Friday, February 15, 2019

Do “Clothes Make the Man?”

The phrase “Clothes make the man” was adapted by Mark Twain from Shakespeare’s “For the apparel oft proclaims the man,” a comment made by Polonius in Hamlet. “Dress for Success” was a 1975 bestselling book by John T. Molloy, which began the discussion of “power dressing.” Does Judaism agree that the clothes indeed have such an impact?

Parashat T’tzaveh’s main theme revolves around the special clothing created for the kohanim, the priestly caste descended from Aaron. The fourth verse in the parasha serves as an introduction to the importance of proper raiment: “And you shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron your brother, for glory and splendor” (Exodus 28:2).

The clothing one wears can impact a job interview, a date, or any forum where one wants to make an immediate positive impression. The Talmud speaks disparagingly about a scholar with a stain on his clothing (Shabbat 114a). But when serving as priests, humankind’s emissaries to God, does God really care about what is worn? Is God not able to see our souls? Is external garb relevant when communicating with God?

What we wear indeed has no bearing on God’s impression of us. But we must understand that it has an impact on us. We see ourselves differently when dressed with “glory and splendor.”

On January 20th, 2001, George W. Bush was sworn in as president of the United States. Among the presidential directives he signed on his first day in office, a new rule required formal attire when in the president’s Oval Office; jeans and casual clothes were banned. In a Washington Post article (January 26, 2001, pp. C2) the reporter concluded, “Bush suggests that by wearing proper attire he will constantly be reminded to be on his best behavior in the Oval Office.”

Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzhal, Chief Ashkenazic rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, asks why do we wrap a gift? We spend much time preparing the wrapping, which, in most cases, is immediately placed in the trash bin. Is this not a waste of time? Just give the gift? He answers that the wrapping paper, the bows and the time spent preparing the wrapping augment the gift’s value. The wrapping dignifies the beautiful present. The gift wrapping always adds “glory and splendor.”

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Dress for Spiritual Success

Endeavor to dress up, in order to elevate religious practices such as prayer services, Torah study and other rendezvous with God.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Rise of Phoenix

The settlement of the Arizona territory, followed the California Gold Rush of 1848-1850. When gold was found in Arizona, many people moved there from 1862 to 1864, including many Jewish businessmen who had originally settled in California. When many of the gold mines’ resources were exhausted or proven economically non-viable, many of the mining towns were abandoned. But the pioneer Jewish families arrived and found other opportunities. Among these early Jewish settlers was Michael Goldwater, who was born Michel Goldwasser in Poland, grandfather of U.S. Senator and 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (whose mother was Episcopalian and raised him in that faith). Goldwater worked as a government contractor, a wholesale and retail merchant, a mine operator and a forwarding agent. His son, Morris served as Mayor of Prescott, AZ for 22 years. 

Other prominent Arizonan Jews were Charles and Harry Lesinsky who operated copper mines outside of Clifton, AZ in the mid-1870s, and to facilitate deliveries, built Arizona’s first railway. In the 1870s, people who lived in the Eastern United States moved to Arizona seeking palliation to their tuberculosis in Arizona’s desert air.

In 1881, the first organized Jewish community was founded in Tombstone, AZ, while a B’nai B’rith lodge was launched in Tucson, AZ in 1882. With official statehood in 1912, more Jewish families moved to Arizona, mostly professionals such as doctors and lawyers, and those in merchandising. The Jewish population skyrocketed after World War II in the communities with existing Jewish communities, namely Tucson, Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale.

In 2000, the Jewish population of Arizona was recorded as 120,000, and as of 2017, it had declined slightly to 106,725. About 2/3 of Arizona’s Jews reside in the greater Phoenix area and the other third in the Tucson area, although Jewish communities are also found in Flagstaff, Kingman, Lake Havasu, Sedona and Yuma.

On February 14, 1912, Arizona was admitted as the 48th and final contiguous U.S. state.

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Learn the Jewish History of Arizona


Before you travel to or through Arizona, learn its rich Jewish history.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Can Jewish Names Be Changed?

Those unhappy with the name given to them at birth are in luck, for today is “Get a Different Name Day,” annually observed on February 13th. This allows Jewish Treats the opportunity to recall the importance of one’s name and how and when it can be changed, as described in the Jewish Treat below, most recently published on November 10, 2016.

It is not a coincidence that cultures around the world share a belief in the power of given names. In Judaism, it is believed that parents are granted a flash of ruach hakodesh, Divine spirit, when choosing a name for their child.

If names are so important, why do some people change theirs? The most common reason that people change their names is to add blessing, most often in times of challenge. When someone faces a life-threatening illness, they may be advised to add an additional name. Traditionally, the new name reflects blessing for healing, such as the masculine Refael (God has healed) or Chaim (life) or the feminine Chaya (Giver of life). This change is usually done with the guidance of, and in consultation with, a rabbi.

The concept of changing a name in order to alter one’s fate is noted in the Talmud, where it says: “Rav Isaac said, ‘Four things tear up the [evil] decree against a person, and these are them: charity, crying out (prayers), changing one’s name, and changing one’s deeds, and some say even changing one’s place of residence’” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 16b).

The act of changing names is even recorded in the Torah. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. It was only once their names were changed were they able to conceive the son for whom they had waited so long (Genesis 17).

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Explore the Meaning and Calling of a Name

A name is meant to connect the individual with his or her namesake. Don’t underestimate the significance of a name.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Can the Theory of Evolution and God Co-Exist?

On this “Darwin Day,” commemorating the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12, 1809, we address the issue of Darwin’s own belief in God, given his authorship of the famed Theory of Evolution.

Darwin was raised Unitarian, but attended schools aligned with the Anglican (English) Church. He attended Cambridge University on his way to becoming an Anglican parson. At Cambridge, he took courses in natural history which piqued his interest. Many clergy members were naturalists, as natural science was seen as a manifestation of the wonders of God’s creation. Darwin was particularly drawn to the works of the Reverend William Paley who advanced a theory that nature proves the existence of a Creator, but also maintains that evil is independent of God. Darwin wrote of Paley’s Natural Theology, “I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more. I could almost formerly have said it by heart.”

Before embarking on life in the clergy, Darwin joined the H.M.S. Beagle on its journey around the world from December 1831 through October 1836 to survey natural phenomena around the globe. After the voyage, Darwin wrote in his autobiography that during the trip he was orthodox in his belief in the veracity of the Christian Biblical narrative, but over time he became skeptical.

By early 1837, when Darwin began writing about his famous theory on the evolution of the species, he viewed his ideas as a departure from the traditional dogma with which he was raised. Paley’s theory on theodicy (why bad things happen to good people) proved unconvincing to Darwin. Darwin stopped attending church in 1849, although his wife and children did continue their affiliation.

After the 1859 publication of Darwin’s magnum opus, “On the Origin of the Species,” many reviewers highlighted the compatibility of Darwin’s theory with the belief in God, while others saw it as proof that Darwin was an atheist. The truth lay somewhere in the middle. Darwin never shut the door on the existence of God describing himself as “agnostic.” He consistently refused to allow his writings and theory to serve as proof for atheism, although he did admit that he no longer believed in the Biblical account of a Divine revelation or in the Christian views of Jesus. Darwin wrote “In most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God. I think that generally (and more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.” In Darwin’s posthumously published autobiography, he addressed his receding belief in orthodox Christianity. This chapter, initially excised by Darwin’s wife and son, was published in 1958 by Darwin’s daughter Nora Barlow.

Judaism’s Oral Tradition that accompanies and explains the Biblical text, can accommodate the theory of evolution more comfortably than many Christian denominations. Jewish theology can draw on literature and opinions that allow for some nuance in the creation narrative, which, without commentary, is very cryptic.

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Judaism and Evolution

Seek out answers to perceived philosophical challenges to Jewish thought and observance.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Samurai Who Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazis

Often, when tragedy strikes, many seek to uncover a silver lining by searching for heroes and their selflessness. On the pantheon of such heroes during the Shoah (the Holocaust) is Chiune Sugihara, who served as Japanese Consul-General to the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (also known as Kovno). Sugihara assumed his post in March 1939, six months prior to the German invasion of neighboring Poland. Polish and German Jews flooded Lithuania. But Lithuania’s status as a haven ended abruptly on June 15, 1940, when the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania. The Soviets did allow Polish Jews to leave Lithuania through the Soviet Union. However, in July, 1940, with the Germans advancing on Lithuania, the Soviets ordered all foreign diplomatic posts to leave Kaunas. Sugihara requested and received an extension. The only other diplomat left in Kaunas was Jan Zwartendijk, the acting consul of the Netherlands.

Some astute Jewish refugees noticed that two Dutch islands in the Caribbean, Curacao and Dutch Guiana (now known as Suriname), did not require formal entrance visas. Consul Zwartendijk was authorized to stamp passports with entrance permits. In order to get to the Caribbean, however, passage through the U.S.S.R. was required. As a condition to obtain Soviet exit visas, the Soviet consul required Japanese transit visas, since passage through Japan would be required in order to arrive in the Dutch Islands a world away.

Upon learning this news, desperate Jewish refugees arrived at the gate of Kaunas’ Japanese consulate. Chiune Sugihara’s request to the Japanese foreign ministry to dispatch transit visas was unconditionally rejected. Sugihara had to make a gut-wrenching decision. He had to balance his disciplined traditional Japanese obedience with his Samurai calling to help those in need. Sugihara and his family chose to defy their government and help as many people as humanly possible.

For the next 29 days, from July 31 to August 28, 1940, the Sugiharas spent all their waking hours writing visas by hand, averaging 300 visas per day, which equaled the monthly average for the Kaunas consulate. Chiune himself refused to take lunch breaks, subsisting on sandwiches, and Yukiko, Mrs. Sugihara, would massage her husband’s aching hands each evening. Even during his last moments as Japanese consul in Kaunas, while aboard the Berlin-bound train on September 1, 1940, Chiune was writing visas and handing them to those pleading for them outside his train window. As the train was pulling away, he threw the consul visa stamp to a refugee who was able to “write” even more transit visas. As a direct result of Sugihara’s heroism, 6,000 refugees’ lives were spared from Nazi barbarism, as they were able to board the Trans-Siberian railroad bound for Kobe, Japan.

After World War II, Sugihara was fired from the Japanese diplomatic corps for his insubordination. He attempted to support his family by functioning as a translator, or an interpreter, and eventually worked as a businessman. It was not until 1969 that Sugihara’s incredible heroism and sacrifice was discovered by a survivor whom he saved. Chiune never spoke of his selfless actions. Chiune Sugihara died on July 31, 1986, at the age of 86.

According to tradition, Japan was founded in 660 BCE on February 11. How appropriate to learn about one of its greatest sons, one who was acclaimed as “Righteous Among the Gentiles” by Yad Vashem.

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Attitude of Gratitude

When anyone does anything that benefits you, your loved ones, your ancestors, or your outer social circle, no matter when it occurred, it is always appropriate to offer gratitude.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Second Temple

When the Babylonians exiled the Jews and destroyed the First Temple, Jeremiah the Prophet promised that the exile would only last 70 years. The return of the Jews, however, was not a miraculous, overnight occurrence, but proceeded more like a slow trickle that began during the reign of Cyrus in Persia and is chronicled in the Books of Ezra and Nechemia.

Once back in Jerusalem, the Jewish people wished to resume the sacrificial service of the Temple. Without the financial resources to rebuild the grand structure of King Solomon's Temple, they chose to complete one section at a time.

That first Tishrei (the month of Rosh Hashana), the Jews built just the altar, in order to be able to offer the many sacrifices of Sukkot, which include offerings to honor the other nations of the world. But it took another seven months (until the month of Iyar) until they were able to pour the foundation of the Temple (Ezra 3).

With only a basic foundation, an altar, and the devotion of the Kohanim (priests) and Levites who served in the Temple, the Jews lived for 15 years with on-and-off construction (more off than on), which was frequently interrupted for political reasons, both internal and external.

Finally, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius, the Second Temple was completed "on the third day of the month Adar... And the children of the exile kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month" (Ezra 6:15, 19).

This Temple was actually a modest building built by a people struggling to revive themselves. More than three hundred years later, Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple to the grandeur we see in most Temple replicas today.


This Treat was last posted on February 17 , 2010.

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Help Build Jerusalem

Like a magnet, Jews have been drawn to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, in each generation. Identify ways to help continue to build our Holy City.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Poles of the Ark

The second half of the book of Exodus commences with parashat Terumah. Nachmanides suggests that while the first half of the Book describes the physical redemption of the Children of Israel from the subservience and shame of slavery in Egypt, the second half of the Book of Exodus identifies a means of spiritual redemption by creating the Tabernacle, a physical structure where Jews can encounter the Divine.

The first vessel of the Tabernacle described in the Torah is the Holy Ark, also known as the “Ark of the Covenant,” a phrase made famous by the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Torah states (Exodus 25:16) that the ark will contain “the testimony which I shall give you.” The Talmud (Bava Batra 14a-b) claims that a variety of historically important items were placed in the ark for safekeeping, including the broken Tablets of Law (which Moses broke upon witnessing the Golden Calf), the second complete set of Tablets of Law, and a Torah scroll written by Moses.

Since the Tabernacle was built for travel and mobility, attachable carrying poles were designed for many of the vessels in order to allow for easy transportation. The Torah, in describing The Ark, the Table upon which the special loaves of bread were placed, the copper altar where animal sacrifice took place, and the golden incense altar, also included commands to create accompanying poles and rings to hold the poles to allow easy movement of the vessels. The Torah, however, contained an anomalous command regarding the rings and poles of the Holy Ark: “The poles shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be taken from it” (Exodus 25:15). Why were the poles of the Holy Ark non-removable, and designed to be a permanent part of the ark?

Some point out that the command to keep the poles permanently attached to the Ark was a practical one. Since the Ark remained sequestered in the Holy of Holies section of the Tabernacle, as such, it was not seen by anyone, save for the High Priest’s one annual encounter in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. But, Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen Kagan, known as the Chafetz Chaim, identified an important lesson that may be derived from the law of the poles of the Ark. The Ark is the most significant material representation of the Torah. It itself contained the Torah! Yet its support, that which carries it, is eternally connected to it. The message is that those who support the Torah are connected intrinsically to the Torah itself. People who enable Torah to be studied, and elevated are literally equal partners with those studying, teaching and immersing themselves in the Torah’s messages.

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Support Torah

Supporting Torah study can be as valuable as studying itself.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Jews Paak their Caaahs As Well!

Aside from having one of the most difficult names to spell, the state of Massachusetts is known for its rich history, serving as a main catalyst for the Revolutionary War, the founding of major universities, the colorful and stereotypical accents of its citizens, and its well-known sports teams which people either love or hate. Massachusetts in general, and the greater Boston area in particular, is also home to a long-standing, enduring, resilient and active Jewish community.

In 1752, Aaron Lopez became the first Jewish citizen naturalized in Massachusetts in 1752. It was Lopez who founded the first Jewish community in Leicester, MA (west of Worcester) along with the family of Jacob Rodriguez Rivera. The two Sephardi families remained in Leicester until after the Revolution. The state’s first permanent Jewish community eventually settled in Boston in the late 1830s and was populated by central European immigrants. Congregation Ohabei Shalom, the state’s first synagogue, was established in the 1840s. After 1840, German and Eastern European peddlers, watchmakers, tailors, shoemakers and small business owners began moving to communities in central and Northern Massachusetts, especially to factory and mill towns including Pittsfield, Worcester, Holyoke, Springfield, Fall River, Lawrence, Lynn and Haverhill. The Sephardic community, dating from prior to the Revolution, endured in the southeastern port of New Bedford, through the 1850s, when Jewish German immigrants arrived. The first Jewish burial in Massachusetts occurred in New Bedford in 1857.

Nationally renowned Jewish institutions such as Brandeis University (Waltham), the National Yiddish Book Center (Amherst), the New England Hassidic Center/the Bostoner Rebbe (Brookline) and Hebrew College (Newton) make their homes in Massachusetts. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston serves as the Federation for the Boston area, while 12 other Jewish Federations serve other communities in Massachusetts. There are 45 Hillel Foundations in Massachusetts colleges (including at two Catholic colleges) and 10 JCCs, in addition to the Boston JCC Association. Countless Massachusetts Jews have served in local, state and Federal government and three Bay State Jews have been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court: Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter and Justice Steven Breyer, who currently serves.

By 1917, 190,000 Jews lived in Massachusetts. The Jewish population grew to 263,000 in 1937, and as of 2017, was determined to be 293,080, 80% of whom live within an hour’s drive of greater Boston. On February 6, 1788, Massachusetts became the 6th state to ratify the United States Constitution.

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Learn the Jewish History of Massachusetts

Before you travel to or through Massachusetts, learn its rich Jewish history.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Leap Year

The Gregorian solar calendar used by the Western world, is based on the cycle of the sun. The tropical (solar) year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds. Thus every four years an extra day is added to the year at the end of February in order to compensate for the loss of 5 3/4 hours each year. 

Unlike Western society, Jews, Muslims and the Chinese all follow a lunar calendar. Like the solar calendar, the lunar calendar has 12 months, with each month measured by the waxing and waning of the moon.

Because the lunar calendar is only 354 days long and does not correspond to the solar cycle, the lunar calendar will not relate to the seasons unless the extra days on the solar calendar are accounted for. If not, a lunar month might occur in spring one year and in winter the next. The lack of coordination between the lunar months and the seasons would not be such a problem for the Jewish calendar, except that it results in a direct contradiction to a Biblical command: “Observe the month of Aviv (Spring), and keep the Passover for the Lord your God; for in the month of Aviv, the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night” (Deuteronomy 16:1).

Consequently, the holiday of Passover must be observed in the Spring. To accomplish this, the month of Adar is doubled during a leap year (Adar I and Adar II). Why Adar? Before the Jewish calendar was fixed by mathematical calculation in 350 C.E. (approximately), the new month was determined by the Sanhedrin based on the testimony of witnesses who had seen the new moon. Likewise, the Sanhedrin declared the leap year based on their observations of the season. Adar, the last month before Nisan (the month of Passover) was the deadline for the declaration of a leap year. 


According to the current calendar, a Jewish leap year occurs seven times every 19 years. This year, 5779, is a leap year, and Adar I begins tonight after sundown.

This Treat was last posted on February 7, 2011.

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Learn the Jewish Calendar

The Jewish people mark time through the Jewish calendar. Every Jewish person should possess a consciousness of Jewish time.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America

In the year 1912, there was no state of Israel, women had not yet earned the right to vote in the U.S., and Henrietta Szold (Baltimore 1860 - Jerusalem 1945) was inspiring Jewish women everywhere. The Daughters of Zion, the organization she started in 1912, was founded to provide medical care to people in what was then Palestine (Israel). Two years later, the organization was renamed Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, after the heroine of Purim. (Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah.)

Hadassah is not unique in its origin as a Zionist organization. What is extraordinary about Hadassah is that it developed into the largest women's service organization in the United States. By the 1990s, well over 300,000 Jewish women were registered members of Hadassah.

Hadassah started small. In 1913-14 they sent two nurses to Palestine. By the 1920s, however, Hadassah had already established a nursing school and two hospitals (one in Tel Aviv and one in Haifa) and was rapidly expanding into youth services. When terror struck the Jews of Germany, Henrietta Szold and the women of Hadassah took charge of the Youth Aliyah movement, bringing hundreds of German Jewish children to Israel. During World War II, Hadassah’s activities continued to expand. The first Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem was opened on Mount Scopus, and Hadassah began two vocational training institutes. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 (which Henrietta Szold, unfortunately, did not live to see, as she passed away in 1945), Hadassah launched a medical school and opened the Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem. By the beginning of the 1950s, Hadassah had transformed itself into a full range social service organization.

Today, Hadassah is still a thriving organization. Through Hadassah, American Jews have enabled Israelis to increase their standard of living and medical care many-fold.


Henrietta Szold died on the 29th of Shevat, 1945.

This Treat was last posted on March 5, 2013.

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Increase Your Zionist Activity

Do what you can to support and promote the State of Israel.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Remembering a Modern Day Jewish Martyr

“My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, CA. My father’s side of the family is Zionist. My mother’s is Jewish. I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel.”

Today marks a very sad anniversary. It was on February 1, 2002, that Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, who uttered the powerful final statement above, was murdered by terrorists, moments later. Three different episodes in Tractate Avodah Zarah (10b, 17a and 18a) record the stories of three individuals, two of whom were not even Jewish, who performed such extraordinary actions of courage prior to their deaths that a heavenly voice declared upon their deaths that they were all immediately welcomed into the eternal Paradise of Heaven. Rabbi Judah the Prince, editor of the Mishnah, upon reading these 3 episodes wept, and declared, “Some people attain the World to Come in one moment.” The statement uttered by Daniel Pearl, with a sword literally poised upon his neck, certainly qualifies as a similar incident, making him a heroic martyr among the large and tragic pantheon of those who have died for being Jews.

Daniel Pearl was born on October 10, 1963 to Ruth and Judea Pearl in Princeton, NJ. The family moved to Los Angeles when Daniel’s father began teaching at UCLA. “Danny” attended Stanford University and in 1985, graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor’s Degree in communications. After college, Danny worked as a journalist in western Massachusetts and in northern California. In 1990, Pearl began his tenure at the Wall Street Journal, working in the Journal’s Atlanta, DC and London bureaus. Eventually he became the Journal’s South Asia Bureau Chief, based in Mumbai, India. At the end of January, 2002, while investigating a story in Pakistan, he was abducted in Karachi by a group identifying itself as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. Claiming Pearl was a spy, the terrorists demanded freeing Pakistani detainees, and the resumption of a halted shipment of US fighter jets to the Pakistani government. They threatened to kill Pearl if their demands were not met.

Nine days later the terrorists beheaded Daniel. Three weeks after Pearl’s murder, a 3 ½ minute video emerged on the internet chronicling his gruesome killing. Over 3 months later, his mutilated remains were found in a shallow grave about 30 miles north of Karachi. A Pakistani philanthropist helped send Pearl’s remains back for burial in the United States. The Daniel Pearl Foundation was formed by Pearl’s parents, and several books were authored inspired by Pearl’s own work, and his last words, including “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.

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Learn about the lives of Jewish Martyrs

The lives and legacies of those who die because they are Jews should be honored.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement

The Mussar movement, the formal study and program of ethical improvement, was developed in the mid-nineteenth century by Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883, his family name was Lipkin but he is known as Salanter in honor of the many years he studied in Salant, Lithuania).

Throughout his years of study, Rabbi Salanter felt that there was far too much cold intellectualism in the Jewish community and too little emphasis on ethics and self-improvement. While some Mussar texts already existed, such as the writings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Rabbi Salanter developed the study and practice of ethics into a true school of thought. The focus of the Mussar movement was the communal study of these existing texts, incorporated with constant self-examination of one's actions.


After serving as the head of the Vilna Yeshiva, Rabbi Lipkin moved to Kovno in the 1840s in order to open his own yeshiva. At the same time he also ran a special center dedicated to the study of ethical works and a kollel (an advanced study institute) for married men. After leaving Kovno in 1856, Rabbi Salanter took positions in several towns of Germany and France.


The most renowned work of Rabbi Salanter is Iggeret ha-Mussar (The Ethical Letter), which was first published in 1858.

While the Mussar movement was successful within the world of the scholars, it was not generally a popular movement. (After all, how popular could it be to sit for an hour each day and criticize yourself?!) Following Rabbi Salanter's death on 25 Shevat in 1883, his disciples worked diligently to integrate Mussar into mainstream traditional education. Eventually it became part of the curriculum in most Lithuanian schools, where students would not only study Mussar, but would regularly hear Mussar Shmoozin (Mussar talks) from the school's mashgiach ruchani (moral supervisor).


This Treat was last posted on February 9, 2010. 


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Seek Opportunities to Improve Character

One of the most valuable endeavors is to devote time to character building and improvement.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jewish Law on the Breakdown Lane

The Torah records two similar verses, one of which can be found in this week’s parasha, Mishpatim, regarding helping travelers with animals and burdens. In parashat Mishpatim (Exodus (23:5), it proclaims, “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving it with him, you shall help him to lift it up.” Later on, (Deuteronomy 22:4), we read: “You shall not watch your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him to lift them up again.”

Maimonides (Laws of Murderers and Maintaining Safety 13:1-2) delineates two different laws based on the two above-mentioned verses. First, if one encounters his friend on the way whose animal is struggling with its cargo, whether it was carrying a load appropriate for it, or too heavy for it, one fulfils a mitzvah by unloading the animal and relieving it of its load (Exodus). However, it is not enough to simply unload the burden from the animal. One must also help re-pack the burden on the animal (Deuteronomy).

While some could view these laws as statutes that are intended to protect the dignity of animals and avoid undue pain to all creatures, known in Hebrew as tzaar ba’alei chayim, based on the placement of these laws, Maimonides views these mandates as responsibilities to one’s fellow human. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leading halachic decisor, derives from the juxtaposition of these verses in Maimonides, the obligation that if one sees another person on a road unable to move his or her automobile, he or she is required to stop and help them. An earlier halakhist, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, writes similarly in his legal code Aruch Hashulchan, that if one sees someone traveling in a horse-and-buggy with a broken wheel, one must help in any way possible until the buggy is ready to continue its journey.

While the Torah often involves itself with areas of ritual, the focus of parashat Mishpatim, addresses our responsibilities to one another. These too were revolutionary at the time the Torah was given.

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Be a Good Samaritan

Looking out for one’s fellow is not merely a nice thing to do. Judaism considers it obligatory.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Brother Against Brother

The origins of sibling rivalry, brother against brother violence and even, God forbid, fratricide, can be traced back to the first family in human history, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Generations later, the Torah describes, in detail, the tension between Joseph and his brothers, and how the brothers almost murdered Joseph, but instead cast him into a pit instead, and then sold him into slavery. Additionally, while the Children of Israel were in the Sinai wilderness, Korach led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, his first cousins.

The first, and perhaps worst, actual civil war among the Jewish people, took place during the period of the Judges (1200-1000 BCE) and was waged against the Tribe of Benjamin. This tragic incident, told in Judges chapters 19 and 20, occurred before there was any unified governance of the Jewish people, prior to the establishment of a Jewish monarchy, when each tribe governed itself.

A man from the mountains of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah. The woman was unfaithful and returned to the home of her parents. After four months, the husband traveled to the home of his concubine to attempt to convince her to return to him. After several days, the man succeeded and began his trek home with his concubine. They stopped over in Giv’ah, a city that was in the tribal jurisdiction of Benjamin, where an elderly man was the only one to invite the man and his concubine in. The citizens surrounded the elderly man’s home, and to save the guest, the concubine was offered to the crowd. She was violated all night by the local Benjaminites and, despite being left for dead in the morning, she was able to make her way to the doorstep of the host, where she died. The husband returned home with the deceased concubine and to demonstrate the evil done to his concubine, chopped up her body and sent a portion to each of the tribes of Israel. Those who received the remains understood how egregious and heinous the act of the Benjaminites had been.

An army of 400,000 men was assembled from all the tribes of Israel on the 23rd of Shevat and a demand was issued that the tribe of Benjamin arrest the perpetrators. The Benjaminites refused and gathered its own army of 26,700 men. While Benjamin won the first two days of battle, the tribe of Benjamin was entirely vanquished on the third day, with only 600 soldiers surviving. The victorious tribes were so aggrieved that they took an oath not to allow their daughters to marry into the tribe of Benjamin. Eventually this edict was lifted many years later on the 15th of Av, which is one of the reasons that the 15th of Av, known as Tu B’av, is known as the “happiest of days” on the Jewish calendar (Talmud Ta’anit 30b).

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Take a Stand

There are times when a moral stand must be taken, to stand up for righteousness, despite deleterious consequences.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Lego on Shabbat

One of the most recognizable toys in the world is Lego. As a matter of fact, in February 2015, Lego was determined to be the “World’s most powerful brand,” replacing the Ferrari automobile. Today, the Lego brand consists of movies, games, competitions, six Legoland amusement parks and over 600 billion Lego pieces that have been created. The modern Lego brick design was patented on January 28, 1958.

The Lego Group, a private company based in Bullund, Denmark, began marketing and creating Lego in 1949, but the company was born in the workshop of Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, who began selling wooden toys in 1932. Lego derives from the Danish “leg godt” which means play well.

Given the popularity of Lego all over the world, including in observant Jewish homes, the question arose whether one can play with Lego on Shabbat. One of the prohibited productive acts of Shabbat (m’lachot) is boneh, building, which is generally understood as being accomplished through creating a roof, and assembling various items together in a permanent way. Would playing with Lego bricks constitute boneh? Others have noted that by using smaller Lego bricks, one could actually sculpt, which falls under the forbidden category of writing.

When discussing the prohibited productive acts of Shabbat, an important factor to be considered is whether the resulting structure is intended to be permanent or temporary. This, of course, is a factor in using Lego. Most would argue that the normal use of Lego is to build and then to disassemble what was built in order to use the Lego blocks to build something else.

Most rabbis argue that connecting Lego bricks without any type of glue, nails or screws, and knowing that what was built is not meant to be permanent, does not fall under the category of boneh (building) and is permissible on Shabbat. Many feel, however, that games such as Lego, while technically permitted, should be avoided by adults and should be reserved for children.

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

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Pop Culture and Jewish Tradition

Jewish tradition, wisdom and law should have voices in all sectors of life, including pop culture. Seek out the contemporary situations and apply ancient wisdom to modernity.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Dancing on Ice

Competing for artistic and athletic mastery on ice has been part of the fun of winter long before the Winter Olympics, and Jews have often taken part in the joy of ice skating. In fact, Louis Rubenstein, called “The Father of Canadian Figure Skating,” was one of the first to incorporate dance-like movements to the act of making figures on ice. Today’s Jewish Treat presents a brief glimpse at some early Jewish figure skating champions.

According to many commentaries, the winner of the 1908 Olympic gold might have been Lily Kronberger (1890-1974), had she competed. Although she did not compete in the Olympics, the Budapest born skater had an incredible career. She won bronze in 1906, at the first World Championship to include women, and again in 1907. In 1908, although not in the Olympics, she not only became the official Hungarian champion, but claimed the first of four successive Gold Medals at the World Championship. Kronberger is also noted for being the first competitive skater in figure skating history to choreograph her routine to music (she brought her own brass band) and to express emotion.

Other great Jewish skaters were Laszlo Szollas (1907 - 1980) and Emilia Rotter (1906 - 2003) who, at both the 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympics, were awarded the Bronze Medal for pairs skating. The Hungarian skaters were also World Champions in 1931, 1933, 1934 and 1935 (with silver in 1932).

Little is known about the fate of Lily Kronberger and Emilia Rotter during World War II other than that they survived. Szollas entered the military and fought against the Soviet Union. He was captured and spent four years in Siberia as a Prisoner of War. Szollas went on to attend medical school and became a Sports Medicine Doctor.

Lily Kronberger was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, as was Emilia Rotter in 1995.


The first Winter Olympics games opened in Chamonix, France, on January 25, 1924.

This Treat was last posted on February 21, 2018. 

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Get Thee Outdoors

Despite the cold wintry weather in many parts of the United States, take advantage of the many outdoor recreational activities that are healthy and fun, while, of course, wearing proper warm clothing.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Where in the World is Moses?

The centerpiece of Parashat Yitro is the Decalogue, the Revelation at Sinai, where the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Utterances (also known as the Ten Commandments) were declared. But you may need some Dramamine if you try to identify Moses’ location during this most seminal moment in human history.

Chapter 19 of Exodus describes the preparations for Revelation as the Children of Israel arrived in the Sinai wilderness. Verse 3 informs us that Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive a message from God for the Children of Israel, describing their chosenness and the miracles God performed on their behalf. Verse 14 states that Moses descended the mountain.

On the day of Revelation, the Children of Israel saw lightning, heard claps of thunder and the enduring sound of the shofar, and the nation of Israel trembled. In the midst of these tremendous natural phenomena, God descends upon Mount Sinai (verse 20) and summons Moses to the top of the mountain. In the very next verse (verse 21), God commands Moses to “go down to the people” and enforce the Divine imperative not to approach the mountain. In verse 24, once again, God commands Moses to, “Go, get you down, and you shall come up, you, and Aaron with you; but let not the priests and the people break through, to come up to the Lord…” The next verse states: “So Moses went down to the people, and spoke to them.” Immediately thereafter (Exodus 20:1), God spoke the words of the Decalogue, the “Ten Commandments.”

Why does God ask Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai so many times prior to Revelation?

A Midrash (Sh’mot Rabbah 28:3) advances the notion that had Moses been atop Mount Sinai during the Revelation, the Israelites may have been unclear if the statements emanated from God or from Moses. Moses was therefore dispatched to be with the people so there would be no ambiguity. Why then all the instructions from God for Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai, despite being 80 years old and in great shape? Rabbi Shmuel Goldin suggests in his Unlocking the Torah Text that his sorties up and down Mount Sinai were meant to teach Moses a lesson about leadership: Ultimately, the leader is the representative of the people that he or she represents. During the greatest moment in human history, consummating God and the Children of Israel’s relationship, Moses needed to be with those whom he represented and for whom he cared. God wanted Moses to learn this lesson on his own, by going up and down Mount Sinai.

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Prioritize Those You Lead

Whether a parent, a boss at work, or a good friend--try to always “be there” for those who need you, look up to, and gain inspiration from you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Learning the Truth of Your Heritage at Age 59: The Amazing Story of Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright broke a glass ceiling when she became the first woman U.S. Secretary of State on January 23, 1997. A few weeks later, at age 59, Madeleine learned that her parents, Josef and Anna (nee Spegelova) Korbelov, were Jews who converted to Catholicism in 1941, and lived and raised their family in the Catholic tradition. They never spoke of their Jewishness. 


Born on May 15, 1937 as Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Secretary Albright's family moved to Great Britain in March, 1939, ten days after the Nazis invaded their home country. After World War II, the Korbel famly moved to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Josef, her father, served as the Czech ambassador to Yugoslavia. In order to avoid communist indoctrination in Belgrade, Marie was sent to finishing school in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she changed her name to Madeleine. On November 11, 1948, the Korbel family arrived in the United States, where Josef assumed a position with the recently-established United Nations. The Korbels then moved to Denver, CO, when Josef became a political science professor at the University of Denver, CO. (Among his students there was future second female U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.)


After attending Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, on a full scholarship, Madeleine married Joseph Albright and balanced caring for her growing family and attending Columbia University, in New York City, where she received her doctorate in 1975. Prior to serving as Secretary of State, Madeleine taught in various universities, served on the National Security Council, and became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.


Although Secretary Albright began to hear rumors of alleged Jewishness for years, she definitively became aware of her Jewish heritage when Washington Post reporters researched her background soon after she was nominated as Secretary of State. The shocking news also revealed that over a dozen relatives, including three grandparents, an uncle, an aunt and a cousin, died in Auschwitz and Terezin. The Washington Post research included Josef Korbel's birth certificate, found in the Czech Foreign Ministry archives, in which he was identified as Jewish. Ironically, the first mention of Madeleine's alleged Jewish roots, came in Arab newspapers citing anonymous sources. They used Madeleine's "Jewishness" as a basis to attack her nomination as Secretary of State. Years later, Secretary Albright returned to Prague and wrote extensively about these revelations in her 2012 book, "Prague Winter."


Secretary Albright became Episcopalian upon her marriage in 1959, decades before learning about her Jewish heritage. One of Secretary Albright's daughters, who considered herself Episcopalian until the 1997 revelations, married a Jewish man, and is raising Jewish children.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate, Celebrate and Transmit Your Family’s Jewish Heritage

Every person should proudly transmit family history to the next generation. For Jews this is both a calling and an imperative.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Happy National Hugging Day

On January 21, 1986, Kevin Zaborney of Clio, Michigan, created “National Hugging Day”. It is observed annually on January 21st. Zaborney felt that “American society is embarrassed to show feelings in public” and felt that his new hugging holiday would change that.

The root of the Hebrew word for hugging is chet.bet.kuf (ch.b.k). A brief perusal of uses of this root throughout the Jewish Scriptures can be instructive and insightful about hugging.

The Torah’s first two huggers are infamous characters, for whom the sages read negative ulterior motives into their hugs. When Rebecca became aware that her son Esau desired to kill her favored son Jacob, she sent Jacob away to the far-away home of her brother Laban. Soon after arriving in Haran, Jacob encountered his future wife Rachel and fell in love with her at first sight. Rachel ran home to inform her father, Laban, about Jacob’s arrival. The Torah records that Laban “kissed Jacob, brought him into his home, and hugged him” (Genesis 29:13.) The rabbis interpreted Laban’s outward display of affection as a way of checking whether Jacob had traveled with hidden valuables in his pockets.

After residing for several decades with Laban, Jacob finally returned home and immediately learned that his long-estranged brother, Esau, was marching toward him with an army of 400 men. The impending confrontation was a source of great anxiety for Jacob. Eventually, when the rendezvous took place, Esau “ran towards him, hugged him, fell on his neck, kissed him and both men wept” (Genesis 33:4). Here too the sages are reluctant to view Esau’s emotional metamorphosis as legitimate, and ascribe ulterior motives, some even suggesting that Esau attempted to kill Jacob.

Yet the very same verb is employed to describe Jacob’s embrace of the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe, as he blessed his two grandsons (Genesis 48:10). No ulterior motives are attributed to Jacob in this context. A similar usage is found regarding the prophet Elisha (Kings II 4:16) where he promises a barren woman that within one year, she will be “hugging” a son. The Zohar identifies that very boy as the prophet Habakuk, whose name is based on the aforementioned Hebrew root ch.b.k.

So, on this “National Hugging Day,” know that the Torah seems to tell us that a hug, when legitimate, can serve as a wonderful expression of one’s love, and is a very effective and desired way to display affection. But beware of those who use hugs to feign love and respect by simply embracing another person while harboring evil thoughts in their hearts.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hug Your Loved Ones

A hug conveys esteem, fraternity and love. Use hugs wisely and often!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it may seem as if winter has just begun, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official (halachic) start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit www.njop.org.

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tu B'Shevat.

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