Monday, December 28, 2009

The Little Things (Bamba and Chocolate)

On Sunday, The Fast of the 10th Tevet, The Jerusalem Post ran (what I'm sure they thought was) a humorous article about crazy things that happen in Israel entitled "Wild and wacky Israeli tales from 2009"

The authoress obviously thought that the centre piece to her hilariously (NOT) funny article was the story about the two Rabbis arguing over which bracha to say over Bamba. It obviously cracked her up although everyone I asked couldn't see the joke. She says that of all the crazy things that happen in Israel:

"From the religious world, a prize goes to the competition between the two sons of the former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, who argued over what blessing should be recited over the popular kids' peanut snack Bamba. "

The problem was that everyone I asked happened to be religious and that's why we didn't see the humour in it. I think what the authoress found funny was the fact that two great Rabbis would spend so much time and effort arguing over what was after all, a children's snack; an unimportant small insignificant item. I did a Google to try and find a bit more about this story and found that she had taken it from an anti-religious article in the Jerusalem Post (they feel they have to publish such articles every now and again to attempt to justify their secularism) from June 2009.

The author of this article begins:

"What blessing should a pious Jew make on the popular snack Bamba and its many surrogates? This arcane dispute, relevant to a religious minority of Jews, has been thrust to the forefront of a power struggle between two sons of Sephardi Jewry's most influential halachic authority - Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of Shas."

I'll challenge the author on two points.

1) the issue is not "arcane", that is: mysterious, esoteric, unfathomable. Had he bothered to ask a religious Jew then I'm quite sure he would have understood the issue in less than a minute. But then there'd be nothing to make fun of would there.

2) The author is under the misapprehension that religious Jews are a tiny irrelevant minority and that Torah, kashrut and brachot are irrelevant to the vast majority of Israelis. This is not born out by the statistics from every poll ever carried out in this country.

In the last elections, more than 25% of the population went as far as to vote for parties dealing with exclusively religious issues. Parties like "Gimmel" (Agudas Yisrael / Degel HaTorah) and Shas. If you add the Zionist religious parties such as "Ichud Leumi" (another 17%) to this list, (where the line between religious issues and national political issues blurs), then the figure goes up to a whopping 42% of the electorate.

Some 55% of the population define themselves as "traditional" (not to be confused with the American Masorti movement). These Jews are from many backgrounds but most are Sephardim from the Mediterranean or Islamic world. Although they would not consider themselves religiously observant, Judaism (of the Orthodox kind) remains an important ingredient in their lives.

(Tables taken from the site of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:

So it seems that our Jerusalem Post authors are actually the ones in the minority. It's just that they are too arrogant (or insecure) to admit it.

For the majority of Israeli Jews, recognising that the source of blessing in our lives comes from Hakodesh Baruch Hu is important. That's why it is a common occurrence to see Israeli women in jeans and t-shirts and men temporarily cover their heads and taking the trouble to say brachot before they eat and drink.

Meseches Brachos teaches that there is a hierarchy to foods and their appropriate bracha. From "HaMotzi" over bread, "Mezonos" over cake, "HaAitz" over tree fruits, "HaAdama" over foods that come from the ground and everything else which is covered by "She HaKol". The greater the food, the higher we praise Hashem. Therefore it would be a shame if we mistakenly said "SheHakol" over a food which actually deserves a higher bracha. We would be denying Hashem sufficient praise and recognition. The more popular the food, the greater the shame if we repeatedly say the wrong bracha. So which bracha to say over the most common everyday snacks like Bamba become important.

It’s the little things sometimes that make the difference. Is that so difficult to understand?

Like Bamba, there is discussion regarding the correct bracha said over chocolate. Bamba is primarily made from corn but the corn has been processed and is not recognisable within the snack. Therefore the majority opinion is to say "SheHakol". It could be argued though that the corn was grown especially for the snack and therefore it should be "HaAdama". Although a minority opinion, according to Rav Ovadia Yoseph, it would not be wrong to follow this opinion. Likewise there are those who say the bracha of "HaAitz" over chocolate as even though the cocoa bean (which comes from a tree) is not recognisable within the chocolate, nevertheless it is the primary use for these beans. The majority opinion however is to say the bracha "SheHakol".

I remember my Rav telling me many years ago, that even though Meseches Brachos is one of the first Mishnaos taught to little kids as it deals with basic issues of Judaism, the Gemara is in fact one of the hardest to learn.

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