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 Wok. V’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’eilahat length in Masechet [Tractate] Cinema, which has yet to be recovered from an obscure cave in Austin, Texas.