Ask the Rabbi


When and Why Don’t We Eat Nuts?


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An Ashkenzaic custom is to not eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah, and some say right through till Yom Kippur. A couple of reasons are given for this. The Maharil says that nuts increase the saliva in the mouth and may interfere with the prayers we say during the high holidays. Since during these days we are praying more than usual, some refrain from nuts that could interfere with that.

The deeper Jewish sources say, that it is connected to the numerical value of the Hebrew word for nut, Egoz, which has the same numerical value as “Chet” (sin), 17. Since we want to stay far away from sin as possible, some stay away from any foods, which may even conjure the idea of sin in our lives. Although the number 17 is also the gematria for “tov” (good), some respond that it is better to not even allow sin to be even mixed in with good during these days.


What are Simanim and Why Do We Eat Them?


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The Talmud in Kritot 6a tells us that certain foods are customarily eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Abaye said, “Now that you have determined that omens are significant, at the beginning of every year a person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets, and dates …”

The custom developed not just to eat the foods, but also to place our hands over them and to recite a prayer for the upcoming year over these foods. The prayers would be clever play on words, so that the food eaten actually symbolized what we want from the new year. We are kind of eating our prayers!


What is Hafrashat Challah (Separating the Challah)...


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Some mitzvot are directed primarily towards women. Separating challah from dough is a beautiful example of such a mitzvah. The Torah tells us(Bamidbar 15:20) “From the first of your dough you shall set apart challah.” Originally this portion of the dough went to the cohen. A possible reason this mitzvah is directed towards the woman is because the talmud calls Adam the “Challah of the world” (the portion of the world separated for serving Hashem.) Just as Hashem formed man from the dust of the earth, we separate challah from dough. Since Eve caused Adam to sin by giving him fruit from the tree of knowledge, this mitzvah may be coming to rectify that original sin.

If a woman makes dough from one of the five grains, (wheat, barley, spelt, oats or rye) and she uses more than 2.64 pounds, she must separate a small piece. The bracha however can only be said if she separates more than 4.95 pounds of flour, according to the Chazon Ish. Some opinions are more lenient as converting talmudic measures to modern day measurements, are not an exact science. Rabbi Chaim Naeh permits the blessing said over 3.66 pounds. Some sephardim who follow the Ben Ish Chai will only make a blessing when using 5.47 pounds! As always check with your LOR (local orthodox rabbi) to find your own custom.


The Nine Days and Tisha B’Av


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The first nine days of the Jewish month of Av are days of acute mourning. The nine days, as they are known in the Jewish calendar are so sad, that Jewish people historically have refrained from eating meat (or chicken) and drinking wine during this time. These nine days lead us into the height of our mourning with a fast day on the ninth of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the second temple, by the Romans, in 70 CE.

If this tragedy happened thousands of years ago, why do we not eat meat or wine during these days? The reason is that eating meat and wine has traditionally always been done on days of Jewish celebrations. As the old saying goes, “every Jewish holiday is the same – they came to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” in this case however we did not win, and the temple still lays in ruins in Jerusalem till this day. To still feel the pain of that on going tragedy, we don’t eat meat and wine, which signify happiness and success. We hope and pray that the third and final temple be built in Jerusalem very soon.


Introducing Rabbi Lawrence: The Official Joy of...


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At most of my appearances, I talk about my life. Talk about my food.  Talk about my friends.  So if you’ve seen any of my presentations, you’ve heard me rave about Rabbi Lawrence.  As I morphed from non-religious TV producer to sheitel-wearing kosher cookbook author, Rabbi L. and his fab wife Anita were right there for me.

C’mon. You’ve heard of Anita — my terrific friend, neighbor, and inspiration for girls who grill. I talk about her all the time.  Anyway, after I became engaged, I dragged Hubby-to-be to Monsey to meet them. Been like one big happy family ever since.