Monday, September 1, 2014

Employees and Employers

The American labor movement, which developed in the late 19th century, strived to ensure that workers were paid fairly, were provided with a safe working environment and were protected from being taken advantage of by their employers. Many of the prominent American labor activists of the 20th century were Jews, which is, perhaps, not surprising considering that the foundation of workers’ rights is found in the Torah and the Talmud. The Torah deals with such issues as paying workers on time, workers’ access to excess produce, and the right to set working hours. For instance:

Raba also said: If one engaged laborers for a piece of work, and they completed it in the middle of the day; if he has some [other] work easier than the first, he can give it to them, or even if of equal difficulty, he can charge them [with it]; but if it is more difficult, he cannot order them to do it, and must pay them in full. (Talmud Baba Metzia 77a).

What is interesting about Jewish law concerning employers and employees is that it strives to create a balance of responsibility. For instance:

Rab also said: If one engaged laborers for irrigation, and the river failed at midday; if such failure is unusual, the loss is theirs [the laborers must assume the cost of the lost time]. If usual [for the river to fail and]: if [the labourers] are of that town, the loss is theirs; if not, the loss is the employer's (ibid).

This Talmudic passage explains that employers are not responsible for unforeseen circumstance or for difficulties that the employees should expect before the work begins. However, if the employer knows of a problem but did not take precautions, or failed to warn the laborers in advance, the employer is responsible for the added expenses.

Friday, August 29, 2014

On the Blech

Challah, chicken soup, gefilte fish, kugel, chamin/cholent...the delightful foods associated with Shabbat are seemingly endless. Perhaps they are so delightful because the Shabbat foods are prepared with special love and care.

It is widely acknowledged that much of the special spirit of Shabbat is due to the three Shabbat meals that are served on the Day of Rest (Friday night dinner, Shabbat lunch and seudah shlishit). The big question, however, is how it is possible for the great cooks of Shabbat meals to make such amazing fare when cooking is one of the 39 m’la’chot (forbidden creative labors on Shabbat).

In halacha, cooking is referred to as bishul, and the first thing one needs to understand regarding bishul is the proper definition of cooking. According to halacha (Jewish law), one performs an act of bishul when heating a substance to a point where it undergoes a physical change (for instance, sauteing vegetables so that they are nice and soft or so that the flavors of spices merge with them). The temperature at which such changes takes place (beyond which one may not heat food) is referred to as yad soledet bo, which literally means when a hand recoils from the intense heat (approximately 110°).

In order to avoid heating a substance beyond the point of  yad soledet bo, the food should not be placed on (or very close to) direct heat. Food that had been cooking before Shabbat on a direct heat source* and has reached the point of being cooked, may remain cooking on Shabbat, but once it is officially Shabbat, no uncooked or partially-cooked food may be placed onto the heat.

In order to serve warm food on Shabbat, many people use what is now commonly referred to as a blech, the Yiddish term for a sheet of metal that is placed over the burners/elements on the stove before Shabbat.  The general principal of using a blech is that only solid foods that have been fully cooked (even if they have already cooled) may be reheated.

Today’s Treat is a basic overview of the law of bishul on Shabbat and should not be used as a halachic guide. To learn more about proper Shabbat food preparation, please consult a rabbi.

*Please note that a flame or element may not be adjusted or extinguished on Shabbat.

Favorite Foods

Choose some of your favorite foods, and prepare them for Shabbat.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Firstborn’s Double Portion

For much of history, there were few greater advantages in life than being a firstborn son. It is well-known that among the European nobility, the eldest son inherited both the family title and the family land. The younger sons either became knights or entered the clergy.

The idea of primogeniture has its roots in the Torah’s laws of inheritance, by which the eldest son receives a double portion of the inheritance. This means that if there were three sons, the inheritance would be divided in four, with two portions going to the eldest (for information on women and inheritance, click here.) A firstborn son is defined as the naturally delivered  first child of the father’s line. If the child was delivered by c-section or has an older sister, he does not qualify as a firstborn son.

While these laws were culturally standard in many cultures for many generations, in the post-industrial era most children follow a career different from that of their parents. Today, few people distinguish their firstborn sons from their other children, and yet, halachically, the firstborn son still has rights to a double portion.

Because most parents today wish to divide their estates evenly, they write what is sometimes referred to as an “halachic will.” There are several ways in which a will can be used to provide an equal inheritance. The most common practice is for a person to create a contract in which the estate is technically given away a few minutes before the time of one’s death, rendering the estate a gift and not an inheritance.

Writing a will in an important responsibility. Those wishing to ensure that their will, or the will they intend to write is halachically sound, should consult their local rabbi.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Never Too Early

It is never too early in one's life to prepare a will. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Seeking God In Elul

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on August 9, 2013.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Alarm Clock

New beginnings are often difficult.

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on Monday, August 7, 2013.

One Month

Use the next month to prepare to make the most of Rosh Hashana.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Using A Live Virus

Mention the polio vaccine and most people think of Jonas Salk. The fact is, however, that the polio vaccine used today is actually based on the work of another Jewish physician, Albert Bruce Sabin. 

Sabin, who was born Albert Saperstein on August 26, 1906, in Bialystok, Russia (today Poland), emigrated to America with his family when he was 16 and graduated from New York University medical school in 1931. During World War II, as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, he developed vaccines for Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever.

Reports of cases of the polio disease have been recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs (images of children with withered limbs), but the outbreaks of the early twentieth century reached epidemic proportions. Thousands of children died, and thousands more were left permanently disabled. (It wasn’t just children: Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted the disease when he was 39.)

Working at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital before and after the war, Sabin made a critical discovery that the polio vaccine thrived in the small intestines (as well as on nerve tissue). Sabin wanted to introduce live avirulent (non-harmful) viruses into the intestines to fight the full virus where it was most potent. In 1955, he and his research associates tested the vaccine on themselves before it was tested on hundreds of prison inmates (a common practice of the time). There were no adverse effects. 

However, just before Sabin was ready for wide-scale testing, Jonas Salk began testing his vaccine that was created through dead viruses. Salk’s vaccine worked, but only for a limited time and prevented the complications rather than the illness. Foreign colleagues believed more in Sabin’s vaccine, arranging for the vaccine to be tested and used in the Soviet Union, Mexico and several other countries.  In 1960, Sabin was finally permitted to run a trial in Cincinnati. It proved effective, and Sabin’s live vaccine became the primary polio vaccine.

Sabin continued to work on fighting numerous other infectious diseases. From 1969-1972, he was president of the Weitzman Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. After retiring to the States, he held several high-level research positions and was particularly interested in finding a link between viruses and cancer.

Albert Sabin died of heart failure in March 1993, at age 86.




Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Priority

Make your health a top priority. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Disclaiming a Mystery

Who doesn’t like a good mystery? In the twenty-first century, whodunnits dominate the best-sellers lists, perhaps because one feels safer knowing that no matter how elusive--the bad guy will lose in the end. Interestingly enough, even the Torah talks about mystery murders, the ones whose perpetrators are never found. 

In Deuteronomy, the Torah discusses what should be done, “If one is found slain...lying in the field and it is not known who killed him” (Deuteronomy 21:1). According to the text, the elders of the city nearest to where the body is found are required to kill a heifer at the place of the murder and declare, “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Forgive, O Lord, Your people Israel, who You have redeemed, and suffer not innocent blood to remain in the midst of Your people Israel” (21:7-8).

It is interesting to note that when no murderer is found, the guilt appears to be placed upon the entire town and, specifically, upon the elders and judges. The sages, seeking to understand the reason for this communal blame, ask: “Can it enter our minds that [the members of a] Court of Justice shed blood?!...[Rather, the meaning is that] we dismissed him [the victim] without supplying him with food, we did not see him and allowed him go without an escort” (Talmud Sotah 46b).

The guilt of the city elders is that it seems that neither they nor the people of the city for whom they are teachers and role models, cared enough about this stranger to either secure his/her safety or have a clue as to who might have committed this heinous crime. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Say Hello

When you meet someone visiting your community or neighborhood, take a few minutes to say hello and make them feel welcome.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Center of Worship

When the Jews wandered in the wilderness, sacrificial services were performed by the kohanim (priests) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). After King David conquered Jerusalem, his son and successor, King Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem, which was the ultimate fulfilment of the verses in Deuteronomy 12:10-11: 

When [God] gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; Then it shall come to pass that the place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you.

In the wilderness the Israelites traveled together (almost like a giant city on the move). But, what happened when they began to settle in the Promised Land and were suddenly dispersed over a wide territory of land?

To find the answer, one could, of course, scan through the Book of the Prophets, which chronicle the era between the Israelites settling the land and the eventual destruction of the First Temple. Or, one can look to the Talmud for an answer, since the Talmud seems to trace the history of the centers of Jewish worship:

Before the Mishkan was set up, “high places” were permitted and the service was performed by the firstborn; After the Mishkan was set up, “high places” were forbidden and the service was performed by priests...When they came to Gilgal (their first encampment on the west side of the Jordan River) “high places” were [again] permitted...When they came to Shiloh (where the Mishkan remained for 369 years), “high places” were [again] forbidden...When they came to Nob and to Gibeon, “high places” were [again] permitted...When they came to Jerusalem, “high places” were forbidden and were never again permitted (Zevachim 112b).

This Talmudic passage provides an insight into early history of the Jewish people. Bringing sacrifices to “high places” was only permitted in times of need--before the Mishkan was built, while the people were marching to conquer the Promised Land, etc. When they were at rest, as promised in Deuteronomy 12:10, then the service was centralized either at the Mishkan or at the Temple.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Get To Know

Find a synagogue in your area and join them this Shabbat.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Jews of Hawaii

According to The American Jewish Year Book (2012), there are approximately 7,000 Jews residing in the state of Hawaii. While there was no established community until the 20th century, according to the log of The Neptune, a whaling ship that visited Hawaii in August 1798, the Hawaiian King Kamehameha I was accompanied aboard by a “Jew cook.” No further information is recorded.

Less mysterious is the story of Elias Rosenberg, who came to Honolulu from San Francisco. Rosenberg traveled with a Torah scroll and a silver yad (pointer). Having bequeathed himself the title of rabbi, he became fast friends with the Hawaiian King David Kalakaua. Rosenberg purportedly taught the king Hebrew and acted as some sort of sooth sayer – offering favorable “horoscopes” to the king and other influential people. Apparently, Rosenberg did have some level of foresight, as he hastily returned to San Francisco in 1887, just before King Kalakaua was forced to become a figurehead rather than a true monarch. 
"King Kalakaua's Torah and yad"
by Wmpear via Wikipedia 

Rosenberg passed away a month after returning to California. The Torah scroll remained in the keeping of the king. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is that even into the 1940s, the fledgeling Jewish community borrowed the “Kalakaua Torah scroll” for High Holiday services. Today, it is in the possession of Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu. 

Although Hawaii did not became a state until August 21, 1959, a United States military presence has been at Pearl Harbor since around 1876. To care for Jews in the military stationed there, the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) established the Aloha Center in 1923. The community began to flourish and the Honolulu Jewish Community was established in 1938. Today, there are at least 9 congregations serving the Jews of the Hawaiian islands. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Starting Up

As the school year starts, make certain the kids in your life are enrolled in a Hebrew school program.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mosquitoes No More

There are few insects as disliked as the mosquito. When people wonder about the purpose of annoying bugs, the mosquito is the first one whose existence they question. (As a point of interest: “Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: Of all that the Holy One, blessed is He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing without purpose...[He created] the [crushed] mosquito [ to serve as a remedy] for a serpent’s [bite] - Talmud Shabbat 77b).

In the early 20th century, as waves of Aliyah began to settle the Land of Israel, the mosquitoes and malaria were particularly problematic. The rate of infection (90% of workers) was significant enough that it was questionable whether agricultural settlement could succeed. Compounding the problem was the fact that the most promising farmland was a swampy breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

The man credited with making the farmland safe was Dr. Israel Kligler (1888-1944). Born in Galicia and raised in New York, Kligler held a Ph.D from Columbia University in Bacteriology, Pathology and Biochemistry when he fulfilled his lifelong dream and moved to Israel in 1921.

Shortly after arriving in Israel, Kligler directed the Malaria Research Unit of the Joint Distribution Committee. He studied the land, the swamps, the mosquitoes and the remedies already being tried--handouts of Quinine and planting Eucalyptus trees, neither of which successfully resolved the problem. Kligler helped set up the Malaria Research Institute and began to study the mosquito larvae. He introduced larvae-eating Gamusian fish to the water, sprayed insecticide into large pockets of larvae and developed new drainage techniques, such as changing the direction of the water flow in irrigation channels.

After Kligler successfully remedied the malarial mosquito problem in Israel, he went on to build  a successful research career, working at both Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University. 

August 20 in World Mosquito Day.

"Anopheles Stephensi" by Jim Gathany -
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #5814.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Protect Yourself

 
If you're heading into the wood, try to protect yourself from insect bites.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flying High

There is no telling to what heights Arthur Welsh might have soared, had he not perished in the crash of the Wright C Plane that he was testing with Leighton Wilson Hazelhurst, Jr., on June 11, 1912, in College Park, MD. Welsh, whose given name was Laibel Wellcher, was only 31 years old.

Born on August 14, 1881, in Kiev, Welsh arrived in the United States with his family when he was 9 years old. The family settled in Philadelphia, PA. When Welsh was 13, his father died. Not long thereafter, his mother remarried, and the family relocated to Washington, D.C. Welsh attended both public and Hebrew school and had a positive Jewish identity. In 1901, when he joined the U.S. Navy, he changed his name to Arthur "Al" Welsh to avoid anti-Semitism. 


After four years of service, Welsh was honorably discharged. A few years later, Welsh met Anna Harmel at a Young Zionist Union meeting, and they were married in October 1907. The Welshes were members of Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.

In 1909, Welsh witnessed the Wright brothers testing their new military flier in Fort Myer, VA, and was immediately entranced. Although he lacked the technical qualifications they sought, Welsh sent the Wrights a letter applying for a job. When his written appeal did not succeed, he went in person to Dayton, OH, where his tenacity won out. Welsh entered the first class of the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1910. He trained with Orville Wright and became an instructor at the Wrights’ Huffman Prairie airfield in Dayton. After joining the Wrights’ exhibition team, Welsh established new records in altitude and speed and won several flying competitions. 

Welsh was running the Wright C Plane through the Army Aviation School’s multi-point test when it crashed into a field of daisies. While official inquiries attributed the crash to pilot error, Welsh’s actual culpability in the crash has always been disputed. 

Today, August 19, is National Aviation Day.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Follow Your Dream

If you have a dream, make an effort to achieve it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue"

The directive to create a judicial system is set out in Deuteronomy 16:18-20. God commands the Israelites to appoint judges and law enforcement officials in all their cities and towns. These judges are instructed to judge the people with “righteous judgment,” an idea that is defined in the following verse:

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.”

The true goal behind a righteous justice system is not just that the laws be enforced, but that justice be upheld. This heavy responsibility devolves upon the judges. Therefore a judge, ideally, must have enough self-knowledge to ensure impartiality.

Monetary bribery is an obvious perversion of justice. But a person may be swayed by a vast array of other factors: flattery, class status, etc. Indeed, even the personal appearance or comeliness of a litigant can affect a judge's sentiment if the judge is not careful.

For this reason, the Torah demands, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). A judge must make decisions with extreme care. Once the case is heard, the judge must evaluate if any external factors have affected the judgment and if a truly just decision is being rendered.

So numerous are the pitfalls of being a judge that Rabbi Ishmael declared, “He who shuns the office of judge rids himself of enmity, theft, and false swearing. He who presumptuously rules in Torah matters is foolish, wicked, and arrogant” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 4:9).

This Treat was last posted on July 14, 2009.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Awareness

Be aware of the things that affect your judgement of other people and try to remain non-judgemental.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Bene Israel of India

Early in the era of the Second Temple, a terrible shipwreck occurred on the Indian coast. Fourteen survivors, seven men and seven women, made it to shore. Settling in the Indian village of Navgaon, they rebuilt their lives and raised families according to the traditions of their ancestors. This is the origin story of the Bene Israel, one of the largest groups of Jews in India (along with the Bnei Menashe and the Cochin Jews).

In time, the Bene Israel began to assimilate and some of the ancient Jewish traditions were lost. However, there was much that they continued to observe, such as the Jewish festivals (with the exceptions of Chanukah and Tisha B’Av, which were added to the calendar later). They avoided eating fish that did not have fins and scales. They performed circumcision on the eighth day. They also observed Shabbat on Saturday.

For centuries, few knew of the Bene Israel. At some point, around 1000 or 1400 C.E. (the date is disputed), a man named David Rahabi discovered the community. He immediately set to work reintroducing the Jewish knowledge they had lost and trained religious leaders, known as Kajis, to guide the Bene Israel.

Around the mid-1700s, the Bene Israel began to leave their villages and move into the city of Bombay (now Mumbai). In 1796, they built the first synagogue, Shaar Harachamin, in the city. Under British rule, the Bene Israel were often involved in the military and the civil service, but also became active in many Indian industries.



In 1948, many Bene Israel moved to Israel. It was not an easy transition. In addition to the cultural differences, they were not immediately accepted by their fellow Jews as legitimate Jews. The Bene Israel protested their mistreatment, and, in 1964, the Israeli Rabbinate issued a formal declaration confirming their full acceptance as Jews.

Today, August 15, is India Independence Day.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Scent Of

Place aromatic flowers on the table to add a beautiful fragrance to your Shabbat celebration.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Community Ties

It is a commonly stated idea that, with the expansion of the world of social media, the idea of community has changed. Where once people turned to communal organizations for drawing them together, they now find these ties online. The question that then follows is what Jewish life becomes when centered online. 

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the sages note that the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim (Torah, prayer and acts of kindness). Certainly one can learn Torah through online study. Indeed, the full spectrum of the Jewish community is already providing a feast of Jewish knowledge online.

Avodah, prayer, is not quite so simple. While the Jewish concept of prayer is introspective (l’hit’pallel to pray, actually means to judge oneself), the act of prayer itself is mandated into the public domain by the need to pray with a minyan (prayer quorum of 10). And while all 10 people do not, according to Jewish law, have to pray (some may have prayed earlier), they must all be together in the same room (not an internet chat-room). However, education websites are an excellent way for one to familiarize themselves with the prayers.

Gemilut Chasadim, acts of kindness, have most certainly been enhanced by the internet. Opportunities for charitable giving have increased, and people are exploring new ways to “do for others.” But, what about “facetime?” Judaism places great significance on a physical community, on people actually being together and interacting with each other. In fact, the great sage Hillel said (Ethics of the Fathers 2:5) “Do not separate yourself from the community.”

Maintaining Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim (Torah, prayer and acts of kindness) takes a physical community. Religious laws such asminyan and eiruv, in combination with gemilut chasadim, create a natural fabric of interactions between people. Through today's technology, however, Jews have a wonderful opportunity of discovering new ways to enhance themselves and their own communities.

This Treat was last posted on November 23, 2009.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Incorporate

Incorporate Torah, prayer and acts of kindness into your life daily. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More Than a Financier

Known as the Juden Kaiser (the Jewish Emperor), Rabbi Samson Wertheimer was a man of incredible accomplishment. Born in Worms in 1658, he was educated in the yeshivot of Worms and Frankfurt-am-Main. In his late twenties, he moved to Vienna, where he became an associate of the successful banker Samuel Oppenheimer. Through this association, Wertheimer gained the confidence of Emperor Leopold I of the Holy Roman Empire and eventually, after Oppenheimer’s death, became the Emperor’s financier and creditor. Wertheimer managed such affairs as provisioning the empire’s involvement in the Spanish War of Succession, arranging the dowry of a Polish princess marrying into the Emperor’s family and financing the payment of some 400,000 florins to Prince Eugene of Savoy.

In addition to his political and financial success, Wertheimer was dedicated to Jewish life and the Jewish community. He was a well-respected scholar and was given the title of Rabbi of Prague and Bohemia. Additionally, as the most powerful Jew in the empire, Wertheimer had special privileges (such as the right to reside in Vienna), as well as the right to grant foreign Jews permission to remain in Vienna overnight.

Wertheimer’s financial resources allowed him to make a serious impact on Jewish life both in Europe and in the Holy Land. He built numerous synagogues in Hungary, founded and endowed a Talmudic academy in Frankfurt-am-Main, and helped rebuild the Jewish community in Eisenstadt after the local count tried to rebel against the emperor. The synagogue there is still known as Samson’s Schule.

After his death on 17 Av (1724), at age 66, his children, who had all married into prominent families, continued his legacy of generosity.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Your Work

Use the opportunities you have to help other Jews.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Invitation To Give Thanks

The verse found in Deuteronomy 8:10, “You shall eat, be satiated and bless God,” is the source of the biblical mandate to recite the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals, also known in Yiddish as Bentching). The Midrash, however, maintains that the custom goes back to the patriarch Abraham, who insisted that his guests give proper thanks for the meal that he had served them. This was also the perfect opportunity for Abraham to introduce the guests to the concept of one God.

The act of inviting another to recite Birkat Hamazon continues to this day in the zimmun (invitation) that precedes the blessing when three or more people eat together. It says in the Talmud, “If three people have eaten together, it is their duty to invite one another [to say Grace]” (Brachot 45a).

Just as the recitation of Birkat Hamazon is specific to a meal at which one eats bread, so too are the rules of zimmun. (In some cases, however, a m’zuman may be made up of one who has eaten bread and two who have only eaten a m'zo'note--grain based–food.)

If three people or more have begun a meal together, they should remain together until after Birkat Hamazon. The sages note that this is “because from the outset of the meal they laid upon themselves the duty to invite one another” (ibid).

The formula of zimmun consists of a formal call and response (please see text below) recited prior to Birkat Hamazon. It is customary for a host to honor one of the guests by asking the guest to lead Birkat Hamazon. It should be noted that when a minyan (quorum of 10) is present, God’s name is added to the zimmun formula. Additionally, the text of the zimmun changes in special circumstances such as the feast of a Brit Milah (circumcision), Sheva Brachot (meal following a wedding) or in a house of mourning.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Give Thanks

Thank God for the food you have eaten. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tu B'Av and the Offering of Wood

Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of Av, was celebrated in ancient times by unmarried maidens who went out on this day to dance in the vineyards hoping to be chosen by an unmarried youth to be his bride (For more information on this ceremony, please see: No Holiday As Joyous.) However, this day was marked for celebration for several other reasons.

The fifteenth day of Av marked the final day of the calendar year on which wood could be cut for the Temple sacrifices. After the fifteenth, the sun's power, which has already begun to diminish, was no longer considered strong enough to dry out the wood sufficiently (Jerusalem Talmud,Taanit 4:7).

During the rebuilding of the Temple, a wood offering ceremony was introduced. When Ezra and Nechemiah brought the people to Jerusalem, they found that more than just the Temple had been destroyed...the land itself had been laid waste. In the process of destruction, almost all of the trees had been uprooted, creating a great shortage of wood. Anyone who was able to donate wood did so, and the “wood offering” became a tradition and a great honor.


This wood offering is associated with a story of the unique heroism of the Jewish people in their desire to serve God at the Temple. Once, during the times of the Second Temple, the people were prohibited from bringing wood to the Temple by the occupying power of the time. Rather than despair, the Israelites made ladders from the wood and, when asked at the roadblocks where they were going and for what purpose they needed ladders, the Israelites replied that they were taking the ladders to retrieve fledglings from their dovecotes (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit28a). After passing the roadblocks, the ladders were disassembled and brought to the Temple.

This Treat was published on August 3, 2012.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No Holiday As Joyous

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

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

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

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

Today is Tu B’Av

This Treat was last posted on July 22, 2013.


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A Day For Joy

Be positive and share a sense of joy with those around you.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Justice and Ambassador

On August 8, 1908, Rebecca and Joseph Goldberg were blessed with their eighth child, whom they named Arthur. As the youngest in the family, Arthur was the only Goldberg who was not forced to quit school in order to work after his father passed away in 1916. Arthur put his education to good use. At age 19, he graduated from Northwestern University School of Law. He was so young, that the Illinois Bar Association hesitated to accept him as a candidate.

During the Great Depression, Goldberg became conscious of the plight of the working class and decided to focus his work on labor law. Eventually, he became chief counsel for the AFL-CIO. His heavy involvement in labor led to his appointment as Secretary of Labor by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Not long thereafter, however, President Kennedy asked Goldberg to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. During his time on the court, Justice Goldberg dealt with issues such as the death penalty (which he believed was cruel and unusual punishment, and thus unconstitutional according to the Eighth Amendment) and the Escobedo opinion, which preceded Miranda concerning the right to an attorney. 

In 1965, Justice Goldberg stepped down from the court (some say reluctantly) and accepted the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Goldberg later explained that he had hoped to facilitate an end to the conflict in Vietnam. Frustrated at his inability to do so, Goldberg left the U.N. in 1968.

Goldberg hoped to be reappointed to the Supreme Court, but the election of Republican President Richard Nixon effectively ended that possibility. Eventually, Goldberg settled in the Washington, D.C. area and served as president of the American Jewish Committee. President Jimmy Carter appointed Goldberg U.S. ambassador to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights in 1977, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1978.

Arthur J. Goldberg died on January 19, 1990.

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Shabbat Consolation

This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu. Take time this Shabbat to think about and take comfort in the eternal protection God promised the Jewish people. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why Am I Not Interested in Idols?

There is an interesting dialogue between the elders of Rome and the sages of Israel recorded in Talmud Avodah Zarah 55a: 

[Rome]: "If [your God] has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?"
[Israel]: "If it was something unnecessary to the world that was worshiped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy His universe on account of fools!"
[Rome]: "If so, he should destroy what is unnecessary for the world..."
[Israel]: "They [the common people] would say, ‘be sure that these are deities, for behold they have not been abolished!"  

Idolatry is one of the most frequently warned against transgressions in the Torah, and one of the most common errors of the Jewish people in Biblical times. Yet, for Jews of the 21st century Western society, idolatry seems a rather foolish, foreign concept. However, for centuries, millennia even, the worship of idols was a very real part of everyday life. 

The modern catch-phrase “Seeing is believing” may help one understand the drive for idolatry. People began to worship the sun and the moon because they recognized that these celestial bodies influenced the world - the people just lost sight over Who controlled those celestial bodies. People made idols and statues, because having a god they could see made them feel more in control of the world. The Jewish concept of the Creator of the world, however, has no corporeal body, and one must work all the more to create a relationship with Him. 

The desire for physical proof of power is no different today than 2,000 years ago. So why does idol worship sound so archaic? According to Jewish tradition, this is because the Men of the Great Assembly, seeing how idolatrous crimes had led to the destruction of the First Temple and exile from the Promised Land, successfully beseeched God to remove the desire for idolatry from the Jewish people.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Priority List

Write down a list of your priorities and goals.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It Happened in Argentina

Aside from the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, many tragic events in Jewish history are associated with Tisha B’Av (technically the 9th of Av, but some of the associated events took place shortly before or after the 9th). One of the most recent tragedies occurred on the 10th of Av 5754 (July 18, 1994), when a bomb exploded at the AsociaciĆ³n Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. Tragically, 87 people were killed and over 100 were injured. It was the city’s second terrorist attack directed at Jews in two years, the first of which was a car bomb that was detonated outside of the Israeli embassy on March 17, 1992.

The AMIA originated as the city’s Chevra Kaddisha (burial society) in 1894. As the Argentinian Jewish community grew and developed, AMIA became a multifaceted organization, and, at the time of the bombing, the five story AMIA building was a community center that housed not only offices, but recreational space and a healthcare cooperative as well. 


In an era of complicated international relations, the investigation turned into a multi-decade story of intrigue, cover-up, bribery and mismanagement. To this day, the case is still open, even though it is commonly acknowledged that the bombing was carried out by Hezbollah, just as the 1992 bombing was the work of Islamic Jihad – both organizations supported by Iran.


As the 20th anniversary of the AMIA bombing approaches, it is important to note the continued strength of the Argentinian community. The AMIA is now housed in an 8-story building and serves a vibrant community of approximately 200,000 Jews.



Current AMIA building in Buenos Aires
Photo by Nbelohlavek, Created 9/2012

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kindness in the World

Focus on being kind and caring to other people.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Elegies (Kinnot)

An elegy is defined as a mournful poem or a lament. In Hebrew, an elegy is known as a kinna. On Tisha B’Av, when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, it is customary for kinnot to be read at both the evening and morning services. Kinnot traditions may vary according to one’s community, specifically as to which kinnot are recited, by whom and using which type of chant or tune. 

The majority of the kinnot are lamentations over the loss of the Temple - odes to that which was lost and to the horrors that occurred in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. Some kinnot are poetic reiterations of chapters from the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Ezekiel, and others express a longing to return from exile to the Promised Land. Although the majority of the kinnot focus on the loss of the Temple, later authors added elegies for other tragic events such as the First Crusade (1096), the burning of the Talmud in Paris (1242) and the expulsion from Spain (1492). More recently, several kinnot lamenting the tragedy of the Holocaust have been included in the Tisha B’Av service. 


Of the kinnot whose authorship is known, many were written by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir (c. 600 C.E.), whose poems often include complex patterns of acrostics, rhyme and repetition. Other well-known authors of kinnot are Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141), Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam of Rothenberg 1220-1293) and Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam (Bobover Rebbe 1908-2000).


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The Book of Lamentations

On Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, one of the ways that the Jewish people demonstrate their mourning over the loss of both Holy Temples is by refraining from Torah study that brings pleasure to those who study it. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to read only the more somber texts, specifically: 1) Talmudic sections dealing with the destruction of the Temples, and the laws of mourning and excommunication (such as those found in the Talmud Moed Katan), 2) the Book of Job, 3) the admonitions and rebukes of the Book of Jeremiah, and 4) the Book of Lamentations. 

Eicha, as Lamentations is called in Hebrew, is actually read publicly during the evening service on the night of Tisha B'Av. The five chapters of Eicha are chanted aloud in a mournful and dolorous tone...so that even those who do not understand the exact words of the text sense devastation and despair expressed by the prophet. 

Attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah (although his name is not found in the book to confirm his authorship), Eicha contains five poetic laments focusing on the destruction of the First Holy Temple. However, upon reading Eicha one will also discover hints to the destruction of the Second Temple. The chapters (except for the last) are written using Hebrew alphabet acrostics (each verse starting with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence). 

Tisha B'Av, the fast of the ninth of Av, began at sundown last night. Click here, for more details on Tisha B'Av

This Treat was originally published on July 16, 2013


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Thoughts

Spend time today thinking about what it means to mourn the loss of the Temple.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Meal Before

While there are several fast days on the Jewish calendar, only two are referred to as "major fasts": Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur. They are thus labelled because (1) there is little leeway for not fasting and (2) the fast begins at sunset and ends after the next nightfall. 

These fasts last for 25 hours, and they are both preceded by a special meal known as the Seudah Hamafseket, the final meal which fulfills the Talmudic statement that “One must eat and drink while it is yet day” (Talmud Pesachim 54b). This meal is generally eaten following the afternoon prayer service. Just as Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur are fast days for very different reasons (mourning verses atonement), their respective preceding meals have very different tones as well. 

The Tisha B’Av Seudah Hamafseket, on the other hand, is a meal of mourning. It is customary that only one type of cooked food is served, often boiled egg or lentils (both foods are served to those in mourning because their shape is a reminder of the cycle of life.)  It is also customary to dip one’s bread or egg into ashes. Additionally, there is a tradition of eating this meal while sitting on the floor or on a low stool, similar to the practice of those who sit Shiva.

The Yom Kippur Seudah Hamafseket, on the other hand, is a more festive meal . While it is customary to eat heartily before the fast, it is often recommended that one partake of lighter foods at the Seudah Hamafseket. For ease in fasting, it is also customary to avoid fish and salty foods. 


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Tisha B'Av is Tomorrow

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

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

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

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
2. The destruction of the First Temple.
3. The destruction of the Second Temple.
4. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.
5. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar (see below).

Click here for later events on this date 

*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time Watch


Organize your day to ensure that you have time to eat the Seudah Hamafseket (meal before the fast) before sunset. 
 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

On Tuesday, Jews all over the world will observe the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,944 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was originally posted on August 7, 2008.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Get Out!

The history of the Jews in Europe can almost be read as a timeline of expulsions. At one time or another, Jews have either been expelled from, or prohibited to settle in, almost every country in Europe, both eastern and western.

While the Spanish expulsion is by far the most famous, the expulsion of the Jews from England was one of the longest legal expulsions on record. The initial Edict of Expulsion was issued by King Edward I on July 18, 1290 and was not removed from the books until 1656 (although individual Jews were sometimes given permission to visit, while others entered as conversos fleeing the Spanish Inquisition).

Many historians believe that a majority of European expulsions had, at the heart of the matter, a financial incentive. More often than not, the expelled Jews were forbidden from taking their wealth with them, and their possessions greatly enriched the crown. In the case of King Edward I, however, the financial incentives were minimal. The Jews of England had already been drained dry through extensive taxation and by the 1275 Statute of Jewry, which outlawed all usery/money-lending, a primary Jewish occupation. The Statute also mandated other anti-Semetic measures such as restrictions on Jewish settlement and a law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge. While the Statute of Jewry was meant to encourage Jews to enter other professions, the local population was not receptive to Jews entering their guilds and crafts.

Religious zeal and political maneuvering were also strong motives for the European expulsions. Edward I had already fought in one crusade in the Holy Land and was politically supporting another.The Edict of Expulsion and ban on Jewish settlement is often examined by Shakespearean scholars. After all, if no Jews lived in England, on whom did Shakespeare model his infamous Shylock

This Treat was last posted on October 21, 2009.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).
This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

This Treat was last posted on July 12, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Delights

Celebrate Shabbat by making a special meal.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A House Unfinished

The Hebrew name for the Holy Temple is the Beit Hamikdash, the House of Holiness, a term that invokes a warm sentiment of a place where one is at home. It is therefore, perhaps, appropriate that one of the ways of mourning the loss of the Beit Hamikdash 2,000 years ago is to mark one’s home.

This specific custom is one of several referred to as zeicher l’churban, a remembrance of that which was destroyed (other commemorations include the practice of reciting Psalm 137 before the Grace After Meals and breaking a glass under the chuppah) It is written in the Talmud: “A man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare. How much should this be? Rabbi Joseph says, A cubit square; to which Rabbi Hisda adds that it must be by the door” (Talmud Baba Batra 60b).

To properly fulfill this custom, one who builds a new house should leave a one-cubit-by-one-cubit (about 18 inches by 18 inches) square of wall without paint, plaster or wall paper. There are some minority opinions that permit one to mark the zeicher l’churban by painting an appropriate size square a different color than the rest of the wall. If one purchased the house from a non-Jew, the walls do not have to be damaged to fulfill the custom unless one renovates the building.

As per Rabbi Hisda’s comment, the unfinished square is generally created near the entrance to the house, either above or opposite the door. This deliberate placement is to ensure that the unfinished square fulfills its purpose of being a constant reminder that the Beit Hamikdash, the natural home of the Jewish people, remains in ruins.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.