The Matzoh and the Eucharist (for the gluten intolerant)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/05/03 11:01 -04:00, original URI:

I had a regular reader ask me via the Contact link:

I have a gluten intolerance and a fiancé who is Jewish (we are getting married on the end of the summer). I managed to avoid passover this year because I was traveling for work, but by next year I'll have to be at the family sader. I may have finished the conversion by then, but if not then I will be on my way.

I know this is not your usual kind of question but you are Jewish and I remember a porcine valve piece a while back so I'll take a chance and ask. How do I avoid offending an immigrant family by being at a sader and not eating matzoh?

The blog he was referring to (If the porcine is טְרֵפָה then the fact that the bovine probably is too ought to count for something) seems to be proof of the fact that the strangest things interest me, if nothing else. :-)

But I do have a friend who for a time was believed to be struggling with gluten intolerance (and dealing not with religious issues but wuth low-key accusations of heroin abuse), so this question kind of fascinates me too....

Though in actuality, you are pretty safe, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Jewish law is four square in favor of not endangering your health if following the law would cause you to do so. In fact, if it it would endanger your health it can even be seen as a violation of a mitzvah to do it anyway.

Now although this is true, many people aren't entirely satisfied with the answer since it requires extensive explanations and can be mildly embarrassing in social situations. Not to mention that this is going to be a lifetime thing and not just one more Pesach Seder, which makes one want to give a more satisfying answer. And luckily there is now a company that creates כשר לפסח (Kosher for Passover) gluten-free Matzo -- you can read about it on their website here at Gluten Free Oat

This really is a wonderful thing, and speaking as someone who has gone to orthodox Yom Kippur services in a powered scooter (ref: here), having a way around medical needs that allows one to still follow the law is truly a goodness. And in the case of a new family situation it really shows one is taking an interest in the religion, too. Which never hurts, believe me. :-)

You can read about the process and what they had to go through on their site, via the About Us link. It is kind of inspirational, I think.

The situation has been a bit harder for Roman Catholics than Jews, to be honest, given the difficulty in the whole sacrament thing with doctrine insisting that the Eucharist must be made from wheat (given the fact that the Last Supper was almost certainly a Passover Seder, the irony of this is not lost on some people!). In fact, for a while (starting in 1994) the church actually barred people who were truly gluten intolerant from being ordained as priests, though they backed off of this nearly a decade later.

Though again luckily enough an incredibly low gluten host was made and approved by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, (you can read about the creation here):

Throughout the years of our research and development we stayed in touch with the Office of the Secretariat for the Liturgy of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.  Through their help we discovered a company that produced wheat starch, which is wheat that has had most of the gluten removed.  We began experimenting with this new product.  There were many failed attempts and much frustration — the resulting breads were either too thin, too hard, or inedible.  Then one evening, as our sisters were working, Divine Providence intervened.   They tried mixing together two different types of starch.  The result was a sticky, messy batter that seemed hopeless.  They plopped some of it onto the baking plate and then decided to throw out the rest and start over.  When they open the baker they discovered a round, crisp, light wafer that tasted delicious.  God had blessed our efforts with success.

I don't think I am qualified to comment on the idea of divine intervention in a situation where a group is trying a myriad of different things and then finds one thing that succeeds in somewhat random circumstance when one is essentially committed to an investigation made up of a bundle of opportunities for random circumstance, but whether it was divine intervention or not such an advance is a wonderful thing for catholics trying to avoid the same social issues as the ones I mentioned previously in relation to matzo.

Now, assuming that the Last Super was in fact a Passover Seder for a moment, it is interesting to contemplate how two completely different set of traditions and doctrines came out of what was essentially the same thing at one point. But the rules related to religious doctrine can always be wrapped up in fascinating details, I think. :-)


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Carl on 3 May 2008 8:56 PM:

Interesting trivia: One of the many issues in the East-West church schism of 1056 was that in the West (today's Roman Catholics), they used unleavened bread on the theory that the last supper was a passover seder and in the East (today's Orthodox), the used leavened bread on the theory that the last supper was the night before the passover seder.


Michael S. Kaplan on 4 May 2008 12:26 AM:

Ah, my "Catholic education" (beyond reading I did!) was mainly teaching kids about the Passover Seder at the nearby Gesu school when Easter was about to happen, and later on a few Catholic girls I dated (and one I wanted to date, a story for another day!).

Not really enough contact with the other side to understand that piece -- I didn't know that anyone thought the Last Supper wasn't a Seder. :-)

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