or pancakes. It’s full of vitamins!

The paintings of Ruth and Boaz in this post are illustrations I made for a Book of Ruth in 1982. It was commissioned as a gift for a Bat Mitzvah girl. The book includes 18 illustrations and was written by hand. One copy is in Israel and the other is my possession, to be read on Shavuoth.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday, Laya

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Yom Yerushalayim- and food

Jerusalem

Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, will be celebrated this week on Thursday night, May 21, and Friday, May 22, 2020. Jerusalem was established as the capital of Israel by King David almost 3,000 years ago, and the Jerusalem Antiquities Authority has just discovered more ancient ruins near the Western Wall.

My question is: What food should we eat to celebrate Jerusalem Day? I reached out for expert advice and received a few suggestions. The top winners were Jerusalem Mixed Grill (מעורב ירושלמי) and Jerusalem bagels.

Jerusalem Mixed Grill photo by Bridges for Peace

You can find great kiosks selling Jerusalem mixed grill around the city, but particularly near Mahane Yehuda. The smell of the greasy, spicy mixtures wafts through the streets, and here is a video about the originator of this fine fare.

Another contender, the Jerusalem Bagel, is found all over the city. During the Six Day War in 1967 Jerusalem was reunited by the Israelis. Tourism blossomed in the city and these bagels, sold by vendors became super popular. They are long and oval, and the bagel itself is softer and lighter than the usual bagels. They are covered with sesame seeds and served with zatar, an Israeli spice mixture, which is given in a little packet made of newsprint.

The bagel recipe is a closely guarded secret, but adding extra oil to a regular bread recipe will make the dough lighter.

Here are two recipes, one for zatar, and one for a homemade Jerusalem Grill.

Zatar: (from Janna Gur’s cookbook)

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted in a pan

1/2 cup dried hyssop

1 Tablespoon sumac

1/2 teaspoon salt

Grind the hyssop in a spice mill or blender until it is powder. If you don’t have hyssop you can use dried rosemary or thyme. Add all the other ingredients and you are ready to go!

Jerusalem Grill

about 1 1/2 lbs. chicken innards- liver, heart, spleens, plus some chicken breast or thigh.

For a vegetarian version chop up firm tofu & portobello mushrooms, and you can add blanched cauliflower

4 sliced onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

olive oil

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. cardamom

1 tsp. salt

Cut the chicken into small pieces. Put into a bowl with the onions and the garlic. Pour on some olive oil and the spices, and leave to marinate in the fridge for 3 -24 hours.

Heat up a large frying pan and add some olive oil. Pour in the meat mixture. Fry until the meat is done. Serve in a pita with tehina, hummus, pickles, and olives. Enjoy!

Have a wonderful Jerusalem Day. I hope you found my Jerusalem food blog interesting and that you might even try something new!

Have a happy Shabbat Shalom and stay safe. -Laya

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Jeremiah’s Story

A Contract of Sale by Laya Crust

This week we read two parshas- Behar and B’Hukkotai. Each parsha has a haftarah from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in Judea, prophesying from 626 BCE until the fall of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE. He lived in difficult times which spanned the reigns of five kings and ended his life in Egypt.

Jeremiah - Wikipedia
Jeremiah by Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel painting

The haftarah for Behar took place during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. When Jeremiah advised King Zedekiah to surrender to the Babylonians the king threw him into prison. While Jeremiah was in prison Gd told him that Jeremiah’s cousin would come and ask him to buy their family’s parcel of land. Although the country was under siege Jeremiah was to buy the property.

As foretold, his cousin Hanamel asked Jeremiah to buy his land. Jeremiah went to great efforts to make the transaction legal and formalized by witnesses. He weighed out the silver, wrote two bills of sale – one sealed and one unsealed, and carried out the sale in the prison courtyard. The documents were then stored in an earthenware jar for safekeeping. The sale was a symbol that the siege of Jerusalem would end and land would become valuable once more.

Jeremiah said, “For so said Gd, Master of Legions, Gd of Israel, ‘Houses, fields, and vineyards will yet be bought in this land.'” (Jeremiah 32:13)

A Tree by the Water by Laya Crust

Jeremiah constantly reminded the Jews to follow Gd’s laws and ethics. Buying a parcel of land when the country was under siege was an inspiring and selfless act, but he was still disliked by the population because of his constant warnings and negative messages. In the next haftarah, B’Hukkotai, Jeremiah told the nation that a person who is good will flourish. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust the Lord is. He will be like a tree planted by the waters… Its foliage will be lush and will not be anxious in the year of drought. And it will not cease from yielding fruit.”   (Jeremiah 17: 7,8)   

Jeremiah’s message ring true today. The world is in terrible disarray. There is a pandemic, economic crises, war, and natural disasters. Yet there is good being done, acts of kindness, and progress throughout the world (as well as the disasters). Let’s keep that in mind and do our little bit to improve the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Corrected Challah Recipe! (Challah and parashat Emor)

Priestly Vestments – by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha details what is expected of the Priests including ritual purity, marriages, funerals, and other duties. The prophet Ezekiel echoes much of the information in this week’s haftarah.

The Torah reading refers to ceremonial bread twice. For Shavuoth it says, “You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering; each shall be made of two-tenths of choice flour, baked after leavening, as first fruits to HaShem.” (Leviticus 23:17) Later in the reading we read about twelve loaves of bread that were to be baked each week. “You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves, two-tenths of a measure for each loaf. Place them on the pure table before the LORD in two rows, six to a row…He shall arrange them before the LORD regularly every sabbath day—it is a commitment for all time on the part of the Israelites.” (Leviticus 24:5, 6, 8)

Sacred Vessels- Laya Crust (Golden vessels from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, including the platform for the twelve loaves. Based on a medieval Spanish illumination from 1299 Perpignan, Aragon.)

As a Jewish woman who regularly bakes challah it was beautiful to read these texts and connect our modern weekly Shabbat practices with our biblical text. There are many recipes for challah, and there are interesting traditions about the shape of challahs for different holidays and celebrations like the “shissel challah” after Pesach, the “ladder challah”, the “hand challah” and more.

I’m including a classic challah recipe from Carole Cohen in Skokie, Illinois that you may enjoy.

Carole’s Challah ………………………………yield: 2 challahs

1 pckg. of yeast…………………………………..1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 cup warm water …………………………..1 tablespoon salad oil

5 cups flour ………………………………………..1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt ……………………………………~ 1/2 cups warm water

Soften the yeast in 3/4 cup warm water- it should start “bubbling”. Sift together dry ingredients. Add oil. Add softened yeast and beaten egg. Mix thoroughly, adding 11/2 cups of warm water for smoothe kneading. Knead well. Place in a bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let stand until it rises. Knead again. Cover, let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Divide dough in half. Then divide each ball into three pieces, roll into strips, and braid. Place on a large cookie sheet or pan (covered with parchment paper if desired) untill doubled in bulk. Just before baking, brush with diluted egg yolk. Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired. Bake at 350o F until golden brown, 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Below is a delightful youtube video. Einat ben Ari demonstrates different ways to braid decorative challahs.

Besides dealing with the sacrifices, cooking the offerings, and presenting the loaves, we read that Aaron the High Priest was responsible for the Tabernacle and for the ceremonial lighting of the lamps: “Aaron shall set them [the eternal light] up in the Tent of Meeting outside the curtain of the Pact [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it is a law for all time throughout the ages.” (Leviticus 24:3). On Friday nights we turn our home into a place honouring Gd and our traditions. We carry on, in our own small world, the sanctity of the Shabbat candles, the Shabbat bread, and Shabbat observance.

Have a safe, healthy, and relaxing Shabbat- with delicious challah.

and one more from “Jewlish”

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Emor and Challah

Priestly Vestments – by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha details what is expected of the Priests including ritual purity, marriages, funerals, and other duties. The prophet Ezekiel echoes much of the information in this week’s haftarah.

The Torah reading refers to ceremonial bread twice. For Shavuoth it says, “You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering; each shall be made of two-tenths of choice flour, baked after leavening, as first fruits to HaShem.” (Leviticus 23:17) Later in the reading we read about twelve loaves of bread that were to be baked each week. “You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves, two-tenths of a measure for each loaf. Place them on the pure table before the LORD in two rows, six to a row…He shall arrange them before the LORD regularly every sabbath day—it is a commitment for all time on the part of the Israelites.” (Leviticus 24:5, 6, 8)

Sacred Vessels- Laya Crust (Golden vessels from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, including the platform for the twelve loaves. Based on a medieval Spanish illumination from 1299 Perpignan, Aragon.)

As a Jewish woman who regularly bakes challah it was beautiful to read these texts and connect our modern weekly Shabbat practices with our biblical text. There are many recipes for challah, and there are interesting traditions about the shape of challahs for different holidays and celebrations like the “shissel challah” after Pesach, the “ladder challah”, the “hand challah” and more.

I’m including a classic challah recipe from Carole Cohen in Skokie, Illinois that you may enjoy.

Carole’s Challah ………………………………yield: 2 challahs

1 pckg. of yeast…………………………………..1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 cup warm water …………………………..1 tablespoon salad oil

5 cups flour ………………………………………..1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt ……………………………………~ 1/2 cups warm water

Soften the yeast in 3/4 cup warm water- it should start “bubbling”. Sift together dry ingredients. Add oil. Add softened yeast and beaten egg. Mix thoroughly, adding 11/2 cups of warm water for smoothe kneading. Knead well. Place in a bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let stand until it rises. Knead again. Cover, let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Divide dough in half. Then divide each ball into three pieces, roll into strips, and braid. Place on a large cookie sheet or pan (covered with parchment paper if desired) untill doubled in bulk. Just before baking, brush with diluted egg yolk. Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired. Bake at 350o F until golden brown, 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Below is a delightful youtube video. Einat ben Ari demonstrates different ways to braid decorative challahs.

Besides dealing with the sacrifices, cooking the offerings, and presenting the loaves, we read that Aaron the High Priest was responsible for the Tabernacle and for the ceremonial lighting of the lamps: “Aaron shall set them [the eternal light] up in the Tent of Meeting outside the curtain of the Pact [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it is a law for all time throughout the ages.” (Leviticus 24:3). On Friday nights we turn our home into a place honouring Gd and our traditions. We carry on, in our own small world, the sanctity of the Shabbat candles, the Shabbat bread, and Shabbat observance.

Have a safe, healthy, and relaxing Shabbat- with delicious challah.

and one more from “Jewlish”

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Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

This week we observed Yom haZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut- [Israeli] Remembrance Day and [Israel] Independence Day.  These two days are modern observances, introduced to us with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel on the 5th of Iyar, which corresponded to May 14, 1948.


A
s soon as the fledgeling country Israel was established its neighbours declared war, hoping to annihilate it. Over six thousand young men and women died, defending their rights to a Jewish State.  Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) is observed the day before Israel Independence Day to honour and remember those who lost their lives defending the barely formed country.

When I looked at this week’s Torah portions I was struck by their names.

Acharei Mot by Laya Crust
Kedoshim sig
Kedoshim by Laya Crust

The names of these two neighbouring parshiot perfectly describe our two holidays.  אחרי מות “Acharei Mot” means “After the Death”, and קדושים “Kedoshim” means “Holinesses” – or “You Shall be Holy”. The titles given to the Torah readings remind us the sequence of events: the people who have died since 1948 defending Israel’s right to exist, and our responsibility to cultivate Israel, celebrate and experience Israel, and ultimately to live in Israel, our country.

The readings this week are lists and lists of laws dictated by Gd. Many of the rules are followed by the words “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your Gd”. Nestled among guidelines concerning ownership, business practice, sacrifices, sexual behaviour, and harvesting are laws concerning relationships. We read the command, “…you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord your Gd.” (Leviticus 18:19) This is a command- not a suggestion.

In these bizarre and frightening times, in the days where the world is swept by Covid-19 this statement is deeply profound. Surrounded by people who may be infected, who are isolated, who are depressed, who have lost their jobs, or worse, who have lost loved ones, these words and this law is important to integrate into our minds and our lives. Gd is telling we cannot take care only of ourselves. We must not ignore those suffering around us. Gd is making the demand that “…you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord your Gd.”

There is evidence of that happening. Health care workers, food producers, phone “buddies”, and volunteers.are loving their neighbours as themselves. Researchers are forging ahead trying to find a cure and are sharing their findings. Following Gd’s demand, we will pull through. If we remember the words now and after the pandemic has passed the world will be a better place.

May your week be safe, healthy, giving, and generous. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

Happy 72nd Birthday, Israel, and many many more!  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Hazikaron

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Halfway through the Torah

Flames of Division by Laya Crust

A couple of weeks ago we read parshat Shemini on Shabbat. It is an unexpected combination of two very different narratives, and the break between the two narratives occurs pretty much in the middle of the reading. Similarly, the parsha itself appears right in the centre of the Torah cycle. Coincidently we are experiencing an unprecedented break in the functioning of the world. I want to explore this dividing of text and experience.

In the first half of parsha Shemini we read about the sacrifices that Moses and Aaron offered to Gd. In the second half of the parsha we read about which animals are kosher (acceptable for Jews to eat) and which are treif (not acceptable for Jews to eat).

Aaron and his sons had spent weeks purifying and spiritually readying themselves to perform these important offerings. The sacrifices were accepted. Dramatically, Gd’s fire consumed the sacrificial remains and His flames ascended to the heavens.  In a moment of religious fervour Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offered their own (unholy) fire to Gd. In anger, Gd sent down flames that killed the two men. It was a shocking and tragic incident.

Following this distressing event, the Israelites were told which animals were kosher and which were non-kosher. The two narratives are very different- one is a drama the other is a list of guidelines. Yet they are united by a phrase at the end of each of the 2 sections.

After Nadav and Avihu died Aaron and his sons were tasked with being able לְהבדיל בּין הקדשׁ ובין החֹל ובין הטמה ובין הטהור -to distinguish between holy and common, between impure and pure.

Later, when Israelites were told what they could eat and what they could not eat, we read: לְהבדיל בין הטמה ובין הטהור. They were “to separate between the impure and the pure”.

The phrases of separation are obviously very important, and fire is used in Torah as a means of separation. HaShem formed a pillar of fire to light the way of the nation of Israel, and to separate and protect them from their enemies as they traveled through the desert. We, ourselves, use Aish (fire) to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. We light candles before Shabbat begins and at Havdalah when Shabbat ends. So, to restate, Aish or fire is used as a device to divide and separate.

Fire is mysterious, beautiful, and threatening. If flames come too close they are dangerous- destroying and killing what is in their path. It is a contrary force, and ambiguous one. We need fire for light, for warmth, and in historical times humans needed fire to protect them from wild beasts at night. And yet this protective force can suddenly, without warning, rage out of control.

Differentiating, “לְהבדיל”, creates awareness. That is a theme in this Torah reading. The list of acceptable and unacceptable animals makes us conscious of our dietary choices. The dire punishment of Nadav and Avihu remind us of the sacredness of HaShem’s commands and words. Boundaries create awareness. Without boundaries all things are equal. With limits, there is greater focus and the focus makes everything more precious.

The world is experiencing a time of separation. Due to the danger of COVID-19 we are forced to separate from others in order to keep ourselves and others safe. The separation allows us time to reflect on what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Let’s use this time wisely and make our lives and the world better.

Be safe, be well, be healthy and be kind.

Laya Crust

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