Friday, August 28, 2015

Celebrating the Groom

A great deal of the wedding seems to focus on the bride. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear of a wedding referred to as “her day.”  In Jewish tradition, however, there is one wedding-oriented event that is specifically celebrated in honor of the chatan, the groom. The actual day of the event, however, depends on whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi.

Among Ashkenazim, it is customary for the chatan to celebrate his aufruf, as it is known, on the Shabbat before the wedding (although circumstances sometimes cause the aufruf to be held two Shabbatot before the wedding or at one of the weekday Torah reading services). Aufruf is the Yiddish term for being called up for an aliyah, when the chatan makes the blessing over the reading of the Torah.

Among the Sephardim, the honor of a special aliyah to the Torah is reserved for the Shabbat after the wedding. This Shabbat is referred to as the Shabbat Chatan.

The primary purpose of both the aufruf and the Shabbat Chatan is that the chatan receives an aliyah to the Torah. Different synagogues have different customs on how this honor is celebrated. Often the family of the chatan will sponsor a kiddush (generally a festive buffet following the Shabbat morning service) in honor of the chatan. In some congregations, it is customary to throw candy (or sometimes nuts or raisins) at the chatan.

Some scholars have connected aufruf/Shabbat chatan back to a Midrash Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, which describes how on Shabbat, in the era of the First Temple, people would congregate between two special gates of the Temple. One gate was for mourners, who would receive words of comfort, and the other was for grooms, who would be greeted with rejoicing and receive a blessing “May the One Who dwells in this house (the Temple) gladden you with sons and daughters.”

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Shalom

Make an extra effort to enjoy the peace of Shabbat.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I Am To My Beloved

The Torah verse that epitomizes the emotion of love is: “Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee” - I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). The ideal love relationship according to the Torah is one in which both parties are willing to give themselves to their chosen partner. The Hebrew acronym for the verse Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee is “Elul,” the name of the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana.

When speaking of Rosh Hashana, the sages discuss the great sense of awe that one must feel. They do not, however, mean awe as in fear. Rather, they mean awe as in a sense of reverence, of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God. The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not simply to make people feel guilty for their mistakes or promise to do better (although that too is important), but, as with much of Jewish life, it is to help develop each individual’s relationship with God.

To have a relationship with God, a person must recognize all of God’s roles--including King and Judge, as is the focus of Rosh Hashana. During Elul, however, we focus on God as the Beloved of the Jewish people.

In many rabbinic allegories, the Jewish people are likened to a bride while God is portrayed as the waiting groom. The Jewish people (both as individuals and as a nation) can gain the most by recognizing that God loves His people and wishes to bring blessing upon their homes.

"I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me." When “I” (meaning the Jewish people) can truly give to “my beloved” (meaning God), then God will become ours in a beautiful and Divine partnership.

This Treat was last posted on August 13, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Divine Relating

Take some time to think about how you allow yourself to experience God's presence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

For Better Bread

When Charles Fleischmann (1835-1897) and his brother Maximilian (1846-1890) came to America (Cincinnati, Ohio), they were shocked and dismayed at the quality - or lack thereof - of American bread. The reason for the coarse, dense loaves was a lack of yeast, which lead to the use of homemade starters. Back in Vienna, Charles had managed a distillery that produced spirits and yeast, so the Fleischmann brothers knew exactly what they needed to do.

After finding a financial backer, James Goff, they established a yeast plant in Cincinnati. Their compressed yeast cake was a success and had a tremendous impact on American baking, both at home and commercially.

To launch their product, the Fleischmann brothers opened a concession stand, “The Model Vienna Bakery,” at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, PA. Soon, Fleischmann’s yeast became a household name. In addition to yeast, the Fleishmanns became one of America’s major producers of vinegar and the country’s first commercial gin maker. To enhance their products, Charles Fleischmann invented and held the patent to numerous pieces of machinery necessary for yeast production.

The company, which remained in the family until it was acquired by Nabisco in the 1980s, continued to grow and expand even after the passing of its founder. In 1900, Fleischmann’s opened a research facility in Peekskill, NY. Later, as part of the war effort during World War II, the Fleischmann’s company invented the still popular dry-active yeast that did not need to be refrigerated.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honey Yum

On your next shopping trip, buy some honey for your Rosh Hashana challah.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kiss And Make Up

Today, August 25th, is the anonymously anointed “Kiss and Make Up Day.” These modern “holidays” have little historic meaning, but Jewish Treats would be remiss in not noting that the "holiday" falls within the Hebrew month of Elul.

Elul begins the 30 day countdown to Rosh Hashana, the New Year. Rosh Hashana is also Yom Ha’din, the Day of Judgment. On the first of Tishrei, God judges the world as a whole, each nation and each individual, and determines what will be their fate in the year to come. 

As a preparation for the Day of Judgment, Elul is a time of teshuva,repentance--an opportune time for self-reflection and making amends. In fact, it is more important that a person put things right between him/herself and his/her fellow human than asking God for forgiveness for any particular sin against Heaven. 

For this reason, the month of Elul is a time when many Jews make extra efforts to repair damaged relationships. This may be as simple an act as paying back the $5 a friend lent back in March. It may also entail the far more difficult task of seeking out a family member or an acquaintance and confessing/apologizing for hurtful behavior (blaming them for something, gossip, etc.) 

While “kiss and make up” is a cute way of expressing this very important process of creating peace between people, teshuva is a serious and meaningful process. One should not seek forgiveness unless one really is sorry for what was done. 

This Treat was last posted on August 25, 2011.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

First Repair

Begin repairing relationships with those close to you by making it a point to apologize rather than assume all will be forgiven.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Aleppo Codex

The story of the Jewish people is one of wandering, exile and redemption. It is therefore not surprising that many items precious to Jewish life have followed similar paths. An excellent example is the Aleppo Codex.

The Aleppo Codex, which is also known as Keter Aram Soba (The Crown of Aleppo), was written in the 10th century. This reference tome contains both proper vowelling (a Torah scroll has no vowels) as well as the Masoretic cantillation marks of Aaron ben Asher, for the Tanach (Pentateuch, Prophets and Writings).

In the 11th century, the Codex was purchased by the Karaite community of Jerusalem. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem (1099) however, they held the holy works they had seized for ransom. Among these was the Aleppo Codex, the ransom for which was paid for by the Karaite community of Cairo. In Egypt, many respected scholars, including Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides), consulted the Codex. It remained in Cairo until the 14th century, when it was brought to Aleppo, Syria and kept in a special cabinet in Aleppo’s Central Synagogue, where it remained for over 500 years.

Sadly, in 1947, rioters burned down the synagogue in protest of the United Nations agreement to partition Palestine. Ten years later, due to the great heroism of a Syrian Jewish cheese maker named Murad Faham, the Codex (which had mostly survived the fire) was smuggled to Jerusalem. In the holy city, it became the possession of the Ben Tzvi Institute. In the 1980s, it was put on display in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.

While the Codex is now safe, its arrival in Israel was not without controversy. Some say that the Codex was never meant to go to the Institute but to the Syrian Jewish community in Jerusalem. Additionally, the Aleppo Codex is no longer complete. The Israel Museum has only 294 of the 487 pages (most of the Pentateuch is missing). While it was believed that the missing pages were destroyed in the fire, a few (very few) of the missing pages have since reappeared.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Book Care

If you have old Jewish books, treat them with care so that they may be preserved for the future.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Seeking God In Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read It

Take the time to carefully read through Psalm 27 in your primary language.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What’s In The Book: Chronicles

Technically, Chronicles, the last book of the 24 books of the entire Bible, is divided into two separate books, I Chronicles and II Chronicles. Based on the nature of the text, however, they are best summarized together. The Hebrew title for the Book of Chronicles is Divrei Hayamim, which is most accurately translated as “The Events of the Days.”

Chronicles outlines human history from Adam until the beginning of the Second Temple. Within Chronicles, there is a strong emphasis on geneology -- the first nine chapters are particularly laden with lists of who begot whom. While the early geneology lists are interrupted for certain narratives, the family listings fade from prominence once Chronicles reaches King David. From I Chronicles 10 until II Chronicles 9, the text focuses on the reign of King David and the reign of his heir, King Solomon, both of whom ruled over a united kingdom of all twelve tribes. The final chapters of II Chronicles focus primarily on the Kings of Judah (the southern kingdom) through the period of the Babylonian conquest and the Jewish people’s eventual return from exile.

The Books of Chronicles are part of the Hebrew Bible known as Ktuvim, Writings. According to tradition, Chronicles was written by Ezra the Scribe, who led the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel in order to begin rebuilding the Temple. At the time it was written, Chronicles, which retells much of Jewish history already recorded in the Five Books of Moses, the books of Samuel and the books of Kings, may have been conceived as a history book to help the exiled Jewish nation reconnect with their powerful history and give them the courage to start rebuilding.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


As the new school season begins, be supportive of your local Jewish education institutions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Famous Family of Translators

In the early Middle Ages, the global Jewish community was basically divided between those living in lands controlled by the church and those in lands controlled by the Arabs. The dominant cultures in which they lived affected both the customs and the language of Jews in those countries. Many of the greatest Jewish scholars of this era actually wrote in Arabic or Judeo-Arabic.

The language disparity between the Jewish communities gave rise to a unique group of scholar - translators. Among this group there was one fascinating family - the ibn Tibbons. The patriarch of this translating clan was Judah ben Saul ibn Tibbon. A Jewish physician from Granada, he left Muslim controlled Granada in the mid-twelfth century after persecution had begun, and relocated to Lunel in southern France. There, Judah taught his sons the art of translating, and they went on to attain wide renown.

Samuel ben Judah is best-known for translating Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed from Arabic to Hebrew. His work of translation later had to be defended by Samuel’s son Moses and his grandson Judah against those who found the philosophical work of Maimonides heretical.

Jacob ben Machir ben Judah ibn Tibbon (1236-1304) was, perhaps, the most famous of the ibn Tibbon family.  In addition to translating many works of scientific and philosophical subjects, he was also an astronomer of great note. In Provence, France, he was called Don Pro Fiat Tibbon, in Latin Profatius Judaeus. Jacob created an astronomical quadrant (a type of astrolabe) and an astronomical table beginning in 1300.

The ibn Tibbons not only helped cross the divide between Jewish communities, they also were instrumental in bringing the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans back to Western society. These works had been translated from Greek to Arabic, and the Jewish translators then translated them to Hebrew, making them accessible to be translated to Latin.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Old Books

Look for Jewish books at used bookstores and garage sales.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Alarm Clock

New beginnings are often difficult.

For those who are not “morning people,” every day is a new beginning, and we must be thankful to whoever invented the alarm clock, which keeps us from being labeled as “slothful” and “lazy.”

No other beginning is quite as profound as the one we face annually at Rosh Hashana. During the High holidays, God gives all people the chance to face His judgment and wipe their slate clean.

Looking honestly at one's actions and resolving to make changes to one's life is a daunting task. Just as in the morning, people naturally desire to continue sleeping and not wake up at what feels like the crack of dawn, most people wish to roll over and bury their heads back in the blanket rather than face the challenge of change.

The great symbol of Rosh Hashana is the shofar. Knowing well the nature of people, the sages realized that what was really needed was an "alarm clock." They therefore instituted the custom of blowing the shofar every morning during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana. When the shofar is sounded in the synagogue, it is meant to serve as an alarm clock that awakens our souls and reminds us that Rosh Hashana is soon at hand.

This Treat was last posted on Monday, August 27, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listen Within

Take a few moments and think about the things you want to "wake up" and improve upon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

American Archivist

Selma Stern-Taeubler (1890-1981) was a natural achiever. Not only was this doctor’s daughter the first woman to be accepted to Baden-Baden’s Gymnasium in Germany, she even graduated from there with honors. A natural scholar with a penchant for history, Stern-Taeubler continued her studies at the University of Heidelberg and earned her doctorate from Maximilian University of Munich in 1913.

Following the First World War, Stern-Taeubler realized that, as a Jew, she would never have a proper place in Germany. At the same time, Stern-Taeubler recognized that a large portion of German Jewry was losing its connection to, and understanding of, Jewish life and practice. Stern-Taeubler became a research assistant at the newly opened Akademie Fur Die Wissenschaf des Judentums (Academy for Jewish Studies) in Berlin. Stern-Taeubler thus began an academic career that enabled her to write her three volume masterpiece: The Prussian State and the Jew. The work began with the Jews of the 18th century, but, with the growing anti-Semitism that she recorded, it became abundantly clear that the Germany in which Stern-Taeubler had been raised was rapidly disappearing. When Stern-Taeubler and her husband, Eugen Taeubler - himself a research scholar at the Wissenschaf des Judentums - were denied library access, they knew it was time for change. After salvaging as many documents as they could, the Taeublers headed for the United States. 

Arriving in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Taeublers sought to continue their Jewish scholarly activities and soon joined the staff of the Hebrew Union College - he as a teacher, she as the first archivist of the American Jewish Archives. During her first years in America, Stern-Taeubler produced her only novel, The Spirit Returneth (title of translated novel) about the Jewish community in Europe at the time of the Black Death (14th century).

Eugen Taeubler died in 1956. In 1960, Stern-Taeubler retired from the Archives and moved to Basel, Switzerland. She continued her research and writing until her death on August 17, 1981.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Intellectual Investigation

Investigate the history of different Jewish communities.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Jews in Pakistan

In the last decade, the nation of Pakistan has frequently been in the news, all too often connected to reports of violence, bloodshed and war. Pakistan itself is actually a very young country - it was created when it was separated from India on August 14, 1946.

At the time of the creation of Pakistan, there were approximately 2,000 (reports vary between 1,500 and 2,500) Jews living there, the majority in the city of Karachi. These Jews had, for the most part, come from India and were members of the Bene Israel community.

Despite having only one synagogue, Magain Shalome, built in 1893, the Karachi Jews were able to successfully build their community during the first half of the 20th century. A Young Man’s Jewish Association was established and there was a special fund, the Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund, to support poor Jews.  The Jewish community was accepted enough within the city that Abraham Reuben became a councilor in the Karachi City Corporation in 1936.

Life for the Jews of Pakistan began to change not long after it became an independent country, and Israel moved toward its own independence. In 1948, Pakistani rioters, opposed to the creation of the State of Israel, attacked the synagogue. Many of the Pakistani Jews left, heading first to Bombay and from there to Israel, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Similar violence recurred during each of Israel’s wars, and the Jews of Pakistan continued to flee. Those who remained hid among the general population. 

On July 17, 1988, the Magain Shalome Synagogue was destroyed by presidential order so that a shopping mall could be built on the site. The Jewish cemetery remains and is maintained by local non-Jews. 

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fresh Air

If the weather permits, enjoy a nice Shabbat walk. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

From Bandit to Scholar

Few people famous for their Torah learning have as colorful a background as Rabbi Simon ben Lakish, who is frequently referred to in rabbinic literature as “Reish Lakish.” Before dedicating himself to Torah study, Reish Lakish was a bandit and a gladiator.

The story of his transformation from outlaw to scholar is recorded in the Talmud: Reish Lakish 
jumped into a pool of water in which Rabbi Yochanan was bathing. Amazed at the skillfullness and distance of his jump, Rabbi Yochanan told Reish Lakish that his unusual strength should be used for Torah study. Reish Lakish responded in kind, suggesting that Rabbi Yochanan’s beauty (for he was exceptionally handsome) should be for women. Rabbi Yochanan immediately proposed that, if Reish Lakish would repent from his outlaw ways and become a scholar, he could marry Rabbi Yochanan’s sister, who he said “is more beautiful than I” (Talmud Baba Metzia 84a).

As Rabbi Yochanan had suspected, when Reish Lakish focused his strength on Torah, he was able to achieve uncommon greatness. One scholar, Rabbi Ulla, said of him, “One who saw Reish Lakish in the study hall would think he was uprooting mountains and grinding them against each other” (Talmud Sanhedrin 24a).

In time, Reish Lakish came to equal Rabbi Yochanan in scholarship, and the two became study mates, although they were often at odds in their opinions. 

The two sages studied together until tragedy struck. One day, a group of sages were trying to determine the ritual status of an assortment of knives. Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan had differing opinions, and the latter muttered, “A robber understands his trade,” a not-so subtle allusion to Reish Lakish’s shady background. Reish Lakish responded by pointing out how he was a master in his former life and a master in his current life. Rabbi Yochanan felt himself deeply hurt. Realizing how severely he had pained his brother-in-law, Resh Lakish was so upset that he himself became ill and died. Following his death, a grief stricken Rabbi Yochanan was so inconsolable that he eventually lost his mind (Baba Metzia 84a).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Confidence to Succeed

Don't doubt your abilities to make changes in your life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Who Drinks the Water?

It’s a classic ethical dilemma: Two people are lost in the desert with only one water bottle. There is not enough water for both people to reach civilization. Who gets the water, or do they share it (and both die)?

Let’s be honest, most people run through all the answers in their head. The natural instinct of “Hey, it’s my water” is beaten down by every lesson on sharing and sacrificing for others. But the altruistic response of giving all of the water to the other person goes against basic survival instinct. Sharing the water seems to leave open the possibility that the two people might find more water or come across someone who will rescue them and transport them to civilization.

The sages (Talmud Baba Metzia 62a) were divided regarding the correct response. Ben Petura believed that the correct solution was to share the water. His reasoning, however, was that sharing the water and both dying was better than either of them living and watching the other die. After all, doesn’t it say in Talmud Sanhedrin 74a: “Who says your blood is redder? Maybe your friend’s blood is redder?” Meaning, how can an ordinary human being choose who lives and who dies?
On the other hand, Rabbi Akiva, whose opinion is the accepted one, declared that the owner of the water is the one who should drink the water. As proof, he cited Leviticus 25:36, which states: “That your brother may live with you.” While this verse is actually part of a discussion on usury, Rabbi Akiva cited it to answer our question. He noted that the Torah said “with you,” to teach us that while in most instances you must help your brother. This is not so if it comes at the expense of your life! Therefore, the owner of the water gets to keep it.

This Treat was last posted on May 6, 2010.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Best Prepared

When traveling or hiking, make certain to bring enough supplies for emergency situations.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Goes Around Comes Around

Is there any truth to the popular statement, “What goes around, comes around”? It is a pithy phrase that is all too often suggested (somewhat viciously) after a person falls on hard times. Hardship occurs and suddenly everyone points to that person’s flaws and finds a way to connect those flaws to that person’s current difficult situation. 

The concept of “What goes around, comes around,” whether for good or ill, can be found in several forms in Jewish literature. While the most prominent of these is the idea of midah k’neged midah (measure for measure), one of the most interesting insights is a dialogue recorded in Talmud Shabbat: “Rabbi Hiyya said to his wife: ‘When a poor man comes, be quick to offer him bread, so that others may be quick to offer it to your children.’ ‘Are you cursing them [your own children, that they will be poor?]!’ she exclaimed.” 

Rabbi Hiyya responded by citing the School of Rabbi Ishmael, where it was taught, “It is a wheel that revolves in the world” as an explanation to Deuteronomy 15:10, “Because that for this thing [ the Lord your God will bless you in all your work, ”which uses the Hebrew word bi’glal, going around to mean “for this thing”] (Shabbat 151b).

The Talmud provides one more citation to explain this concept: “It was taught, Rabbi Gamaliel Beribbi said: ‘And He shall give you mercy, and have compassion upon you, and multiply you’ (Deuteronomy 13:17). [This means that] he Who is merciful to others, mercy is shown to him by Heaven, while he who is not merciful to others, mercy is not shown to him by Heaven” (ibid).

People will often try to second guess how the “wheel” works, but the fact of the matter is that no person can truly see into the lives of others. The person who was a miser could well have been the anonymous donor to the orphanage and the person who helped with every wedding could be taking a little off the books. Knowing, however, that one’s own choices can effect one’s future (and even the future of one’s children) is a helpful reminder of the power of one’s actions throughout one’s life. 

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For Its Own Sake

Do not keep a mental tally of how kind, generous and/or compassionate you have been.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Daily Dose of Torah Study

Can Torah be studied every day? While there are many Jews who can and do study Torah daily, there are just as many who cannot, due to a wide variety of reasons ranging from lack of time to lack of accessibility. 

Responding to this challenge, when the Men of the Great Assembly created the structured prayer service, they made one of the first elements of the morning prayer service a section entitled "Blessings over the Torah." There are, in fact, two blessings, the latter of which is the same blessing that is recited when a person is called to the Torah for an aliyah. The first blessing addresses the mitzvah of “occupying ourselves with the words of Torah” and expresses the desire that the words of Torah should be “pleasant in our mouths”so that our connection to the Divine will remain strong. The second blessing acknowledges that God chose the Jewish people to receive the gift of the Torah. 

Because the first blessing is a blessing over the action of the mitzvah of studying Torah, the sages made certain that the mitzvah would be immediately fulfilled (just as an apple is eaten right after reciting the blessing boray p'ree ha’etz). Consequently, immediately after these two blessings are uttered, a person recites one selection of Written Torah and two readings from the Oral Torah.

From the Written Torah, the sages chose the Priestly Blessing, found in Numbers 6:24-26:
May God bless you and watch over you.  
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor. 
May God be favorably disposed to you and grant you peace.

From the Oral Torah, the sages chose Mishna Pe’ah 1:1 and Talmud Shabbat 127a:
(1) These are the things for which there is no measure: the corner of the field [that is left for the poor], the first-fruits offering, the pilgrimage, acts of loving-kindness, and Torah learning. 

(2) These are the things for which a person reaps the fruits in this world, and gets a reward in the world to come: honoring one's father and mother, early attendance at the house of study in the morning and evening services, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, and bringing peace between people. And the study of Torah is equal to them all.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Include a Bit

Include a little Torah study into your day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Saturday Night Hunger

As beautiful as Shabbat is, it was not God’s intention that humankind live in a constant state of Shabbat. Indeed, it has been understood that because the Torah says, “Six days you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest,” that it is actually a mitzvah to do creative work on the non-Sabbath days. Additionally, there are numerous mitzvot which one may not perform on the Sabbath.

Shabbat officially ends at the time of the appearance of three medium-sized stars in the sky, but only completely concludes (spiritually) with the recitation of Havdallah.

“...The sons of Rabbi Hisda said to Rabbi Ashi: Amemar once visited our town: lacking wine, we brought him beer, but he would not recite havdalah [over it], ‘and passed the night fasting.’ The next day we took trouble to procure wine for him, whereupon he recited havdalah and ate something...This proves three things; [1] even one who recites havdalah in the evening service must recite havdalah over a cup; [2] a person must not eat until he has recited havdalah; and [3] he who did not recite havdalah at the termination of the Sabbath proceeds to recite havdalah any time during the week” (Pesachim 107a).

The time between the recitation of the evening service* at the end of Shabbat and the recitation of havdallah is therefore an intermediate time when one may perform m’lacha (creative work) but may not eat. If one cannot perform havdalah on Saturday night, they may recite it the next day (as some do in the time zones where Shabbat ends exceptionally late) or even several days later (through Tuesday), although this is not considered ideal.

*One who does not attend or recite maariv, the evening service, may simply recite“Baruch ha’mavdeel bein kodesh l’chol,” "Blessed is he who separates between the holy and the mundane” after the time when three stars would appear in the sky. M’lacha (creative labor) is then permitted but food may not be eaten.

This Treat was last posted on October 8, 2010.

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

Before Prep

Before Shabbat, make certain you have wine/grape juice, spices and an appropriate candle for Havdallah.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bolivian Jews

In honor of Bolivia’s declaration of independence from Spain on August 6, 1825, Jewish Treats presents a history of Jews in Bolivia. 

Jewish history in Bolivia begins in the days before it was Bolivia, when the region was still part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. At that time, as in many parts of South America, the original European settlement consisted of many Marranos, Jews who kept their identity a secret while pretending to be Catholic. While there are remnants of Jewish culture, such as a custom of sitting on the ground during mourning, the original Jewish settlers faded away when the Inquisition was established in 1570.

Bolivian Jewish history does not begin again until the early 20th century with the arrival of small groups of Jews. One Alexandrian immigrant, Isaac Antaki, opened a large textile factory in the city of Cochabamba and helped establish a Jewish community and built a synagogue. Outside of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, and in addition to Santa Cruz, Cochabamba is one of the few Bolivian places that maintains a Jewish community to this day.

Major Jewish immigration to Bolivia did not take place until the 1930s, with the rise of the Nazis to power in Europe. At first, thousands of Jews were allowed into the country, many of them aided by Maurice Hochschild, a Jewish immigrant who had made his fortune in Bolivian tin mines. By 1939, as in many countries, public sentiment had turned against open immigration (and the government against Hochschild, who was imprisoned both in 1939 and in 1944). Although immigration was closed to Jews as of 1940, small groups did manage to enter the country.

Following the war, economic conditions led many of the Jewish immigrants to emigrate to other countries, but a small Jewish population remains in the three cities mentioned above.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

General Awareness

Be aware of the many different Jewish communities around the world and their trials and triumphs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

More Than "Because"

While the majority of the meanings of the words in the Torah are forthright, some appear to be syntax anomalies. One excellent example is the word “eikev,” which is used in Deuteronomy 7:12 and is usually translated as “because:” “And it shall come to pass, because you listen to these ordinances, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your ancestors.”

The word eikev is previously used in the Torah when describing how, at birth, Jacob was holding onto Esau’s heel (akev). It is also the root of Jacob’s (Yaakov) name. These previous uses of the Hebrew root letters ayin-kuf-vet and their meanings have led to several fascinating interpretations for Deuteronomy 7:12 based solely on its use of the word eikev. Here are two examples:

1) The use of eikev implies that the rewards of life will come at the end of one’s life, because a heel is the end of the body:

Israel asked God: ‘When will You grant us the reward for the mitzvot that we observe?’ God replied: ‘As for the mitzvot that you observe, you eat of their fruits now, but their full reward
I shall give you in the end’ [i.e. after death]. Whence [can this be inferred]? From what we read in our text,’And it shall come to pass, because (eikev) you listen’ (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:1).

2) When the Children of Israel fully comply with God’s ways and do complete teshuva (repentance), God will reverse the power of Esau’s descendents (generally referred to as Edom) over the Children of Israel.  

...God said: “When everything is ready [for Israel's] repentance, then I will tread with the heel of my foot on the winepress of Edom.” When will this be? “And it shall come to pass, because (eikev) you listen.” God said to Israel: “My children, do not think that I desire to treat you like a slave whose master desires to sell him at an auction for what he may fetch, but I will go on allowing hardship to come upon you until you direct your heart toward Me” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:2).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Explore Commentaries

When reviewing the weekly Torah reading, try to review the writings of different commentators.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

An Encyclopedic Work

When Rabbi Yaakov Culi arrived in Constantinople, Turkey, in 1714, he did not expect to find a Jewish community lacking Jewish knowledge. While the city was home to some of the great Torah scholars of the generation, the general Jewish populace had recently been devastated by the betrayal of the false messiah, Shabbetai Zvi (1626 - 1676).

Born in Jerusalem in 1689, the 24 year old Rabbi Culi had traveled to Constantinople in order to publish the works of his late grandfather, Rabbi Moshe ibn Habib. He became a student of the Chief Rabbi of Constantinople, Rabbi Judah Rosanes, who appointed Rabbi Culi to serve as a judge on the beit din (Jewish court). In 1727, after Rabbi Rosanes passed away, his house was pillaged and any manuscripts that were not destroyed were left scattered across the house. Rabbi Culi thus embarked on his second publishing project: organizing and printing the work of his mentor (including Rosanes’ Mishneh la-Melek commentary on the Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah).

Once Rabbi Culi completed publishing the works of his grandfather and his teacher, it was expected that he would release a work of his own original insights. Instead, he set himself to creating an encyclopedic work that would reinvigorate Sephardic Jewish life. Writing in Ladino (a Judeo-Spanish language), Rabbi Culi set out to create a unique commentary on the Torah. Each chapter interpolated with explanations from the Mishna, the Talmud, the Midrash, the Zohar and popular commentaries, as well as extensive explanations of Jewish law. He named his work Me’am Lo’ez and finished this work on the Book of Genesis and most of Exodus before his unexpected passing on 19 Av, 1732. 

The Me’am Loez was so popular, however, that several contemporary scholars decided to use his notes to continue Rabbi Culi’s work. Rabbi Yitzchak Magriso completed the Me’am Loez commentaries on Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Rabbi Yizchak Bechor Agruiti completed the commentary on Deuteronomy. Several other rabbis used his notes and style to create commentaries on several other biblical books and Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


When a Jewish topic interests you, don't hesitate to research it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Easing Childbirth

There are few moments in life as full of anticipation and hope as that of bringing new life into the world. The excitement of the nine months of pregnancy can also be laced with anxiety. In fact, traditional Jews will often wish an expectant couple “b’sha'a tova” (in a propitious time) rather than Mazal Tov, which is reserved for after the birth. It is, therefore perhaps, not surprising that there are several Jewish segulot (auspicious omens or acts) for expecting parents. Segulot are not replacements for prayer, which is the most effective way to communicate one’s needs to God. But, for some, it serves as a means of helping people focus their prayers by providing a concrete action. 

Psalms and Charity: According to Jewish tradition, the recitation of Psalms and the giving of charity are spiritual remedies for nearly every trouble. However, both of these acts are frequently cited as segulot that are specifically helpful to pregnant women. In particular, it is recommended that Psalm 20 be recited, especially during labor.

Opening the Holy Ark (Peticha): Sources for this custom date back only a few hundred years, and yet it is now a fairly common custom. When a woman enters her ninth month, the husband is given the honor of opening the ark (cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are stored) as a segulah for her to have an easy delivery. 

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prayers for Others

Never hesitate to add a friend and his/her need to your prayers.

Friday, July 31, 2015

No Holiday as Joyous

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

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

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

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu B’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Today is Tu B’Av.

This Treat was last posted on August 11, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Burial at Betar

In war, a common means of humiliating the enemy is to refuse them burial of their dead (which is forbidden by the Geneva Convention). Certainly, demoralization was the goal of the Romans when they forbade the Jews from burying the dead after the fall of Betar on 9 Av, 133 C.E. And there were many dead--enough for the sages to pronounce that, “For seven years the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

The intensity of this statement underscores the extent of the massacre that accompanied the capture of Betar. There were, of course, other rebellions against Rome in other parts of their Empire. But the people of Judea seemed to especially enrage the Romans. Perhaps it was the fact that the Jews rebelled numerous times. Perhaps it was their strange, stubborn insistence on monotheism (in a world where the emperor was a diety). Whatever the reason, the Romans were particularly fierce in their repression of Bar Kochba’s rebellion.

An odd thing happened after the massacre at Betar. The Romans left the bodies out to rot in the sun–and yet they did not rot. When, years later, on the 15th of Av, permission was granted for burial to take place, the bodies had not decomposed. Rabbi Matnah explains: “It [15 Av] is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried...On the day when the slain of Betar were allowed burial, the benediction ‘Who is good and does good’ was instituted (as the 4th blessing of Birkat Hamazon: Ha’tov v’hameitiv) - ‘Who is good,’ because the bodies did not putrefy, and ‘does good,’ because they were allowed burial” (Ta’anit 31a).

This Treat was last published on July 29, 2012.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Extra Joy

Bring the joy of the day into preparing for Shabbat.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

International Friendship Day: Jonathan and David

In honor of today’s International Friendship Day, Jewish Treats presents the friendship of David and Jonathan. The sages state: “What is an example of the love which did not depend upon some ulterior interest? That of David and Jonathan” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 5:19).

It would seem natural that David and Jonathan would be friends. When David joined the entourage of King Saul, they were peers, soldiers in the court of the king. More than just peers, David and Jonathan were brothers-in-law, since David married Jonathan’s sister Michal. 

On the other hand, Jonathan would have naturally perceived himself as the heir to the throne, whereas David was a simple shepherd who became a (seemingly) accidental warrior-hero by striking down Goliath and then continued to find constant favor with the people of Israel. To make matters all the more difficult for their friendship, King Saul, who had once favored David, saw him as a threat to the monarchy and frequently sought his demise. 

Jonathan, however, was honest with himself. He recognized that God’s favor was upon David, and he accepted it without hesitation. The sages group Jonathan as one of three supremely humble men, citing how Jonathan said to David, “You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you” (I Samuel 23:17).

When David received the news that both King Saul and Jonathan had been slain during the war with the Philistines, he was devastated. He verbally lamented the tragic loss to the nation of Israel, but added his own personal lament over Jonathan: “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; wonderful was your love to me, passing the love of women” (II Samuel 1:26). While David’s relationships with his many wives were fraught with personality issues, his friendship with Jonathan was honest and pure, without any political overtones to complicate it. 

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fine Friends

Don't hesitate to let your friends know how much it means to you to have them in your life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

This One and This One

Within the spectrum of Jewish law there are sometimes two seemingly incompatible opinions that are both correct. How can one rabbi permit something that another rabbi prohibits?

The fact of the matter is that disputes in the practice of Jewish law (halacha) are a natural part of the halachic process. The Torah sets general parameters for what is permitted and what is prohibited, for what one should do and how one should act, but there are many fine details that often need to be clarified. 

Numerous disagreements of this nature are recorded in the Talmud. Some of the most famous of these are the disputes between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel. Like the great sages after whom these academies are named, these two groups of disciples often had opposing opinions. 

From the disagreements of the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel, however, comes an important and intriguing insight into when, according to Jewish law, it is permissible to argue:

Rabbi Abba stated in the name of Samuel: For three years there was a dispute between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel, the former asserting, “the halacha is in agreement with our views” and the latter contending, “the halacha is in agreement with our views.” Then a bat kol (heavenly voice) issued announcing “[The utterances of] both are the words of the living God, but the halacha is in agreement with the ruling of the Academy of Hillel,” (Talmud Eiruvin 13b). The Talmud goes on to explain that the halacha follows the Academy of Hillel because “they were kind and modest.” 

The Talmudic principle that allows for two correct but conflicting opinions in Jewish law is known as “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim”--This one and this one are the words of the Living God. A very important aspect of understanding the principle of “eilu v’eilu” is that the differing opinions can all be considered within the confines of halacha, when the arguments follow Torah principles and methodology, and are for the sake of establishing the proper path of Torah. 

Please note that the concept of "eilu v'eilu" is a concept in Talmudic learning but questions of halacha,of actual action, are decided by rabbis recognized for their ability to understand halacha.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


When differing in opinion with someone, try to find a compromise.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stories for Little Jews

When the four children of Rabbi Baruch and Sadie Rose Weilerstein were little, they had no idea that their mother’s stories would change the face of Jewish children’s literature in America. In fact, Sadie Rose herself had no intention of publishing her stories until her own mother gathered those that were written and took them to the New York Public Library, where she was directed to Bloch Publishing, which specialized in Jewish publications. A few months later, Weilerstein’s What Danny Did: Stories for the Wee Jewish Child (1928) was released and received immediate praise.

That Weilerstein ended up writing for Jewish children is, perhaps, not so surprising. Born in Rochester, New York on July 28, 1894, Weilerstein received a B.A. in literature from the University of Rochester, one of the first women to do so. She then taught high school English at The Western New York Institution for Deaf Mutes (later Rochester School for the Deaf). In 1920, she married and assumed the role of Rebbitzen (Rabbi’s wife), first in Brooklyn, and then at the Community Synagogue in Atlantic City, N.J.

An active member of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogues, Weilerstein found the perfect outlet for her work in the Leagues’ Outlook magazine. It was there that her most famous creation, K’tonton, first appeared. K’tonton was unique not just for its Tom Thumb-like miniature protagonist, but also for its non-didactic storyline. Using humor and adventure, Weilerstein created stories that Jewish children could relate to because of their melding of American public life and Jewish home life. 

Sadie Rose Weilerstein published numerous works in addition to her K'tonton series and received several notable awards. She passed away in June 1993.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read Jewish

Read Jewish stories to the Jewish children in your life. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Nations of Canaan

The people who lived in the Land of Canaan are often referred to as the Canaanites, but this was actually only the name of one of several nations of Canaan. Today’s Jewish Treat presents a brief introduction to each of the seven nations of Canaan listed in Deuteronomy 7:1: “When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land to which you are coming to possess it, He will cast away many nations from before you: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful that you.”

The Amorites consisted of several tribal settlements, as is mentioned in the Book of Joshua when it records the gathering of “the five kings of the Amorites” (10:5). According to Jewish tradition, the people were known for their large stature (two of their kings Og and Sichon are both referred to as giants) and their witchcraft, which is referred to in the Talmud, when it states: “All these are forbidden as Amorite practices” (Shabbat 67a).

The Canaanites were the largest group of people residing in the land. The Torah goes out its way to instruct the Israelites not to follow in the ways of the Canaanites, which, for the most part, focussed on the worship of the idol Baal. Long after the Israelites settled in the promised land, the Canaanites were like a plague to them and the two nations were frequently at war.

The Girgashites are listed as one of the seven nations of Canaan, but little else is mentioned of them. 

The Hittites are first mentioned in the Torah when Abraham buys Ma’arat Hamachpelah (burial cave) from Ephron the Hittite. Two generations later, Esau married Hittite women. The Hittites are mentioned several other times in the Torah, specifically as ethnic labels (e.g. Uriah).

The Hivites were, according to Genesis 34, the tribe of the residents of Shechem (whose prince kidnapped and raped Jacob’s daughter, Dinah). Mention of the Hivites in the rest of the Torah is minimal outside of their being one of the seven nations of Canaan, although it appears that their relationship with the Israelites was generally peaceful.

The Jebusites are Biblically significant because they were the original inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem.

The Perrizites are listed among the tribes already dwelling in the land of Canaan, but little else is mentioned of them. 

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Without Assumption

Never assume that you know another person's history.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

Today, Jews all over the world are observing the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,945 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was originally posted on August 7, 2008.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Health first

While observing today's fast, be aware of staying safe and healthy. For example, if it is very hot, stay inside near a fan or air conditioner while fasting.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tisha B'Av is Tomorrow*

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is tomorrow.*


(*)This year the 9th of Av is Shabbat so the fast is observed from sundown Saturday until nightfall on Sunday. Havdallah, the ceremony concluding Shabbat, is postponed until Sunday evening.

The restrictions of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. 

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

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

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

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

Click here for later events on this date 

*This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Tragic Story of Bar Kamtza

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast with Meaning

Make the most of the fast of Tisha B'Av by focusing on the effect of these tragedies on the Jewish people.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The First World War and the Jews

A great deal has been written about the devastation that resulted from the First World War, which left millions dead, thousands maimed and a generation devastated. For those who have never lived through a war, the extent of the losses is truly unimaginable.

For much of the Jewish population of Europe, the war meant both social and physical upheaval. The eastern front, where Russia battled Germany and Austria, cut through the center of European Jewish life. The Russian army moved into Austrian Galicia; the Germans and Austrians moved into Russian-controlled Poland; etc. As the enemy armies crossed each others’ borders, they had one thing in common - their dislike of the Jews.

Both sides of the war believed that the Jews were helping the enemy. In Czarist Russia, hundreds of thousands of Jews joined the army. Nevertheless, the Jewish population was accused of evading service, profiteering and supporting the enemy. Entire Jewish communities were banished from their homes near the front and sent deeper into Russia.

The Jews in Germany and Austria also heeded the patriotic call-to-arms.  Alas, here too, they were mistrusted by the government. In 1916, the German General Staff ordered the Judenzählung, a census of Jewish soldiers meant to determine whether the Jews were shirking their duties. The results show that the Jews were serving at the front proportionally to their numbers and were honest and dedicated. The results that were leaked, however, said the opposite.

Beyond the destruction of community and the economic hardships, perhaps the most terrible outcome of the First World War was the fact that the war-time suspicions of the Jewish populace festered into a belief that the Jews were responsible for the Germans losing the war (which they were blamed with starting as an attempt at world domination) and for orchestrating the Bolshevik Revolution that transformed Russia into the Soviet Union.

*World War I began on August 1, 1914, which was the 9th of Av.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


The fast of Tisha B'Av begins Saturday night. Begin preparing by increasing your water intake. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Second Uprising

History is a study in cause and effect. On the 9th of Av (Saturday, July 25. Fast observed on Sunday, July 26), the Jewish people mourn two additional tragic events that followed the terrible destruction of the Second Temple: the plowing over of the Temple Mount and the catastrophic defeat of the Bar Kochba uprising at Betar.

In 130 CE, the Emperor Hadrian decided to rebuild Jerusalem, including, initially, the Temple. However, after visiting the ruins of Jerusalem, he decided to build a truly Roman city there, complete with a pagan temple on the very spot on which the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) had stood. The city was renamed Aelia Capitalina (Aelia as a derivative of his full name Publius Aelius Hadrianus, and Capitalina in honor of the Roman God Jupiter Capitolina).

Hadrian returned to Rome, leaving the rebuilding to the governor, Turnus (Tineius) Rufus. Rufus was no friend to the Jews. The Talmud is peppered with references to him, including conversations between Rufus and Rabbi Akiva, in which Rabbi Akiva responds to the Roman general’s questions "If your God loves the poor, why does He not support them?" (Baba Batra 10) and "Wherein does this day [Shabbat] differ from any other?" (Sanhedrin 65b).

Turnus Rufus began the rebuilding in a logical fashion, but did not necessarily take into consideration the reaction of the Jewish people. When he ordered the plowing over of the sacred grounds of the ruined Jewish Temple (which occurred on Tisha B’Av), the Jews were so incensed that they rose up in rebellion against the Romans. The rebellion was led by Simon Bar Kochba. The uprising lasted for three years and ended on Tisha B’Av in the year 135 CE with the devastating defeat at Betar. It is described in the Jerusalem TalmudTa'anit thus: “[The Romans] went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils...” (4:5).

*It is interesting to note that the Talmud records that after Turnus Rufus died, his wife converted to Judaism and married Rabbi Akiva.

This Treat was last posted on July 16, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.