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.”

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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.

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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).

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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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Herzl’s Vision of Haifa

International air travel today, especially in the “post 9-11 world” can be frustrating, annoying and anxiety-provoking. Because of the extra costs of traveling to and from airports, navigating the heightened security protocols and even the discomfort while on a plane, people often need a vacation after their vacation or choose not to travel at all. The distance of the trip is directly proportional to the anxiety and frustration.

But talk to someone who traveled to Israel from North America before air travel was ubiquitous and you’ll find out what true inconvenience and hardship were. The trip by oceanliner from ports such as New York City, as late as the 1960s, took over 10 days. When the port of Haifa came into sight for the fatigued passengers, their joy knew no bounds. This was the standard method how most people arrived from abroad to the State of Israel during its early years.

The port of Haifa, the largest of Israel’s 3 commercial ports (the others being Ashdod and Eilat), processes over 29 million tons of cargo a year, welcomes 140,000 passengers, and is staffed by over 1,000 employees. That number jumps to 5,000 when cruise ships arrive.

Akko (Acre in English), a city 17 km (10 miles) north of Haifa, served as the Holy Land’s primary port until the 20th century. When silt made the docking of large ships impossible, an alternative site was sought. In 1902, Theodore Herzl virtually “prophesied” in his famous book Altneuland, about the development of the city of Haifa and the transformation of its bay into a major commercial port. In 1922, construction began.

The port of Haifa opened for business on the 27th of Tammuz (July 21) 1933. Whether arriving by boat or plane, there is an ancient custom to kiss the ground of the Holy Land of Israel. Maimonides (Laws of Kings 5:10) relates that the great sages would “kiss the borders of the land, kiss her stones and roll in her dust.” This custom serves as yet another profound reminder of the Jewish people’s special relationship with the Land of Israel.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thank Travel Industry Professionals

Despite the travails of travel, always make sure to offer gratitude to all those who help us move about more rapidly and comfortably.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Love in the Liturgy

Most people would identify prayer as a vertical endeavor: Mortals communicating with God. Yet, as we will learn, there is a beautiful custom to begin our prayers by thinking horizontally, i.e. about our relationship to our fellow human beings.

The renowned 16th century mystic Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria, known by his acronym ARI, taught that those praying should begin with a verbalized commitment to fulfilling the commandment of loving one’s fellow. As such, some prayer books, especially those following Rabbi Luria’s customs, pronounce the following declaration at the beginning of the morning prayers: “Behold, I accept upon myself the positive Biblical commandment of ‘you shall love your fellow as yourself.’” 

Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1635-1682), whose commentary is known as the Magen Avraham, ruled that prior to beginning formal morning prayers, one ought to accept upon themselves the commandment of loving their fellows as themselves (see Magen Avraham Orach Chaim 46). This brief comment brought the ARI’s mystical idea into the mainstream. Many other rabbinic commentaries have echoed this position.

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law), whose 132nd yahrzeit is observed today, wrote the following regarding the critical importance of this morning resolution: “If Heaven forbid there is division within the hearts of Israel in the lower world, there will also not be unity in the heavens.”

Many parents prioritize their children getting along with one another even above their own relationship with their children. Biblical commentaries note that when Abraham ran to care for his guests, he cut short a visit from God (see Genesis 18:1-2). God, like parents, would prefer that His children care for one another, even at the expense of God’s own honor.

Lessons such as these help build Ahavat Chinam, baseless love, and Ahavat Yisrael, love for Israel, during this critical time of the Three Weeks.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Verbalize Your Beliefs

It’s not sufficient to have beliefs; it’s best to verbalize them and act on them.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Good Sense from Nikolsburg!

The Biblical phrase, “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) serves as the foundational verse promoting Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) and Ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews). Do we really need to love someone else, as much as we love ourselves? Are we not programmed biologically to look out for ourselves? Is it even possible to love someone else as much, especially if they are not related, or a friend or even an acquaintance?

A student approached his Rebbe, Rabbi Shmelke, (1726-1778) the Rabbi of Nikolsburg (Moravia, modern day Czech Republic) and asked how can one fulfill the Biblical mandate to love his fellow when the individual has caused much pain and suffering?

Rabbi Shmelke responded that all souls eminate from the same source and are united. If one’s right hand accidentally hits oneself, does the left hand punish its partner for the errant strike? Of course not! Both of one’s hands are part of the same body. It would be ludicrous for one hand to punish the other. It would even be counterproductive, as it would add pain, not alleviate it. The same can be said of the body of Israel, taught the Nikolsburg Rav. (This story and others can be found in Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim).

Rav Shmelke teaches a powerful lesson, which can apply to any negative situation in life. If we envision the sad image of a person punishing his delinquent hand, we can perhaps forestall lashing out at, or responding in kind to, someone who may have strayed, someone whose intentions were pure, or someone who acted rashly without thinking the matter through. Rav Shmelke’s metaphor is one small weapon in the arsenal of Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael we should always endeavor to employ, but especially during the Three Weeks.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek Jewish Unity

Think of daily opportunities that manifest the idea that all of Israel are one.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Campaigning From The Periphery Or The Center?

There’s an adage in American politics, that candidates win their party’s primary by positioning themselves to the extreme, and win national elections by moving to the center.

Should a leader stick to his or her guns, or should they endeavor to compromise?

Parashat Pinchas begins by describing the aftermath of Pinchas’ zealous act to stop a plague ravaging the camp of the Hebrews in the wilderness. God rewarded Pinchas and his progeny for the act with a “covenant of peace.” A few chapters later (Numbers 27:18-23) Moses publicly declares that Joshua, his loyal assistant, would succeed him in leading the nation. Why is the succession announcement revealed at this particular moment in the Torah narrative and not later, closer to Moses’ death?

Among a few answers provided, is the response of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, known as the Kotzker Rebbe. He describes that after Pinchas’ heroism, which potentially saved the lives of thousands, Pinchas became, de facto, a prime candidate to succeed Moses, who was aging and had already been informed by God that he was not going to lead the nation to the Promised Land. For this reason specifically, the Kotzker Rebbe teaches, God instructed Moses to ordain Joshua as his successor. Acts of zeal, while popular, may not be appropriate acts for leadership. While God values truth, peace and compromise are greater virtues, taught the Kotzker Rebbe.

A leader must be able, when circumstances demand, to try to find common ground among conflicting positions. For this reason, reasoned Rabbi Morgenstern, Moses rushed to ordain Joshua as his successor.

The Torah teaches that great leaders most often try to seek and pursue peace as an ideal, even, at times, at the expense of the absolute truth. While both Pinchas and Joshua were righteous and worthy, according to the Kotzker Rebbe, God felt that the nation needed to understand that while zeal has its place, leaders must most often try to avoid it. This is an important and valuable lesson during the Three Weeks, the time of year which we dedicate to focusing on eradicating Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) from our midst.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lead By Consensus

When weighing candidates in a vote, ask yourself who can best lead by consensus.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Maccabees In Africa In July?

Forty-two years ago today, on July 4, 1976, the Israeli military freed 106 hostages, consisting of 94 passengers and 12 crew members, whose Paris-bound Air France Airbus, which originated in Tel Aviv, was hijacked. The German and Palestinian terrorists landed with a plane full of hostages at Entebbe Airport in distant, equatorial Uganda. You can read the details here of this incredibly daring rescue operation, which was nicknamed Operation Thunderbolt. The commander of the operation, Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu (older brother of Israel’s current Prime Minister) was killed by a sniper as he set up a command center at the Entebbe airport during the raid. In his honor, the Israeli government renamed the raid, Mivtzah Yonatan, “Operation Jonathan.”

When President Gerald Ford was informed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin of the successful rescue of the hostages, he responded, “Mr. Prime Minister. You have just given the United States of America the greatest Bicentennial gift we could have ever asked for.” July 4, 1976 was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Jews worldwide swelled with pride as the tiny Jewish state demonstrated that the nations of the world need not capitulate to terrorism and that Israel stood tall as protector of Jews worldwide. Menachem Begin, the long-time leader of the opposition party in the Knesset, captured this idea in a memorable speech at the Knesset, where he called the rescuers, “Modern Day Maccabees.” Mr. Begin declared: “When the actions of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz, with a finger to the right, condemned men, women and children to death, then there had been no one to save them. Now there was. Now we declare for all to hear, ‘Never Again!’ Let the world know, if anyone, anywhere, is persecuted or humiliated or threatened, or abducted, or is in any way endangered, simply because he or she is a Jew, then the people of Israel will marshal all of its strength to come to their aid and to bring them, with the help of the Almighty, to the safe haven that we call our land, Israel.” 

While several movies were made describing the daring rescue operation, we encourage all Jewish Treats readers to watch the NJOP-produced video about Operation Jonathan, entitled, “The Story of the Modern Day Maccabees.”

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor America's Value On July 4th!

Think about the old adage, “Freedom is not free” on this Independence Day.  Discuss America's enduring values with those with whom you spend Independence Day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Antidote Of Baseless Hatred

The calendrical period between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of Tisha B’av is known as Bein Hame’tzarim (in the midst of distress) and is referred to colloquially as the “Three Weeks.” While the latter describes the time frame between these two fasts, the former, finds its source from the verse in Scripture (Lamentations 1:3), “all her [Israel’s] pursuers overtook her in the midst of her distress.” The Three Weeks represents the saddest period in the Jewish calendar.

The Talmud teaches that while the First Temple was destroyed because of the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality, the successful razing of the Second Temple by the Romans is attributed to Sinat Chinam, which literally means “free hatred,” but connotes hatred for no apparent reason or, at least, no legitimate reason.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook famously stated that the antidote to baseless hatred is baseless love, Ahavat Chinam (Orot Hakodesh, section 3, page 324). In modern parlance, which perhaps owes a proper citation to Rabbi Kook, the concept of “random acts of kindness” may find its source from this idea.

During the period of the Three Weeks, Jewish Treats will endeavor to share some brief and inspiring thoughts related to the topic of Ahavat Chinam, or Ahavat Yisrael, the love we should exhibit for our fellow Jews.

The primary Scriptural source associated with Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael is the famous “Golden Rule: “You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Hillel famously taught, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to others” (Talmud Shabbat 31a). Referring to this Biblical verse, Rabbi Akiva proclaimed: “This is a major principle of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 9:4).

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek The Positive

Next time you hear something about someone who hurt you, try to find a way to see it in a positive light.

Monday, July 2, 2018

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 yesterday) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha 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 (July 13, 2018), 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 is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Focus On The State Of Israel And Global Anti-Semitism

It’s hard to mourn over the Holy Temple’s destruction since no one alive saw it or experienced its majesty. You can focus, however, on the unfair treatment by some of the State of Israel and rising anti-Semitism globally, and identify ways to help.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

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 Apostamos, 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 reposted in honor of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

Copyright © 2018 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 reposted in honor of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

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On A Hot Fast

If you are fasting in hot summer weather, try to stay inside.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A Farewell Note

Dear Jewish Treats Reader,

Ten years ago, on June 30, 2008, NJOP posted its very first Jewish Treat. We have come a long way since then, covered a wealth of topics, and explored interesting places and personalities.

For almost all of these ten years, I have had the honor and privilege of writing Jewish Treats. The production of “Juicy Bit of Judaism, Daily” has been a passion and a pleasure for me, but the time has come for me to lay down my pen. Henceforth, Jewish Treats will be written by Rabbi Elly Krimsky.

Thank you for this wonderful decade.


Sarah Rochel Hewitt

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days in the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known. On Sunday (July 1), the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed. (The  17th of Tammuz is on Shabbat, and therefore the fast is postponed until 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.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Drink plenty of water to prepare for Sunday's fast.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Today’s Jewish Treat starts off with a term that is sometimes considered a swear word: “bastard.” The term is often used in Western society to label a child who was born out of wedlock. For much of history, bastards were often denied the rights of inheritance and, even, in many cases, any acknowledgement of their pedigree. Because bastard is a term that connotes a child born of an “unwholesome” relationship, it is often used incorrectly as the translation of the Hebrew word mamzer.

According to halacha (Jewish law), a child born to an unwed mother is simply that - a child born out of wedlock. There is no halachic ramification for the child.

What then is an “illegitimate child” according to Jewish law? A mamzer is a child born of either an incestuous or adulterous relationship. The definitions of an incestuous relationship follow specific rules set out in the Torah that go beyond the immediate family. By halachic definition, adultery occurs when a married woman has relations with a man other than her husband. (Adultery defined by a man’s married status is a later, community specific, decree since, according to the Torah, a husband may have multiple wives.) This is one reason that great importance is placed on making certain that any divorce is properly handled both civilly and religiously.

As unfortunate as it may be, the child of one of these illicit relationships does not come away unscathed. “No mamzer shall be admitted into God’s congregation, none of the descendants of a mamzer, even to the tenth generation, shall be admitted into God’s congregation” (Deuteronomy 23:3).

A mamzer is counted in a minyan, and may even become a chief rabbi. However, a mamzer may not marry another Jew, unless that Jew is also a mamzer, or a convert.* Additionally, the status of mamzerut is passed down to a mamzer’s children.

*As with all aspects of Jewish life, the halachot (Jewish laws) surrounding a mamzer are complicated. For more information, please contact a local expert in Jewish law.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Without Judgement

No matter a person’s personal situation, he or she should be treated with respect.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Great Rae Landy

To Rachel “Rae” Landy, nursing was far more than a job, it was a “calling.” Born in Lithuania on June 27, 1885, she came to America when she was 3 and was later part of the first graduating class of nursing students sponsored by the Jewish Women's Hospital Association (later Mount Sinai Hospital in Cleveland). Raised in a traditional household, Landy was also a passionate Zionist. In 1913, Landy and nurse Rose Kaplan were sent to Palestine by Henrietta Szold, the founder of the Hadassah organization, to start a visiting nurse service.

Conditions in Jerusalem, where they were situated, were abysmal. Poverty was rampant and many of the residents were not used to conventional medical care. In addition to their regular rounds, Landy and Kaplan created a public health station at which they offered first aid, gave lessons on hygiene, treated trachoma and provided maternity care, as well as trained women in nursing. The outbreak of World War I sadly put an end to Landy’s stay in Jerusalem. Conditions deteriorated in the Ottoman-held territory, making life even more difficult, and within the year both nurses returned to the United States.

In 1918, Landy joined the United States Army Nurse Corps and cared for the soldiers in Germany, Belgium and France with the American Expeditionary Forces. Even after the war, Landy stayed in the corps, serving in various positions, including being with troops in the Philippines in the 1930s.

In 1940, Landy was promoted to captain and was appointed superintendent of the headquarters of the Second Corps area. She retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, in 1944, but continued working in the medical field with the Red Cross.

Rae Landy passed away on March 5, 1952, in Cleveland, OH. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Support

Help support organizations that are dedicated to preserving life, physically and spiritually.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

At The End Of The World

While Judaism is, for the most part, focused on the here and now (with a solid amount of regard for the past), it does have its own eschatology. Eschatology is theology concerning what will occur when the world, as it exists today, ends.

The traditional Jewish understanding of the future is that the era in which we are currently living will be followed by a Messianic era heralded in by Moshiach, the Hebrew term for messiah (click here to learn more about the Jewish concept of Moshiach.)  In this latter age, peace shall reign and God’s Will will be palpable. Understanding how the transition between these ages will occur is a topic of much discussion and debate.

One of the better known, and frightening, possibilities, is the War of Gog and Magog. Mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 38-39, it is a prophecy that concerns Gog of the land of Magog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:

“After a long time you shall be summoned; in the distant future you shall march against the land [of a people] restored from the sword, gathered from the midst of many peoples – against the mountains of Israel, which have long lain desolate – [a people] liberated from the nations, and now all dwelling secure*” (Ezekial 38:8). Some commentaries connect this war to Moshiach ben Yoseph (Messiah the son of Joseph), who is expected to be the first redeemer and the harbinger of Moshiach ben David (Messiah the son of David), perhaps because the prophecy alludes to the Children of Israel having returned to the land, but peace has not yet been attained.

The War of Gog and Magog is dramatically described, and it is not surprising that it is often referred to something akin to when the world seems on the edge of destruction, such as during the World Wars or even at the height of the Cold War.

*Translation from

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Each Day

Live in the here and now and be kind to the people with whom you interact each day.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Out To Sea

In honor of International Seafarers Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief look at seafaring in the biblical canon.

The patriarchs and matriarchs were total “landlubbers.” In fact, the closest the first generation out of Egypt came to seafaring was walking through the Sea of Reeds. However, the Tribe of Zebulan was, as per Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 49:13, to be “a haven for ships” and thrived as a maritime, mercantile people. The Tribe of Dan is also noted for its seafaring, but only in a statement of rebuke from Deborah who criticized the Danites for staying on their ships during the war with Canaan.

The Tanach (Bible) records two instances when Jewish kings organized a fleet. The first was by King Solomon, who “built a fleet of ships at Etzion-geber, which is near Elat, on the shore of the Sea of Reeds in the Land of Edom” (I Kings 9:26). The ships were served by Phenicia’s expert seamen, who were sent to Solomon’s kingdom by King Hiram I of Tyre. The fleet appears to have been successful in their mercantile efforts, for I Chronicles records “they went with Solomon’s men to Ophir, and obtained gold there in the amount of 450 talents, which they brought to King Solomon” (II Chronicles 8:18).

Four generations later, after the split between the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, Judah’s King Jehoshaphat also built a fleet, with the goal of replicating his great-great-grandfather’s trade for gold at Ophir. The ships, however, were wrecked at Etzion-Geber. The two accounts of this episode in I Kings 22:49-50 and II Chronicles 20:35-37 both record an offer of partnership from Israel’s King Ahaziah (who encouraged idolatry in the northern Kingdom of Israel). I Kings states that Jehoshaphat turned down the proposal, but II Chronicles attributes the destruction of the fleet to this “unholy” alliance.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Let Them Swim

It is a mitzvah to teach your child to swim.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Relationship Builder

One of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of Jewish law is also one of its most private. These are the laws euphemistically known as Taharat Hamishpacha, the laws of family purity, and they determine when a husband and wife may or may not “be together.”

The laws of family purity center around the woman’s menstrual cycle. When a woman has her period, she enters a state that is most commonly translated as tamei “impure.” It is, however, a poor translation because it appears negative. The impurity of a menstruating woman is connected to her proximity to death, or, in this case, to the fact that the bleeding represents life not created. (For more on pure and impure, please click here).

There are many laws regarding a woman who has the status of being t’may’ah (a female who is tamei), and not having relations during this time is one of them. While many of the issues of purity/impurity today are moot points without a Temple in which to be purified, the prohibition of having relations during menstruation is a separate commandment in and of themselves and so remain in force.

For a married couple, this usually means that the husband and wife refrain from intimacy for at least 12 days of each month, from the start of her cycle until she is assuredly no longer bleeding (depending on situations such as pregnancy, nursing, irregular cycles, etc.). There are numerous practices used to help couples maintain these laws, such as sleeping in separate beds during these days and avoiding affectionate touch that might lead to forbidden relations.

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

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Work on verbal communication skills to build your relationships.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Truth About Mitzvot

It is recorded in the Midrash Rabbah that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was once confronted by a man who challenged him about the purifying ritual of the Red Heifer (click here for details) stating, “These rituals you do, they seem like witchcraft!” In response, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked the man if he had ever participated in, or witnessed, a cure for a “restless spirit” that involved smoked roots and doused fires. When the man affirmed that he had witnessed the success of such a healing, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded: “Your ears should hear what leaves your mouth! The same thing is true for the spirit of impurity...they sprinkle upon him purifying waters and it [the spirit of impurity] flees” (Numbers Rabbah 19:8). 

In a world where “miracles” are debunked regularly on TV and physicists search for “The God Particle,” it is easy to get bogged down in the “why and how” of Jewish life. For instance, some people wish to explain that the laws of keeping kosher were intended for a healthier lifestyle - certain rules such as the prohibition of pork, makes sense when one thinks of trichinosis. But poor food options are just as common in a kosher diet as in any other, and eating undercooked chicken is just as dangerous as undercooked pork. 

The Midrash continues and explains that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s students were surprised by his response. When they asked what he would say to them, he responded: “By your lives, a dead person doesn’t make things impure and the water doesn’t make things pure. Rather, God said, ‘I have engraved a rule, I have decreed a decree, and you have no permission to transgress what I decreed, as it says, “This is a chok (statute without rational reason) of the Torah” All explanations aside, the mitzvot are observed because they are the mitzvot. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For The Mitzvah

Embrace the experience of doing mitzvot for the joy of doing them and for knowing that this is the heart of Jewish life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

She Brought Them Home

There were many heroes involved in the incredible effort to secretly bring thousands of imperiled Jews from Europe after the war to the Land of Israel despite the British blockade. More than 30 ships, transporting close to 30,000 refugees, left from the shores of Italy, and the success of this operation was due, in great part, to the efforts of one remarkable Italian-Jewish woman, Ada Ascarelli Sereni. 

Ada Ascarelli was born on June 20, 1905, into a wealthy and prominent Italian-Jewish family. After studying chemistry at the University of Rome, she married Enzo Sereni, who was completing his PhD in philosophy. Life moved quickly for the Serenis. Between 1927 and 1930 their daughter Hannah was born; they moved to British Mandate Palestine; their second daughter, Hagar, was born in Rehovot; they helped found Kibbutz Givat Brenner; and their son Daniel was born.

Ada Sereni’s story could have followed a similar line as that of other early Zionist pioneers, if events had not turned tragic. Enzo helped organize and participated in a parachute troop and, in 1944, was dropped behind enemy lines in Europe. He then disappeared and was eventually declared missing. Ada became determined to find out what happened to her husband and arranged to travel to Italy under the pretense of caring for the soldiers of the Jewish Brigade. Sadly, it did not take long after arriving in Europe for Ada to learn that Enzo had been captured, sent to Dachau and executed.

Having committed to two years with the Jewish Brigade, Ada stayed on in Italy and also began working with Yehuda Arazi of Aliyah Bet, bringing Jews to Palestine against British law. When Arazi left, Ada took over the monumental tasks of acquiring ships, gathering and preparing refugees, staffing the ships, as well as smuggling weapons.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be A Comfort

When you hear that a Jewish friend, neighbor or coworker has lost a close relative, make time in your schedule to pay a shiva call.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Your Jewish Life Coach

Do you have a life coach? For those unfamiliar with the term, life coaches work to help clients determine and achieve personal goals.

While life coaching as a profession in western society is a recent development, Judaism has always encouraged, in fact expected, people to have a guide in their life - a rabbi. The importance of having a rabbi involved in one's life was expressed by Rabbi Joshua ben Perachia, a leader of the Sanhedrin in the first century of the Common Era, who said: “Make for yourself a rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person favorably" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6).

Rabbi Joshua didn't say that you should “have” a rabbi, but that you should “make for yourself” a rabbi, implying that making a rabbi must be a proactive activity. A rabbi is meant to be more than the person who leads synagogue services and officiates at religious ceremonies. A rabbi is meant to be a “life coach,” a person to whom one can turn to get advice and guidance.

In more traditional circles, individuals ask their rabbis questions of halacha (Jewish law), and also seek their aitza (advice) when major decisions need to be made. In the Chassidic community, the chassidim will go to the rebbe for advice on major and even many minor life choices.

Rabbi Joshua's words bear two important messages: 1) that a person should find him/herself a teacher because no person knows everything. Even a rav (rabbi) needs a rav, and 2) that having a rabbi is not a passive activity. One must “make a rabbi for him/herself,” meaning that he/she must seek a rabbi with whom they are comfortable and then must work to build the relationship.

This Treat was last posted on July 16, 2009.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Questions

When you have a question about Jewish life, write it down to remember to ask a Jewish authority.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Word Magic

If you have ever heard that the magical word “Abracadabra” is Hebrew, then you may enjoy today’s Jewish Treat highlighting the etymological connection of some common English words and their Hebrew origins. Abracadabra, a word used to bring forth magic, is an excellent place to start. It is traced to Hebrew phrase av’rah k’dabrah - I will create as was spoken.

Some words are obvious to those who know the Bible: To “babble” is to speak rapidly and randomly, as did the people at the Tower of Babel when they lost the ability to speak to one another. A cherub, that cute little angel with the dimpled cheeks, comes straight from the Hebrew word k’ruvim, the angelic figures that were on top of the Holy Ark.

There are many words that are not credited with a Hebrew etymological root* and yet the connection is hard to overlook: The word  “over” is phonetically similar to the word ever (ayin-vet-reish), which is also the root of the word ivri (Hebrew), the term used to describe Abraham for having crossed over the river. Another interesting word is “mystery,” which shares an interesting resonance to the Hebrew word hester (samech-tav-reish), the Hebrew word for hidden. Creating a hole in the ground is the act of “boring,” and Joseph’s brothers threw him into a bor (bet-vav-reish), a deep pit. One last example is the Hebrew word ayin, which is not only the name of a Hebrew letter but also the Hebrew term for eye.

*Many words are traced to Old French or Old German, but no further back than that.
Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Internal Dictionary

Pay attention to language and how words from the Jewish lexicon are integrated into everyday language.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Importance of Dad

In honor of Father's Day, Jewish Treats presents this classic Treat on the importance of a father.

Where does a child learn to be a mentsch (a good person)? From his/her parents! Indeed, in the Talmud (Sukkot 56b) it even notes that a child repeats in the streets what he/she hears at home.

According to Dr. David Pelcovitz (author of Balanced Parenting), research studies have found that the active involvement of both parents in a child’s moral education is the strongest predictor of children's moral reasoning and empathy as they grow older.

In the traditional family model, in which mom tends to have the central role in parenting (i.e. spends a lot more time with the kids), it is important to note that these studies have found particular importance in dad’s involvement.

The father is often seen as the enforcer of the rules laid down by the mother. However, far more important than being involved in discipline is dad’s actual involvement in teaching his child(ren) how to live a Jewish life (i.e. being a mentsch), which has an incredibly positive influence on the child’s future. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (22:6), “Educate a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

According to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son), a father’s primary responsibilities are to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, and to teach the child a trade. Some say, to teach him/her to swim too (Kiddushin 29a). At the bare minimum, his fatherly obligations are to make certain that the basic necessities of child-rearing are attended to (by a third party if necessary). But, the best child-rearing includes dad sharing his time, knowledge and wisdom, and truly leaving a lasting and meaningful impression on his children.

This Treat is reposted each year in honor of Father's Day.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Call If You Can

If you haven't already, call your father for a shmooze.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Trap of Wealth

If I were a rich man...The most important men in town will come to fawn on me...When you’re rich they think you really know...

The now classic words from the Broadway show Fiddler on the Roof speak a sad truth -- people often convolute having wealth with having wisdom or deserving of leadership status. In many ways, this was the case of Korach, a cousin of Aaron, Miriam and Moses, who led a rebellion against their leadership.

The Aggadah and Midrash (extra biblical texts containing further narrative, part of the oral tradition) add some critical information about Korach that help explain why the sages state “Which [dispute] was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 5:17).

Korach was used to being in charge and respected. He was not your average Israelite or even an average Levi. The Talmud maintains that Korach was a fabulously wealthy individual and records that “The keys to Korach’s treasury were a load for 300 white mules. They even declared that the verse in Ecclesiastes 5:12, ‘Riches hoarded by their owner, to his misfortune,’ refers to the wealth of Korach” (Talmud Pesachim 119a). Furthermore, according to the Midrash, Korach acquired his wealth as “overseer of Pharaoh’s house, and the keys to [Pharaoh’s] treasuries were in his hands” (Numbers Rabbah 18:15).

One of the many underlying themes in Jewish life is to remember that all of one’s blessings come from God. And yet, the more successful one is, the more easily one believes that success is solely a product of one’s own efforts, which is an attitude that leads a person to seek out honor. The Midrash states about Korach: “Two men of wealth arose in the world - Korach of Israel and Haman of the nations of the world, both of whom perished from the world. Why? Because their gifts were not from the Holy One Blessed is He, rather, He allowed them to grab them for themselves” (Numbers Rabbah 12:7).

A wealthy person may be wise, or a wealthy person may be a lucky fool blessed with good fortune. It is prudent to always judge leaders not by their apparent success, but by their words, actions and wisdom.

Keeping Humble

Be grateful for your successes.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

This Surgery Is Elective

In the late twentieth century there was, according to anecdotal evidence, an epidemic of “deviated septum” among American Jewish girls. The implication, along with many not-so-funny jokes, was that many young Jewish women were finding medical reasons to have rhinoplasty.   Today, in the 21st century, cosmetic surgery and rhinoplasty are basic and easily available options and have moved from being a tabloid title of derision to being an advertised standard option for anyone.

Pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is always a primary priority in halacha (Jewish law) discussions. But, plastic surgery, particularly elective procedures done purely for aesthetic purposes, does not fall into the life-saving category, and one might wonder if these procedures are therefore allowed according to Jewish law. This question has been discussed by many important halachic experts since the 1960s, when the practice first became popular.

One common argument raised in the discussion of cosmetic surgery is the religious prohibition of chavala, injuring one’s body. However, it is commonly accepted, as explained by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam), that this prohibition refers specifically to hostile actions.

Another primary point made is the question of safety. It is not permissible to put one’s life in danger unnecessarily, and many cosmetic procedures require general anesthesia. Advances in technology and medicine, however, have made those risks negligible in most cases. Pikuach nephesh raises the issue of health and healing, the validity of which many may question when discussing cosmetic surgery. However, in may cases, the benefits of the surgery is to heal a person’s internal needs by helping to create a positive sense of self, which can be just as important as a healthy body.

Like most choices filtered through a Jewish lens, every case involves an individual halachic decision and one should always discuss such issues with a rabbi.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

I Like Your....

 Be generous in giving compliments to those around you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Other Hand Washing

It’s been a lovely meal, from the fresh-baked French bread to the sinful chocolate mousse -- every bite. All that is left to do is to recite Grace After Meals (Birkat Hamazon) thanking God for the food. But would you be surprised to learn that there is an additional religious rite to perform before the concluding Grace?

Just as the hands are washed before a meal (in which one eats bread), before the conclusion of the meal there is a special hand washing ritual known as mayim acharonim (literally: “final waters”).

Mayim acharonim is usually done at the table with a small cup of water and a small bowl into which to spill the used water. There is no blessing, and the “dirty” water should either be covered or removed from the table before Birkat Hamazon. Customs for mayim acharonim vary. Some only do it when there are three or more people present, some only when there are 10 or more, and others every time one eats bread. Likewise, how much of the hand or fingers are washed varies according to custom.

Some sages have disputed the necessity of maintaining this practice because it stems from the need to wash off “Sodomite salt.” This pungent salt was sometimes mixed into table salt in Talmudic times and could potentially cause blindness if rubbed in the eye. Since this salt is no longer in use, the mayim acharonim might appear to be unnecessary.

Washing one’s hands as part of Jewish ritual, however, is not about cleanliness of the body (although that is an added bonus), but cleanliness of the soul. As one is about to thank the Creator for all that has been provided, washing one’s hands reminds a person to separate from the physical and to focus on the spiritual.

This Treat was last posted on January 30, 2009.

The Custom of the Law

When confronted with different customs on fulfilling Jewish law, check with your family or local community rabbi to know which custom to follow.