Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kosher for Passover Gasoline

There is a certain e-mail circulating around the Jewish e-mail world right now that is supposedly an article written in the Bergen County Jewish Times suggesting that ethanol-free gasoline will be made available for people who do not wish to use a derivative of corn on Pesach.

My wife is subscribed to a community based list-serve where she was sent a copy of this e-mail. This list-serve has dozens of e-mails going back and forth discussing the various halachic reasons why such a product would be good to use on pesach. Only a few people have realized that this is a joke.

Here is the text of the e-mail:
Bergen County Jewish Times
By Danielle Wolfberg and Henry Lorman
Teaneck, New Jersey
March 1,2007

Yaniv Ban-Zaken, a local gas station owner, will be selling Kosher for Passover gasoline during the holiday this year. The move, Ben-Zaken says, has become necessary due to the increased ethanol content in gasoline required by the government. The ethanol is typically derived from corn, which is a forbidden food for Jews on Passover. And, according to Ben-Zaken, underJewish law, it is also forbidden to derive any benefit from corn.

"We will be providing a number of services to anyone interested in making their motor vehicle Kosher for Passover," Ben-Zaken says. Services will include siphoning off the non-Kosher gasoline and replacing it with the Kosher gasoline. The entire process will be supervised by Rabbi Yitzchok Mendelbaum. A special exemption to the EPA rule regarding the plant ethanol content of gasoline had to be obtained from the government to allow for the use of this gasoline.

The move has created some controversy among local community leaders. Rabbi Shalom Silver, of Congregation Ohel Emeth in Teaneck, has recommended to his congregants that they not buy the gasoline. "Although Jews of Ashkenazi descent are not permitted to eat corn on Pesach, they are permitted to derive benefit from corn byproducts, such as gasoline with ethanol additives," he said.

However, Rabbi Mordechai Silver (no relation to Shalom Silver), of Yeshivas Torah Ohr in nearby Englewood, disagrees, and maintains that while it might technically be acceptable to use mass-produced gasoline, those who can afford to purchase the new alternative should. "In Jewish law, we have a principle of lifnim mshuras hadin--going above and beyond the basic requirements of the law," he explained in an email. "Thank G-d, many people in the area can afford to do so in this case."

Some local Jewish leaders have also complained about the high price of the ethanol-free gas, which Ben-Zaken estimates will be $9.69 per gallon, but Ben-Zaken insists that it is necessary. "The Kosher gas is made in small quantities and not mass produced, so the costs are high." In fact, Ben-Zaken, an immigrant from Israel who is not himself religious, claims that he will not be making any profit on the sale of the Kosher gas. "I'm doing this more as a community service. My hope is that people will be more likely to patronize my station the rest of the year." Julio Sanchez, one of Ben-Zakens employees, also expressed some concern over the high price, explaining that it might drive away customers and reduce his income from tips. Co-worker Naveen Samhari disagreed, because, as he says, "Orthodox Jews are among the best tippers in the area."

Ben-Zaken also says he will be contracting with a local car rental agency to provide customers with a Kosher for Passover car if they would prefer not to use their own. This will also save the time of having to clean chametz from the car before Pesach--time that many local two-income families do not have. "Jews use different dishes for Passover. They ought to be able to use a different car, as well." Ben-Zaken says.

There is no such newspaper as the "Bergen County Jewish Times" and the people named in the article only show up (in a Google search) as being linked to this article.

What bothers me is not that someone is still having some Adar fun, but that people are actually believing this. Some of the people responding to the original e-mail are suggesting that this is some sort of Government plot to lift the embargo on Cuba, as well as discussing the halachic problems of eating peanuts on Pesach - since they might be Kitnyot. And even if they are we shouldn't be using derivatives of Kitnyot on Pesach.

[No one seems to remember that until a few years ago only Peanut Oil was Kosher L
L'Pesach when finally other Pesachdik oils came out.]

The discussion came to new hights when raui la achilat kelev was brought up and someone suggesting that we take a bowl of gasoline and give it to a dog.

Well someone has certainly had their fun, but I seriously hope that no one takes this too seriously and next year we actually see this type of nonsense.

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