OU812 (or Oh, You are at it Again!) — UPDATED

The Orthodox Union has decided to let the let the nuts (that is, the so-called authorities who provide what they claim is rabbinic guidance, not to malign the delightful fruit of many trees) out of the cage once more. They published their annual list of insane additions to the prohibited foods category called kitniyot, and it has something particularly egregious:

The following may be Kitniyot and are therefore not used:
Quinoaupdate, see below

Now, peanuts are a long debate, and most folks I know have the custom of not eating them (note the phrasing!). Amaranth is a specialty product, and I don’t have a dog in that fight. Quinoa, on the other hand, has become a flash point for the battle for the soul of Orthodox Judaism between those who think that the answer to modern questions lies in the reasoning of those came before us, and those who want to make it up as they go along. Yes, that is a harsh way of putting it, but I believe the harshness is justified and even required: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart;… You shall surely rebuke him” (Leviticus 19:17).

One of the decisors of the OU was concerned that quinoa would be prepared on machines which also prepare wheat, raising a concern of hametz (leaven). Another (R. Belsky) took an uncommon position that the category of kitniyot could be expanded, and characterized the position that held that quinoa would not be kitniyot as “lenient”.

In all of this, it should be noted that the Star-K, not known as a bunch of liberals, certifies quinoa for Passover.

The actual statement by the OU is to put quinoa in the category of “you can own it, feed it to a sick person, an infant, a pet, etc” – But leavened products aren’t allowed to be owned or eaten by pretty much anyone (except the grievously ill) and no benefit is allowed from them! So what to make of this?

My contention is that the OU is all over the place here, and does not have a good halakhic (or scientific) basis for what they are saying. Let’s do this in order:

1. If the OU are concerned that quinoa may be produced in a way that it could be mixed in with hametz, but it is not in fact hametz itself (no one says it is), then the answer is that you could say that it would require supervision. The OU did not say that.

2. If the OU are concerned about hametz, why in the world would they include this on a list of *kitniyot* products? I’m not allowed to feed *my dog* hametz, while I do feed my dog kitniyot. If there is a real concern of hametz, that is a Biblical prohibition, and allowing people to come close to that is untenable and is precisely the sin of “leading the community astray.”

3. Saying that the list of kitniyot is fixed isn’t the *lenient* opinion, it’s the *normative* opinion, per the Chayei Adam. That’s why we can have potatoes. The Chayei Adam said that thetakahna (decree) only affected the species that the rabbis who issued it knew about, so no new world plants could have been included. Denigrating the normal and calling it lenient is a violation of lo titgodedu (don’t cause schism), which is de-oraita (Biblical) (ie I eat quinoa, and will do so this year again, as poskened (ruled) by my rabbi [there is a valid opinion that it’s fine] – the OU position will lead to people not eating at each other’s houses).

4. “May be kitniyot”? Seriously? This is a takana (decree) not even a derabbanan (rabbinic commandment), and we have the principle “safek derabbanan l’kulah” (a doubt about a rabbinic issue is ruled leniently). So, nu, how precisely is saying “the following may be Kitniyot and are therefore not used” following that principle?

5. The biggest market for quinoa is the gluten free people *who have nothing to do with wheat or any of the five grains*, so, no, it’s extremely unlikely to have any wheat or other hametz in it, and if they left their ivory tower and got out a bit, they might have figured this out.

The OU is leading people astray with this, and they have much to answer for.

UPDATE: Victory! The OU has removed quinoa from the kitniyot list for the year! They left the weasel-category of “may be kitniyot” in place for peanuts and amaranth (which is not reasonable), but we can be heartened by the triumph of sanity. Yay!

Casting Lots About

Purim has been 98% blast. The wine & cheese tasting was great, although we learned a few things (cheese takes far longer to cut than we thought, even with several people doing it, very few folks like dry white wines, and we should triple the pastry order). I think the Tobia Alma Mater Rioja Tempranillo-Garnacha 2011 and the Chateau Bellerives Dubois Cotes de Bordeaux 2010 were the big winners of the evening.

The cheese guy cheeses (particularly the montaggio and havarti) and the Susan’s Gourmet cheeses (Syrian and mozzarella with Za’atar) were very popular, and the Dear CoCo truffles were a gigantic hit (the smoky mountain in particular was delicious with the Bordeaux). Add to this a bunch of Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and the like, and it was a classy evening.

Well, it was Purim, so costumes were involved.


Sadly, this picture doesn’t quite capture the full effect, but we were not the only folks in costume for the evening- a cat made an appearance, as did a few more.

The seudah & shpiel went swimmingly: a whole bunch of people rose up out of flu-beds and were great- a whole lot of Rabbi-mocking and Les Miserables-mangling, good-time-having rollicking time. Another couple came as each other to the seudah, and my Casper-legs got mocked by none other than Leon Wieseltier himself (!) and we even had Superman (or was it Supperman?) play the rabbi. Given that the meal was fried Dougie’s goodness, what could be better?

So in all that there was one faux pas:

there was non-kosher food in some of the mishloah manot (gifts of food given person to person). D’oh! I’m not talking about baked goods from someone’s house here, I mean processed food which requires supervision but doesn’t have it. In this case, the producer routinely makes other stuff which is kosher, but this particular specialty product isn’t. The bag wasn’t labeled: I’m not sure from whom it came, so my hope is that this is just an oversight caused by haste rather than a bigger issue.

But all in all, marbeh simha.

Why do fast days go so slowly?

I was up late last night: The Franchise is back to recording, and we got an okay basic track for Don’s newest song “Best Day of Your Life,” although I don’t think that will be the final one we use. After that, Sarah was talking to an old friend whose mother is in hospice, so that was very emotional. So the upshot of this is that this morning I overslept, and it was only after I awoke that I remembered that it was Ta’anit Esther (the fast of Esther).

Normally, I prepare for fasting: I wake up early and have breakfast, with the all-important coffee and medication, and the day before I hydrate a bit extra (rather than drinking beer & rye with the band, which tend to dry one out). So my immediate reaction was “uh oh, I screwed up.”

Now, minor fasts (of which this is one) are just that: minor. If someone is sick, they don’t have to fast, and the bar is pretty low. But inherently, the lack of planning was my fault, not just some random thing, and I figured I’d give it a go.

Happily, I made it. This I see as a testament to my continued recovery from Lyme et al – it wasn’t so long ago that I wasn’t allowed to fast on major fast days. So this is a good reminder to be thankful for the blessings in life: I should not let perfect be the enemy of the good.

Gilbert’s Sour Grapes


I think I’ve determined part of why things have been weighing so heavily on my the past couple of weeks:

lateral epicondylitis (or “tennis elbow” for those of you who chose to study more widely-spoken languages than Latin).

You see, the past two years have been a shrinking circle of possibilities as illness steadily took from me most of the extracurricular things I enjoyed doing (with occasional reprieves) – writing got hard, playing music was out, exercise was out, my various and sundry volunteer work was out, and even having the stamina to do reliably do pretty much anything was out. Layer on top of this the pregnancy loss and infertility business, and those years rightly sucked.

So I’m finally in remission. Yay! Back to bicycling, back to music and it seemed like life had finally turned the corner. However, the lingering effect of the illness is a radical deconditioning, so in doing food prep for Thanksgiving, I managed to injure my tendon because my muscles are so weak. So now, my OT has me on a “rest” program which effectively means that all of those activities are back out again. ARGH!

So no exercise and minimal extracurriculars – this is thoroughly dispiriting, and it doesn’t help that the supposed proto-Spring we have now is cold enough that I have to check my driver’s license to remember my gender. Worse, when I’ve asked how long this “rest” needs to last, the answer is “until it doesn’t hurt” – which is of course a wholly untenable answer: I’ve learned that waiting for things to stop hurting does not work – immobilization does not allow for beneficial hormesis to occur.

So taken together, all of this is a big pile of discouragement. But there are a couple of rays of light: in the aftermath of Sarah’s concussion this week, some friends took care of us, and that was lovely; and I’ve finally gotten an appointment with a sports medicine physiatrist (who treats the DC United) who can hopefully get me back to functioning.

Heck, Maker’s Mark put their bourbon back to the original recipe, so maybe I can move away from Rat’s view after all.


Side note – the Binyamina Bin Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is absolutely fabulous.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

This week has been a roller coaster for me, in more ways than one. It began with the awesomeness that is NANOG (#57). I spoke on security issues in sensor networks in the security track (not many questions, but did get some positive feedback from another fellow who runs a large sensor network offering, so I think it was well-received). A highlight was of course seeing Ren & Joe, old friends long missed:

20130209-203212.jpg along with many other awesome folks: Lee, Tony, Paul, Patrick, Jason, Warren, Blaine – it’s like getting the band back together. There is the literal roller coaster – SeaWorld’s Manta was open to us one night, although paired with beer that could have been bad but happily wasn’t.

The restaurants in Orlando are a LOT better than they used to be: I remember getting hate mail from giving a bad review to a previous lousy place. Happily, both Cohen’s Deli and Orlando Kosher on Wheels (schwarma) are quite good (we had ~25 NANOGers go to KoW).

A great conference (duh: anytime there’s 500 people smarter than me I can learn from, I’m thrilled). But of course, time moves on, and folks were happy to tell me about their kids, and that’s what brings me to the other half of the roller coaster.

Infertility sucks. And I mean really sucks. Sarah wrote beautifully about it – I will never equal her eloquence – but I suspect that my experience is a little bit different than hers in this as we stumble down the path together. For one, I’m older, and as much as maternal age is what all of the doctors care about, I really, really feel my age sometimes, and it can be quite disconcerting.

There are support groups for women dealing with infertility, but to my knowledge nothing for men – in fact, the groups explicitly exclude men, as though men have nothing to do with this (!) or might not be hurting along with women. I find myself noting unpleasant passages in prayer (eg psalm 29 “Hashem lamabul yashav” – “God was enthroned at the flood”) and the like, and l looking at blessings with an ironic detachment (“you will live to see your children’s children” – ps 126, brings a “yeah, right”).

I feel an existential loneliness – an abandonment by God – that pains me in ways I can’t even put into words. I am still here, and I still cling to the mitzvot, as they are all I have to frame life and try to follow God’s will. I desperately want to do the right thing, and I try to discern what that is, but lately I feel like I’m shrouded in opacity, blind to the transcendent. And it hurts.

So I muddle along, riding the roller coaster. Hey look: Sarah made an awesome meatloaf! Along with a great Elvi Rioja! Yay! Ooh- lots of extremely cute children at lunch- sigh. Such is my sinusoidal existence right now.

To Serve (Wo)man

I worked in restaurants for most of a decade in oodles of capacities, from dishwasher to cook to waiter to busboy to driver to manager. I’ve worked in pizza shops, burger shops, sandwich shops, short-order restaurants (like, but not at, an Applebee’s, which is relevant), and others. Additionally, my degree is in management, and my specialty was looking at improving customer service as a means of performing a return to profitability for failing restaurants, and I have executed that strategy successfully.

I say all that by way of introducing my qualifications to comment on the latest Internet two-minute-hate: the firing of a server at Applebee’s, and subsequent PR failures of the organization.

Clearly, Applebee’s PR needs desperate help: they could be rescuing orphans from burning buildings and would come out looking bad. Pretty much everything about how they handled the fallout once this started getting attention is going to be a decent case study for management students for the next few years. However, that isn’t the interesting part. The better question, as I see it is this: we’re they right to fire the waitress who posted the snarky note?

First things first: the pastor was being a phenomenal jerk. A queen-size jerk, of the kind that everyone who has ever been in a customer service business has encountered at one point or another. There is a reason why sites like “customers suck!” exist, and it isn’t because people like that pastor don’t.

However, the existence of that site is a clear indication of the banality of jerkiness (as an aside, this is why I think all young people should work in retail before college, to teach them that employees are human too). This banality, the regularity of it, should be an indication that while it is not a pleasant experience, it’s a normal experience. So the server experienced a normal jerkiness, and then a different server posted the whole receipt on Facebook.. Yikes.

So, here you have someone who isn’t the wronged party reacting to someone behaving like a jerk. Now, when someone is rude, we are all diminished: we are all God’s creations, and if any of us are diminished, then all of us are, so there is an element of acceptable third-party reaction to rudeness. An example of a case where that’s completely okay is the waiter who recently stood up for a kid with Down Syndrome, kicking out a rude patron.

Is there a difference between the two? Well, in the first, the offense has happened, and the person is gone- the reaction is to shame after the fact. In the second, it’s a confrontation with someone who has just said something, and could continue to say more. Additionally, the second case involves the dignity of a human, while the first is about money. So, given those differences, I would tend to see the appropriate level of outrage as low rather than high, especially from a third-party.

So the restaurant, upon learning that the third-party server had posted the picture on Facebook, fired the server. This is apparently consistent with the Applebee’s code of conduct.

Before I say whether I would have done this, let me relate a story: I remember that when I ran a bagel shop, I had a rude customer who routinely complained that half-eaten sandwiches were not made right, and would demand that they be re-made. My response? Make another sandwich. It was not worth losing her, or worse, the other people she would tell, or the other people would would see a disagreement in progress, as customers over the cost of a sandwich. When I was a server or a driver, I occasionally got stiffed, and I would complain to the other employees about it. But we all knew that it was part if the job, and that there were jerks in the world.

So if I were running a restaurant, and I had an employee who did this, and it was covered in the code, she’d be gone immediately. It’s one thing to go online and say “I’m a waitress and hate it when customers stiff me” or more generally, “customers suck sometimes;” but it’s another entirely to post the person’s name in a name-and-shame moment and affiliate that with your employer.

This doesn’t mean that stiffing employees (or writing jerky notes) is okay, but customers are paying for the privilege, while employees are being paid. That, in a nutshell, is the difference. This isn’t an interaction between two people on the street, it’s between someone paying and someone being paid. Being paid comes with certain obligations, and those are entered into voluntarily.