Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Nuremberg Trials

On October 16, 1946, ten leaders of the Nazi party were executed after the first of the twelve Nuremberg Trials sentenced them to death. The trials of over 100 defendants took place in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949.

In 1944 after the Allied invasion of Europe, when victory looked likely, various members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration shared plans with the President on how to deal with Nazi war criminals. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau proposed a plan including executing some immediately, banishing others, and that POWs would be forced to rebuild Europe. Secretary of War Henry Stimson advocated for the plan that led to the trials, which FDR endorsed. Eventually, at their famous Yalta summit, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Chairman Stalin endorsed the trials as well.

On May 2, 1945, several months after the sudden death of President Roosevelt, and two days after Adolph Hitler committed suicide, President Truman appointed Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Robert Jackson, to serve as chief prosecutor for the United States at the trials. Justice Jackson convinced his colleagues from other countries to prosecute the Nazis based on “acts which have been regarded as criminal since the time of Cain and have been so written in every civilized code.” Jackson and his colleagues agreed that the court would be called the International Military Tribunal, consisting of a judge from each country.

Jackson wanted the trials to take place in Germany, but, as a result of the war, few German cities had courthouses that were still standing. They chose Nuremberg, where Hitler held many rallies and where the infamous Nuremberg Laws were enacted, which denied Jews property rights and civil rights. 

In Jackson’s opening statement, he stated, “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.” 

On October 16, 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged: Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arhtur Seyss-Inquart and Julius Streicher. Herman Goring committed suicide the night before his execution and Martin Bormann was sentenced to death in abstentia. 

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Never Again

Never miss an opportunity to learn from history’s human rights catastrophes so they are never repeated.

Monday, October 15, 2018


Florence, Italy, purports to be one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, dating back to at least 1159, when Benjamin of Tudela wrote of his visit to Florence, capital of the Tuscany region. The Jewish community was officially formed in 1437, nine years after the community lent funds to Pope Martin V in return for his protection. The formation of the Jewish community coincided with the rise of the Medici family, who, as patrons of the arts and humanities, built Florence as a center of Renaissance culture and art in Italy. When the Medicis fell from power in the 1490s, the Jews were expelled. Since the Jewish community had loaned significant funds to the Republic of Florence, the expulsion was successfully delayed until the Medicis returned to power in 1512.

In 1537, the Medicis permitted expelled Jews from Spain and Portugal, to settle in Florence, which caused the Florence Jewish community to grow. Once the Medicis consolidated their power, they did enact laws requiring a special dress code for Jews and creating the Jewish ghetto of Florence in 1571. Although confined to the ghetto, the Jews created communal institutions and were granted autonomy within the ghetto. Due to the flow of Iberian Jews, tensions rose within the ghetto as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews desired synagogues and schools to conduct services in their own rite, and not the Italian custom.

In 1799, when Napoleon occupied Florence, the Jews were emancipated. In 1848, the Jews left the ghetto and were granted civil rights. In 1861, the Jews of Florence were granted full citizenship. They built the Great Synagogue in 1882 and the Rabbinical College of Padua, 120 miles away, was relocated to Florence.

Although 3,000 Jews lived happily in Florence in 1931, their experience deteriorated with the Nazi occupation of Italy in September 1943. On the 6th of Cheshvan, Dr. Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, the Jewish communal leader of Florence, was included in the initial deportations to Auschwitz. Only 13 out of the 243 Jews deported, returned alive.

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Studying History

Given the longevity and geographic diversity of Jewish communities, when you study world history, you can often also study the history of Jews in that location during that time period.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The First Pitch

Parashat Noach begins by describing the famous teivah, or ark, that God instructed Noah to build. Since the wooden craft would be challenged by the rainstorm and the elements, God instructed Noah to protect the ark with pitch on both the inside and the outside (Genesis 6:14).

The same Hebrew word, teivah, is employed by the Torah to describe the floating bassinet which was used to hide baby Moses from Pharaoh’s officers. This “ark” was water-proofed as well. As the Torah testifies, “And when she (Moses’ mother) could no longer hide him (Moses), she took for him an ark made of reeds, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child in it; and she laid it in the rushes by the river’s brink” (Exodus 2:3). The commentator Rashi, in both aforementioned sources, offers several reasons why Noah’s ark had pitch on both the inside and outside while Moses’ ark only had pitch on the outside. First of all, Rashi notes, Moses’ ark only encountered tranquil and still waters, while Noah’s ark was to face a massive storm with a cataclysmic amount of water. Moses’ ark therefore only needed water-proofing on the outside.

Second, Rashi points out, the pitch was not placed on the inside of Moses’ basket so that “the righteous Moses would not need to breath in the foul smelling pitch.”

There is a well-known rabbinic debate concerning Noah, regarding whether he was objectively or subjectively righteous. Parashat Noach opens with the following verse: “These are the generations of Noah; Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Does “perfect in his generations” limit his being “a just man” or does his being a “just man” stand on its own? Was he only righteous compared to the wicked people of his generation, or would he have been considered as righteous if he lived in Abraham’s generation? Rashi’s comments above seem to indicate that Abraham was more righteous than Noah, and bolsters the opinion that Noah’s righteousness was somewhat subjective.

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Act Objectively Righteous

Don’t justify questionable behavior because it is better than that of others. Do the right thing. You can’t go wrong!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Say Cheese!

For decades the word Polaroid was synonymous with 60 second instant photography, in an era when film canisters were removed from the camera and developed into photographs by a third party.

Dr. Edwin Land, one of the co-founders of the Polaroid Corporation, was born on May 7, 1909 in Bridgeport, CT, to Martha (nee Goldfaden) and Harry Land, Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Land began studying chemistry at Harvard University in 1927, but left after his freshman year to work on his own scientific experiments. In New York City, he spent his days in the Public Library and his nights “borrowing” a lab at Columbia University. That year, he invented the first useable polarizing filter. He returned to Harvard for three years, but dropped out again and opened the Land-Wheelright Laboratories. In 1937, the company was renamed Polaroid Corporation. Land’s polarizing technology was used in a wide range of inventions, including night-vision goggles, 3-D glasses, liquid crystal displays (LCD) and even the U-2 spy plane, some of which were developed for the use of the Allied forces during World War II, and played a major role in their success.

On February 21, 1947, Land introduced to the world the first instant camera. The “Land Camera” hit the market less than two years later. In the early 70s, Dr. Land’s retinex theory of color vision enabled Polaroid to develop the SX-70 instant color camera. On July 27, 1982, Land resigned as chairman of Polaroid, due to the financial failure of Polavision, Polaroid’s innovative instant movie system.

Land was a scientist first, and a CEO second. Although Land is best known for his Polaroid camera, he actually held well over 500 patents. Dr. Edwin Land died on March 1, 1991. The Polaroid Corporation filed for bankruptcy on October 11, 2001.

This treat was first shared on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

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Pictures are History

Make sure to archive and preserve your photos, as they serve as priceless testaments to your family’s history.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Berlin’s Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary

On May 11, 1820, a child was born in Prussia who would, as a grown man, almost single-handedly change the face of German Jewry. Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer attended yeshiva in Hanover, and when he turned 17, enrolled in the yeshiva of Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger in Altona. In 1840, he returned to his hometown of Halberstadt, and, while continuing his rabbinical studies, mastered Semitic languages and mathematics at the University of Berlin. In 1844, he received his doctorate from the University of Halle Wittenberg.

In 1851, as rabbi of Eisenstadt, Hungary, Rabbi Dr. Hildesheimer insisted that proper pedagogy and grammar be requirements in the local Jewish parochial school. There, he founded a yeshiva, where he only accepted students who had general studies education. In addition to the traditional curriculum of Talmud, Halachic codes and responsa literature, the yeshiva taught Tanach (Scriptures) and Hebrew language. The yeshiva opened with 6 students, and by 1868, the yeshiva had educated 128 students, including one American.

In 1869, the Orthodox minority in Berlin, with governmental permission, was allowed to found a separate communal organization catering to their 200 families. They chose Rabbi Hildesheimer to lead them. Here too, on October 22, 1873, corresponding to the 1st of Cheshvan, Rabbi Hildesheimer founded a yeshiva, the Rabbinical Seminary for Orthodox Judaism, also known as the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. Thirty of his former students immediately enrolled. An all-star list of rabbinical luminaries with general educational backgrounds served as the faculty and taught traditional and non-traditional topics, such as Bible, religious philosophy, theoretical and practical homiletics, Jewish history and geography of “Palestine” (pre-state Israel).

Rabbi Hildesheimer died on June 12, 1899 and was succeeded by prominent faculty member Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman. Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg presided over the Hildesheimer Academy when it was forcibly closed by the Nazis in 1938. 71 years later in 2009, with the blessing of two of Rabbi HIldesheimer’s great-grandsons, the seminary was re-opened as the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, funded by the German Central Council of Jews and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

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Jewish Persistence

Learn about Jewish institutions, events and practices the evil Nazis tried to stop, but, despite the Nazi actions, continue to thrive decades after the Third Reich has been destroyed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Military Trappings

On October 22, 1973, the tenuous ceasefire between the Israelis and the Egyptians attempting to end the Yom Kippur War, was broken. As a result, the Israel paratroopers captured the road to Suez City, thereby encircling the Egyptian Third Army east of the Suez Canal. General (and future Prime Minister) Ariel “Arik” Sharon mobilized his paratroopers across the canal. Egyptian attempts from the air to support their trapped comrades were met with fierce Israeli resistance and heavy Egyptian losses. Four days later, on October 26, corresponding to the 30th of the month of Tishrei, President Anwar Sadat’s troops were trapped on the eastern side of the Suez. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger demanded that the Israel’s allow non-military supplies to the trapped Egyptian soldiers and threatened sanctions if the Israelis would destroy the Third Army. Eventually an Israeli-Egyptian ceasefire brought relief to the Egyptians.

Maimonides, in his Halachic opus (Laws of Kings 6:7) rules, “When besieging a city to conquer it, it is forbidden to surround it on all four sides, but rather, only on 3 sides. [The Jewish Army] must allow one path for those who would like to escape or retreat.” Maimonides, who often does not provide sources in his legal work, nonetheless mentions that this law is learned from a Biblical verse: “And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses…” (Numbers 31:7). While the text makes no mention of mercy during sieges, a Midrashic source (Sifrei, parashat Matot #157) upon which Maimonides seemingly relies, indicate this mercy rule.

Jewish war doctrine distinguishes between voluntary wars and mandatory wars. While the former were undertaken in order to expand the borders of the Land of Israel, mandatory wars are fought to stave off existential threats to the inhabitants of Israel, such as the Yom Kippur War, or fights against nations like Amalek, bent on killing all Jews. All Jewish legal authorities agree that this ethic of surrounding the enemy on only three sides would apply in a voluntary war, but debate whether this rule applies to mandatory wars as well. Radbaz, Ramban, and the unknown author of Sefer Hachinuch, all maintain that this rule is not applied in an existential war. Minchat Chinuch, a later erudite expansion on the Sefer Hachinuch, however, suggests that Maimonides’ ruling applies to obligatory wars as well. He argues that the source for this ethic, the war to punish Midian, was a mandatory war, as God commanded Moses to wage war with them.

One of the hallmarks of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is its adherence to a strict code of moral conduct, even punishing its own soldiers for war crimes and excesses when warranted.

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Fight Fairly

Jewish law demands adherence to moral codes, even during trying and life-threatening times, such as wartime.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sponsoring Columbus

Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon are, without question, the most famous monarchs in Spanish history. They were the sponsors of Christopher Columbus’ famous journey (although they are villains in Jewish history, having brought the Inquisition to Spain and having expelled all the Jews).

History, however, is not always as it seems. The Spanish monarchs did not rush to support the risky proposal presented to them, even though Columbus’ primary goal was to find a short-cut to India and thus give them an advantage in the international spice trade. Indeed, Columbus’ historic voyage might never have taken place had it not been for the Iberian Jews.

While numerous Jews (including Don Isaac Abrabanel) helped find the funding for Columbus’ expedition, two “conversos” (Jews whose families converted to Christianity but secretly maintained their Jewish heritage, also known as marranos/anusim) played critical roles in securing royal support: Luis de Santangel, finance minister of Aragon, and Raphael “Gabriel” Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon. In fact, these two men received identical letters from Columbus in the first dispatch he sent back. (Read Columbus’ letter to Santangel.)

Luis de Santangel is credited with making the final winning argument to convince Queen Isabella to support Columbus - suggesting that in helping Columbus reach India, the Queen would be able to further the spread of Christianity. There are those who speculate that his true motive was the hope that Columbus would find a safe haven for Jews, whose life in Spain was becoming more and more difficult. In fact, in a grand sweep of irony, Isabella’s written orders for Columbus’ voyage were signed on the same day as the edict of the expulsion of the Jews. (His ships sailed the day after Tisha B’Avthe ninth of Av.)

This Treat was last posted on October 11, 2010.

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Acknowledge Holidays of other Ethnicities

While Columbus Day has a history as an Italian-American celebration, Jews should find ways to participate as Americans in festivals celebrating other ethnic groups.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Enabling Citizen Cain

Our weekly Torah reading has once again cycled back to the Book of Genesis, returning to the stories and moral lessons of the earliest days of civilization. In addition to the ethical underpinnings of human civilization and its spiritual leanings, the vignettes and events of our forebears in the book of Genesis are also the source for so many of man’s vices, poor habits and evil behaviors.

After the story of Creation and the tragic story of Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, we learn about the second generation of humankind: Cain and Abel. Put yourselves in the shoes of Cain and Abel: the first human beings with human parents. They both chose to serve God and offer sacrifices. Cain, a bit more frugal, offered vegetation, fruits of the field, while Abel offered a more valuable animal sacrifice. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not that of Cain. Cain rose up to kill his brother, and alas, the first murder, death, homicide and human injury took place.

While the Torah implies that the murder was due to Cain’s jealousy that Abel’s offering was accepted, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 22:7) sees the battle between the first brothers as more profound. One Midrash teaches that they fought over how to divide the world--one would own the land and the other would assume mastery over the moveable items. Others claim they each wanted the future Temple to be built on their land. Finally, another opinion suggests that after Eve died, they fought over the only other woman in the world, born as a twin to Abel, the younger brother. Alas, as the great 20th century Bible Commentator, Nehama Leibowitz, taught, based on the aforementioned Midrash, that wars are fought over these 3 paradigms: land/possessions, religion and ego/power.

Think of all the wars between nations and the rationales that are employed to justify those battles. Think of fights that individuals have with one another. We have so much to learn and so much to improve, yet we have not even begun to solve the first challenges found in the Torah.

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Hold Your Fire

Ask yourself if the goals achieved through fighting are ultimately worth the damage it will likely cause. Usually they are not.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Rebbe from Berdichev

One of the major themes of the recently–observed High Holidays is to “emulate” God. Just as God is merciful to humankind, so should we be. One of the greatest role models for this type of empathy was the famed rabbi of Berdichev, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

Legend has it, that on the day of his birth in 1740, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, held a celebration informing those gathered, that the soul of a stark defender of the People of Israel had entered the world.

Levi Yitzchak studied with his father, Rabbi Meir of Husakov, until he married, at which time he moved to his wife’s town of Levertov. It was there where it was suggested that he study under the famed Maggid of Mezeritch, the prime disseminator of the Chassidic thought of the Baal Shem Tov. Ready to assume the spiritual leadership of a community, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak assumed several rabbinic positions, but Chassidism’s radical innovations were still too new, and, unfortunately, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak barely escaped several communities with his life. He did find a more welcoming home to his brand of Jewish thought in the Ukranian town of Berdichev, despite a majority population that was anti-religious and steeped in the anti-religious Enlightenment of the time.

Rav Levi Yitzchak’s trademark love of his fellow Jew manifested itself in his appeals to ‘Der Derbaremdiger’ (the Merciful One) on behalf of all Jews and his logic-defying defense of Der Derbaremdiger’s nation. Many poems and songs are attributed to him, most notably, the Saturday night classic “God of Abraham.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak led the Berdichev community for 25 years, from his arrival in 1785 until his passing in 1809. His yahrzeit is annually observed, on the 25th of Tishrei.

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Judge Favorably

One of the most important Jewish attributes is to try to find favor in one’s fellow’s actions, even when they may not seem so positive on the surface.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


When one thinks of the common denominator of upscale national clothing store chains in the U.S., one finds that many have Jewish names, such as Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue… Many may not know that Bloomingdale’s falls into the same genre.

Lyman Bloomingdale, founder of the department store featuring his surname, was born on February 11, 1841, in New York City to a Bavarian-born German Jewish immigrant, Benjamin Bloomingdale, and his wife, Hannah Weil. Along with his brother Joseph, Lyman learned the clothing business while working in their father’s ladies clothing store. Eventually, on October 3, 1872, the Bloomingdale brothers opened their first store called “The Bloomingdale Brothers Great East Side Bazaar” in New York City, featuring a variety of European fashions, which were dispatched to New York City from their buying office in Paris. Lyman, his wife Hattie, and two sons Samuel and Hiram, lived above the store. In 1876, the family moved to larger quarters and added more children, Irving and Corrine. Due to their success, they moved the store in 1886 to 59th Street and 3rd Avenue in New York. It was on those premises in 1898, where the first patented “inclined elevator” (today we would call it an escalator) was introduced. Lyman Bloomingdale was the primary financier of this innovation, created by Jesse W. Reno. Among Lyman’s social and charitable associations was his presidency of the Isaiah Lodge, Independent Order of B’nai Brith, a founder of the Montefiore Home Country Sanitarium for Consumptives, and Treasurer of Temple Beth El.

Lyman died on October 13, 1905. His sons Samuel and Hiram assumed the leadership of Bloomingdales, which was sold to the Federated Department Stores in 1994, and is now affiliated with Macy’s Department store. The holding company was re-named Macy’s. As of 2017, the Bloomingdale’s name is affixed to 38 stores and 17 outlet stores throughout the United States and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Contributions of Jews to American Culture

Jews have contributed much to American culture. These innovations should be lauded and should make Jews feel proud.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 oxen were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests offered sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never-ending.

On the night of Simchat Torah, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.

During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.

For more information on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, click here.

*This Treat was originally published on Monday, October 20, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

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Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility. The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah.

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The Torah is Proud!

Some have pointed out that Simchat Torah, can translate in Hebrew as “the Torah’s joy.” After celebrating Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Hoshana Rabba with fealty, awe and joy, the Torah rejoices in the faith of the Jewish people.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (3:31b): "This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King."

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor.

On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around the bimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabba 5779 begins Saturday night.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Some people have a custom to eat kreplach, 
meat dumplings, on Hoshana Rabba.

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Everyone Does the Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we can reach our full potential once again.

For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot.  Please click here.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

You Are So Beautiful

On Sukkot, beautifying the mitzvot (commandments) of the Sukkah and the Four Species are a virtue.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which the priests ceremoniously drew water from the spring of Shiloach and poured it into the designated bowl attached to the altar. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, the Celebration of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the spring of Shiloach and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah party, which generally takes place in the sukkah. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Talmud Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?” (Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel, is recited.

This Treat was last posted on April 8, 2015.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Holiday Music

One of the ways to celebrate the Jewish holidays, especially Sukkot, the Festival of Joy, is through music. The Jewish music industry has exploded in recent decades and many upbeat and lively songs can be purchased, downloaded or listened to online.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Shechina (Divine Presence) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..." and so on throughout the week.

*The order of the Ushpeezin may vary depending on community.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Value of Hosting

Even in a temporary dwelling, Jews endeavor to welcome guests.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Four Species

The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year.

Indeed, there is a special commandment (Leviticus 23:40) that one make a specific effort to enhance and beautify this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of taking the four species is performed by taking a frond of a palm branch (lulav), 3 myrtle stems (hadassim) and 2 willow branches (aravot) in one's right hand and the citron (etrog)--held upside down--in one's left hand [lefties should reverse hands] and reciting the blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech Ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b'mitz’vo’tav v'tzee’va’nu al n'tee’laht lulav.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to take the four species.

(Those performing the mitzvah for the first time this year should recite the blessing of Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu.)

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down. (The order may differ depending on custom.)
Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: "It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth."

Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

For more about the lulav and etrog, please read Jewish Treats The Perfect Species.

This Treat was last posted on September 28, 2012.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Is Sukkot Part of the High Holidays?

It is clear that during the Ten Days of Penitence, we are meant to be on a higher spiritual realm. We recite Psalm 47 seven times prior to blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, symbolizing our piercing the seven levels of heaven to approach God in a unique way. At the end of the Ne’ilah service, with a few fleeting moments of Yom Kippur left, we cry out, “God is our Lord” seven times, which represents a return back through the seven levels of heaven back to normalcy.

Yet there are sources which view Sukkot as a continuum of that which was achieved on Yom Kippur. Psalm 27, which is recited twice daily in the liturgy from a month prior to Rosh Hashanah until Shemini Atzeret, references both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “A psalm of David. The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? (Psalms 27:1)” “My light” refers to Rosh Hashanah and “I fear” refers to Yom Kippur. Yet, later on the psalm, King David wrote, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in his Sukkah; under the cover of his tent shall He hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock” (Psalms 27:5).

Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, also notes this link in the liturgy around the Shema prayer. Prior to the Shema prayer we bless God “who selects His nation Israel with love.” This he says, refers to Rosh Hashana. After the three Biblical paragraphs of the Shema, we then bless God as the “redeemer of Israel.” This represents Yom Kippur. Afterwards we ask God to “spread over us the shelter (Sukkah) of his peace.” Rabbi Goldwicht suggests that Rosh Hashana is a festival where we declare our love for the Almighty, Yom Kippur is when He forgives us and redeems us. What does one do when they have just won a windfall, such as Divine atonement? We protect it, so we don’t lose it. Sukkot, he advanced, is that protection. Sukkot is a way of protecting the redemption of Yom Kippur. We exit the home and demonstrate our faith in His protection.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

An Act of Faith

The mystics called the sukkah “shades of faith” because sitting in the Sukkah represents an act of faith in God.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Perceiving Change

Parashat Ha’azinu, also called Shirat Ha’azinu, the poem or song of Ha’azinu in Hebrew, is literally laid-out in the Torah scroll as a poem, not as the typical prose one finds. Moses’ final words become more rhythmical, and reflective of the Jewish journey from days of old as he approaches his final moments on earth. This penultimate Torah portion presents many famous verses, one of which is the following:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Moses reminds the generation about to enter the Land of Canaan that one of the best ways to move forward is to look backward. Interestingly, although not appearing in this context, the Hebrew root k.d.m is found in words such as kedem, which means “in the past” in Hebrew, yet kadimah, sharing the identical three letter root, connotes moving forward. The Jew progresses by gauging past history.

But the Hebrew word for years, “shnote” as it appears in the verse above, can also mean “changes” in Hebrew. Using this connotation, the verse reads, “Remember the days of old, consider the changes of the generations…Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, using the alternative understanding, suggested that Moses may have been saying something in addition to the power of precedent. If a leader wants to succeed, they must understand changes in attitude and thought of those they want to lead. This does not imply that societal changes trump Torah principles. Moses would be the last person to make such a claim. But it behooves the leader to know how to communicate in the lingo of the generation.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Communication Tip

If you capture and employ the vernacular of your audience, you will have a better chance to engage them.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Build Your Own Sukkah

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28") and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40") tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be "kosher," there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It should not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate. 

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree).  If there is a small area within the sukkah that is covered by something overhead, one should avoid sitting beneath it.

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday night at sunset. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Building on Yom Kippur’s Momentum

With Yom Kippur in the rear view mirror, we find ourselves confronting the festival of Sukkot, beginning a mere five days after Yom Kippur. While we must transition quickly from the intensity of Yom Kippur to the unbridled joy of Sukkot, our sages understood that we cannot just merely run away from Yom Kippur, as if school ended and we run to our summer vacations. Yom Kippur is meant to spiritually enrich and inspire us for the entire year.

We reluctantly depart from Yom Kippur, absorbing its lessons. A comment by Rabbi Zev Shandalov may be apt: “While it’s important to act properly between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is perhaps more important to act properly between Yom Kippur and (the next) Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin in his book "Moadim b'Halacha" notes that if we follow along the Torah’s narrative of the High Priest’s immersions in the mikveh on Yom Kippur, it appears that at the end of the day, the High Priest immerses in the mikveh after he exits the Holy of Holies. Isn’t the mikveh used to prepare for a holy event? Why would he immerse after exiting the Holy of Holies? He answers that there is great holiness in entering the “real world.” The challenge is to build on the momentum of the spiritual high achieved on Yom Kippur so it continues far after the fast ends.

Many have the custom to begin morning prayers a little earlier than usual on the morning following Yom Kippur. This makes a strong statement that we are not running away from the closeness that we felt to God during the Ten Days of Penitence. We want to sustain all that was gained during the Days of Awe. As such, some show eagerness and love through their actions by coming early to the synagogue. Others have a custom to begin building the Sukkah a mere hours after the Yom Kippur fasts are broken and “the gates” were sealed. Aside from transitioning to Sukkot, we begin our post Yom Kippur life in the performance of a mitzvah, a Torah commandment.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Yom Kippur Must Spill Over

Endeavor to bring your Rosh Hashana’s resolutions to fruition.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neilah: The Final Service

While one may make requests of God or atone for transgressions at any time of the year, the first ten days of Tishrei (from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur) are considered particularly propitious for repentance. In fact, it is said of this time period that the heavenly Gates of Mercy are cast open to more readily receive the prayers of penitents.

Although the “gates of heaven” are a poetic metaphor, it is one that makes a metaphysical process easier to comprehend. Indeed, in many ways, this imagery reflects the process and urgency of the Yom Kippur Neilah service. The final service of the Day of Atonement, Neilah means “closing,” an allusion to the fact that, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the Gates of Mercy are closing.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that many people find the Neilah service to be incredibly emotional and inspiring.

In the days of the Temple, a Neilah service was added to other fast days. Today, Neilah is a service unique to Yom Kippur. But, even in Talmudic times, the Yom Kippur Neilah had its own special instructions: “On Yom Kippur, as it becomes dark, one reads the seven benedictions (the holiday Amidah) and makes confession and concludes with confession” (Yoma 87b).

Following the conclusion of the Neilah Amidah, is a series of powerful call-and-response declarations that include the words of Shema, the pronouncement “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (three times), and the proclamation “The Lord - Only He is God” (seven times). Then the shofar is sounded, and the congregation joyfully declares “Next year in Jerusalem!”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one "afflict one's soul"? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur. If a doctor instructs a person not to fast, that person should discuss the situation with their rabbi, who should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.

Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast, it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. Crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Two For One

While Yom Kippur is a very serious day of introspection, it is also regarded as a joyous day, since God annually forgives the Jewish people. As fasting is not conducive to celebration, the day prior to Yom Kippur is considered a festive day, where we are commanded to eat and rejoice. Apparently, it takes two days to fully absorb the power of Yom Kippur.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Post Labor Day Whites

When is it fashionably acceptable to wear white after Labor Day? On Yom Kippur!

Many people have the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur. In the synagogue you will often see women dressed in white suits or dresses and men bedecked in a white garment known as a kittel (Yiddish for robe).

There are several reasons for this custom:

1) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which we ask God to overlook all of our mistakes. Consequently, it is customary to wear white as a way of emulating the angels, who stand before God in purity. In Hebrew, angels are known as "malachim" (singular-mal’ach) which means messenger(s). The malachim were created as God’s spiritual messengers and are pure, totally spiritual creatures. Human beings, on the other hand, were created of both matter and spirit. It is this combination that gives us "Free Will," enabling us to make choices that, unfortunately, are not always the best. These unwise choices are what require us to engage in teshuva (repentance). On Yom Kippur, one wishes to emulate the malachim, the pure spirits who exist only to serve the Creator.

2) White garments, especially the kittel, are also reminiscent of the burial shroud. On Yom Kippur, one’s life is held in balance by the greatest Judge of all. When one is reminded of one’s mortality, a person is more likely to engage in honest introspection...Did I really act properly? Was there anything I could have done better? etc.

3) And of course, on Yom Kippur you don’t have to worry about food stains!

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

The Book Of Jonah

The Book of Jonah is one of the best known stories in the Bible and is read during Mincha (the afternoon service) on Yom Kippur because of its powerful message of repentance:

God instructs Jonah to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn them that Nineveh will be destroyed unless the people mend their ways. 

Hoping to flee and avoid this mission, Jonah boards a ship. 

God sends a great storm. The people on the ship, fearing for their lives, discern that Jonah is the cause of the storm and, at Jonah's suggestion, throw him overboard. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. (The Hebrew word is fish, but it is commonly translated as a whale.) Jonah lives inside the fish for three days, praying to God and accepting God’s command to go to Nineveh.

When Jonah is spit out on dry land, he goes to Nineveh to bring them God’s message. The people repent and are saved. Jonah, however, leaves the city depressed and angry that this city of idol-worshipers heeded God’s warning and will be saved, while his fellow Jews often do not. He sits outside the city waiting to see what will happen.

Jonah falls asleep, and while he sleeps, God makes a gourd grow over him to shade him from the intense heat. Jonah awakens and rejoices over the gourd. On that very night, God sends a worm to destroy the gourd that provided him with protection from the harsh sun, causing Jonah to weep.

God then rebukes Jonah for having pity on a plant that appeared and disappeared in one night, but having no compassion for the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

God Is Everywhere

The Book of Jonah teaches us that while one cannot hide from God, God is ultimately compassionate. Remember that, as we approach Yom Kippur.

Friday, September 14, 2018

For The Sin We Committed

One of the main steps in the process of teshuva (repentance) is confessing one’s sins and verbalizing one’s errors. In so doing, a person admits committing a sin, not so much to anyone who happens to hear, but, more importantly, to one’s self.

On Yom Kippur, there is a special service of confession, known as Vidui, that is an integral part of each of the five prayer services that are recited during the day. The great sages recognized how difficult it is for people to recall all of their actions over the past year, so they created a formula to help people understand the consequences of some of their actions.

The most prominent section of the Vidui is the section known as Ahl Chayt. Each verse begins with the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” and then enumerates a general transgression. While reciting the Vidui service, it is customary to stand in a humbled position, with one’s head lowered. Upon reciting each Ahl Chayt, the supplicant strikes the left side of his/her chest with his/her right hand.

Due to space, Jewish Treats can provide you with only a sampling of some of the confessions from the Vidui service:

For the sin we committed before You without knowledge, and for the sin we committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin we committed before You with wicked speech, and for the sin we committed before You by scoffing.

For the sin we committed before You in business dealings, and for the sin we committed before You in eating and drinking.

When the prayer leader repeats the confessional service out loud, the Ahl Chayt section of the Vidui is divided into three sections. Between each section the prayer leader, and then the congregation, sing: “And for all of these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, grant us atonement.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Whosoever Is Wise

"Return, O Israel, for you have stumbled in your sin" (Hosea 14:2).

Um, who has the remote control? Can someone please change the channel?!

Let’s face it, none of us really want to hear a fire-and-brimstone reproof of all of the things we’ve done wrong and how we must mend our ways. This is basic human psychology and is obviously the great challenge facing all rabbis in the preparation of their Shabbat Shuva sermons.

Shabbat Shuva, which is so called because of the first word "Shuva," return, in the week’s haftarah reading (Hosea 14:2 -10), is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Traditionally, it is this Shabbat sermon that is regarded as the highlight of the year, the premier opportunity for rabbis to inspire their congregants to work harder on becoming better Jews. The goal, as with all things in the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is teshuva, repentance. (It is interesting to note that in many communities in pre-war Europe, the Shabbat Shuva sermon was one of only two sermons that the rabbi delivered during the year - the other being just before Passover.)

But what is the source of inspiration, and what motivates change? There are those who want to be humored into self-improvement, while others wish to hear inspiring stories of triumph over challenge.

Perhaps the prophet Hosea said it best: "Whosoever is wise, let him understand these things, whosoever is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of God are right, and the just walk in them; but transgressors do stumble therein" (14:10).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shabbat Shuva.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 


Any preparations you can do for Yom Kippur will enhance your experience.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Do We Attempt to Fool God this Week?

During the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, Jews are encouraged to improve their actions, with both God and people. Every year Jews endeavor to transform themselves, by making the effort to elevate their speech, demonstrate less jealousy, act less materially, pray better and observe the commandments the way they should be observed. But many of us also know that we often cannot sustain the newfound piety much past breaking our fast on Yom Kippur night. What is the goal of our spiritual push during these ten days, when we know the likely outcome? Are we trying to pull a “fast one” on the Almighty?

Attempting to deceive someone, Geneivat Da’at, which literally means stealing someone else’s knowledge, ranks first in a Rabbinic list of the types of robbery (Tosefta Bava Kama 7:8). As a matter of fact, Rabbi Yechiel M. Epstein (1829-1908) suggested that during the Ten Days of Repentance, it is not always appropriate to attempt to act more stringently than one would normally, since it would be hard to justify returning to the less stringent behavior after Yom Kippur (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 603:2).

Rabbi Jonathan Eibshutz (1690-1764) views the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as opportunities for atonement. “There are seven days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, corresponding to the seven days of the week. Each of those seven days atones for the sins committed on those days throughout the year. On the Sunday of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, one attains penitence for all vice that took place on that past year’s Sundays, and so on” (Ye’arot D’vash, 1:10).

Others note that the prophet Isaiah taught (Isaiah 55:6), “Seek out God when He can be found, call to God, when He is near.” Maimonides asserts that “when God can be found” refers to the Ten Days of Repentance (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:6). As such, our behavior during this period need not comport to how we act after Yom Kippur.

Ultimately, of course, the efforts we make during this holy week, ought to be serious. Every Jew should try to make any upgrades made to their piety and spirituality during Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, permanent.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Make the Effort to Improve and Sustain that Improvement

Think seriously about your Jewish New Year’s resolutions and how you will be able to make them really happen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

From Holy God to Holy King

On Rosh Hashana, God judges the world (and all the people therein), but their fates are not sealed until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days that we must present a compelling case of our worthiness to the heavenly court.

These ten days that start on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom Kippur, are known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, people go out of their way to make amends both with their fellow humans and with God. In addition to the acts of teshuva, the sages of the Talmud altered the words of the Amidah in order to create the mind-set necessary for this time of year:

“Raba ben Chin’neh’na the Elder also said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year one says in the prayer [Amidah], ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who loves righteousness and judgment,’ except during the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’” (Berachot 12b).

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).
These changes are discussed at length in the codes of halacha. The general consensus is that if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y'mei Teshuva.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.