Milk, Symbol of Sivan

Milk 2 by Andrew Magill, used by CC-A permissions
Milk 2 by Andrew Magill, used by CC-A permissions

x-posted at

It’s traditional to eat dairy on Shavuot, which begins the first week of Sivan.  Because of this, we’re going to explore dairy for the month of Sivan.

Let’s start with the separation of milk and meat in the Torah.  What it actually says is “don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (לֹא-תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי, בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ). This prohibition is found tthree times in the Torah: Ex 23:19,  Ex 34: 26 and Deut 14:21, which means — seriously, don’t freaking do this we’re not kidding around!!!   Most likely this was a prohibition on mixing life and death; milk being the source of life and death being meat, very literally in this case the meat of the kid goat. It was also, according to the Encyclopeida of Jewish Symbols, a common ancient pagan practice to give an offering of a kid boiled it it’s mother’s milk as part of religoius rites.  This is also a good reason that it was prohibited in ancient Jewish practice. Like so many things in Jewish tradition walls upon walls were built up to ensure we don’t accidentally make this mistake.

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Barley, Symbol of Iyyar

Barley Field in Autumn by Nick Page (nicksie2008) used by CC-A Permissions
Barley By Dag Endresen Dag Terje Filip Endresen used by CC-A Permissions
Barley By Dag Endresen Dag Terje Filip Endresen used by CC-A Permissions

I’m not sure there can be a more potent symbol of the month of Iyyar, which generally falls between April and May, than barley (שְׂעֹרָה). Many of us are disconnected from the agricultural cycles of our world, and especially disconnected from the agricultural cycles that part of Jewish tradition.  But in the ancient world, and for a few of us moderns, Passover is the beginning of the barley harvest.  Pesach, when we clean out our cupboards of barley and all other grains and refrain from eating chametz (fermented grain) is really a time of sacrifice and cleansing before the new harvest begins on the second day of Passover.  The period called “the counting of the omer,” which begins on the second day of Passover was literally a time of counting the barley harvest in ancient Judea. An “omer” was simply a measure of barley.

Over on PunkTorah, I’ll talk more about the whole “counting of the omer,” but here we’re going to talk about barley (including yummy recipes)!

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Haggadah – Symbol of Nisan

Yes, Virginia -- there is a Passover Rabbit. Click to See More!


OMG-D! It’s almost time for Passover! With Nisan upon us, preparations for our annual journey out of Mitzrayim begin in earnest.  Whether you take a traditional or modern approach, believe in G!d(dess) or not — Passover is a holiday pretty much all Jews can connect to.  There are so many things we could explore as the symbol of Nisan, but here at we’re going to explore the Haggadah as the ritual object of Nisan.  Over at PunkTorah, look for my article on Chametz as a the symbol of Nisan.

“More than any other single ceremonial object or document, the Haggadah exemplifies the continuous evolution of the Jewish symbolic tradition.” ~ The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Patkin Teutsch (pg 66)

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Candles: Symbol of Tevet

"We light the Sabbath candles...."
Ketzirah lighting Sabbath candle at SXSW in Austin, TX (2011)

Tevet 5772 begins at sundown on December 26th, 2011 and ends at sundown on January 24, 2012

Tevet, the Jewish month that falls during December and January, is a tough month to pick an object or spiritual practice to be its symbol.  Hanukkah does fall during Tevet, but only first couple of days.  The only other holiday is Asara b’Tevet, which is a minor fast.  When you look at the themes surrounding Tevet it’s all about vision,clear sight, and breaking through darkness. With this in mind, we turn to the practice of lighting candles in Judaism for our Tevet focus. We light a LOT of candles in Judaism.  In Tevet alone, if you take advantage of all the traditional opportunities to light candles you will light at least 27 candles.  This includes the last two days of Hanukkah, the Sabbath and Havdalah. Granted Hanukkah certainly raises the bar for volumes of candle lighting, but even in another month there are a lot of candles. So what’s with all the candles? Continue reading “Candles: Symbol of Tevet”

Hanukkiah: Symbol of Kislev

All alight
Photo by Rebecca (grongar) used by CC-A permission.

In thinking about Kislev, I went right to the dreidel and the Hanukkiah.  I decided that if I had to pick one, it’s the Hanukkiah (but I may explore the other dreidels later in the month!)  The Hanukkiah is the nine-branched menorah that we light on Hanukkah.  Even though we generally just call it a menorah, not all menorahs are for Hanukkah!  The menorah, which is an ancient symbol of the Jewish people is actually seven branched.

If the menorah is considered  “the most central role of all the sacred vessels, for it is the symbol of light,” and a symbol of spiritual illumination — then it’s safe to assume that this is also the role the Hanukkiah plays.  Hanukkah is a strange holiday because it’s not only post-biblical, but also two holidays smooshed together.  I guess we have a lot of holidays that are two smooshed together, though.  Most commonly Hanukkah is the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabbees over the Greeks, and the “miracle of the oil.”  It’s also a Winter Solstice (Tekufat Tevet) holiday, that acknowledges the darkness of the year and returning of the light.  That’s actually found in ancient midrash, it’s not just some modern “new agey” thing.  It’s even one of the stories I included in the Hanukkah Haggadah!

The lighting of the Hanukkah menorah offers wonderful opportunities for spiritual refreshment and renewal.  This year, toss away the annual debates over whether or not Hanukkah is important or just a reaction to Christmas.  Don’t worry about the ethics of celebrating the victory in a war (and that the Maccabees were total zealots, who probably would have killed many of us too…).  Embrace our own holiday of lights at its root level — light.

What do you want to light up?  What areas of your life, your heart, your soul need light?  Dedicate your entire Hanukkiah to bringing light into an area in your life.  Let each candle represent a step along the way, and watch the light grow over the eight days!  Take this time to rededicate yourself — to whatever you need to rededicate yourself.  Bring back the light in your own life, and rejoice in our very special holiday of lights!