A couple months ago, my fiancé came home from work and told me about a diet her colleague was doing, one of those 30-day diets in which you cut out nearly everything but meat, vegetables and fruits. She was all for trying it, and suggested we do it together before our wedding in June. Strangely enough, I was on board.
I’ve never done any kind of strict diet. My “diets” have largely consisted of reactionary self-chiding, such as “hey, Steven, stop eating crap,” or “you just had pizza, maybe don’t have pizza again today,” but we had the motivation of wanting to feel and look our best at our wedding, and now, more importantly, a plan. We considered our calendar, and it was clear when we should start – April, because we’d already be cutting out grains for Passover. It would be easy.
As it turns out, Passover eating regimens everywhere are getting larger this year thanks to the Conservative movement’s ruling permitting the eating of kitniyot (rice and legumes, such as beans and corn) during Passover. Sephardic Jews have been eating kitniyot for ages, but now, unless you’re an Orthodox Ashkenazi Jew, you have your rabbis’ blessing to ingest as much corn syrup as your little heart can handle.
Gone are the days of worrying about staring at product ingredients for any mention of “corn,” of arguing with my college friends about what you can and cannot get in your Chipotle bowl during Passover. All you have to do (unless you’re traditionally observant, of course) is cut out bread products. I won’t belittle that sacrifice too much, but in a world catering more and more to the gluten intolerant and those cutting down on gluten for health reasons, the truth is that keeping Passover this year will be the easiest it has ever been. Ever.
The last few years, I’ve already noticed how the gluten-free trend and consequent rise in creative cooking substitutes have made kosher-for-Passover desserts not just good, but delicious. Long gone are the crumbly matzo-meal cakes and brownies of my childhood. With restaurants and food blogs crafting more and more gluten-free options, keeping Passover has felt less and less challenging each of the last few years. Now it’s gotten to the point that it’s convenient. I have an excuse to eliminate carbohydrates. It’s my annual Passover diet.
In fact, outside of the Seder, I don’t even anticipate eating matzah. For ages, our people have leaned on matzah like a crutch (albeit to the detriment of our bowels). We acted as if not eating bread meant we simply must substitute matzah. We fry it, we put pizza toppings on it – we coat it in butter and chocolate. Aside from a nostalgic desire to eat these foods, I anticipate most of my Jewish peers will barely eat matzah on Passover, and grocery stores will eventually find more and more boxes left over with each passing spring.
In other words, the importance and meaning of the week-long observance of Passover – the deeper level of spiritual connection our tradition intended for us through the sacrifice of grains – is disappearing. We’ve made it so much easier to survive the week that we don’t gain anything from the restriction. Plus, how can I be spiritually fulfilled by a restriction that I would now willfully impose on myself, a restriction that, today, Jews and non-Jews alike would both view as “trendy?”
Family and friends will surely differ about kitniyot this year. Some will embrace the prospect with legume-filled abandon; others will maintain that there’s a value in continuing the tradition in spite of modern interpretation. But debating about which practice is better or agonizing over these food choices misses the point. In an era of varying allergies and diets and health-conscious eating, the week-long observance of Passover for the average person needs to evolve beyond food restrictions.
And it’s not the rabbis’ job to tell us how. Passover is a holiday ripe with meaningful themes that ring especially true in these challenging modern times. It is our imperative to take these annually revisited lessons to heart and use these eight days to engage in a practice that requires more mindfulness and more action than altering our diet. Not eating bread is not the obligation; it is merely the physical reminder of our obligation to think beyond ourselves, to remember that we were once strangers and slaves, and to dedicate time to eradicating the plagues of slavery, unwelcome-ness and the too many others that still abound in our world.
Wishing you and yours a meaningful gluten- and apathy-free Passover. Chag sameach!