Turn your seder into a fountain of chocolatey goodness, education

In the tradition of Judaism’s love of questions, epitomized by the seder’s Four Questions, here are four questions about Passover chocolate.

How can chocolate deepen my seder experience without additional calories?

Connect the ancient seder and its themes of freedom from slavery to the shanda of child slavery in the cocoa growing industry of West Africa. Using elements from my “Haggadah for a Socially Responsible Chocolate Seder” will spark discussions of child slavery, economic justice and fair trade.

The Barton’s candy company haggadah, designed to convince Jews chocolate is kosher for Passover

When reciting the Ten Plagues, consider some newer plagues of today’s chocolate, such as the human suffering inherent in the mass harvesting of cocoa beans and the health problems that can result from its immoderate consumption.

When saying avadim hayinu (“we were slaves” unto Pharaoh), consider contemporary slavery. In a study of child labor released last summer, the U.S. Department of Labor found that more than 2 million children work in unsafe circumstances in the cocoa fields of West Africa. Some of them are enslaved. 

The ha lachma anya (“this matzah is the bread of poverty”) portion of the seder speaks of the unleavened bread our ancestors ate during the Exodus. This serves as a reminder of the poverty in our world today — particularly, in this case, the income disparity between cocoa farmers and chocolate consumers.

Though most of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, little chocolate is actually processed there. Many subsistence farmers toil mightily to grow the cocoa beans for the chocolate we devour, yet they never taste the chocolate.

“I know they make good [chocolate products] but I’ve never seen that,” Ivory Coast cocoa bean farmer Alfonse says in a video (www.tinyurl.com/chocolate-farmer) by journalist collective VPRO Metropolis. Then, on camera, he relishes his very first taste of chocolate. Discuss what it means to harvest the fruits of productive, meaningful and safe labors.

Prompt conversations around the ethics of our chocolate choices by displaying cocoa beans on your seder plate.

What is the best chocolate for Passover?

Passover treats include matzah covered in milk, dark and/or white chocolate, chocolate-dipped macaroons, chocolate seder plates and more. You can also find an exquisite chocolate rendition of Michaelangelo’s sculpture of Moses (www.tinyurl.com/chocolate-moses).

Fortunately, due to the partnership of Rabbi Jill Jacobs (T’ruah), Ilana Schatz (Bay Area-based Fair Trade Judaica) and Rabbi Aaron Alexander (American Jewish University), it is possible to purchase fair trade, kosher-for-Passover chocolate made by Equal Exchange. Unfortunately, April 11 was the last day to order it to guarantee it arrives in time for Passover.

There is little, if any, fair trade, slave-free chocolate for Passover available in Israel. Teenager Ashira Abramowitz has been petitioning Elite Strauss, a prominent Israeli snack manufacturer, to make fair trade Passover chocolate; she is a recent bat mitzvah at Kol HaNeshama Reform Congregation in Jerusalem. Invite your friends and family to sign her Change.org petition (www.tinyurl.com/chocolate-petition).

What makes this chocolate different from all other chocolate?

Sadly, kosher-for-Passover chocolate sometimes highlights differences between Jews. For example, the Ashkenazi prohibition against eating kitniyot (legumes) during Passover precludes the use of soy lecithin, a soybean product, as an emulsifier for Passover chocolate. However, Sephardic custom permits the soy additive, which helps smooth the chocolate by shortening the processing time.

Two certification systems for Passover vie for buyers’ wallets in Israel. The culture war between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews reaches a boiling point at Pesach, when some Ashkenazi Jews will not eat in Sephardic homes.

Some people are advocating for the elimination of the prohibition against kitniyot. Of all foods, chocolate should be a unifier rather than a divider of peoples.


Who connected chocolate and Passover?

The first historical mention of Passover and chocolate comes from the American colonial period, specifically from Rhode Island trader Aaron Lopez. A successful trader and merchant, Lopez was also in the chocolate business, grinding, retailing and trading chocolate (which was consumed only as a beverage at the time.)

Lopez’s account book for April 1772 shows that he bought “6 lb Chocolate for Pesah.”  I imagine him dunking his matzah in his hot chocolate!

In the 1950s, when confusion arose about whether cocoa “beans” for making chocolate were kitniyot — and therefore possibly forbidden for Passover consumption — a New York-based chocolate and candy company wisely created a Passover haggadah. The Barton’s haggadah encouraged people to make positive connections between chocolate and Passover; cocoa “beans” are actually seeds of the cocoa pod and may be eaten during the holiday.

Similarly, the famous Maxwell House Haggadah was created to convince Jews that coffee is kosher for Pesach, since coffee “beans” are actually berries.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz wrote “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao.” To download her “chocolate seder” haggadah, visit www.tinyurl.com/chocolate-haggadah.