News for Sociology of Religion--Wed Apr 16 07:06:35 EST 1997

    MOSCOW—At a recent rally near Red Square to protest the Russian government's delays in paying salaries and pensions, people's rage quickly focused on a different culprit. (New York Times) (*)

    It was a few days before Passover in 1503 in northern Spain. Angelina de Leon was kneading a dough of white flour, eggs and olive oil, flavored with pepper and honey. She formed walnut-size (New York Times) (*)

  • No headline.
    As a child in Bombay, India, Mozelle Sofaer watched her mother prepare Passover halek, a form of haroseth made from dates that have been cooked for hours in massive copper pots. Today, she uses (New York Times) (*)

    WASHINGTON—Rarely does a pundit have the chance to collapse a ballooning national debate with the pinprick of a single overlooked detail. (New York Times) (*)



    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    MOSCOW—At a recent rally near Red Square to protest the Russian government's delays in paying salaries and pensions, people's rage quickly focused on a different culprit.

    ``Why are there no Russians in government?'' Zinaida Piskunova screeched. ``Why, why, why are there only Jews?'' She is 46, a rosy-cheeked collective farm worker from the city of Yaroslavl who wore a flowered kerchief and a sandwich board that read, ``Down With the Government, Zionist Know-It-Alls!''

    The people around her backed her up.

    ``It's true,'' one man said. ``First Livshits and Yavlinsky, then Berezovsky and now Nemtsov. And Chubais, he's probably a Jew too.''

    He was listing some of the most prominent Russian politicians associated with economic reform, even though not all are Jewish and not all support the policies of President Boris Yeltsin's government.

    But the presence of more Jews in high places than any time under the czars or since the Revolution of 1917 is something that some Russians are depicting as sinister.

    Frustrated with the wrenching economic and social upheaval that followed the collapse of Communism, and the Soviet Union, in 1991, and spurred on by politicians willing to tap their resentments, many people are returning to a traditional scapegoat: Jews.

    ``It is no longer shameful to be Jewish in Russia,'' said Tankred Golenpolsky, the editor of the International Jewish Newspaper, published here. ``And so there is a reflex reaction against that revival.''

    Golenpolsky, who also leads the Anti-Defamation Committee of the Russian Jewish Congress, which was founded last year, added: ``Nobody is hiding the fact they are Jewish anymore, and that plays on the nerves of many people, particularly during this economic crisis. People want a scapegoat.''

    Overt anti-Semitism is mostly at the fringes of society, and it has been flourishing there ever since the mid-1980s, when President Mikhail Gorbachev's program of glasnost unleashed all kinds of grass-roots chauvinism, from the Siberian writers and Russophile revivalists to its more virulent form in the pages of Pamyat and other extreme nationalist newspapers.

    The Anti-Defamation Committee classifies about 200 newspapers in Russia as openly anti-Semitic, but most are cheap newsletters with a small readership. Bigotry is most splashily displayed in the pages of the nationalist and pro-Communist newspaper Zavtra or in the public rantings of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist politician, and other purveyors of a Jewish conspiracy theory.

    There are isolated cases of vandalism and violence: a bomb went off in one of Moscow's main synagogues last year. And there are occasional reports of Jewish graves being desecrated in the provinces. But generally, there is scant evidence that militant anti-Semites are acting on their viler prejudices.

    The paradox of anti-Semitism in Russia today is that in most ways, life for Jews has never been better.

    The state-sponsored discrimination of the Soviet era has been abolished, opening doors to the highest branches of academia, business and government. Russians still brand Judaism as a nationality like Russian or Armenian ethnicity. But in new internal passports, not yet issued, citizens will no longer required to list their nationality.

    Russian Jews, who are estimated to number more than half a million, have re-established Judaism as a religion and a culture. Religious schools and synagogues are flourishing.

    All over Russia there are Hebrew schools and universities, Lubavitch communities and soup kitchens and kosher shops. As they prepare for Passover, Jews in Moscow can choose between matzoh imported from Israel or made in Russia.

    Emigration, which was negligible until Gorbachev opened the floodgates in 1989, peaked in 1991 and 1992, but since then it has slowed down, a sign of stability.

    Boris Berezovsky, a car dealer turned media, banking and real estate tycoon who is deputy chairman of the National Security Council, is one of the more prominent Jews in Moscow.

    Berezovsky is a subject of controversy in Russia, and there are legitimate questions about his business dealings, government contracts and influence in the Kremlin. But oddly, when he was appointed to his government post, Izvestia and other respected newspapers focused mainly on the fact that he once applied for Israeli citizenship.

    Communists and extreme nationalists are not shy about complaining that Jews control banks and the mass media. Berezovsky, whose company Logovaz owns a large share of Russia's largest television network, ORT, is twinned in the public imagination with Vladimir Gusinsky, another powerful banker, who owns the second-largest nongovernment network, NTV. Gusinsky is also chairman of the Russian Jewish Congress.

    Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, the country's chief architect of economic reform and, accordingly, one of the least popular politicians in Russia, is not Jewish. But his more extreme detractors do not believe that.

    The main Communist paper, Sovetskaya Rossiya, recently published a large cartoon of Yeltsin and Chubais together. Chubais is depicted as a snake, coiled around Yeltsin's body and whispering in his ear as the Russian president signs a decree. Stars of David are the scales along his reptilian tail.

    Some of the names most frequently cited as leaders of a Zionist plot to undermine the Russian government from within do not quite fit the job description. Aleksandr Livshits, the former finance minister, is Jewish. He was demoted in a recent Cabinet shuffle. Grigory Yavlinsky, a leading reform economist, is half-Jewish, but he is not in government. In fact, he is one of the government's most ardent liberal critics.

    Boris Nemtsov, the former governor of Nizhni Novgorod who recently became first deputy prime minister in charge of economic reform, is Jewish. In an interview, he denied that anti-Semitism was a problem for him personally.

    ``I have been elected three times, not by Communists but by ordinary voters, 93 percent of whom are Russians,'' he said, referring to the ethnic category that would exclude Jews. ``People tend to judge whether you are a thief or honest, competent or not.''

    But he acknowledged that the increased visibility of Jewish businessmen and government officials could become an issue.

    ``If Russia begins to get out of the crisis, it won't be a problem,'' Nemtsov said. ``If the situation in Russia gets worse, a scapegoat will be needed, and it will be easy to find it.''

    Some Jews say Nemtsov and Berezovsky are contributing to the problem by accepting high-level government jobs.

    ``I especially blame Berezovsky,'' said a Jewish scientist who works in the defense industry and insisted on anonymity. ``He should never have accepted a government job. He should know what kind of country we live in.''

    The scientist, 55, said he was convinced that a return of state-supported anti-Semitism was inevitable.

    ``I look at facts and at history,'' he said. ``Industry has collapsed, people aren't getting paid and people are looking for simple answers. The easiest explanation is `the Jews.''' He added, ``When things get worse—and they will—do you think the government is going to say, no, really, it's all our fault? They will also look for the easiest scapegoat.''

    But there are signs that anti-Semitism is not as widespread as many Russians believe. The American Jewish Committee sponsored a public opinion survey in January 1996 and concluded that open hostility to Jews was relatively low.

    Asked whether Jews have too much influence in society, only 14 percent of the 1,500 respondents said yes. Other minorities, particularly Chechens, drew far more negative responses.

    But much can change in a year. That is one reason that the Anti-Defamation Committee of the Russian Jewish Congress is preparing to conduct its own survey this month.

    Russia has a long history of state-sponsored pogroms and repression. Soviet anti-Semitism reached its peak under Stalin, when the so-called doctors' plot in 1953 served as a pretext to round up those branded ``enemies of the people'' and expel Jews from the government and universities. Official discrimination lingered into Gorbachev's tenure.

    The collapse of Communism in 1991 liberated Jews and also the Russian Orthodox Church, but religious freedom did little to open the mindset of many conservative priests and church elders, some of whom still insist that ``The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,'' a fictitious 1905 account of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, is genuine.

    Patriarch Aleksy II, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, is more ecumenically minded than his predecessors, but many of his bishops are not.

    Conservative church leaders still speak resentfully of the fact that there were many Jews among the early Bolsheviks.

    It is not a charge that Russian Jews dispute.

    ``We are a small minority, but we've never missed a barricade,'' Golenpolsky said wryly. ``It's in our nature.

    ``There were Jews who led the October Revolution, and there are Jews leading the revolution for democracy and economic reform. People have an absolute right not to love us, but we have to insist on our right to practice politics and commerce as well as our religion.''

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service

    It was a few days before Passover in 1503 in northern Spain. Angelina de Leon was kneading a dough of white flour, eggs and olive oil, flavored with pepper and honey. She formed walnut-size balls, flattening them into round cakes and pricking them with a fork.

    Maria Sancho, the family maid, was watching. This was exactly the sort of recipe that the Inquisition authorities had told servants to report. Maria had also seen her mistress soaking and salting meat before placing it into the stew pot.

    All of which would provide proof that this was a household of secret Jews—Jews who had ostensibly converted to Catholicism under pressure from the Church but who had clung to their Jewish rituals.

    Maria's detailed account of the preparation and cooking of meals, along with similar testimony by informants at other Inquisition trials, has left a rare opportunity for contemporary cooks to recreate the Jewish cuisine of 16th-century Spain.

    The recreations represent the combined labors of Dr. Linda Davidson, a writer on medieval life and an adjunct professor of Spanish at the University of Rhode Island, and her husband, Dr. David M. Gitlitz, a professor of Hispanic studies there and a specialist in crypto- Jewish culture. They have gathered 85 recipes from testimony and have tested about 50.

    The testimony rarely included measurements and often used generalized terms, like spices, without specific names. So, they turned to other sources: the handful of cookbooks still around from that era, bookkeeping ledgers used in patrician households of the day, travelers' journals and poems written to raise awareness of covert Jewish practices.

    Consider this poem, from the wedding feast of a nobleman's daughter:<

    At this Jewish wedding party

    bristly pig was not consumed;

    not one single scaleless fish

    went down the gullet of the groom;

    instead, an eggplant casserole

    with saffron and Swiss chard;

    and whoever swore by Jesus

    from the meatball pot was barred.

    Even so, calculating each ingredient took trial and error, ``filling our compost heap with all sorts of stuff we couldn't eat,'' Davidson said. Sometimes she removed an ingredient, like rue, a salad leaf, or pennyroyal, a variety of mint, as both have toxic properties. Sometimes she substituted a tool, like a food processor for a wooden hand masher when preparing parsley or cilantro juice.

    There were some surprises. One was discovering the way in which the secret Jews seemed not to adhere to certain Jewish dietary laws while meticulously following others. For example, the Biblical ban against eating meat with milk does not seem to have been followed, for the prohibition was not found in testimony. Lungs, tripe and intestines, equally prohibited, were also eaten.

    But these Jews eliminated animal blood, another restriction, Gitlitz said. And ritual slaughter and meat preparation were so strictly followed that they were high on the Inquisition's list of clues for Christians to detect hidden Jewish practices.

    The couple concluded that lamb and beef were the favorite meats among the secret Jews and that chickpeas, eggplant and chard were recognized as Jewish vegetables. These Jews also loved cinnamon and sugar on almost everything, Dr. Davidson said, even stews and fish.

    Vinegar was ``very, very important,'' she added. Two types were used: a balsamic vinegar and a vinegar made from leftover red wine.

    Spices were used in quantities that Davidson could hardly believe. ``Lots and lots of cilantro, lots and lots of saffron,'' she said. Perfumed waters, like rose or orange, were popular flavor enhancers, too.

    Ground almonds served as thickeners. Favorite desserts were turron, an almond nougat; marzipan, and quince paste. And the cooks were highly color-conscious, Davidson said, often naming dishes based on color, like ``green stew.''

    But they rarely did their own baking. Fires were a hazard in the cramped wooden places where most lived. So, they would take their prepared foods to a communal oven for baking. Gitlitz speculated that Angelina probably took her pans of matzohs, hidden under other foods in a basket, to a more affluent secret Jew who might have had enough property for an outdoor oven.

    A few weeks ago, the couple cooked a typical 16th-century Spanish meal that might have been served on the first night of Passover: Angelina's matzohs, with vermilioned eggs; roasted lamb in a coating of chard, mint, garlic and egg; chickpeas cooked with honey, onions and spices, and turron for dessert.

    Excluded was haroseth, the paste of dates, raisins, honey, walnuts, orange juice and cinnamon regularly eaten at this ritual meal nowadays. ``It was never mentioned anywhere,'' Gitlitz said. ``Some of these customs may not have been as widespread as we would like to think.''

    Following are recipes gleaned from the testimony, including an egg recipe of Pedro de la Cavalleria, a finance minister to the King of Aragon until he was caught repeatedly celebrating the Jewish Sabbath with foods identified with Jews of the day.<

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service

    As a child in Bombay, India, Mozelle Sofaer watched her mother prepare Passover halek, a form of haroseth made from dates that have been cooked for hours in massive copper pots. Today, she uses the same recipe when she makes the dish in her San Rafael, Calif., home.

    ``This recipe for haroseth was handed down for at least 2,000 years,'' Mrs. Sofaer, 81, recently said of the mixture that symbolizes the mortar used when the Jews were slaves in Egypt. ``In my family, the recipe has never changed, from Babylonia to Bombay to Great Neck to California.''

    In a similar fashion, Nicole Amsellem, who was born in Fez, Morocco, and is in her 50s, is preparing for Passover these days in her Washington home by making marble-size balls that contain a traditional mixture of dates and nuts. Anne Rosenzweig, the chef and owner of Arcadia, has created a version of the traditional dish using rhubarb and jicama, a Mexican root.

    These versions of haroseth, a compound of fruits, nuts and spices that will be served at Passover seders beginning Monday evening, are a far cry from the Central and Eastern European apple and nut version served by the majority of American Jews.

    A recipe from 1794 discovered at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Ga., one of the earliest synagogues in America, described the dish as a ``compound formed of almonds, apples, & C. Worked up to the consistence of lime.''

    But haroseth recipes differ according to the country of origin _ and sometimes the town or family. Yemenites, for example, may include cloves and pepper, while Americans use cinnamon. Venetians add chestnuts and pine nuts, and those in the Dutch West Indies add coconut.

    With countless variations on haroseth already in existence and new ones being created yearly, this fruit and nut paste offers an ideal way to trace the journeys of Jewish families throughout the world. Not part of the original seder mentioned in the Book of Exodus, haroseth has, however, been a symbolic component for that meal for at least 2,000 years.

    In the Mishna, the rabbinical interpretation of the Torah in the Talmud, written before A.D. 200, haroseth is mentioned as an item to be brought by guests to the seder, along with matzoh, maror (bitter herbs) and two cooked items. The word ``haroseth'' probably takes its name from the Hebrew ``heres,'' meaning clay or shard, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.

    ``Haroseth as the mortar provides an oxymoron,'' said Gabriel Goldstein, the curator of the Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan. ``It symbolizes the hardship of slavery, but it is also a tasty delicacy and captures the sweetness of the taste of freedom. So, it brings together the duality of the seder experience, from slavery to freedom.''

    Moses Maimonides, the 12th-century physician and commentator on the Bible, who was born in Spain and lived in both Morocco and Egypt, included a recipe for haroseth in his writings. ``You take dates or figs or raisins, and the like, and mash them,'' he wrote. ``Then add to them some vinegar. The mixture is then spiced with spices, much as mortar is mixed with straw.''

    When the Jews migrated to Spain and Portugal, at least as far back as the first century, a date, raisin and sometimes fig mixture rolled into small haroseth balls became a custom. Some Sephardic Jews, escaping the Inquisition, brought the dish to the New World where, because dates were rare and expensive, they adapted the recipe to include apples with nuts and raisins.

    The Jewish Cookery Book, written in 1871 by Esther Jacobs Levy, the first kosher cookbook published in the United States, describes it as a ``mixture made of chopped apples and raisins, and almonds rolled in cinnamon balls; all of these being symbolical of events of the past, in the history of our people.'' (A facsimile edition is available from Applewood Books, Cambridge, Mass.)

    ``One of the reasons for haroseth in the Talmud is that it represents the fruit trees under which Jewish women slaves enticed their husbands to make love,'' Goldstein said. ``The wine symbolizes the blood shed by slaves in labor, the plague and the Red Sea.''

    One of the oldest and most time-consuming haroseth recipes is for halek, the Iraqi date syrup. Dating back at least to the Babylonian exile in 579 B.C., this date jam, like those from grapes, pomegranates and bee honey, was a sweetener in the ancient world. It is still served today in various forms by Iraqi, Syrian, Burmese and Indian Jews.

    Despite its longevity, the dish continues to have an identity problem. J.A. Joel, a Jewish soldier who fought during the Civil War in the United States, left this description of a wartime seder in the wilderness of Ohio. ``The necessaries for the choroutzes we could not obtain so we got a brick which, rather hard to digest, reminded us, by looking at it, for what purpose it was intended.''

    Ms. Rosenzweig, who created a new version of the dish, can relate to Joel's description. ``When I was growing up, haroseth was too reminiscent of bricks,'' she said. ``I wanted to make a haroseth that reminded me, not only of slavery and freedom in Egypt, but also of the spring in the United States. That's why I added the rhubarb.''

    < Anne Rosenzweig's Haroseth<

    Total time: 45 minutes< <

    1 cup sugar

    1 cup diced rhubarb

    1 cup kosher for Passover riesling or other off-dry white wine

    1 cup toasted pecans

    1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced

    1 cup diced jicama

    1 teaspoon cinnamon

    1 pinch cayenne pepper. <

    1. Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a saucepan, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the rhubarb, and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes, until soft but still crunchy. Drain and cool.

    2.Reduce the wine to \ cup. In a food processor, combine the pecans, apple, jicama, wine, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and rhubarb, and pulse 2 or 3 times. Remove to bowl. If desired, add a little more sugar.

    Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

    Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 114 calories, 5 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, 1 gram protein, 16 grams carbohydrate.<

    Halek< Adapted from Mozelle Sofaer<

    Total time: 1{ hours=

    10 cups large pitted dates, preferably Mejdoul

    2 teaspoons ground anise

    2 cups coarsely ground walnuts

    2 cups coarsely ground almonds.<

    1. Place the dates and anise in a large saucepan with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 15 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the dates are opened and the consistency of chunky applesauce.

    2. Puree the date mixture in a food processor. In a smaller saucepan, simmer slowly, uncovered, over very low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the halek thickens enough to coat a spoon. Cool.

    3. To serve, place 2 cups halek in a bowl. Sprinkle with half the walnuts and almonds. Reserve the remaining halek and nuts separately. Use as a dip for matzoh, or sprinkle with tahini and eat with pita bread.

    Yield: 4 cups halek.

    Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 220 calories, 6 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium, 4 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrate.<

    Provencal Haroseth< Adapted from ``A Taste of Haroseth''< (Yeshiva University Museum, 1994)<

    Total time: 1{ hours=

    2 cups dry red wine

    { cup sugar

    Grated rind and juice of { orange

    1 pound dried figs

    1{ teaspoons ground cardamom.<

    1. In a saucepan, bring the wine, sugar and orange rind and juice to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered.

    2. Add figs, cover and simmer until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.

    3. In a food processor, place the figs, cooking liquid and cardamom. Blend until well ground.

    Yield: about 2 cups.

    Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 240 calories, 1 gram fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 45 milligrams sodium, 2 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrate.<

    < <

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=@

    WASHINGTON—Rarely does a pundit have the chance to collapse a ballooning national debate with the pinprick of a single overlooked detail.

    The controversy is about the display in an Alabama courtroom of the Ten Commandments—the full text on the traditional artwork showing a pair of tablets.

    Judge Roy Moore put up the Commandments plaque in his Etowah County court. Such public reverence was a thumb in the eye to people who stand foursquare on the Constitution's prohibition of government establishment of religion, and they got another judge to order its removal.

    The ever-unpopular American Civil Liberties Union and other strict constructionists of the Constitution are aware that their stand will anger the majority. They've been through it before: objecting to organized prayer in school, banning religious holiday displays on public property, and now denying religious symbolism in the courtroom itself.

    Alabama's governor threatened to call out his state's National Guard to protect that plaque. The legislature agreed. Suddenly the ``religious right'' had a cause celebre, and thousands turned out in Montgomery to wave tablet-shaped placards spelling out the Commandments.

    The parading religionists can't lose, except in court, where they win by losing. Most Americans believe our civilization is based on a Judeo-Christian heritage, and see no wrong—indeed, much good—in letting a few religious roses climb up the Founders' wall of separation between church and state.

    What's more, the Christian Coalition has a common-sense argument with wide appeal about precedents for official connections to belief in God: Doesn't the Congress have its chaplains? Don't many judicial proceedings open with ``God bless this court''? Didn't Lincoln, at the insistence of his devout Treasury Secretary, order ``In God We Trust'' to appear on coins and greenbacks? Wasn't ``under God'' inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance, and doesn't the president conclude his inaugural oath with ``so help me God''?

    Not only that, they will argue, as the sparks fly upward to the Supreme Court, the symbol at issue is neither the cross of Christ nor the star of David. The Ten Commandments express moral law that belongs in court as well as church.

    Constitutionalists can counter by picking up that point about the presidential oath. The Founders carefully specified that the newly elected president could swear ``or affirm,'' which covered atheists. (Legend has it that Herbert Hoover was the only one to affirm, because his Quaker religion frowned on public oath-taking.) Moreover, ``so help me God'' was added informally by George Washington, and has since been traditional—but cannot be found in the oath in the Constitution.

    The constitutionalists' most telling argument is the Founders' intent to restrain government. The issue in Alabama is not about stopping people from revering the teachings of Moses; rather it centers on stopping the government from establishing—and thereby controlling—religion. Any encroachment diminishes rather than extends religious freedom.

    The reader will note an uncharacteristic evenhandedness in today's essay. That is because I have the solution that will save Op-Ed space and court costs.

    The last time I went to the U.S. Supreme Court was to listen to oral argument in Paula Jones's case against President Clinton . (My decision: Take testimony now but postpone trial until he leaves office.) The bailiffs put me in the cheapest seat, behind ornate steel grillwork. I grumped about that at the time, but now I'm glad about that seat.

    For one hour, I sat staring at a symbol of the law that was just right: Repeated in the grillwork are three-inch representations of the two tablets of the law—Moses' tablets, of course—but with no writing on them. Some forgotten artisan had found the perfect compromise: an artistic evocation of the God-given basis for our rule of law, but without the encroachment of biblical text.

    This may be the only case the high court has decided without knowing it. The strictly limited religiosity permissible in the U.S. Supreme Court should be permissible in the courtroom of Etowah County, Alabama.


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