Masechet Chopsticks

Masechet Chopsticks

by Rabbi Rick Brody & Rabbi Rachel Kobrin

(with inspiration from: Rabbi Jeremy Winaker, Rob Kutner, Carolyn Austin, Bill Seligman, Sam Rosenstein, and Rabbi Ben Newman)

A lost Talmudic tractate has been discovered that answers age-old rabbinic questions about the appropriate way for Jews to fully accomplish the obligations associated with eating Chinese food on December 24th/25th.

[For a more advanced, Talmud-intensive version of this tractate, please see the Extended Version.]

MISHNAH 1: Our Rabbis ask: When does one begin the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Beit Shammai omrim [The School of Shammai say]: “On the 24th day of the month of December, because one should ‘larutz la’asot mitzvah’ [run to perform a holy act].” Beit Hillel omrim [The School of Hillel say]: “Through the entirety of the night of the 24th and the day of the 25th is mutar [permitted]. But the mehadrin [those who wish to embellish their observance] wait until the final hours of the 25th, because we ‘ma’alin ba’kodesh v’lo moridin [ascend in holiness and do not descend].” V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “To extend the simchah [joyous occasion].”

GEMARA: Tanu Rabbanan [Our Sages taught in an earlier saying]: Amar Rebbe Szechuan [Rabbi Szechuan said], “I was a man of 70 and had always consumed the Feast of Chopsticks before the end of the first watch on the 24th. Once I fell asleep while watching The Sound of Music and slept through the entirety of the following day. When I awoke on the night of the 25th, my food was still warm! From that day on, I have followed the teaching of Beit Hillel.”

And until when does the Festive Meal satiate us? Amar Rav [Rav said]: 1 hour. Amar Sh’muel [Sh’muel said]: 1/2 hour.

What do we do with leftovers? Ta Shma [Come learn from this teaching]: Amar Rav Shimon hachacham [Rav Simon the wise said] in the name of Rav Yaakov the Tzadik [righteous one], “We keep them, she’ne’emar [as it is written], Shamor [Keep] (Deut. 5:11). Keitzad [How]? It is preferable that one should use small square cardboard containers with wire handles to contain the notar [remainder] of the feast, so as to prolong the mitzvah [sacred act] of the Feast of Chopsticks.” V’tov lehachmir [And it is good to be strict about this].

V’ika d’amri [And there are those who say]: “Al tikra Shamor, ella S’more [Don’t read the verse as ‘Shamor,’ but rather as ‘S’more‘].” Mai nafka minah [What is the practical result of this (reading of the verse)]? Are we really expected to eat s’mores on the Feast of Chopsticks? No, rather, it [the creative reading of the verse] comes to teach us that we shall eat dessert that is not of the same flavor (as the meal), [i.e. not of the same cuisine]. Ka mashma lan [That is what it is teaching us]. Why? D’ein mazal l’yisrael [Because fortune-telling doesn’t pertain to the Jewish people]. Tanya [An earlier teaching]: “Is it assur [forbidden] to eat ugot mazal [cakes of fortune-telling]? No, mutar [it is permitted]. But one has not sufficiently embellished the mitzvah [sacred act].” V’ika d’amri [And there are those who say] that one has not fulfilled the obligation [unless one eats a dessert from another cuisine].

[Click here for the Extended Version of the Tractate.]

Pligi bah [there was a difference of opinion about it (the original question)]: D’tanya [For, as we learn in this earlier teaching]: “Amar [said] Rabbi Ben: ‘Eat on the 24th so there will be notar [leftovers] which you must consume before the end of the next day’ (Lev. 19:6).” Ee hachi [If this is so], are we then not keeping the leftovers [beyond the day of the festival]? Lo sh’na [There is no contradiction]: Hacha [Here, in the case of finishing the leftovers by the end of the festival] is in agreement with Beit Shammai [i.e. that we eat on the 24th]; hatam [there, in the case of having leftovers beyond the festival] is in agreement with Beit Hillel [i.e. that we eat on the 25th].

Kashya [There is a problem]: Amar [Said] Rav Panda, “Once I saw Rav Tso begin his feast on the 25th and even still he had leftovers. Min hu [He is a ‘min,’ a sectarian, one who has broken ranks with the community].”

Then a bat kol [a heavenly voice] announced,“Eilu v’eilu v’eilu divrei elohim chayyim hen. V’lo min hu [Both these and these and these (the ways of Beit Shammai, Beit Hillel, and Rav Tso) are the words of the living God. And he (Rav Tso) is not a sectarian].”

Lo min [he is not a sectarian]. B’ma’arva [in the West], they say: “Lo mein.” And thus do we say: “Lo mein.”

MISHNAH 2: Until what time may one fulfill her obligation of eating the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Ma’aseh [A story] of Rebbe Hunan: His daughters were at a Matzo Ball that ran into the early hours of the 26th. When they came home, he was awake waiting for them with organic, non-GMO bean curd and brown rice. They consumed it because they still couldn’t tell the difference between blue and green.

GEMARA: Why bean curd? L’zecher [ as a reminder of] how the Kadosh Baruch Hu [Holy Blessed One, i.e. God] conquered “tofu va’vohu” [primordial chaos, formlessness and emptiness (Gen. 1:2)]. V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: Bean curd should only be eaten b’choshech [in darkness (see Gen. 1:2)].

MISHNAH 3: B’Shabbat, lo ochlin b’chopsticks [On the Sabbath, we don’t eat with chopsticks].

GEMARA: Een [Can this be so]? Do we eat [the Feast] on the Sabbath? Talmud lomar [For this reason, Scripture comes to teach us], ‘V’karata la’shabbat oneg [(If) you call the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13)].’ And there is no “delight” other than the Garden of Eden, like EdenWok. And there are those who say, “China Delight,” or “Peking Delight,” or “Imperial Delight” or “Canton Delight.”

Mai Tayma [What is the reason for this rule about not using chopsticks on the Sabbath]? L’zecher [As a reminder of] “the man who gathered sticks” (Num. 15:32). V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “So that one will not be tempted to build a raft.” But then someone–some say it was B’ruriyah, some say it was Bill, another well-regarded spouse of an esteemed sage who was able to keep up with the chachamim [Sages]–came and taught: “We don’t eat with chopsticks on Shabbat because the friction of 2 chopsticks rubbing together might start a fire, which is assur d’oraita [forbidden by the Torah] (Ex. 35:3).”

[Click here for the Extended Version of the Tractate.]

MISHNAH 4: Who shall prepare the festive meal? Anyone who is bak’i [expert] in the preparation, no matter her country of origin. But the tavern may not have the word “dragon” in its name.

GEMARA: “Dragon” is a zecher [reminder] of livyatan [leviathan], which is not to be consumed except on Sukkot biy’mot hamashiach [on the Festival of Booths in the time of the Messiah].

Mai “Festival of Chopsticks” [Why do we have this festival in the first place]? There are answers from those who explain things using tools of secular knowledge, but we don’t have (an answer) from Scripture. Therefore, Teiku! [Let it stand unresolved; or Tishbi Yitareitz Kushiot U‘va’ayot, Tishbi (Elijah the Prophet) will answer (unresolved) difficulties and problems.] And this is why the taverns always provide one extra container of rice [beyond the number of people dining]. This is kufsat Eliyahu [the container for Elijah].

And at what time does one attend the cinema? The Sages discuss this she’eilah at length in Masechet [Tractate] Cinema, which has yet to be recovered from an obscure cave in Austin, Texas.


A different perspective: from the folk tradition

(not part of the legal, rabbinic discussion and not halachically approved.)

Or this one:

[Click here for the Extended Version of the Tractate.]

19 responses to “Masechet Chopsticks

  1. R. Shimon the wise said, in the name of R. Yaakov the Tzadik: “Beit Hillel taught that it is preferable that one should use small square cardboard containers with wire handles to contain the remainder of the feast, so as to prolong the mitzvah of the Feast of Chopsticks.”

  2. I just left a link to this piece on the Tablet website. Kol haKavod!

  3. Charles Hollander

    I notice the Rabbis do not comment on historical questions, such as the 250 or so years [between the creation of the world according to Jewish tradition and the creation according to Chinese tradition], during which Jews went without Chinese food.

  4. R. Meir used to say: How do men differ in their treatment of their soup? Fastidious and pious men, if a small piece of shrimp is discovered, will put it aside and not eat any of the soup. Other men, if a small piece of shrimp is found, will throw away the shrimp and then drink the soup. This corresponds to the way of most men. Another man, if he sees shrimp in his soup, will hurriedly swallow it so no one will see him. This corresponds to the way of a bad man who sins and says that he will ask forgiveness at Yom Kippur.

  5. I just have one thing to say.
    In the words of Fuji, the cabin boy, in McHasle’s navy,
    “OY, VAY!”

  6. R. Shimon: So clearly, this is why Dec. 26th is celebrated as BOXing Day!

    (Thanks to Deb Cash for the link – I posted it on Facebook & RT’d, to many people’s great delight.)

  7. Pingback: It’s (Not) Hard to be a Jew at Christmas | kol isha

  8. This is totally amazing. I’m sitting here eating my Jewish Chinese Dinner leftovers and giggling.

  9. commandment 1114: take the little metal handles off the take-out boxes before putting in microwave or sacred pyramid?!?!

  10. “After making havdalah ending the observance of the festival, taking off the metal handles from the boxes, place all remaining food and boxes in the compost pile and add the handles to the recycling bucket, in order to complete the mitzvah of machzor.” massechet machzorim.

  11. Pingback: Masechet Chopsticks (Extended Version) | kidmoot

  12. This was hilarious. Thank you!! I’ll be fulfilling the mitzvah, and since Dec. 24/25 5774 doesn’t fall on Shabbat I won’t violate the halacha against chopsticks on shabbos 😛

  13. Although I am not Jewish, I always wondered about the affinity for Chinese food on Christmas. Thank you for the the enlightenment regarding the mitzvah of the Feast of Chopsticks 🙂

    • You’re welcome. I also hope you were able to appreciate the various delightful (and often mind-boggling) features of Talmudic discourse. Your next step could be dabbling in the real thing (Talmud, not Chinese food!). While non-Jews might not indulge in Chinese cuisine on Dec. 25, Talmud is available to everyone—in fact, the Koreans are teaching it in schools to promote both social values as well as intellectual skill.

  14. Pingback: DAY 542: The Festive Meal of Chopsticks «Congregation Beth Mordecai

  15. Pingback: DAY 1272: Tonight's Tradition -

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s