Monday, August 20, 2018

Prayer For The Government

Familiarize yourself with the prayer for the U.S. government (or other democratic nations) and appreciate the freedoms with which the Jews, and all minorities, have been blessed.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Special Yom Tov

Rabbi Gershon Shaul Yom Tov Lipmann Heller was born in Bavaria, Germany, to a renowned rabbinic family. He received a traditional Jewish education and studied under the legendary Maharal of Prague. By the age of 18, he was ordained a rabbinic judge in Prague. His itinerant rabbinic career brought him to Moravia, Vienna, Prague, Nemirov, Ukraine and Ludmir, Poland. He ended his rabbinic career in Kracow, Poland, succeeding the renowned Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640). He served Kracow’s Jewish community during the devastating Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1649.

In 1629, prior to his move to Kracow, Rabbi Heller was arrested and falsely accused of insulting Christianity, and was sentenced to hard labor. An influential “court Jew” paid 12,000 thalers for his release, conditioned on his departure from the country and his position. As a result, Rabbi Heller instituted two annual observances. On the 5th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the initial day of the difficulties, he would fast. On the 1st of the Hebrew month of Adar, the anniversary of his appointment as rabbi of Cracow, he created a mini Purim celebration where he would read from a special megillah he wrote, entitled Megillat Eivah (scroll of hatred). Rabbi Heller’s descendants continue to observe these dates annually.

Rabbi Heller authored a commentary on the Mishnah, entitled Tosafot Yom Tov, and wrote Ma’adaney Yom Tov, a commentary to Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel’s halachic code. Additionally, he is the author of a prayer recited publicly to bless those who avoid unnecessary conversation during prayers. Rabbi Heller passed away on the 6th of Elul, corresponding to August 19, 1654.

A story is told about Rabbi Heller’s burial site. The burial society begged a miserly man on his deathbed to donate some of his fortune to the desperate communal organizations. Were he not to accede to their request, they threatened to bury him in the far corner of the cemetery. When the “miser” passed away without offering any support, the burial society felt the need to carry through with their threat. A few days after his death and burial, all the anonymous donations offered at all the local communal institutions suddenly ceased. The connection to the “Holy Miser” was clear. Rabbi Heller instructed the burial society to bury him at the corner of the cemetery, next to the “Holy Miser,” where he lies in repose to this day.

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Revere Important Family Dates

Every family has its important dates, even those outside of birthdays, yahrzeits and anniversary. It’s important to observe them and transmit them to the next generation.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Jews Of Cyprus

The history of the Jews in Cyprus is surprisingly "benign" given the island’s proximity to both Europe and the Holy Land.

The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus was home to a significant Jewish community during the Roman era, and several synagogues were established on the island. However, in 117 C.E., the Cypriot Jews participated in an uprising against the Romans, and, in response, the Romans banned the Jews from the island. The ban was not well-enforced, and the community returned and thrived with little record of any major anti-Semitism.

During the Middle Ages there are records of communities in Famagusta, Nicosia and Paphos. However, after Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, the community dwindled and the next recorded Jewish presence did not occur until the island was under British Administration (1878).

In 1883, a large party of Russian Jews created a settlement in Orides near Paphos. Two years later, 27 Romanians arrived on Cyprus, but their settlement failed to thrive. Another colony was attempted, with the support of the Jewish Colonial Association and Ahavat Zion of London in 1897 in the areas of Margo, Kouklia and Cholmakchi. Over two dozen Romanian Jews and their families came, but, as so often happened, these colonists were not properly prepared for the challenges of the land.

The most significant connection of Cyprus to Jewish history is the role the island played in the history of the settlement of Israel. The British saw Cyprus as the perfect solution for “illegal” Jewish immigration. Less than 300 miles away from the Israeli coast, Cyprus became host to an extensive detention center for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe who were stopped from reaching the Land of Israel. Ironically, several hundred Jews who had fled to Cyprus in the 1930s were relocated to Israel and Africa in 1941, before the Cyprus camps were created.

By 1951, there were less than 200 Jews on the island. That number continued to decline until recently, when the Jewish population grew enough through professional relocations to warrant the opening of a Chabad house. On August 16, 1960, Cyprus declared its independence.

This Treat was last posted on August 16, 2017.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

International Jewish Community

Learn about the local Jewish history of areas to which you plan to travel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Is It Good To Be The King?

Parashat Shoftim addresses many issues, among them the Jewish jurisprudential system, false prophets, and the Arei Miklat, cities of refuge. The guidelines for the appointment of a future Jewish king, which also appears in the parashah, however, will be the topic discussed in this Treat.

The Torah (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) asserts that a king may be appointed, once the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land. God shall “select” the king from among his brethren of Israel. The king may not collect too many horses so he will not return the people to Egypt. He may not marry too many wives, lest they seduce him away from the proper path. Nor may he amass too much silver and gold. He shall write a Torah which shall be on his person at all times.

The Shulchan Aruch does not include in the code halachic matters that are only relevant in a post-Messianic age. Maimonides’ halachic code, the Mishneh Torah, however, does categorize such topics, and it is there (Laws of Kings chapters 1-4) that we find more details. Maimonides rules that a king may be anointed only once a legitimate prophet has identified him as the prospective king and the Sanhedrin confirms his reign.

The king wields great power and is due great homage. No one may ride on the king’s horse nor sit on his throne. After his death, all of his belongings are burned and no one else may marry his wife. His hair is cut daily and people must bow to the ground in his presence. The king does rise before great Torah scholars while in private, but not publicly.

The sages ruled that a king may have no more than 18 wives, and may only own enough horses for his entourage. He may not collect more money other than what is needed to pay his staff and his soldiers. The king may tax his subjects as he desires, to collect for his needs or to cover the costs of wars. After a military conquest, the king may take 1/13th of the resulting bootie, with the other 12 portions being evenly divided among the 12 tribes of Israel.

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With any position of leadership come privileges and responsibilities. If you focus on what you can do for others and accept the mantle with humility, you should succeed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


There are certain entertainers who are known by their first name, such as Matisyahu, Madonna, Cher, Eminem etc. Others are known by their first name, despite widespread knowledge of their last name, such as Elvis, Oprah, Lebron and Beyonce. ‘Fyvush” would fall under this category.

Philip Finkel, Fyvush in Yiddish, was born in his parents’ home on October 9, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Harry, or Tzvi Hersh, was a tailor from Warsaw; his mother, Mary, or Miriam, was a housewife from Minsk. Fyvush began his 35-year career in the Yiddish theater of the Lower East side of Manhattan at age 9. Simultaneously, he performed as a standup comedian in the so-called “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills Mountains, north of New York City.

In the early 1960s, with the Yiddish Theatre standing at the very precipice of its demise, Fyvush “crossed over” to performing uptown on Broadway. His first performance was in the role of “Mordcha” the bartender in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Eventually he assumed the title role of “Tevye” in the traveling company.

While Finkel was naturally cast for Jewish roles, he played all kinds of characters throughout his theater, movie and TV career. In 1994, Fyvush won an Emmy award for his portrayal of Douglas Wambaugh, the public defender, on the CBS drama “Picket Fences” (1992-1996).

But he will always be remembered for his unrelenting love of Yiddish and the Yiddish theater. The New York Times wrote in his obituary: “In winter he traveled to Florida to bring his valise of routines to the beachfront condominiums. Fifteen condos in 10 days, he boasted to an interviewer. In summer, like a monarch butterfly, he fluttered north to the handful of surviving Catskills hotels, sampling the borscht when there was no longer a belt and delighting the hotel denizens with jokes many had heard more than once.”

Finkel was married to Trudi Lieberman from 1947 until her death in 2008 (61 years!). They had two sons: Ian and Elliot, both musicians. He died on August 14, 2016.

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Appreciate the Contributions of the Yiddish Theater

Learn about the Yiddish Theater, which was a staple of the Jewish immigrant experience in the early decades of the 20th century.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Teshuva: To Where Are We Returning?

The process of introspection and repentance in order to accomplish transformation, really begins a month before Rosh Hashana, with the advent of the Hebrew month of Elul. During this special period, It behooves us all to both study and modify our actions.

There are many wonderful writings concerning the Jewish virtue of repentance, but almost all are based, to a degree, on one of the earliest classical works on the subject--Maimonides’ Hilchot Teshuva, the Laws of Teshuva, commonly defined as repentance.

In Maimonides’ introductory sentence to his Laws of Teshuva, he writes: “There is one positive Biblical commandment contained in these laws, and that is, for the malefactor to ‘do teshuva’ from his iniquity before God and to confess.” Before we can even discuss the process of teshuva, we must understand what the concept means.

The Hebrew word teshuva connotes repentance, but the root of the word means to return. In modern day Hebrew, a response to a question (i.e. an answer) is known as teshuva. If that is true, to what are we returning?

Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Jerusalem’s Old City, asks this pointed, yet poignant, question and offers three answers. First, he suggests, those who do teshuva return to the innocence of their youth, when we lived without sin. Teshuva enables a person to travel back in time, metaphorically speaking, because the Talmud declares (Talmud Psachim 54a) that God created teshuva before he created the world. As such, it is not bound by the laws of nature.

Second, those who do teshuva, return to the beginnings of Jewish national identity, the Revelation at Sinai, where our ancestors stood “as one person with one heart,” declared “na’aseh v’nishma,” that we will accept the Torah before knowing what is contained in it. At that moment all iniquity was forgiven.

Third, Rabbi Nebenzahl suggests that those who do teshuva return to the ultimate source of spirituality, the habitat of souls, under the heavenly Throne of God. This esoteric center, with no corporeality, represents the true source that draws us to God. The soul within our body draws its nourishment from this epicenter, where no wickedness exists. This is the decisive “return” that we seek.

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Recall a Better Time

When engaging in introspection during this time of year, try to recall and “return to” a time you are proud of in your past.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Jewish Reveille

The first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, just two days away, brings with it a few changes to the prayer service, one of which is the blowing of the shofar every morning (except Shabbat and the day prior to Rosh Hashana). The sounding of the shofar during the month of Elul, is meant to serve as a wake-up call, to remind us that in less than a month, God will judge us. The time for introspection and personal accounting begins now!

The origin of the shofar finds its source immediately in the aftermath of the Akeida, the Binding of Abraham’s son Isaac. After the angel instructed Abraham not to slaughter his son, and acknowledged Abraham’s full subservience to God, the Torah informs us: "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering in place of his son" (Genesis 22:13).

The Midrash Pirkei d'Rebbe Eliezer (chapter 31) offers a profound message about this particular ram.

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says: No part of this ram went to waste. The ashes of the ram form the base of the golden incense altar in the Sanctuary. The ten sinews of the ram are the ten strings of the harp on which David played. The hide of the ram formed the leather belt of Elijah. The two horns of the ram are historic shofars: through the left one, the Voice of God was heard on Mount Sinai (at Revelation). The right horn, which was larger than the left one, will be sounded in the future at the ingathering of the exiles.

The shofar, the great symbol of introspection, judgment and redemption, is only “discovered” because Abraham lifted his eyes and actively sought an alternative way to serve God after the angel told him "not to harm the lad." He felt that a sacrifice was necessary, but knew well that it wasn't meant to be his beloved son. The ashes on the bottom of the altar represent the Divine gift of atonement. The sinews or strings on David's harp represent the spiritual song of the people, the tunes to which we turn in both jubilation and in torment. Elijah's belt? Belts always symbolize strength. Elijah possessed moral clarity and spiritual strength.

Abraham’s seemingly insignificant turn of his head, offered an insightful message to his offspring. Finding alternative ways to positively embrace and come closer to God can yield immense historical and spiritual results, all accomplished via the horn of a ram. So listen closely this coming month!

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Prepare for Judgment

Try to hear the shofar blasts daily during the month of Elul, to help prepare yourself spiritually for Rosh Hashana.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Splitting the Atom

When asked to name a theoretical physicist, the first name to come to many young Americans would be “Sheldon Cooper,” the fictional lead character on the long-running hit show, “Big Bang Theory.” Those in the know, however, would likely mention the name J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” (It is interesting to note that Oppenheimer himself, was awarded a fellowship at Caltech in September 1927, the school employing the fictional Sheldon Cooper).

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born on April 22, 1904, to Julius and Ella Oppenheimer. His father, a Jewish German immigrant, came to the United States penniless and uneducated, only to become a wealthy textile executive; his mother grew up in Baltimore. J. Robert attended prep schools in Manhattan and matriculated to Harvard College where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He moved from Cambridge, MA to Cambridge University, England where he studied theoretical physics, and eventually received his doctorate at the University of Gottingen, Germany. In 1929, Oppenheimer returned to the United States as an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

In October, 1941, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt approved “The Manhattan Project,” a secret program to develop an atomic bomb. In June of 1942, Oppenheimer was named head of the secret laboratory. In order to facilitate greater security and camaraderie, Oppenheimer moved the lab to Los Alamos, NM. There, Oppenheimer’s team succeeded in creating the world’s first atom bombs, which were used by the U.S. to end its war with Japan. The Americans dropped “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, and “Fat Man”, was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9th 1945, resulting in Japan’s unconditional surrender.

After World War II, Oppenheimer assumed the directorship of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, NJ. Oppenheimer advocated for the international monitoring of atomic energy and cautioned about the escalating arms race. He joined other such notable scientists as Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russel, to decry the negative uses of scientific discovery. He also faced scrutiny in the early days of the Cold War over his past association with communist organs, leading to his virtual excommunication from the world of academic science.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, survived by a wife and two children, died in Princeton, NJ, on February 18, 1967.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Double Edge Swords

Nuclear power is an example of a concept inherently neutral that can be manipulated for ultimate good or ultimate evil. Humankind must try to use such entities only for good.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Should the Stork Be Kosher?

Kosher consumers, even the most tender of age, learn to seek out kosher symbols of the overseeing kashruth agencies on desired food products. If a product has a symbol of a recognized kashruth agency, it is deemed kosher. This makes sense, since most consumers obtain their food from stores, not from farms, ponds or the wild. Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 14:3-21), along with parashat Shmini (Leviticus 11:1-30), however, remind us of the biological criteria we use to identify kosher food.

Foods that grow from trees or from the ground are inherently kosher (although one may need to check for insect infestations and to make certain that no planting prohibitions have been violated such as orlah and/or shmittah). An animal that both chews its cud and possesses fully split hooves is deemed kosher as are fish with fins and scales. The Torah does not provide symbols for the two other categories of potentially kosher animals: birds and insects. However, the Torah does provide a list of 20 species of birds that are deemed unkosher. Among them is a bird known as a chassidah. Rashi identifies this non-kosher animal as the stork, although some argue that the stork is kosher (see Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 82).

The Talmud (Chullin 63a) notes that the chassidah is so named, because it performs acts of loving kindness (chessed) toward its fellow species members. The Rizhiner Rebbe asked, if this is indeed the case, why would such a species with a name testifying to its virtue, be deemed a non-kosher bird? To the contrary, a bird with such a revered name should certainly be kosher! The Rebbe answered that the Talmud claims that it performs acts of kindness towards members of its own species only, but not to others. True piety means caring for those in our inner circle as well as for those more distant.

It was Hans Christian Andersen who popularized the fantasy that new babies are delivered by storks. But his short story, “The Storks” ends tragically. When a boy teased the stork, the stork responded by delivering a stillborn to the boy’s family. Centuries earlier, Greek mythology taught that storks stole babies. So perhaps our sages’ view of the stork’s limited kindness mirrored or even served as the premise for latter versions of the stork’s character.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kosher Symbols

We should endeavor to teach children both means of identifying kosher foods: the logos of kashruth organizations and the biological signs described in the Torah.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Celebrating Bar Ilan University

Would you believe that the founding of Israel’s second largest university (33,000 students) was conceived “deep in the heart of Dixie”?

Two years after Israel’s founding in 1948, the participants at a meeting of the American Mizrachi Organization in Atlanta, GA, dreamed of the need for an Israeli institution of higher learning committed to a dual academic curriculum of Torah and general studies, in the model of New York’s Yeshiva University. The founders hoped its alumni would espouse the values of the religious Zionist movement, yet embrace, at the highest academic levels, the great disciplines of Western thought and civilization. The new university was named for Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan (1880-1949), a leader of the Religious Zionist movement and son of the renowned sage Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin. Rabbi Bar Ilan, who passed away the year before the Atlanta meeting, served as president of U.S. Mizrachi from 1915-1928, functioning in this capacity from Jerusalem, after he moved there in 1923.

The dream became a reality on August 7, 1955, when Bar Ilan University was founded in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Rabbi Dr. Pinkhas Churgin (1894-1957) served as the university’s first president. A native of Belarus, young Pinkhas moved to Jerusalem with his family in 1906 where he received a traditional Jewish education, culminating in rabbinic ordination. Desiring a serious general education, Dr. Churgin moved to the United States, receiving his doctorate in Semitics from Yale College in 1922. While still a student in 1920, Rabbi Dr. Churgin took a position at the YU-affiliated Beit Midrash LeMorim/Teachers Institute, which was founded by Mizrachi as a way to train Judaic studies teachers at the highest academic level. By 1923, he was the principal and built up Teachers Institute until he assumed the presidency of Bar Ilan in 1955.

In its early days, Bar Ilan catered exclusively to religious students and retained the services of only religious professors. While religious students are still a majority, today, both secular and non-Jewish students and teachers attend and teach at Bar Ilan.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Judaic and General Studies

Most often, Judaic and general studies are harmonious and pose no conflicts. It is always advisable to endeavor to see things from different perspectives.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Jews Of Jamaica

As in many countries of the New World, the Jewish history of Jamaica begins with conversos, the secret Jews who fled Spain. They came to the New World seeking not only new opportunities, but also to distance themselves from the Inquisition. As in many countries of the New World, the conversos rejoiced when the British conquered the island from Spain in 1655. (A fascinating fact: the ship that led the British into Kingston, Jamaica, was piloted by one Compoe Sabbatha, who was, himself, a converso.)

With the island under British control, Jews felt safe coming to Jamaica, and many arrived from Spanish held territories. Just because the Inquisition was not in Jamaica, however, did not mean that the Jews were particularly welcome. As early as 1671, there was a failed petition to expel Jews, and, in 1693, a special tax was levied on the community. In the 1700s, Jews were banned from hiring Christian house-servants.

Still, the community flourished, and the Jews, who were often involved in the sugar and vanilla trades, prospered. It is apparent, that once they were granted equal status in 1831, the Jews were actually well respected in Jamaica and even captured a decent percentage of the seats in the legislature. By 1849, eight of the forty-seven members of the colonial assembly were Jewish. In fact, that year, the assembly voted to adjourn over Yom Kippur.

Both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews settled in Jamaica. At one point, there were synagogues in Kingston, Port Royal, Spanish Town and Montego Bay. Time, assimilation, and economic and political factors took their toll on the Jamaican Jewish community. By the 1980s, only a few hundred Jews remained. Today, only one synagogue remains in Kingston, Shaare Shalom, and also a Jewish school (Hillel Academy), as well several other Jewish organizations.

On August 6, 1962, Jamaica declared its independence from the United Kingdom.

This Treat was last posted on August 6, 2013.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Gratitude for Historical Grace to Jews

Show gratitude to countries that allowed Jews to immigrate when they were unsafe elsewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Heel and the Parachute

The title of this week’s parashah, Eikev, is one of the more difficult parashah names to properly translate. The word eikev connotes the word “therefore,” so the opening three words of the parashah – “v’haya eikev tish’mi’un” – can be translated as, “therefore, it shall come to pass, if you give heed” (Deuteronomy 7:12). But the word “eikev” itself shares a root with the Hebrew word for heel, as we’ve learned previously. What can we learn from this connection?

Rashi explains that those commandments that will reap the specific rewards that the Torah describes, are the ones we often crush with our heels, ones that seem insignificant. Seemingly insignificant details do matter, and can even ultimately prove to be the determining factor between success and failure.

In the technologically advanced world in which we live, we can easily understand this. An email address or a password will not work if typed incorrectly. Sometimes the difference between success and failure can be a capitalized letter that was entered as lower case. In relationships, experts conclude that small, kind and thoughtful gestures on a regular basis can make the difference between healthy and toxic interactions.

A story is told of a hotshot pilot who was dining with some friends in a fancy restaurant’s exclusive section. He regaled his friends with stories about how he had to parachute out of his jet and land behind enemy lines, only to be rescued a few days later. As he was telling the story, a stranger stood at the door listening intently. The pilot stopped and asked the man who he was. The man informed the pilot that he too served on the same Aircraft Carrier, but ranked lower than the pilot and, as such, they never associated with one another. The pilot, in a feigned attempt at politeness, asked his fellow naval veteran what task he performed on the ship. “I packed the pilots’ parachutes,” came the reply. The pilot’s face turned red as he invited his colleague to dine with him. The man, to whom he never deigned to talk, may have saved his life.

Let’s not underestimate the value of what some may consider small or insignificant.

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Value both large and small items!

Consider all types of items important, whether significant, time-consuming, large, or not.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Iraq and the Jews

Much of ancient and modern Jewish history has passed through Iraq. It can be argued that civilization, as we know it today, actually began in Iraq.

The mighty metropolis of Babel or Babylonia appears in the Bible, and centuries later, it was the Babylonians who destroyed Solomon’s Temple and exiled the Jews to its borders. While a minority of Jews immigrated back to Jerusalem about 70 years later, Iraq became home to a rich Jewish community in exile, that even featured Jewish self-governance through leaders known as exilarchs. Jewish centers of Torah study emerged and the Babylonian Talmud, the basis of Jewish law, or halacha, is studied and eventually codified in such Torah academies as Sura, Pumpedita and Nehardea. For the next 1,000 years, Babylon would be a major center of Jewish life. The Babylonian influence was so great, that the only language other than Hebrew in which the standard prayers were composed is Aramaic, the language of Babylon.

In the 12th century, 40,000 Jews lived between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Babylonia. During Ottoman rule over Baghdad, the Jewish population in the city surged to 50,000 by the year 1900, which represented 25% of the entire Jewish population of Baghdad.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, the Iraqi Zionist underground began illegally smuggling Jews out of Baghdad at a rate of 1,000 per month. In March of 1950, Iraq passed a law allowing Jews to leave on condition that they relinquish their Iraqi citizenship. In March 1951, Israel initiated “Operation Ezra and Nehemiah” airlifting Iraqi Jews to Israel. Between 1948 and 1951, over 121,000 Iraqi Jews left Iraq.

On July 16, 1979, Saddam Hussein assumed the presidency of Iraq, having conspired in the 1968 coup that brought Baath rule to Iraq. On this day in 1990, Iraqi forces invaded neighboring Kuwait, land that Saddam viewed as historically Iraqi territory, as Iraq’s 19th province. U.S. President George H.W. Bush recruited a coalition of nations who, through the United Nations, demanded that Iraq leave Kuwait or face war. When Iraqi forces did not leave by the U.N.-imposed deadline, the coalition went to war. Saddam Hussein threatened to launch scud missiles at population centers in Israel if coalition forces attacked Iraq. Despite sustaining an attack of 39 Scud missiles, President Bush successfully convinced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir not to respond to the attack.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn Jewish History

When reading news stories about Israel, learn about the history and context of the region and the issue.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

People of the (Printed) Book

Johannes Gutenberg, credited as the developer of the printing press, published the Gutenberg Bible in 1445. The printing technology transformed the way people learned. International literacy and access to knowledge exploded in a way the world had never seen.

The “People of the Book” also saw an opportunity to spread Jewish knowledge and joined in the new printing endeavor. In 1483, Joshua Soncino established a printing press in Soncino, Italy (60 KM east of Milan) and published the first tractate of the Talmud (Berachot) a year later, which included the commentaries of Rashi and the Ba'alei Tosafot. This print house also claims to have produced the first printed Hebrew Bible with vowels. Publishing the Talmud on a larger scale, while maintaining the Soncino’s layout of the Talmudic text surrounded by the commentaries, was accomplished at the Venetian press of the non-Jewish printer, Daniel Bomberg, beginning in 1520.

Five years after Soncino established a printing press in Italy, Joseph Caro was born in Spain. His family migrated through Turkey, and Caro eventually ended up in Safed, in northern Israel. He became an expert both in mysticism and halacha (Jewish law). In 1522, Rabbi Caro began writing a major halachic work which aimed to codify Jewish law based on the three great halachic works that preceded his own, namely, the codes of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (1013-1103) of Morocco, Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) of Egypt, and Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel (1250-1327) of both Germany and Spain. Rabbi Caro’s commentary on the Arba Turim of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (1269-1343) ultimately became the Shulchan Aruch (prepared table), an authoritative work on Jewish law especially for Sephardic Jews. On the 2nd of Elul 1555, due to the presence of a printing press in Safed, Rabbi Caro’s monumental work was printed and disseminated to the entire Jewish world. This allowed Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (1530-1572) of Kracow, Poland, to publish the Ma’pah (table cloth), which added emendations to the Shulchan Aruch, noting the differences in law and custom for Ashkenazic Jews.

Due to the historical and cultural consensus around the Shulchan Aruch/Mapah, and the fact that it was the first major halachic work written after the development of the printing press, it became the authoritative work on Jewish law.

A few years later, on the 20th of Av, 1558 (corresponding to August 4), the Zohar was printed for the first time.

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Power of the Printing Press

Today people do not need a printing press to promote their thoughts and ideas, as social media exponentially amplifies the power of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. When you post on social media, please do so responsibly!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Minsk, Pinsk and Dvinsk?

Dvinsk, also known as Daugavpils or Duenaburg, is Latvia’s second largest city, situated 140 miles southeast of Riga, Latvia’s capital (Dvinsk is the city’s Russian name).

Dvinsk became a Jewish center in the Baltics beginning about the year 1784. A census in 1897 noted that 44% of the city’s 69,700 residents were Jews. On the eve of World War I, 55,680 Jews resided in Dvinsk. The Jewish population surged in the 1830s when Dvinsk was included in the Pale of Settlement, the Russian regions that were open to Jewish residence. As such, both Chassidic and Mitnagdic Jews lived in Dvinsk. The city’s two communities not only lived in peace together, but its two internationally renowned rabbinic leaders were true colleagues and friends. Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen (1843-1926), the leader of the Mitnagdic community, served as the rabbi of the Kahal Sha’ar synagogue for 39 years. Rabbi Hakohen is also known by the names of his two famous scholarly works, the Or Sameyach, a commentary on Maimonides’ halachic code, and the Meshech Chochmah, a Bible commentary.

The Hassidic community based at the “Planover Minyan,” was led for 50 years by the renowned Rabbi Joseph Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Ga’on (the genius from Rogatchov), who also authored a volume called Tzafnat Paneyach, titled for the Egyptian name given to Biblical Joseph. It is also notable that in 1865, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, who would become the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, was born in Griva, a suburb of Dvinsk.

Dvinsk fell under Russian hegemony from 1893 until 1920, when Latvia declared its independence. Latvia fell under the orbit of the U.S.S.R. in 1940-1941 and from 1944 until 1991, when the U.S.S.R. fell. On June 26, 1941, the German army occupied Dvinsk. Days later, the town’s men were ordered to appear at the town square. Some were imprisoned and sent to forced labor camps, and others were murdered. The Nazis forced the Jews into a ghetto on July 26, 1941, where they murdered most of the town’s Jews. Of the 28,000 Jews who lived in the area, the Nazis killed about 20,000, of which 13,000 were from the ghetto.

The Nazi extermination of Dvinsk began on August 12, 1941, corresponding to today’s date, the 19th of Av.

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Remember the Destroyed Communities

In addition to the unimaginable “Six Million” number, we must always remember the hundreds of Jewish communities along with their century-long traditions that were destroyed by the Nazis and all the enemies of the Jews throughout Jewish history.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Harari. Michael Harari

Most people have never heard the name Michael “Mike” Harari. Given his vocation, he probably would approve of his anonymity.

Born in Tel Aviv, Michael Harari (1927-2014), enlisted in the Haganah at age 13, and three years later, in 1943, he joined the elite Palmach force. After Israel’s independence in 1948, Michael served in the Israel Defense Forces and its Shin Bet internal security service. In the 1960s, he was recruited by Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, eventually being promoted to the head of the Caesarea Department, which placed undercover agents abroad. He founded the Mossad’s Operations branch, the Kidon unit.

Harari was very involved with Operation Wrath of God, whose goal was to avenge the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, at the hands of a terrorist group known as “Black September.” Unfortunately, the Israeli agents, looking to assassinate Ali Hassan Salameh, the chief of Black September in Lillehammer, Norway, accidentally shot an innocent waiter who resembled Salameh. Harari and Mossad director Zvi Zamir offered Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir their resignations, which she refused. (A Norwegian case against Harari was dropped in 1999 due to lack of evidence.)

In 1979, Harari led a team that successfully eliminated Salameh in Beirut. Harari  also played a major role in Israel’s rescue of hostages at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport. Posing as an Italian businessman, he helped provide maps of the airport to Israel’s commandos. He also helped facilitate refueling in Kenya after the successful military operation.

Harari eventually became the Mossad station chief for Latin America and lived in Panama for many years until the US arrest of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.

Harari received the Mossad Chief’s Medal of Distinction in 2007 and the Israel Defense Prize Committee’s Medal of Distinction. He cooperated in the writing of his Hebrew biography, entitled Ish Hamivtza’im (the Man of Operations), written by Aaron J. Klein in 2014.

Michael Harari died at his home in Israel on September 21, 2014 at the age of 87. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Harari, “one of the great warriors for Israel’s security.”

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Unsung Heroes

Civilians are unaware of classified acts of heroism by members of the intelligence community. Wherever we live, our safety is, in part, due to patriots who know their valor will never be publicly recognized.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av) is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, referring to the opening words of the haftarah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. It is the first of seven haftarot noted for their theme of consolation.

Having just emerged from the time of deepest mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, our despair is tempered by God’s constant optimistic promise--while our people may be laid low at times by our enemies, we shall be redeemed by God and our Temple will be rebuilt.

The haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu begins with the words: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eh’lo’hey’chem.” Be comforted, be comforted My people, will say your God. (Isaiah 40:1).

Isaiah lived and prophesied at the time when Israelite kingdoms were threatened by the Assyrians. This was more than 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple.

Through his prophecy, however, Isaiah was able to see that these great tragedies would be only temporary and that God would not only bring back the Jews from exile, but would also rebuild the Holy Temple. It is commonly understood that the double language of “Nachamu, nachamu” is an allusion to the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples and the redemptions that would follow.

This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2017.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Keep The Faith!

Even when in the depths of despair, there is always room for hope and faith.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

No Holiday as Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, the Talmud states that: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av ...” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised ...’” (Proverbs 31:30).

In ancient times, the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, but it is interesting to note that Tu B'Av is also the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Tonight and tomorrow is Tu B’Av.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker”

If you have friends looking to marry, help by introducing them to one another.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Jews in Christchurch?

When one thinks of the far reaches of the globe, New Zealand should obviously come to mind. What people may not know is that over 6,800 Jews live in New Zealand today, mostly in Auckland and Wellington (a synagogue in Wellington frequently participates in NJOP programs such as READ HEBREW AMERICA AND CANADA and SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA.

In the early 1800s, pioneering British Jews were among the whalers, missionaries and traders who explored New Zealand. No records exist of Jews in New Zealand before 1831, when Abraham Hort Senior envisioned New Zealand as a potential Jewish community for indigent Jewish Anglos and oppressed Eastern European Jews. In 1843, he arrived from London to Wellington, where, with the assent and support of the British Chief Rabbinate, he established a Jewish community. He partnered with David Isaacs, who was able to serve as mohel (practitioner of ritual circumcision), shochet (practitioner of ritual slaughter) and chazzan (cantor). In letters serialized in London’s Jewish newspapers, Mr. Hort Senior described the difficulty of maintaining a Jewish community in Wellington, complaining of the futility of maintaining a minyan (prayer quorum) and keeping Jewish shops closed on Shabbat.

Many of the Jews who came to New Zealand for the Australian gold rushes of the mid 1840s, soon left to mine for gold in California. Those who remained, were rewarded by the 1861 discovery of gold in rural New Zealand, shifting the demographics away from the more urban centers of Wellington and Auckland. Twenty years later, immigration restrictions were enacted, preventing anyone other than citizens of the British Crown from entering New Zealand. These laws remained in force even after the Holocaust, preventing most Jews from immigrating. On July 27, 1950, corresponding to the 13th of Av, New Zealand recognized the State of Israel. Some argue that New Zealand’s support for the Jewish state may have also been motivated by their desire to encourage the Holocaust refugees to go to Israel rather than New Zealand.

More recently, Jews from Israel, South Africa and the Former Soviet Union have made their homes in New Zealand. During a devastating earthquake in 2011, a Chabad House in Christchurch was destroyed, and was rebuilt with the support of international funding. This year, the Jewish community of Wellington celebrates its 175th anniversary, predating the first session of New Zealand’s parliament by a decade.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Check Out The Tribe

When traveling to a far-away place, research its Jewish community.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Great Disputation

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban/Nachmanides c. 1194-1270) was one of the great personages of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. He authored commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud and was known as a great mystic. He was also a renowned physician.

 In 1263, King James I of Aragon ordered Nachmanides to debate Pablo Christiani, a Jew who had converted to Christianity and had become a Dominican monk. Nachmanides agreed on one condition – absolute freedom of speech (as opposed to the usual rule that nothing seemingly insulting to Christianity be said).

The “Great Disputation,” as it is called, began on July 20th, corresponding to the 12th of Av (today) and lasted for 4 days. The critical issue of the disputation was the Jewish belief in the Messiah and whether it had been fulfilled by Jesus. While both debaters cited the Talmud, Nachmanides thoroughly outclassed his opponent. King James I declared him the winner, awarded him a monetary prize and declared: “I’ve never heard anyone defend so brilliantly something so wrong.”

While King James had declared Nachmanides the winner, the Dominicans asserted that they had won. They were a powerful force, and when Nachmanides published a transcript of the Disputation, the Dominicans saw to it that the great scholar was exiled from Spain.

Nachmanides went to Israel, where he was instrumental in reestablishing the Jewish community in Jerusalem. In one of the abandoned houses, he built a synagogue that became known as the Beit Knesset HaRamban, the Nachmanides Synagogue. This synagogue existed from that time (c. the 13th century) until it was destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanian Arab Legion during Israel’s War of Independence. It has since been rebuilt.

This Treat was last posted on July 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn To Defend The Faith

Read books and articles which defend Judaism and Israel from their detractors.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Resuming Normalcy

With Tisha B’av and its restrictions behind us, we can now resume our every-day lives.

Tradition teaches that the enemies of Israel lit the Holy Temple aflame at the very end of the 9th of Av, and the Temple burned through the next day. As such, our custom is to maintain most of the mourning rites associated with the Nine Days until halachic noon* of the 10th of Av. We postpone haircuts, laundry, bathing for pleasure, eating meat and drinking wine until that time. However, when the 9th of Av falls on Shabbat, as it did this year, we can resume our normal lives after the end of the fast on Sunday night (although Ashkenazim still refrain from eating meat and drinking wine until the following morning).

One of the restrictions during this period is the prohibition of music. The Jewish legal codes rule that marriages should not take place during the mourning period over the Temple. For Ashkenazic Jews, that translates into not scheduling weddings from the fast of the 17th of Tammuz through Tisha B’av. Most Sephardic Jews practice the custom not to get married only during the week in which Tisha B’av occurs, although others are more restrictive.

During ancient times, live music was the only way music was heard. So postponing weddings, almost de facto, meant that no one would be listening to music at all. With the advent of recorded music, the sages needed to apply the ancient law regarding weddings to listening to joyous music. Nuanced differences of opinion exist in regard to listening to music during the Three Weeks, and other periods of mourning. Halachic decisors must rule based on different factors, among which are: live music versus recorded music; pensive ballads versus celebratory and joyous tunes; acapella versus orchestral; and the motivation for hearing the music (i.e. wanting to enjoy the music, versus background music). In general, more leniency is found with regard to listening to recorded, pensive, acapella and background music.

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

*One can calculate a halachic hour by taking the length of the day from sunrise to sunset (some say from dawn to dusk) and dividing it by twelve. Thus, halachic hours in the winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) are shorter and halachic hours in the summer are longer.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Your Spotify!

The invention of recorded music changed the world; now almost any song ever recorded can be accessed instantly. Next time you listen to a recorded song, think about how different our lives would be without easily accessible music.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple.

While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including the Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.

By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. Around 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.

Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zechariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

Today, Jews all over the world are observing the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,946 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

 *This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Tisha B'Av

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is this Shabbat. Because of Shabbat, the normally observed Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av) is pushed off until Sunday. The observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. 

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).

Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

2. The destruction of the First Temple.
3. The destruction of the Second Temple.
4. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar.
5. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.

Click here for later events on this date 

*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

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Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

This Treat was last posted on July 28, 2017.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rebuke With Love

When having to punish or rebuke, it can still be done with love and compassion.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Seventh Of Av

One Scriptural verse (Kings II 25:8-9) notes that the Babylonians came to the Temple Mount on the 7th of Av while another verse ( Jeremiah 25:12) claims it was on the 10th of the month. So how do we resolve these two different dates?

The Talmud (Ta’anit 29a) explains that on the 7th of Av the Babylonians entered the Temple’s precincts eating and drinking and defiling it through dusk on the 9th of the month. At the very end of the 9th of Av, they set fire to the Temple. That conflagration burned through the 10th of the month.

Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, American scholar and editor of The Lord is Righteous in All of His Ways: Reflections on the Tish’ah be-Av Kinot (elegies) by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, spends much of the day every Tisha B’Av, 9th of Av, teaching of the events of the day and their causes (you can follow his teaching at this coming Sunday.) In his book, he cites a comment by Rabbi Soloveitchik, noting that the Romans breached the walls on the 17th of Tammuz. “This means that it took the Romans, with their powerful legions and best troops, three weeks to get from the wall surrounding Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. How far is that distance? You can cover the distance in ten minutes at most. This means that it took the best, most powerful, Roman legions (they sent their best military force to conquer Jerusalem) twenty-one days to prevail! The Jews had nothing and fought with their bare hands, and it still took the Romans twenty-one days to get to the Temple Mount.”

Rabbi Dr. Schacter himself observed that the priests in the Temple held the massive enemy armies at bay for 3 days, since the Talmud notes (Ibid.) that the Babylonian troops entered the precincts of the Temple on the 7th of Av and only succeeded in burning down the Temple three days later. The Babylonians could not advance a few feet due to the fierce battling of a small band of priests.

The Talmud (Ibid.) relates the end of the story. “When the First Temple was about to be destroyed, bands upon bands of young priests with the keys of the Temple in their hands assembled and mounted the roof of the Temple and exclaimed, ‘Master of the Universe, as we did not have the merit to be faithful treasurers, these keys are handed back into Your keeping.’ They then threw the keys up toward heaven. And there emerged the figure of a hand and received the keys from them. Whereupon they jumped and fell into the fire.”

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fight For Your Beliefs

There are times when we must fight very hard for those things we hold most dear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

To Bee Or Not To Bee

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah written by Moses in first person, describes the highlights and low points of Moses’ tenure as leader of the Jewish people.

While offering a chronology of events in the wilderness, the Torah records: And the Emorites, who lived in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Se’ir, even unto Hormah (Deuteronomy 1:44).

While describing this particular military challenge, the Torah likens the Emorite attack to a swarm of bees. Rashi explains this strange language to teach that the Emorites were willing to sacrifice themselves, just as the bee stings despite knowing it will die as a result.

The renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev (Velvel in Yiddish) Soloveitchik, who was the uncle of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, taught a great lesson based upon this interpretation of Rashi. Known also as the Brisker Rav in honor of the city of his youth, “Rav Velvel” (1886-1959) used the above-cited passage about the Emorites to teach the extent to which one can hate. If David hates Joseph and strikes him, David’s abhorrence for Joseph is not apparent. But if David strikes Joseph knowing he will be severely injured or killed as a result, this self destructive act is evidence of true revulsion.

Is this possibly similar to the profound animus for Jews that we have tragically witnessed over the past decades in the murderous actions of the suicide bombers? The pithy statement attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir captures this tragic reality: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

During this week when we recall the destruction of the Temples, let us learn from the Emorites, the odious lesson of hatred, so we can stress and commit to its eradication through Ahavat Chinam (wanton love) and Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel). This love is surely the antidote to the Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) which served as a cause for the suffering commemorated on Tisha B’av.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Avoid Hate

Train yourself to avoid hating others and basing decisions on that hatred.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Gateway Sin

Those who debate the issue of legalizing certain types of drugs, will often encounter the notion of a “gateway drug,” something that, by itself seems somewhat benign, but may lead to the use of much more dangerous substances. Can there be “gateways” to sin?

Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen (Kagan in Russian), known as the Chofetz Chaim, the title of one of his greatest works, also penned a lesser-known volume called Ahavat Yisrael, in which he codifies the laws regarding Ahavat Yisrael (loving a fellow Jew) and the horrible consequences of its opposite. He explains why the iniquity of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) has more deleterious consequences than other evils.

First, he writes, the act of hating causes one to violate, every second in which that hatred is present in one’s heart, the Biblical precept of hating a fellow in one’s heart (Leviticus 19:17). This can accrue for months or even years, where the sins multiply at a rate one cannot even quantify. Second, reasoned the Chofetz Chaim, Sinat Chinam serves as a gateway to further religious malevolence, such as causing disputes, evil speech, tale-bearing, deceit, and causing embarrassment, which our sages have homiletically likened to homicide. The prohibition of taking revenge (Leviticus 19:18), which is the Biblical prelude to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow as oneself, implies hatred as well.

Finally, the Talmud suggests that two friends who do not talk to one another for three days because of anger, are considered to be in violation of the prohibition of hating a fellow. Thus, it is entirely possible that one small misunderstanding between Jews, a minor infraction, or an insignificant spat, could result in violating several major religious infractions. The Chofetz Chaim declares: “We must conclude that we must try very hard to see and fix this bitter iniquity, which is the principal cause of our extended exile. May our good G-d aid us in removing this hatred from our hearts. May no one be jealous of us, nor may we be jealous of others.”

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reach Out

Maintain your friendships by speaking to or meeting with, friends on a regular basis.

Monday, July 16, 2018

On One Foot

Jewish Treats was asked to explain the Jewish faith in one tweet. For those unfamiliar with the Twitter format, that means in 280 characters or less.

It seems, at first glance, a daunting task. Oddly enough, the perfect answer for such a request can be found in the Talmud: " happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon [Shammai] repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. [Shammai thought that he was making light of Judaism.] When [the heathen] went before Hillel, [Hillel] said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it'" (Shabbat 31a).

Is it possible that the answer to that profound question is that simple? Yes, and no. Jewish law is divided into two main categories, laws that affect one's relationship with other people and laws that affect one's relationship with God. And while both are equally important, Jewish tradition teaches that God can forgive a human being for trespasses against Himself, but not for sins of one person against another. (God destroyed the generation of the flood because they treated each other badly, but He only confused the language of and scattered the generation of the Tower of Babel, who sought to overthrow Him.)

All of Torah is meant to teach a person how to be a "mentsch," a good and decent person. The golden rule of the Torah "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), is phrased differently by Hillel, but is, nevertheless, the heart of Torah. While many people quote this story, some neglect to remember Hillel’s final instructions: “Go and learn it” (meaning the entirety of the Torah). Only by learning Torah, can one learn how to master the golden rule and to show deference and love to our fellow humans.

This Treat was last posted on December 28, 2012.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make The Time

The non-Jew in the story seemed ahead of his time. He wanted a crash course version of Torah. While one can learn from headlines, true knowledge comes from studying in depth.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Month of Av

The months of the Jewish year are called in the Torah by number only (the first month, second month, etc.) Over time, during the exile, the months assumed the names given to them by host cultures and thus the “Jewish” months as we know them today are actually Babylonian in origin. These names were so common, that 8 out of 12 are mentioned in the later books of the prophets. 

Even though the name Av is Babylonian in origin, one may note the subtle nuance of the name. Av means father, and in the fifth month of the Hebrew year, God’s persona of Father is truly demonstrated. 

It is stated in the Book of Proverbs (13:24): “One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.” God warned the Jewish people that their misguided behavior would result in disaster, but they ignored His warnings. Thus the beginning of the month of Av was the time of the destruction of both Holy Temples, disasters which the Jewish community commemorates with an annual day of mourning on the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av). When He allowed the Babylonians (and then the Romans) to conquer Jerusalem, destroy the Holy Temple(s) and drive the Jewish people into exile, God had one fatherly goal in mind--that the Jewish people should see the error of their ways and correct themselves. 

A parent who punishes a child still loves the child and still wishes to share in the child’s happiness. Rejoicing is also an important facet of the month of Av. Tu B’Av (literally 15th of Av) is a day of tremendous rejoicing in Israel when in days of yore, unmarried maidens would go out to the field to find a husband. Thus in Av, after God completes the role of disciplinarian, He comes forward to watch, and enjoy, as His children rejoice. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Use Hebrew Dates as Well

Do you know your Hebrew birthday? Try to find it on a Hebrew-English calendar. There’s tremendous richness in using the Hebrew dates. Try to use them.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Does Life Begin at 40?

In 1932 Walter Pitkin published his popular self-help book, Life Begins at Forty. Truthfully, before the 20th century, life expectancy, on average, rarely exceeded 40.

The number 40 is found quite frequently throughout the Torah. When seeking a common denominator, one finds that a time period of “40” represents a period of maturation. When God flooded the earth in the times of Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights. Humankind had to mature spiritually. Moses spent 40 days and nights on Sinai receiving the Torah; he returned for 40 days to pray for God to forgive the wayward nation after their sin with the Golden Calf. Both occasions represent periods of internal growth. Jews are warned not to study the mystical components of the Torah until they reach the age of forty and have spent the previous 4 decades studying the revealed aspects of Torah.

Perhaps the best known Scriptural use of the time frame 40 is God’s measure for measure punishment of the Israelites for believing the slanderous report of the ten scouts who were sent to survey the Promised Land. Since the mission occurred over a period of 40 days, God punished the wayward nation by decreeing they would wander the Sinai wilderness for forty years, one year for each day of the reconnaissance operation. The nation’s negative attitude needed to transform, hence the appearance of 40 once again.

Yet, even within this decree, the great Biblical commentator Rashi teaches that G-d showed compassion to his wayward people. According to tradition, not one of the punished Israelites perished before their 60th birthday, ensuring that those who did not enter the land were at least 20 years old at the time of the sin.

The day the Israelites believed the disparaging report of the scouts was the 9th of Av, and represents the original calamity on this day of many terrible tragedies.

Today, the 29th day of Tammuz is the 1,013rd Yahrzeit of Rashi (July 13, 1105).

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Punish Fairly

If and when we need to punish for bad action, try to make the punishment fit the crime. An added bonus would be to actually learn something from the punishment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sign Up for Role Modeling

Jewish Treats has addressed the issue of Arei Miklat, cities of refuge, in prior Treats. The cities of refuge were intended for individuals who accidentally killed another person. The perpetrators may run to an Ir Miklat (singular of Arei Miklat) where they will be safe from the possible vengeance of the victim’s family as long as they remain in the city until the death of the High Priest. The Torah addresses this topic in this week’s Torah reading, Numbers (35:9-34) and in Deuteronomy (19:1-13).

A related story is told of a famed Torah scholar who needed to spend many months away from his yeshiva during the year raising money abroad. He finally went to see his teacher, the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen, or Kagan in Russian, (1838-1933) to ask his mentor why he was fated to spend so much time away from his students, and why he needed to grovel for money?

The Chofetz Chaim asked his student why our sages explain that there were signs at crossroads in ancient Israel, indicating the direction of the closest Ir Miklat, yet, there is no indication that there were signs directing pilgrims how to travel to Jerusalem, to the Temple? The Chofetz Chaim said that without signs the traveler would need to stop at a house to ask for directions. Those answering the door and welcoming a guest to their home and family, would certainly prefer a Jew en-route to the Temple with a sacrifice, or someone lost, seeking to experience Jerusalem during holidays as opposed to someone involved with the death of a human being who was being pursued by the victim’s family. 

The Chofetz Chaim told his student that his frustrating need to travel was meant to expose him and his holy personality to individuals all over the world who relished to host such an individual in their home and city. His travels were part and parcel of his teaching, albeit through a different venue. The student found great comfort in his teacher’s words.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Always Show Willingness to Explain

Sometimes we need to explain ourselves better, because we were unclear or the listener needs further explanation. Patience can enable someone to truly understand and appreciate what we are saying.