Monday, June 26, 2017

Filene’s Credit Union

On June 26, 1934, Congress passed the Federal Credit Union Act, allowing for the creation of what is now known as CUNA (Credit Union National Association). While there were many factors that led to this Act, one of its most influential advocates was Boston businessman Edward Albert Filene (1860 - 1937).

The name Filene is most familiar to people in connection with the retail chain established by his father William (who changed his name from Wilhem Katz). Edward Filene, along with his younger brother Lincoln, took over the running of the business in the early 1890s and were responsible for numerous retail innovations - most notably their Automatic Bargain Basement store at which clothes purchased as seconds (overstock, warehouse clearance, etc) were priced down every six days. They also ran their business with a wide range of uncommon-at-the-time employee benefits.

In 1907, not long after the Filenes chain was acquired by Federated Department Store, Filene decided to become a world traveler. While visiting India, he became intrigued with the Agricultural Cooperative Banks that were becoming popular in the country's small villages. With government support, these cooperatives offered small business loans that would normally be denied by larger banks. He came home and began researching the principles involved and discovered that his interest was widely shared, particularly among a large group of fellow descendants of German Jews (who are said to have wanted to banish the concept of the Jew as userer). The support in his home state was so strong that the Massachussetts Credit Union Association opened in 1914.

Filene traveled from state to state speaking about credit unions. When CUNA was established in 1935, Filene, through the Twentieth Century Fund foundation, appropriated $25,000 to support it. Throughout his career, Filene had found ways to make the lives of those less fortunate just a little better (affordable quality clothes, employee benefits), and he strongly believed that credit unions would offer a chance at success to a whole new segment of American society.

Healthy Lending

If you have the ability to lend money to someone in need, don't hesitate.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Serving the Public

As proclaimed by the United Nations, June 23rd is “Public Service Day.” In honor of this designation, today’s Jewish Treat introduces Sherut Le’umi, the national Public Service system of the State of Israel.

Since the state’s founding in 1948, Israel has had a national draft for all citizens 18 years or older. The fact that the Israeli Defense Force included both genders, however, was highly problematic for more traditionally observant Israelis. Life in the military was a great deviation from the standards of modesty with which their daughters were raised. Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis at the time (Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Benzion Uziel, respectively) actively opposed female military conscription.

In 1953, a positive alternative was proposed: The establishment of a compulsory national service corps for those young women who had obtained a religious exemption from military service. While the idea was accepted, the actual program did not come into existence until 1971. At first, the program was specific to young women from religious homes, but, in time, the program expanded to include others: conscientious objectors, those with medical exemptions, etc., as well as Arab youth who wished to serve the country but not be part of the Israeli Defense Force.

While serving in Sherut Le’umi, these young women and men receive housing, a small living stipend, classes/programming and a number of other small benefits. They work in a wide variety of areas, including schools, hospitals, nursing homes, absorption centers, and more. Many of the Arab participants are allowed to work within their own community.

As has been found in other countries with similar programs, Sherut Le’umi offers several important benefits to the country beyond resolving the disagreement about female conscription. The B’nei Le’umi (“Children of Service”) often provide assistance to underprivileged citizens. Additionally, the participants receive potential vocational experience while learning about “giving back” and about the diversity of their country.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Double Day

Choose something special to wear in honor of the double celebration of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Swim Baby Swim

Today, June 22, 2017, people around the world are learning to swim as part of the "World’s Largest Swimming Lesson" event. Today's Treat focuses on just how important it is to know how to swim:

Hot summer days and dramatic Olympic competitions bring to mind the joy of swimming. But swimming is more than a sport or a relaxing pastime; swimming is a skill that is specifically mentioned in the Talmud.

Kiddushin 29a lists those things that a parent is obligated to do for his/her child: “The parent is obligated to circumcise and redeem his [first-born] child (via a pidyon haben), teach him Torah, find him a wife and teach him a craft. Some say, also to teach him to swim.”

Circumcision and pidyon haben are specific religious rituals that intimately connect a child to the Jewish people. Teaching a child Torah is teaching him/her the rules of life--the paths of morality, and the laws of justice. More than that, teaching a child Torah gives the child tools for spiritual growth. Finding a spouse and learning a craft are the foundations for successful adulthood. Starting a family and having a means of supporting a family are the fundamental building blocks of civilization.

But why swimming? Our rabbis maintain that the instruction to teach a child to swim is to be taken both literally and figuratively. To teach a child to “swim” really means teaching a child to survive in a world that abounds with spiritual and physical dangers.

Raising a child means preparing him/her to face all of the challenges and joys of life, be they spiritual, physical or societal.

This Treat was published on August 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ease On In

If you did not learn to swim as a child, make arrangements to do so this summer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Strong and Gentle

It is not uncommon to hear facetious comments about the fractious nature of the Jewish people and how challenging it is to be a community leader. Many have heard the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions!” Even a cursory familiarity with Jewish history going back to Biblical times leads to the conclusion that this is not a new thing. Being a Jewish leader has never been easy, and even the most famous leaders in Jewish history faced derision, unrest and mutiny from the people.

The first king of Israel, Saul, was actually appointed under contentious circumstances after the Israelites grumbled to the prophet Samuel and demanded a king like all the other nations. Samuel, with God’s approval and guidance, appointed Saul to be king. No sooner had he been anointed, however, when “certain base fellows said: 'How shall this man save us?' And they despised him, and brought him no present. But he was as one that held his peace” (I Samuel 10:27).

Not long thereafter, the Ammonites led an attack against a group of Israelites, sending an ultimatum to the entire nation. When Saul heard their threat, he immediately rallied soldiers from all of Israel, laying down a hard line and demanding that they come and fight.

After the fight, when the people demanded to know which men had spoken out so disrespectfully toward him, Saul magnanimously declared “‘There shall not a man be put to death this day; for today God has brought deliverance in Israel.’ Then Samuel said to the people: ‘Come and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there’” (ibid 11:13-14).

In his first act of leadership, King Saul ignored his detractors and focused on bringing the nation together to defend their fellow Israelites.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Speak with Care

Be careful of the words you speak about others, even public figures.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The “Big Day”

Popular culture refers to one’s wedding as “The Big Day,” and it is, indeed, the beginning of an entirely new stage in one’s life. According to Jewish tradition, “there are three people whose iniquities are forgiven...[the third is] one who marries” (commentary of Rashi on Genesis 36:3).

Because the wedding day is considered a day of renewal on which one receives atonement, many communities have customs for the bride and groom that are similar to Yom Kippur. For this reason, it is customary in many communities for the bride and groom to fast from waking in the morning until after the chuppah (the wedding canopy, used to refer to the whole ceremony). However, there are numerous days on which fasting is not permitted, and the bride and groom may eat. These are Rosh Chodesh* (new month), Isru Chag (the day after a festival), Chanukah, Purim, Shushan Purim and the 15th of the months of Av and Shevat (Tu B’Av and Tu B’Shevat).

It is interesting to note that another reason given for the pre-wedding fast is to prevent having an intoxicated groom (or bride). If the formal marriage ceremony were to be completed while one of the parties was inebriated, the marriage could be questioned.

Additionally, in most traditions the bride and groom recite the same prayer service as is recited on the afternoon before the Day of Atonement, which includes the Vidui (confessional) service.

*with the exception of Rosh Chodesh Nissan

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

May I Help

If you know a couple preparing for their wedding, offer to assist them in anyway possible.

Monday, June 19, 2017

What A Player!

Today marks 171 years since the first official game of baseball was played on June 19, 1846. In honor of this anniversary, today’s Jewish Treat presents a brief biography of a unique Jewish baseball player: Moe Berg.

Berg, who was born in Manhattan and raised in Newark, NJ, began playing baseball as a kid (when he assumed a fake name, Runt Wolfe, because most of the other kids were not Jewish). But Berg was also a scholar who earned a place at Princeton University, where he studied modern languages. A true polymath, Berg was fluent in Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit. He later learned Japanese.

On the field, Berg was an unexceptional player who had some exceptional moments, such as the Yale-Princeton Game of 1923, in front of the scouts from the Big Leagues. Berg graduated and joined the Brooklyn Robins (predecessors to the Dodgers).

Berg could catch. Berg could throw. But, Berg was not particularly good at hitting. This, and the fact that he frequently skipped spring training for other pursuits such as studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and getting his law degree from Columbia, made Berg a very dispensable player. Over the course of his professional career, he was frequently traded, and played for six different major league teams.

While passionate about his baseball playing, Berg had a second secret career as well. Moe Berg was working as a spy for the American Government. While some surmise that this began during his 1934 All-Stars trip to Japan (when he managed to make a film of Tokyo harbor), Berg said that he gave that info to the government only after he was recruited in 1942. Working for the agencies that would eventually become the CIA, Berg was sent to Yugoslavia to assess the resistence there. His report encouraged the United States to support Tito. His other major assignment was trying to lure Axis scientists to America, as well as determining how close Germany was to “building the bomb.”

After World War II, Berg remained with the CIA until 1954, during which time he tried to get assigned to Israel stating: “A Jew must do this.” The CIA disagreed. After the CIA, Berg seems to have become a recluse who lived with his brother and then his sister. He passed away on May 29, 1972.

A Store in Kosher

Shop at and support grocery stores that carry a large supply of kosher products.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Let’s Talk About Sin

What is sin? To a native English speaker, the word “sin” is laden with concepts of Christian theology. In Judaism, a sin is more appropriately called an aveira, which means a transgression (based on the root for the Hebrew verb “to cross over”). However, even that term is an oversimplification, as there are several different types of transgressions.

An avon is, perhaps, best described as an action driven by desire. A person wants the pleasure of an forbidden item or act so much that they ignore their knowledge that the action is prohibited.

A pesha, on the other hand, has deliberate intention that is rooted in an urge to rebel. For this person, the action can have dire spiritual consequences. The Torah notes: “But the soul that does so [the forbidden act] with high handedness, whether he be home-born or a stranger, the same blasphemes God, and that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:30).

A chayt*, however, is an unintentional act to transgress a commandment. For instance, a person forgets to check that the snack they grabbed is kosher, or a person leans against a light switch and opens the light on Shabbat. One could refer to these types of acts as “oops,” since they were certainly not intentional. However, the Torah makes it clear that even unintentional acts have consequences. “And if one person sins through error, then he shall offer a she-goat of the first year for a sin-offering. And the priest shall make atonement for the soul that errs, when he transgresses through error, before God, to make atonement for him; and he shall be forgiven” (ibid: 27-28).

A “sin-offering,” as it is most often translated, was offered not for deliberate acts but only for unintentional transgressions. Commentaries throughout the ages have commented as to why this is so: perhaps to remind a person to be more aware of their actions, or to serve as a statement that even an accidental act has an effect on one’s soul.

*The Vidui confessional service uses the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” implying that Jews as a collective did not deliberately transgress the commandments.

Details

Pay attention to the little details to enhance you Shabbat celebration.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Arkansas

Jewish life in Arkansas began in 1825 with the arrival of Abraham Block to the town of Washington in Hempstead County. For Block and his family, however, it was a very lonely Jewish existence, as it was several decades until there were enough Jews in the area to form a community. When the Civil War began in 1861, there were approximately 300 Jews in the state, 70 of whom fought for the Confederacy.

 The first two Jewish congregations in the state were founded in 1866, within a few days of each other: Bnai Israel in Little Rock and Anshei Emet (which held its final service on June 11, 2016) in Pine Bluff. The state had one particularly interesting legislative impediment for Jews.. When the first rabbis moved to Arkansas, they discovered that they were unable to perform weddings due to a law requiring that a Christian minister officiate at all nuptials. The Jewish community successfully lobbied the legislature, and the law was changed to include rabbis.

 In the 1930s, the scattered Arkansas Jewish communities decided to coordinate and consolidate. They created the Arkansas Jewish Assembly, which helped to provide Jewish education and to connect unaffiliated Jews with Jewish organizations. It lasted for nearly two decades, but ended abruptly upon the death of its president, Jack Botnick, in 1951. Local Jewish Federations took over most of the Assembly’s services.

The Jewish population of Arkansas in 2016 was, according the Jewish Virtual Library, just over 2,000. Today, is the anniversary of Arkansas becoming the 25th state of the United States in 1836.

Family Honor

If you can, call your grandparents as a demonstration of honoring one's parents and elders.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stop and Smell the Roses

There is no common word for people with an impaired olfactory system (anosmia, for those who wish to know) such as there is for one with impaired vision or impaired hearing. Smell, however, is just as important and pleasurable a sense as sight or sound. 

Rabbi Zutra ben Tobiah said in the name of Rav: Whence do we learn that a blessing should be said over sweet odors? Because it says, ‘Let every soul praise the Lord’ (Psalms 150:6). What is that which gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body?--You must say that this is a fragrant smell (Brachot 43b). 

Just as various categories of food require different blessings (bread, cake, fruit, etc), there are different blessings for fragrances, which are determined by the source of the smell. Here is a basic overview: 

(Note: Each blessing begins with Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam/ Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe.) 

1) Asher natan ray’ach tov b’payrot/ Who gave a fragrant scent to fruit is recited when smelling any fruit, whether on or off the tree. This blessing is only recited if one intends just to smell the fruit. If one happens to smell it while eating it, cooking or just handling it, the blessing is not necessary. 

2) Boray ah'tzay v’sameem/ Who created fragrant woods is recited on fragrances from a tree or tree-like plant. Tree-like is defined as a perennial with a hard stem and includes plants such as myrtle and roses. 

3) Boray eesvay v’sameem/Who created fragrant herbs is recited over scents from soft plants. 

4) Boray meenay v’sameem/ Who created various kinds of fragrances is recited over non-plant fragances. Boray meenay v’sameem is the most familiar of these blessings since it is included in the Havdallah ceremony after Shabbat. Like the Sheh’hah’kohl blessing over food, Boray meenay v’sameem is used when one does not know the proper blessing over the scent. 


This Treat was last posted on August 28, 2011

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved. 

Ahh Beautiful

Appreciate the beauty of the world with an expression of gratitude to its Creator.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bnei Brak: A Unique City

In Israel, there are any number of towns that identify themselves as primarily religious. There are none, however, that are as distinct or well-known for being as intensely religious as Bnei Brak. 

Bnei Brak is actually a historic location. A city of this name is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (19:45) as part of the territory of Dan. Additionally, the location is also mentioned in Haggadah.

Bnei Brak today is a city that is almost entirely Chareidi (the term used in Israel to designate the "ultra-Orthodox), and this actually fulfils that nature of the settlement as it was when Bnei Brak was first founded. The year was 1924 (June 13th), and the settlement was founded by a man named Yitzchok Gerstenkorn. Established as an agricultural settlement, the Polish chassisim who settled there built their lives around Jewish tradition. It was even noted that one of the first buildings that was built was a Beit Midrash, a house of study, because after a full day’s labor, the men wanted to resume their learning immediately.

Although its original settlers were traditional, Bnei Brak’s transformation into a the center of religious Judaism was not immediate. An important role, however, was played by some of the significant leaders who took up residence there. Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karlitz (the Chazon Ish), one of the most influential rabbis of the early 20th century Israel, moved to Bnei Brak from Vilna in 1933. In 1944, after the original Ponevitch Yeshiva in Europe was destroyed, the yeshiva was brought to the city by Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman. Drawn by the Torah leaders and the yeshiva, by 1950 the population of Bnei Brak was large enough for city status. Shortly thereafter, chassidic communities began to settle there along side the yeshivot. The first was the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and his chassidim, who came in the 1950s. The next decade saw many chassidic groups from the Ukraine and elsewhere settle in Bnei Brak.

 Located to the east of Tel Aviv, many of Israel’s most influential religious figures today live in Bnei Brak.

On Your House

Make certain that the mezuzahs on your house are kosher (properly written).

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Disputation of Paris

The month of June in the year 1240 C.E. was not a good time for the Jews of Europe. The trouble began with a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin. Wanting, perhaps, to prove his loyalty and faith to the church, he sent a letter listing 35 charges against the Talmud, many of them details of texts reputedly belittling Jesus or Mary, telling seemingly lewd stories or relaying other “offensive” messages. The letter went to Pope Gregory IX and a debate was arranged at which Donin would argue his charges against four prominent French rabbis: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel the son of Solomon of Chateau-Thierry.

The “Disputation of Paris,” as the debate came to be known, was a dispute with a foregone outcome. Although the rabbis were guaranteed their safety by the queen so that they would be free to respond, there were strict limitations on what they were allowed to say about Christianity and the Church.

The Chief Jewish spokesman, Rabbi Yechiel, responded well during the Disputation and was able to reply to and reframe the derogatory accusation of Donin. For instance, he argued that in the points brought up referring to Jesus, it was simply a matter of two men with the same name, and that these passages that they found derogatory were discussing a different man named Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the Disputation ended with a condemnation of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It was determined that these holy Jewish texts should be confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, 24 cartload of Hebrew books, including many volumes of the Talmud, were brought to Paris and burnt, this at a time before the printing press, when every volume was copied by hand! So great was the loss that the date of the burning of the Talmud was subsequently marked as a fast day that was observed by many European Jewish communities in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

Ask Away

If you are challenged about Jewish belief and don't know the appropriate answer, don't hesitate to ask a local rabbi.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Kugel Connection

A traditional Ashkenazi Shabbat table will often be graced with at least one kugel. Whether that kugel is noodle, potato or a more modern vegetable version will depend on the chef.

Often translated as “Shabbat pudding,” kugels are not only delicious, they also represent a taste of tradition, the origin of which is based on the specific needs of the Jewish community. At its most basic, a kugel is a baked combination of a carbohydrate (potato or noodles) with fat (oil or shmaltz) and eggs. Historically, kugels needed to be able to withstand a long and slow heating process, as they were often placed in the local baker’s oven before Shabbat and remained there until the afternoon meal the next day. In this way, Jews avoided any prohibited cooking on Shabbat.

The word “kugel” is actually German in origin. It means “ball” and is an allusion to the types of round pans that were commonly used to make kugel. Sometimes the small kugel pan was placed inside a larger pot containing cholent. Many kugels today are square.

Before the appearance of more modern variations such as broccoli kugel, cauliflower kugel and even onion kugel, which are all more like souffles, traditionally, most kugels were made with either potatoes or noodles (lukshen in Yiddish). Lukshen kugels were often sweetened with cinnamon, raisins and apples. A separate type of kugel is made with sweet cheese. These are served after Yom Kippur, when a dairy meal is often eaten.

Any discussion of kugel would be incomplete without mentioning Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) kugel. This kugel, which is still made in its original round shape, is unique in both taste and appearance. Made with thin lukshen, the secret of Yerushalmi kugel’s sweet and savory taste (as well as its color) is the combination of caramelized sugar and pepper--the essential ingredients.

There are those that say that the origin of kugel goes back to the days of the Israelites in the wilderness. When the manna came down, there was always a layer of dew below and above the manna. Similarly, a kugel is made with crust on top and bottom with filling in between.

This Treat was last posted on January 7, 2011.

Shabbat Favorite

Enjoy your favorite foods in honor of Shabbat.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Sustenance of Beauty

Cosmetics have been a part of civilization since...well,  research cannot pinpoint where or when people started using products to paint their faces or subtly alter their appearances, but its early application in multiple civilizations is noted. One might wonder what the Jewish approach to make up is, especially in traditional circles that place great emphasis on modesty.

In the name of modesty, one might think that Judaism shuns physicality and beauty-enhancing products. Quite the contrary, however, the Torah notes physical beauty in a positive way of several of the ancestors of the Jewish people (Sarah, Rachel, Joseph). The Torah even mentions cosmetics in the Book of Esther when discussing the preparation of the women for the beauty contest for the king to choose a new wife.

According to several references in the Talmud, a woman’s need/desire for cosmetics is both recognized and accepted. Most fascinatingly, one Talmudic sage “Rav Judah said in the name of Rav, or as some say, Rav Hama ben Hanina: That (the verse, ‘The people went about, and gathered it [manna], and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars...’ Numbers 11:8) teaches that when the manna came down to Israel, cosmetics for women came down as well, [based on it being] a thing that is ground in a mortar” (Talmud Yoma 75a).

Every generation has its own opinion about cosmetics. Some women don’t use make up at all, while others would not step foot out of the house without it. Its untraceable origins, however, indicates that it is one of the complex questions of nurture verses nature. The fact that it is associated with manna, the basic sustenance provided by God to the Israelites in the wilderness, indicates that the seemingly superficial need for cosmetics has, in itself, a deep and valuable role to play  in Jewish life.

Appearances

Refrain from judging others on the basis of their appearance.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jews in Norway

Jewish history books do not contain many references to the Jews of Norway, because until 1851 it was actually illegal for Jews to settle and live there. Actually, from 1687 until 1814, some Jews were allowed to settle in Norway if they had royal permission. In 1814, when Norway joined a union with Sweden and created its own constitution, the language of the constitution clearly stated that no Jews could settle in the country (leaving off the provision of royal approval). Although inspired by the French revolution, Jews seem to have been an exception when it came to “liberty and fraternity.”

Credit for the change in the Norwegian constitution to allow Jewish settlement is generally given to a poet named Henrik Wergeland. It is interesting to note that his father, Nicolai, was a strong supporter of banning the Jews during the creation of the constitution. Wergeland could not understand how a country espousing the Christian value of loving one’s fellow could have such an exclusionary law. He even wrote a poem meant to alter people’s biased perspective. The poem, titled “Christmas Eve,” was about an old Jewish peddler trying to protect a small, lost (Christian) child from the freezing cold after having been cast away by the townspeople. Unfortunately, Wergeland did not live to see the results of his efforts, as he passed away in 1845, while the law was not reversed until 1851.

The Jewish population of Norway was never very large. There were fewer than 3,000 Jews in Norway when the Nazis occupied the country in April 1940. Many hundreds of these Jews were deported and/or murdered by the Nazis, while others managed to escape to Sweden.

Today, there are two small communities in the country. One is in Oslo. The other, in Trondheim, is one of the northernmost cities in the world.

June 7 is a public holiday in Norway marking the dissolution of its union with Sweden in 1905.

Nice Weather

As we head into summer remember to choose your summer wardrobe to reflect modesty and dignity.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Will Not Eat Green Eggs and Ham

Which is more “treif” (generic term used for non-kosher foods): a McDonalds’ burger or a ham sandwich from the corner deli?

The answer is neither. Non-kosher food is non-kosher food. A burger prepared with the meat of an improperly slaughtered cow is as much of a problem from the perspective of Jewish dietary law as is the meat of a pig. Why then does the world so strongly identify keeping kosher with abstaining from pork products?

On a sociological level, perhaps it is because pigs are a common and cheap source of meat, being adaptable to many climates and having an extremely versatile diet, and so, Jewish abstinence from pork was extremely noticeable.

Theologically, however, the pig also stands out. It is different from other non-kosher animals. Having forbidden the Israelites to eat any animal that does not have split hooves and does not chew its cud, the Torah lists the animals that might confuse a person because they chew their cud but do not have split hooves (camel, rabbit). Only one animal, however, is described as having split hooves but not chewing its cud--the pig (Leviticus 11:1-8). No other animal has such attributes. According to Rabbi Ishmael who taught in the Talmud (Chullin 59a) that "The Ruler of the universe knows that there is no other beast that splits the hoof and is unclean except the swine...”

Beyond being unique in its non-kosher status, however, the sages noted that the behavior of pigs was like one who wished to be deceptive. “...When the swine is lying down, it puts out its hooves, as if to say, ‘[See my split hooves,] I am clean’...” (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 65:1). This species is therefore psychologically identified with all those who wish to harm the Jewish people, while pretending to be its friends and supporters. 

This Treat was last posted on June 16, 2010.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Beef Bacon

If you have a desire for bacon, try a kosher substitute such as beef fry or turkey bacon.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Diplomat to Romania

In July 1944, it was announced that a new Liberty ship under construction was to be named for Benjamin Franklin Peixotto  (November 13, 1834 - September 18, 1890). The descendant of a distinguished Sephardi family - his grandfather was the cantor at New York’s Shearith Israel Synagogue and his father was a leading figure in medicine - Benjamin Franklin Peixotto  earned his own national distinction as a United States diplomat.

The Peixotto family moved several times from New York to Cleveland and back, and Benjamin Peixotto  remained in Cleveland upon reaching adulthood. His first career was in clothing retail, but he spent a great deal of his time and energy on Jewish communal work. In 1855, Peixotto  was a co-founder of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and, eight years later, he helped found the first Cleveland branch of Bnai Brith. Through his work with Bnai Brith, Peixotto was instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Orphan Asylum. He was elected Grand Sar (leader) of Bnai Brith when he was only 29. Peixotto was also a founder and superintendent of Congregation Tifereth Israel’s Sunday school.

During the 1860s, Piexotto became a friend of Stephen A. Douglas, under whom he studied law. In 1866, Peixotto left Cleveland to practice law in New York, then headed briefly to San Francisco before being appointed Consul General to Romania by President Grant.

Peixotto went to Romania with a Jewish agenda. In addition to his normal diplomatic responsibilities, he worked to better the situation of Romanian Jews, who had attained civil equality in name only and were greatly persecuted. He helped create a Bnai Brith-like organization, the Society of Zion, and played a critical role in the Berlin Congress of 1878, which granted Romania sovereignty.

Following a second diplomatic appointment, as consul in Lyons from 1877 until 1885, Peixotto returned to practicing law in New York and being heavily involved in Jewish organizational life until his passing in 1890.

Anger Free

Avoid anger by judging others favorably.

Friday, June 2, 2017

As the Wind Blows

The Torah is full of fascinating, unexpected and, some might say, poetic connections. Many of these associations are not obvious because they are spread throughout the many texts of Judaism. But, the sages wisely recorded them in the Midrash (a compilation of oral legends and tradition). One intriguing example is the arrangement of the camp as the Israelites traveled through the Wilderness.

There are numerous explanations for why specific tribes were grouped together and for the specific placement of the different Levite families. One Midrash in Numbers Rabbah, however, explains the specific positioning of these groups by describing the conditions of their geographic positions.

On the western side of the camp were positioned the Gershonite Levites, who were responsible for caring for the tent, its covering and the screen for the door of the Tent of Meeting. About the west, the Midrash notes that it as “the region of storehouses of snow and those of hail and cold and heat” (Numbers Rabbah 3:12).

Encamped on the south were the Levite descendants of Kehot, who bore the ark in which the Torah was held. The south, according to the Midrash, “is the source from which emanate the dew and rain and bring blessing to the world...[and] the rains depend entirely upon the observance of the Torah” (ibid.).

The north is marked as a region “from whence darkness goes forth to the world” (ibid.). Here were encamped the Merari Levites, who carried the wood, the boards of the Tabernacle, its bars and its pillars. The Midrash refers to darkness as idolatry. The Tabernacle was intended to serve as a direct counter to idolatrous impulses.

Finally, the eastern side of camp was the position of Moses and Aaron and the kohanim (priests). The Midrash declares the east to be “the source from which light goes forth into the world” (ibid.), thus correlating sunrise in the east to the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

In addition to any lessons that one might learn from this Midrashic discussion, it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the beautiful connections that one can find through the serious study of all parts of the Torah.

Into Shabbat

Bring the joy of the just completed Shavuot holiday into your Shabbat celebration.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. When they reached Israel, however, Naomi urged them to go back to their fathers’ homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi]  go, I shall go, your people will be my people...your land will be my land, and your God will be my God" (1:16).

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s family had fled the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

In the meantime, the elders of Bethlehem debated whether Ruth was a true convert and whether she could marry a Jewish man. Naomi, however, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere. She directed Ruth to go to the ceremony at the close of the threshing and seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David.
The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot.


This Treat was last posted on June 10, 2016.




Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

King David's Day

According to tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot. To try and summarize the life of King David in a 300 word Treat would be impossible. In the annals of Jewish history, David was more than a king. He was a shepherd, a warrior, a scholar and a poet -- and these descriptions do not even begin to describe the complex personal life of David and his family. 

There are many reasons given to explain why King David was considered so extraordinary, but the Midrash reveals that he was unique even before he was born. According to The Midrash, God showed Adam the entire future of humankind. Adam noticed one particularly bright soul that was full of potential but had no years of life attached to it. Adam offered to give  this soul 70 years of his own life. Thus it was that David lived exactly 70 years, and that Adam lived 70 years short of a complete millennium.

David was born the eighth son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. He was born under what seemed to be questionable circumstances (click here to read more). In addition, according to Talmud Sotah 10b, he had the unusual distinction of being born circumcised.  

The Midrash also notes that King David's death was unusual. The Talmud, Shabbat 30a, relates that David was aware that he would die on Shabbat and wished to die on Sunday instead so  that he could be buried without any delay. God told him that this was not possible, but David took matters into his own hands. He spent every Shabbat immersed in Torah study so that the Angel of Death would have no power over him. Not to be put off from his Divine mission, the Angel of Death caused a great noise in the orchard beside David's study. David continued to study as he went to see what the noise was, but paused momentarily when a step broke beneath him. In that moment, the Angel of Death completed his mission.


This Treat was last posted on May 17, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shavuot Wishes

NJOP wishes you and yours a beautiful and meaningful Shavuot.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Littlest Mountain

When the Israelites were gathered at Mount Sinai, God gave them the Torah.

Scholars and academics have spent lifetimes debating the exact location of Mount Sinai. The Sinai peninsula is covered with mountains, some wide and flat, others tall and rugged. Trying to establish which mountain is actually Sinai based on the fact that the Jews converged on Mount Sinai just short of 7 weeks after leaving Egypt, is almost impossible given the many different factors such as speed, route taken and stops made.

There is a mountain on the Sinai peninsula that is called Mount Sinai (in Arabic Jebel Musa, the mountain of Moses), but many doubt that this is the true location.

What do you picture when you think of Mount Sinai? Given the important event that occurred there, most would assume that it was a tall, grand mountain when, in fact, it was just the opposite: The Midrash relates that all of the tall mountains fought to be chosen as the location for the giving of the Torah. Mount Sinai, knowing that it was the smallest of the mountains, remained silent, and God chose Sinai because of its simple humility.

The allegories of the Midrash are not whimsical fancies, but are an important means of teaching critical life lessons. Judaism considers humility to be a most important character trait. Moses is described as the most humble human who walked the earth. However, being humble, according to the Torah, does not mean making one’s self a doormat. Rather, a humble person will know his/her own strengths and self-worth (as well as his/her weaknesses), and will not need others to acknowledge his/her significance.

This Treat was last posted on June 6, 2016.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Whose First Fruits

When the Oral Law was first codified, most Jews lived in agrarian settings. Today, being less familiar with agrarian culture, some people find it difficult to relate to some of the discussions in the Mishna (Oral Law) regarding planting or livestock. Although we may no longer farm or herd flocks, the importance of responsible land ownership and use is a value that has remained throughout time.

For Jewish farmers in the land of Israel, one of the mitzvot that is part of the cycle of crop production is that of bikkurim, the first fruit offering. The first fruit to blossom on each plant of the seven species of the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) is marked (with a string) to be set aside for an offering at the Temple. One might assume that this mitzvah would apply to all farmers, but, in fact, the rabbis understood the pronouns in this commandment to be very specific: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land” (Deuteronomy 26:2).

The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:2) states that “tenants, lessees, or occupiers of confiscated property--or a robber--may not bring them...because it says, ‘the first-fruits of your land.’” As significant as the first fruits are, the relationship of the farmer to the land upon which the plant grows is also important.

But ownership of the land is not the only criteria. “These may not bring them [bikkurim]: He who plants on his own soil, but sinks [a shoot] so that [it] nourishes from the territory belonging to an individual or to the public...[or similarly]...so that it grows on his own property”(Bikkurim1:1). In other words, this mitzvah can only be performed by one who makes certain not to infringe on the property rights of others or the public.

This Treat was last posted on June 8, 2016.



Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Fruits of Labor

When you eat produce, take a few moments and think about the incredible process necessary to grow that fruit or vegetable.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Tuesday night (May 30th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their normal human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

This Treat was last posted on  June 7, 2016.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for the Torah

Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves. 

There is no way to describe the effects of being in the presence of God because there is no human being alive today who has experienced this level of holiness. In fact, Moses was the only prophet who had direct interaction with God, and God’s Presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given was a one-time-only event. 

However, it is understood that being in the Divine Presence requires preparation, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses, prepared themselves for three days. They washed their clothes and prepared their souls. 

It was not just the people who needed to be prepared. God’s presence affected the inanimate earth as well. The Israelites were instructed, under threat of death, not to go up, or even draw close to, the mountain until the shofar was sounded. 

The three days preceding Shavuot (Sivan 3, 4 and 5) are known as Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of boundaries. These three days were, and still are, days of preparation. Today, while we do not stand at the physical base of Mount Sinai, we can, and should, prepare ourselves to ascend to a higher level of spirituality and religious commitment on Shavuot. 

Today is the first day of the Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of preparation. The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah, begins on Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat.  

Treat was last posted on June 9, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Cheesecake Tryout

Prepare for Shavuot by trying your hand at preparing some cheesecake.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Give Them A Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder...and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. Perhaps this is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

This Treat was last posted on May 22, 2015.



Take Two Tablets

Most artistic representations of the Ten Commandments present two rectangular tablets rounded off at the top. As pleasing to the eyes as this rounded design may be, tradition suggests that the luchot (tablets) were “six handbreadths in length, six in breadth and three in thickness” (Baba Batra 14a). To clarify, the luchot were large, thick and square (and incredibly heavy).

Two large, square chunks of carved stone may not appear to be particularly artistic, but the Torah itself provides some interesting details that allow us to imagine just how magnificent the luchot were. The Torah records that Moses stood on Mount Sinai for 40 days and, at the end of that time, God gave Moses “the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18). Similarly, it is written “Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:15-16).

The tablets of the Ten Commandments were not fashioned with a hammer and chisel, but rather “carved” with the finger of God. The luchot had the miraculous effect that “The writing of the Tablets could be read from within and without” (Shabbat 104a). According to tradition, this does not mean that God wrote the same words on both sides, but that, although God carved straight through the stone, the writing was legible from which ever direction one looked. 


This Treat was last posted on May 20, 2015.



Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Our Heritage

Take a few moments to contemplate your relationship with Torah and the experiences of your ancestors.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Green Cheesecake At Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The First Ten

If the children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai, why did Moses come down bearing only “the two tablets of the testimony” luchot ha’aidoot (Exodus 32:15), on which the Ten Commandments were written rather than a complete scroll of law? 

The Biblical narrative states that God brought the Israelites to Mount Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments, beginning with “I am the Lord your God!” Some commentators argue that the people were so intimidated by God’s voice, that they could only tolerate hearing the first two commandments as they rang out from the heavens. The people then beseeched Moses to intercede and deliver the remaining eight commandments. Moses then ascended Mount Sinai and did not return to the Israelites for 40 days.

Ten Commandments...forty days? Obviously, something more than Moses reviewing Ten Commandments was happening on that mountaintop. Tradition tells us that during the time Moses remained on Mount Sinai he received all of the written and oral Torah.

Moses was uniquely endowed and capable of learning all of halacha (Jewish law), as well as the methods of deriving halacha, in just over a month. However, it was not possible to teach what he learned to the entire nation in less than 40 years 

God therefore began with the Ten Commandments, which could be understood and followed on a simple as well as a complex level. For example, honoring one’s mother and father (#5), on the simple level, means giving respect to one’s parents. When studied further, however, one discovers that this commandment is also about gratitude to God, the ultimate Creator.

Thus, the Ten Commandments are seen as the cornerstone of the Torah, containing both the religious (“I am the Lord your God”) and legal elements (“Do not steal”) of the Torah. 

This Treat was last posted on May 29, 2014.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shavuot is Coming

If you have not yet done so, make preparations for your celebration of Shavuot, which begins at sunset on Tuesday, May 30th, and ends after nightfall on Thursday, June 1st.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jerusalem Day

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine (Israel) into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an "international city" for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the Partition Plan).

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall,  the only accessible point (at that time) to the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the retaining wall that supported the Holy Temple, and nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.

On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. The war itself lasted six days, but on June 7, 1967 - 28 Iyar 5727 - Israeli paratroopers took the Old City and, for the first time in almost twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.

This Treat was last posted on June 3, 2016.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Western Wall History

The Western (Wailing*) Wall is the most accessible holiest location in Jewish life. With 28 rows of massive stones above ground (and 17 below), the wall itself is physically breathtaking. Its holiness stems from the fact that it is the closest location to where the Holy of Holies was located in the Temple.
When the Western Wall was first built by Herod as part of a retaining wall for the expanded Second Temple (c. 13 CE), it was 24 rows of stones shorter and remained that height for nearly seven centuries. The other rows have been attributed to later sources. The Second Temple fell in 70 CE, and after the quelling of the Bar Kochba’s uprising in 135 CE, the Jews were fully exiled from Jerusalem. They were not allowed to live in Jerusalem or worship at the Wall until the early 5th century, when permission was granted by Aelia Eudocia, the Byzantine Empress.
It seems, from the sparsely recorded data, that Jews continued to be allowed to come to the Western Wall throughout much of the Middle Ages. Alas, after Saladin’s overthrow of the Crusaders (1187), Saladin’s son established a “Moroccan Quarter” to create housing for his loyal followers--who regularly dumped their waste in the 13 foot gap left between the houses and the holy wall.
In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered Jerusalem. Under the Ottomans, several legal rulings were issued, both allowing Jews to come to the Wall to pray and, at the same time, prohibiting them from paving the narrow walkway in front of the wall, making noise and setting up tables.
When the British took control of Jerusalem from the Turks (1917), the Jews had to constantly fight for their rights to pray at the wall. After the 1948 war, the Jordanians took control of the entire Old City. Although the 1949 Armistice Agreement stated that Jews would be permitted access to the Wall, the Jordanians never actually allowed them to do so.
During the Six Day War of 1967 (on the 28th of Iyar), the Israeli Defense Force took back the Old City. Shortly thereafter, they demolished the “Moroccan Quarter” and greatly expanded the plaza in front of the Wall, allowing access to anyone who wished to come to the holy site.
*The term “Wailing Wall” is actually a modern term that appears only in the late 1800s/early 1900s. It may be based on the ancient Arabic name for the Wall, El-Mabka, which means “the place of weeping.” Both El-Mabka and Wailing Wall refer to the Jews who have, throughout history, come there to cry for the lost Temple. Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Direction

As it is customary for Jews to pray toward Jerusalem, discover which way Jerusalem lies from where you live.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Charleston Synagogue(s)

Charleston, South Carolina is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the United States. The 1669 charter for the Carolina Colony explicitly included liberty of conscious for "Jews, heathens and dissenters." It is believed that the first Jew came to the area in 1695 as an interpreter for Governor John Archdale. Records indicate that several Jews voted in the 1702 general election.

As in most of the colonial cities, the majority of Jews in Charleston were Sephardic, and the first synagogue in the city followed traditional Sephardic rites. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim built its first building with a capacity of 500 people in 1794. Its opening attracted attention and praise from both the Jewish and non-Jewish community.

By the turn of the century, Charleston had the largest Jewish population of any American city. With growth, however, came division. Beth Elohim maintained strict rules on its congregants and expected every Jew in the city to become a member when they turned 21. In 1824, a sizable number of congregants decided to leave Beth Elohim and formed "The Reformed Society of Israelites." Although the society failed to thrive after its organizer, Isaac Harby, left for New York in 1827, it was the first Reform congregation in America. By 1833, Beth Elohim was whole again, but not for long. In 1838, a fire destroyed the synagogue and division returned when the congregation began to plan for the new building. By the end of the 1840s, after a court battle over the installation of an organ, Beth Elohim identified as a Reform congregation, while Shearith Israel was established as the new Orthodox synagogue.

In an interesting turn of events, the two congregations, both of which had suffered from the Civil War, were reunited afterward. As a result of the war, Beth Elohim's membership was greatly affected, and its Torah scrolls and organ, which had been sent to Columbia for safekeeping, had been destroyed in General Sherman's march. Shearith Israel's building had been severely damaged. After a lengthy negotiation, the two congregations merged once more as Beth Elohim, which exists until today.

It should be noted that Beth Elohim and Shearith Israel were not the only congregations in Charleston at the time of the Civil War. The Ashkenazic immigrants who arrived in the early 1800s had organized Congregation Brith Shalom in 1854, which is today one of several other synagogues in Charleston.

Today is the anniversary of South Carolina becoming the eighth state of the Union in 1788.


Prominent Jews associated with South Carolina:

Right Way to Talk

Speak respectfully about all parts of the Jewish community, even if you disagree with their perspective.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rav Saadia Gaon

Rabbi Saadia ben Joseph, known by the appellation Rav Saadia Gaon (Gaon was the title of the religious leader of the Jewish community in Babylon) is best known in history as a philosopher and as a powerful opponent of Karaitism.* These were, however, simply a part of his monumental scholastic achievements.

Born in the Fayyim region of Northern Egypt in 882 C.E., Rav Saadia published Ha’agron, a Hebrew reference dictionary, when he was just 20 years old. Three years later, in addition to moving to Palestine, Rav Saadia wrote his first work disputing the Karaite movement.

Rav Saadia Gaon’s rise to leadership came after he successfully refuted Rabbi Aaron ben Meir, the leader of Palestinian Jewry, when Rabbi Aaron tried to alter the calendar and have Passover observed three days earlier than determined by the calendar established by the Men of the Great Assembly. Following this incident, Rav Saadia became the head of the Talmudic Academy in Sura, Babylonia. Two years into his tenure, however, Rav Saadia had a falling out with the Exilarch (the political leader of the Babylonian community) and moved to Baghdad for seven years. While living in Baghdad, Rav Saadia continued his prolific writing and scholarship. During this time he completed his philosophical and theological masterpiece Emunoth v’Deoth,  Book of the Articles of Faith and Doctrines of Dogma. After Rav Saadia and the Exilarch were reconciled, Rav Saadia returned to Sura and remained there until his death in 942.

Rav Saadia was an important figure in Jewish history for many reasons. He lived at a time when the world of learning focused on philosophy and so he wrote about Judaism in philosophical terms. Additionally, his use of Arabic as a language of Jewish scholarship made Torah accessible to Jews across the Medieval world both in his day and for centuries to come.

Rav Saadia Gaon’s yahrtzeit is today, 26 Iyar.

*Karaitism: a Jewish religious movement that repudiated oral tradition as a source of divine law (Encyclopedia Britanica)

Philosophical Exploration

If you enjoy studying philosophy, take the time to explore works by Jewish philosophers such as Rav Saadia Gaon and Rabbi Moses ben Maimon.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The New Month is Coming

In many synagogues around the world, the monthly calendar contains a special notation marking the last Shabbat of the Hebrew month as Shabbat Mevarchim (The Shabbat When They Bless). It is called this in honor of the special extra prayer that is added in honor of the coming Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month).

Birkat Hachodesh, the blessing of the new month, begins with a supplication based on a prayer of the Talmudic sage Rav that is recorded in Tractate Brachot 16b. It requests a life of peace, goodness, blessing, sustenance, health, fear of heaven and fear of sin, free of shame, with wealth, honor and a love of Torah and a fear of heaven.

Birkat Hachodesh is recited while standing, in commemoration of the pronouncement of the new moon in the Sanhedrin in the days of the Temple. Because the calendar is now calculated, the congregation is informed of the molad, the exact time the new moon will appear over Jerusalem. This is followed by a request for God to fulfill His promise to gather all the exiles to Israel.

The prayer for the new month continues when the prayer leader, followed by the congregation, declares the new month and the day or days* on which it is to be observed. Then, finally the congregation followed by the prayer leader call upon the Holy One to renew the month for Israel “for life, and for peace, for joy and for gladness, for salvation and for consolation

*Depending on the number of days in the previous month, Rosh Chodesh is observed on either one or two days.

Coming Up

Try to attend services to hear the Blessing of the Month.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Around the World in One Place

In honor of International Museum Day, Jewish Treats presents Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People (often referred to as the Diaspora Museum).

In 1959, at the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, the organization’s president, Nahum Goldmann, suggested the creation of a museum in Israel that would explore the history and life of the Jewish diaspora. His vision came to fruition when Beit Hatfutsot opened its doors on May 15, 1978.

The Museum has a three-fold mission:

1) To present and display the unique and ongoing 4,000 year-old story of the Jewish people – past, present and future.
2) To nurture a sense of belonging among Jewish visitors and to strengthen Jewish identity.
3) To serve as the central address for Jewish discourse, engagement and learning for Jewish individuals, families, communities and organizations from Israel and around the world.

This unique museum fulfills its mission with interactive displays and inclusive storytelling. In fact, it is notable that while the museum has many replicas, it has almost no actual original artifacts, highlighting the fact that it is not a museum of things, but rather it is the collective narrative of a people.

Beit Hatfutsot was designed around six gates: 1) family, 2) community, 3) faith, 4) culture, 5) the Jewish people among the nations, and 6) the return to the land of Israel. Included among its most renowned exhibits, in the Gate of Faith, is a collection of 18 model synagogues, many of which are no longer standing. Another fascinating exhibit at the museum is the Feher Jewish Music Center, where visitors can explore the music of Jewish communities around the world. Additionally, before leaving Beit Hatfutsot and exiting onto the modern campus of Tel Aviv University, guests of the museum are offered the unique opportunity of accessing their own personal history at the Jewish Geneology Center.