Friday, April 24, 2015

The Tree That Cannot Remain

Judaism has many laws pertaining to the treatment of trees, particularly fruit trees. One law specifically prohibits the destruction of fruit trees. There is, however, one type of tree that it is a mitzvah to destroy - the Asherah.

An Asherah tree is loosely defined as a tree used for idolatrous practices. The tree’s possible fate depends on how it was used: “There are three kinds of Asherah - A tree that was originally planted for idolatry, behold this is prohibited. If he lopped and trimmed [a tree] for idolatry and it sprouted afresh, he [must] remove the new growth. If he only set [an idol] under it and took it away, behold the tree is permitted” (Talmud Avodah Zarah 48a). The Asherah was not always a tree, but was sometimes a wooden pole posted next to an altar. 

Idolatry is extremely difficult for people today to understand, and it leads one to wonder what was unique about the Asherah that it was specifically prohibited. Nature has always been a lure for humankind’s desire to serve something greater. Idolatry began when people thought the sun, moon and stars were God’s assistants and made requests of them. In time, they began worshiping aspects of nature directly, and then, in time, statues to represent nature. 

Trees are particularly powerful representations of nature. As poetically expressed in Shel Silverstein’s famous book The Giving Tree, trees provide humankind with food, shelter and even, as noted in Genesis, clothing (think “fig leaves”). Additionally, fruit trees blossoming in the spring are powerful representations of renewal, life and fertility. 

Food, shelter, clothing, beauty, spring, fertility, and everything else that a tree represents, however, all come from God. Because trees are everywhere, and so easily overwhelm the imagination, the Asherah trees were considered particularly insidious, and must be destroyed.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spring Shabbat

Take time over Shabbat to enjoy the beauty of spring's blossoming of nature.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

“He Was the Best Man We Had”

(Quote by David Ben Gurion)

In early 1948, knowing that the untrained and disorganized Jewish  fighting forces could not withstand a true battle for the Promised Land, David Ben Gurion sent Shlomo Shamir to New York to recruit training assistance. Shamir went to consult with David Daniel “Mickey” Marcus (1901-1948), who volunteered himself.

Raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Marcus graduated West Point in 1924, and, during his first posting, attended law school at night. When he finished his posting, he resigned his commission, finished his law degree and began serving in the office of the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. A few years later, Marcus was appointed Commissioner of Corrections for New York.

In 1940, Lieutenant Colonel Marcus returned to uniform, where he had an illustrious military career  including appointments as Commandant of the Army’s new Ranger School and a posting at the Pentagon where he was involved in negotiations for the surrender of enemy forces in World War II.

Following the war, Marcus was part of the Occupying Government in Berlin and was involved in assisting survivors and organizing the Nuremberg Trial of former Nazi leaders.  In 1947, Marcus turned down a Brigadier Generalship for the sixth time and resigned from the army. Shortly thereafter, he was approached by Shlomo Shamir and went to Palestine under the unranked name of Michael Stone, a condition set by the U.S. government. After studying the situation, Marcus set about the difficult task of organizing the Jewish troops. He even created a training manual for the fledgling Israel Defense Force based on the U.S. training manual. Marcus also warned Ben Gurion that the south of Israel was particularly vulnerable to enemy attack.

Beyond creating order, Marcus is best known for creating the “Burma Road” during the first stage of the war. A cease-fire date had already been agreed upon by Arab forces, who were besieging Jerusalem and were determined to possess and hold on to as much of the city as possible when the cease-fire took effect. It was Marcus’ idea, after several failed attempts at capturing the main road leading to Jerusalem, to build a second road. It took one week of heavy labor and distraction tactics, but on June 7, 1948, supply trucks rolled into western Jerusalem.

Tragically, just hours before the cease-fire, Aluf (General) Marcus was shot to death by friendly fire when he returned from a late night walk and the new sentry on duty, who did not understand English, mistook him for an enemy. He was buried at West Point.

*The nickname Mickey derived from Little Michael, which he was called as a kid because he used to shadow his older brother Michael around the neighborhood.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

History

To learn more about the modern state of Israel, explore the lives of those involved in the state's creation. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Israel's Memorial Day

The State of Israel's independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. Therefore, before Israel celebrates its independence, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar,* Yom Ha'zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country for one minute, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.


*When the 5th of Iyar begins on Thursday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is moved to the 3rd of Iyar and Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated on the 4th. 

This Treat was lasted posted on May 5, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel's Independence Day

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. On that day, the British Mandate was terminated and David Ben-Gurion declared:

...This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly, we, members of the people's council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.


Within minutes, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish state. The Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel.

Within hours, five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) declared war and launched an attack. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence. Israel had no established army, no central command, no air force of which to speak and not enough weapons to arm its fighting force, which was composed of both sabras (native born Israelis) and refugees.

Miraculously, the Israelis gained the upper-hand in battle and, in 1949, the attacking nations signed armistice agreements with Israel.

The celebration of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, begins at sunset immediately following Yom Ha’zikaron (Memorial Day). Yom Ha’atzma’ut is marked in Israel by a special ceremony on Mount Herzl, a general atmosphere of celebration, and the bestowal of the Israel Prize upon Israeli citizens or organizations that have demonstrated excellence in their field(s) or have made vital contributions to Israeli culture.


*When the 5th of Iyar begins on Thursday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is moved to the 3rd of Iyar and Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated on the 4th. 

This Treat was last posted on May 6, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Proud

Be proud of the many innovations that have come out of the State of Israel.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Working for the People

One of Hollywood’s favorite stereotypes is that of the corrupt politician. Inevitably, the character has a flashback, or at least refers to, his/her youthful, idealistic goals. Usually the politician mutters a line such as “I got into it to make the world a better place.”

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish sages declared: “Let all who occupy themselves with communal affairs do so for Heaven's sake, for then the merit of their fathers sustains them and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you [People of Israel], God will then say: I count you worthy of great reward as if you had done it all yourselves” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 2:2).

Working for the benefit of the community, whether on the simplest level such as the local synagogue board or within the more complex infrastructure of government, requires a person to stay pure of motive. This is something that is extremely difficult to do - not because of the Hollywood-portrayed lure of corruption and greed, but rather because there are many motivations that can drive a person into public life that are not really in the public interest.

The sages’ declaration about the nobility of service for the community is actually the second half of a longer Mishna that praises the benefits of combining Torah scholarship with worldly occupation. That fact gives definition to the seemingly incongruous final line of the Mishna: Those who cannot find time to study Torah due to involvement in communal affairs are credited for their dedication (if done with the proper motivations).


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Inner Exploration

Be aware of your own inner motivations.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Talk to the Expert

One of the greatest dangers of the age of the internet is the abuse of medical information by lay people with no medical training, who suspect that they may be ill. Whether it is a strange rash, an unexplained pain or a seemingly unprecedented symptom, people everywhere are turning to the internet and diagnosing themselves with terrible diseases. After coming to the mistaken conclusion that they have been stricken with a serious, perhaps terminal, affliction, they finally visit a doctor and discover that their nights of anxiety were all for naught. The rash is a rash, and nothing more.

It is interesting to note that the Talmud discusses this exact psychological mind-set, although in the Talmud this discussion concerned the spiritual disease known as tzara’at resulting from improper speech. While a tzara’at infection appeared on a person as a white skin blemish, the Torah also details how this sign of spiritual degradation could also affect inanimate possessions. In the case of a person’s house, tzara’at appeared as dark green or red blotches.

In Talmud Negaim 12:5, the sages relate that a person who believes their home to be infected should go to the kohain (priest) and say, “There seems to me to be, as it were, a plague in the house.” All people, even great Torah scholars, had to use this non-committal phrase. The kohain would then come and carefully inspect the entire edifice, making certain that the diagnosis was unquestionably tzara’at.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Relationship

Develop a relationship with your local rabbi.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Twentieth Century Jewish Poet

In honor of National Poetry Month, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Muriel Rukeyser (December 1913-February 1980).

Born and raised in New York City, Rukeyser attended Vassar College and Columbia University. In 1935, her first collection of poems, Theory of Flight, was chosen for publication in the Yale Younger Poets series.

Like many poets, Rukeyser was a social activist, and her poetry was known for its staunch political voice. Her writing was inspired by events she witnessed, such as the Scottsboro Trial*, the hearings on the Hawk’s Nest industrial disaster in which hundreds of West Virginia Miners died (this incident inspired her second long poem, “The Book of the Dead”), and the Spanish Civil War.

Rukeyser’s writing was not limited to social poetry but also touched on personal interests. She also wrote several biographies, plays and children’s books. In addition to writing, Rukeyser taught at several different universities and taught writing workshops.

Her Jewish identity is one of the personal themes found in Rukeyser’s poetry. There was only one item connected to Jewish life in her childhood home: a silver Kiddush cup. However, the oral tradition that her mother’s family descended from Rabbi Akiva appears to have made a deep impact on Rukeyser, and she wrote a poem titled “Akiba.” Her most prominent poem with a Jewish theme is “To be a Jew in the Twentieth Century” (1944 - see below), which was adopted by both the American Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

Muriel Rukeser passed away on February 12, 1980.


There's a Key in my Challah

It's a fact that many people spend much time thinking and even worrying about par'nassah (livelihood).

Jewish tradition teaches that different seasons have different spiritual strengths. Certain times are regarded as propitious to pray for rain, while other times are considered appropriate to petition for forgiveness. (Of course, these things may also be prayed for at other times of the year!) So too, our spiritual leaders have noted that there are certain times on the Jewish calendar when it is propitious to focus on praying for par'nassah. One such time is the Shabbat immediately following Passover, when it is a custom in some Jewish communities to make what is known as shlissel (Yiddish for key) challah.

There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom. Due to space limitations, Jewish Treats will present only a few:

1) A "key" serves as a symbol to remind us that our prayers have the power to open the Gates of Heaven.

2) The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 2:2) states that on Passover the world is allocated its grain harvest for the coming year.


3) The Jews celebrated Passover just before entering the land of Canaan, at which point there was no more manna (the heavenly food of the wilderness). Henceforth, the Jewish nation needed to generate its own par'nassah.

There are different ways to perform this custom. Some people bake an actual key (scrubbed clean or wrapped in foil/parchment paper) into the challah, while others mold their challah into the shape of a key. One custom mentions using a key to knead the dough, and there are still other customs as well.

Whatever one’s custom, the symbolic message does not preclude the need for prayer and hishtadlut (personal effort).

This Treat was last posted on April 25, 2014.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Your Words

If you enjoy poetry, find or write a poem that will enhance your Shabbat experience.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What They Saw First

Ohrdurf Concentration Camp, located near Gotha, Germany, was a subcamp of Buchenwald. Its history was short and brutal, having only begun operation in November 1944. Indeed, other than appearing on the far-too-long list of brutal Nazi camps, Ohrdurf may have been lost to history’s particular notice but for the fact that it was the first concentration camp liberated by the American Army.

Approximatly 11,500 prisoners were held at Ohrdurf. The prisoners were forced to dig underground caverns for Nazi headquarters and build various transportation facilities.

On April 4, 1945, the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry Division of the Third U.S. Army arrived to find the SS guard lying dead across the entrance. They found that the camp had been evacuated. Most of the inmates were sent on forced marches during which many died, and those unable to leave had been executed. Piles of bodies were found throughout the camp.

It was the first time American troops had seen the Nazi atrocities with their own eyes. Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton arrived at Ohrdurf the following week. Afterwards, Eisenhower ordered all free U.S. Army units in the area to visit the camp. On April 19. Eisenhower requested that journalists and members of Congress come and bear witness as well. The visits had a profound impact on those who came and underscored the vital importance of an Allied victory.

This Treat was written in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed today.
Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Real History

Record the history of the Holocaust survivors for future generations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Corrie ten Boom

Today, April 15, is the date of both the birth and death of Cornelia “Corrie” Arnolda Johanna ten Boom (1892-1983), who was honored in 1967 as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Ten Boom was born in Amsterdam and grew up in the Dutch city of Haarlem. After training with her father, ten Boom became the first woman to become a licensed watchmaker in the Netherlands.


When the Nazis marched into the Netherlands in May 1940 and began implementing their Nazification program, the ten Boom family (her father Casper, her sisters Betsie and Nollie, and her brother Willem) began sheltering Jews and resistence members from the Nazis. Eventually, they created a secret room, a tiny space suitable for up to six people, built into Corrie ten Boom’s attic bedroom. 


On February 28, 1944, based on the word of a Nazi informant, the Gestapo raided the ten Boom house. Around 30 people - the family, friends, neighbors who had come for a prayer meeting - were arrested. Those hidden in the attic, however, remained safe and were later assisted by other members of the resistance. Most of those who were arrested were released that day, but Casper, Betsie and Corrie remained in custody. Shortly thereafter, Casper ten Boom became ill, was sent to the hospital and died there only 10 days after the arrest.  The sisters remained in  the Scheveningen prison for three months before being transferred first to the internment camp at Vught and then to the Ravensbrueck Concentration Camp in Germany.  


Corrie ten Boom was released from Ravensbrueck in 1944, twelve days after her sister Betsie had died. Ten Boom returned to the Netherlands where, after the war, she worked to help those who had survived the concentration camps. She began a world-wide ministry and became an international speaker. She was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands and wrote a best-selling book, The Hiding Place.


In 1977, ten Boom moved to Placentia, California, where she passed away a few years later on her 91st birthday.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor

When teaching the younger generation about the Holocaust, make certain to include mention of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Death at the Inauguration

The story of the eldest sons of Aaron is a tragic tale that is described in the Torah in the vaguest of terms. On the grand day of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the Torah records that “Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer (offering pan), and put fire in them and laid incense on then, and offered strange fire before God, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before God and devoured them, and they died before God” (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Nothing further is written concerning their deaths, and no specific explanation is given. This ambiguity has resulted in a great deal of explanation that is extrapolated from the text by the commentators. Some of the interpreters imply that Nadav and Avihu were taken because of their righteousness. Thus, according to the Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah 12:2, Moses said to Aaron: “My brother, at Sinai, I was told that I would sanctify this House, and through a great man would I sanctify it, and I thought that either through me or through you would this House be sanctified, but now [I see that] your two sons are greater than you or I.”

Other opinions, however, find fault in the behavior of Nadav and Avihu. One often-cited Midrash describes them as having been intoxicated at the time of the inauguration. This is extrapolated from the subject of the verse that immediately follows God’s instructions to Aaron and his sons not to mourn,* in which He warns Aaron: “Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, that you do not die; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations” (Leviticus 10:9).

*Aaron and his remaining two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were commanded to continue with the inauguration service and not to mourn since their role to the nation superceded their individual tragedy. (After the inauguration, Nadav and Avihu were mourned by the nation.)

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don't Toss It

Donate left-over, sealed Passover foods to those in need.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Protecting the Torah

“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly.  They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 1:1).

These statements were not the only things that the Men of the Great Assembly said. They are, however, of particular significance since they are recorded in the first Mishna of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers. What is the connection of these seemingly separate ideas, and why were they selected for inclusion in Pirkei Avot?

The first Mishna is all about protecting the Torah. It begins by listing the history of the transmission of the Torah and its Oral Code from Moses down through the Men of the Great Assembly.  With the increasing size and spread of the Jewish community at that time, these three statements provided (and still provide) important guidelines for Torah leaders on how to protect Jewish life. Being deliberate in judgment is a rule that can apply in many situations: taking one’s time in ruling on a law, hearing each legal case carefully and individually, or simply making certain not to be hasty in one’s judgment of others. Being cautious and conscientious protects the Torah from being distorted by rash judgments and, at the same time, uphold the Torah value of treating all people with respect.

Similarly, as community leaders must be deliberate in judgment, they should not hold the Torah so close to themselves that its transmission is lost. Thus, the Men of the Great Assembly stressed the importance of sharing the Torah by educating many disciples. While encouraging Jewish leaders to teach many students, the Men of the Great Assembly cautioned the leaders of the importance of making a fence, setting rules to help people to not accidentally violate the laws of  the Torah so that even as the community spread to different lands the holy laws would not become diluted.




Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ethics of the Fathers

Ethics - it’s a big word in our day and age. Between political corruption and financial misdeeds, it is easy to wonder what ever happened to even the most basic ethical standards.

Although superficially it seems that the Torah’s primary focus is on civil, religious and ritual law, in actuality, the entire Torah is a blueprint for ethical living. The Mishnaic tractate of Avot (Fathers) is dedicated to the moral and practical teachings of the great sages. It is probably one of the best known and most widely studied sections of the Oral Law.

Pirkei Avot (literally, Chapter of the Fathers, but better known as Ethics of the Fathers) begins with a simple but important idea: “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets, the prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly...” While, within the Mishna itself, different rabbis are given credit for their specific comments and thoughts about life, this opening statement delineates the flow of transmission to emphasize that these statements are very much part of Torah. One cannot pick and choose to observe only certain morals and ethics. It is all part of Torah, part of the “total package” that Jews must observe.

Since the time of the Gaonim (circa 8th-10th century, Babylon), Jews have studied one chapter of Pirkei Avot each Shabbat during the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot. In many communities, this custom has been extended so that Pirkei Avot is studied from Passover until Rosh Hashana. Since many synagogues study Pirkei Avot communally each Shabbat after the afternoon service, the six chapters of Avot may be found in most Shabbat prayerbooks after the Mincha service.


This Treat was last posted on May 2, 2014.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Deliberate in Judgment

Apply the wisdom of being deliberate in judgment into your everyday life.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Is Isru Chag

The day after vacation is often a time of distraction and disorientation. The same is true of the day following a religious holiday, especially after one of the week-long holidays (Passover and Sukkot) during which one focuses for an entire week on spiritual, rather than mundane, matters. 

In recognition of the challenge of transitioning from a religious festival to everyday life, a semi-holiday known as Isru Chag follows each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.) Translated literally as "bind the festival," the term Isru Chag comes from Psalms 118:27, which reads "Bind the festival offering with boughs to the corners of the altar." From this verse, the sages determined that, "Whoever makes an addition to the festival by eating and drinking is regarded by scripture as though he had built an altar and offered a sacrifice" (Talmud Sukkah 45b).

In truth, the celebration of Isru Chag has little effect on the day-to-day conduct of most people...unless one is a parent of a child in a religious school (which may be closed for Isru Chag). Isru Chag also affects some aspects of the daily prayer service, in that tachanun (a supplicatory prayer) as well as memorial prayers are omitted, and private fasts are generally not permitted. (Example of a private fast: an Ashkenazi couple who is to wed on Isru Chag will not observe the custom of fasting before the chuppah). 

The idea of Isru Chag is that one draws some of the holiness of the festival celebration into the less spiritually elevated reality of everyday life. Since feasting is one of the ways in which Jews celebrate festivals, it became customary to eat and drink a little something extra on Isru Chag to continue the feeling of celebration.

This Treat was last posted on September 25, 2013.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What Not To Buy

The joyous holiday of Passover is now over. While one’s instinct might be to immediately run out to the supermarket and restock the pantry shelves with bread, snacks and all the desserts that were missed over the holiday, it is important to be aware of the issues that apply to buying and selling chametz (leaven products) that might have been owned by a Jew over Passover.

The Torah’s instructions for the celebration of Passover state: “Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses” (Exodus 12:19), which is understood to mean that Jewish homes must be free of all chametz prior to the holiday. This can be achieved by either eating the chametz, destroying it, throwing it out or selling the chametz to a non-Jew. The sale of chametz is a specific process that is generally handled by a rabbi well-versed in these specific laws. After the holiday, the buyer sells the chametz back. The sale is completely legitimate and the non-Jew may, theoretically, take ownership of the purchased chametz on Passover or after the holiday by  paying the full value of the chametz (although this rarely, if ever, occurs). The sale of chametz can be done for both individuals and businesses.

Since chametz owned by a Jew during Passover is prohibited by the Torah, buying chametz products after Passover becomes an issue. Small, Jewish-owned stores that cater to the Jewish community generally take care to properly sell their chametz. Large supermarkets, however, are often owned by larger corporations or conglomerates. If the ownership is at least 51% non-Jewish, there is no problem purchasing chametz immediately after Passover. However, if the majority ownership is Jewish, one is advised to wait for the average length of time it takes for the product inventory to turn-over (times may vary by product) and be restocked. Local rabbis can generally provide the necessary information for their communities.

This Treat was last posted on April 23.2014.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Take Care

Now that Passover is over, restock your shelves with your favorite kosher foods.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seven Days to the Sea

The Passover celebration lasts seven days (eight days, outside of Israel. For more information as to why, please click here). The first day (and second, outside of Israel) is a Yom Tov, festival day, on which the seder is celebrated. However, the Torah also explicitly commands “and in the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you” (Exodus 12:16).

The Seventh Day of Passover (and eighth, outside of Israel) is the only Jewish festival that is distinctly not distinct. This is most noticeable by the fact that on every other Yom Tov (festival day), the special Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing, which praises God for keeping us alive and allowing us to celebrate the holiday again this year, is recited either when one lights candles or following the recitation of kiddush (the blessing of sanctification over wine/grape juice).

The simplest explanation that Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu is not recited on the Seventh Day is that the offerings of the day were no different than those on the interim days of Passover. However, it should also be noted that the Seventh Day marks the anniversary of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, an event that was already praised during the seder. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he followed God’s directions “that they turn and encamp before Pi-Ha'chirot, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon: you shall encamp before the sea” (Exodus 14:2). By the time they encamped before the sea, Pharoah had changed his mind about freeing the Israelite slaves and led his army after them. At the moment of greatest peril, Moses stretched his staff over the waters, and God sent a strong east wind to split the sea, enabling the Israelites to cross on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to follow them, the watery walls crashed down upon them and the entire Egyptian army drowned. Since the entire holiday is a celebration of redemption, the story is not retold again in any grand ceremony on the Seventh Day. But, because of its importance, God gave His people the gift of an extra day of Yom Tov and elevated the day in commemoration of that glorious event. The additional festival day acknowledges that seven days after they left Egypt, the Israelites were once again miraculously redeemed and that the entire Passover holiday is a time of redemption.


This Treat was last posted on April 20, 2014.





Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate the Sea

Celebrate the miracles that occurred at the Red Sea during the final days of Passover. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Talmud Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?” (Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel, is recited.

This Treat was last posted on April 17, 2014.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Your Own

The Psalms of Hallel can be recited in whatever language one is most comfortable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chag Ha'matzot

The name of the holiday “Passover,” is an allusion to God’s passing over the Israelite households during the plague of the firstborn, a critical element in the events of the Exodus. The name "Passover," however, may be derived from an English convolution of the Hebrew word Pesach, the Torah’s term for the Paschal lamb sacrificed on the holiday.

The Torah refers to Chag Ha’pesach, the Holiday of the Paschal Lamb, only as the actual seder feast. In almost all other cases,* the Torah refers to this springtime holiday as Chag Ha’matzot, the Holiday of the Unleavened Bread: "The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread" (Exodus 34:18).

In honor of Chag Ha’matzot, Jewish Treats presents a little bit of information on matzah:

To guarantee that matzah is Kosher for Passover, no more than 18 minutes may pass from the moment the water and flour come in contact with each other, until it is removed, fully baked, from the oven. The entire working area (and the workers’ hands) is scrubbed between each 18 minute process.

Special Matzot Many Jews will only eat shmura matzah (especially during the Seder). Literally "guarded matzah," shmura matzah has been carefully supervised from the time the wheat was cut until it was baked so that it remained perfectly dry until being deliberately mixed with water (lest it become chametz). This practice is based on the verse in Exodus 12:17, "And you shall guard the matzot..."

Egg matzah is "enriched matzah." Since it is more extravagant, it fails to fulfill the requirement of "lechem oh’nee," bread of affliction (poverty). According to Ashkenazi custom, egg matzah may only be eaten on Passover by someone who is physically infirm, very young or very old, and has difficulty digesting regular matzah.

Depending on how they are prepared, flavored matzot (such as garlic and onion or grape) may or may not be Kosher for Passover. Please check the box for proper Kosher for Passover supervision.

*It is also referred to as Chag Ha’aviv, the Holiday of the Spring.


This Treat was last posted on April 17, 2014.





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Cuisine for Passover

Research creative recipes to serve through the rest of the week of Passover.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was previously published on April 18, 2014.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Special Week

Do something each day this week to make it special for Chol Hamoed.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Setting the Seder Table

 Before beginning the Seder, it is important to make certain that everything necessary is available. No Seder table is complete without the following:

1) Three Unbroken Matzot (Kosher for Passover) -- Many have the custom to use shmura (specially supervised) matzah for the Seders.

2) Wine/Grape Juice (Kosher for Passover) and Wine Glasses -- All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required four cups of Wine/Grape Juice.

3) The Seder Plate -- It is traditional to place the following items on a special Seder plate:

--Bay'tza / Roasted (hard-boiled) Egg, symbolic of the cycle of life because of its round shape and representative of the Jewish character - the more you boil them, the harder they get. The egg also represents the missing chagiga sacrifice that was offered on Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.

--Z'roa / Shank Bone (of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl), representing the Passover lamb offering that we cannot bring today because of the absence of the Temple.

--Maror / Bitter Herbs (often horseradish), reminding participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery.

--Karpas / Vegetable (usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato), which is dipped in salt water as part of the Seder ritual.

--Charoset, a tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples, representing the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh's cities (recipes may vary by community).

--Chazeret / Bitter Vegetable (like romaine lettuce), which starts out sweet but becomes more bitter the longer it stays in the ground.

4) Salt Water -- The karpas (vegetable) is dipped in salt water as a reminder of the tears of the Jewish slaves. Usually, the salt water is not placed on the Seder Plate, but near it.

5) Elijah's Cup -- This cup, filled with wine, is used to invite Elijah the Prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, to come to the Seder, and hopefully, begin our final redemption.

This Treat was published on April 14, 2014.






Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Can You Count to 49?

There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.


How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the 
second night of Passover (the second Seder outside of Israel), a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:
Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.


Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the Counting of the Omer.


The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"


If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.


This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Saturday night, April 4.There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:

Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the Counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Saturday night, April 4.

This Treat was published on April 14, 2014.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Happy Passover

NJOP and Jewish Treats wishes you a happy and kosher Passover.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the seder is derived from the four stages through which God promised to redeem the Jews from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am God and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Hagaddah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus. The blessing on wine is made a second time because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a blessing is recited over a single cup of wine or grape juice, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all present bless and drink their own cup of wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising God.

This Treat was published on March 15, 2013.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Fast of the Firstborns

There has always been a lot of pressure on firstborn children, as they were often expected to care for the family property or business in order to ensure stability within the community. Even in modern society, the firstborn usually receives the most attention and the most responsibility.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborns, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborns was also the only plague during which the Israelites needed to take an active role in order not to be affected (marking their doorposts with blood).

While Passover is a commemoration of the story of the Exodus, there is also a special Fast of the Firstborn, which is observed on the 14th of Nisan, the day before the first seder.* It is observed only by the firstborn. This includes minors--except that, halachically, minors (under the age of bar/bat mitzvah) are not supposed to fast. Therefore, it has become the accepted practice that the firstborn’s father fasts instead.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) infers that Egyptian women/girls also died during the Death of the Firstborns, and therefore there are different opinions as to whether firstborn women/girls should fast as well (one should follow the custom of the community).

The Fast of the Firstborns begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall (with the start of the seder). It is customary, however, for those obligated to fast to attend a seudat mitzvah (the feast of a mitzvah) such as a brit milah (circumcision) or, most often, a siyyum (celebration of the completion of studying a section of Torah or Talmud), which cancels the fast.
*unless it coincides with Shabbat

This Treat was published on April 13, 2014.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Wine

Shop the kosher wine section of your local liquor store for something new and interesting to serve at the seder.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Biur - Burning

The night before the Passover seder, the home is thoroughly searched for any remaining chametz. The chametz found is then set aside to be burned in the morning. Biur Chametz, the burning of the chametz, is the final step of pre-Passover preparations.

Why is the chametz burned? Burning is considered the ideal means of disposing of one’s chametz. The Mishna cites Rabbi Judah, who said, “There is no removal of chametz save by burning.” The sages, however, maintain, “He [a person may] also crumble and throw it to the wind or cast it into the sea” (Pesachim 21a).

On the morning before the seder, chametz may be eaten until the fourth hour of the day.* Biur Chametz takes place before the fifth hour of the day.* In larger Jewish communities, there is frequently a designated location for Biur Chametz, often in conjunction with, and overseen by, the local fire department. 

All of the chametz thrown into the fire is burned so completely that even a dog would not eat it. While burning is the ideal way to destroy the chametz, if one is unable to do so due to timing or other limitations, one may pour a chemical disinfectant such as cleaning fluid on them so that the chametz become unfit to be consumed even by a dog. One may also flush the chametz down the toilet. 

After all of the chametz has been destroyed, a decree of renouncing ownership is recited, fulfilling the biblical mitzvah of ridding oneself of chametz: “Any chametz or leaven product that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered null and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

*An hour of the day is calculated by dividing the actual daylight hours from sunrise to sunset by 12.

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



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Searching for Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is conducted on the night before the seder. (*When the first Seder is Saturday night, Bedikat Chametz is performed on the previous Thursday night.)

Bedikat Chametz begins shortly after nightfall. When one is ready to begin the search, a blessing is recited (see below), after which no talking is permitted with the exception of conversation pertaining to the search itself. The search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (if the candle might cause danger, for instance when searching near draperies, one may use a flashlight). Among Ashkenazi Jews, it is also customary to use a feather to "sweep" any chametz crumbs into a paper bag.

Sometimes getting into the right frame of mind for the search may be difficult, especially if the house has already been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. In order to be in the right frame of mind and to make certain that the blessing over the search is not said in vain there is a custom, therefore, to have someone else carefully "hide" ten pieces of chametz (for instance 10 pieces of pretzel wrapped in foil) in the rooms which will be searched. The search will thus be more diligent, and will not conclude until all the rooms have been checked and the 10 pieces found.

When the search is over, one makes a general declaration stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless. The chametz in the bag is set aside to be burned the following morning. One may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast (and Shabbat meals when applicable), making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the chametz bag afterwards.

Please note that there are many situations (for example, someone who is renting a room in a house that is not being cleaned for Passover), where it would be best to consult with a rabbi to determine how to proceed.


The Prayers of “Bedikat Chametz

Blessing before the search:
Ba’ruch ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl Bee'oor chametz.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctifies us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz

Annulment of Ownership of Unknown Chametz (recited after the search is concluded):

Kol chameera va’chamee'ah, d’eeka veer’shootee, d’lah cha’zee’tay, ood’la vee’ar’tay, ood’lah y’dah’nah lay. lee’bah’tayl v’leh’heh’vay hef’ker k’aphra d’arah.

"Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth."



This Treat was published on April 10, 2014.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Bye Bye Chametz

Get rid of your extra chametz.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Broken Matzah

Whether one is in North America, Europe or Asia, the Passover seder is almost always familiar due to the universal text of the Haggadah. Through the course of time, however, different communities have developed customs that are unique and beautiful. In preparation for Passover, Jewish Treats presents a few interesting variations of one such custom.

The fourth step of the seder is the breaking of the middle matzah, which is known as yachatz. Among Jews of Syrian descent, the middle matzah is specifically broken into the shape of the Hebrew letters daled and vav. The origin of this custom is related to kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). The letter daled represents the number four, while vav is the number six. Together they represent the Ten Sephirot, the mystical powers that bind the structure of the world together. 

Among North African Jews, there is a similar custom of breaking the middle matzah into the shape of the letter hey. Hey not only represents God’s name, but it is also the first letter of the Aramaic passage in the Haggadah that begins Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah. (“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat...”) The matzah broken into the shape of the hey is passed around to be held over one’s head as each seder participant recites the Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah paragraph.

The custom of having each seder participant personally recite Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah is also found among Persian Jews. Instead of the broken matzah, however, the Persian Jews pass around the three matzot of the seder table wrapped in a white cloth. 



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Who Knows One?

How does one transmit basic theology in a fun manner to tired seder guests? The answer is--with song. Many see this as one of the purposes of the Nirtzah, the final section of the Haggadah. With the exception of “One Kid” (Chad Gad’ya), perhaps the best known song of Nirtzah is “Who Knows One?” (Echad Mee Yo’day’ah?)

The song begins with the question, “Who knows one?” and the response, “I know one, one is our God of the heavens and the earth.” This is followed by “Who knows two? Two are the tablets of the law, and one is our God of the heavens and the earth.” The song continues until verse thirteen, and with each additional number, the preceding responses are repeated. The final complete stanza is as follows:

Who knows thirteen?
I know thirteen. Thirteen are the attributes of God’s mercy. Twelve are the Tribes of Israel, Eleven are the stars in Joseph’s dream. Ten are the Commandments. Nine are the months until a baby is born. Eight are the days until the brit milah (circumcision). Seven are thedays of the week. Six are the tracts of the Mishnah. Five are the books of the Torah. Four are the mothers (matriarchs), and three are the fathers (patriarchs), and two are the tablets of the law. And one is our God of the heaven and the earth.

Although “Who Knows One” presents some basic Jewish facts (the holy books, the matriarchs and the patriarchs, etc.), its recurring verse, “One is our God of the heavens and the earth,” is a poetic rendition of Judaism’s most fundamental prayer: Sh'ma Yis'ra'el A'doh'nai Eh'lo'hay'nu A'doh'nai Echad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" Deuteronomy 6:4).

This Treat was published on March 18, 2013.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Traditions

Ask your older relatives what customs they remember from Passover seders when they were young.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Development of the Haggadah

On Passover night we are commanded "v'hee'ga'd'ta" and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee'ga'd'ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the entire lamb had to be eaten, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. Among that which was written down was the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana - the Four Questions).
The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chad Gad'ya ("One Kid"), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

This Treat was published on March 19, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved