Sunday, April 09, 2006

Not Just Tradition

Me and Ze'ev have been cleaning the Bochur Pad pretty intensely the last 24 hours in preparation for Passover. In the process of scrubbing, kashering, vacuuming, dusting, etc, I noticed that we have Oneida silverware.

Oneida is a respectable silverware company, but the thing most people don't know is that the company originated with the Oneida Society, a Utopian community from the 19th century that practiced free love and communal raising of children. But I digress...

These days, sometimes you'll hear people say that things like pork were only made unkosher in the Torah because people used to get trichinosis. Therefore, today pork should be kosher. This reasoning fails to take into account the fact that Jewish law isn't derived from human intellect. And for those who say, "Well, that's a matter of opinion," there are myriad examples of modern science confirming halachic intricacies that were, by anyone's estimation, beyond human intellect of the time.

Case in point: Chometz. The stuff we're forbidden to eat, own, or benefit from during Passover. The Sages, of blessed memory, made halachic distinctions with regards to chometz that don't really make sense to the average person. For instance, why can't corn or rice become chometz? Why does fruit juice as a replacement of water not produce chometz?

The "why" doesn't really matter, as tradition tells us, because at Mount Sinai, upon receiving G-d's Torah, we all said, "We'll follow it, and we'll learn about it." We'll do it, then worry about figuring out why later on. But when modern science sheds light on the "why," it reveals the depth of the connectedness of the intellect of our Sages.

I've been reading bits of Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz's The Laws of Pesach recently, and the introduction to the section about chometz was trippy. If you're interested, here is the technical discussion about chometz from Rabbi Blumenkrantz's book:
"...B-Amylase is missing in the corn and rice. Thus, the leavening process cannot take place, since no carbon dioxide gas is released.

"In wheat and barley, enzyme action begins immediately after water is added, forming alcohol and carbon dioxide. The proteinase begins its action, but the odor associated with decomposition is overshadowed by the fermentation process. With the corn, however, having no fermentation, the decomposition process becomes more evident. This is called sirchon.

"In the leavening process, the gluten which holds the particles of dough together prevent the immediate escape of carbon dioxide. This causes a "hollow" sound when the dough is slapped. As the process builds up, gas accumulates below the surface of the dough. This is soon extended, causing the "whitening" and "hair cracks" mentioned above. At that moment, the fermentation is up to the level at which the dough is considered halachically chometz. At normal temperature, this takes place about 18-20 minutes from the time the water is mixed with the flour, explaining the urgency of getting the dough into the oven within 18 minutes. As long as the dough is being kneaded and pummeled, however, it will not become chometz since such manipulation enables the carbon dioxide to escape.

"The Torah refers to two kinds of chometz: chometz proper which is edible and s'or or leaven, which is formed when dough is allowed to stand for a long time. This dough is used to speed up the leavening of other dough, a function performed nowadays by yeast.

"Finally, matzoh can be made because the heat from the oven expels all the water from the dough, preventing the enzymes from operating. In addition, B-Amylase is destroyed by heat at 80 degrees Celsius.

"The holocho states that fruit juices in the dough cannot produce chometz. This is because fruit juices are acid and A-Amylase cannot work in the presence of acid.

"We can see from the above, that Chazal, in formulating the laws of chimutz thousands of years ago, already incorporated into the holocho the scientific knowledge being learned today."
Indeed. I hope everyone's Passover cleaning is going well.


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Mon Mar 12, 05:02:00 AM 2007  

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