Are Hebrew National Hot Dogs Kosher?

When I awoke this morning to find a few news articles in my “Kosher” Google News Alerts regarding a lawsuit against ConAgra claiming Hebrew National hot dogs aren’t kosher, I didn’t give it much thought. That’s because a large segment of the kosher observant population hasn’t considered Hebrew National hot dogs to be kosher for many years.

Much of the criticism against Hebrew National in the past has more to do with “kosher politics” than it does with actual kosher standards. In fact, the reason why many don’t consider Hebrew National meat (most notably their hot dogs) to be kosher is because they are not glatt. Several months ago, I wrote on this blog about what “glatt kosher” means and why there is such a misunderstanding about it.

A leading Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Yitzhak Abadi of New Jersey) and also the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (including kosher experts Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz and Rabbi Paul Plotkin) have publicly stated that Hebrew National is truly kosher for those who do not eat only glatt meat. The three Conservative rabbis traveled to Hebrew National’s headquarters to inspect the facilities.

However, this class action lawsuit argues that ConAgra, the parent company behind Hebrew National, cut corners in the slaughtering process and that the head of Triangle-K, the certifying agency, did little to correct the transgressions.

According to the American Jewish World News, the complaint runs approximately 65 pages and notes that employees “who made the complaints were terminated or otherwise threatened with adverse retaliation, such as job transfers to other facilities or states. In turn, non-kosher meat was delivered to ConAgra and packaged, labeled and sold to the public [including the plaintiffs in the lawsuit] as strictly 100% kosher.”

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Hart Robinovitch, told the American Jewish World, “Don’t get me wrong here: We’re not saying that they’re passing off pork as kosher products… but in the complaint, as you can see, we went through the different elements and the different requirements for meat to be considered kosher, in terms of the way the cows are slaughtered, and the meat is prepared; and based on our investigation, there were certain things that weren’t conducted properly, in a systematic way, from the way cows were slaughtered, to the way the lungs were inspected or not inspected for imperfections, as is required to meet the standard that the meat is 100 percent kosher.”

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs thought they were buying products that were 100 percent kosher. If that means the plaintiffs thought they were buying glatt kosher meat and surprised that it wasn’t, I don’t think that’s cause for a lawsuit. Hebrew National and the Ralbag family rabbis who run Triangle-K have been clear that Hebrew National is not glatt. Therefore it isn’t deception.

However, if Hebrew National has been using non-kosher meat (non-glatt does not mean non-kosher or treif) then the class-action lawsuit has merit.

There are many different levels of kosher observance. Thus, it is difficult to have a secular court rule on whether a company is claiming its meat to be 100% kosher but it actually is not 100% kosher for some consumers.

I am irritated when I hear the Hebrew National hot dogs being marketed as “kosher hot dogs” at Detroit Tigers baseball games when in fact they are cooked on the same grill as the non-kosher hot dogs and sausages. Further, the buns they are wrapped in are dairy thus violating the kosher law against mixing dairy and meat. However, I also recognize that for some fans at the baseball stadium the fact that the hot dogs are kosher is satisfactory enough for them.

Whenever a food is advertised as kosher, it is caveat emptor – buyer beware. It is important to do a little research before eating the product. In the case of Hebrew National, it is well documented that their meat isn’t glatt which means not 100% kosher for some people. If that is the rationale for the class action lawsuit, I say it’s frivolous. If, however, Hebrew National and its parent company ConAgra, is guilty of cutting corners and passing off treif meat as kosher, then I think this lawsuit is legitimate and Hebrew National will have to answer to an even higher authority.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Deal With Trader Joe’s Kosher Chocolate Chips

At some point yesterday Chocolate Chip-Gate began on Facebook. Word got out that Trader Joe’s popular kosher chocolate chips were being re-designated as “kosher dairy” rather than “kosher pareve”. Immediately, words like “tragic” and “devastating” were being used to describe the change. Facebook users were recounting their urgent visits to local Trader Joe’s locations to grab up the pareve (non-dairy) chocolate chips from the shelf in a way that brought back memories of Coca-Cola fans in the 1980s stockpiling cans of Coke when New Coke came out.

Kosher consumers appreciate the pareve designation on chocolate chips because it allows for the substitution of non-dairy chocolate chips in baking for desserts following a meat meal, which is customary among most kosher-observant carnivores for Shabbat dinner.

As soon as the news that Trader Joe’s would substitute the OK pareve hekhsher (kosher certification symbol) for a dairy one, discussion threads were launched on Facebook describing how favorite recipes for trail mix and chocolate chip challah would be an impossibility without the pareve chocolate chips from Trader Joe’s. An online petition was started to urge Trader Joe’s to reverse the decision.

There was also a lot of misinformation about the change. Dani Klein of the YeahThatsKosher blog posted a private Direct Message from Twitter that he received back from the OK Kosher Certification agency stating that the chocolate chips will not contain dairy, but will be labeled as such. There were also discussions that the new designation would actually be “DE” for dairy equipment, a relatively new kosher status that means the product is not dairy but the equipment could be used for dairy products. The Dairy Equipment designation means that food products with that status cannot be eaten with a meat meal, but can be eaten following that meal.

The news that it would be a dairy equipment hekhsher and not a bona fide dairy label resulted in several discussions on Facebook about that designation, how food labeled with the DE should be treated, and what the ramifications of a DE label are for dairy allergic individuals who rely on a pareve hekhsher for health reasons. Were people reacting too quickly? Was Trader Joe’s even changing the production process of the chocolate chips?

Today, Dani Klein actually contacted the OK Kosher Certification Agency today and got to the bottom of this story. He was told that the chocolate chip product itself is not dairy, but the product is bagged at the end of the assembly line and neither Trader Joe’s or the OK Kosher Certification Agency can guarantee that dairy chocolate chips don’t also mix into the bag. This means that a bag of Trader Joe’s pareve chocolate chips may or may not have some dairy chips mixed into a bag. That is why the OK is taking the position that these bags of chocolate chips should bear the OK-D certification as if they were dairy. Further, Klein was told by OK officials that the response he received via Twitter was an error and should have been redacted.

So, the bottom line is that the chocolate chips probably should have been labeled as “dairy” all along because they couldn’t guarantee no dairy chips were mixed in by accident (although if it’s less than 1/60th of the total volume of the bag it would still be pareve based on the principle of batel b’shishim).

There are other pareve chocolate chips available on the market, but Chocolate Chip-Gate demonstrates just how much Trader Joe’s fans have come to rely on the market’s specialty products.

While I am involved in the kosher certification industry through Kosher Michigan, this blog does not seek to set forth any kosher guidelines. Individuals should consult with their local rabbinic authority as to how they will treat Trader Joe’s kosher chocolate chips in the future.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Passover and Pet Food

As a kosher supervisor (mashgiach) and the owner of a kosher certification agency, I am constantly impressed by the level of attention, respect and genuine care that non-Jewish business owners demonstrate for their kosher observant customers. I once again witnessed this first hand when I met the owner of Premier Pet Supply last week.

Mike Palmer, who is half Chaldean and half Italian, owns the pet food and supply store with his uncle, the store’s founder. Located in Beverly Hills, a suburb of Detroit, the store has received a lot of positive attention of late because of Mike’s knack for publicity and his people skills (he obviously has great pet skills too!). The store is consistently named best pet supply store in the area and Mike was just named one of the Elite 40 Under 40 for Oakland County, Michigan.
Mike called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would come by his store before Passover to answer some questions about kosher for Passover pet food. Since my family doesn’t own any pets and I haven’t certified kosher dog food in over a year (the dog treat company Kosher Michigan certified went out of business in 2010), I decided to brush up on the laws concerning pet food on Passover. And it’s a good thing I did because when I got to the store I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge Mike possessed concerning the kosher laws and Passover. He knew more about the intricacies of the holiday than many Jewish people I know.
As we walked the aisles of his store I checked the pet food that he had labeled as being appropriate for Passover and there were no errors. He explained that he had read an article by the Star-K kosher certification agency and felt he had a good understanding of what makes pet food kosher for Passover, but he wanted to run some questions by me. We had a long conversation about kitniyot (legumes, which most Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat on Passover) as well as the custom of feeding the family dog in the garage on Passover, which many families follow. Over and again, I heard Mike express how important he believes it is to provide quality service to his Jewish customers and ensure that they can purchase the best food for their pets on Passover while adhering to the holiday’s regulations.
In terms of what Jewish law says about pet food on Passover, the most important thing to remember is that chametz (leavened products) from the five grains (barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat) is forbidden to eat or derive benefit from. Feeding chametz to one’s pet would be deriving benefit from it. Additionally, a Jewish person is not allowed to even possess any chametz on Passover. 
As I explained to Mike, while kitniyot (legumes) are not eaten by most Ashkenazi Jews, they may be fed to pets on Passover. Also, one does not need to change over the dishes for pets, meaning that the usual food bowls for pets can be used on Passover but they should be cleaned out first.
A 2009 article in the NY Times featured a Passover Seder for dogs that took place at a Chicago pet food store to promote Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company which sells Kosher for Passover products. (Joshua Lott/Chicago Tribune)

There is a custom of “selling” one’s pet to a non-Jew on Passover. The reason for this has to do with deriving benefit from chametz. Thus, if one leaves a pet with a non-Jew during Passover the pet owner will still derive benefit from chametz when the non-Jewish friend feeds the pet. Therefore, some observant Jews will “sell” the pet to the non-Jewish friend on the condition it is sold back at the conclusion of the holiday in the same fashion as the “legal fiction” sale of chametz.

While many Jews are not familiar with the laws governing pet food on Passover, it is reassuring that there are pet supply store owners like Mike Palmer who are concerned about this. It is admirable that he has taken the time to research this subject and has gone out of his way to help his Jewish customers find the right pet food for Passover.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Very Jewish Super Bowl

This year’s Super Bowl Sunday will place two major Jewish philanthropists against each other. The New York Giants are co-owned by the Tisch family and the New England Patriots are owned by the Kraft family.

Joint Media News Service’s Jacob Kamaras provided the “who’s who” for both families and which Jewish organizations they all lead. In the Giants’ owners’ box you have “film and television producer Steve Tisch, son of Bob, as the team’s chairman and executive vice president. Bob’s brother, Larry, was the father of Jim — former president of the UJA Federation of New York and former board chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Jim’s wife, Merryl, chairs the board of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.”

On the other side of the field you have the Tisch family with “owner Robert Kraft’s wife Myra—who passed away last July—served as chair of the Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP) board of directors and was twice co-chair of CJP’s annual fundraising campaign.”

Both families are responsible for donating mega amounts of charitable gifts to major Jewish organizations, both here and in Israel. So, which Jewish owner’s team will come out victorious on Sunday night? For that we have to go to Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, who each year uses his Torah erudition to select the Super Bowl winner.

This year, the Connecticut-based Rabbi Hammerman decides to not make a Super Bowl prediction because “this year’s matchup hits too close to home – and, more to the point, my prediction before Super Bowl 42 (of a Pats win) did not work out too well. So, because I prefer not to jinx my team, no prediction this year.” He does use the Torah narrative to provide some background on the game:

Just before Super Bowl 42, you recall, the Patriots were busted for spying. In my prediction before that Super Bowl, which I am not repeating here, I noted that in the book of Numbers when the Israelite spies confronted “giants” as the scouted out the land, they reported back that they felt “like grasshoppers.” I noted that anyone who has ever been to Boston knows that high above that home of the original Patriots, Faneuil Hall, there sits a weathervane in the shape of, you guessed it, a grasshopper!

I also noted (in that prediction, which I’m not repeating here) that the Patriots wandered for just over 40 years before winning the first championship in 2002. So they had already served their time for the sin of the spies, which, as you recall from Numbers, was 40 years. For 40 years, the Patriotic spies were never able to stand up to the Giants…or the Raiders or Steelers or Dolphins, for that matter. But no more. First they sacrificed the Rams in Super Bowl 36, then they pillaged the Panthers and flew on wings of Eagles. Now, coached by a former Giant, they have become giants – in their own eyes, and the eyes of the other teams in the league. 

I then noted (but am not repeating here) that Giants are called both Nefilim and Anakim in the Torah. The Nefilim were mythic humanoids that filled the earth before the flood, much like the Titans of Greek mythology (a Giant-Titan Super Bowl would have been a doozy), while the Anakim were the ones who petrified the Israelite spies. There is one other giant of note in the Bible: Goliath. But it isn’t just Goliath who bit the dust, folks. When Rashi tried to explain the term Nifilim, he related it to the Hebrew word “nafal,” “to fall.” As Rashi (he was so good at predicting games that they called him “Rashi the Greek”) understood it, the Giants fell.

Based on Rashi, I concluded then that the Giants would fall. What I didn’t account for was the heroism of an unexpected David, whose last name is Tyree, who also happened to be a Giant. That was then, this is now. I can’t repeat my prior prediction, lest I tempt fate and repeat the result.

Many people enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, but not for the actual football match up. It is after all the second biggest eating day of year after Thanksgiving. So many people look forward to the food. I found this very non-kosher, but very cool looking Super Bowl food creation. It could very easily be adapted to a kosher creation by using only kosher deli meats and getting rid of the cheese and cheese snacks. And while we’re at it, how about substituting some rye bread and onion rolls for that white bread? I know one former NFL player who would enjoy this treif tray. Former New England Patriots punter Josh Miller, who is Jewish, played for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX and was recently quoted as saying that he was craving a ham sandwich with less than a minute to play in that game, which the Patriots won 24-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Finally, I feel inclined to give some credit to Yeshiva University for offering a learning opportunity during halftime of the Super Bowl. The YU Torah Halftime Show incorporates Torah into the Super Bowl experience. It is a series of three 8 minute presentations on “Torah and Sports” topics, featuring leading faculty members Rabbi Ely Allen, Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff and Dr. Yitzchak Schechter. The Torah learning show will be available for viewing on YU’s dedicated website on Sunday. Here’s the promo video for the YU Torah Halftime Show:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Chef Roble Goes Kosher for Matisyahu

I had never heard of the reality TV cooking show “Chef Roble and Co” when a friend texted me tonight and ordered me to turn on the Bravo channel. As my wife flipped through 400 cable channels trying to find the Bravo channel for the first time I quickly did a Web search to figure out why my friend felt it was so urgent that I tune in.

What I found was Chef Roble trying to prepare a meal for the Hasidic singer Matisyahu and a few dozen of his guests before he went away for several months on tour this past summer. The name of the episode was “Babysitter in the Kitchen,” which referred to the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) from OK Kosher (a certification agency).

Matisyahu’s tweet promoting his appearance on Chef Roble and Co (Bravo)

The famous chef (I guess he’s famous because he has his own cooking show, but I had never heard of him) not only had to prepare strictly kosher meals for Matisyahu and his guests but they also had to be Thai and Vegan. Oh, and he had to please Matisyahu’s whiny mother-in-law and kvetchy wife Tahlia Miller (who doesn’t appear to be as strictly Vegan as her husband).

I’m guessing that this is the first time on national TV that the intricacies of hashgacha (kosher supervision) were made known in such detail. The OK Kosher mashgiach told the chef that only the mashgiach could light the stoves, but once the pilot light was lit the chef could adjust the flame. However, the mashgiach never provided a reason for this (it’s because of bishul akum — the prohibition on having a non-Jew cook food for Jews). They also showed the mashgiach painstakingly checking each mint leaf for bugs. There were definitely some uncomfortable events that occurred as the catering crew prepared for the sit-down, plated dinner. When they opened the boxes with the kosher plates, they found that each plate was either chipped or dirty (Chef Roble claimed he found human hair on some of the plates, exclaiming “There was DNA on those plates.”). Nice!


The chef and his team (including sub-contracted servers who had to be dressed modestly) pulled off the dinner for Matisyahu and his guests. Everyone seemed pleased with the Vegan Thai food that was prepared with the babysitter mashgiach in the kitchen. Everyone that is except for Matisyahu’s wife who claimed there wasn’t enough sauce. The meal ended with a food/wine fight, Matisyahu throwing a glass of water into his mother-in-law’s face, and the event planner being hoisted in a chair. Bottom line: I don’t think Matisyahu, his family, or mashgichim (kosher supervisors) are very well represented in this reality TV episode. I think he would have been better off turning down Bravo’s offer to film this event and just pay the famous chef to cater it instead. Here’s the promo video:


(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

What is Glatt Kosher

As a panelist for Jewish Values Online, I am asked to weigh in on various values-based questions from the perspective of a Conservative rabbi. A recent question I was asked to respond to was odd in that it wasn’t a question that had to do with values. I was asked to answer the difference between “glatt kosher” and “kosher”. This struck me as having to do less with values and more with a general misunderstanding.

Here is my response from the Jewish Values Online website:

Literally speaking, the term “glatt” is a Yiddish word that means smooth (it is called “chalak” in Hebrew). It is used most commonly as a kosher designation referring to the lungs of an animal. If the animal’s lungs were smooth and free of any adhesion that would render it non-kosher, the animal is designated as “glatt.” The term only applies to kosher animals whose meat can be eaten (not fowl or fish). Therefore, kosher food like chicken, fish, lamb, or dairy products can never be “glatt.”

The term has come to mean “kosher to a higher level” leading many people to erroneously think that non-beef food items can be “glatt.” In fact, I have been asked if pizza that I certify as kosher is “glatt” to which I responded that if they’re concerned about the melted cheese atop the pizza being smooth, they should be fine.

Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky wrote an insightful explanation of why the “glatt” designation is important. He explains, “In colloquial discourse treif refers to anything that is not kosher. The technical definition of treifa is based on Exodus 22:30 (Do not eat meat from an animal torn [treifa] in the field) and refers to an animal with any of a specific group of physical defects that are detailed in the Talmud. Examples of these “defects,” which often go far beyond the health inspection of the USDA, include certain lesions, lacerations, broken limbs, missing or punctured organs, or the result of an attack by a larger animal. Such defects can occur in and thereby render both animals and fowl treif. Because most of these defects are uncommon, it may be assumed that most animals are healthy and hence there is no requirement to inspect every animal for them. An exception is the lung of an animal, on which adhesions and other problems may develop. While these problems are not common, they do occur more frequently than other treifot. Their relative prevalence led the rabbis to mandate that the lungs of every animal be examined, both manually while still in its natural position in the animal, and visually following its removal from the thoracic cavity.”

Most types of adhesion on the animal would make the animal a treifa and therefore forbidden to be eaten by a Jewish person. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Ramah) allows for a method of peeling and testing many types of adhesions, which results in many more animals being designated as kosher. This leniency allows kosher observant individuals to eat meat that is not from a “glatt” animal, but one whose adhesions had been checked through peeling and testing. Isserles ruled only for Ashkenazi Jews, but Rabbi Yosef Karo did not rule that this was acceptable practice and therefore his Sephardic followers only eat “glatt” kosher meat.

This led to the “glatt” designation being considered a stringency that the pious would uphold. The misconception is that if meat is not “glatt” then it is not kosher. In truth, non-glatt meat that has been thoroughly inspected is considered fully kosher for Ashkenazic Jews.

There are kosher certification agencies that only certify meat that is “glatt”. Those who only eat “glatt” meat are known as mehadrin, meaning “embellished.” Maintaining a kosher diet leaves froom for leniencies and stringencies. One who follows a more stringent level of kosher observance is considered to have embellished God’s commandments and thus is said to be keeping kosher l’mehadrin. The terms “glatt” and “mehadrin” have come to describe a higher level of kosher status, but has also been misapplied to such things as water.

These terms can colloquially mean “extra strict supervision,” but it is important that the actual definition is lost along the way. Rabbi Reuven Hammer of Jerusalem has written about the fact that this stringency of the pious seems to apply to kosher food, but seldom to matters of ethics. He writes, “If people want to be extra strict with themselves, that is their right, but I often wonder why this extra strictness seems to be confined to ritual mitzvot rather than to ethical ones. Whenever I hear about Glatt I am reminded of [Rabbi Abraham Joshua] Heschel’s comment that we need a mashgiah [kosher supervisor] not just for food for other things such as lashon ha-ra – gossip – as well.

So, the bottom line is that “glatt” means smooth and refers to the lungs of animals like cows. When its applied to other food it is being misapplied, but colloquially means “kosher to a higher standard.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Honey for Rosh Hashanah

The following was published on the HuffingtonPost and on several Patch.com sites before the Rosh Hashanah holiday:

At no time during my experience in a New York City rabbinical school did I think I would ever be donning full beekeeper regalia and watching as thousands of bees made honey on a farm in Michigan’s Amish country. But that is precisely what I found myself doing for the first time this past spring.

In addition to learning about the honey-making process, I’ve also learned about colony collapse disorder, the unexplained phenomenon of worker bees disappearing from hives causing a shortage of bee honey in recent years. I learned this from Don and Carol Ragan, a lovely couple who own the Windmill Hill Farm in Croswell (located in the “thumb” of Michigan). Carol first contacted me in February immediately after reading an article in the Detroit Free Press about Kosher Michigan, the kosher certification agency I started. She wanted to know what was involved in obtaining certification for her bee honey.

I told her that I would have to get back to her because I really wasn’t sure what it took to certify bee honey as kosher. The mere fact that bee honey is kosher is itself odd. After all, it is a product of the non-kosher bee (no insects except for certain locust species are deemed kosher by the Torah). So, how can a product of a non-kosher animal be kosher? It is believed that honey is kosher since it is produced outside of the body of the bee. But that isn’t totally true. In actuality, bees suck nectar from flowers with their proboscis (mouth) and this nectar mixes with saliva and is swallowed into the honey sac, where enzymes from the saliva break down the nectar into honey. The nectar is never digested, but rather transformed into honey by the saliva. The honey is regurgitated when the bee returns to the hive and the water is evaporated, thereby thickening it into honey which is then sealed in the honeycomb. The rabbis of the Talmud explain that bee honey is kosher since it is not an actual secretion of the bee, but rather the bee functions as a carrier and facilitator of the honey-making process.

All of this is interesting because honey is a staple food of the Jewish New Year’s holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which begins this year on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Honey sales increase in heavily populated Jewish areas thanks to this seasonal honey custom. Among the familiar traditions of Rosh Hashanah are the dipping of apple slices in honey and eating honey cake.

The Ragans knew that that adding kosher certification to their jars of honey would make their products more popular before Rosh Hashanah. Their Windmill Hill Farm produces 30,000 pounds of honey annually from more than 500 hives. All of their products are now certified kosher through my Kosher Michigan agency. Like many beekeepers around the country, the Ragans’ operation has grown from a hobby to a successful business. They began with only four hives that they discovered when they purchased the Croswell farm, but they quickly recognized how their passion could turn into profits.

“We’re passionate about making honey,” said Carol Ragan. “When we first discovered hives on our Croswell farm we were excited to experiment with making honey. We never realized how much we would come to enjoy it or how much of a market there is for honey products.”

Even with colony collapse disorder, beekeeping is on the rise throughout the country. New York City legalized recreational beekeeping last year, and even Michelle Obama had a beehive installed outside the White House.

Many members of the Jewish faith prepare dishes and baked goods with honey in time for Rosh Hashanah. Dan Sonenberg, owner of Johnny Pomodoro’s Fresh Market in Farmington Hills, Michigan, explained, “My honey sales increase ten-fold during the holiday season and we build honey displays next to our apple offerings in the store. This cross-merchandising makes it easier for our Jewish customers to purchase both during this time of year. Honey products are also featured in our kosher baked goods department where our most popular items are the apple fritter challah (Jewish egg bread) and the honey apple cake.”

While the Bible describes Israel as “the land flowing with milk and honey,” it was more than likely referring to date honey. Bees were not common in Israel thousands of years ago, but today Israel has about 500 beekeepers with approximately 90,000 beehives that produce more than 3,500 tons of honey annually.

The basis of using honey in baked goods and dipping apples into honey on Rosh Hashanah is to have a sweet year. While the secular New Year is kicked off with toasts of champagne, the Jewish New Year is launched with the sweet taste of honey. And maybe a little sugar high too.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Gefilte Fish Gets Video Game

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week – NY

I thought something smelled fishy when I received an email from fellow blogger Esther Kustanowitz today. Indeed it was. I was hopeful that the skilled writer had sent me a well-crafted sermon that I could simply deliver on Rosh Hashanah morning, but instead it was only an email to inform me that her friend Asael Kahana of K/Logic had created an interactive Rosh Hashanah card that is a mashup between Gefilte fish and Space Invaders.

Yep, a mashup of Gefilte fish and the video game Space Invaders. I know, I know. You’re thinking the same thing I was thinking when I received Esther’s email. “How has it taken this long to create an interactive game that so seemlessly integrates the odd poached fish mince staple food of Jewish holidays with the Japanese arcade game created in 1978?”

As Esther explains:

Gefilte fish gets a bad rap, but is considered integral to many Ashkenazi Jewish holiday celebrations. If you’ve always hated this particular format of pureed and cooked fish, now a leading creative online marketing agency in Israel brings you your chance to shoot it down from the skies in an engaging, interactive card/video game – a mashup of the traditional mashed-up fish and the classic video game Space Invaders. Presenting…Gefilte Invaders! (You can play on the K/Logic site or below!).

“I have always had a Gefilte Fetish,” Asael Kahana, K/Logic’s creative director said. “There is something so iconic about this dish’s presentation and look. Same with the classic Space Invaders game that is a cult classic still today. I combined both because I thought that Gefilte fish may have a long tradition, yet people would really rather shoot it than eat it. The result was a great reminder of tradition and classics in an engaging interactive card for our customers.”

I admit it was fun playing this Gefilte fish version of Space Invaders and it was a wonderful procrastination from preparing for the holiday. Not to mention, I got all nostalgic as I thought back to my childhood in the early 80s popping quarters into the Space Invaders arcade game. Nevertheless, I’m still not convinced Esther sent me that email to publicize her friend’s creative Rosh Hashanah card or even to simply wish me a “Shanah Tovah!” I really think she just wanted me to visit her blog where she used the opportunity of her friend’s Geflte Invaders to tell the following joke:

When contemplating the fish populations of the ocean, how can one identify the Gefilte fish? [pause for effect]

-It’s the one with the carrot on its head”

On second thought, maybe it was Esther’s joke that smelled fishy.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Bread Art Project

I’m a big fan of creative ways to raise money for good causes. One winning idea belongs to the Bread Art Project, which allows anyone to create their own artwork on a piece of bread (toasting is a personal preference!).

The Bread Art Project will help the more than 17 million children in America who struggle with hunger. Every approved submission yields a dollar donation from the Grain Foods Foundation to Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit committed to ending childhood hunger in America. This organization connects children with the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives.

Here’s my submission:

By creating your own bread artwork you can help ensure that every child in America has the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives. To learn more about the Grain Foods Foundation, visit gowiththegrain.org.

I plan on contacting the Bread Art Project to recommend altering their project for eight days this spring. I envision it looking something like this:

Hat tip to Amanda Fisher of Brogan and Partners for introducing me to the Bread Art Project

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ekev – Standing Strong for Israel

A few years ago I was on my way to pick up my son from the Jewish Community Center, where he was in day care. Just a mile from the JCC I had to pull over to allow fire engines and police cars pass. I didn’t think too much of the blaring sirens and flashing lights until I realized they were headed for the JCC. When I arrived at my destination a police officer wouldn’t allow me to enter the parking lot. “But my son is inside and I need to get him,” I pleaded. I asked the officer what was happening, but he wouldn’t tell me.

Was it a bomb threat? Had there been an accident? Was anyone hurt? After a short while I learned that an old television set had been left outside on the sidewalk and it was mysterious enough to call the authorities. Once there was an “all clear,” I was allowed to enter and noticed how calm it was inside. No one in my son’s school had even known that the building was on lock-down. Thankfully, nothing happened. I was able to pick up my son who I obviously hugged a little tighter that day.

As I drove away with my child, I was thankful for his safety and immediately considered that this is how Israelis live on a daily basis. The minor ulcer I had as I thought the worst is a more typical feeling for parents in Israel. While things had been relatively calm in Israel for a while, that all changed with yesterday’s terrorist attack that killed nine in Eilat, the southern resort town, and today as thirty rockets struck Israel headed for the port cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

What I had experienced was a random event that lasted for only a few minutes and turned out to be nothing. But in Israel there is a certain normalcy to such events.

This Shabbat, we read Parashat Ekev, which contains the command to give thanks to God for the food we eat. V’achalta v’savata u’verachta — “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God.” The Kotzker Rebbe taught that saying the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) is the fundamental mitzvah in that all of us are capable to feel grateful that the earth produced food for us to eat. Reciting Birkat Hamazon, like reciting a blessing before the meal, elevates the activity of eating from simply a physical routine into the realm of the sacred. But it also connects us to the Land of Israel — the Jewish homeland. The land that we are thanking God for in the blessings is the land of Israel.

Just last week, we observed Tisha B’Av, the Jewish people’s national day of mourning. Like reciting Birkat Hamazon after meals, the somber memorial day forces us to feel a connection with Israel. Tisha B’Av is not a day for only Israelis to grieve because the destroyed Temples were located in Israel. It is a day for all Jews to grieve because the Temples were our holy temples and they were on our land in Israel.

When we thank God for our food by thanking God for the land, let us remember which land we are referring to. And when we mourn for the destruction of the temples, let us remember how we are connected to the land on which those temples stood. It is through the land of Israel that the Jewish people throughout the world are connected. And through our connection to the land, we are connected to the people in Israel who are being attacked by terrorists yet again.

Today, it is incumbent upon all Jews to stand with Israel. We must support the men, women and children who are living on the same land we refer to when we thank God for the food we eat. Am Yisrael Chai.

Shabbat Shalom.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller