Put chocolate on holy pedestal

This week, like every Purim and on many other Jewish holidays, I was once again reminded that despite all the important teachings of the Torah and Jewish theology and ritual, there is one glaring omission: the lack of chocolate.

Think about how Jews would celebrate throughout history, for example, if instead of manna raining down from the heavens, large bars of 70 percent dark chocolate were dropped from on high; or if Lot’s wife, instead of being turned into a pillar of salt, morphed into a large Mounds bar that no one was allowed to eat. Now that’s punishment.

True, chocolate gelt for Chanukah has been around a while, but technically Chanukah is a minor holiday, since minors benefit the most. Using chocolate chips for dreidel betting is another way chocolate has been incorporated into Jewish rituals. But nowhere in the sacred Jewish books is chocolate described, prescribed or proscribed.

On Purim, hamantaschen is the perfect medium for chocolate to miraculously appear or be stuffed inside. All through my youth and beyond, I waited for bakers to finally admit that chocolate is the superior filling, rather than prunes, jams or poppy seeds.

When I first became a member of my synagogue, I was thrilled to learn two sisterhood members were going to make hamantaschen with chocolate. When the anticipated pastry appeared, it was not successful: They had used M&Ms with peanuts (which are kosher), and the interior of the hamantaschen became dotted with multicolored little “m’s.” The chocolate hadn’t softened and blended well, either.

Groping for an explanation, the embarrassed bakers solemnly explained to puzzled first and second graders at religious school that the green, yellow and red “m’s” festooning the inside of the hamantaschen stood for “Mordechai.”

The religious school authorities at the time tried to make up for the chocolate hamantaschen fiasco by sponsoring chocolate seders at Passover. These were great fun, and years later the sisterhood began creating its own chocolate seders, complete with rituals like dipping one’s finger 10 times in Hershey’s syrup to signify the Ten Plagues, which curiously increased at times to 18 or 19 plagues. Sisterhood members also grazed at a separate table, possibly the length of an Olympic-size pool, that was covered with plates of chocolate brownies, chocolate cakes, chocolate pies, chocolate matzah and  candy.

I was in Israel in the mid-’70s during Purim and saw kids dressed in surprising religious-themed costumes, like Zorro and Superman. While Israel at the time lacked the armory of chocolate I could find in America, Elite chocolate at least was available when I depleted the Snickers bars in my suitcases.

Now Israel boasts a $40 million domestic chocolate market, including gourmet chocolates. I know Israelis are trying to make up for the lack of chocolate in Jewish text — I wish the Book of Numbers included an accounting of the Israelites’ mandatory chocolate — but it won’t work, because just as I feel relieved that chocolate is getting the respect it deserves in Jewish tradition, along comes Passover with Manischewitz chocolate macaroons. (Please, no letters.)

Ironically, a couple of good chocolate recipes can be found online in Vashti Magazine(!), including a hot chocolate mix, chocolate crinkle cookies, chocolate chip cookies and an oddity titled “Make Lasagna and Chocolate Cake in a Slow Cooker.” I’ve never thought of mixing lasagna and chocolate cake, not only because I don’t have a large-enough round cake pan, but because I’m not sure what kind of chocolate frosting — dark or milk chocolate  — goes with tomato-sauced noodles.

I was pleased to see that Vashti, despite Midrash disapproval, has at last a magazine of her own, considering Hadassah (aka Esther) Magazine’s lengthy monopoly. Unfortunately, Vashti (Persian for “lovely” or “beautiful”) stopped being popular as a baby name a while back — around 1880. Esther continues to be a recognized name for babies (the 267th most popular, or 132nd, or 543rd, depending on the organizations).

Now that Purim is over, there’s another year to hope more chocolate will be officially incorporated into this holiday, at least. The name Purim, after all, comes from “Pur,” or “Lot” — but not that Lot, who’s in another chapter of the Bible altogether with a wife who should’ve been turned into a Mounds bar.


Trudi York Gardner lives in Walnut Creek and can reached at [email protected] or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.