Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Talmud for Christmas: Tractate Chopsticks

A lost Talmudic tractate has been discovered that answers age-old rabbinic questions about the appropriate way for Jews to fully accomplish the obligations associated with eating Chinese food on December 24th/25th.

By Rabbi Rick Brody & Rabbi Rachel Kobrin with inspiration from: Rabbi Jeremy Winaker, Rob Kutner, Carolyn Austin, Bill Seligman, Sam Rosenstein, and Rabbi Ben Newman.

MISHNAH 1: Our Rabbis ask: When does one begin the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Beit Shamai omrim [The School of Shammai say]: on the 24th day of the month of December, because one should “larutz la'asot mitzvah” [run to perform a holy act]. Beit Hillel omrim [The School of Hillel say]:

Through the entirety of the night of the 24th and the day of the 25th is mutar [permitted]. But the mehadrin [those who wish to embellish their osbservance] wait until the final hours of the 25th, because we “ma’alin b’kodesh v’lo yordim” [ascend in holiness and do not descend]. V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “To extend the simchah [joyous occasion].”


GEMARA: Tanu Rabbanan [Our Sages taught in an earlier saying] — Amar Rebbe Szechuan [Rabbi Szechuan said]: I was a man of 70 and had always consumed the Feast of Chopsticks before the end of the first watch on the 24th. Once I fell asleep while watching The Sound of Music and slept through the entirety of the following day. When I awoke on the night of the 25th, my food was still warm! From that day on, I have followed the teaching of Beit Hillel.

And until when does the Festive Meal satiate us? Amar Rav [Rav said]: 1 hour. Amar Sh’muel [Sh'muel said]: 1/2 hour.

What do we do with leftovers? Ta Shma [Come learn from this teaching] – Amar Rav Shimon hachacham [Rav Simon the wise said] in the name of Rav Yaakov the Tzadik [righteous one]: “It is preferable that one should use small square cardboard containers with wire handles to contain the notar [remainder] of the feast, so as to prolong the mitzvah [sacred act] of the Feast of Chopsticks.” V’tov lehachmir [And it is good to be strict about this].

Pligei [there was a difference of opinion]: Amar [said] Rabbi Ben: Eat on the 24th so there will be notar [leftovers] which you must consume before the end of the next day. (Lev. 19:6).

K’lal [here is the general rule]: L’mi she’osheh l’fi Beit Shammai [For one who does according to the House of Shammai (and eats on the night of the 24th)], yeish notarin [there are leftovers]. L’mi she’oseh l’fi Beit Hillel [For one who does according to the House of Hillel (and eats on the night of the 25th)], een o’lo [yes or no]? Lo. [No, there are no leftovers]. K’lal gadol [a great general rule]: Lo mein.

MISHNAH 2: Until what time may one fulfill her obligation of eating the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Ma’aseh [A story] of Rebbe Hunan: His daughters were at a Matzah Ball that ran into the early hours of the 26th. When they came home, he was awake waiting for them with organic non-GMO bean curd and brown rice. They consumed it because they still couldn’t tell the difference between blue and green.

GEMARA: Why bean curd? L’zecher [ as a reminder of] how the Kadosh Baruch Hu [Holy Blessed One, i.e. God] conquered “tofu va’vohu” [tohu va'vohu = chaos, formlessness and emptiness (Gen. 1:2)]. V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: Bean curd should only be eaten b’choshech [in darkness (see Gen. 1:2)].

MISHNAH 3: B’Shabbat, lo ochlin b’chopsticks [On the Sabbath, we don't eat with chopsticks].

GEMARA: Why? L’zecher [As a reminder of] “the man who gathered sticks” (Numbers 15:32). V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: So that one will not be tempted to build a raft. But then someone taught–some say it was B’ruriyah, some say it was Bill, another well-regarded spouse of an esteemed sage who was able to keep up with the chachamim [Sages]–came and taught: “We don’t eat with chopsticks on Shabbat because the friction of 2 chopsticks rubbing together might start a fire, which is assur d’oraita [forbidden by the Torah].”

MISHNAH 4: Who shall prepare the festive meal? Anyone who is bak’i [expert] in the preparation, no matter her country of origin. The tavern may not have the word “dragon” in its name.

GEMARA: “Dragon” is a zecher [reminder] of livyatan [leviathan], which is not to be consumed except on Sukkot biy’mot hamashiach [on the Festival of Booths in the time of the Messiah].

And at what time does one attend the cinema? The Sages discuss this she’eilah [question] at length in Masechet [Tractate] Cinema, which has yet to be recovered from an obscure cave in Austin, Texas.


Rabbi Rachel Kobrin and Rabbi Rick Brody are married and live in Austin.