Friday, April 22, 2005

Schrodinger's Matzah

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!


TRK said...

Great moshol. I beg to differ concerning your explanation of the jam though. It can be kosher if all the ingredients are kosher and if it is prepared in the factory in a kosher way. If you know that, then nit is kosher and you don't need a rabbi/mashgiach to "bless" it.

Are you really a rebbetzin?


B2 said...

I prefer rebbetz, but yes -- my wife was ordained at HUC-JIR here in L.A. in the first ordination at the Los Angeles campus.

Jack Steiner said...

Chag Sameach

Me said...

Passover vs. Quantum Physics?? I gotta link that. Thanks for the insight Isaac.

Anonymous said...

Not that food needs to be "blessed" to be kosher, but it does need supervision. Assuming that you know all the ingredients in the jam and where they came from, how can you be sure about how it is prepared? While there is no lobster in jam, someone needs to make sure that any employees who might have had a lobster salad sandwich for lunch do not bring any crumbs into the factory floor with them. Or if the jam is seasonal and the same machines are used for something treife part of the year.
In Israel Oceanspray cranberry juice is kosher, but it is not in the states, anyone who is serious about kashrut won't drink it in the states even though it is technically kosher.
So unless you are quite liberal about kashrut, the arguement that if you know what is in it and how it is prepared than it is kosher does not quite hold.

Are you really a rabbi's kid?

Chandira said...

Anybody been over to 'A Hassid and a Heretic' lately? he's found out Chicken Teryaki is ot only not Kosher, but tastes good! ;-) LOL

Seriously, I do respect Kosher, it think it's a cool tradition. And I LOVE Jewish food! I have a mother in law that can cook really well...

squarepeg said...

ack!! how can jam be kosher if the people making it are eating lobster??!! metaphysically, that is. strictly a philosophical query!

sirbarrett said...

Interesting perspective about the observer influencing the symbolic significance of unleavened bread. I've always wondered how sub atomic particles sense that they're being watched.

Greg said...

Do people still say "next year in Jerusalem"? Because, you know, aren't the Jews back?

Excellent post - I must link to it because I have a linking illness.

SavtaDotty said...

But who observes the observers? Physicists and theologians may have different answers.

TRK said...

1) I am a Rabbi's Kid.

2) I will post my theories on kashrut soon, when I get around to it.