Masechet Chopsticks (Extended Version)

Masechet Chopsticks

(Extended Version)

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.

[Warning: May require actual Talmudic experience!]

(For a simpler, more “user-friendly” version of this tractate, click here. Additions in this extended version appear in bold.)

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 she’lo oto ta’am [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]. Mai [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]? 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].

V’tanya [Another earlier teaching]: “Is it assur [forbidden] to eat ugot mazal [cakes of fortune-telling]? No, mutar [it is permitted]. Divrei chachamim [These are the words of the Sages.] V’amar Rebbe Mordechai [But Rabbi Mordechai says], ‘Asur. K‘var lanu chag le’echol pat haba’ah b’kisnin [It’s forbidden. We already have a holiday for eating cake-like items with filling].’ Amru lo [They said to him], ‘No one eats the filling of ugot mazal.’ Chazar lahem [He replied to them], ‘Kakatuv [It is written]: “U’mei’echa t’malei et ha’megillah hazot [‘Then he said to me, “O Human, eat this megillah/scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth’ (Ezek. 3:3)]. V’af al pi she’ein lanu n’vuah [And even though we don’t have prophesy, i.e. only a prophet such as Ezekiel may eat a scroll and only when commanded directly by God], someone might be tempted to eat the words of the cakes of fortune-telling, v’zeh assur [and this is forbidden (since there is no prophecy)]. V’od [And further], ein megillah ella Megillat Esther [there is no “megillah” other than the Megillah for Purim; i.e. if we ever were to eat words, it would have to be at Purim; or, this is the prooftext for why we eat hamantaschen].'”

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] k’mi she’omer ha’halachah l’fi Beit Shammai [is in agreement with one who says the law is according to the House of Shammai, i.e. that we eat on the 24th]; hatam [there, in the case of having leftovers beyond the festival], k’mi she’omer ha’halachah l’fi Beit Hillel [is in agreement with one who says the law is according to the House of Hillel, i.e. that we eat on the 25th]. And for Beit Shammai [not to have any leftovers beyond the festival], this is in keeping with a k’lal [general rule] of Shammai, who said, “Tafasta meruba lo tafasta [If you have seized a lot, you have not seized (anything at all)].”

Meytivey [A response was proposed] diklal Shammai [regarding the general rule of Shammai, i.e. “If you have seized a lot…”]: Does it apply here? If he wishes that  one will not seize meruba [a lot], does this not accord more closely with the one who eats less and does have notar [leftovers]? Is he not decrying the glutton who overindulges at the feast, leaving nothing behind? No, it does apply here: He is decrying the one who ordered too much.

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].”

Tiyuvta d’Rav Panda, tiyuvta [This was a complete answer to Rav Panda, ending his argument].

Lo min [he is not a sectarian]. B’ma’arva [in the West], amri [they say]: “Lo mein.” V’kacha amrinan [And thus do we say]: “Lo mein.” V’zeh k’lal gadol batorah [And this is a great general rule from the Torah].

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]? Hava amina [I would have thought] that there is no Festival of Chopsticks on Shabbat [i.e. it would be postponed to the next day] mishum ‘Shamor’ [on account of the rules of Shabbat that forbid certain activities on the Sabbath such as cooking or dining out]. 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)].’ V’lait oneg ella Gan Aiden [And there is no “delight” other than the Garden of Eden], like Eden WokV’ika d’amri [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).”

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 the ba’alei chochmah l’vasar v’dam [those who explain things using tools of secular knowledge], v’lait lan mi’kra [but we don’t have (an answer) from Scripture]. Lahen (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.


11 responses to “Masechet Chopsticks (Extended Version)

  1. Pingback: Masechet Chopsticks | kidmoot

  2. A partial text of Masechet Cinema has recently been uncovered in archeological excavations of settlements in the Barcones Escarpment (i.e., suburban Austin).

    Tractate Cinema 1
    MISHNA 1: M’aymatai – from what time [is it permissible] to go to cinema on Erev Chopsticks? R. Yehuda says: after Chinese dinner. R. Meir says: from the time the umot (non-Jews) leave the theatre.
    GEMARA: Amar R. Spielberg amar R. Yehuda – leaving enough time for one to digest: Amar Rav (Rav said) one hour; amar Shmuel (Shmuel said) ½ hour (Chopsticks 2a). Pa’am – one time R. Shimon bar Yochai was going [to a cinema] on Erev Chopsticks with scrolls of Torah. [A Roman senator stopped him.] Said the Senator: whither goest thou? Said R. Meir: To the cinema. Said [the Senator]: umah ha’sefarim – and what are these books [you bring with you]? Said [R. Meir]: Cinema guides. And the Roman let him go [to the theatre]. Ben Bag Bag adds: he watched the film, and studied the scrolls later over wine with friends. Ben Hay Hay adds: [the movie was] an Oscar contender.
    MISHNA 2: It is a mitzvah to go to cinema on erev yom revi’i. And on chag [holidays]? R. Shimon says ‘go’; R. Studio says ‘don’t go’.
    GEMARA: Erev Yom Revi’I (Tuesday evening) – because there are fewer people in the theatres. V’chachamim omrim [and the Sages say] because cinema prices are lower. One may go on any day to the cinema with a free movie pass – divrei [these are the words of] R. Goldwyn ben Mayer. Resh ben Lakish says: going to the cinema is chovah [mandatory] on Tuesday evenings and optional on chag according to R. Shimon, and forbidden on chag according to R. Studio. Rav Papa says: [no,] according to R. Shimon going to cinema is optional on Tuesday nights and mandatory on chag, while according to R. Studio going to cinema is mandatory on Tuesday nights and optional on chag. R. Ashi says: optional on both. R. Disney says: mandatory on Yom Chopsticks and optional all other holidays. And the Halacha is as R. Disney.

  3. Four entered FU’s pardes…
    Yasher koach on a great page!

  4. I loved this last year [2012] and all the more so this year [2013].

  5. Important mosh not, no nuts, thank you! Especially seeking the tofu-va-Vo–hoo and the permission to feel no shpilkes about the whole 24/25 Megillah especially after I just counted 1/3 of that everyday for over a week 😍🕎🎉✌🏼️♥️🔯

    • Aviva – sounds like you liked it but except for indicating that you don’t eat nuts (allergy, I assume), I’m afraid I have no idea what else you mean in your comment! Kind of unclear. 😀

  6. Pingback: Bah Humbug and Amazing Grace: Christmas for Jews | Rabbi David Evan Markus

  7. This is still making the rounds and rightly so as I seem to have missed it the last five year (where have I been)? The “build a raft” line is the best!

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