NO SOUR GRAPES HERE
By Gil Marks
The parsha of Ki Tetze, continuing from the previous week's section of Mishpatim, consists of a series of laws involving relationships between people as well as a few on how humans must treat animals. Among these ordinances are the passages, "When you come into your neighbor's vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you have enough at your own pleasure; but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pick kernels with your hand; but you shall not move a sickle into your neighbor's standing grain." (Deuteronomy 23:25-26)
Could this mean that anyone is allowed to just walk onto another person's property and eat to his heart's content? The Torah was certainly not creating a system of Communism nor is it possible for any society to survive with such a disregard of ownership rights. In this vein, a careful reading of the Hebrew text opens an alternative and more viable avenue of interpretation. For when can a stranger 'come into' a neighbor's property? Only when they are invited to do so.
According to the Sages, the Torah did not intend for people to trespass onto someone's private property to pilfer fruit or grain. Rather, as Rashi explained, "Scripture speaks regarding a laborer." For the phrase "when you come into" refers to someone who has permission to enter the private vineyard or field, namely a worker. Rashi continued in his explanation that the phrase "you shall not put any in your container" reveals that, "the Torah speaks only of the time of gathering, at the time when you put (the grapes) in the container of the owner." A syllogism in the Gemorah Baba Metzia (87b) corresponds to Rashi's view, connecting the "when you come" of Deuteronomy 23:25 to the law set down later in the parsha (Deuteronomy 24:15), "In the same day you give him hire, you shall not let the sun 'come' down upon it, for he (the worker) is poor." Both instances of the word tahvo ("come") refer to an employer-employee relationship. Therefore, in Rashi's words, any laborer harvesting fruit is free to eat "as much as desired," but "not an excessive quantity." (From my stint working on kibbutz, I can personally attest to the value and fairness of a laborer being allowed to partake from what he is harvesting.) In addition, even an animal working on crops is allowed to eat from that in which it is working, as the Torah states, "You shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing (grain) (Deuteronomy 25:4)."
Interestingly, the section immediately preceding "When you come into your neighbor's vineyard" interrupts the series of laws dealing with various human interactions with a small section regarding repaying personal vows to God (Deuteronomy 23:22-24). The incongruous juxtaposition corresponds with a famous proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the teeth of the children are set on edge?" To which the prophet Yechezkel responded, "By My Name, says the Lord, you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine: as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sins (and not the children), will perish (Ezekiel 18:2-5)." Thus the Torah relates that a person is not bound by the misdeeds or oaths of a parent.
But why did the Torah single out grapes in the law teaching that a laborer may eat from the produce that he is harvesting?
Grapes, the fruit of the vine, have long been prominent fixtures throughout much of the world. From its home somewhere north of the Fertile Crescent not far from Mount Ararat, the vinifera grape spread across the ancient world. Grape seeds have been found in the earliest archaeological excavations. Paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs depict viticulture. Vines were among the plants included in the hanging gardens of Babylon. Greeks honored the grape in myths and fables.
Grapes were the most important fruit in ancient Israel and viticulture played a prominent role throughout the early part of Jewish history. Indeed, the vine is listed first among the Shevat Haminim (Seven Species) with which the Land of Israel is blessed (Deuteronomy 8:8). Vineyards flourished on the terraced hillsides of ancient Judea. Grapes so influenced life in Israel that the Bible mentions 18 different words for the branches. The people of Israel was compared to grapes (Hosea 9:10) and God to the owner of a vineyard (Isaiah 5, Ezekiel 17:1-10, and Jeremiah 2:21). According to some scholars, one of the primary reasons that the Babylonians brought the Jews to Babylon and not to a distant part of their empire was to capitalize on their terracing and viticultural expertise. Coins from the Hasmonean and Bar Kockhba periods bear images of grape bunches, reflecting the fertility of the country and the enduring import of the vine.
At the end of the Second Commonwealth, Roman legions laid waste to the ancient Judean vineyards, frequently salting the earth from which they had grown. The might of Rome, however, could not erase 1,500 years of accumulated knowledge, and the Jews brought their viticultural skills into the Diaspora. One reason that Jews continued to engage in this form of agriculture was to ensure the continuing availability of kosher wine. Since Muslim law forbids alcohol, Jews generally ran the vineyards and wine trade in Islamic lands. The frequent mention of wine in medieval Sephardic poetry reveals the Iberian Jews’ enduring fondness for it. Early Ashkenazim also retained a love of wine. The Jewish communities of Alsace and France, which were tilling vineyards there centuries before the arrival of the Franks, proved to be particularly adept at this ancient craft. Indeed, at the time of Rashi (1040-1105), virtually all of the vineyards of Champagne, including one owned by Rashi's family, were under Jewish auspices. Unfortunately, the restrictions and persecutions of medieval Europe took their toll, and these lands and the ancient viticultural lore were eventually lost. Only in 1889, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild, a dedicated supporter of Jewish settlements in Israel, obtained and planted high-grade varieties of European grapes, did Jews once again rediscover the ancient craft of viticulture.
The vine is one of the most
versatile plants, with most parts used in cooking -- whole berries with
poultry, fish, salads, and desserts; the pulp for juice and preserves; grape
seeds for oil; and tender, young leaves for stuffing and cooking.
Before the advent of cane sugar, grape sugar ranked second only to
honey and sometimes date sugar as a sweetener.
Eighty percent of all grapes, primarily vinifera, are used to make
wine and other spirits. Most
labrusca grapes (from America), chiefly Concord, are used in commercial
processing for juice, preserves, and sacramental (Kiddush) wine.
A mere 10% of the world's grape production are grown for table
grapes. Here are a few
traditional Jewish recipes straight off the vine.
About 40 large and 60 small rolls
Stuffed grape leaves, a delicious way to utilize an otherwise inedible object, originated in ancient Mesopotamia. Today, they remain popular throughout much of the Middle East. Stuffed grape leaves are known variously as yaprakes finos in Ladino, mehshi wara anib in Arabic, yaprak dolmas in Turkey, dolmades or dolmadakia yialandzi in Greece, dolma yalanchi in Armenia, tolma in Georgia, and dolma bargh in Iran. Yaprak is the Turkish word for leaves, generally referring to stuffed vine leaves, while dolma, originally a Farsi word, is a generic term for stuffed vegetables. Whatever they are called, stuffed grape leaves have long been a prominent component of the Middle Eastern meze (appetizer assortment).
Sephardim are particularly fond of vegetarian stuffed vegetables, which can be used at both dairy or meat meals. In Salonika, stuffed grape leaves were a ubiquitous Friday night dish, while Persians commonly served them cold for Shabbat lunch. According to the Turks, meat-filled dolmas should be served warm, rice-stuffed ones at room temperature. The latter is commonly served with hummus, eggplant salad, and plenty of pita bread.
1. To make the stuffing: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. If desired, add the pine nuts and sauté until golden. Add the rice and sauté until well coated, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the water, tomatoes, parsley, salt, sugar, pepper, and, if desired, currants. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Let cool.
2. If using preserved leaves, unroll, rinse under cold water, then soak in cold water to cover for 15 minutes. If using fresh grape leaves, blanch in boiling lightly salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Carefully cut off the stems. Place the leaves on a flat surface, shiny side down and vein side up.
3. On large leaves place about 1 tablespoon stuffing and on smaller leaves a heaping teaspoon near the stem end. Carefully fold the leaf from the stem end to cover the filling. Fold the sides over, then roll up the leaf to make a neat package. Cover the bottom of a baking dish or heavy pot with any extra leaves. Arrange the rolls, seam side down, in layers in the prepared dish.
4. To make the sauce: Combine the water, lemon juice, oil, garlic, sugar, and salt and pour over the stuffed grape leaves to cover. Weigh down the rolls with a heavy plate.
5. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Stuffed grape leaves keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Yaprakes con Avicas (Sephardic Stuffed Grape Leaves with Beans): After cooking the grape leaves for 45 minutes, add 1½ to 2 cups cooked white beans.
Yerba (Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves): Add to the stuffing 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 1 tablespoon dried mint, ½ teaspoon ground allspice, and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon. Add to the sauce 3 to 4 tablespoons temerhindi (tamarind sauce) and 1 tablespoon sugar. Tamarind and Temerhindi are available in Middle Eastern markets: You can substitute 2 tablespoons prune butter and 2 tablespoons apricot butter for the temerhindi.
Mihshee Wara Anib ma Adas (Middle Eastern Rice and Lentil-Stuffed Grape Leaves): Reduce the rice to ¾ cup and water to 1½ cups. Add 2 cups cooked brown lentils (3/4 cup raw), ½ cup chopped fresh mint or ¼ cup dried mint, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and ½ teaspoon ground allspice.
Mihshee Wara Anib ma Bourghol (Middle Eastern Bulgur and Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves): Reduce the rice to ¾ cup and water to 1½ cups. Add ¾ cup bulgur soaked in warm water for 30 minutes and drained.
5 to 6 servings
Although the name of this dish reflects a place at weddings, it is also served at other special occasions including holiday meals.
1. Bring the broth to a boil. Add the salt (less if using seasoned broth) and, if desired, the oil. Add the rice, stir, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 16 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in the grapes, parsley, and pine nuts.
3. Press into a well-greased 8-cup ring mold or bowl. Just before serving, warm in an oven. Loosen the edges with a knife, place a serving plate on top, invert, and remove the mold. Serve hot.
(5 to 6 servings)
Fruit soups and compotes, made from both fresh and dried fruit, are a favorite part of Ashkenazic cookery. A compote refers to pieces of fruit poached in a sugar syrup. Almost any fruit can be transformed into a compote, the cooking time varying depending on the hardness of the fruit. If making a mixed fruit compote, add the various fruit sequentially corresponding to the desired cooking time. Historically, the types of fruit used depended both on the season as well as geographic location. Thus Hungarians and Romanians had more produce available than their brethren living in the harsher climate of northern Poland and the Baltic States.
Poached grapes make a refreshing summer or early fall treat. You can use all green grapes or half green and half purple fruit. Although compote is primarily thought of as a light dessert, perfect following a heavy meal, it also serves as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meat or poultry. Or for a nontraditional manner, serve with yogurt or vanilla ice cream.
1. Bring the water, sugar, and cinnamon to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Discard the cinnamon.
2. Add the grapes, return to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the fruit is tender but still firm (2 to 3 minutes). During cooking taste the compote syrup and add more sugar if desired. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Serve warm or chilled. If desired, sprinkle with the mint or pomegranate seeds.
Grape and Melon Compote: Reduce
the grapes to 1 pound (about 2½ cups) and add with the lemon juice 1 medium
(about 1½ pounds) cantaloupe scooped into balls with a melon baller. Or use 1 pound grapes, 2 cups honeydew balls, and 2 cups
Mixed Fruit Compote: Reduce the
grapes to 1½ cups and add with the lemon juice 1½ cups blueberries, 1½
cups hulled strawberries, 1½ cantaloupe balls, and 1 cup crushed pineapple.
Gil Marks is the author of the James Beard Award finalist The World of Jewish Cooking, The World of Jewish Entertaining, and the recently released The World of Jewish Desserts. If you have a special request for a future recipe, forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org