Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Kitchen as a Place of Perpetual Blessing

From Nada Chandler, shareholder and member of the Steering Committee of Houston’s Tuv Ha’Aretz

In response to last week’s piece “The Cooking Brachot”, Nada Chandler, shareholder from Houston, Texas, reminds us that there are already long standing ways for women to bless the food they are preparing that are not within the traditional liturgy. I have just recently learned from Nada that many women may recite prayers called Tekhines. Tekhines are Jewish private devotions and prayers in Yiddish written by both women and men, but recited primarily by women. Nada has also told me that Tekhines have been a part of the Jewish tradition for at least 400 documented years and in today's world, women who recite Tekhines in their kitchen probably do not have to consult anything but their memory.
- Brooke Saias, Hazon’s Food Justice Coordinator

Rooted in our tradition over the centuries, women have recited the most basic “cooking” blessing, as they made their Challah:

May it be Your will, our God, the God of our Fathers, that You bless our dough, as You blessed the dough of our Mothers, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. And may we be blessed as in the verse: “You shall give the first yield of your dough to the kohen to make a blessing rest upon your home.” “May the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us; establish for us the work of our hands; establish the work of our hands.”

Women did not have to consult a siddur or an established liturgy as they cooked, they either, as I learned from my mother z”l (of blessed memory), spontaneously, or in words she learned from her mother invited God to participate in the process. Every time my mother, z”l, put something in the oven she would say, “Zol es zayn bashert oys tsu kumen gut” it should be destined that it'll come out [tasting] good . It contains one strong element of Jewish prayer – the petition.

In a kosher home, every act of food preparation is another occasion to be aware of the sanctity of the whole process, as well as the knowledge that what happens in the kitchen is a part of our partnership with God. Observing kashrut, like saying the blessings before and after eating, is a constant kitchen reminder of the role of God in all that we do. In today’s dual kitchens, perhaps it is possible to operate on automatic pilot, and never have to stop to think if the knife for the tomatoes is parve, but even in those modern wonders, one still has to sort through the rice, wash each leaf, crack each egg, (and who does not thank God when all of the eggs are perfectly clear?*), and check each onion. Each of these acts is a reminder that preparing food is as holy a process as eating it is. Our tradition may not have a single prayer for food preparation, but so long as breads need to rise and soup needs to be properly seasoned, God will share in the process.

*In our free range world, there is the possibility of there being a blood spot on the egg which would render it treif (non-kosher).

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