Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Look at the Raven

With its sharp black feathers and piercing ebony eyes, the raven could be seen as a much maligned bird. It is often considered a harbinger, or even a minion, of evil. The root of the raven’s reputation is quite probably Genesis 8:6-7. Two seemingly simple verses: “At the end of 40 days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. He sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from the earth.”

On a basic reading, it seems quite puzzling that what the raven did could be seen as wrong. According to one understanding of the text, Noah sent the raven to test the living conditions of the world, and, upon finding it uninhabitable, the raven stayed outside of the ark waiting to fulfill its mission. Its mission is clarified by the next verse: “Then he [Noah] sent the dove to see whether the water had decreased from the earth” (ibid 8:8). The dove went out, found no place to perch and returned to the ark until it was sent out again and then returned with the olive branch. The dove and its olive branch became an eternal symbol of peace.

The Talmud, however, includes an aggadic (non-legalistic, legendary) passage that sheds a very different light on the verse concerning the raven. According to Resh Lakish, the raven concluded that Noah was sending him out of the ark as a sign of hatred. “You hate me, since you are sending me, instead of one of the species of which there are seven. If I die, there will be no more of my kind.” Next, the raven actually accused Noah of desiring his mate. (Talmud Sanhedrin 108b).

The Talmud further states that the raven was one of three creatures that had relations while on the ark (which was forbidden while humanity was drowning).

This anthropomorphic dialogue is meant to demonstrate how deeply the raven identified with the corrupt creatures of society. According to tradition, civilization has been wiped out because of reckless self-absorption. People not only took what they wanted, but they presumed that everyone around them must have the same deprivations that they did. Deep selfishness is the behavior that facilitates evil, and thus the reputation of the raven was affected “evermore.” (Reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, "The Raven")

Kind Judgement

Judge others favorably.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Connecting the Words

In honor of “Dictionary Day,” Jewish Treats looks at a renowned Jewish dictionary that has served scholars and students since the turn of the 20th century.  A Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, was authored by Marcus Jastrow. Known popularly as The Jastrow Dictionary, it was a unique project that demonstrated the connection of the Aramaic language of the Talmud to the Hebrew of the Torah. Although other lexicons of the Aramaic language have been created, almost none cover the breadth of language researched and charted by Jastrow.

Born in Prussia in 1829, Marcus Jastrow had a diverse education that was rich both in religious study and secular academics. He completed his studies at the University of Berlin and received a PhD from the University of Halle while also completing his studies for rabbinic ordination.

His first rabbinic position was in Warsaw, where he was quickly swept up in national politics, supporting the “revolutionaries” and ending up in jail before being sent back to Prussia. He then took a position as the District Rabbi of Worms.

In 1866, Jastrow accepted the pulpit at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and quickly became an active member of the American Jewish community. He taught courses at Philadelphia’s Maimonides College and helped found the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Jastrow began working on his dictionary, which took nearly twenty years to complete, in 1876, while he was recovering from an illness. During this time, Jastrow also worked on several other projects, including the Jewish Encyclopedia, for the Jewish Publication Society of America (now JPS International).

Dr. Jastrow, who received an additional doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1900, retired from the pulpit in 1892, when Rodeph Shalom voted to join the Reform Movement. He passed away on Simchat Torah (October 13) 1903. His dictionary, with its alphabetical organization, cross-referencing and root charting, and index of scriptural references, is still in popular use today.

Texts

Purchase Jewish texts in the language that you find easiest to use. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beating the Willows

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

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

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

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


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

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah



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

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

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

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is neverending.

On the night of Simchat Torah (which is the second night of the holiday outside of the land of Israel), all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark, and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously. Shortly thereafter, the beginning of the Book of Genesis is read, signalling that the Torah reading cycle has begun anew.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate and Enjoy

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you a meaningful and fun Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

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

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

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

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

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

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


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

Hoshana Rabbah 5778 begins tonight (Tuesday night).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


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

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.


Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all. 

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Shake, Shake, Shake

If you haven't yet had the chance, try to find a way to fulfill the mitzvah of shaking a lulav and etrog.

Monday, October 9, 2017

More Than A Harvest Festival

Few people refer to Sukkot by the name Chag Ha'Asif, Feast of the Ingathering, but the Torah specifically states: "And you shall observe...the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22). Perhaps this term is avoided lest the holiday be mistaken as a simple agricultural celebration. But, Sukkot is indeed an agricultural festival celebrated at the time of the harvest, when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor, and everyone prepares for the onset of winter. There is no question that, as a result of witnessing the miracle of harvest in the field, people are moved to be thankful to the Creator of all things. 

Sukkot, however, is more than a harvest festival, because it isn’t actually about the crop. It is a festival meant to help Jews focus on the Source of those crops. This is why Jews move out of their comfortable homes and into their temporary dwellings (the sukkah) just as the weather grows chilly. It is a striking reminder that there is a more powerful Force in charge of one’s success. One can plant and sow and fertilize at all the right times, but one can only reap if God provides all of the right natural factors (good soil, proper amounts of rain at the right time, the farmer’s health, etc.).

While we today may not live in agricultural settings, that does not mean that we are not constantly dependent on a force greater than ourselves. No matter what profession one practices, one’s success is affected by thousands of different factors each day. While we may not personally gather our crops, we must always celebrate and be grateful for, and aware of, the Source of our sustenance.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



The Sukkot Hoshanot Service

Walk into a traditional synagogue in the middle of morning services during the week of Sukkot and you might have to take precaution not to be trampled upon by the circle of attendees walking around the bimah (central table where the Torah is read) holding their lulavim.

The Hoshanot service has been part of the celebration of Sukkot since the days of the Holy Temple, when, according to the Mishna: “It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day” (Sukkot 4:5).

In the Talmud, the later sages debate whether the original Hoshanot service was performed with the lulav and etrog or with willow branches alone. Today the entire lulav (four species) is held throughout the service. Each day a different piyut, religious poem, is recited as the congregants circle the bimah on which the Torah is held. (On Shabbat-Sukkot, the piyut is recited, but there are no lulavim and the bimah is not circled.)

The name of the service, Hoshanot, is derived from the opening word that is repeated throughout the first prayer: Hoshana. This word is actually a contraction of two separate words and means “Please save!” The congregants open the ceremony by beseeching God to save His people “For Your sake, Our God!”; “For Your sake, our Creator!”; “For Your sake, our Redeemer!”; and “For Your sake, our Attender!” Each cry is preceded and followed by “Hoshana” (Please Save!).


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



More Than Material Reflection

Take time during the holiday of Sukkot to reflect on God's hand in your life. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Water, Water Everywhere

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

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

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

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


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in Western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the seventh in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed--weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Mundane chores such as laundry are postponed. If possible, people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read andHallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz (leaven) but is not required to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed, people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved


Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday!

Celebrate in the sukkah throughout the interim days of the Sukkot holiday.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Everyone Does the Wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Sukkot Sameach

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you and yours a very joyful Sukkot holiday.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Room for Creativity

A few years back, The Atlantic Magazine featured a story about a project that came to be known as “Sukkah City” held in New York. Sukkah City challenged architects to create unique sukkot with only one guideline: halacha, Jewish law.

A basic sukkah is really quite simple: three walls and a bunch of branches overhead. (For a more detailed review of the laws, click here.) However, many of the Sukkah City architects who looked to the Talmud for design inspiration must have been quite surprised by the creative sukkot described therein. For instance, while a sukkah’s roof must be made of detached tree branches, can the sukkah itself be built in a tree? The discussion, which begins on page 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, presents different rulings, depending on the nature of the walls.

Also on page 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, the sages discuss a sukkah built on a wagon or on a ship - the issue being whether it can withstand a normal wind. It is easy to understand why they ask about a wagon or a ship, since these common means of transportation would have an obvious place to build a sukkah. But, the Talmud also discusses building a sukkah on the back of a camel. (And people were impressed at the innovation of the modern day pop-up sukkah, which works like a tent!)

Speaking of animals, the sages ruled that a securely-bound elephant would be valid as a sukkah wall. This was due to the elephant’s size, so this rule applies to no other animal. No one in this day and age would ever contemplate such strange building materials (indeed, most probably, no one ever used an actual elephant as a sukkah wall), but these passages demonstrate the flexibility and creativity that are inherent in Jewish tradition.


This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Perfect Species

At this time of the year, Jews around the globe head out in search of the perfect lulav and etrog (Lulav refers to the grouping of lulav, hadassim and aravot, which, together with the etrog are referred to as the four species.) Since the lulav and etrog are used for the mitzvah of waving the four species, it’s important to find a set that is as perfect as can be.

So what makes a lulav and etrog “perfect”?

Lulav/Branch of a Palm Tree: A lulav is actually the closed frond of a date palm tree. A nice lulav is green, with no signs of dryness. It should be straight, without any bends or twists near the top. The tip and top leaves of the lulav must be whole, and not split. It is placed in the center of the hadassim and the aravot with its spine facing inward.


Hadassim/Three Myrtle Branches: The hadassim, which are bound on the right side of the lulav's spine, should have moist, green leaves grouped in level rows of three. There should be no large, uncovered section of stem. The stem and the leaves should be whole, without any nips at the top and the leaves should cover the entire branch to the top. There should not be more berries than leaves and there should be no large twigs.

Aravot/Two Willow Branches: The aravot, which are bound to the left side of the lulav's spine (slightly lower than the hadassim) should have reddish stems with green, moist leaves. The leaves should be long, narrow and smooth-edged, with no nips or tears.

Etrog/Citron: The Torah describes the etrog as “the fruit of a beautiful tree” (Leviticus 23:40). Ideally, the skin of this yellow (or green when not ripe) citrus fruit must be clean of spots and discolorations. It should be bumpy, not smooth like a lemon, and should be broad at the bottom and narrow toward the top. (Please note that the etrog is very delicate and should be handled with care. If dropped, the etrog can be damaged and rendered unfit for use!)


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Somewhere a Sukkah

If you can't make a sukkah of your own, ask the local synagogue if there is one to which you can bring food.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Four Species

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

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


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

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

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

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

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times* in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down. (The order may differ depending on custom.)
 
Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: "It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth."
Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

*Some customs may vary.
This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Decorating



During the holiday of Sukkot, Jews live in sukkot (temporary dwellings with a roof of branches or wooden boards) for seven days. Although the bare minimum required for a kosher sukkah is a few walls and a roof of branches through which one can see the stars, there is, as with all Jewish rituals, the practice of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah. There are several ways in which one might beautify one’s sukkah. The simplest beautification, of course, is using quality materials in building the sukkah and setting a beautiful table therein for the holiday meals. The more elaborate means of beautifying a sukkah, however, is through attractive decorations.

Some might think that decorating a sukkah is child’s play. Paper chains and school art projects are often the mainstay of a family’s sukkah. But, the adornment of the sukkah can be far more sophisticated. In the oldest records of Jewish life, the sages took for granted that a sukkah will be decorated: “...with embroidered hangings and sheets, and hung therein nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, bunches of grapes, wreaths of ears of corn, [vials of] wine, oil or fine flour...” (Sukkah 10a). The specific decorations noted by the sages all celebrate the bounty of the harvest season, which is appropriate as Sukkot is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif (the holiday of the ingathering of the harvest).

The choice of sukkah decorations is often a reflection of one’s heritage. Persian Jews traditionally adorned their sukkot with Persian rugs. Jews who follow the Judeo-Spanish heritage might continue the custom of hanging bisochos, sweet, sesame seed-covered cookie rings. The most common decorations, however, remain agricultural in nature and often feature the seven species for which God praises the Land of Israel: wheat and barley (often hung in glass jars), grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Purchase Point

Contact your local synagogue to ask where you might be able to purchase a lulav and etrog set.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

But Wait...There's More

Now that the Jewish people have repented on Yom Kippur and, hopefully, received Divine forgiveness, it is time to sit back and relax...

Just kidding!

It is time to celebrate! Just five days after Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot begins. On this most festive of holidays (it is known as "Z’man Simchataynu," the time of our rejoicing), Jews live in temporary dwellings called sukkot (singular - sukkah) with a roof of branches or wooden boards. This temporary "hut" becomes the Jew’s home for seven days, and, therefore (weather permitting), everything that we would do in our homes, such as eat, sleep or study, is done in the sukkah.

The sukkot are a reminder of our origins, of our wandering in the wilderness after being redeemed from slavery. In fact, this reminder is both of the physical state in which we lived and the spiritual environment in which we sojourned. Symbolically, the sukkah represents the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, in which God enveloped and protected the wandering nation after the Exodus from Egypt.

A strange holiday? Perhaps, but by moving out of our permanent domiciles, especially at the beginning of the rainy/cold season, we demonstrate our faith in God as the provider and sustainer of all life.

So if you thought you had nothing to do next week, take a look around and find the nearest sukkah in which to dwell. Or, of course, you can always build your own! 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Build Your Own Sukkah

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

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

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

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

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

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Wednesday night at sunset. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make a Place

If you have the space, build a sukkah and celebrate this joy-filled holiday at home. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

For The Sin We Committed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Neilah: The Final Service

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

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

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

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


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sincere

Remember the importance of sincerity as you observe this Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

All Vows

Yom Kippur begins this evening before sunset with the recitation of Kol Nidre, which is actually the prelude to the evening service.

Kol Nidre, which literally means "All Vows," is a declaration that any oaths or vows that a person made to God during the previous year should be cancelled, null and void. (Of course, not fulfilling one’s oath or vow is considered a grave sin.)

The purpose of Kol Nidre is not, of course, to absolve an individual of debts owed or a promises made to one’s neighbor. The vows nullified by the Kol Nidre service are only those vows made, or possibly made, with God. Indeed, the origin of the declaration is that the rabbis feared that people, in their overwhelming desire to have their repentance accepted, made vows that they would never be able to keep. You know the type:

"God, if you’ll just forgive me for lying, I promise I will give $1 to charity every day."

"Lord, if you could just look the other way at that nasty outburst the other day, I promise never to lose my temper again."

Because vows may not be cancelled at night, the Kol Nidre service begins a few minutes before sunset. In Ashkenazi communities, the prayer leader begins the service in a soft voice that grows increasingly louder as the prayer is repeated three times. In this way, the haunting, dramatic tune of Kol Nidre sets a tone for the day and helps the congregation focus its concentration. In many Sephardi communities, Kol Nidre is recited by the entire congregation.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.




Like Clay in the Hand of the Potter

One of the most metaphoric and beautiful piyuttim (poems) included in the Yom Kippur prayer service is Kee Hinei Kachomer.  In English, it is known as “Like the Clay in the Hand of the Potter,” which are the opening words of the first verse:
Like the clay in the hand of the potter
--he expands it at will and contracts it at will--
so are we in Your hand, O Preserver of kindness.
Look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

The subsequent verses (“Like the stone in the hand of the cutter,” “Like the ax-head in the hand of the blacksmith,” etc) follow the same pattern as the first verse. The anonymous author of this piyut wished to express the omnipotence and omniscience of God in concrete terms, and therefore used professional analogies.

Have you ever watched a professional potter at work? An experienced potter who takes the clay into his or her hands seems to “know” that clay. He/She knows whether the clay will be easily pliable, whether it is strong enough to form the desired shape, whether it will hold the proper glaze. Knowing about the raw material that is in his/her hands, the potter takes the clay and works with it, feeling its every movement. Indeed, as he/she works, the potter knows whether to expand or contract it. The potter, through his/her knowledge of the clay in his/her hand, is able to transform that clay into the best possible creation -- whether a bowl, a sculpture or a vase.
Every person is like that clay. God knows us and is trying to form us into the best possible person that we can be.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Drink Now

Increase your water intake today to make your fast easier. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Post Labor Day Whites

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

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

There are several reasons for this custom:

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

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

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



This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Food of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

"One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth" (Talmud Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32 ("... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ..."), even though only 5 verses earlier the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is still daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and "break fast." Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

All Set

Make arrangements for Yom Kippur: buy food for before and after the fast, find a service, choose appropriate clothing, etc.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Celebrate and Enjoy

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you a meaningful and fun Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Scapegoat

The Jewish people have often been cast as the proverbial "scapegoat." When millions died during the Black Plague, the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Blood libels accusing Jews of drinking the blood of gentile children (frequently associated with Passover) were all too common throughout history. Medieval (and not so medieval) rulers often blamed the Jews for their own calamitous economic policies.

The concept of the scapegoat is actually of Biblical origin (Leviticus 16). God commands Moses to instruct Aaron, the High Priest, to take two identical goats and cast lots upon them in order to choose one goat for God and one for Azazel. The goat given to God is sacrificed in the Tabernacle/Temple, but the other goat is sent to its death in the wilderness as an atonement.

The description of this ritual, which was performed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is difficult to understand. There are numerous attempts to define Azazel. While Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, 1040-1105) defines Azazel as a "hard, rocky place," other commentators have stated that Azazel is the name of a reputed demon.

The goat sent to Azazel is the source of the scapegoat concept. Through the Septuagint (the translation of the Bible into Greek), the goat came to be known as the "goat that is sent away." This goat (symbolically) carried the sins of the Israelites, just as the blame for a crime or a catastrophe is placed on the modern scapegoat.

One cannot, however, forget the other goat, the one offered to God. Perhaps this goat was meant to remind the people of their own personal sin offerings and their own personal repentance. No sin can be wiped away by blaming others. Only by turning directly to God and asking for His forgiveness can sin be expiated.


This Treat was  reposted in honor of Yom Kippur..

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lose the Leather

Once a year, Jews around the world make a unique, and not always attractive, fashion statement by wearing clunky sneakers or fuzzy slippers. (The Talmud records that the sages wore sandals of bamboo, reeds and palm branches on Yom Kippur - Yoma 78a-b.) Indeed, Jews in contemporary times often choose sneakers over even today’s synthetic materials that look like leather in order to uphold the prohibition against wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Leather shoes are avoided on Yom Kippur as a means of fulfilling the commandment to "afflict your soul"--"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

What does wearing leather shoes have to do with atonement? The sages recorded numerous Talmudic sources in support of the practice of not wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. For instance, in Yoma 77a, "Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac said [it is derived] from: ‘Withhold your foot from being unshod, and your throat from thirst’ (Jeremiah 2:25), i.e., withhold yourself from sin lest your foot become unshod; withhold your tongue from idle speech, lest your throat become dry [faint with thirst]."


The prohibition of wearing leather on Yom Kippur applies only to leather shoes. According to Raba, "Is [all footwear] forbidden on the Day of Atonement because of the pleasure it affords, even though it cannot be regarded as a shoe? Surely, Rabbah son of Rabbi Huna used to wrap a scarf around his foot and so went out!--But [in fact], said Raba, there is no difficulty: The one Baraitha refers to a leather sock; the other to a felt sock" (Yevamot 102b).

Of the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur (eating/drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations), only wearing leather shoes is prohibited for children as well as adults. Eating, drinking, washing and anointing are all permitted to minors because they are considered necessary for the children’s health (Yoma 78b).
This Treat was reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Credit Where

Accept responsibility for both that which you may have done wrong and that which you may have done right.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Inside Prayer

Jewish prayer is a complex, multi-layered activity. The sages refer to prayer as avodah she'balev, service of the heart. Avodah is the same term used to describe the sacrificial service in the Holy Temple. However, since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., prayer has become our primary means of “connecting” with God. 

Avodah also means work--giving something of ourselves to God. But what benefit could God derive from our prayers? How do our prayers serve the Divine? The Hebrew word l’hitpallel means to pray. The root word is pallel, which actually means to judge, clarify, differentiate or decide. In the reflexive tense of the word--l’hitpallel, the subject acts upon him/herself. Prayer, therefore, is about self-definition and establishing some level of personal inner clarity. During prayer, one is able to clarify his/her relationship with God and with the world, thus opening a clearer channel of communication with the Divine.

The prayers that the sages chose to make up the daily service were selected because they were considered to be the most effective means of focusing a person’s thoughts to create the proper relationship with God.

This is all the more so with regard to the prayers that make up the liturgy of the High Holidays. Yom Kippur is unique in that there are five separate prayer services (instead of the usual four on Shabbat and Yom Tov), and while some of the prayers repeat themselves, each repetition provides us with an opportunity to discover new understanding in the meaning of that prayer.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.





Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

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

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

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

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

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


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

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

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


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.