Shavuot - Time for Cheesecake
By Bossie Kraftman
Nearly everyone knows that Judaism is based on the stomach. Either we eat potato pancakes (or in Israel sufganiot) on Hannukah, matzo on Passover, dip our apples in honey and eat other special items on Rosh Hashanah. Or we are starving on Tisha Bav and the other fast days. Therefore it shouldn't come as a complete shock to our system that on Shavout we must also eat something special.
It has become the tradition that Shavout morning before we devour the heavy meal we eat milchik (dairy products). Tradition tells us that the origin of this custom is very deep. The reason is that Shavout is the holiday that commemorates the time that we Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai. After Moses went up to the top of the mountain to receive the Torah, (meaning not just the Ten Commandments, but also the other parts called the Five Books of Moses), he came down with big news for those dedicated Jews waiting for him down below at the foot of the mountain.
The conversation went something like this:
"Hi, Moe, whatcha got there in them big rock tablets?" the people called to Moses.
Moses answered the people, "These here are the Ten Commandments. I etched into these two rocks what G-d told me to tell you."
"Hmm, okay, these aren't bad, not too hard to keep." They said after reading them. "Lets go home now and eat."
"Rock Rega," Moshe called them back. (Moshe spoke Hebrew, not just Egyptian and Yiddish like the other Jews, since he was an ardent Zionist; Rock Rega is Hebrew for "hold on a minute"). "I got some more commandments here in my pocket. It ain't to easy coming down the mountain with these two heavy stone tablets, so the rest of what G-d told me I wrote down." He said as he eased five small machberets (bound notebooks with paper cover) from his back pocket.
"Hmm, whatcha got there Moe?"
"Listen guys, we gotta learn what is written in these here notebooks, 'cause its got some really great stuff in it, really important, you know."
"Okay, Moe, hows 'bout if we come back after lunch and learn a bit with you. We are hungry, we been waiting the whole morning for you to come down."
"No, no, wait a minute. This stuff is really important, you gatta hear some of it!"
"Like what, Moe?"
"Listen, its got a whole thing about eating in there, like you just can't eat anything any more. No pig, no camel, no shrimp. Some other things. too"
"Really? Why not?"
"Listen, the Boss wants you guys to exhibit some restraint. You are going to be a Holy Nation!"
"Really?? Okay, b'seder." They said, heading toward their tent. "Hold the shrimp, Miriam!" one of them was heard shouting, as if it was so easy to find shrimp in the hot dry dessert. She probably stocked up from the frozen counter before leaving Egypt.
"Come back here." Moses called them. "Some more important items: "no cooking meat and milk in the same pot."
"What? Does that mean no more cheeseburgers?"
"..'fraid so, friend." Moses replied.
"Okay, not so bad. It's probably healthier with out all the cholesterol." They said as they headed back to the tents.
"Hey, guys come back, I'm not finished." Moses implored them. "You can't use your pots and pans since they were used with meat and with milk, they are trief (unfit)."
Now the people really started on Moses. "Listen, Moe, your overdoing it. What are we supposed to do? Starve? What are we supposed to do if we can't cook?"
"Eat cheese or milk!" was Moses' retort.
The rest of what happened is only speculation, but since on that very day the Jews had to eat milk and cheese, so we, too, eat milk and cheese before the big meal. (It seems to me that we should just eat only milk products and no meat dishes, like they did in the dessert, but then again, who am I to argue with tradition? Especially if it goes against the men's stomachs!)
Now the custom today is that when the men-folk come back from the synagogue in the morning, we give them a cheesecake to snack on with the morning kiddush wine. After finishing the cheesecake, we clean up the table, put on a different cover, different dishes, we certainly don't want to take a chance of mixing meat with milk, and we rinse out our mouth and then wait between a half an hour to an hour.
In our family, where eating is considered a great occupation, we have a tradition of eating a special no-cook cheese cake. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do, since you can benefit in two respects, one it is very tasty, and two, it does not take much time to make, (who has extra time to cook in the kitchen?). It is very easy to make and worth doing together with the kids.
No-Bake Cheese Cake
1 large package of biscuits or graham crackers
3 packages of 9% cheese spread (soft cream cheese spread)
1 cup of milk
1 package of vanilla pudding
Combine the cheese spread, milk and vanilla pudding together in a mixing bowl. While the mixer is mixing, take the biscuits (or graham crackers) and line the bottom of a large tray so that the biscuits completely cover the bottom of the pan.
Add the mix on top of the biscuits and refrigerate. It will thicken in the refrigerator over night and be ready in the morning.
Serve by cutting slices.
Variations are simple by using different flavored puddings or adding finely chopped strawberries. Enjoy!
from the June 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine