Monday, July 07, 2008

Mikveh ceremony, Part 2: Mitzvah of Challah Lecture 2008

After returning from the Mikveh and chatting for a few minutes, one of the two religious women from Dimona began her lecture on the Mitzvah of Challah. The two delightful and upbeat women have a business where they help bring knowledge of Jewish ritual to young women, with no strings attached. (The other woman asked that I not publish her picture as she is the wife of a Rabbi, so you will only see one of them in these photos.) They made it educational and fun! The whole audience of about 20 people were captivated by the process. The lecture also included making the dough for challah, letting it rise, and baking it. I learned a lot which I will apply to making challah when I return home!

The three mitzvot for brides were mentioned: Lighting candles, family purity (mikveh), and Hallah, which was explained as were some general guidelines for the new bride, some of which follows.

Explaining Mitzvah...sometimes humorously

When a couple marry, it is like they are born again, starting something afresh. That is one reason for wearing white at the ceremony. Marriages are to be happy. Women all study a lot, but there is no course we all take for marriage, raising kids, budgeting, getting together with our spouses. It is like we are thrown into the sea.

The main verse in the Torah about couples being together (marriage) is in Bereishit, where G-d created humans in G-d’s image, man and woman. The 2nd blessing in the Sheva Berachot of a wedding refers to this. One interpretation is that the two were created together (“humanity”) and then separated (“man and woman”), so before marriage, each of us really is half a person who is joined to the other half in the wedding. We are not two completely separate people coming together, but two halves like a puzzle. Each part needs to be a bit different to balance the other part.

Women tend to have more “regeshut” (feelings, sensitivity, emotions) while men tend to do everything from their “head.” She asked if we had ever seen a guy cry at a movie, for example, and we all laughed (though I know of some that do). Using gematria, she took the Hebrew word for together “B’yahad” and the Hebrew word for divorce “get (גט).” B’yahad totals 24 points and “get” 12, so when a couple is divorced, the whole becomes a half person again. (Also, alphabetically, the four letters that surround gimel and tet in the alphabet are actually “B’yahad,” so in a sense, divorce is surrounded by togetherness. The moral of another story she told was that the world was created with words and can only be destroyed by words.
Blessing Sagit

If more than 2 kilos of flour is used (more accurately, an “omer”), then the blessing needs to be said for the separation of dough. (In Talmudic times, a part of the dough was set aside for the priests/rabbis, hence, this separation.The given of bread to rabbis no longer continues, but the custom of separation does.) So she used 2 kilos. Challah makers sift the flour carefully with a special sifter designed to get out both the insects and their eggs, so we will not eat them.
Our neighbor Aliza, mother of the groom, watching the making of the dough
Aliza and, Rachel, girlfriend of her youngest son. Note jasmine head
wreath in Rachel's hands

Then the salt, yeast, sugar, eggs, water, and oil are added to the flour. The woman used generous spoonfuls (using a regular large soup spoon) to measure, like my grandmothers used to do. The oil was added near the end to make the dough flexible and to keep it from sticking to her hands. She also added oil to her hands as she was working the dough.

Kneading dough--see extra oil on the right

While making the dough, she asks for blessings for her family, for her husband to be relaxed, etc. When kneaded enough, she covered the dough with a plastic bag, in the middle pushed in a match box to help the dough rise (especially important on cold days in winter), andthen covered it all with a towel.

While the dough was rising, she talked about marriages and told a number of humorous but meaningful stories. In one, a person tried to do good, but what was good for one person was harmful in the long run for someone else. Moral: we always need to be careful. The moral to another story: The path to happiness is the way to go but not always easy.

We talked about the hamsa and why it was together with a fish. One reason was that the fish just wants to live, swim under the water. It has no soul, no bad inclination, so it fits more easily with good luck and it has nothing evil about it.

I also didn’t realize that Shabbat does not start with the lighting of the candles. It actually starts 20 minutes later. (I knew we litthem 20 min before Shabbat)….so if someone still is smoking or cooking for the next 19 minutes, it’s OK! In her tradition, if there is more than one woman in a house, only one person lights the candles. The other does not need to. In a public place, like before a Bar Mitzvah dinner, that does not hold. The Sepharadim say the blessing and then light the candles. I always thought we do the reverse—light and then bless. I wonder if that is the Ashkenazic way or just what I’ve learned to do.

While she talked, we ate some of the new treats. My favorite was a gelatinous milk candy with thin sliced slivers of pistachio inside. I also enjoyed a spicy mashed potato mini-pie.

My favorite is to the left, on the right of the orangeade

When the dough rose, the bride performed the removal of dough from the 4 corners of the mass.

Ideally, the separated dough is later burnt on the gas on the stove. If that is not possible, it is wrapped in 2 bags and then can be thrown away. Since we had 2 kilos of flour in the mix, the bride with head covered said the blessing for this separation, and others watching could ask for blessings for women trying to get pregnant, for peace in the family, etc. although she reminded us that though we ask, we will get whatever is best for us and not necessarily what we ask. She told us a very humorous and true story of a woman hoping to have a son…. And had 5 daughters in a row….

Friends fixing hair after blessing bread

Audience Listening

Then the really fun part began. She showed us a variety of ways to braid the dough:

1) Rolling out one long string and tying it to make a roll... Consider it as 3. Fold end 1/3rd in and then braid

Sorry. This picture won't go straight.

1.5) Twist one rope and gently roll

2) Using two long ropes to make a roll or challah in the shape of what I usually do with 4 ropes

3) Rolling one long rope, making small cuts every inch, and then rolling the rope up so that the cuts are toward the outside

4) Using 5 ropes and just working from one side: over, under, over, under, etc

5) Using small balls of dough, a string, and a bit more, making a cluster of grapes.

Rolls Ready to bake

We went home after the first batch was done—they did not have to let it rise much again….and I was able to take home two small rolls to taste....the two on the right.

Howard had a special, very delicious and creative treat in store for him when I got home after midnight!

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