Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Charitable Intentions

It would be nice if we lived in a world where everyone was honest. Unfortunately, the news is full of stories of dishonesty, and phone scammers and identity thieves abound. The fact that people might be dishonest, however, does not absolve one of the obligation to give charity and help those in need.

There is an interesting narrative included in the Talmud (Ketubot 67b/68a) that provides insight into how to handle a situation in which one discovers, after the fact, that the charity they had given went to tricksters. Rabbi Chanina sent four zuz to a poor man every Friday. One week, when his wife went to deliver the money, she overheard the so-called “poor man” being asked by his servants if he wished to dine on the silver cloth or the gold cloth.

In response, Rabbi Chanina quoted Rabbi Chiya ben Rav of Difti, who taught “Rabbi Joshua ben Korcha said ‘Anyone who shuts his eye against [giving] charity is like one who worships idols.’”

One aspect of the mitzvah of giving charity is a recognition that everything one has comes from a Greater Source. By assisting others, one recognizes God’s generosity and emulates His ways. The Talmud does not explain what Rabbi Chanina decided to do after he learned of the man’s lack of need, but one can assume by his response to his wife that he remained calm, even if he eventually confronted the man. The onus of the deception was on the “poor man” and not on Rabbi Chanina, who did nothing wrong and had only the proper intent.

In order to protect those who want to give, many communities have created organizations that distribute funds after performing background checks or who issue certificates validating that the person seeking charity is legitimate.

KIndly Generous

When giving charity directly, do so with a smile and a kind word.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sitting in the House of Commons

On July 26, 1858, Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild entered the British House of Commons and took the oath required to serve as a Member of Parliament. His oath was a groundbreaking step in Jewish Civil Rights in the United Kingdom. For the first time, the oath was recited by a practicing Jew and the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" were replaced. (Benjamin D’Israeli, while born Jewish, was baptized as a child.)

The story of the Jewish Disabilities Act (disabilities referring to restriction on civil rights) is a tale of political perseverance. The first Jewish Disabilities Act was introduced to Parliament in 1830 - one year after the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act - but failed to be passed on four different occasions before it was set aside in 1836.

In 1847, Baron Rothschild, who was active in Liberal party causes, agreed to stand for Parliament for the City of London. As soon as he was elected, Lord John Russell, head of the Liberal party and Prime Minster, introduced a new Jewish Disabilities Act. It passed the House of Commons but failed in the House of Lords in both 1848 and 1849. Baron Rothschild ran again, and won, in 1849. In 1850, at the prompting of several electors, Baron Rothschild entered the House of Commons, but when he demanded an Old Testament on which to take the oath, he was called upon to withdraw. The same thing happened when he refused to say the Christian clause. The pattern continued. A bill was introduced and defeated in 1851, 1853, 1854, 1856 and 1857, and Baron Rothschild continued to be reelected. In 1857, it was decided that each House of Parliament would make their own decision. Thus it was that Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild became the first practicing Jew in the House of Commons. In 1885, his son, Nathan Mayer Rothschild became the first Jewish member of the House of Lords.

Standing Up

Do not be ashamed to stand up for your beliefs.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A New Martial Art

In his youth, Imri "Imi" Lichtenfeld (1910 - 1998) was a successful boxer, wrestler, gymnast and all-around athlete. He had inherited his physical prowess from his father, Samuel, a former circus acrobat who was a chief inspector of the Bratislava (Slovakia) police force and the owner of the Hercules Gymnasium, where Imri trained.

As much as Lichtenfeld enjoyed his competitive athletics, he was forced to face the brutal realization that fighting skills honed in an arena provide one with little protection when involved in a real fight. This fact was driven home by the increasing anti-Semitic violence of the 1930s in Slovakia. Riots broke out, and Lichtenfeld found himself leading a self-defense squad made up of young athletes. It was both a humbling and motivating experience.

As the Nazi conquest of Europe progressed, Lichtenfeld headed for British Mandate Palestine, which he had visited once before for the 1935 Maccabia Games. The Aliyah Bet riverboat (the Pentcho) on which he traveled was shipwrecked on the Greek Dodecanese Islands. Instead of going to Palestine, Lichtenfeld fought in North Africa with the Free Czech Legion and only reached Palestine in 1944.

Throughout these years, Lichtenfeld had been developing his unique self-defense martial arts known as Krav Maga (literally "fight contact"). In Palestine, he immediately began training elite units in the Hagana and Palmach. In 1948, after the creation of the state of Israel, Lichtenfeld was named Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga. For 20 years he taught the young soldiers of Israel. When he retired in 1964, he developed a civilian version of Krav Maga.

While Krav Maga is considered a martial art, it is taught on different levels - more and less dangerous. One can easily kill with Krav Maga, but that is against the nature of the art. Lichtenfeld's primary goal was extreme self defense, to allow one who is attacked to disable his assailant as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Imri Lichtenfeld passed away on January 9, 1998.

Self-Defense

Learning self-defense can help you fulfill the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh, saving a life (including your own)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Tragedy of the Idol

Ever since Moses saw the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf and smashed the two tablets of the law, the 17th of Tammuz has been an inauspicious day for the Jewish people, a day on which numerous tragedies occurred. One of the famous tragic events of the 17th of Tammuz was the placing of an idol in the Temple. 

There are different opinions about exactly when this incident occurred.


One view in the Talmud (Ta'anit 28b) says: “An idol was placed in the Temple. From where do we know this? -- It is written, ‘And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away and the abomination [idol] that causes desolation set up’(Daniel 12,11).” The daily sacrifice was abolished on the 17th of Tammuz and, therefore, the idol was placed in the Temple on that very same day (during the Babylonian siege).


Others believe that the incident refers to an act done by Apustamos, a Greek who was also responsible for burning the Torah (during the Second Temple period). 


Rashi mentions yet another suggestion, based on the Jerusalem Talmud, that this is a reference to the actions of the wicked King Manasseh of Judah:


Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign... And he set the graven image of Asherah, that he had made, in the house of which God said to David and to Solomon his son: "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put My name forever...'' (Kings II 21:1-7).


While a Greek placing an idol in the Temple was, indeed, terrible, a Jewish king doing so was a much greater tragedy.


This Treat was last posted on July 15, 2014.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

 In truth, however, this period of "sadness" begins on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (observed today) and lasts exactly three weeks - untilTisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

 While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh'heh'cheh'yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

 From the first day of the month of Av onward (August 4, 2016), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, we customarily avoid the following activities (along with all of the above):

 1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

 2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

 3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for just a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

 This Treat was previously posted on July 5, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Easy Now

If you are observing the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz today, take it easy and stay where it is cool.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days on the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known. (The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which, this year, falls on Shabbat, is observed on Sunday.)


As mentioned in the Talmud, five events are commemorated on this solemn day:

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the First Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the First (actually occurred on the 9th of Tammuz) and Second Temples.
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the First Temple era.
5. Apustamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

Based on the biblical verses found in Zachariah, Chapters 7 and 8, it is our practice to fast from dawn to nightfall.

For more information, click here.

This Treat was last posted on July 5, 2015.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Smashing the Tablets

The sages declare that five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz, which is why the day is observed as a fast day. Days of what we might now call “bad karma” (on which bad things consistently occur) were, according to Jewish tradition, set early in Jewish history, and the seventeenth of Tammuz was fated to become one of the most painful days in Jewish history. It all began when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, discovered the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf, and smashed the Ten Commandments on the seventeenth of Tammuz.

Since the Torah does not mention dates, the Talmud, asks how it is known that the Tablets were shattered on the seventeenth of Tammuz:

It is written (Exodus 24:16-18), "On the seventh day [of Sivan] He called to Moses...and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up onto the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." The [remaining] twenty-four days of Sivan and the sixteen days of Tammuz altogether make forty. On the seventeenth of Tammuz he came down [from the mountain] and shattered the Tablets (Ta’anit 28b).

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was ready to destroy the Israelites and create a new nation descended from Moses. Due to Moses’ fervent prayers, however, God forgave the Children of Israel. God’s anger at the Israelites for their easy fall into apparent idolatry is understandable, but what right had Moses to smash the tablets of law given to him by God? However, according to the Talmud, Shabbat 87a, Moses’ actions were driven by more than anger. He sought to protect the people. By destroying the Tablets, Moses created a situation in which the people had never fully received the Torah, so they could not be charged with having transgressed its laws.

This Treat was last posted on July 14, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Water, Water

Prepare for the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, which begins at sunrise on Sunday, by drinking extra water ovr the next two days.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hearing About Huldah

Among the many prophets who predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, only one prophetess is recorded. Huldah was a descendent of Joshua and Rachav, as well as a cousin of the prophet Jeremiah and the wife of Shallum ben Tikvah, who was part of the King Josiah’s household.

According to the commentaries, Huldah ran her own school for women, which, it has been suggested, was located at the southern gates of the Temple (now referred to as Huldah’s Gates). The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni notes that while Jeremiah prophesied in the marketplace and the prophet Zephaniah preached in the synagogues, Huldah spoke to the women.

Huldah’s famous prophecy, which is recorded both in II Kings 22 and II Chronicles 34, occurred shortly after King Josiah discovered an ancient Torah scroll in the Temple. The first passage that was read to King Josiah described the calamities that would befall the nation if they abandoned God’s ways. Being that his father and grandfather had both led their subjects into idolatry, Josiah was quite worried. He sent a delegation to Huldah rather than to Jeremiah (who was the major prophet at that time) because he hoped that Huldah, as a woman, would be more compassionate and would also try to intercede. But Huldah’s response was definitive:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man that sent you to me: Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read; because they have forsaken Me, and have offered to other gods, that they might provoke Me with all the work of their hands; therefore My wrath shall be kindled against this place, and it shall not be quenched” (II Kings 22:15-17).

As a result of Huldah’s prophecy, Josiah summoned the people and persuaded them to repent.  Huldah thus played an important role in the fateful return and repentance of the people to their traditions and faith. God also acknowledged Josiah’s own piety and promised that none of this would come to pass while he was still alive.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Honesty

Speak the truth, but gently in difficult situations.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hearing What You Want to Hear

Every therapist emphasizes the importance of good communication. It sounds easy, but it isn’t always. Hearing what one wants to hear and ignoring the inflection and subtext, often leads to unexpected and dramatic turns of events. Few places in the Torah better demonstrate this than the events leading up to Balaam’s curses that were turned into blessings.

Balaam the son of Beor had the special ability to communicate with God. When he was approached by a delegation sent by Balak, King of Moab and asked to curse the Children of Israel, he bade the men wait one night while he consulted with the Divine. God told him: “You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people [of Israel] because they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). Balaam sent the messengers away, but Balak sent another delegation. Balaam, who very much wanted to fulfill Balak’s request, returned to God and this time was told: “If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them, BUT the word I speak to you-that you shall do" (22:20).

On the surface, God appears to approve of Balaam’s going. But, when he got up early in the morning to saddle his donkey for the journey, “God’s wrath flared because he was going...”(22:22).  God’s anger hinged on the word “but.” According to the commentary of Rashi, the “but” was a warning that the mission was not the right choice. Furthermore, according to Rashi, Balaam chose to go because he felt certain that he could eventually persuade God to allow him to curse the Israelites.

Balaam’s decision to ignore the warning within God’s words leads to three embarrassing situations for Balaam. He tries - not once, but three times - to curse the Israelites and each time ends up speaking words of blessings in front of his employer, the king of Moab. (And, as so often happens, he emotionally blames the Israelites for his embarrassment, even though God tried to warn him!)

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listening

Make an effort to be an active listener.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Jews of Turkey: A Historical Overview

Given Turkey’s proximity to the Land of Israel, it is not surprising that there has been a Jewish presence in that country since at least the 4th century B.C.E, when the land was Roman territory. When Rome fell, Turkey became part of the Byzantine Empire, whose capital was Constantinople (present day Istanbul). In 1453, the Ottoman Empire arose out of Turkey and remained the controlling power of the area until World War I.

During the Byzantine era, the Jews faced similar persecutions in Turkey as the Jews did in the Christianized Roman Empire and Medieval Europe. They were taxed, expelled and sometimes faced violence. Although there were times of persecution, the Ottoman’s were generally quite welcoming to the Jews who fled there, after being expelled from Hungary, France, Bavaria, and more. The most significant of these waves of Jewish immigration occurred in 1492, when the Jews were forced out of Spain. While Jews were not equal citizens to Muslims, they were allowed to live as semi-autonomous communities and most of the persecution they faced was directed at all non-Muslims, not just the Jews.

Following World War I, the Ottoman Empire was occupied and divided by the Allied victors. By the early 1920s, the Turks were fighting for independence and the “Republic of Turkey” was proclaimed on October 29, 1923. The severe change in Turkish life, from theocratic sultancy to secular republic was challenging for the citizenry, and there was an increase in anti-Semitism (see The Thrace Pogroms). And while the country was now secular, distinctions remained between Muslims and non-Muslims. In 1942, a special tax (179% for Jews), the Varlik Vergisi, was imposed on non-Muslims, encouraging many Jews to leave the country. Between 1948 and 1951, tens of thousands of Turkish Jews moved to Israel.

Today, most Jews living in Turkey reside in the capital, Istanbul. While there has been increasing anti-Semitism, there have also been generous overtures of friendship to the community, such as the rebuilding of the Great Synagogue in Edirne, where the first Jewish wedding in over 40 years recently took place.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Turn Toward

Don't hesitate to ask God for the things you want as well as the things you need.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Missing Hero

According to a hand written document shared by the Soviet Union in 1957, Raoul Wallenberg died of heart problems in his cell on July 17, 1947. By the time the document was released, both the head of the prison who had written the note, and the man to whom it had been sent were no longer alive, thus no one could refute its origin. Why Wallenberg was in a Soviet jail in the first place, remains as much conjecture today as it did then.

Let us not, however, allow the mystery of  Wallenberg’s fate overshadow the heroism of his life. Born in August 1912, Wallenberg was the son of one of Sweden’s most prominent families. With a penchant for languages and an architectual degree from the University of Michigan, Wallenberg ended up doing business in South Africa and then Haifa, before returning to Europe in 1936. Wallenberg became the business associate of a Hungarian Jew, Kalman Lauer, and frequently traveled to Budapest for him to check on business and his family.

In 1944, the American War Refugee Board sought to create a rescue mission for Hungarian Jews from the neutral country of Sweden. Wallenberg was asked to take the lead. He arrived in Budapest in July 1944 and immediately set to work establishing an embassy office near the ghetto and employing hundreds of Jews. Working outside almost all normal channels, Wallenberg dedicated himself to saving lives.

Here is just a taste of what this amazing man did:

  • He handed out schutzpasses, written out passports that offered Swedish protection - for which he initially only had permission to write 1,500.
  • He bought or rented apartments from which he flew Swedish flags, thus making them extensions of the embassy and neutral territory where Jews could be protected.
  • He convinced the Nazi commander not to blow up the ghetto by threatening to charge him with war crimes (the Nazis were already losing).
  • Wallenberg was so dedicated to his work that he was known for walking into the heart of Nazi operations - even boarding deportation trains - and handing out schutzpasses in front of the Nazis and then insisting that those with passes be permitted to leave the train.

In January 1945, as the Soviets conquered Hungary, Wallenberg and his driver Vilmos Langfelder left Budapest to go to the Soviet encampment at Debrecen. Neither were ever seen again, although for years after his supposed death, released Soviet prisoners described seeing him in jails and hospitals in the Soviet system.

Raoul Wallenberg’s true fate may never be known, but his unparalleled heroism has been universally acknowledged.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Honor Heroes

When you learn about someone acting heroically, don't hesitate to talk about it with friends and family.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Fast of the Past

In just over a week, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Jews around the world will fast to commemorate multiple tragedies and to mark the beginning of the three-week period that concludes on Tisha B’Av (9 Av). These fast days are two of the four fasts that are associated with the destruction of the Holy Temples, about which it is written: “the prophet (Zechariah 8:19) calls these days both days of fasting and days of joy, signifying that when there is peace they shall be for joy and gladness, but if there is not peace they shall be fast days” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 18b).

When these words were stated, however, the fast in the month of Tammuz was observed on the 9th day of Tammuz, not the 17th. In fact, the history of the 9th of Tammuz demonstrates exactly how a fast day can be transformed into a day of joy and feasting:

The Book of Jeremiah clearly describes the events that took place on the 9th of Tammuz in the 11th year of the reign of King Zedekiah: “A breach was made in the city, that all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the middle gate...” (39:2-3). King Zedekiah and all the “men of war” tried to flee but were caught. His sons and the nobles of Judea were killed by Nebuchadnezzer and then King Zedekiah was blinded and bound in chains (39:3-8).

The 9th of Tammuz was a day of great tragedy for the Jews, and, according to tradition, it was maintained as a national fast throughout the Babylonian exile. However, when the Jewish people were allowed to return to the Promised Land and to rebuild the Temple, the somber day became a feast day. Alas, that feast day was cancelled when the Second Temple was destroyed, but the 9th of Tammuz did not become a day of mourning again. Instead, the tragedy of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem during the First Temple is included in the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans).

*In 2016, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed on Sunday, July 24th, and the fast of the 9th of Av will be observed on Sunday, August 14th.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Breath of Appreciation

Use the relaxing atmosphere of Shabbat to mediate on all that you have to be grateful for.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Hot?

At what temperature does water begin to cook? According to Jewish tradition, that temperature is known as yad soledet bo, hot enough that “one pulls one’s hand away.”  It was an extremely practical measurement statement for a time when there were no thermometers. Defining yad soledet bo, however, is important because it affects both the laws of kashrut (dietary) and the laws of Shabbat.

In the realm of kashrut, yad soledet bo is significant because it is at this temperature that a liquid, a food item or a utensil used for food preparation begins to transfer its “flavor.” Since no transference takes place in cold mixtures, a cold dairy spoon placed in cold leftover chicken soup will not be affected in the same way as a cold dairy spoon placed in a hot chicken soup or a hot spoon placed in a cold chicken soup (or hot into hot).  – Please note that there are other ways that “flavor” can be transferred (be careful with pungent or spicy foods and sauces!).

On Shabbat, recognizing the temperature of yad soledet bo is important because of the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat. While one may place a liquidy food near a source of heat to take off the chill or warm it to room temperature, causing it to reach yad soledet bo would be considered cooking. – Again, please note that this is a simplified summary.

Because of the significance of yad soledet bo, rabbis have continually attempted to define it, especially as the need to withdraw one’s hand is extremely subjective. The Talmud (Shabbat 40b) defined it as being hot enough to scald the skin of a baby’s abdomen. Later sages, having ways to actually measure temperature, have expressed a range of opinions from 110 degrees (43 Celsius) to 160 degrees (71 C). The wide range of definition allows one to be stringent in both how hot a cold item becomes or how low the temperature on an item that was yad soledet bo must be to be considered to have cooled off.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Attention in the Kitchen

Pay attention to hot items in the kitchen, both for safety and for kashrut.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Moshe Sharett

Diplomat, writer and politician, Moshe Sharett (originally Shertok), the second Prime Minister of Israel, moved with his family to British Mandate Palestine from the Ukraine in 1908, when he was 12 years old. After a brief stay in a small Arab village, the Sharetts moved to Jaffa and became one of the founding families of the city of Tel Aviv. Sharett graduated from Herzliya Gymnasium, the first Hebrew language high school in Palestine.

When Sharett’s law studies in Istanbul were interrupted by World War I, he served in the Turkish army as a translator. Returning home after the war, Sharett began his career working for some of the organizations that would eventually form the government of the State of Israel.

Sharett studied at the London School of Economics (1922 - 1924), after which he assumed the editorship of several Zionist publications. At the outbreak of World War II, Sharett helped establish the British Army’s Jewish Brigade, which had an essential secondary mission of helping European Jews immigrate to Palestine.

Sharett was at the United Nations when the UN member nations voted in favor of partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine in 1947, and he signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May 1948. Serving as Israel’s first Foreign Minister, Sharett not only set up the foreign affairs office, but dealt with cease-fire negotiations and arranging Holocaust reparations from Germany.

In 1954, when Ben-Gurion retired, Sharett, as head of the Mapai party, became Prime Minister and served for a little under two years. It was a trying time of increasing tension, particularly with Egypt, and Sharett, who favored negotiations over action, was at odds with the other leaders of his party.  Ben-Gurion came out of retirement at the end of 1955 and returned to serve as Prime Minister. Sharett remained as Foreign Minister for six months before leaving government. During his retirement, he became the head of the Am Oved (“Working Nation”) publishing house, the chairman of the Beit Berl College and chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.

Moshe Sharett passed away at the age of 70 on 7 Tammuz in 1965.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

All Around

Strive to be the person who is known to work well with everyone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wash and Dry

The miracles of modern science have made us aware of the vast world of micro-organisms that previous generations never knew existed. We now know that there are good bacteria that help us digest food and bad bacteria that make people ill. Viruses abound, ranging from those that cause a slight cold to those that bring on a flu that leaves us bed-ridden. All this is unseen by the naked eye.

Just as we rely on scientists and doctors to understand and explain how these micro-organisms interact with our environment, Jews rely on specialists (sages) to understand the unseen forces of the spiritual world.

For instance, the sages instruct us that before we eat a piece of food on which there is liquid, one’s hands must by ritually washed (like the washing before bread). The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law) states: “If one eats some food which has been dipped in a liquid, or if a liquid has been poured on the food, even though one does not touch that part of the food where the liquid is, yet one must wash the hands first” without reciting a blessing. In the Talmud (Pesachim 115a), the sages discuss this law in relation to the idea that liquid on food becomes a conductor of spiritual impurities from the hand to the food.

Today, most consumers are careful to wash fruit and vegetables to rid them of any remaining pesticide residue. These chemicals are invisible to the naked eye, and yet we recognize that their dangerous residue often remains on the fruit. So too, the spiritual impurities on wet fruit are invisible to the naked eye. Since the experts (rabbis) tell us that they are dangerous, we dry the produce after washing it, as this is important for our spiritual well-being.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

This Treat was last posted on February 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

To Your Health

Wash and dry your produce before eating.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sent Away

If you follow Jewish news, it would be hard not to notice the growing number of reports about increasing anti-Semitism. It is an upsetting fact that anti-Semitism has never really had a rational source, although many reasons are given.

Researching the history of anti-Semitism, it is not uncommon to find instances where Jews have bent over backward to accommodate others, in order to prove that they are no threat. But these efforts have rarely made a difference.

It is interesting to note that even that pattern of attempting to assuage their enemies has a biblical parallel. As the Israelites approached the Promised Land, they sought passage through the land of Edom. Before entering the kingdom, Moses sent messengers who first identified the Israelites as the nation brought out of servitude by God and then made their specific request. “Let us pass, please, through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard, neither will we drink of the water of the wells. We will go along the king’s highway, we will not turn aside to the right or to the left, until we have passed your border (20:17). Edom said no, threatening the Israelites with the sword even when the Israelites offered payment.

Refused passage, the Israelites changed course until they came to the border of the Amorite kingdom and sent a similar message to their king, Sichon. Rather than just say no, Sichon gathered his armies at the border where the Israelites were camped.

The Israelites made no threats and asked for no favors. They wanted only to pass without harm, yet they were cast back into the wilderness and attacked. Through it all, despite their enemies irrational focus and hatred in generation after generation, the Children of Israel not only survive, but are victorious, because God is always there to help.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Helpful

Try to help others when they ask for your assistance.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Benjamin Cardozo

When Benjamin Cardozo (May 24, 1870 - July 9, 1938) was nominated to the United States Supreme Court, the New York Times felt it newsworthy to note the rarity of having a nominee so universally approved. In fact, Cardozo was a Democrat appointed by a Republican President. Most importantly, he was a man who demonstrated great care with the law.

Cardozo, who was one of six children, chose a career in law even though his own father, Albert, had been forced to resign from the bench due to a political association with Tammany Hall. Noted for his bright mind, Cardozo entered Columbia University at the age of 15 and stayed there through law school. He immediately entered his father’s law firm and quickly made a name for himself in commercial law. In 1913, he was elected to the New York Supreme Court, where he sat only briefly as he was chosen shortly thereafter to join the New York Court of Appeals as Chief Judge. Cardozo’s Supreme Court nomination came in 1932. He was unanimously approved and served until his death six years later.

Cardozo was the second Jew appointed to the Supreme Court, and served alongside his co-religionist Louis Brandeis. While not particularly observant, he was highly involved in Jewish causes and philanthropic endeavors. He was a member of the Judean Club and served on the board of the American Jewish Committee. Cardozo had mixed feelings about the emerging Zionist movement, but eventually agreed to join the Zionist Organization of America because to not do so would appear as if he opposed the movement. Cardozo had deep roots in American Jewish history. His maternal great-grandfather, Benjamin Mendes Seixas, was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange, and he was a cousin of Emma Lazarus. He was a life-long member of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Walk and Talk

If the weather is nice, take a relaxing Shabbat walk with a friend or family member.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Chocolate Treat

How does a Jewish Treat become a chocolate treat? When the topic of the day is about the Jewish connection to the early trade of chocolate, we find the perfect reason to feature a Treat in honor of World Chocolate Day (July 7).

Having been expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the 1490s,  professing Jews were not part of the Spanish conquest of Central and South America. However, many conversos (hidden Jews) traveled to the new colonies in the hope that they would eventually be able to live openly as Jews. Once there, the conversos became deeply involved in cross-Atlantic commerce, including the cocoa trade. By the 1600s, cocoa was a much sought-after commodity, and Benjamin de Acosta d’Andrade, took chocolate to the next level. A native of Portugal who had emigrated to Brazil and reclaimed his Judaism, de Acosta established a cocoa plantation on the French Island of Martinique. He is credited with modernizing the cocoa process and creating chocolate.

As chocolate’s popularity grew, numerous other Jews became involved in its growing, processing and trading. Alas, this came to an abrupt end when, in 1685, King Louis XIV issued the Code Noir, which, among other things, ordered all Jews out of the French colonies.

Jews were also involved in the chocolate trade in Europe. The port city of Bayonne, located in the Bay of Bisque just over the border from Spain, has a renowned history of chocolate production. While no Jews were allowed to live in Bayonne, there was a thriving converso community in the neighboring borough of St. Espirit. It is believed that these conversos brought the secrets of great chocolate production with them from Spain and Portugal and were the original source responsible for the exalted reputation of Bayonne’s chocolate. It is interesting, but not surprising, to note that in 1681, the Bayonne chocolate guild passed an ordinance forbidding the retail of Jewish chocolate in the city.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Enjoy It Right

Try some of the many choices of kosher chocolate that's available.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Anger Management

Rabbi Moses Maimonides (Rambam) writes that when a person becomes angry, it is regarded as if he had worshiped idols and that Gehenna (where souls are purified) will have dominion over him.

But anger is a natural emotion, so how can the Rambam condemn a person for a such a natural reaction?

Idol worship attributes the power to control the world to someone or something other than God. When a person gets angry, he or she transforms themselves into an idol by assuming that they are in control of everything. Why do we get angry? Because someone said something wrong to us or something didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. When people get angry because they did not get the bonus they had expected, they, in fact, assume that they know and understand all of the factors that go into determining the company’s policy regarding bonuses.

The Rambam’s second point, that Gehenna will have dominion over an angry person, is actually quite understandable to anyone who has felt intense anger. “Blood-boiling” is the description ascribed to the physical reaction of our bodies to our emotion of anger.

The point of anger at which one assumes a level of all-knowingness and is brought to physical discomfort is extreme. And yet, each time one gets extremely angry, it makes it easier to happen again. The antidote to extreme anger is humility, to know our limitations and to recognize the potential good in others. A dose of humility keeps one from anger, thus maintaining a person’s understanding of who is the true King of the World.

This Treat was last posted on January 6, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Temperment Practice

If there is a situation in which you consistently lose your temper, rehearse ways to avoid getting angry in that situation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Tosafot Commentaries

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jewish study are the layer upon layer of enlightening and edifying commentaries that can be found when studying texts of the Torah or the Talmud. Of all the brilliant commentators who have shared their insight, perhaps the most exceptional are the works of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, Provence, France 11th century). Rashi’s commentaries on the Talmud are so significant that there are numerous commentaries on his commentary. Some of these commentaries were written by a group of scholars known as the Ba’alei Tosafot (literally: Master of Additions) and are included in all traditional printings of the Talmud surrounding the main text and opposite the commentaries of Rashi.

Stylistically, the Tosafot commentaries, which require a high level of scholarship, introduce multiple sources to support statements about which there may be unresolved questions. They often used a method of casuistic scholarship known as pilpul.

The Ba’alei Tosafot, who lived primarily in France and Germany, began with Rashi’s sons-in-law, Rabbi Meir ben Samuel (RaM) and Rabbi Judah ben Nathan (RIBan), and his grandsons, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (RaSHBam) and Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir (Rabbeinu Tam). While the Tosafot tradition began in the generation following Rashi, it continued for over a hundred years and included scholars such as Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (the Rosh - 13th century) and Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam - 13th century).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Look It Up

Try to look at different commentaries to understand any questions you have on Jewish texts.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Revolutionary Doctors

At the time of the American Revolution, approximately 2,000 Jews resided in the colonies. A fair number of these Jews served in the Continental Army, and many others showed their patriotic fervor by raising funds and supplying the troops. Today’s Independence Day Jewish Treat takes a look at two Jewish doctors who joined the Continental cause.

Dr. John de Sequeyra did not serve in the army because he was 58 years old when the War of Independence began. As a resident of Williamsburg, Virginia, however, he was fairly well-connected to several of the nation’s Founding Fathers. For instance, in 1769, Dr. de Sequeyra treated Martha “Patsy” Park Curtis, George Washington’s step-daughter, for epilepsy. Dr. de Sequeyra was also credited by Thomas Jefferson for introducing the edibility of the tomato to the colonists.

Born in London (1719), Dr. de Sequeyra studied medicine at the University of Leiden (Holland). He came to Virginia in 1745 and immediately began practicing. His extensive patient notes, published as “Notes on Diseases in Virginia,” were recorded from 1745 until 1781. From 1773 until 1795, he was the visiting physician at the Public Hospital for the Insane (now Eastern State Hospital) located in Williamsburg.

Whereas Dr. de Sequeyra was a university trained physician, “Dr.” Phillip Moses Russell earned his title on the battlefield. A native of England who immigrated to Pennsylvania, Russell served as a surgeon’s mate and then as an assistant under-surgeon at Valley Forge. Under the most trying conditions, Russell treated soldiers ravaged by disease and exposure to the harsh elements. Eventually, he himself contracted camp fever, which affected his hearing and sight enough that he had to resign his commission in 1780. Before leaving the army, Russell, along with six other Jews, served as a guide during the colonial army’s unsuccessful attempt to retake Savannah, Georgia. After the war, Russell resided in Philadelphia, married and raised ten children. He passed away in 1830.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Thanks America

Express your thanks for living in a land of freedom.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Appointed By Trudeau

In honor of Canada Day (July 1), Jewish Treats proudly presents a brief biography of the first Jewish member of the Canadian Supreme Court, Bora Laskin (1912 - 1984).

Born in Fort Williams (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, Laskin’s parents were Russian Jewish Immigrants. Laskin’s first language was Yiddish, and he was fluent in Hebrew as well. After studying at the University of Toronto, he got his law degree at Osgood Hall Law School and then earned a Masters of Law at Harvard Law School.

Returning to Toronto, Laskin discovered that his outstanding academic record meant nothing to the law firms, who ignored him because he was Jewish. This elitist anti-Semitism pushed him toward a career in academia at his two Canadian alma maters.

In addition to teaching, Laskin served as a labor arbitrator, an associate editor of the Dominion Law Report and Canadian Criminal Cases, and was a prolific writer (6 books, 7 commissioned reports and dozens of articles). A founding member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, he also helped found the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Additionally, Laskin was the chair of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

In 1965, having never practiced law, Laskin was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeals, where he served with distinction. In 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed him to the Canadian Supreme Court, and three years later he was appointed Chief Justice, even though he was the second most junior member of the court.

Laskin was the first Jew appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court. At first, he was part of the liberal minority (which became a majority), and earned him the nickname “the Great Dissenter.” While on the court, Laskin also served on the board of several universities and was the chancellor of Lakeland University from 1971-1980. Laskin received 27 honorary degrees. He was a member of the Royal Society of Canada and a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Shabbat Greetings

Call any friends or family in Canada and wish them a Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Power of Positive - An Anniversary Treat

"Pop psychologists" often like to discuss the power of perspective by referring to the glass half empty verses the glass half full. Alas, it is a common human trait to look for the negative, but those who look for the positive often have a far more enduring legacy.

When the Children of Israel arrived at the border of the Land of Canaan, they wanted to know more about this Promised Land. With the permission of God and Moses, they sent twelve men to scout out the land. Ten of the scouts came back having witnessed a land of bounty, but reported only about the potential dangers they had seen. Two of the scouts reported having seen a beautiful land ripe with promise. And while the Children of Israel were swayed by the voices of fear, in the end, the men who spoke with optimism - Joshua and Caleb - became leaders of the nation. (For more on the narrative of the scouts, click here.)

For the last eight years, amidst a plethora of voices on social media, Jewish Treats has constantly reflected positive, joyous Jewish life. Following the path set by our parent organization, NJOP, and its indefatigable Founder and Director, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, Jewish Treats has offered almost 2,000 original "juicy bits of Judaism daily." And we have loved every minute of it!

On our eighth anniversary, Jewish Treats wants to thank you for your ongoing interest and support. We look forward to sharing more tantalizing treats, and encourage you to share them with your friends and family. 



Note from the Director:NJOP thanks the remarkable woman behind Jewish Treats, Sarah Rochel Hewitt.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

An Anniversary Present

Send us your thoughts and questions. Email jewishtreats@njop.org and tell us your favorite Jewish Treat and why.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Kiss the Mezuzah

One might easily think of the mitzvah of mezuzah as a passive mitzvah. One simply affixes it to the doorposts of one’s house while reciting a blessing, and it is done. While affixing a mezuzah is a one time act, its position on the doorposts is meant to lead one to a continual awareness of the Divine presence. For this reason, there is a custom to either look at/touch/kiss the mezuzah as one passes by.

So which is it? Does one look at, touch or kiss the mezuzah? The answer is that it depends on one’s family or community’s custom. Many people cite the source for touching the mezuzah back to a story about Onkelos in Talmud Avodah Zarah (11a). When the emperor’s soldiers come to retrieve him (click here to find out why), he placed his hand on the mezuzah and asked if the soldiers know what it means. When they inquired, he used it as an opportunity to explain how God perpetually watches over the Jewish people. The guards were so impressed that they converted to Judaism.

The custom of kissing the mezuzah, which usually means touching the mezuzah and then kissing the fingers that touched it, is not mentioned until the era of Rabbi Isaac Luria (16th century, Arizal). It is a further means of demonstrating not only one’s awareness of God, but one’s love of the Divine as well.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Mezuzah Here and There

Make an effort to be aware of passing a mezuzah.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Golem

The story of the Golem of Prague is one of the best-known, fantastic and romantic Eastern European tales. It has been retold in both prose and play-form and is perpetuated in the oral tradition that one generation passes to the next.

For those unfamiliar with the story:
In the late 16th century, Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew (a.k.a. the Maharal, 1520 - 1609), the chief rabbi of Prague, created a man-like creature from river clay. He brought the creature to life by using kabbalistic secrets (ineffable name of God, the use of the word emet--truth, etc.) that he had learned from Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation). Heeding the instructions of the Maharal, the Golem, silent but strong, protected the Jewish residents of the Prague ghetto. Some legends say that eventually the Golem grew violent. Others maintain that he was disappointed in love. Whatever the reason, it became necessary for the Maharal to undo the creature’s animation and return him to a shaped lump of clay. According to legend, the body was then hidden away in the Altneuschul’s attic.

Did the Golem really exist? Many deny the veracity of the story. Others credit the Maharal’s disciple Rabbi Eliyahu Shem Tov with the creation of a Golem... the truth may never be known.

That an automaton such as the Golem could exist, however, is within the Jewish realm of possibility. The Talmud even relates that “Rabbah (2nd century Talmudic sage) created a man (Golem) and sent him to Rabbi Zeira. Rabbi Zeira spoke to him, but received no answer. Thereupon he said to him: ‘You are a creature of the magicians. Return to your dust’”(Sanhedrin 65b). Furthermore, even the greatest of rabbinic legal texts, such as the Mishnah TorahBeit Yosef and Mishnah Brurah discuss, the status of a Golem.

Some say that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is based in part on the Maharal’s Golem.


This Treat was last posted on August 25, 2010.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Real Mysteries

Remember that God created the entire world, both that which we understand and that which remains a mystery.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Operation Thunderbolt

When Air France Flight 139 left the Tel Aviv airport on the afternoon of June 29, 1976, the passengers and crew could not have imagined the terrifying, yet heroic, events of which they would be a part. The flight flew from Tel Aviv to Athens, and, after a quick refuel, was on its way to Paris. The four terrorists who boarded in Athens, however, had other plans. Not long after the plane began to cruise, the terrorists forced the pilot to redirect the flight to Uganda, an African nation controlled then by the ruthless dictator Idi Amin, who gave the hijackers his full support.

The passengers were taken off the plane at a disused airport terminal in Entebbe. The terrorists, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, demanded $5 million USD and the release of 53 Palestinian or Pro-Palestinian prisoners by July 1st. As the diplomatic shuffling began, the terrorists separated the Israeli passengers, approximately 105 people, including a few non-Israelis and the crew, from the rest of the passengers. The non-Israeli group of hostages was released over the next few days.

As negotiations continued and the deadline was moved to July 4th, the Israeli government realized that action was needed. With little time and facing tremendously difficult odds, Israel planned and implemented an unthinkable rescue operation.  (It helped that the now unused terminal in Entebbe had originally been designed by Israeli architects who still knew the layout!)

Over 200 commando troops were flown to Uganda, traveling seven and a half hours under the radar of un-friendly territory. They landed and approached the terminal in what appeared to be Idi Amin’s personal convoy and snuck into the building. Once they were detected, a firefight broke out. Three passengers were, unfortunately killed, but the vast majority made it home. Many Israeli soldiers were wounded, but only one, unit commander Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu) , was killed.

Operation Thunderbolt, as it was officially called, is often referred to as Operation Entebbe or, more recently, as Operation Yonatan in honor of the raid’s fallen leader.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Protecting the Self

Take the time to study self-defense.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Cloud Positioning System

Those who enjoy travel, love to hear tales of adventurous backpackers who head off into “parts unknown” without a clear plan of action. Most people, however, would not travel without a plan - even the most basic itinerary such as a list of sites one would like to visit.

When the Israelites followed Moses out of Egypt, they had no plan, only the hope of following Moses to the Promised Land. The journey, perhaps, could have been straightforward (there were, after all, active trade routes), but God had different plans and implemented His own Global Positioning System to guide the Israelites through the Wilderness. They were guided by the movement of the Clouds of Glory.

When the cloud that normally rested on the Tabernacle rolled itself upwards, the Israelites knew that it was time to move. This system served to protect the people both from aimless wandering and, according to Numbers Rabbah 1:2, by striking “down before them the snakes and scorpions...”

On the other hand, by following the Clouds of Glory, the Israelites were better able to recognize God’s leadership, particularly as they had no foreknowledge of when they would be traveling or to where. As it is written in the Book of Numbers: “Sometimes the cloud tarried on the Tabernacle many days, then the Children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not journey. Sometimes the cloud was a few days upon the Tabernacle...and sometimes the cloud was from evening until morning" (Numbers 9:19-21).

The Children of Israel have come a long way since their travels in the Wilderness, but the lesson that can be learned from God’s “Cloud Positioning System” is one that is relevant even today. Every person’s journey in life, no matter how free-flowing it may appear, is guided by the hand of God.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Divine Doing

Be mindful of God’s hand in your life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Protecting Widows

June 23rd is the official date recognized by the United Nations as International Widows Day. The day was first observed in 2005, and, in 2010, it was ratified by the U.N. to address “the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows.” Too often, particularly in agrarian societies, the death of a woman’s husband leaves her without a means of support or at the mercy of others who have a claim on the estate.

In Jewish law, a marriage is made official by means of a ketubah, marriage contract, which establishes the support that husbands are required to provide their wives. If a husband passes away, the support is expected to come out of the deceased’s estate. This is important because according to the Jewish laws of inheritance, a man’s estate normally goes to his son(s). While one would hope that these sons would be naturally inclined to support their mother, that is not always the case. This law also provides protection for widowed step-mothers, who might otherwise be cut off  by their step-children.

One of the most interesting aspects of the mitzvah not to oppress the widow is that, whereas one may think that these rules are only directed at widows who face impoverishment, it applies to all widows, no matter what their socio-economic status may be.

The protection of a widow, and orphans, is not only a question of financial support. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808-1888), the word almanah (widow) is related to the word illem, which means “dumb” or unable to speak, because the widow loses her ability to speak to the world on her own behalf. “It [the law] says any widow not only poor, even rich widows and orphans are easier to be taken advantage of and misused, than other people” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, commentary on Exodus 22:21).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

An Extra Thought

Be aware of people in your community who may need a helping hand and see how you can help them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Joy to the Bride and Groom

Have you ever been to a traditional Jewish wedding? At traditional weddings there are, of course, the normal, wonderful things that may be found at all weddings: the beautiful bride and handsome groom, the happy sound of friends and family coming together, the delightful celebration feast, the music, etc...but at a traditional Jewish wedding there is one additional element: the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah, the mitzvah of rejoicing with the bride and groom!

The mitzvah of gladdening the bride and groom is found in the Talmud, in Brachot 6b.

What does it mean to gladden a bride and groom? Really, this answer varies greatly, depending on a number of factors - such as one’s relationship to the bride and groom. For instance, the mere presence of a close friend who has traveled a great distance may give the bride or groom immense joy. Many people, however, take this mitzvah quite seriously and work hard to make certain that the dancing during the reception is leibadik (Yiddish, meaning heartfelt, but is often used to imply high-spirited and energetic). Thus, at a traditional wedding one might see people dressing up in costume to make the bride/groom laugh, jumping rope, performing amateur acrobatics and even lighting their hats on fire.

The tradition of engaging in levity to bring joy to the bride and groom is an ancient one. Indeed, the Talmud (Ketuvot 17a), mentions Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Isaac who was known for juggling myrtle twigs before the bride. While his peer, Rabbi Zeira, felt that this debased the scholar’s honor, Rabbi Shmuel was greatly honored for his efforts to fulfill the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah.

This Treat was last posted on January 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

At A Wedding

If you attend a wedding, focus on what will make the bride and groom happy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Three Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

While Jewish prayer has many aspects that are introspective, prayer is also designed to serve as a vehicle of communication with the Divine. The central focus of every prayer service is the Amidah, which means standing, a prayer that, during the weekdays, consists of 19 blessings of praise, supplication and gratitude. During the recitation of the Amidah, it is customary that one stand erect with feet together - reminiscent of the stance of angels.

When reciting the Amidah, one should have the mindset of truly standing before the King of kings. For this reason, tradition suggests a proper way of approaching the Amidah, which is to take three steps forward into the posture of prayer. An additional custom has developed to take three steps back prior to taking the three steps forward, which apparently derived from the practical need for the space in which to move forward.

At the conclusion of the recitation of the Amidah, when one is ready to withdraw from the Divine communion, it is customary to take three steps backward and bow to the left, right and center while reciting: “He Who makes peace in His heavens, may He make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say Amen.” This follows the dictates of the Talmud: “Rabbi Alexander said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: One who prays [the Amidah] should go three steps backward, and then recite ‘peace.’ Rabbi Mordecai said to him, ‘Having taken the three steps backward he ought to remain standing, as should a disciple who takes leave of his master’” (Talmud Yoma 53b).

Numerous explanations have been given for the significance of the number three. The most basic purpose of this movement, however, is that it creates a separation between that which is mundane and that which is holy.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Focus

Make it a point to clear your mind and focus before reciting prayers. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

In West Virginia

West Virginia, which became a state on this day in 1863 after breaking away from the more southernly aligned State of Virginia, is not generally thought of as a state with a wealth of Jewish history. However, there have been Jewish communities in this area since the mid-1840s (Wheeling) and Jewish immigrants are recorded as early as 1770s.

Coal mining was a critical industry for West Virginia, a broad strip of which is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Few Jews worked in the mines, but a fair number of Jews settled in the mining centers, providing retail alternatives to the company store. Jewish communities developed and still exist in quite a few of the state’s small mountain cities such as Beckley, Bluefield and Logan. Many others, however, have disappeared.

In Huntington, which is the second largest city in West Virginia, Congregation B’nai Sholom is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The story of B’nai Sholom is a unique picture of communal unity. Until 1974, Huntington had two synagogues: Ohev Sholom (established in 1887) and B’nai Israel (established in 1910). The first synagogue affiliated itself with the Reform movement, while the other was founded as an Orthodox congregation but later joined the Conservative movement.  By the 1970s, the Jewish population of Huntington could no longer support two synagogues. Already the city’s religious schools had merged. Negotiations began and, by 1974, Ohev Sholom and B’nai Israel became B’nai Sholom. According to the agreement, Friday nights followed the Reform liturgy and Shabbat morning was a Conservative service. While the merged congregation was located at the Ohev Sholom building, the historic windows that had graced B’nai Israel were transferred to the congregation’s new home.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
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Local Place

Make a donation to support your local synagogue.