Sunday, 6 April 2008

Pesach (Part One)

I doubt there's a phrase in Hebrew guaranteed to depress me more than Kasher Le Pesach - Kosher for Passover.

If, like me, you had random bits of the Bible shoved into your head at irregular intervals in childhood, you probably know the story already - the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt to the promised land, the parting of the Red Sea, and so on and so forth. If you don't know the story, the Book of Exodus is most instructive in this respect.

Anyway, He-Who-Expects-To-Be-Obeyed punished the Egyptians for their intransigence towards the chosen people with a series of plagues, the last being that passover of the Angel of Death and the slaughter of all the first born of the perfidious Egyptians. Appreciating that this would probably make the Jews extremely unpopular, he advised the Chosen Ones to (and I summarise somewhat) gird their loins and prepare to flee when given the word. To make their impromptu exit all the more convincing, he instructed them to keep their bread unleavened, or unfermented.

This release from bondage is commemorated by the feast of Pesach, Passover in English. Much of which passes over me, as you can imagine. Except the pesky Kosher for Passover bit.

Because the Jews of Egypt were forbidden from taking leavened bread with them on their departure, the modern day commemoration forbids the possession of anything either already leavened - Bread, Pasta, or even Cake, dammit! - or capable of causing fermentation, like yeast. Round about now, observant Jews begin the systematic and comprehensive housecleaning to eliminate all traces of the contraband in advance of the holiday.

Now, what's this got to do with me?

Simple. Until this year, state legislation made it illegal to sell leavened products, known in Hebrew as Chametz, or even to display them for sale during the 7 days of the Holiday, Chol HaMoed.

Seven days: no bread, no crisps, no pita and no pasta. This is serious business indeed. And that's not even considering the absence of Beer and Spirits. Effectively, the State of Israel expects me to starve for a week.

Of course, there are ways around it. One can stock up in advance, something which my aggressively secular family in law are happy to do every year. "Just for you, our dear non-Jewish guest," they claim, some less convincingly than others (no names, but they know who they are...)

Or look for the shops and restaurants, mainly in Tel Aviv, that ignore the legislation and serve away, anyway.

It's a complicated business, more so because the State do seek out and prosecute transgressors.

But then, out of the blue, this happened last week.

It's a complicated, nuanced ruling, but essentially, what the judge seems to be suggesting is that the legislation was more symbolic - and so, merely concerned with the display of Chametz - than substantive - which would prohibit the possession and sale of same, as the law has been interpreted since time immemorial.

I dunno, It all seems a little too complicated. But it does mean that I might, just might, be able to get a decent meal during Pesach (My mother in law's no holds barred, eat until the last man is standing barbecues excluded, obviously - and more about those another time).

OK, the working week is about to begin. Interesting things happening this week. More on that later.

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