Friday, August 18, 2017

At the Rebbe’s Table

In a chassidic community, the Rebbe is far more than the decider of Jewish law and the head of the synagogue. A Chassidic Rebbe is the center of life for his community, a guide for their spiritual growth and religious practice. For many chassidim, there are few things more important than being in the presence of their Rebbe, for just being in his presence offers the chassid an opportunity to learn how to better serve God.

One unique custom allows large numbers of chassidim to join in the Shabbat and/or festival meals of their Rebbe. The tisch (which literally means table) varies from sect to sect, but does have some basic similarities. The Rebbe sits at a large head table. When the tisch meal starts, the Rebbe makes the requisite blessings (such as kiddush over wine and ha’mo’tzee over bread if it is a Friday night, or just ha’mo’tzee over bread if it is a third meal, Melave Malka, yahrtzeit or other type of special meal), allowing the chassidim to respond with an “Amen.” In many chassidic communities, all of the very large portions of food  from which the Rebbe takes a bite is divided into small pieces that are distributed to all those present. The food shared from the Rebbe is known as shirayim (leftovers). Some chassidic tisches are small, while others are so large that bleachers are arranged for the gathered chassidim.

More than just food, the Rebbe shares words of Torah and, perhaps, inspiring stories with his Chassidim. Additionally, the chassidic tisch is known for singing. Either the Rebbe himself or someone(s) designated by the Rebbe leads those gathered in zmirot (Shabbat songs) and/or niggunim (wordless songs articulated with repeated syllables such as “aye aye aye.”) In some communities there is dancing as well.

Something Different

While celebrating Shabbat, explore customs from other Jewish communities.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Thing to Say

It is a terrible thing to learn that someone you care about has died. Death, however, is a natural part of the cycle of life, and a person’s passing is as much a part of the Divine plan for the world as a good or bad harvest, winning the lottery or meeting a neighbor at the store just as you realize you forgot your wallet. This is one reason that the Torah prohibits extreme demonstrations of grief not once, but three times: Leviticus 19:28 prohibits cutting one’s flesh. Leviticus 21:5 instructs the priests not to make a baldness on their head, shave the corner of their beards, or cut their flesh. Deuteronomy 14:1 reiterates the prohibition of cutting one’s self and adds a prohibition of making a baldness between one’s eyes.

So what is the proper way to receive the tragic news of the loss of a loved one? The sages wrote “For good tidings one says the blessing for God, ‘Who is good and bestows good’ (Hatov v’hamativ). For evil tidings one says, “Blessed be the True Judge’ (Baruch Dayan Emet)” (Talmud Brachot 60b). These words help moderate one’s reaction and provide a gentle reminder that death is part of life, and is all part of a larger plan.

The sages noted the use of Baruch Dayan Emet (B.D.E. in the language of social media) for evil tidings, and it is most often used upon hearing about the loss of a life, even when one does not know the deceased personally. However, it is a phrase that can apply to a number of situations, since it serves as a reminder that the world, in all its good and in all its sadness, is in the most capable of hands--God’s.

Comfort and Condolences

Share the joys of your life with other people.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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 n 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 it's independence.

Supplies

If you know a family in need, anonymously drop off a gift card for school supplies to help them at this time of year. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cochin Jews of India

The Malabar Jews of Cochin*, India, claim to have existed as a community since the times of King Solomon’s trade missions for ivory and silver. It is most likely, however, that their ancient community “only” dates back to the destruction of the Second Temple. The most important artifact recording the Jewish presence in the area is the  “S√Ęsanam,” a set of copper plates on which it is recorded that Joseph Rabban was granted a small principality. 

Rabban’s descendants maintained their chieftainship of the Malabar Jews until the sixteenth century (until an argument between two heirs ended it). But, in truth, their rule would certainly have been threatened by the newest power in India: the Portuguese, who were no great friends of the Jews. At the same time, a new population of Jews appeared in the Cochin region--a community of Sephardi Jews fleeing the Iberian Peninsula. These Jews, who became known both as the Paradesi Jews and the White Jews, held themselves aloof from Malabar Jews (who became known as the Black Jews due to their more native skin tone).


Unfortunately, for most of the history of the Cochin Jews, the White Jews and the Black Jews refused to form a united community. Although it appears that the two communities observed many of the same customs, they had separate synagogues.  Additionally, there was a sub-community among the White Jews of remunerated slaves known as meshuchrarim, who were treated as second class citizens. Mirroring the surrounding Indian world, these Jews formed a caste system, with the meshuchrarim on the bottom. 

Physical remains of the Cochin Jewish community, such as the Paradesi Synagogue, can still be visited by tourists in the area still known as "Jew Town," but the community itself has dwindled to a mere handful of elders. While some left the community by integrating into the general Indian society, many chose to move to the State of Israel. 

Today, August 15, is India Independence Day. This Treat was last posted in 2012.

*The city's name was changed to Kochi in 1996.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Explore

Find opportunities to explore the customs of other Jewish communities.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Hungarian Schism

The history of the Jews of Hungary reads much the same as that of the Jews in other areas of Europe. They were ever at the mercy of the nobility, with their favor waxing and waning drastically from one era to another. By the late 19th century, however, Hungary, like many other European countries, had emancipated the Jews, giving them the same rights as their non-Jewish countrymen.

Unfortunately, the Jewish community was now divided between the "Orthodox" and the “Neologs,” who were proponents of more modern Jewish practices. (It should be noted that the Neolog movement was not the same as the German Reform Movement in that the modifications it sought were more aesthetic, such as the placement of the bima and allowing for indoor wedding ceremonies.)

Prior to the late 1860s, when Hungary became a semi-autonomous part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian Jewish communities had been loosely associated. In 1868, however, the government called for a Hungarian Jewish Congress to determine a communal leadership for the Jewish community. The Neologs then formed the National Jewish Bureau, which had the support of the government to guide communal affairs, but not the full backing of the Hungarian Jews. Shortly after its creation, the Orthodox community (based in less urban areas and including a large chassidic population) was given permission to open its own communal board - Orthodox Executive Committee. The Orthodox rabbis were ordained at the Yeshiva of Pressburg, while the Neolog rabbis studied at the Budapest University of Jewish Studies. The traditionalists who chose neither organization used the label “Status Quo.” This division, in which there were two governing Jewish boards, was a fairly unique situation. It continued well into the twentieth century when each of the communal boards received seats in the Hungarian legislature.

Work Ahead

Get involved in Jewish community organizations to strengthen the Jewish community for the future.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Pleasant Song Composed

The liturgy of the synagogue has developed over the span of Jewish history. Some parts of the service  – such as the Shema, which is a recitation of Biblical text - originate from Judaism’s most ancient sources. Others are from the age of the early sages - such as the Amidah, which was formulated by the Men of the Great Assembly. Many other liturgical pieces, however, were added more “recently” - such as Shir Hakavod, The Song of Honor, which was written in the late 13th century.

More commonly referred to by its opening words, An’im Zemirot (I Will Compose Pleasant Songs), Shir Hakavod is generally attributed to Rabbi Judah Hachasid. The acrostic poem’s purpose, as expressed in its opening lines, is to “speak about You [God] and Your glories. I will honor Your Name with songs of love. I will tell of Your glory, though I cannot see You. I will describe You metaphorically though I cannot truly know You.”

The poem was added to the liturgy, and many rabbis felt that the words were so inspiring and, indeed, holy, that its actual recitation should be limited so that they do not become mundane. Thus it is that while An’im Zemirot is recorded in some prayerbooks as part of the daily prayer service, it is generally recited on Shabbat and holidays, often before the Torah reading service or at the end of Mussaf (the additional service). Some opinions state that it should only be recited on the High Holidays. Because it is considered particularly inspired, it is customary for the ark housing the Torah scrolls to be opened while it is recited. It is interesting to note, one additional custom: many synagogues choose a youth or call on interested youths to lead the call-and-respond recitation as a way of involving and encouraging the participation of the younger synagogue attendees.


Words Alive

Use your own words to praise God.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Midwestern Sour Cream

There are a host of Jewish foods that are associated with the American Jewish experience. Most of these, such as blintzes with sour cream, sour cream and bananas, and (of course) bagels-cream cheese-lox, are generally associated with the Jews of the Northeast, particularly New York. It might, therefore, come as a surprise to learn that during the early 20th century one of the largest kosher dairy producers in the country was located in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Missouri.

St. Louis is home to one of the Midwest’s biggest Jewish communities, and its earliest communal organizations date back to the 1830s. There were already three existing synagogues in 1882, when Sholom Isaac and Rivka Raskas arrived there from Kovno, Lithuania, and opened a small business delivering milk door to door. This business developed into Raskas Dairy, which opened in 1888. St. Louis, however, did not have a means of providing their boys with a traditional Jewish education, so the Raskases sent their two eldest sons, Julius and Louis, back to Europe, where they studied at the yeshivas of Slabodka and then Radin. Shortly before World War I, Louis returned to join the growing business. (His wife, Ruth, and their two sons were stuck in Europe until 1920.)

After the war, the Raskas’ business began to grow beyond their St. Louis market. They became popular across the nation, particularly for their patented Smetina cream dressing. Observant Jews were particularly good customers because of the family’s reputation for maintaining strict oversight of the kashrut of their products.

With the success of the dairy, the Raskases were able to support the growth of the St. Louis community, particularly the Jewish educational institutions that permitted families to give their children a traditional Jewish education. Louis Raskas passed away in April 1974. Raskas Dairy was purchased by Schreiber Foods in 2002.

Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821.

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Educate

Provide a Jewish education to the children in your life.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Fearing God

“The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge...” (Proverbs 1:7)

The idea of “fearing God” carries with it overtones of fire and brimstone, a puritanical flavor that seems foreign to our 21st century mentality. With humanity (especially Western society) feeling secure in its understanding of the universe, most people no longer fear the so-called “wrath of God.”

The Jewish concept of “Yirat Hashem, Fear of God, is not meant to serve as a threat to force people to obey the Torah. If that were the case, it would not be stated in Isaiah " the fear of God, which is His treasure" (Isaiah 33:6). Serving God out of fear of punishment or fear of losing one’s reward is actually a rather primitive form of devotion (although valid). This fundamental type of fear of God, cannot explain why in Judaism fear of God is often viewed as a path to knowledge.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:11), “Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said, "Anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. And anyone whose wisdom precedes his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure." This sage advice implies that seeking knowledge should be the direct result of Yirat Hashem. Knowing, seeing and recognizing God’s infinite power should drive a person to want to better understand God. Each new discovery (each new revelation of the Creator’s magnificence) should encourage each person to desire to know more, while, at the same time, recognizing just how all encompassing God is.

It could be said that this was what Moses meant when he told the Israelites that all God wants of them is “merely to fear God you Lord in order to walk in His paths and serve God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

Learning to sincerely fear God is not easy, but it is attainable. As the sages say: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven” (Brachot 33b).

This Treat was last posted on August 31, 2010.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The World Around

Look at the world for opportunities to both love and fear God.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rabbi Judah The Pious

Unlike so many stories one hears about famous scholars (which usually reflect on their childhood brilliance), the tales regarding Rabbi Judah Hachasid (the Pious) describe him as a free-spirited youth who excelled at marksmanship with a bow and arrow. He was, however, the scion of a long line of renowned scholars of the Kalonymus family, and his adulthood proved that he absorbed much from the people surrounding him in his childhood.

Born (1150) in Speyer, Germany, Judah ben Samuel left his hometown in the wake of the havoc of the Crusades and made his new home in Regensburg, Germany. He established a yeshiva that attracted many students who would go on to make a name of their own, such as Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz and Eleazer Rokeach of Worms. In addition to his rabbinic studies, Rabbi Judah is reputed to have had an intellectual  relationship with the Duke of Regensburg and the city’s Bishop.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid is best known for his Sefer Hachasidim (Book of the Pious Ones), which is still studied today. It emphasizes piety, prayer and proper interpersonal relationships. It also discusses, at great length, the significance of one’s behavior with the general non-Jewish population, a necessary distinction in the Middle Ages. Sefer Hachasidim is also considered a fascinating historical document in that it presents a view of the ways and customs of the time and place in which it was written.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid was a leader of a movement called the Ashkenazi Chasidim (German Pietists, different from the modern chassidic movement that developed in Eastern Europe several centuries later). While their studies often focused on the esoteric and mystical , their moral philosophy had an important impact on Jewish culture in Germany.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid passed away on 9 Adar in 1217.


Upstanding

Always mind your manners.

Monday, August 7, 2017

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.


Today is Tu B’Av.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Tu B'Av and the Offering of Wood



Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of Av, was celebrated in ancient times by unmarried maidens who went out on this day to dance in the vineyards hoping to be chosen by an unmarried youth to be his bride. However, this day was marked for celebration for several other reasons.

The fifteenth day of Av marked the final day of the calendar year on which wood could be cut for the Temple sacrifices. After the fifteenth, the sun's power, which has already begun to diminish, was no longer considered strong enough to dry out the wood sufficiently (Jerusalem Talmud,Taanit 4:7).

During the rebuilding of the Temple, a wood offering ceremony was introduced. When Ezra and Nechemiah brought the people to Jerusalem, they found that more than just the Temple had been destroyed...the land itself had been laid waste. In the process of destruction, almost all of the trees had been uprooted, creating a great shortage of wood. Anyone who was able to donate wood did so, and the “wood offering” became a tradition and a great honor.


This wood offering is associated with a story of the unique heroism of the Jewish people in their desire to serve God at the Temple. Once, during the times of the Second Temple, the people were prohibited from bringing wood to the Temple by the occupying power of the time. Rather than despair, the Israelites made ladders from the wood and, when asked at the roadblocks where they were going and for what purpose they needed ladders, the Israelites replied that they were taking the ladders to retrieve fledglings from their dovecotes (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 28a). After passing the roadblocks, the ladders were disassembled and brought to the Temple.

This Treat was published on August 11, 2014.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Just Joy

Share the joys of your life with other people.

Friday, August 4, 2017

One from David, One from Joseph

The belief in an ultimate redeemer, referred to as Moshiach (Messiah), is a central tenet of Jewish faith. But, almost all of the details about the coming of Moshiach and the Messianic age that will follow are shrouded in mystery. Except for some basic concepts, the study of Moshiach related topics is the realm of advanced scholars and kabbalists (mystics).

One interesting aspect of the discussion of Moshiach is that, according to many opinions, there will actually be two successive redeemers. The primary Moshiach is known as Moshiach ben David, a direct descendant of the greatest king of Israel. His predecessor, however, will be someone referred to as Moshiach ben Joseph.

The Talmud mentioned the idea of Moshiach ben Joseph when discussing the seemingly obscure verse concerning the vision of the Prophet Zechariah: “Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen” (Zechariah 2:3).  The sages ask, “Who are these ‘four craftsmen’? Rabbi Hana ben Bizna, citing Rabbi Simeon Chisda, replied: “The Moshiach ben David, Moshiach ben Joseph, Elijah [the Prophet] and the Righteous Priest” (Talmud Sukkah 52b).

The idea that there is a redeemer who descends from both of Jacob’s wives, Rachel and Leah, is interesting in that it mirrors the royal history of the Jewish people. The first king of Israel, Saul, was from the Tribe of Benjamin (Rachel’s son). The second king of Israel, David, from whom the royal line then descended, was from the Tribe of Judah (Leah’s son).

There are no definitive answers recorded for the exact role of Moshiach ben Joseph. Some scholars have determined that he will be a general in a terrible war, and some say that his tragic death will bring about the revelation of Moshiach ben David. For now, it is enough for the Jewish people to simply believe in the coming of Moshiach.


Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the 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 July 19, 2013.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Ahhh Shabbat

Remember that Shabbat is a time for peace and rejuvenation.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Best-Seller

For a high school drop-out who failed English three times, Leon Uris had an outstanding career as a best-selling author. The Baltimore born (August 3, 1924) son of a Jewish paperhanger from Poland who had come to America after a year in Palestine, Uris wrote epic novels of historical fiction that were well-researched and plot driven - making up for what critics notice as a tendency toward stock characters and blunt dialogue.

Uris joined the Marines at 17, in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His service as a radioman in the South Pacific was the foundation of his first novel, Battle Cry, which he published in 1953, several years after being discharged from service and working in the distribution department of a newspaper. Battle Cry was on the best-sellers list for a year and was snatched up by Hollywood, where Uris went to write the screenplay.

Exodus (1958), Uris’ most famous novel, followed months of research. It is the story of the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel focused around the dramatic story of the refugee ship Exodus. Both the book and the movie were incredibly successful.

While Uris wrote on a variety of subjects (WWII in Greece, conflict in Ireland, etc.), the Holocaust and the State of Israel were very significant themes in his canon. His 1961 best-seller, Mila 18, chronicled the harrowing uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. He returned to a Holocaust related topic in 1970 with QB VII, a courtroom drama about a libel case unveiling the horrible acts of a hidden former Nazi. The Haj (1984) presented Uris’ view of the Palestinian perspective of the events surrounding 1948, and Mitla Pass (1988) explored the 1956 Sinai campaign.

Uris was a celebrity writer who continued to produce popular novels throughout his life. His last book, O’Hara’s Choice (concerning issues facing the U.S. Marine Corps after the Civil War), was published in 2003, a few short months before he passed away at the age of 78.

Reading Light

If you don't like non-fiction, read Jewish fiction to learn about Jewish history.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Facing Adulthood as a Nation

Most governments recognize age 18 as the age of legal adulthood at which a person assumes full responsibility for his/her life. They no longer need a parent or guardian’s permission for anything. They can vote and are held fully accountable for any debts they may accrue or crimes they may commit. But, in truth, the process of becoming an adult is much more than reaching a particular age, it is a process of maturation. From a childhood of being taken care of through an adolescence of questioning and, sometimes, rebellion, a person not only develops an identity, but also the ability to understand and follow the rules of society.

Some Bible commentators view the history of the Jewish nation metaphorically as the process of maturation. The Children of Israel were delivered through the miracles of the Exodus. In the Wilderness, all of their basic needs - food, clothing and shelter - were met. But, like many adolescents, they also struggled through periods of questioning and rebellion. Continuing the metaphor, entering the Land of Israel was the beginning of adulthood. They would no longer be sustained through miracles, such as the manna (heaven-sent food), and they would have to live by the rules that were set down for them in the Torah.

In Deuteronomy, Moses, speaking to the Jewish people, declared:
You shall not test the Lord your God... You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies, and His statutes, which He has commanded you. And you shall do that which is right and good in the sight of the Lord; that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to your fathers (Deuteronomy 6:16-18).

The first verse of this statement,“You shall not test the Lord,” is like a declaration from Moses that the time has come to accept adulthood. No more rebellion. There is a proper way of addressing God, and there is a right path and a wrong path, and it is now time for the Children of Israel to grow up and become the Nation of Israel.

A Daily Review

Take a few minutes each day to look at the blessings in your life. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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 1,947 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 spiritual 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 is reposted annually.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

For the Fast

NJOP and Jewish Treats hope you all have a meaningful and easy fast.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tisha B'Av is Tomorrow

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is tomorrow.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 city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.
5. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar (see below).

Click here for later events on this date 

*This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Meal Before

While there are several fast days on the Jewish calendar, only two are referred to as "major fasts": Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur. They are thus labelled because (1) there is little leeway for not fasting and (2) the fast begins at sunset and ends after the next nightfall. 

These fasts last for 25 hours, and they are both preceded by a special meal known as the Seudah Hamafseket, the final meal which fulfills the Talmudic statement that “One must eat and drink while it is yet day” (Talmud Pesachim 54b). This meal is generally eaten following the afternoon prayer service. Just as Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur are fast days for very different reasons (mourning verses atonement), their respective preceding meals have very different tones as well. 

The Tisha B’Av Seudah Hamafseket, on the other hand, is a meal of mourning. It is customary that only one type of cooked food is served, often boiled egg or lentils (both foods are served to those in mourning because their shape is a reminder of the cycle of life.)  It is also customary to dip one’s bread or egg into ashes. Additionally, there is a tradition of eating this meal while sitting on the floor or on a low stool, similar to the practice of those who sit Shiva.

The Yom Kippur Seudah Hamafseket, on the other hand, is a more festive meal . While it is customary to eat heartily before the fast, it is often recommended that one partake of lighter foods at the Seudah Hamafseket. For ease in fasting, it is also customary to avoid fish and salty foods. 



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Reflection

Use Tisha B'Av as an opportunity for reflection of what being Jewish in today's world means.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Book of Lamentations

On Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, one of the ways that the Jewish people demonstrate their mourning over the loss of both Holy Temples is by refraining from Torah study that brings pleasure to those who study it. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to read only more somber texts, specifically: 1) Talmudic sections dealing with the destruction of the Temples, and the laws of mourning and excommunication (such as those found in the Talmud Moed Katan), 2) the Book of Job, 3) the admonitions and rebukes of the Book of Jeremiah, and 4) the Book of Lamentations. 

Eicha, as Lamentations is called in Hebrew, is actually read publicly during the evening service on the night of Tisha B'Av. The five chapters of Eicha are chanted aloud in a mournful and dolorous tone...so that even those who do not understand the exact words of the text sense devastation and despair expressed by the prophet. 

Attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah (although his name is not found in the book to confirm his authorship), Eicha contains five poetic laments focusing on the destruction of the First Holy Temple. However, upon reading Eicha one will also discover hints to the destruction of the Second Temple. The chapters (except for the last) are written using Hebrew alphabet acrostics (each verse starting with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence). 

Tisha B'Av, the fast of the ninth of Av, begins at sundown tomorrow night. Click here, for more details on Tisha B'Av

This Treat was originally published on August 5, 2014.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Tragic Story of Bar Kamtza

According to Jewish tradition, God allowed the Second Temple to be destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, senseless hatred between the people of Israel who were unable to get along with one another. As proof of the destructive force of Sinat Chinam, the Talmud records the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and connects it to a path that led to the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, a wealthy man was making a large party. The man instructed his servant to bring an invitation to his friend Kamtza. By mistake, however, the servant brought the invitation to a man named Bar Kamtza, who happened to be on bad terms with the host. Bar Kamtza arrived at the party, and the host immediately instructed him to leave. Bar Kamtza, not wanting to be embarrassed, offered to reimburse the host for whatever he consumed. The host continued to refuse, even as Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half, and then all, of the party. Then, in front of all the guests, including many respected sages who made no move to interfere, the host physically removed Bar Kamtza from the party. 

Angry and humiliated, Bar Kamtza took his revenge by telling the Roman Emperor that the Jewish people were rebelling and that they would reject any offering that the Emperor would send to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Emperor sent a fine calf, Bar Kamtza waylaid it and made a tiny, almost unnoticeable blemish, that would make it an unacceptable as a sacrifice.   

The sages debated what to do and seemed inclined to offer the calf on the altar of the Temple and avoid antagonizing the already tense relationship with Rome. Rabbi Zecharia ben Abkulas, however, worried that people would come to believe that it was permitted to offer a blemished animal. The calf was not sacrificed. Rabbi Yochanan thus remarked: "Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zecharia ben Abkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Talmud Gittin 56a).

This Treat was last posted on July 24, 2015.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Water and More Water

Drink water today in preparation for the fast that starts tomorrow night.

Friday, July 28, 2017

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 August 1, 2014.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Food Enjoyment

Choose a food you consider special to include in your Shabbat meal.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Oh Obadiah

Only a single chapter in length, the Book of Obadiah is the shortest book of the Bible. It is, additionally, unique in that it addresses the nation of Edom (descendants of Esau) rather than the nation of Israel. Short as Obadiah’s recorded prophecy may be, the prophet himself had quite an interesting story.

According to the Talmud Sanhedrin 39b, Obadiah served as the governor of the royal house of King Ahab (I Kings 13:3), who was one of the most wicked and ruthless  rulers of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Obadiah might easily have fallen for the blandishments of idolatry and immorality. However, it is recorded that “Obadiah feared the Lord greatly” (18:4). In fact, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Abba even noted that “greater [praise] was expressed of Obadiah than of Abraham, since of Abraham the word ‘greatly; is not used, while of Obadiah it is” (Sanhedrin 39b).

What singled Obadiah out for particular praise was an act mentioned twice in I Kings 18. “Was it not told, my lord, what I did when [Queen] Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid 100 men of the Lord’s prophets by 50 (separated into two groups) in a cave and fed them with bread and water?” (18:13).

One of the most interesting facts about Obadiah’s life is that, according to Rabbi Meir as cited by his disciple Ephraim Maksh’ah, “Obadah was an Edomite convert” (Sanhedrin 39b), which was one reason that he was chosen to relay prophecy to the Edomites.

Strength Within

Maintain your moral standards regardless of negative influences around you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wise and Understanding

For the “person-in-charge,” one of the most difficult, yet important, jobs is delegating responsibility. Choosing the men and women with whom one will work most closely requires knowing what the specific roles will be and exactly what qualities each of those roles require.

In the wilderness, Moses started out assuming all the burden of leadership on himself. However, shortly into their sojourn in the wilderness, he accepted advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, and assigned a hierarchy of judges. The judges were brought from each tribe and were, according to Moses’ instruction, “wise men, and understanding, and well-known to your tribe, and I will make them heads over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13).

So what is the distinction between being “wise” and being “understanding,” and why does the Torah give significance to both? Rashi, the great Medieval commentator explains:

This is what Arius asked Rabbi Yose: “What is the difference between wise men and understanding men?” [Rabbi Yose said] "A wise man is like a rich money changer: When people bring him dinars to examine, he examines them. When they do not bring [money] to him, he sits doing nothing. An understanding man, however, is like a merchant money changer: When they bring him money to examine, he examines it, and when they do not bring it to him, he goes out and brings his own [meaning, he looks for customers. ]

Someone who is wise has a great deal of knowledge and perception. But, like the proverbial “wise man on the mountain,” enjoys that knowledge for himself, only sharing it with those who ask. Someone who has understanding, however, actively involves himself with the people around him, shares with them and learns from them. Moses instructed the people to find men who were both wise and understanding because he recognized that ideal leaders need to have a combination of both of these qualities.

Model

Use multiple character traits to assess the people you choose as role models.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Eye of the Needle

July 25th has an interesting and obscure designation on internet lists...it is listed as “Thread the Needle Day.” Most people who do not sew would agree that threading the needle is one of the most difficult aspects of the sewing process because of the diminutive size of the eye of the needle. On this day, in honor of all of those frustrated by sewing, Jewish Treats examines the metaphoric “eye of the needle” in Jewish texts.

The first usage of the expression, in Talmud Brachot 55b, speaks of the idea of an elephant going through the eye of a needle as a metaphor for the impossible. This passage in the Talmud, which discusses dreams, quotes Rabbi Jonathan as saying “A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts.” Raba supports this statement by saying: “This is proved by the fact that a man is never shown in a dream a date palm of gold, or an elephant going through the eye of a needle,” implying that this is because they are random and irrational thoughts.

However, in the Midrash in Song of Songs Rabbah it is noted that at the Splitting of the Sea, God told the Children of Israel: “Open up for me an opening like the eye of a needle and in turn I will enlarge it to be an opening through which wagons can enter” (Song of Songs Rabbah 5:2). This is understood as a call for the Jewish people to reach out to God, and that if one turns to God (making a small opening in his/her heart), then God can do anything for them.

These two separate thoughts actually merge to create a beautiful message of faith. One would not naturally dream of an elephant fitting through the eye of the needle, but even the impossible can be accomplished through trust in God.

Just Ask

Don't hesitate to ask God for help in difficult situations.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cooking to America

Lizzie Black Kander, who passed away on July 24, 1940, has been a household name for generations via the simple cookbook she created. The Settlement Cook Book (full title: The Way to a Man’s Heart...The Settlement Cook Book) was first published in 1901. The initial 1,000 copy run quickly sold out. It has now been through 34 editions, with 2 million copies sold.

Leafing through the recipes included in the first Settlement Cook Book, one might puzzle over its Jewish connection, as many of the recipes feature non-kosher ingredients. However, the history of the book and its author are demonstrative of a very distinct era in American Jewish history.

In the mid-19th century, a great wave of German Jews arrived in America, settled down, prospered and, in many ways, assimilated. When, at the end of the 19th century, great masses of Russian and Eastern European Jews came to America, the cultural and social-economic gap between the groups was enormous.

Kander, like many upper-middle class women of her time, was dedicated to progressive reform. As a member of the Milwaukee Jewish Sewing Society (later, Milwaukee Jewish Mission) she became aware of the dire poverty of these new Jewish immigrants. She then got involved in Settlement House, a multi-purpose reform organization for Jews, where she taught cooking classes and incorporated lessons on nutrition and hygiene. When Settlement House struggled for funding, Kander proposed her cookbook, which the board rejected. She printed it anyway, and the revenue generated supported Settlement House for years (and eventually helped build the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center as well).

At the heart of the cooking lessons and the cookbook filled with household tips was a desire to help those new immigrants become Americanized, which accounts for the non-kosher recipes. Yet it is interesting to note that a fair number of Jewish holiday foods, not included in the original, were added to later editions.

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Bibliography

Food Smarts

If you see a non-kosher recipe that looks appetizing, see if you can substitute kosher ingredients.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hang Your Hammock

You may not believe this, but tomorrow, July 22, is National Hammock Day. It appears to be the ultimate celebration of the lazy days of summer. One might think that Hammock Day occuring on a Saturday is the ultimate fortuitous combination, what better way to enjoy the “day of rest” than by relaxing under the shade of the trees while gently swaying in a hammock. Today’s  Jewish Treat, however, will take this as an opportunity to discuss some interesting issues concerning trees and hammocks on Shabbat.

One of the 39 m’la’chot (prohibited acts of creative labor) is kotzair, reaping (cutting for harvest). From a modern day perspective, this m’lacha includes plucking flowers and picking fruit, as well as inadvertently tearing off leaves and flowers as one passes. In order to protect people from accidentally violating this m’lacha, the great sages expanded this prohibition to include using a tree for any purpose on Shabbat, lest one come to snap off a branch or a flower. (“One may not climb a tree, it is a preventive measure lest he pluck [fruit] - Talmud Beitzah 36b.)

This prohibition makes it so that certain enjoyable outdoor activities require a bit of creativity, most notably, the question of a hammock or a child’s swing. To be “kosher” for Shabbat use, the hammock may not be directly attached to a tree, whether by nail or by rope. If, however, the hammock or swing is attached to a peg that is attached to the tree, this one degree of separation will make the swing or hammock acceptable for use on Shabbat, since placing one’s weight in the hammock has only an indirect effect on the tree.

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

Outside Rest

If the weather is pleasant where you live, spend part of Shabbat day outside enjoying the miracles of God's natural world.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Grandmaster R

When Szmul Rzeszewski (1911-1992) was five years old, his father showed him how to play chess. Three years later, the boy was a recognized child prodigy who gained acclaim giving simultaneous chess exhibitions against multiple opponents. That same year, his family moved from Poland to America.

Young Sammy began touring the county playing exhibition games in places such as West Point Military Academy, Hollywood (playing against Charlie Chaplain) and even Washington, D.C. In November 1922, however, the grand tour came to an end when a late-night exhibition drew the attention of child welfare authorities, who were not at all pleased that Reshevsky (as he later Americanized his name) was not attending school. Julius Rosenwald, co-owner of Sears, agreed to be his benefactor if Reshevsky agreed to complete his education. Reshevsky went on to graduate from the University of Chicago School of Business with a degree in accounting, the profession by which he would later support himself and his family while still competing in chess.

When Reshevsky returned to competitive chess, he immediately began placing in the top tier of international chess players. In 1936, he won the U.S. Chess Championship, which he also did in ‘38, ‘40, ‘41, ‘42, ‘46 and ‘69 (and tied in ‘72!). In 1948, Reshevsky was one of five hand-picked competitors to replace the late World Champion, Alexander Alekhine. Although he did not win, it was a special distinction to even compete for the title. Reshevsky never succeeded in attaining an international title, but was continually recognized as one of the world’s most talented players.

In the history of chess there have been many outstanding Jewish players (including his later great rival, Bobby Fischer). Reshevsky, however, was unique. Devout in his observance, Reshevsky never once competed on Shabbat.

Samuel Reshevsky, who was also known for his chess writing (column and books) competed far later than many other chess grandmasters. His last competition was in 1988, four years before he passed away at age 80.

Today, July 20th, is International Chess Day.

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Bibliography

Participate for Good

If you are athletic, use your abilities to help raise money for important causes (marathons, bikeathons, etc).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Defining Accidental

The taking of a human life is always a tragedy, and there is never a way to actually make it alright for the loved ones of the victims. In situations of unnatural death, there are several layers of culpability. In contemporary terms, there is murder, which is the deliberate taking of another’s life, criminally negligent manslaughter, which is an act that was not intentional but for which someone is responsible, and unforeseen death, which is an unintended act that could not have been prevented.

The Torah has a unique system for dealing with manslaughter. The person who caused the accidental death immediately flees to one of six special cities known as arei miklat, cities of refuge (click here to read more), or to one of the other 42 cities of the Levites.

To clarify who is required to be exiled to the ir miklat, the Talmud states:

The following go into banishment: He who slays in error. If, while he was pushing a roller [on the roof], it fell down and killed somebody, or while he was lowering a cask, it fell down and killed somebody...He goes into banishment. But if, while he was pulling up the roller, it fell back on someone, killing him, or while he was raising a bucket the rope snapped and the bucket killed somebody in its fall...He doesn’t go into banishment...This is the general principle: whenever the death was caused in the course of a downward movement, he goes into banishment, but if it is caused not in the course of a downward movement, he does not go into banishment (Talmud Makkot 7a-b).

The general idea is that there are different levels of culpability involved in an accident. The subtle nuance of a person’s movements at the time of the incident can determine whether the person should take refuge in an ir miklat or not. Needless to say, each case needs to be considered individually. It is, however, fascinating to note the subtle parameters set in this passage of the Talmud, which continues on through a series of very complex situations and discussions, as the sages sought to ensure justice for all.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No Trouble with Tools

When using large tools, always make sure the safety features are set and make certain to put the tools safely away when finished.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What You Say to the King

Is it okay to malign the leader(s) of the country? In the United States, the concept of freedom of speech allows for a great range of political commentary and criticism. Whether this is good or bad for American society is a question best left to private opinion, but the narrative in today’s Treat demonstrates that even the greatest leaders of Israel faced challenging criticism.

There is an interesting correlation to this issue in the Tanach. In the Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 16, the Torah describes a disturbing incident in which a man named Shimei ben Gera angrily maligned King David. Shimei was from the House of Saul, the king whom David succeeded. King David was traveling through the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin and “as he (David) came, he (Shimei) cursed him continually. And he cast stones at David and at all the servants of King David” (II Samuel 16:5-6). Shimei’s words were harsh and angry: “Come out, come out you bloody man, you wicked man. God has returned on you all the blood of the House of Saul in whose stead you have reigned. God has delivered the kingdom into the hands of Absalom your son, and, behold, you are taken in your mischief because you are a bloody man!” (ibid. 8).

David’s companion, Avishai, took great umbrage for him. He wished to punish Shimei immediately, but David stayed his hand, stating: “Let him curse, for God has bidden him to do so” (ibid. 16:11).

This incident occurred in the midst of the attempted coup of David’s son Absalom. When David was returned to his throne, Shimei came and begged forgiveness, and David let him live. According to tradition, Shimei went on to become a teacher of David’s son and heir, Solomon.

However, the fact is that Shimei’s cursing of God’s anointed king was a grave transgression, and before he died, David instructed Solomon to “hold him not guiltless; you are a wise man and you know what you ought to do” (II Kings 2:9). Solomon put Shimei under house arrest, which he violated. His disobedience of the king’s order lead to his death by execution.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Point

Speak politely when arguing your point.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Day to Firgun

In the age of the internet there are an incredble number of new “holidays.” This week alone we “celebrate” National Caviar Day (18th), Moonday (20th) and National Junk Food Day (21st). In 2014, an Israeli non-profit organization, Made in JLM (which works with Israeli start-ups) decided to create a new international holiday that they named International Firgun Day. The chosen date was July 17th.

Firgun, according to several internet definitions, means: "(pronounced feer-goon, from modern Hebrew) a genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of someone else; giving credit where it is due, fairly and without jealousy." A firgun is the ideal of a compliment as it looks fully at the other person with no ulterior motive and with a depth of recognition of the other person’s character  (as opposed, for instance, to “I like the shirt you are wearing”).

Firgun is not a native Hebrew word, but rather a slang that evolved from the Yiddish word firgenun. As with so many cross language words, there is no singular English term that translates either firgenun or firgun, but that does not mean that International Firgun Day cannot be celebrated by all.

At the heart of the concept of firgun is the idea of an ayin tova, a good eye. Having a “good eye” means looking to see the positive, and it is a trait listed as one of the basic attributes a good person should have (Pirkei Avot /Ethics of the Fathers 2:10).

Seeking joy in other people’s lives inevitably makes multiple people happy, thus bringing peace, shalom, to the world.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

See Them

Make an active effort to look positively at the actions of your coworkers.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Not One, Not Two

Ever hear someone count out loud in the negatives: "Not one, not two, not three..." It may seem, strange, but in many traditional Jewish communities this is a common method for counting the number of people present. Counting in this seemingly awkward manner avoids the prohibition of conducting a census of individual Jewish people.

Rabbi Eleazar said: Whosoever counts Israel, transgresses a [biblical] prohibition, as it is said (Hosea 22:1): ‘Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured’” (Talmud Yoma 22b). Despite the verse, throughout the rest of the Torah there are a number of references to Divinely ordained censuses of the Children of Israel. The most well-known census, and the most informative of proper process, is that of the half-shekel (Exodus 30:11 - 16), when every male above the age of twenty each gave identical half-shekel donations which were then counted in order to know the number of Israelites. Additionally, any type of census can only be done for a valid reason, such as counting those of age suitable for service in the army (Numbers 1:2-4).

Counting individuals singles them out, and numbering people focuses attention on them. The Medieval commentator Rashi explains that “ayin harah (literally the evil eye link) has power over numbered things” (on Exodus 30:12), which is an expression of a fear of consequences in the higher worlds because of undo attention. The custom, therefore, is to try to avoid spotlighting individuals whether counting them as a nation or even counting to achieve the requisite quorum for prayers.

Sometimes, however, it is necessary to count a group of Jews. Most frequently, this is true when trying to assess whether one has a complete minyan (quorum of ten) to allow communal prayers to take place. A common method for counting a minyan is to recite a Torah verse of ten words (often Psalms 28:9: "Hoshee’ah et am’echa u'varech et nachalatecha ur'em venas'em ad ha'olam/Save Your people and bless Your inheritance, and tend them and elevate them forever–associating each of the ten words with a person.

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

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Merry More

Enjoy Shabbat with friends and family.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fate of Babel

Born on July 13, 1894, in Odessa,  Isaac Babel’s life spanned a tumultuous time in Russian history. Raised in a middle class Jewish home, Babel had both a full Jewish education and a robust secular education. However, in two separate instances he was unable to attend the school of his choice because of quotas on Jewish students.

In 1915, Babel moved to St. Petersburg, although this was against the law restricting Jews to live only in the Pale of Settlement. In St. Petersburg, Babel met the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who had a tremendous impact upon his life. After the October Revolution, Gorky gave him a job at his Menshevik newspaper.

Babel’s first collection of short stories, The Story of My Dovecoat, was published in 1925. Its eponymous story is an autobiographical narrative of surviving a notorious pogrom. His fame was sealed with his next book, The Red Cavalry, which was an honest look at life in the military. His writing was praised for both realism and simplicity of language.

Babel’s third book of short stories, Odessa Tales, presented an array of interesting residents of a ghetto in Odessa. The characters were complex, perhaps because they were far from perfect. One of his most notable characters from this collection was Benya Krik, the chief gangster of the ghetto.

While Socialist Realism was in vogue at the beginning of the Soviet Union, the ascension of Joseph Stalin to the head of the Politburo left little room for the possibility of subversiveness. Babel continued to write, and Maria, his play about both sides of the October Revolution, drew particular attention from the Soviet secret police and was pulled before ever opening.

In 1936, Maxim Gorky died mysteriously, and Babel recognized that his own safety was now also in question. In 1939, the secret police arrested him and he was executed as part of Stalin’s great purge.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography