As Passover is soon approaching, I wanted to share some recent thoughts on the parallels between the Jewish tradition and quantum physics. (Because I feel like it -- that's why.)
The laws of quantum physics requires an observer to be present for the universe to function; watched quantum experiments have different results than unwatched experiments. The documented double-slit experiment shows that light behaves in two different ways, depending on whether it is observed, and the famous "Schrodinger's Cat" thought experiment is a wonderful example of an observer seeing the result of an experiment, which then triggers the cause -- yes, it's pretty much effect before cause, and the events in the experiment are suspended outside of time, only retroactively happening once the observer peeks. And now, an awkward segue.
One of the key elements of the Passover celebration is matzah, which represents the Jews' hasty escape from slavery to freedom. They did not have enough time to allow their baking bread to rise, and so it baked flat. The rabbis say it takes eighteen minutes for bread to rise, and so the flour used to make matzah for Passover is not allowed to touch water for longer than eighteen minutes.
To further prevent unauthorized wheat-related action that would turn it from unleavened matzah to leavened bread, to make sure the matzah is totally kosher, the matzah is tended carefully from seed to box -- from the time the wheat is planted, while it grows, when it is harvested, while it is baked... that matzah is known as shmurah matzah, or "guarded matzah." You could also translate it as "watched matzah." Or, alternatively, observed matzah.
The observation of the matzah is required to guarantee its adherence to the law, its kashrut. We actually have a similar (though less intense) process for all kosher foods -- in order to get that little O-U logo (or one of the many similarly-intentioned logomarks), you need your products to be prepared and packaged with rabbinic inspection, by someone trained in the art. It's not enough to be not treife (that's the word for unkosher food; it's also sometimes spelled trayf); you can buy some lingonberry jam at the store, and it may not be treife (it's probably lobster-free, for instance), but it's not kosher unless an authorized observer procliaims it kosher. So in this, too, the presence of the observer is essential.
Of course, quantum physics really only applies in the shtetl of sub-atomic particles -- not in your local winery or butcher shop. But it seems that the rabbis picked up on something very special when they hammered out the rules for kashrut and the need for an observer to make sure everything is kosher, and maybe they tapped into something tied to the very existence of our universe. Maybe.
And so I wish all Toner Mishap readers who are so inclined to have a happy and healthy Passover, a hag kasher v'sameach. Next year in Jerusalem!