Pluralism: From Nettle to Religion, How Different Can One Thing Be?
Nature is wonderous. Take plants, for instance. Although many are beautiful to behold, there are a number that are imbedded with deadly defensive mechanism. Some of these dangerous plants include: the Manchineel are poisonous, Poison Ivy gives you a nasty rash [Fast Fact: You can ingest poison ivy, it is not poisonous], Hogweed causes blisters (and blindness, if it gets in your eyes), Tread-Softly causes intense stinging and itching, Gympie Gympie causes allergic reactions, placing some victims in anaphylactic shock, and the Stinging Nettle which injects acid into those that brush up against it.
The promise of danger seems to never have been a deterrent to chefs of today or in the past. Pufferfish, if prepared incorrectly could lead to death. Many variation of mushrooms (e.g., toadstool) is deadly when consumed. Elderberries, could cause intense stomach pains, one bean of Castor Oil (which is used in candy and junk food) is enough to kill an adult, almond contain cyanide (and must be processed before ingested) as do the pits of Cherries [Fast Fact: the seeds of apples also contain small amounts of cyanide – eating a few will not kill you, but if you eat enough, it will get you sick], Rhubarb leaves, when mixed with water and soda can act as a corrosive acid, the leaves and stems of Tomatoes contain a toxin known as glycoalkaloid, and green parts of Potatoes may also contain a poison (solanine). One has to ask themselves, “for some of if these foods, if eating them can kill you, who experimented with them (and acted a guinea pigs) to see if a new method of preparation would be safe?” One of these foods, is the stinging plant mentioned above . . . Nettle.
“Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety”
[Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Part I, Act II, Scene 3]
In the scientific community Stinging Nettle is known as Urtica Dioica. It was originally found in cold, moist areas of northern Europe, Asia, and North America. Today it can be found growing in almost every continent on Earth. The plant, as mentioned, is widely known due to its stinging property, in which it injects irritants into the skin of any person or animal foolish enough to come into contact with it. It has long been written about and used for various purposes throughout history. As far as plants are concerned, its uses are pluralistic.
Nettle has been used for centuries as a medicine for a multitude of ailments such as treatments for urinary and kidney disorders, issues with the skin, rheumatism, gout, and to promote lactation, to name a few. Besides medicine, nettle has also been used to make clothing. The fibers in nettle have been used to make clothing for over 2000 years. In fact, during World War I, due to the shortage of cotton, Germany used nettle fibers to produce their army uniforms.
Nettle’s diverse properties also make it a source for both food and drink. The leaves are used to make a type of a tea, and in the British Isles it is made into a beer. The plant, which is very high in protein, has also been consumed for eons. In fact, the oldest known recipe ever found (by researchers at the University of Wales Instituted while scouring early texts and manuscripts) was for a Nettle Pudding, dating to 8,000 years ago. When nettle is soaked in water, it removes the irritants so the plant can be safely handled and eaten. The plant and its leaves have been used in many different dishes such as fillings for dishes (e.g., bourekas), to make polenta, and for polenta soup. Polenta is also used in the production of a special cheese, called Cornish Yang in Cornwall, UK. [Fast Fact: Each year, the World Nettle Eating Championships is held in Dorset, UK; the record of 80 feet of the plant was performed by chef Phillip Thorne in 2014.]
Religious Pluralism: The Shavuot-Pentecost Connection
The fourth definition of pluralism (actually, it is #4a) as provided by Webster.com, is “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” Therefore, our discussion today will be focused on the religious aspect of this word, or more specifically “religious pluralism.” This month, which includes a multitude of religious celebration of many faiths, including Shavuot, Pentecost, and Eid ul Fitr, sets the tone for this discussion.
The interesting thing about pluralism is that each group or special interest can be divided into their own pluralistic segments. One can look at all religions worshiping or belief of a deity (or deities) as being pluralistic, but it can also be sub-divided into monotheistic vs. non-monotheistic religions. Monotheistic religions can also be subdivided into Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) vs. non-Abrahamic monotheistic religions (e.g. Zoroastrianism, amongst others).
The three main Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all hold at their core, an origin whose faith is associated an individual they all refer to as Abraham. [Fast Fact: There are also other religions that may fall under the Abrahamic umbrella, including: Bábism, Bahá’í Faith, Druze faith, Mandeanism, Rastafari, Samaritanism, Shabakism, and Yazdânism.] While each of these religions claims to pray to a different deity, their origins, early histories, holidays, and many practices are very common. For instance, there is a direct correlation between the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and the Christian holiday of Pentecost.
Pentecost is believed by Christians to be the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon his disciples of Jesus. Pentecost is sometimes also referred to the birthday of the church since this is the day the Apostle Peter preached his first sermon. It is a happy festival day and church leaders may wear red to symbolize the flames in which the Holy Spirit came to earth, and joyous songs may be sung in church. According to the church, the spirit descended on them while celebrating the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The apostles thought that they were drunk, but Peter told them that they were not, but were full of the Holy Spirit. The holiday is also called Whitsunday and celebrated 50 days [remember that number] after Easter (which is celebrated by Christians as the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ)].
The name of the Christian celebration of this day is derived from the counting of the 50 days. The number fifty, in Greek is pentecostē. The apostles at the time were following Jewish laws and customs, including the celebration of Shavuot, which occurs 50 days after Passover. [Fast Fact: The Last Meal of Jesus is believed to have been a Passover Seder by many biblical historians (but not all). Although not a topic to deliberated in this article, it will be discussed in the future.] Christians may also refer to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot as Pentecost.
Why 50 days you may ask? The counting is as important in Judaism as it is in Christianity, as is evident in the translation of the Hebrew word Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת in Hebrew, and pronounced by many Americans as “Shavuos”), which translates into English as “weeks.” The number comes from the Torah in Leviticus 23:15, which reads “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete.” At first a reader may interpret this as 49 days. A week has seven days (even in biblical times) and seven weeks would equal 49 days). However, the counting begins the day after the first Passover Seder, so there are 50 days between Passover and Shavuot. [Fast Fact: In Judaism, this seven-week period is a very solemn time, and called the Omer and each day is “counted” in a special blessing. However, there is also a celebratory holiday on day 33 called Lag B’Omer.]
Now may be a good time to discuss this Jewish celebration known as Shavuot. The Torah refers to this celebration multiple times, calling it by different names: Hag ha-Shavuot (חג השבועות), the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10); Hag ha-Katsir (חג הקציר) the Feast of the Harvest or also translated as Festival of Reaping (Exodus 23:16); and Yom ha-Bikkurim (יום הבכורים) Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). However, don’t let all of the names confuse you, they all refer to the same day – Shavuot, which is to occur after 50 days of counting.
Just as the holiday is not known by only one name, it is not limited to a solo celebration. Shavuot combines two major religious celebrations. Since ancient Israel was an agricultural country, the harvesting of crops was an important part of their civilization. Shavuot is the day when Jewish men would reap the first grains/fruits of the season and bring them to the Temple. [Fast Fact; This is one of three pilgrimage festival days mentioned in the Torah where Jewish men were to go to the Temple in Jerusalem.] The day is also celebrated because it also marks the day the Jewish people received the Torah (and entered into a covenant with G-d).
The Torah does not have any requirements as to how to celebrate the holiday, except that it is to be festive. However, there are a number of rituals and observances that have grown out of the holiday, including:
- Reading of the akdamut (liturgical poems)
- Consuming dairy foods and drink
- Reading the Book of Ruth
- Yerek, which is decorating the home and temple with greenery
- An all-night study of Torah
As an aside – in my research of the connection between Pentecost and Shavuot, besides 50 days being of importance, there was another aspect, at least theologically, where both were related. There is the idea of “gifts” being associated with these holidays. No, not like the ones during Christmas or an American Chanukah, but the gifts of a deity towards their faithful. In Christianity it was the gift of the Holy Spirit and in Judaism, the gift of the Torah.
I was going to address the concept of Jewish Pluralism in this article, but found it too difficult to define, and therefore write about. Being Jewish is different to every individual. Judaism itself is divided and sub-divided into different groups – some “official” and some without any linear bounds. Some may divide Jews into Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox. Although that may seem like a fair assessment, others would break out these four into other subdivisions, and some Jews may say they are just “Jewish” and don’t really fit into any specified silo. The lesson of this all should be that regardless of what religion you are (or if you do not believe in religion), we are all on our own journey through life, and it should be part of who we are to accept others for what they are.
The obvious recipe for this article would be nettle pudding or at least nettle soup. However, nettle is usually not found in your local super market, and it could hurt to pick it yourself, I am going to provide a recipe for cheesy spinach pudding (the taste of nettle most closely resembles spinach) – and leave it to you to substitute with nettle, if you dare. Since it is dairy, it will fit nicely into a meal for Shavuot.
Ingredients (Serves 8)
36 oz. Spinach leaves
¾ cup Grated mozzarella cheese
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 ½ Cloves of minced garlic
1 lg loaf Stale Italian (or French bread), cut into ¼ inch pieces [with or without crust]
5 Tbs Butter
4 Large eggs
1 cup Heavy cream
4 Tbs Water
2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Pepper
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees
- Grease a deep baking/soufflé dish and place on side
- Melt 1 Tbs of butter in a pan, then add spinach, garlic, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and water – heat until spinach wilts, then drain (in colander) – BUT drain about 1 cup of the liquid into a glass cup
- Melt remaining butter in a separate pan, then add cut bread – heat until bread is crisp/toasted
- In bowl, combine eggs, cream, liquid from spinach (from step 3), both cheeses, the remaining salt and pepper and mix well – then add spinach, mix some more, then pour into the deep dish (step 2)
- Pour mixture into the baking dish, then evenly top with the bread squares
- Place baking dish into large roasting pan 3/4s filled with water, and place into oven for approximately 40 minutes (inside should be warm).
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