Friday, October 2, 2015

Vanity of Vanities

Most people are unknowingly familiar with the beginning of the third chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) because of the 1962 hit song by The Byrds:

"To everything - turn, turn, turn/There is a season - turn, turn, turn/And a time for every purpose under heaven."

Kohelet is one of the five megillot (scrolls) read on the different Jewish holidays (for a complete list, click here). Kohelet is read on Shabbat Chol Hamoed (intermediary days) of Sukkot. 

The scroll begins: "The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem," and thus the name of the book. As King David had no son named Kohelet, the author has traditionally been identified as King David’s heir, King Solomon.

If there is one thread that binds the twelve chapters of Kohelet together, it is the phrase: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (1:2). On the surface, this seems to be a rather depressing thought. However, that is not the message of Kohelet. It is the nature of humankind to not only take pride in one’s success, but to also take full credit for it. Certainly, people succeed as a result of their hard work, but only because this success is enabled by Divine Providence. 

The message of Kohelet is perhaps best summed up in the following verses: "I have seen the task which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised. He has made everything beautiful in its time;... man cannot find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end....But also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy pleasure for all his labor, is the gift of God" (3:10-13).

This too is one of the central ideas of Sukkot. Moving into a temporary dwelling emphasizes that the success of every person is, ultimately, in the hands of the Divine.

This Treat was last posted on October 8, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 5776 begins Saturday night.

This Treat was last posted on October 14, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Sukkot

Enjoy your Shabbat meals in a sukkah.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

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 last published on October 13, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 was last posted on October 12, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Rain

Be grateful when rain falls.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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 was last posted on October 13, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 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, Hoshana, 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!).

The Treat was last posted on October 8, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday On

Continue celebrating the holiday by dwelling in a sukkah whenever possible.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

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.

The Treat was last posted on October 12, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 Divine Presence (Shechina
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 was last published on October 6, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If you have a sukkah, invite those who do not have a sukkah to yours.

Friday, September 25, 2015

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.

This Treat was last posted on October 7, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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, any 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 age 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 last posted on September 17, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Secure Some Species

Call your local synagogue to find out where to acquire a lulav and etrog.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

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 was last posted on October 5, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 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).

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday night at sunset. 

This Treat was last posted on October 5, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sukkah Around

If you cannot build your own sukkah, call your local synagogue to find out when theirs is available.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

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 was posted on October 3, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 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, as well as pregnant and nursing women, should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur, as decided by their rabbi in consultation with their doctor. In such cases the rabbi 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 was last posted on October 1, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast Feelings

Have a meaningful and easy fast.

Monday, September 21, 2015

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 was last posted on October 2, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Inside Prayer

Jewish prayer is a complex, multi-layered activity. The sages refer to prayer as avodah she'balev, service, 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 posted on September 30, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make It a Feast

Set a beautiful table for the meal before the fast.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thou Shalt Not Anoint

The observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, calls for abstention from five activities: eating/drinking, anointing, washing oneself, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

When the sages speak of anointing the body, they refer to putting oils and perfumes on one's skin. This is basic anointing.

That refraining from anointing is considered an "affliction" is derived from a passage in Yoma 76b:"For it is written, ‘I ate no desirable bread, and meat and wine did not enter my mouth, and I did not anoint myself with an anointing’ (Daniel 10:3). From where do we know that [the abstention from anointing] was considered an affliction? Because it is written: ‘Then he said to me: Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to afflict yourself before God, your words have been heard; and I have come because of your words’ (Daniel 10:12)."

Further, in the Talmud (Shabbat 86b) it is written: "How do we know that anointing is the same as drinking on the Day of Atonement? Though there is no proof of this, yet there is an allusion to it, for it is said, ‘and it came into his inward parts like water, and like oil into his bones’ (Psalms 109:18)."

This same verse, Psalms 109:18, is cited in Yoma 76b as the source from which it is learned that the prohibition of anointing includes washing. Says Rabbi Zutra the son of Rabbi Tobiah: "Just as the oil is applied externally, so also is the water [applied] externally."

The Talmud contains an in-depth discussion regarding the specific washing/anointing acts that are prohibited on Yom Kippur. Without question, washing for pleasure in order to feel refreshed, is not permitted on Yom Kippur. However, if one is actually dirty (for example, one’s hands are soiled after cleaning off a child), one is permitted to wash.

This Treat was last posted on September 10, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 last posted on September 30, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Advance

Prepare for the upcoming fast by beginning to cut back on caffeine. 

Friday, September 18, 2015


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 originally posted on September 10, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Whosoever is Wise

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the prophet Hosea said it best (14:10): "Whosoever is wise, let him understand these things, whosoever is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of God are right, and the just walk in them; but transgressors do stumble therein." 
This Treat was last posted on September 21, 2012.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Take responsibility for your transgressions.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

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 was last posted on September 29, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 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 last posted on September 12, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

On Calendar

Make certain to mark Yom Kippur on your calendar for Wednesday, September 23 (beginning at sundown on the 22nd).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

From Holy God to Holy King

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

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

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

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).

These changes are discussed at length in the codes of halacha. The general consensus is that if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

This Treat was last published on September 28, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast of Gedaliah

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed to commemorate the murder of Gedaliah the son of Achikam, which is described in the last chapter of the Second Book of Kings. This murder resulted in the exile of the Jews who remained in Judea after the Babylonian conquest.

After the first Holy Temple was destroyed (586 BCE) and the Babylonians had exiled the majority of the Jewish people, a small minority were permitted to remain in the Land of Israel. Also, Jews who had fled during the war returned and began to work the land.

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, appointed Gedaliah to be the Jewish governor over the remaining population. The King of the neighboring country Ammon, who was vying with the Babylonians for control of the Land of Israel, commissioned Yishmael the son of Netanyah to remove Gedaliah.

Yishmael, who was a descendant of King David, came to the town of Mitzpeh and murdered Gedaliah and all those who were with him. Fearing retribution for the murder of the appointed governor, the remaining Jews fled the Land of Israel, thus completing the exile.

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed on the third day of Tishrei, the day after Rosh Hashana. If the third of Tishrei is Shabbat, the fast is observed on Sunday. The fast begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.*

*Some people rise before dawn to have an early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so was verbally expressed the night before).

This Treat was last posted on September 28, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Laws of the World

Prepare for acknowledging God as King on Rosh Hashana by focusing on how He runs the world (e.g. the marvels of natural law).

Sunday, September 13, 2015


The Rosh Hashana tashlich ceremony is a tradition that is dear throughout the many diverse Jewish communities. Tashlich literally translates as "You will throw." But what, exactly, is it?

Tashlich is meant to be a symbolic physical representation of casting away one’s sins. Along with a selection of Psalms and supplications, Micah 7:18-20 is repeatedly recited: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the remainder of His heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; yes, You will cast our sins into the depth of the sea."

The reference in Micah to the depth of the sea appears to be the source for the custom of reciting tashlich next to a body of water, such as a lake or a river (or an ocean, of course) in which fish live. As long as one can see the water, even from a distance (even by climbing to the rooftop of a building), one may recite tashlich.

Tashlich is usually performed in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashana. However, if one is unable to do tashlich at that time, the ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. If the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim wait until the second day.

Although descriptions of tashlich often include the casting of bread crumbs, feeding wild animals is prohibited on Shabbat and the holidays. The casting of bread is a poetic physical expression of tashlich, but is not necessary to the ceremony. This custom may have evolved from the chassidic custom of intentionally shaking off crumbs to represent casting away sins.

This Treat was originally published on September 24, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Two Days as One

How many days is Rosh Hashana? It seems the simplest of questions, since all around the world, no matter where you may be, Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days (as opposed to the first and last days of Passover, Shavuot, the first days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret - all of which are observed as one day in Israel and two dayselsewhere).

The Torah commandment to observe Yom Teruah (the Day of the Sounding [of the shofar]) states that the holiday is to be observed on the first day of the seventh month.* It is the only holiday that occurs on the first day of a month. The Jewish calendar is lunar based and, until approximately 350 C.E., the declaration of the new month was dependent on two witnesses reporting the appearance of the new moon to the Sanhedrin. If the new month was declared late in the day, word still needed to reach those who did not live close to Jerusalem. 

Wanting to prevent any possible desecration of the holiness of the day, the rabbi declared that the New Year be celebrated as a Yoma Arichta (Aramaic for one long day), meaning that the one day was spread over two days. In other words, while Rosh Hashana is observed on the first and second of Tishrei, the two days are thought of as a single day.

One of the more interesting effects of this transformation of two days into one is the question of whether or not a person recites theSheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing during candle-lighting (for women) or kiddush (for men) on the second night on Rosh Hashana. On all the other holidays, the second day is treated the same as the first. Sincesheh’heh’cheh’yanu is also recited over a new possession or a food that one has not tasted in over a year, it has therefore become the custom to include a new fruit at the beginning of the second night meal of Rosh Hashana and have the new items in mind when reciting thesheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing. 

*Rosh Hashana is the new year of the counting of years, but Nissan is considered the first month in the counting of months. 

This Treat was last posted on September 4, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

New Year's Greeting

NJOP and Jewish Treats wishes you and yours a healthy and happy new year.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King."

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, "Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!" Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana* includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us."

By addressing God as both "our Father" and "our King," we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product of his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashana and throughout the days that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

*When Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited. 

This Treat was last post on September 3, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.