Friday, December 6, 2019

The Trouble with Double

For some sisters who are particularly close, the idea of a double wedding may seem a romantic dream. Indeed, parents of such brides might contemplate such a wedding as an excellent means of reducing wedding costs. However, it is interesting to note that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law) states: “It is forbidden to perform the marriage ceremony for two brothers or two sisters on one and the same day because one festive event should not be joined with another. Some authorities hold that is even forbidden to do so in one week and they infer it from Jacob our ancestor, for it is written (Genesis 29:27): ‘Fulfill the week of this one’” (Kitzur 145:26).

The Biblical reference is to Jacob’s weddings, the first one to Leah and the second to Rachel. Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel but, at the very last moment, her father (Laban) insisted that her older sister Leah needed to wed first, so he switched the brides. After Jacob and Leah were married, Laban insisted that there be a week’s delay before Jacob could wed Rachel (with a commitment of seven years labor).

A more significant reason for prohibiting simultaneous weddings, is the desire to respect the need for individual rejoicing. On the day of their wedding, a chatan (groom) and a kallah (bride) are like a king and a queen. Enhancing their joy is the priority, and nothing is meant to take away.

This Treat was last posted on December 19, 2015.

Multi-Tasking Isn’t Always Effective

While many have mastered the art of multi-tasking, interpersonal relationships require undivided attention.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

“Prohibition” and the Jews

Today is “Repeal Day,” referring to the repeal of “Prohibition”, the infamous 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 18th Amendment went into effect nation-wide on January 16, 1920, prohibiting “the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States. But, the ban on alcohol was not the social panacea its promoters envisioned. It did not lower crime. If anything, with bootleggers sneaking booze into the country, malfeasance increased. Over time, the nation sought repeal.

On December 5, 1933, the passage of the 21st Amendment effectively repealed the 18th Amendment.

Jews and Christians utilize wine sacramentally. In order to avoid a conflict with the famous First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of worship and religion, section 6 of the Volstead Act, the document detailing how the government would enforce prohibition, permitted wine for sacramental purposes only. Section 6 allowed up to 10 gallons of wine per family per year. As can be imagined, there was widespread abuse, and attempted exploitation of Section 6, despite the Jewish legal obligation of dina d’malchuta dina, following the law of the land.

The Jewish community was very wary of the passage of the 18th Amendment, as it was widely assumed that its promoters sought a type of racial purity that was detrimental to the Jews. Henry Ford’s publication of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” coincided with the prohibition push.

Rabbis, representing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews and congregations, were appointed to represent of their denominations and would certify to the government that wine would be given to bona fide rabbis of their respective sects. The rabbis in possession of Treasury Department sacramental wine permits were the only ones authorized to purchase the wine from the few remaining wine dealers, and could not receive payment for the wine from their congregants. The congregants had to pay the synagogue directly.

In late 1920, the question of using “unfermented” wine, commonly known as grape juice, was posed by the different rabbinic groups. The Reform Movement’s Committee on Responsa found that grape juice was an entirely acceptable substitute for wine in Jewish ritual. The Conservative movement, in a 71-page responsum authored by the eminent Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, concluded the same. In asserting that Jewish law did not prefer wine over grape juice, Rabbi Ginzburg ignored a ruling of the acclaimed 17th century Rabbi Abraham Gombiner (commentary of Magen Avraham to Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 272:2), who had explicitly ruled the opposite. There was no criticism from the Orthodox rabbinic groups to Rabbi Ginzburg’s conclusion.

Some in the Conservative and Reform movements attempted to shift the entire Jewish community to grape juice, even lobbying for repealing the exemptions set forth in Section 6 of the Volstead Act. These efforts ceased, when it became clear that this move would antagonize Christian groups.

Since Prohibition was repealed, much ink has been spilled addressing the question of whether unfermented wine can be used sacramentally. There are certainly many well-respected halachic authorities who have concluded that it may.

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

Wine for Shabbat

Purchasing a nice wine (or grape juice) on which to recite Shabbat Kiddush is a way of honoring the Sabbath.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Holy Water

There are so many unique components to Jerusalem. Its holiness is celebrated by multiple religions. However, one primary difference between Jerusalem and other ancient cities is that it is not in proximity to a natural water source.

In ancient times, water was provided to David’s capital city via a series of aqueducts, cisterns and natural springs. Birket Yisrael, was a public cistern on the northeast corner of the Temple mount, built by the Romans. Hezekiah’s Pool, in what today is the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, is believed to be a water source referenced in Scriptures (Kings II 18:17). The Mamilla Pool, situated 650 meters outside of the Jaffa Gate (where today the Mamilla Mall is found) was built by Herod the Great and was connected to Hezekiah’s Pool via aqueducts. The Pool of Bethesda (Hebrew for beit chessed – house of kindness) is referenced in the Christian Gospels and is reported to be situated near the Lion’s Gate in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. However, it has not been identified archaeologically. The Shiloach, or Silwan in Arabic, can be found on the southern slope of the City of David (on the southern side of the Temple Mount). It was fed by the waters of the Gichon Spring, which was carried to the Shiloach via two aqueducts. This water source is mentioned in the Talmud, and it was from here that the water was drawn on Sukkot, to be poured into the Temple’s altar. Finally, the Sultan’s Pool, at the foot of the western side of Mount Zion, was built by Herod the Great, and is used as a concert venue in modern day Jerusalem.

As the number of immigrants grew, who arrived to the Holy Land from Europe during the aliyot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the population of Jerusalem increased exponentially, and a more modern system to hydrate the citizens of the Holy City needed to be employed. With the advent of statehood in May of 1948, the government of the state of Israel endeavored to create a permanent solution. Plans for a Jerusalem water reservoir to be located in the Bayit Vegan section were drawn. Construction began in early 1955 as both a means to prevent the water shortage that occurred during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, as well as to promote greater urban development. The project cost between 1.5 and 2 million Israeli Lira, and was financed through the sale of Israel Bonds.

On November 18, 1958, corresponding to the 6th of Kislev, Finance Minister (and future Prime Minister) Levi Eshkol opened the valve allowing water to flow into the new Jerusalem reservoir. Prior to this new permanent water source in Jerusalem, the high price for “imported” water, prevented industrial and economic development in the expanding new capital city. While the population of Jerusalem was recorded at 84,000 in 1948, that number rocketed to 150,000 by 1958.Today it is over 750,000.

Don’t Underestimate the Necessity of Potable Water

Life cannot exist without water. Help ensure that all of God’s creatures have easy access to potable drinking water.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Jews in the Land of Lincoln

The first known Jewish resident of what is now the state of Illinois was John Hays, a grandson of a New York Jew, who moved west to Cahokia in 1793. Hays was a farmer and trader, who, in addition to his professions, possessed great dedication to civil service, having been a soldier, postmaster and sheriff.

The second known Jew who lived in Illinois prior to statehood was Abraham Jonas, who, in 1838, moved to Quincy from Cincinnati. In 1842, he was elected to the Illinois legislature, where he met a young Abraham Lincoln. The two would become lifelong friends. Another notable Illinoisan was Captain Samuel Noah, the first Jewish graduate of West Point Military Academy, who, in the late 1840s, worked as a teacher in Mount Pulaski, in Logan County.

Outside of Chicago, where Jews began settling in the 1830s, the oldest Jewish community in Illinois can be found in Peoria, where Jews arrived in 1847. Peoria’s Jewish Benevolent Society was created in 1852, and seven years later, Peoria’s first synagogue, Congregation Anshei Emeth was established. About 75 miles south of Peoria, a Jewish community in Springfield began to grow around 1850, and Brith Sholom, Springfield’s first synagogue was founded in 1858. In 1863, Jews ventured further south to Cairo, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant established his headquarters there.

Of course, today, the vast majority of Jews in Illinois live in Chicago and its suburbs. Jews first settled in Chicago in the 1830s, when Chicago was incorporated, coming mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe. Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (KAM), Chicago’s first synagogue, was founded in 1847 by German immigrants. Within 5 years, 20 Polish immigrants broke away and created Chicago’s second synagogue, Kehilath B’nai Sholom. By 1859, Chicago had a United Hebrew Relief Association, established by 15 Jewish organizations. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Jews began moving to the suburbs. Yet, the late 1870s brought a new immigration wave of Jews to Chicago from Eastern Europe. Also of note, in 1923, the first campus “Hillel House,” established by the B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation, was established at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

In 1933, one hundred years after its incorporating there were 270,000 Jews living in Chicago, representing 9% of the entire population of the “Second City.” One of the early settlers of Chicago was Henry Horner, whose grandson, of the same name, would become the first Jewish governor of Illinois. The only larger Jewish population centers, other than Chicago were in New York City and Warsaw, Poland.

Eventually, the Jews, like residents of so many other cities, moved to the suburbs. The largest Jewish sprawl moved west into the North Lawndale area, which housed 60 synagogues, the Hebrew Theological College and the Douglas Library, where a young Golda (nee Meyerson) Meir worked for a short period. After World War II, more wealthy Chicago Jews moved to West Rogers Park, on the far North Side. By the 1960s, 40% of the families in Niles Township (where Skokie is situated) were Jewish. Other Chicago suburbs that enjoy large Jewish populations are Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Evanston, and Oak Park.

As of a survey in 2013, Illinois’ Jewish population is a little less than 300,000, with 75% living in Chicagoland. Peoria and Quincy have the largest Jewish populations outside of Chicago.

On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st state in the Union.

Jewish Illinois

When traveling, try to learn the Jewish history about the places you plan to visit.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Piece of U.S. History

As much as the United States prides itself on its religious freedom, each of the original 13 colonies had different policies in this regard. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island (1644), was the first to guarantee religious freedom to all settlers.

In 1658, fifteen Jewish families settled in Newport, RI. Most of these families were Sephardim who came via Curacao and South America, where they had still been threatened by the Inquisition.

They established Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel), but it took another century for the Jews of Newport to be able to finance the building of a synagogue. Under the leadership of Chazzan Isaac Touro, Peter Harrison, the leading colonial architect, was hired. The synagogue was completed in 1763, and was dedicated on December 2nd of that year. It became known as the Touro Synagogue in recognition of the financial support it received from Isaac Touro’s son, Abraham Touro, who left the synagogue $10,000 in his will. (His other son, Judah, was also a famous philanthropist.) The Touro Synagogue is the oldest existing synagogue in North America and is a National Historic Site.

While the Jewish community of Newport did not flourish--at one point the keys to the synagogue were given to a Quaker family--the synagogue has an independently vibrant history. It was used as a meeting place for the Rhode Island General Assembly, Rhode Island Supreme Court and the town of Newport. It is most famous for the letter written in 1790 by President George Washington to the congregation declaring that America would " ...give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Since 1883, when the synagogue was reopened on a regular basis, it has supported a small but loyal community that is supplemented each summer by numerous Jewish tourists.

This Treat was last posted on December 2, 2009.

Visit Sites of Jewish Significance

Visit the Touro Synagogue and other U.S. tourist attractions that have special meaning for the Jewish community.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Are There Limitations to Window Shopping?

As today is known as “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day of the year, Jewish Treats will discuss a halachic (Jewish legal) issue regarding shopping.

Window shopping is an accepted practice worldwide. In general, stores do not discourage customers from their premises who refuse to commit to making a purchase (although use of a restroom is another story). But there may be a difference with a customer who has entered the store having no intention whatsoever of making a purchase who inquires about the price of an item. Is that permitted according to Jewish law?

There is a prohibition in the Torah known as oh’nah’at devarim, verbal exploitation. Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:4) provides a few examples of the proscription, such as reminding a newly observant person, or a convert, of their past inappropriate practices, or posing a question to someone that the questioner knows they cannot answer. One of the forbidden practices is to inquire about the price of an item when one has absolutely no intention of buying it. Does this mean that Judaism bans window-shopping?

Jewish law believes in the free market, and would not fault any consumer for inspecting and pricing an item at various stores to determine where to buy. Jewish law even permits a competitor to browse a store to learn the pricing on various items. Certainly, today, when so much is posted online, learning the pricing of items should not fall under any improper practice.

How then do we understand the Shulchan Aruch’s ban on asking about the cost of a product that one does not intend to acquire?

Halachic works offer rationales why this prohibition exists and what its parameters are. Understanding the background to an injunction often helps to comprehend the infraction and apply it in different cases. In this case, some believe it would be insulting to the shop owner to countenance a customer who has no intention of making a purchase, while others believe it is wasting the time of the merchant or sales staff. Others argue about perception: some feel that if someone witnesses a window-shopper expressing interest in an item and not buying it, they may feel that the item is overpriced, or flawed in some way. Others feel that if customers who are willing to spend money see other customers spending much time with an object, they may feel that those others will buy it and they will give up hope of buying the item.

The Shulchan Aruch Harav, penned by the First Lubavitcher Rebbe, limits the prohibition to when the subject will realize that the customer attempted to deceive him. According to this view, window shopping for the sake of shopping, without any thoughts of deceiving the owner, would be permitted.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Wisdom Has an Opinion on Monetary Matters

Although the United States has just laws governing monetary and civil matters, Jewish law has much to say about monetary issues, in addition to the governance in ritual law.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Torah’s Thanksgiving

While the majority of the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah are related to atonement for sins or to celebrate feast days, the Sh'lamim, peace offerings, were unique because they were not brought for either reason. And among the different peace offerings, the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving offering, is set apart because it had to be eaten the same day on which it was offered. In this, very limited span of time, a large portion of food had to be consumed: In addition to the meat of the offering, 30 loaves of unleavened bread and 10 loaves of leavened bread were offered and consumed by the Kohanim, Levi'im and those involved in the offering itself.

In his book The Call of the Torah*, Rabbi Elie Munk suggests that the quantity of food, and the relatively brief amount of time in which it had to be consumed, required that the person who brought the offering invite guests who would join in publicly giving thanks to God.

While only four types of people were required to bring a korban todah (a freed captive, one who traveled by sea; one who had crossed the desert, and one who recovered from an illness), in this day and age, when there is no Temple and thus no sacrifices, people who survive any life-threatening situation will often make a Seudat Hoda'ah, a feast of thanksgiving on the anniversary of their survival.

There is no set ceremony for a Seudat Hoda'ah. To be considered a proper seudah (feast), however, bread should be served so that Birkat haMazon may be recited. It is also customary to listen to words of Torah spoken either by the survivor or in the survivor's honor.

*Volume 3, page 59 

This Treat was last posted on November 23, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Add Grace Before and After Meals to your Thanksgiving Dinner

All meals, including your Thanksgiving Dinner, should include blessings before and after.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Biblical Twins

Twins have long been a source of great fascination for many, as demonstrated by the vast number of studies and stories that have used twins as their subject. Twins, however, do not seem to be a subject that fascinates the Torah, but more of a parenthetical note when they occur. In fact, only two sets of Biblical twins are mentioned by name.

Esau and Jacob, the famous fraternal twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, were different from the moment of conception (according to the Midrash, they even struggled with one another in utero). At the moment of birth, when Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as if trying to prevent Esau from being the firstborn, their differences were already palpable: Esau was red and hairy, Jacob was smooth. Their different personalities were marked from the start. It was no surprise that Jacob grew to be a scholar while Esau became a hunter.

The story of Jacob and Esau is one of the best known Biblical stories. Esau sold his firstborn birthright to Jacob. Isaac wished to bless Esau, but Rebecca arranged that Jacob would receive the blessing (most appropriately, since Esau had sold him that right). Thus their enmity was set for eternity.

The other twins mentioned in the Torah are Peretz and Zerah, the sons of Tamar and Judah. Similar to Jacob and Esau, these twins also struggled to be born first. The Torah relates that as Zerah’s hand was the first to emerge from Tamar’s womb, the midwife quickly marked it with a red string. But the arm was drawn back and the other baby, Peretz, emerged first. Nothing more is known about Peretz and Zerah themselves. However, Peretz is mentioned as the forefather of Boaz, the great grandfather of King David.

This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Discuss Biblical Twins with Twins whom you know

Always put natural phenomena in a Torah perspective. Share details about twins mentioned in Scriptures.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

God and Thanksgiving

Most people correctly associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, Plymouth and the Native Americans with whom the Pilgrims shared a community. Yet, the original Thanksgiving in the United States of America, offered gratitude to God for a new free nation, not just a bountiful harvest. It resembled the National Day of Prayer, more than the annual feast of fall foliage.

The Continental-Confederation Congress, which served as the national legislative body prior to the formal adoption of the Constitution, issued a proclamation on October 11, 1782 to create a “Solemn Thanksgiving to God for all His mercies” and recommended that all “testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.”

The U.S. Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. Half a year later, on September 25th, New Jersey Congressmen Elias Boudinot proposed that Congress recommend that President Washington proclaim a day of thanksgiving. Boudinot said he wanted to offer “an opportunity to all citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”

On October 3, 1789, seven months into his presidency, George Washington issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26, 1789, as “A day of public thanksgiving and prayer…devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interposition of His providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”

President Washington also proclaimed a Thanksgiving day in 1795, and Presidents Adams and Madison each declared two days of thanksgiving during their terms. President Jefferson, who served between Adams and Madison, did not declare any national days of thanksgiving during his presidency. Many believe this was due to his belief in the theology of Deism that God existed, but does not intervene in history. The governors of Massachusetts and New York also proclaimed such days of gratitude in the early 19th century. By 1858, 25 of the 32 states in the union at that time were celebrating some form of Thanksgiving.

It was not until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for a Religious Component to Thanksgiving

In addition to preparing turkey and all the trimmings, prepare ways to bring God to the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Joe DiMaggio and the Jews

Joe DiMaggio, considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, was born on November 25, 1914. “Joltin’ Joe,” as he was known, played his entire thirteen-year career, from 1936 to 1951, for the New York Yankees. (He served in the U.S. Army Air Force from February, 1943 to September, 1945 as a physical education instructor).

Although Joseph Paul DiMaggio was Catholic, and his parents, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio, even called him “Paulo” in memory of his father’s favorite saint, there is no lack of interest in his life by Jews.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, a professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, who grew up an avid Yankee fan in the Bronx, delivered a well-received eulogy in tribute of his childhood baseball hero, highlighting the Jewish values that can be learned from DiMaggio. According to Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff, from DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, one of the most iconic baseball records that still stands, we can all learn the virtue of consistency. DiMaggio was famous for always hustling on and off the field. When asked why he continued the practice, even after his prowess was already universally acknowledged, the “Yankee Clipper” responded, “There may be one kid in the Grandstand, who never saw me play. I want him to see Joe DiMaggio in his prime.” Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff spoke of how DiMaggio controlled his emotions on the field, and is the reason why DiMaggio never authorized a biography of his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, to be written, to protect her reputation from the salaciousness of such literary works. Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff also maintains that we can learn life lessons from two of DiMaggio’s incredible statistics: In his entire career, Joe struck out only 8 times more than the number of homeruns he hit, and DiMaggio was never thrown out when running from first to third base.

Joe DiMaggio is also mentioned in the culture of music.

In addition to Joe DiMaggio’s name being prominently included in the 1967 #1 hit song, “Mrs. Robinson,” written by two young Jewish men from Queens, NY, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the renowned Jewish composer and lyricist, Abie Rottenberg, also a native New Yorker, recorded a song entitled, “Joe DiMaggio’s card.” Although the song is not about DiMaggio, per se, it speaks of the religious maturation process of a young man, revolving around the boy’s ownership of a Joe DiMaggio baseball card and his adoration of the Yankee Hall of Famer. Paul Simon performed “Mrs. Robinson” in Yankee Stadium as a tribute to DiMaggio after his passing.

A postscript: Morris Engelberg was a dear friend of Joe DiMaggio and the sole executor responsible for DiMaggio’s estate after his passing. In addition to dedicating hospitals and donating to other philanthropies in DiMaggio’s name, Engelberg chose to name the social hall after DiMaggio, at Congregation Judea Chabad in Hollywood, FL, where Mr. Engelberg had begun to pray.

While our sages say that Torah scholarship is to be found exclusively within the Jewish community, Jewish tradition teaches that wisdom and inspiration can be found anywhere, and it is incumbent upon Jews to seize all sources of wisdom and inspiration and learn from them.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn Life Lessons from All Sources

There is much positive knowledge in the world. Absorb all that you can.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Who Was Hagar?

Stating simply that Hagar was the second wife of Abraham and the mother of Ishmael simplifies an incredibly complex character whose emotions and motivations are fleshed out in the Oral Traditions and transcribed in the Midrash.

This is Hagar’s basic story: Sarah was barren, and so she gave her Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, as a wife to Abraham. When she [Hagar] “saw that she had conceived, her mistress [Sarah] was despised in her eyes” (16:4) When Sarah tried to deal with the situation, Hagar fled into the wilderness, where an angel promised her that her son would become a nation. Hagar returned and gave birth to Ishmael (Genesis 16).

Years later, when Sarah noticed that Ishmael was a bad influence on Isaac, Abraham ordered Hagar to leave, sending her and Ishmael into the wilderness with meager provisions. “And she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off’ expecting Ishmael to die. (21:14-16).  Hagar sat and cried. Once again, an angel rescued her by showing her a well (Genesis 21).

Let’s first start with Hagar’s origins. The Midrash relates that “Pharoah took his daughter [Hagar], and gave her to [Abraham], for he said, ‘It is better for my daughter to be a handmaid in [Abraham’s] house than a noblewoman in another house” (Genesis Rabbah 45:1)

Another interesting Midrash points out that “Hagar would [mockingly] say: ‘My Mistress [Sarah] is not the same inwardly as she appears outwardly. She cannot be as righteous as she seems, for so many years passed without her having children, whereas I conceived after one night.’” (Genesis Rabbah 45:3).

Finally, it is written in the Zohar that “When Hagar parted from Abraham, she worshiped the idols of her father’s house. Later, she repented fully and bound herself to good deeds, for which her name was changed to Keturah. [After this,] Abraham sent for her and remarried her.

This Treat was last posted on October 7, 2013.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn More about the So-Called Minor Biblical Personalities

Every individual included in the Torah is intended to teach us a lesson. Investigate and delve into all the Biblical characters, especially those less well known.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

World Hello Day

In 1973, Brian and Michael McCormack created World Hello Day as a reaction to the Yom Kippur War. College students at the time, the brothers started a campaign encouraging people to actively say “hello” to at least 10 people on November 21. The “holiday” has become an annual event and has garnered international attention.

Is there validity in the idea that saying hello to people can inspire peace? Actually, the significance of greeting others is often highlighted by the sages:

“Rabbi Matyah ben Charash used to say: Be first in greeting every man...” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 4:20).

“Shammai said: “...receive all men with a cheerful face” (ibid 1:15).

In Hebrew, the word for hello is Shalom, which not only means peace, but is also one of the names of God. Thus it is that when people greet each other with the word shalom, they are following the custom set out by Boaz: “And they instituted that one should greet their friend with God’s name, as the verse says (Ruth 2:4), ‘And behold Boaz came from Bethlehem, and he said to the reapers, ‘May God be with you.’ And they said to him,’God bless you’” (Talmud Brachot 54a).

Saying hello with Shalom is also a modern greeting. Traditionally, Jews greeted each other by saying Shalom Aleichem (Peace unto you). The Talmud states: “Rabbi Helbo further said in the name of Rabbi Huna: If one knows that his friend is used to greeting him, let him greet him first. For it is said: Seek peace and pursue it. And if his friend greets him and he does not return the greeting he is called a robber” (ibid 6b). Perhaps that is why the traditional reply to Shalom Aleichem is Aleichem Shalom (Unto you, peace).

World Hello Day is an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves that greeting others is a true Jewish value.

This Treat was last posted on November 21, 2014.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If you smile when you talk to people, even if you talk to them remotely, you will likely make them happier.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Soles and Souls on the Danube

The Danube River is closely identified with the city through which it runs, Budapest, Hungary. Yet that river was defiled in late 1944.

On March 19, 1944, the German army conquered Hungary’s capital city, Budapest. Two months later, the Germans began deporting Hungarian Jews, and by July, 437,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported, the vast majority of whom perished at Auschwitz. The rest of Budapest’s Jews were concentrated in homes within the city, all identified by a Jewish star. It was then, that the heroic righteous gentile, Raoul Wallenberg, sprung into action to help save Hungarian Jewry by issuing Swedish diplomatic documents claiming Hungarian Jews to be under protection of Sweden, a neutral country. (Wallenberg’s mission began on June 6, 1944, the very same day that the Allies invaded Europe, and D-Day, was launched).

The deportations ceased in July. However, October brought a new pro-Nazi fascist regime to rule over Hungary, led by Ferenc Szalasi. Within the regime’s first days, 600 Budapest Jews were murdered, and many others were drafted to build fortifications to defend from the approaching Soviet Red Army. On November 8, 1944, corresponding to the 22nd of Cheshvan, the deportations resumed, and five days later, a Jewish ghetto was established in Budapest.

By December 2, 1944, the majority of Budapest’s Jews who were not in possession of Wallenberg papers, were concentrated into the ghetto. In December and January, between ten and twenty thousand Jews were murdered by members of the ruling “Arrow Cross” party, ceasing only when Budapest was liberated in January. 565,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust between March and December, 1944, and only 120,000 Budapest Jews survived.

Many of the murders took place when the members of Arrow Cross lined the Jews up on the banks of the Danube River and shot them, so their bodies would fall into the river. To commemorate the Jews murdered on the banks of the Danube, on April 16, 2005, the Hungarian Government dedicated along the riverside, “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” which was the brainchild of film director Can Togay, and features the sculpture art of Gyula Pauer. The memorial is situated on the east side of the Danube Promenade in line with where Zoltan Street would meet the Danube, about 300 meters south of the Hungarian Parliament building. The memorial calls attention to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, who were murdered at that spot by Arrow Cross. They were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot .

In January 2019, Israeli Interior Minister, Aryeh D’eri, announced, in Budapest, that Israeli agents will scour the waters of the Danube for remains, and those fragments would be brought to burial in the Land of Israel. The Israeli volunteer organization, Zaka, intends to send divers with sonar devices that can reach a depth of 150 meters, and scan within 130 meters to identify any remains of the victims.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hungarian Jewish History

If you travel to Hungary, make a point of seeing the Jewish-oriented sites and learn about the history of Jews in Hungary.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chaim Weizmann

Many of the greatest names in Israeli history belong to leaders of military battles and to eloquent spokespersons who rallied the Jewish people to fight for a modern homeland. Chaim Weizmann’s field of “battle” was the game of diplomacy. His great skill in this most delicate realm made it all the more appropriate that his final title was that of the first President of the State of Israel.

Born in Russia in 1874, the third of fifteen children, Weizmann followed his Jewish cheder education with gymnasium and multiple universities. A scientist by training, he received degrees from universities in Germany and Switzerland and taught at the University of Geneva before accepting a position as senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in 1904.

Weizmann became a British citizen. During the first World War, he gained national attention when he developed a process for producing acetone, a critical explosive component that greatly benefited the British war effort. His national security work enabled him to make many influential and important contacts.

An ardent Zionist, Weizmann attended every Zionist conference in Basel, Switzerland except the first. Weizmann’s belief was that the Zionists could only succeed if there were people settling the land while diplomatic maneuvers were put in place. Weizmann played a critical role in the creation of both the Weizmann Institute for Science and Hebrew University.

Weizmann’s diplomatic victories were of great significance. It was his efforts that resulted in the Balfour Declaration. He was the diplomat who sat with the Hashemite Prince Feisal and reached a (short-lived) agreement with the Arabs. And it was known that Weizmann influenced the United States to support both the Partition Plan and Statehood.

In 1952, after serving four years as President, Weizmann died at his home in Rehovot. Chaim Weizmann passed away on November 9, 1952, corresponding to the 21st of Cheshvan.

This Treat was last posted on October 30, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Take a Moment to Support Zionistic Enterprises

Supporting the State of Israel can be done from home via volunteerism or contributions. Use the opportunity to help promote and enhance the State of Israel.

Monday, November 18, 2019


On November 18, 2013, NASA launched an atmospheric probe to Mars, which initiated the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission. Its mission was to gather data to determine why Mars’ atmosphere and water supply were lost over time. A little over 10 months later the probe reached Mars’ atmosphere. A year later, NASA announced that the probe found that solar storms were the cause for the transformation of Mars’ atmosphere from a carbon-dioxide atmosphere to a cold and barren surface. According to NASA’s findings, this transfer occurred between 4.2 and 3.7 billion years ago.

Why would this tidbit of scientific history be worthy of inclusion in Jewish Treats? Because of the name of the Mars probe! The “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission” was nicknamed MAVEN, which in Yiddish means someone with expert knowledge. The acronym MAVEN was given to the probe to deliberately connote the Yiddish term.

Maven, however, is not merely another Yiddish term derived from the original Hebrew. It’s a Yiddish word that is well known in the English vernacular. Some call such words “Yiddishisms.” Non-Yiddish speakers, and even non-Jews, will invoke many of the following terms: a busy-body who is a yenta; a child kvetching too much to their parent; two people schmoozing, or perhaps, kibbitzing and catching up on old times; someone acting with such audacity that they are called out for their chutzpah. Some call such words “Yinglish” or “Ameridish,’ while others will use the formal non-Yiddish term, neologisms, which means new words, usages or expressions.

Yiddish terms that enter the English language occur in various categories. There are the words associated with food such as blintzes, kishke, latke, nosh, schmaltz, a schmear and even the word kosher, as a synonym for appropriate or acceptable. Some words entered via the entertainment industry: yenta and l’chaim (Fiddler on the Roof), megillah (Gorilla) and schlemiel and schlemazzel (Laverne and Shirley). Mike Myers’ Saturday Night Live Jewish character Linda Richman, brought us the terms farklempt and shpilkes. Most Americans know the difference between one who is a mentch and another who is meshugah. For some reason, many Yiddishisms begin with the “sh” sound, such as shlepp, shmutz, shpiel, shtick, and shvitz. Even one-syllable Yiddish expressions such as oy and nu are pregnant with meaning. There is also a litany of colorful terms that can’t be mentioned in Jewish Treats.

So boychiks and maydelehs, be proud of the Yiddish language and culture, whose terms have entered and truly enriched the melting pot of American life.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn Mamaloshen

Yiddish is known as the Mamaloshen, the mother tongue. The more Yiddish you can understand, the more of the history you can learn in its primary sources. You will also put a big smile on the faces of relatives who grew up in Yiddish-speaking homes.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Can’t We Agree on the Blessings over Brit Milah?

Parashat Vayera contains the story of the circumcision of Isaac (Genesis 21:4), the first person to undergo the ritual of circumcision on the eighth day of life.

At a Brit Milah, the mohel (individual who performs the circumcision) recites a blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl ha’milah. 
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding circumcision.

Immediately after the removal of the foreskin, a second blessing is reciting by the father of the baby: Ba’ruch Ahtah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu l’hach’nih’so bi’vri’to shel Avraham ah’vi’nu. 
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to bring him into the covenant of Abraham our father.

After the father completes his blessing, those congregated respond:
Amen. K’shehm she’nich’nas lah’brit, keyn yi’kah’nes le’Torah, uh’le’chupah, uh’le’ma’ah’seem toh’veem Amen. 
Just as he [the child] has entered the covenant, may he too enter into Torah, the marital canopy and to good deeds.

Some have the custom to recite a third blessing, which is recited in contexts of joy and newness.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh. 
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this occasion.

The She’he’cheh’yanu blessing is generally recited when one wears new clothes for the first time, when one fulfills a mitzvah for the first time (such as lighting Chanukah candles or waving the four species on Sukkot for the first time that year), and upon the birth of a baby girl. Generally, there is unanimity as to when to recite the She’he’cheh’yanu blessing. In the case of brit milah, Sephardic Jews recite it while Ashkenazic Jews do not. However, another anomaly exists in this context. Ashkenazic Jews in Israel do indeed recite She’he’cheh’yanu. Why the controversy in the case of Brit Milah?

Maimonides rules (Laws of Brit Milah 3:3) that the father of the baby boy recites the she’he’cheh’yanu blessing. Since the commandment to circumcise is fulfilled only on relatively rare occasions, he felt the blessing ought to be recited. Many disagree with Maimonides’ ruling. The Tosafists (Talmud Sukkah 46a) rule that since the Talmud only mentions the first two blessings, no other blessings are added. Others argue that since the baby is enduring a brief painful episode, we can’t classify the moment as fully joyous. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 265:7) comments that she’he’cheh’yanu is recited only when the father himself circumcises his son, and then explicitly quotes Maimonides’. Rabbi Moshe Isserlis ruled that Ashkenazim do not recite the blessing. This is indeed the custom among all of Ashkenazic Jewry in the diaspora.

However, many Ashkenazic Jews living in Israel have accepted the custom to recite the she’he’cheh’yanu blessing. Perhaps this anomaly can be explained as many modern day Ashkenazic customs in Israel derive from the practices of Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon (Sage), whose disciples were among the early settlers in modern day Israel (early 19th century). The Vilna Gaon advocated reciting the blessing, since the joy is felt upon performing of the mitzvah, not on the body of the baby.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rejoice at a Brit Milah

When attending a Brit Milah, make sure to help inject the event with joy.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Operation Magic Carpet

A decade ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on the involvement of the United States’ government in a mission that brought approximately 100 Yemenite Jews to America, a little less than half the remaining Jewish population of Yemen. While Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to protect this small remnant of a community, growing unrest made this nearly impossible. Harassment and outright violence have risen dramatically.

This mission may be the final step of “Operation Magic Carpet,” which began in the summer of 1949...

The history of the Jews of Yemen predates the Muslim religion by many centuries. But, when Yemen became a Muslim country, in the early 10th century, Jews became second-class citizens. Persecution and forced conversions were often governmentally approved (except during the period of Ottoman Rule, 1872-1918).

After the U.N. agreed to partition Palestine in 1947, anti-Semitic attacks became common. Miraculously, the Imam of Yemen allowed the Jews to emigrate. Between June 1949 and September 1950, approximately 49,000 Jews were transported on 380 secret flights to Israel. The flights were not made public until several months after the operation.

“Operation Magic Carpet,” as it was known, was a culture shock to most Yemenite Jews. Many had lived without electricity or running water, had never sat on furniture and certainly had never envisioned an airplane. In fact, many had to be convinced that the airplanes were safe (and they were quoted the Biblical verses referring to the redemption in Messianic times coming on the “wings of eagles” - Exodus 19:4, Isaiah 40:31).

It took a great deal of effort on the part of the Yemenites to assimilate into the modern world. Today, however, the Yemenite community is an integral part of both the Israeli and the worldwide Jewish community.

Operation Magic Carpet” began on November 8, 1949, corresponding to the 16th of Cheshvan.

The treat was originally posted on December 1, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek out opportunities to see God’s hand in history

Learn about current events that are the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, such as the ingathering of the exiles to Israel.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Kristallnacht, literally the Night of Crystal but generally translated as the Night of Broken Glass, was a tragic turning point in the fate of Germany’s Jewish community. The country-wide pogrom began on November 9, 1938, and lasted through the 10th. Over the course of Kristallnacht, close to 100 Jews were killed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, hundreds of synagogues were burned and desecrated and over 7,000 Jewish shops were vandalized and had their shop windows shattered.

The outbreak of violence was orchestrated by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. However, the Nazi leadership firmly maintained that the actions were a spontaneous uprising of the German people against the Jews. They also used fabricated Jewish crimes in order to enact further oppressive laws against Jews, including diverting insurance payments for property destroyed in the pogroms.

The excuse for the so-called “spontaneous” pogrom was the death, on November 9th, of German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath in Paris. He was shot by a 17 year old Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan. Young, unemployed and an illegal resident trying to avoid deportation from Paris, Grynszpan shot the diplomat as a reaction to his parents’ deportation to Poland. The Grynszpans had lived in Hanover, Germany, since 1911. In October 1938, the Germans expelled all Polish Jews from German soil just as Poland was about to implement a new law removing Polish citizenship from anyone residing outside of Poland for more than five years. But Poland refused to take the refugees, and 12,000 Jews were put in refugee camps at the border.

The involvement of German citizens in the pogroms, or at the very least the lack of protest from neighbors (and neighboring countries), affirmed the Nazi’s belief that they could do as they pleased concerning the Jews. Previously oppressive measures had been non-violent, but Kristallnacht was the first step toward the horror of the “Final Solution. 

Today is the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht. 

The country-wide pogrom began on November 9, 1938, corresponding to the 15th of Cheshvan.

This Treat was last posted on November 9, 2018. 

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Never Forget!

Identify a meaningful way today to remember the Holocaust and pledge to assure that acts of genocide will never happen again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Jews in the Fold

Yesterday, November 11, was celebrated internationally as National Origami Day. (Jewish Treats did not publish this essay yesterday in deference to Veteran’s Day.)

Origami is a compound Japanese term: ori means folding and kami means paper. Origami was created in the 6th century CE in Japan. National Origami Day, unsurprisingly, originated in Japan. Today, origami has become a very popular avocation. Some now even use tools to create the paper objects, a practice that had been avoided until relatively recently.

May one engage in origami on Shabbat?

Why would there be a problem?

The 39 categories of prohibited “work” on Shabbat, known in Hebrew as the melachot, are not based on exertion or what a labor union would consider “toil.” Rather, the sages understood the forbidden categories as those employed to “create” and “build” the Tabernacle, which housed the Ark of the Covenant and other vessels. The Tabernacle, or Mishkan in Hebrew, became the locus of Jewish spirituality until Solomon constructed the permanent Temple in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE. Those forbidden actions range from the process of baking bread (seeding to cooking), creating fabrics (sheep shearing to cutting and bleaching), fashioning leather (trapping, slaughtering and tanning) and others.

In his landmark work on the laws of Shabbat, composed in the 20th century, Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth ruled, based on the opinion of his teacher and renowned halachic expert, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that engaging in origami on Shabbat would not be permitted. He felt that origami would fall under the prohibition of creating a new utensil. Creating a new utensil can be a derivative prohibition of “building” or administering “the final hammer blow,” i.e. making an item usable. This ruling came in the chapter on children’s games in Rabbi Neuwirth’s magnum opus, “Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchita” (The Observance of the Sabbath according to the Law) (16:19).

A similar question is asked about folding napkins to make the dinner table more attractive. Rabbi Neuwirth, again, quoting his mentor, felt that one should avoid this because of its being similar to the prohibition of building. He felt, however, that folding a napkin does not parallel the prohibition of creating a new utensil. Rabbi Moshe Stern, (1914-1997) known as the Rabbi of Debrecin (Hungary), where he had served before World War II, dissented from Rabbi Neuwirth’s ruling on folding napkins (see responsa Be’er Moshe 8:134). He felt that folding napkins or paper would only be forbidden on Shabbat when the paper is of very thick stock.

Happy National Origami Day, especially when it does not fall on Shabbat!

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Study the Laws of Shabbat

Learning or reviewing Shabbat guidelines will enhance your Shabbat experience.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Story of Lenny Kravitz

On March 6, 1951, a platoon of American soldiers serving in the Korean War came under heavy fire by the Chinese Army near Yangpyong, Korea. When the platoon’s Machine Gunner was wounded, Private First Class Leonard Kravitz took over for his injured comrade. Shortly thereafter, the platoon was ordered to retreat. PFC Kravitz refused to withdraw, because he knew that if he left his position, the Chinese would take the advantage. His protective fire enabled a safe retreat for his comrades, but cost him his life. When the American troops retook the area, they found Kravitz’s body slumped over the gun, the majority of ammunition expended, and numerous enemy dead before him. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award accorded to members of the United States Army.

PFC Leonard Kravitz (the uncle of the musician of the same name)  was 20 years old when he was killed in action. His heroism may have remained just one of the many stories of fallen soldiers cherished by the surviving family, if not for Kravitz’s close friend from his Brooklyn childhood, and fellow Korean War veteran, Mitchel Libman.

Libman was bothered that Kravitz had not received the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious American military award. He noticed that Kravitz and numerous other deserving Jewish heroes had been given lesser honors for similar acts of valor by non-Jewish servicemen who had received the Medal of Honor. In fact, not one of the 136 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean War was given to a member of the Jewish faith.

Libman’s findings turned into a multi-decade campaign that was later taken up by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. In 2001, Representative Wexler introduced the Jewish War Veterans Act (informally called the “Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act”), which called for a review of Jewish veterans awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to determine if the more distinguished Medal of Honor should have been given. 

On March 18, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Leonard Kravitz, and 23 other veterans, including 17 Latinos, one African American and one Jew (Kravitz). In rectifying a national injustice, Obama stated: “Here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.” The president also honored Libman, 83 at the time, for his life-long work that made the new awards possible.

Mitchell Libman passed away in Davie, FL, on June 24, 2017.

This Treat was last posted on November 11, 2013.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Veteran Causes

Go out of your way to support financially or through volunteering, causes that benefit and express gratitude to U.S. veterans for their selfless contributions.

Friday, November 8, 2019

No Strings Attached

Deuteronomy 16:18 states: "...You shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words."

Although this statement of Jewish law is written in Deuteronomy, the final Book of the Torah, the concept of avoiding bribery is first found in Genesis 14. The patriarch Abraham is drawn into a regional war when his nephew, Lot, was taken captive when a group of Mesopotamian kings seized Sodom. Organizing his compatriots, Abraham and his followers attacked at night and defeated the invaders. When Abraham brought Lot and the rest of the captured citizens of Sodom home, Sodom’s king offered him all of the captured wealth in return for his subjects. Abraham responded: "I have lifted up my hand unto the Lord, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-lace nor anything that is yours, lest you should say: I have made Abram [Abraham] rich" (Genesis 14:22-23).

Abraham knew of the King of Sodom’s general lack of concern for others and did not wish to ever be beholden to him.
The sage, Rabba, notes the deeper ramifications of Abraham’s refusal to accept even a small token of appreciation: "[Because of this response, Abraham’s] descendants were worthy of receiving two commandments: the thread of blue [tzitzit/tallit katan] and the strap of the phylacteries [tefillin]" (Sotah 17a).

What is the connection between rejecting bribery and the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin? The answer can be summed up in Abraham’s response: "Lest you should say, I have made Abram rich." Tefillin, which are worn on one’s forehead and forearm, and tzitzit, which are attached to one’s clothing, are both mitzvot that are meant to be constant reminders of God’s omnipotence and of the fact that one should strive never to be beholden unto anyone except God.

This Treat was last posted on October 25, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Avoid even the appearance of being bribed

Always take the high road and avoid the appearance that external factors, such as a bribe or other negative factors, impacted the decision.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Jewish Winter Palace

November 7, 1917, or October 25th on the Julian Calendar that was still used by the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, marks the climax of the Russian Revolution. On that day, the Bolsheviks stormed the Czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the last remaining holdout of the official provisional Czarist government, paving the way for the creation of the Soviet Union. The gorgeous and glorious Winter Palace, which contained the throne of Peter the Great, was renamed The Hermitage, and functioned as a Soviet Museum during the decades-long rule of the Bolsheviks.

Jewish history also has a Winter Palace.

After the victory of the Maccabees in 165 BCE, the Seleucid Greeks were expelled from their hegemonic rulership over the Land of Israel. In 142 BCE, the Hasmonean Dynasty was established to rule over Judea. Later, when the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea, the Hasmonean kings became puppets to Rome. In 34 BCE, Herod overthrew the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, after winning a three-year civil war, initiating the Herodian dynasty.

The Maccabees and Hasmoneans were the same people, all descendants of Mattityahu the High Priest. While Hasmonean rule emerged from Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital city for millennia, a winter palace was constructed in the city of Jericho, about one day’s horse ride from the Capital, because its weather during the winter was milder. The palaces were places for the monarchs to rest, but also to conduct state business. Aqueducts from the nearby Wadi Kelt brought fresh water to the palaces, which was used for drinking and irrigating the vast agricultural fields that grew dates, plants and spices.

The Hasmonean palaces featured an open courtyard surrounded by rooms, a design closely paralleling Hellenistic architecture. There were bathrooms with bathtubs, colored frescos and twin swimming pools. Subsequent renovations included bathhouses and mikva’ot (pools for ritual immersion).

After the overthrow of the Hasmoneans, Herod built his Winter Palace over the Hasmonean palace. It was much larger and more lavish. It included the Hasmonean palaces on the north side of Wadi Kelt, and a palace on the southern side of the wadi was added, from land Cleopatra of Egypt leased to Herod. She received it as a gift from Marcus Antonius in 36 BCE. It was built in 3 stages, even connecting the two palaces with a bridge.

The palaces were destroyed during the Jewish rebellion against Rome from 66 to 70 CE.

The Hasmonean winter palace and Herod’s updates were some of the earliest archeological discoveries after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

World History and Jewish History

While there is much to learn from world history, it is critical to master Jewish history, which is not only “our history,” but it also enables the transmission of Jewish tradition and values.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Yonah of Geronah

It is a fact of history that students have frequently been at the center of radical movements, often under the influence of a teacher or mentor. This was the case of Rabbi Yonah of Geronah, who, following the lead of his teacher Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier, passionately called for a ban on the philosophical work of Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed. In fact, Rabbi Yonah is generally regarded as the instigator of the 1233 Inquisitional book burning of Maimonides’ work. 

Just under a decade later, Rabbi Yonah was himself witness to a far more threatening book burning of 24 wagon loads of the Talmud. He was deeply troubled by the fear that his own actions nine years earlier may have paved the path that led to this second book burning. According to tradition, he declared his error in condemning Maimonides’ work and vowed to visit Maimonides’ grave in Tiberias to beg for forgiveness from the legendary sage.  

In the 13th century, a journey to the holy land often took years. The first leg of his journey took Rabbi Yonah from Montpellier, France, to Barcelona, Spain, where he remained for three years before continuing on his way. He never made it to the Holy Land. When his travels took him to Toledo, the local community convinced him to assume a position as a Talmud instructor. It was meant to be a temporary situation, but on 8 Cheshvan* 1263, he died suddenly from a rare disease. 

Rabbi Yonah was a renowned scholar, and his death was mourned by all of Spanish Jewry. Rabbi Yonah is best known for his moral/ethical works: Iggeret Ha’teshuva, Sha'arey Teshuva, and Sefer Ha’yir'ah(Letter of Repentance, Gates of Repentance and Book of Awe).

One interesting additional fact about Rabbi Yonah is that his daughter married the son of his first cousin, Nachmanides, Rabbi Moses ben Nachmon.

*Some sources list 27 Cheshvan as the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yonah. 

This Treat was last posted on October 24, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Heroism

A Jewish hero, Jewish wisdom asserts, is one who can acknowledge wrongdoing and rectify the future by avoiding the misdeed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ginger Ail?

Happy “Love Your Red Hair Day”! Those endowed with ginger-ness (In Israel, a redheaded person is called a “gingy”), 1% of the world’s population and 2% of that of the United States, are sometimes associated with a fiery personality and other negative traits that are associated with their follicular hue. As we will see, traits that are ascribed based on hair color are largely unfounded. Individuals such as Alexander the Great, Mark Twain, Vincent Van Gogh, British Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Winston Churchill were redheads. U.S. presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower (three out of four were prominent generals) were also “ginger.”

Two Biblical characters are identified as redheads.

Genesis 25 (verse 25) describes the birth of Rebecca’s twins. “The first emerged 'Admoni,’ all over, like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau (or Esav in Hebrew).” At first glance, admoni, can be related to the Hebrew word adom for red. After all, the verse links the term to hair. However, Edom is also the name of a nation adjacent to the Land of Israel (modern day Jordan), that the Torah claims descends from Esav (see Genesis 36:9). Rashi in Genesis 25:25, states that the word admoni, however, refers to the blood that Esav, the hunter and warrior, will spill. Additionally, 5 verses later, (Genesis 25:30) Esav is described as arriving home starving, asking his brother Jacob to “feed me, I beg you, with that same red pottage; for I am famished; therefore, his name was called Edom (red).”

The second redhead mentioned in Scriptures is King David. When the prophet Samuel approached Yishai (Jesse) to anoint one of his seven sons to become king of Israel, the last son he contemplated for royalty was his youngest, David. The verse states (Samuel I 16:12): “And he sent, and brought him in. And he was admoni, with beautiful eyes, and good looking. And the Lord said, “arise, anoint him; for this is he.” While many assume this refers to his gingerness, the textual link is less clear, as hair is not specifically mentioned. Some feel it connotes a ruddy complexion.

Do David and Esav’s hair color indicate anything about their behavioral dispositions? David is the progenitor of the Davidic Dynasty, the bloodline of the Messiah. Esav, according to Rabbi Shimon the son of Yochai, claims that Esav will always be the enemy and foil of Jacob, the people of Israel (Midrash Sifri, Be’haalotcha, 69). Apparently, there does not appear to be any common denominators we can learn about being a redhead.

An interesting story is told, that when Napoleon (also a redhead) would go to battle, he would see a vision of a red-haired Jew bringing victory to the French. It was reported that he did not see a red-haired Jew before his battle at Waterloo, where he fell (recorded in “Imagining Holiness: Classic Tales in Modern Times” by Justin Jaron Lewis, pp. 125). This episode is similar to the story that appears in the Talmud (Yoma 69a) that Alexander the Great would see the image of Simon the Righteous before battles. When Alexander prepared to sack Jerusalem, its leader, Simon the Righteous approached Alexander, who bowed to the ground, finally witnessing the countenance that had always appeared to him in victory. Alexander, the Talmud concludes, agreed not to destroy Jerusalem.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Never Judge a Human Book by Its Cover

Genetic traits such as hair color do not determine how individuals behave. Be careful not to stereotype or even make assumptions about people based on their external features.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Counting on You?

Every nation seeks to know how many citizens it has, which can also inform the nation of the quantitative strength of its armed forces. In democratic countries, counting the nation also impacts on elections, and determines congressional jurisdictions in representative democracies such as the United States.

Israel conducted its first census on the 6th of Cheshvan, 1948. It found that 712,000 Jews and 68,000 Arabs lived within its boundaries.

Yet, Jewish tradition hesitates to count individuals. This reluctance has Scriptural origins, and in ancient times, conducting a direct census was avoided. Instead, all adult male Jews donated half a shekel annually, which was a back-handed way of counting the Israelite people (Exodus 30:12). The Torah warns not to count directly, “so that there be no plague among them…”

The Talmud (Yoma 22b) cites Rabbi Yitzchak’s assertion that counting Jews is forbidden. Rabbi Yitzchak learns this from a story regarding King Saul (Samuel I 11:8). Saul needed to know how many soldiers were in his army prior to a battle against Nachash the Edomite. Rabbi Yitzchak understands that each soldier presented a shard of pottery, so the pieces of earthenware were counted, rather than heads. Another source (ibid. 15:4) describes how each soldier brought a lamb to be enumerated. Maimonides (Laws of Daily and Additional Offerings 4:4) also prohibits counting Jews directly. The Talmud (Berachot 62b) notes that even school children are aware of this prohibition.

During the State of Israel’s 1972 census, rabbinic sages weighed in on the propriety of a census in a Jewish state. Rabbi Yechiel Y. Weinberg did not find any prohibition in a national tally, but another leading expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg found the census problematic. While Rabbi Isser Yehudah Unterman, Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in 1972, permitted participation in the census, the leadership of the Hareidi community forbade participation. Rabbi Weinberg argued that the names on the census form’s lines were being enumerated, not the people. He also felt that conducting a census fell under the rubric of national security, which takes precedence over almost everything else in Jewish law. Rabbi Weinberg also cited an opinion of Gersonides, which claims that after the original half-shekel donation, all subsequent national counts took place by counting names, not heads. In the Biblical book of Numbers (1:2 and 26:53) the text explicitly states, “according to the number of names.” Other sages suggested that the subsequent censuses were conducted with slips of paper (Rabbi Naftali Z.Y. Berlin, citing Arizal.)

In the 1983 Israeli census, as an accommodation to the objectors, the government removed the box on the census form which asked for the total number of people in the household. They also instituted that machines would conduct the count, not people.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Aggregates and Individuals

While it’s important to view data in totality, we should never forget that the collective is comprised of distinct and unique units. This is especially true when dealing with individual people.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Seven Mitzvot

Jewish law places great emphasis on the way a Jew must live and the rewards for living according to Jewish law. Laws such as Shabbat and kashrut create a lifestyle in which Jews mingle mostly with other Jews, and thus are separated from the rest of the world. That does not mean, however, that the Torah ignores non-Jews.

While many of the other major religions of the world insist that their way of life is the only way to live, Judaism expresses a very different opinion. According to the Torah, Jewish law is the ideal way for a JEW to live, and by living that way a Jew will receive great reward in the next world. However, a non-Jew may also receive reward in the next world by faithfully following the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah (Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach).

The seven laws are:

1. Prohibition of idolatry.
2. Prohibition of murder.
3. Prohibition of theft.
4. Prohibition of sexual immorality.
5. Prohibition of blasphemy.
6. Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive.
7. Requirement to have an effective judiciary to establish civil laws and enforce the preceding six laws fairly.

In recent years there has been a small, but growing, movement of non-Jewish people who observe these seven laws and have formed “Noahide” communities. They are dedicated to living their lives according the path set out by the Torah for non-Jews. These groups often associate with their local Jewish community, which supports the Noahides and gives them strength and encouragement to face the challenges of living a lifestyle that differs from the majority culture.

This Treat was last posted on February 4, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Covenant with Humanity

While God has made covenants with the Jewish people, He also has expectations for all human beings. As such, God is linked to all members of the human race and is the God of all of humanity.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Support Jewish organizations that were transplanted from pre-Holocaust Europe and survived

Take pride and support Jewish organizations that have resiliently survived Hitler’s genocide.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Belarus, China, Jerusalem and Brooklyn: The Odyssey of the World’s Largest Yeshiva

For 125 years, from 1814 until 1939, the Mir Yeshiva served as a beacon of elite Torah study on the European continent. Situated in the small town of Mir in Belarus, the yeshiva was founded by Rabbi Shmuel Tiktinsky. Eventually, after a few generations of Tiktinsky Roshei Yeshiva (Deans of Yeshiva), Rabbi Eliyahu Boruch Kamai was appointed Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of Yeshiva) and his daughter married a young scholar named Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, the son of the famed Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter of Slabodka, the sagacious, pious and inspiring leader of the Slabodka Yeshiva. Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda eventually was named Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva. With the exception of the World War I years, when the yeshiva was forced to move to Poltava, Ukraine, The Mir Yeshiva educated thousands of students in their building in Belarus.

The story of the Mir Yeshiva’s escape from Hitler’s clutches is legendary, and some would even argue, miraculous. The story how they approached the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, for exit visas is one of the few positive stories of Jewish rescue that emerged during World War II. After the Mir Yeshiva’s relocation to Shanghai, China, during the years of World War II, the faculty and students immigrated to Jerusalem, Israel, and New York. Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah served as Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Jerusalem until his death on July 19, 1965. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz. The reins of the yeshiva’s leadership returned to the Finkel family when Rabbi Nahum Partzovitz, Rabbi Shmuelevitz’ son-in-law passed away, and Rabbi Beinish Finkel, son of Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, was appointed as Rosh Yeshiva. American born and bred Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Beinish’s son-in-law, led Mir Jerusalem until his passing in 2011. Currently, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi’s son, Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, serves as Rosh Yeshiva.

The other branch of Mir moved to Brooklyn, NY, after the yeshiva’s sojourn in Asia. Mir Brooklyn, known as the Mirrer Yeshiva, was led by Rabbi Avraham Kalmanovitz, and then, Rabbi Kalmanovitz’ son-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum. Rabbi Bernbaum passed away in 2008, and the yeshiva is currently led by Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Nelkenbaum, Rabbi Elya Brudny Rabbi Asher Dov Bernbaum and Rabbi Asher Eliyahu Kalmanovitz.

Mir Jerusalem, with 8,500 students, is the largest yeshiva in the world.

The Mir Yeshiva in Belarus closed in Europe on the second of Cheshvan, 1939.

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