When is a tortilla not an afikomen?

During the Passover seder, three pieces of matzah are used. As the fourth part of the Seder, the leader breaks the middle piece in half; the largest piece is set aside to be served as the afikomen (from the Greek word for dessert). In most houses, either the leader hides the afikomen and the kids have to find it, or the kids steal the afikomen and ransom it. In either case, the kids are given ‘gifts’ (often gelt, chocolate coins) for finding or returning it.

Until the afikomen is returned, the Seder cannot be concluded, as it’s the last thing to be eaten (after regular desserts even). This tradition, instituted in the Middle Ages, was devised to help keep the kids engaged and entertained during a long meal with a lot of interruptions for education.

First things first. Man, I wish I’d known that part about the Seder not being concluded until the afikomen’s returned. I’m pretty sure by the time the family had collapsed into giggles over my grandfather’s Shakespearan, “Lo! This is the bread of affliction,” and our, ahem, irreverent commentary, my sister and I could’ve held them up for mega-bucks just so they could get out of there.

Since I’m not the youngest anymore (thank gods, since I couldn’t read the four questions in Hebrew if you paid me. Which I regret–Duolingo, why don’t you do Hebrew?) I don’t get to extort my elders for the return of the afikomen. No kids, either, so no one’s extorting me. But as I was pondering the coincidence of my first novel’s release–about the goddess Eostre and the holiday that isn’t hers–with the first full day of Passover (okay, let’s be honest, I was pondering whether I could have huevos rancheros for breakfast), I stumbled over the question of whether a tortilla is matzah. After all, it’s unleavened, right?

The internet knows all–although unlike my hero Xav, I declined to find the answer in the context of internet porn. Aside from the obvious-to-me problem of not being able to break a tortilla, it turns out that no, I can’t eat huevos rancheros because a tortilla can’t be an afikomen. That is, it’s not matzah.

Sort of.

Did you know?

  • Unleavened bread (matza) is any mixture of flour and water that is mixed less than 18 minutes before being put in the oven.

From this I deduce those ancient Jews must’ve been on a very specific timetable while they were packing up to flee. As bestie Lily Edwards put it, “It was like they had exactly a half an hour. ‘So, if we let it sit for 17 and a half minutes, it takes just under half a minute to get it into the oven, and we’ll have twelve minutes to bake it.'”

Those ancient rabbis must also have been whizzes with chemistry, math and cooking to get those ratios just right. Obviously floppy matzah or burned matzah was completely unacceptable for traveling.

  • Unleavened breads are still not kosher for Passover if the process doesn’t have a hechsher (kosher supervision).

From this I deduce the rabbis were very afraid the Israelites might accidentally slip bacon, shrimp or yeast into the matzah. Fair, after all, there were tons of pigs and shrimp running around, and you never know what a yeast might get up to. Also, tons of cheeseburgers with the Egyptians. They were big fond of boiling kids in their mother’s milk. (Please note, I mean goats not humans. To the best of my knowledge, Pharoah wasn’t a cannibal and Jews didn’t start eating babies until after Jesus.)

  • Unleavened breads that look like kosher-for-Passover matzah but aren’t (stone ground wheat crackers, tortillas, probably even Indian papadum) are called kitniot.

Proper categorization, also very important to those old Jews. Wonder if it’s cool to blame them for my OCD? I bet Jewish vampires aren’t arithomaniacs (obsessive need to count things) but compulsive organizers. Oh crap. My mother might be a vampire!

  • If you’re Ashkenazim (basically Jews from Eastern Europe post-Diaspora), you’re shit out of luck when it comes to kitniot. The rabbis banned it a couple hundred years ago for fear of confusion. People might accidentally break Passover! Or worse, your neighbor might think you were breaking Passover. Or you might covet your neighbor’s bread.

However if you’re Sephardim (basically Jews from southern climes), you get a big thumbs up on the whole kitniot deal. You can eat all the tortillas and crackers and papadum you like.

Despite the confusion and envy issues, it doesn’t seem to have required a Vatican-type council or provoked a new sect. We like threes. Levites, Kohenites, and Israelites. Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox. Jesus, Mary and Joseph…wait, no. Three matzah in the Seder. There we go. And since no one wanted to go out on a limb and call Wonder Bread matzah, they decided it’d be cool for us Ashkenazi and Sephardi to stick together, as long as the Ashkenazim didn’t head to their Sephardic neighbor’s house for Seder.

The upshot of all this is, since my great-great-greats lived in Eastern Europe instead of Spain and Morocco, I can’t have my huevos rancheros unless I make it with actual Manischewitz. I’ve never wished for Spanish ancestors more.

Anyone know how I can convert to Sephardic?

(Research compiled from various sources, but this one’s useful: Ask the Rabbi at Judaism.about.com.)