Monday, March 25, 2013
Religion and Diabetes - Part 3 - Passover
I cannot speak for other religions but Judaism certainly presents some challenges for a person with Diabetes. I grew up traditional orthodox and became more observant in my teens. What that meant throughout my formative years was strict observance to the dietary laws (kashrut), building a temporary dwelling on Succot, fasting on Yom Kippur, cleaning the house for Passover (including changing over the the "passover set" of crockery, pots and pans, and cutlery, and eating so much eating.
Someone once described the Jewish festivals as "Some people tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat!" Passover is the very essence of the this lighthearted saying. As the verse goes, "Once we were slaves, now we are free men"
The festival of Passover is a week long festival that has a holy day on the first and last day. The middle is a semi holy day where many of the the laws of the festival applies but we are not prohibited from doing work. The first night (Jewish days always begin after dark) we celebrate the Seder, the retelling of the exodus from Egypt. We read the story (in our house in a mixture of Hebrew and English, so that everyone understands), we eat foods that remind us of the slavery (bitter herbs), and Matza the unleavened bread they took with them on their escape. We eat Charoset that reminds of the cement they used to use to build the cities of Pitom and Ramses (The Children of Israel did not build the Pyramids). We dip vegetables in salt water to remind us of their tears as they cried out to God for saviour.
As I mentioned we eat Matza on Passover. We eat it because our ancestors did on their exodus. But the laws are more strict than that. We are forbidden to eat anything that is leaven or may become leaven. So no bread, but also no wheat (or other grain) products of any sort for a week. We go further. We may not own, or benefit from leaven in anyway. Even further, we clean out our house, we change to a different set of plates, cutlery and pots and pans. We remove all possibility from our lives that we may by accident or otherwise eat or benefit from leaven.
Let me expand, that means no bread, no pasta, no beer, no whisky, not crackers, cookies or biscuits and not cake. As Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent) we are also forbidden to eat kitniyot. This is a category of food that is also banned. The reasons given are: That it swells when cooked (so is sort of leaven); it can be ground into flour of sorts; and that in the olden days they were sold close to or from the same sacks as the wheat so were often intermingled. As far as I am aware the only truly plausible reason is the last one, and as we are in a day and age where things are packaged and sold in a way where this is unlikely it is certainly time for a change. This category include all beans and lentils and rice. At this point carbohydrate wise I am down to matza and potatoes.
So I went to a Rabbi. The same Rabbi that told me not to fast on Yom Kippur. He looked into it and got back to me. He said that as the not eating kitniyot rule was just a tradition and not an actual law or prohibition I was able to eat "the forbidden fruit." It is a considered a stricture that was undertaken. I would not have undertaken such a stricture had I known the complications of managing diabetes without some common long chain sugars and so I am able to get out of this undertaking. Again we come back to the idea that Pikuach Nefesh (saving of life) refers to the maintenance of a healthy life and not just preventing death. And that this supersedes many laws and strictures that might cause a problem with a chronic condition.
This makes life very easy here in Israel. As there are many more people of the Sephardi heritage here, who allow the eating of kitniyot in general many foods that are "Kosher for Passover" are only OK if you are allowed to eat kitniyot. This presents a problem to many Ashkenazim that live here. Not me, I can eat what I want (as long as it is actually Kosher for Passover). This is great Houmus and rice are a staple for me and being able to eat the normal foods that I eat the rest of the year allow me to keep balanced for the week of Passover.
This really does make a big difference to me, I do not have to worry about having a range of foods that I can eat to keep me going or give me a pick up. I still have to worry about the pick family meals. Over the week there will be at least 6 (both of the festive days at the beginning and end and the Shabbat in the middle). As I said in part 1 of this series these meals can take a toll and with so many in quick succession I can see I am going to need to find some time to get out on my bike.
Live long and stay healthy
Have a happy and kosher Passover