Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Yiddish in Shanghai

During World War II, Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, became a haven for Jewish refugees, most notably the students from the Mirrer Yeshiva. After the “Battle of Shanghai” in 1937, the imperial Japanese occupied Shanghai. Since passports were not needed to enter, thousands of Austrian and German Jews arrived, joining the established Jewish community there, which consisted of about 4,000 Russian Jews from Czarist Russia and Iraqi Jews, who had arrived decades earlier.

Between 1938 and 1941, 19,451 Jewish refugees arrived in Shanghai by land and by sea. The 400-strong delegation from the Mirrer yeshiva in Lithuania arrived in 1941. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, immigration into Shanghai was severely curbed, stricter security measures were imposed, and, most notably, the flow of funds from the Joint Distribution Committee ceased. Many of the Baghdadi Jews who were British subjects were interned after Pearl Harbor, since England had also joined the war against Japan.

Since the Japanese allied themselves with Nazi Germany, they accepted the “Third Reich’s” claim that the Jewish refugees were stateless. The Japanese therefore stripped the Eastern European immigrants of their citizenship, and on February 18, 1943, they were forcibly moved to a designated area, to be known as the Shanghai Ghetto, a ¾ square square mile area within Shanghai’s Hongkou district. The Yiddish speaking refugees called the city “shond chai,” shame of a life in Yiddish. Ghetto residents bore passports with a yellow line, and lived under curfew and food rations, but were not restricted in travel or dress.

Jewish life continued in the ghetto. The Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which had been built in 1907, served as the center of the Russian immigrant community. In April, 1941, another Ashkenazic synagogue was built, dubbed “The New Synagogue.” The Mirrer Yeshiva students pursued their studies in the Beth Aharon Synagogue which had been built years earlier by a wealthy member of the Shanghai Sephardic community.

The U.S. 7th Air Force began bombing Shanghai in 1944, ending with Japan’s surrender in August, 1945. The most devastating air raid over Shanghai took place on July 17, 1945, which killed 38 Jewish refugees and hundreds of Chinese. The Hongkou district did not have any bomb shelters.

Evelyn Pike Rubin, grandmother of NJOP program coordinator Gavi Lerner, chronicled her stay in the Shanghai Ghetto in her book, “Ghetto Shanghai.” Ms. Rubin wrote that after hearing that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed with “a new kind of bomb,” those in Shanghai worried that Shanghai would be targeted next.

Only after the war did they learn of the heartbreaking fate of their kinsmen back in Eastern Europe.

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Visit Sites of Jewish Interest when you travel

Jews have been around for a long time and you never know which cities have hosted Jewish populations. Seek out the history of Jewish life in the areas where you travel.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Written for Their Sons

Imagine traveling forward 500 years in time and discovering multitudes of people studying something you had written for your child. Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding multiple editions of that work, many of them with commentaries. In the world of Jewish scholarship, there are two such works that have gained this status. 

The Sefer Hachinuch, the Book of Education, was written by an unknown author believed to have lived in Barcelona in the 13th century. Based on Maimonides’ enumeration of the 613 mitzvot as recorded in Sefer Hamitzvot, the author (who is generally referred to as the Sefer Hachinuch) wrote in-depth explanations and rationales for each mitzvah. He included a review of the practical halacha (Jewish law), along with each mitzvah’s Biblical source and philosophical background. The book itself was written specifically for his son. 
While little is known about the author or the intended recipient of the Sefer Hachinuch, in contrast, a great deal is known about the Iggeret Haramban, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman’s letter to his eldest son, Nachman. The Ramban (a.k.a. Nachmanides) also lived in 13th century Spain. The Iggeret Haramban is not simply a father’s advice to his son on how to live a good life, but an original mussar treatise (except that the Mussar Movement, which focused on character development, only became popular in the mid 1800s). In his masterful letter, which he suggested that his son review once a week, the Ramban advised on the importance of avoiding anger, focusing on humility before others and God, and being diligent in both prayer and Torah study.

The Sefer HaChinuch was first printed on the 13th of Tammuz, 1523.

This Treat was last posted on June 26, 2012.

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Identify Spiritual Pursuits for Children on Shabbat

In addition to sumptuous food, and playing with friends, it behooves those responsible for children to identify spiritual pursuits for them on Shabbat as well, be they prayers, or Torah study.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Gummi Worms, Gelatin and Jews

Today is Gummi Worm Day, celebrating the popular sweet and sour candy, which was created by the German confectionary company, Trolli. Gummy Bears were created in 1922 by another German candy company, Haribo.

One of the classic ingredients in gummi worms is gelatin, which is made by boiling in water the ligaments, bones and skin of animals. Gelatin is used as the basis of jelly, glue and other highly adhesive substances, like… gummi worms.

Most gelatins in the United States are made from the collagen (a group of fibrous proteins found in connective tissue fibrils and bones) from non-kosher animals. While there is a general principle that derivatives from a non-kosher animal are not kosher, the Talmud (Chullin 114a) states that one who cooks animal bones with milk has not violated the prohibition of cooking milk and meat, since bones are not considered meat on a Biblical level. This principle is codified in Jewish law. While the product of cooking milk with bones is considered to be prohibited by the rabbis, one can claim that the bone is completely inedible, and the product of the bone and milk may not be prohibited at all. As such, one of the leading rabbis of the early 20th century, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, permitted the consumption of gelatin from non-kosher animals, claiming the product is almost always nullified 60 to 1, in the kosher product (Achiezer, 3:33:5). Rabbi Ovadia Yosef concurred. Other sages dissented. Rabbi Aaron Kotler argued that taking the “gelatin” from the bones, reconstitutes the bone and renders it edible. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, widely considered the most prominent authority on Jewish law in the world until his death in 1986, agreed with Rabbi Kotler. Clearly, there are great sages on both sides.

Most U.S. kosher supervising agencies are stringent, respecting the positions of Rabbis Kotler and Feinstein. Of course, gelatin from non-meat sources, from kosher meat, or from kosher fish can be used. Today, kosher gummi worms are made mostly from fish gelatin.

So no worries, Jewish Treats readers. Enjoy your kosher gummi worms!

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Modern Day Kosher Finds Ways to Be Inclusive

When marrying the ancient kosher laws with modern day food technology, the kosher consumer is able to benefit from most types of cuisine.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Fast of the Past

In just over a week, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Jews around the world will fast to commemorate multiple tragedies and to mark the beginning of the three-week period that concludes on Tisha B’Av (9 Av). These fast days are two of the four fasts that are associated with the destruction of the Holy Temples, about which it is written: “the prophet (Zechariah 8:19) calls these days both days of fasting and days of joy, signifying that when there is peace they shall be for joy and gladness, but if there is not peace they shall be fast days” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 18b). 

When these words were stated, however, the fast in the month of Tammuz was observed on the 9th day of Tammuz, not the 17th. In fact, the history of the 9th of Tammuz demonstrates exactly how a fast day can be transformed into a day of joy and feasting:

The Book of Jeremiah clearly describes the events that took place on the 9th of Tammuz in the 11th year of the reign of King Zedekiah: “A breach was made in the city, that all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the middle gate...” (39:2-3). King Zedekiah and all the “men of war” tried to flee but were caught. His sons and the nobles of Judea were killed by Nebuchadnezzer and then King Zedekiah was blinded and bound in chains (39:3-8).

The 9th of Tammuz was a day of great tragedy for the Jews, and, according to tradition, it was maintained as a national fast throughout the Babylonian exile. However, when the Jewish people were allowed to return to the Promised Land and to rebuild the Temple, the somber day became a feast day. Alas, that feast day was cancelled when the Second Temple was destroyed, but the 9th of Tammuz did not become a day of mourning again. Instead, the tragedy of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem during the First Temple is included in the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans).

*In 2019, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed on Sunday, July 21st, on the 18th of Tammuz, and the fast of the 9th of Av will be observed on Sunday, August 11th, the 10th of Av.

This Treat was last posted on July 15, 2016.

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Commemorate Important Jewish Dates in History

Become familiar with the many events that occurred in Jewish History. Our sages have taught that past events often repeat themselves in some way or another.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The 10th Cow

Parashat Chukat opens with the very cryptic and inexplicable law of the Red Heifer. This completely unblemished red calf, with no more than two non-red hairs, and that had never been worked or been mounted, was used to purify men and women who had become spiritually defiled by coming in contact with a human corpse.

Maimonides (Laws of the Red Heifer, 3:4) writes that nine heifers have been processed, from the time of the initial command in our parashah, until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. “Moses performed the ritual on the first one, and Ezra the Scribe burned and prepared the second one. An additional seven were used until the end of the Second Commonwealth. The tenth will be facilitated by King Messiah, may his identity be speedily revealed.” The sages in the Mishnah (Parah 3:5) claim that the seven latter heifers were prepared by the following: two by Shimon HaTzaddik; two by Yochanan the Kohen Gadol; one by Elihoenai the son of Ha-Kof; one by Chanamel the Egyptian; and the ninth by Yishmael son of Piebi.

Throughout history, Jews’ hope has been aroused when word of a newborn pure red heifer is heard. Perhaps, people reason, this is a harbinger of the Messianic age. Red heifers have come and gone, each one being invalidated in one way or the other.

However, enter the Temple Institute, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Rabbi Chaim Richmond, the Institute’s director, is trying to prepare, in advance, as much as possible for the building of the Third Temple and raising awareness. The Institute has begun crafting the Temple vessels, sewing clothes for the priests, and training modern day priests in the laws pertaining to ritual purity and the Temple. It should come as no surprise that a component of their lofty agenda is to identify the tenth Red Heifer.

As a consequence, the Institute is working with an unidentified cattle ranch in Israel’s Golan region to produce a kosher Red Heifer. The rancher primarily raises Simmental cattle, a popular breed in Israel, but a few years ago, the Temple Institute contacted him about raising red angus cattle as well. Red Angus are known to be obedient cattle, producing delicious meat. After researching the breed in the U.S., the rabbis at the Temple Institute believe it could be the source for the tenth Red Heifer. Since importing cattle into Israel is forbidden, the Institute succeeded in importing frozen red angus embryos into Israel, which have already been implanted into domestic species. All are hoping for a fully red female heifer to be born, and cared for, preparing it for its critical mission.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study Laws Pertaining to the Messianic Era

One of the principles of Judaism is to believe in the coming of a Messiah, a new Jewish king. Studying laws pertaining to that era fulfils this principle.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

“That’s All Folks…”

Melvin Jerome Blank, known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” was born on May 30, 1908, in San Francisco, CA, to Frederick and Eva Blank. While in high school in Portland, OR, Mel changed his surname from Blank to Blanc, when a teacher told him that he would amount to nothing, like his last name, Blank.

After graduating Lincoln High School in Portland, in 1927, Mel served as the youngest conductor of an orchestra, performed in vaudeville shows in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and made his radio acting debut on Portland’s KGW, where his ability to voice different characters attracted attention. Mel married Estelle Rosenbaum in 1928, who, in 1935, encouraged him to move to Los Angeles and bring his formidable vocal talents to the Warner Bros.’ owned station KFWB in Hollywood. Mel worked on the Jack Benny Program, The Abbot and Costello Show, Burns and Allen and G.I. Journal. From September 3, 1946 to June 24, 1947, Mel starred in the “Mel Blanc Show.” 

Mel Blanc is most associated with his classic audio tracks for animated cartoons. In 1936, Mel joined Leon Schlesinger Productions who produced cartoon shorts for Warner Bros. Fate had Mel replace Joe Dougherty, who voiced Porky Pig, with whom Blanc will always be associated, and he also debuted the lisping Daffy Duck. In 1940, Blanc began voicing “Looney Tunes” characters, such as the iconic Bugs Bunny. Blanc also created the famous laugh of Universal Pictures’ “Woody Woodpecker, but he was replaced due to his exclusive agreement with Warner Bros. In 1960, After his exclusive contract with Warner Bros. lapsed, Blanc worked for Hanna-Barbera productions, voicing the audio for Barney Rubble on “The Flintstones” and Cosmo Spacely of “The Jetsons.” 

Blanc’s voice provided the audio for Bugs Bunny, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat (which Blanc claimed was merely his own voice with a spray lisp at the end) Dino the Dinosaur, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Secret Squirrel, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, Tasmanian Devil, Tom and Jerry, Yosemite Sam, and Wally Gator. Blanc was so identified with his voices that after a serious car accident which left him in a two-week coma, a doctor, trying an unorthodox approach, asked his patient, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?” After a slight pause, Blanc weakly answered, “Eh… just fine, Doc. How are you?” The doctor then asked Tweety if he was there too. Blanc’s response: “I tawt a taw a puddy tat.”

Blanc died on July 10, 1989 in Los Angeles. In his will, Blanc instructed that his tombstone read, “That’s All Folks.” Both Mel and his creation, Bugs Bunny, possess stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate the Artistry of Fellow Jews

As if a relative were performing, we should view the artistic offerings of fellow Jews as opportunities to both support their contributions and celebrate their accomplishments.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Before Evian became a popular brand of natural spring water, the French resort of Evian was host to an international conference to address the mounting crisis of Jews seeking to escape the genocidal fangs of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Five years after Hitler rose to power in 1933, with a goal of making Germany judenrein (cleaned from Jews), 150,000 German Jews, ¼ of Germany’s Jewish population, fled the country. In March, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria, another 185,000 Jews came under German hegemony. Increasingly, Jews could not find host countries that would accept them.

Back in 1924, due to fear that immigrants would claim jobs from Americans, the United States established immigration quotas. In 1929, the advent of the Great Depression made matters worse. While pressure mounted on President Franklin D. Roosevelt to absorb Jews living under Hitler, the U.S. government was reluctant to open its borders. F.D.R. called for an international conference in Evians-les-Bains, France, beginning on July 6, 1938, corresponding to the 7th of Tammuz, attracting 32 countries and 24 non-governmentafl organizations (NGOs).

Although the nine-day conclave featured soaring sympathetic rhetoric for the plight of those seeking to escape Nazi Germany, the U.S. and Great Britain continued to offer excuses why they were unwilling to open the gates of their respective nations. Only the Dominican Republic accepted an additional 100,000 Jewish refugees. Costa Rica later followed. Instead of dispatching his Secretary of State, F.D.R. chose to send his friend, businessman Myron C. Taylor to Evian. Golda Meir attended as an observer, representing British Mandatory Palestine, but was not allowed to speak or participate. 

Four months after the relative failure of Evian, Kristallnacht occurred, making the need to emigrate from Germany even more critical. Weeks later, drafting began on an immigration bill allowing refugee children in to the United States, which was supported by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who took her first public position on a policy issue, citing the Kindertransports, that Western European nations undertook. In February, 1939, Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) and Congresswoman Edith Rogers (R-MA) sponsored identical bills to admit 20,000 German refugee children under the age of 14 over a two-year period, assuring that the children would be supported by private donations. President Roosevelt never commented on the Wagner-Rogers Bill and powerful members of Congress opposed the bill fearing it would increase unemployment in the U.S. The American public seemed reluctant to open the border, despite two strikes against the Jews desperately trying to leave Nazi German’s clutches: the arrival of the ill-fated S.S. St. Louis* and the infamous British third White Paper, which barred Jews from entering Palestine or buying land. World War II broke out on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.

Tragically, the failure of the Evian Conference and the inability to pass Wagner-Rogers in some form, led to many more Jews being murdered by the Third Reich.

*In May, 1939, the St. Louis, arrived in Cuba from Hamburg, Germany, but was not permitted to allow its 937 refugees to disembark in Cuba, or in the United States. The ship returned to Western Europe and 254 passengers were later murdered by the Nazi machine.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Refugees

In addition to advocacy on their behalf, there are many ways to help refugees, including volunteering and/or donating to bona fide aid organizations.

Monday, July 8, 2019

What’s in the Book: Ezekiel

The 48 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel are filled with wondrous visions. Ezekiel’s first vision is of a fiery chariot drawn by creatures with four faces (of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle) and four sets of wings.

God instructed Ezekiel to withdraw into his home and to remain mute from all but that which God tells him to speak. During this time, he physically acted out his prophecies (sort of like performance art): “You also, son of man, take a tile, and lay it before you, and trace upon it a city, even Jerusalem; and lay siege against it, and build forts against it...” (4:1)

The Book of Ezekiel also contains several potent parables, such as the wife who turned to harlotry (Israel as God’s unfaithful bride) and the young vine that withers (the fall of the House of David). At God’s command, he sets aside the ritual mourning for his departed wife as a warning to the people that when Jerusalem falls they too will be unable to mourn.

However, Ezekiel also spoke of a new leadership emerging, the return to Israel and a truly eternal covenant being affirmed.

The “Dry Bones” is the most famous of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Ezekiel was transported to a valley full of bones that then return to life (“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off...Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel” - 37:11-12).

Ezekiel first appeared as a prophet on the 5th of Tammuz, as it states (Ezekiel 1:1-3): “And it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Kevar river, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s exile, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans, by the Kevar river; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him.”

This Treat was last posted on December 20, 2010.

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Study the Hebrew Prophets

The words of the Jewish prophets are relevant even in our day. It behooves all Jews to familiarize themselves with the words of these holy men and women.

Friday, July 5, 2019

“The Rebbe”

Jews worldwide observe the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, on the 3rd of Tammuz, which is observed tonight and tomorrow.

“The Rebbe” was born on April 18, 1902, in Nokolaev, Russia. His last name, Schneerson, indicates that he was a descendant of the originator of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s erudition was recognized at an early age. He spent his formative years immersed in the study of Torah, and, later, in addition, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, and the University of Berlin, Germany, where he interacted with other notable Torah personalities, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, and Nehama Leibowitz. In 1929, Rabbi Menachem Mendel married Chaya Mushka, the daughter of the (sixth) Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950), who assumed the mantle of leading the Chabad Hassidic movement in 1920.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chaya Mushka arrived in the United States in June, 1941, joining his illustrious father-in-law, who, in March, 1940, became the first European Hassidic leader to immigrate to the United States. Rabbi Menachem Mendel helped create Chabad’s Central Organization for Jewish Education, Chabad’s Kehot Publication Society and a social service agency. About a year after the passing of the sixth Rebbe in 1950, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, one of two sons-in-law of the previous Rebbe, became the leader of Chabad. He made outreach a fundamental pillar of the mission of Chabad, and encouraged the creation of Lubavitch centers and Chabad Houses all over the world. During the Rebbe’s more than 40 years of leadership, he became one of the most beloved and recognized religious leaders in the world, primarily due to the Rebbe’s love for every fellow Jew, and his tremendous charisma and brilliance. He created “mitzvah campaigns” to educate the masses of Jews devoid of any Jewish knowledge. Under the Rebbe’s leadership, Chabad, and its growing army of shluchim (emissaries), placed in cities and on campuses world-wide, stressed 10 areas of Jewish life: women lighting Shabbat candles, men laying tefillin, placing a mezuzah on one’s doors, studying Torah, giving tzedakah (righteous charity), collecting Jewish books, observing kashrut (the dietary laws), loving one’s fellow Jews, committing to Jewish education of children and observing the laws of family purity.

On March 2, 1992, while praying at his father-in-law’s gravesite, Rabbi Schneerson suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body, and prevented him from speaking. He passed away two years later on June 12, 1994, corresponding to the 3rd of Tammuz. His burial site, adjacent to that of his father-in-law, has become a pilgrimage site for tens of thousands of Jews, who come to pay respects to one of the generation’s most pious, successful and visible Jewish leaders. The entire burial area has become a holy space reserved for prayer and contemplation.

May the Rebbe’s memory be a blessing!

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Seek to Engage Jewishly

If there’s any universal message the Chabad movement would want absorbed in memory of the Seventh Rebbe, it would be to do mitzvot and engage Jewishly.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Right and Wrong Ways of Declaring Independence

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, officially seceding from the British Crown. This year, July 4th falls during the week of parashat Korach (outside the state of Israel). It is worth comparing the justification of Korach and his band’s rebellion with that of the Founding Fathers.

The Torah is cryptic about Korach’s reasons for fomenting mutiny. The verse, “And Korach took,” (Numbers 16:1) opens itself up to rabbinic interpretation. The rabbis add that Korach felt that he was just as capable of serving as the High Priest as his cousin Aaron, and claimed that Moses’ selection of his brother Aaron for the role, was based on pure nepotism. Others claim that he felt humiliated when all of his body hair was shaven, in preparation for his functioning in the Tabernacle as a Levite (see Numbers 8:7).

Korach convinced 250 members of the tribe of Reuben to join his “fifth column.” The rabbis explain that since their ancestor (Reuben) was the first-born of Jacob, Korach convinced them to protest their lack of playing any role in the leadership of the Children of Israel. Also, the tribe of Reuben was physically situated near where Korach lived, so Korach successfully riled up his neighbors to join his cause.

The absence of definitive rationales in the Torah tells the reader that the rationales were secondary to the cause.

The Declaration of Independence begins by justifying secession. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Jefferson and his co-authors’ brilliant, audacious and completely groundbreaking political philosophy on government, which function as the underpinnings of America’s Constitutional Republic, are only expressed after a case is made why a new nation was necessary and that co-existence was impossible.

The Declaration of Independence ends with a pledge of unity: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Legend relates that the oldest of the signers of the Declaration, Benjamin Franklin, allegedly commented after signing, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” The Sages in Pirkei Avot (5:17) claim: “Any dispute for the sake of heaven will ultimately be realized. Any dispute not for the sake of heaven will not come to fruition.” The example offered for the former case are the debates between the sages Hillel and Shammai; the Mishnah cites the dispute between Korach and “his band” as an example of the latter. The commentaries note that the Mishnah did not cite the debate between “Korach and Moses.” It was the infighting within Korach’s own faction that testified to it not being based upon idealism.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read the Declaration of Independence

The document prepared by the Founding Fathers is one of the greatest statements of purpose ever written by human beings. Read it, or watch the re-enactment of its reading in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Franz Kafka was born into a Jewish family on July 3, 1883 near the Old Town Square in Prague, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz was the eldest of six children (two tragically died in infancy), who grew up in a German-Yiddish speaking home. Franz died just short of his 41st birthday, on June 3, 1924, from laryngeal tuberculosis, from which he suffered for many years. The surviving three Kafka children, Ellie, Valli and Ottla, perished during the Holocaust.

After attending elite schools in Prague, Franz enrolled in the Deutsche Karl-Ferdinands–Universitat of Prague in 1901 to study law. During law school, he and his life-long friend Max Brod, immersed themselves in the great works of literature, reading them in their original languages; in Kafka’s native German and Czech, in addition to Greek and French. After law school, Franz took jobs with insurance companies, but more and more, Franz focused on his writing and took a great interest in the Yiddish theatre and Yiddish literature. Although Kafka declared himself an atheist while an adolescent, and he did not portray overt Jewish characters in his works, many literary experts see a profound Jewish influence in his writing.

Kafka engaged in very erratic behavior. He would write the chapters of his novels out of order. He never completed any of his full-length novels, and actually burned 90% of the drafts he wrote. Yet, on the night of September 22, 1912, Kafka wrote the entire story “Das Urteil” (The Verdict) and dedicated it to his then fiancée. He wrote a “last will and testament” asking for his diaries, manuscripts, letters and sketches to be burned unread.

How then did Kafka’s works break through the international word of publishing?

Despite Kafka’s final wishes, Brod, a Zionist, took many of Kafka’s works to Palestine in 1939. Franz’ final paramour, Dora Diament, also ignored similar wishes and kept 20 notebooks and 35 letters, all of which were confiscated by the Gestapo. Brod published most of what he had, and Kafka’s works became popular and acclaimed posthumously. In 1961, the Oxford Bodleian Library acquired most of Kafka’s original handwritten works.

Brod died in 1968 and left Kafka’s unpublished papers to his secretary, Esther Hoffe. She released or sold some of them and left the majority to her daughters. When the Hoffe daughters refused to release the Kafka originals, they were sued by the National Library of Israel, who claimed ownership of the manuscripts due to Brod’s immigration to British Mandatory Palestine. A Tel Aviv Family Court ruled in October, 2012, that the manuscripts indeed belonged to the National Library.

The term “Kafkaesque” has entered the cultural vernacular, based on plots in some of Franz’ works, such as “The Trial” and “The Metamorphosis.” It connotes situations where bureaucracies control people, and when people become stuck in enigmatic, dark, nightmarish and disorienting situations.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support the Literary Works of Jewish Authors

When selecting literary works to read, support Jewish writers.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Does the Torah Support Belief in Extra Terrestrial Life?

Today, July 2, is celebrated, world-wide, as “World UFO Day.” On July 2, 1947, W.W. “Mac” Brazel discovered a metallic object on his Roswell, NM ranch. The U.S. government claimed that it was a high altitude balloon. Conspiracy theorists claim the government covered up an alien invasion.

For thousands of years, UFOs and ETs have captured the imagination of human literature. Humankind has always been obsessed with knowing if other creatures inhabit other parts of our vast universe.

What is the Jewish attitude toward extra-terrestrial life?

There are Jewish sources which may support life on other planets.

The Torah (Genesis 6:4) describes nefilim being on earth. According to the commentary of Yonatan ben Uziel, these beings were called nefilim because they literally “fell from heaven.” Rabbi Yehudah ben Barzilai Nasi (11th century Spain), who wrote a commentary on the esoteric and enigmatic Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Creation), opines, based on these verses, that there is indeed intelligent life on other planets.

In the victory song commemorating Barak and Deborah’s conquest over Sisera and his troops, one of the verses states, “Cursed is Meroz, cursed are its inhabitants” (Judges 5:23). Prior to this (Ibid verse 20), Barak and Deborah claim, “they fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” The Talmud (Moed Katan 16a) asks what is Meroz? The Talmud answers that some say that Meroz was an individual, but others claim it is the name of a star.

Based on a verse in Ezekiel (48:35), the Talmud (Avodah Zara 3b) records that “God flies through 18,000 worlds,”. The mystical Tikunei Zohar suggests that these 18,000 worlds are planets ruled by tzadikim, righteous individuals. Another Talmudic source (Sanhedrin 92b) claims that these righteous people are given wings to travel from planet to planet.

Other Jewish sources appear to negate any possibility of extra-terrestrial intelligent life. Midrashic sources note that God created this world – i.e. earth – in order to give the Torah to the Jewish people (Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 and 3:7). The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was familiar with the mystical literature on extra-terrestrial life, asserted that intelligent life is defined by the ability to choose right from wrong. Free will, he proclaimed, can only take place with the existence of the Torah. Absent God’s blueprints, there cannot be intelligent life. The Rebbe also claimed that it would be impossible to have a second Torah, since Torah is truth, and truth can’t be duplicitous.

Jewish sources allow for extra-terrestrial life. Our role is to follow the Torah, which came from God in Heaven, and to try to perfect and protect the earth which humankind inhabits.

Happy ‘World U.F.O. Day.”

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fix This World!

Before contemplating life in the vast beyond, focus your energy on fixing the world we inhabit.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Harts of Quebec

The first Jewish settlers in the area now known as Quebec (but which was referred to as “Lower Canada” by the British) arrived with the British soldiers during the “French and Indian War” (1754-1763). (Jews and other non-Catholics had not been permitted in New France.)

One of four Jewish officers in the British Army, Lieutenant Aaron Hart (born 1724, London, England) had been living in New York. After the war, however, Hart settled in the Canadian town of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers). The scion of a mercantile family, it was not long before Hart achieved success as a businessman and a landholder. As the Jewish population in Lower Canada grew, Hart became active in the community and was a founding member of Montreal’s Shearith Israel synagogue. Hart was equally blessed in his family life; after his death at age 76, he was survived by his wife, Catherine, four sons and four daughters.

Three of his sons were also fascinating historical figures:

Moses Hart was a successful businessman whose political aspirations continually ended in failure. Although his Jewishness may have kept him from office, his failure at politics may also have been the result of his personal life--his wife left him due to his infidelity, he was excessively fascinated by steam ships, and he published philosophical tracts on Judaism and Deism.

Ezekiel Hart, on the other hand, was very successful in politics. He was elected to the Parliament of Lower Canada in 1807, but, after taking the oath of office on a Hebrew Bible, was made to stand down. When he was elected a second (and third) time, and recited the traditional oath of office, the legislature still pushed him out of office.

Benjamin Hart suffered similar discrimination. The local militia commander felt that Christians could not serve with or under a Jew. During the War of 1812, however, Benjamin served first as a private and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, a position of which he was stripped when he signed the Annexation Manifesto calling for political union with the United States.

July 1st is Canada Day, the anniversary of the passage of the British North America Act in 1867, by the British Parliament, granting self-governance to Canada. Prior to October 27, 1982, the date was known as “Dominion Day.”

This Treat was last posted on July 1, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wish your Canadian friends a Happy Canada Day

Although Americans share many values, a language and land mass with our “Canuck” neighbors to the north, Canadians have their own national identity and celebrate it proudly. Contact your Canadian friends and family to wish them a Happy Canada Day.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Why Were Scouts of the Promised Land Needed?

The most devastating punishment meted out by God in the Torah is described in this week’s parashah.

God commands Moses to send 12 scouts – one representing each tribe - to reconnoiter the Promised Land that the Children of Israel were poised to enter. Rashi (Numbers13:2) claims that God did not command Moses to dispatch the spies, but rather, Moses could send them at his own discretion, since members of the Children of Israel had approached him, asking for a scouting report of their future homeland. Rashi’s comments are based on Biblical sources later (Deuteronomy 1:21-23), where Moses recounts how the scouting mission began. “Behold, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged. And you came near me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by which way we must go up, and to what cities we shall come. And the saying pleased me well; and I took twelve men of you, one from each tribe…”

The scouts returned with a report based on facts presented out of context that were meant to intimidate and scare the people, and their plan worked. God told the Jewish people over the age of 20 that as a result of believing the “fake news” about the Land of Israel reported by ten of the twelve scouts, they would not enter the Land of Israel. Tradition states since the women and the entire tribe of Levi refused to believe the report, they were not included in the punishment.

If Moses resented the request to send scouts, hoping the Children of Israel would trust God to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, why were the scouts ultimately allowed to be sent in the first place?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained, that although the Children of Israel should have trusted God completely, there is precedent for why the scouts should have seen the land prior to entering it.

Moses needed no military intelligence when the Jews left Egypt, and he needed none here. Moses knew very well that the entry to the Land of Israel would be accompanied by miracles, as was the Exodus. There was no need to send spies to collect intelligence data. Instead, Moses acted in accordance with the principle that one must not propose to, let alone wed, a woman he does not know, no matter how highly recommended she may be (Talmud Kiddushin 41a). (Chumash Mesoras Harav, Sefer Bamidbar, with commentary based upon the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, pp. 99).

It was necessary for the scouts to actually see the land, before the “marriage” with the Land of Israel was consummated.

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Seeing is Believing!

Prior to finalizing any deal or merger, including marriages, learn as much as you can before “signing on the dotted line.”

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Operation Thunderbolt

When Air France Flight 139 left the Tel Aviv airport on the afternoon of June 27, 1976, the passengers and crew could not have imagined the terrifying, yet heroic, events of which they would be a part. The flight flew from Tel Aviv to Athens, and, after a quick refuel, was on its way to Paris. The four terrorists who boarded in Athens, however, had other plans. Not long after the plane began to cruise, the terrorists forced the pilot to redirect the flight to Uganda, an African nation controlled then by the ruthless dictator Idi Amin, who gave the hijackers his full support.

The passengers were taken off the plane at a disused airport terminal in Entebbe. The terrorists, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, demanded $5 million USD and the release of 53 Palestinian or Pro-Palestinian prisoners by July 1st. As the diplomatic shuffling began, the terrorists separated the Israeli passengers, approximately 105 people, including a few non-Israelis and the crew, from the rest of the passengers. The non-Israeli group of hostages was released over the next few days.

As negotiations continued and the deadline was moved to July 4th, the Israeli government realized that action was needed. With little time and facing tremendously difficult odds, Israel planned and implemented an unthinkable rescue operation. (It helped that the now unused terminal in Entebbe had originally been designed by Israeli architects who still knew the layout!)

Over 200 commando troops were flown to Uganda, traveling seven and a half hours under the radar of un-friendly territory. They landed and approached the terminal in what appeared to be Idi Amin’s personal convoy and snuck into the building. Once they were detected, a firefight broke out. Three passengers were, unfortunately killed, but the vast majority made it home. Many Israeli soldiers were wounded, but only one, unit commander Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu) was killed.

Operation Thunderbolt, as it was officially called, is often referred to as Operation Entebbe or, more recently, as Operation Yonatan in honor of the raid’s fallen leader.

This Treat was last posted on June 27, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Israeli Military Prowess

Study the military victories of the storied Israel Defense Force, and in particular the Israeli Air Force, and see the Hand of God protecting the State of Israel.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Purim Story 2.0: the First Jewish Defense Outside of Israel

The Scriptural story how Queen Esther saved the Jews of the Persian Empire is one of the greatest and most exciting stories ever told. Jews worldwide celebrate the festival of Purim due to Esther’s heroism, leading to God’s intervention to save the Jewish people. Esther’s plan came to fruition at her second banquet, and Haman, the story’s villain, is sentenced by a furious King Achashverosh, to hang on the same gallows that Haman had built to murder his nemesis, Mordechai. One would think that Megillat Esther, the scroll of Esther, authored by Esther and Mordechai, which dramatically tells the story of the miracle, would end with the death of Haman. Isn’t the demise of the villain supposed to cue the heroes riding into the sunset?

Yet Megillat Esther does not end there. Haman’s death is recorded at the end of chapter 7; but Megillat Esther continues through chapter 10. It turns out, there’s a whole other story to tell.

Chapter 8 of the Megillah begins with King Achashverosh bequeathing Haman’s house to Queen Esther and giving his royal ring to Mordechai, who succeeded Haman as Prime Minister. Queen Esther then falls before her husband, the King, pleading with him to recall Haman’s edict to destroy all the Jews of Persia and Media, which bore the impression of the king’s ring, which Achashverosh had “given” to Haman for a fee. The King explained to Esther and Mordechai that “the decrees which are issued in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, no man can revoke” (Esther 8:8). He does allow Mordechai and Esther to send any message they desired to the citizenry of the empire, which would be accompanied by the king’s seal.

What did they do? Megillat Esther records that, “the king’s scribes were called at that time in the third month, that is, the month of Sivan, on its twenty-third day” (Ibid. verse 9) that the king had authorized the Jews the option to defend themselves and kill any army poised to destroy them nine months hence, on the 13th of Adar, the date Haman selected through lots to destroy the Jews. As Megillat Esther describes immediately afterwards (Ibid verses 15-16), granting the Jews carte blanche permission to defend themselves from those bent on harming them, led to great joy among the Jews. Upon receiving this royal edict, the Jews celebrated with feasts. At the same time, the Megillah reports that members of Achashverosh’s kingdom opted to convert to Judaism, due to their fear of the impending defensive war the Jews would wage. The Megillah further relates (Esther 9:3) that all the administrators, governors, and officials of the 127 provinces aided the Jews, due to their great respect for Mordechai, who had become very powerful in the kingdom (Ibid. verse 3-4). The Megillah reports that on the 13th and 14th of Adar, 800 men plus Haman’s ten sons were killed in the capital city of Shushan. Outside of Shushan, the Jews killed 75,000 enemies.

Today is the 23rd day of Sivan.

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War Ethics

Tanach, the Jewish Scriptures, were canonized by the Sages due to the messages they convey for the Jewish people and humankind. Morality during war is a major topic discussed in Tanach from which we need to learn today.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Virginia is for Lovers… of Israel

While cities like Charleston, Philadelphia and New York contained Jewish communities during the pre-revolutionary period, Virginia, the largest of the colonies, did not. Individual Jews lived in Virginia during this period, but there were no communities. Joachim Gaunse, a metallurgist from Prague, arrived to Roanoke with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. Elias Legardo moved to Jamestown in 1621. Michael Franks and Jacob Myer joined George Washington’s expedition over the Allegheny Mountains in 1754. Dr. John de Sequeyra settled in Williamsburg in 1745, serving as one of Williamsburg’s physicians. (He is also credited by Thomas Jefferson as introducing the tomato to Virginia). Michael and Sarah Israel bought land near the mountain pass between North Garden and Batesville, west of Charlottesville, which is known today as “Israel’s Gap.”

For various reasons, Virginia never attracted a critical mass of Jewish citizens during colonial times. Virginia did not have a major port city, which would have drawn Jewish businessmen to the state. Others note that Virginia had a policy that non-Christians were taxed to support its official church, the Church of England, which repelled non-Christians from settling there. In 1786, when Thomas Jefferson authored Virginia’s Statute of Religious Freedom, granting religious liberty to all Virginians, Jews began moving to “Old Dominion.”

While Virginia’s first synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome, was incorporated in Richmond in 1789, most of Virginia’s Jewish communities developed and grew only later in the 19th century, when Jewish Germans immigrated to the state. In 1790, Virginia’s Jewish population grew from 200 to 2,000 by the Civil War. These immigrants established synagogues in Norfolk (1848), Petersburg (1858) and Alexandria (1859). Many Jews joined the cause of secession, and more than 100 Richmond Jews fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some blamed the Jews for the Confederacy’s woes, which led to some growing anti-Semitism. In response, the Richmond Jewish community donated $2,000 to help care for the sick and wounded Confederate soldiers.

Of note, Uriah P. Levy and family purchased and restored Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, to assure that the home of the nation’s third president be available as a national historical landmark for years to come. In 1923, title to Monticello was transferred to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. Three Jews have represented Virginia in Congress: Norman Sisisky, who represented Petersburg from 1983 to 2001, Eric Cantor of Richmond, who became House Majority Leader in 2011, and Elaine Luria, who currently represents Virginia’s second congressional district.

By 1927, with immigration from Eastern Europe reaching a peak, 25,000 Jews lived in Virginia, 75% of them living in Richmond and the Norfolk/Newport News area. Virginia’s Jewish population grew to 31,000 in 1960 and had grown to over 95,000 in 2017, most of whom had moved to northern Virginia’s DC suburbs, an area that has attracted many Jews since the post-World War II period.

On June 25, 1788, Virginia became the tenth state to ratify the United States Constitution. As such, June 25th is celebrated as Statehood Day in Virginia.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the Jewish History of Virginia

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

Hey Cuz!

Today is celebrated as “Cousins Day.” Those whose parents have siblings, often have many great memories from shared family events, enjoyed in the company of cousins. With access to the internet, people today are researching their families and investigating family trees, learning of new relatives and distant cousins.

There are several interesting Jewish legal matters that pertain specifically to cousins.

While the Torah lists relatives who may not marry one another and whose marriages would be considered incestuous, it is notable that an uncle and a niece, and first cousins (and certainly more distant relations) are free to marry each other. Scriptures offers precedent for cousins marrying. After all, Rivka married Yitzchak, who was her father’s first cousin. Yaakov married Leah and Rachel, who were his first cousins. The daughters of Zelophchad, whose father died in the Sinai wilderness, petitioned Moses to acquire their father’s land, since there was no son to inherit his portion. In the end, they did inherit it, but they were told to marry men within their tribe, so the land would remain within their tribe of Menashe. While the text implies that they all married their uncles (see Numbers 36:11), according to Ba’al HaTurim, they married their cousins. The text of the scroll of Esther also indicates that Mordechai and Esther were first cousins, and the Midrash claims that they were indeed married to one another.

Please note that many municipal jurisdictions worldwide prohibit cousins from marrying due to the fear of negative recessive genes being transmitted to future generations. As such, 24 U.S. states do not permit cousins to marry, 17 states and the District of Columbia permit such marriages, and 7 states allow it conditionally (i.e. if one or both parties are of a certain advanced age, if one party is infertile, or if proof can be offered of genetic counseling). Jewish law recognizes secular law in many such cases, under the principle of dina d’malchuta dina, and, hence, Jewish law would not permit cousins from marrying if the local jurisdiction prohibited it.

Jewish law also does not allow two relatives to testify together as witnesses. First cousins, whose parents are siblings, are prohibited from joining together as witnesses. Second cousins, whose grandparents are siblings, may combine their testimony (Choshen Mishpat 33:32). A spouse of a relative has the same status as the relative.

There is no requirement for mourning when a cousin passes away.

Cousins, in Jewish law, are close, but not too close. Happy Cousins Day!

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reach Out to Your Cousins

Today is a great opportunity to contact your cousins, especially the ones with whom you are not in close touch.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Not So Freedom Summer

On June 21, 1964, one of the most heinous and scandalous murders took place in U.S. history, shocking the country.

Andrew Goodman, 21, a native of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Michael (Mickey) Schwerner, 24, of nearby Pelham, NY, and James Chaney, 21, of Meridian, MS, were all volunteering for the “Freedom Summer” project, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) aimed at registering African Americans to vote. Schwerner, who led a group called Downtown CORE on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, ran CORE’s field office in Meridian, Mississippi. On the morning of June 21, 1964, the three men traveled to Philadelphia, MS, in Neshoba County. Upon their return to Meridian, their vehicle was stopped for “speeding” by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, a known member of the Ku Klux Klan. The three were arrested and taken to jail in Neshoba County. Chaney was booked for speeding (35 MPH in a 30 MPH zone) and Goodman and Schwerner were held for “investigation.” Chaney was eventually fined $20 and the trio was instructed to leave the county. Prior to crossing into safer Lauderdale County, Price, who was following Chaney’s car, ordered them into his car and drove them to a deserted area where he handed them over to fellow klansman, who beat Chaney and then shot and murdered all three men.

This murder changed the course of the Civil Rights movement. Because Goodman and Schwerner were white, Jewish northerners, the case garnered attention outside the segregated south. The FBI investigated the men’s “disappearance,” and eventually found the men’s remains, which were buried in an earthen dam. In 1967, the federal government prosecuted Deputy Sheriff Price and nine others for conspiracy to deprive the three men of their civil rights and the Enforcement Act of 1870, the only federal statutes applicable that could be proven. The jury convicted seven of the ten, including Price. Three men were acquitted, including Ray Killen, the former KKK organizer who had allegedly planned and oversaw the murders.

Journalists have pursued additional prosecutorial leads during the decades since the murders, trying to uncover additional evidence to allow the state to press charges. In 2004, Barry Bradford, an Illinois high school teacher, along with a few students, researched the case thoroughly and created a documentary, which offered new evidence, including an interview with Killen, and presented convincing reasons to re-open the case. As a result, in 2005, the state charged Killen in the murder of the three activists. He was convicted of three counts of manslaughter, not murder, as the jury did not feel the state proved that he intended in advance for the three to be murdered. He was sentenced to 3 consecutive terms of 20 years in prison.

In 2014, President Barack Obama presented Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Light unto the Nations

Jews are meant to be a beacon to humanity, sharing the Torah’s values to all people. One of those enduring virtues is helping the underprivileged, whoever they may be. Those who engage in this endeavor should be lauded and encouraged.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ice Cream Soda Day

With the summer solstice arriving at midnight tonight, let us contemplate one of summertime’s favorite heat-quenching beverages. June 20th is Ice Cream Soda Day.

The ice cream soda, sometimes called an ice cream float, was invented by Robert McCay Green in 1874 in Philadelphia. According to the leading theory, that “serendipity is the mother of invention” the creation of the ice cream soda, was certainly fortuitous. Mr. Green’s inventory of ice was depleted as he was selling cold fountain drinks on a hot day. He asked to use some ice cream from a neighboring vendor to chill his beverage. The rest, as they say, is history. However, in a self-authored account appearing in a 1910 edition of Soda Fountain Magazine, Mr. Green, disputed that account. He wrote that he wanted to stand out above the other vendors and aimed to create a superior cold drink. Mr. Green requested that his tombstone read, “Originator of the Ice Cream Soda.”

Those growing up in New York City may be familiar with a similar drink whose mere name will make mouths water: the “Egg Cream.” Those unfamiliar may be gagging, thinking about a drink with raw eggs in it. Don’t worry: egg creams contain no eggs, or cream. An egg cream consisted of milk, seltzer and flavored syrup (usually vanilla or chocolate). Most assume that this drink originated with the Eastern European immigrant Jewish community of New York City.

Why then, was the mouth-watering drink called an egg cream? According to the grandson of the alleged inventor, Stanley Auster, no one is sure where the name came from. But, it is likely that the accented English of the immigrants played a role. Auster suggested that the word egg was really the Yiddish term “echt,” meaning genuine or real. Another suggested origin for the term is that someone requested “chocolat et crème,” a drink enjoyed in Paris, and the French “et crème” morphed into “egg cream.” Legend claims it was the celebrated Yiddish Theatre star, Boris Tomashefsky, who requested the Parisian delicacy. A food expert, Andrew Smith, however claims that in some poorer neighborhoods, a drink made from syrup, cream, seltzer and yes – raw eggs – was popular. Eventually, Smith posits, a less expensive version of this “egg cream” was made, without the cream and eggs.

Happy Summer everyone!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Enjoy Cold Drinks in the Hot Weather

Remember to recite the blessing over your thirst-quenching beverages.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


From a young age, the Biblical Miriam was noted for her prophetic voice, declaring that her mother would bear a son who would redeem the Children of Israel (Talmud Megillah 14a). In fact, the Midrash tells us that, after Pharaoh decreed that all male babies be thrown into the Nile, Miriam's parents, Amram and Yocheved, divorced, leading other Israelites to divorce as well. Miriam went to her father and rebuked him, warning him that his actions would lead to the end of all Jewish babies, not just the boys. Amram and Yocheved therefore remarried.

Within the next year, Yocheved gave birth to Moses. Once again, Miriam took an active role in insuring that the prophecy was fulfilled. When the baby was pulled from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam boldly offered to find her a Jewish nursemaid (his mom, of course) to help the child survive and thrive.

Little more is heard about Miriam until after Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. In fact, she is not mentioned again until after the Jewish People crossed the Red Sea, when Miriam the prophetess “ ... took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam sang unto them: Sing you to the Lord, for He is highly exalted: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:20-21).

Miriam’s greatness is attested to by two important incidents mentioned in the Torah. The first was that she suffered a severe case of tzara’at (i.e. spiritually induced skin affliction) when she spoke harshly about Moses--a rather severe punishment for a seemingly minor infraction. The second was that upon her death (on the 10th of Nisan), the well that had miraculously traveled with the Israelites in the Wilderness, ceased to provide water.

This Treat was last posted on March 25, 2010.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Explore the Life of Miriam

Learn about Miriam, sister of Aaron and Moses, one of the most important Biblical heroes during the birth of the Jewish nation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Operation Peace for Galilee/ the (First) Lebanon War

In 1981, frequent katyusha rockets launched into Israel by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists located on Lebanon’s southern border, made life unsustainable for Israelis living in settlements in the Galilee. When the PLO were expelled from Jordan in 1970, they relocated to Lebanon and created havoc for Israelis living in northern Israel. A year later, on June 3, 1982, Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain, Shlomo Argov, was shot in London and seriously wounded by assassins representing the Palestinian Abu Nidal terrorist group. Three days later, on June 6, 1982, corresponding to the 15th of Sivan, the Israeli military invaded Lebanon with the goal of neutralizing the threat to Israel’s north by pushing the PLO 40 KM further north, creating an Israeli-occupied security zone. The Israeli government named the operation Mivtza Shalom HaGallil, Operation Peace for Galilee, which included 60,000 Israeli soldiers and 800 tanks, along with a massive air assault. Within hours, Israel’s Air Force destroyed the Syrian Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries in the infamous Beka’a Valley, and downed 25 Syrian fighter jets – mostly Soviet MIG 23s –neutralizing the Syrian threat. Phase one of the operation ended on August 23, 1982 with the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. The PLO subsequently moved their operations to Tunisia.

Phase two, which lasted three years, was aimed at preventing the PLO, or their Syrian allies, from returning to Beirut. Since Israeli forces were stationed in Lebanon, they were subject to daily ambushes, by a newly-formed terror organization funded by the Iranians, named Hezbollah. The massive casualties associated with these ambushes, demoralized the Israeli public. During the three-year operation, 656 Israelis were killed in action, and 3,887 were wounded. In May 2000, the Israelis removed their presence completely from Lebanon after suffering the loss of an additional 559 soldiers. About 10 Israeli civilians were killed and 248 were wounded from the missile barrages.

Another casualty of the war was the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his defense minister, general, Ariel Sharon. Support for the government soured when a very public investigation found that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was passively complicit in a horrific Christian attack on unarmed Moslem men, women and children in a refugee camp in Beirut, which followed the assassination of Lebanon’s pro-Israel Christian President, Bashir Gamayel.

The number of 656 casualties from Operation Peace for Galilee has grown recently, due to the identification of remains of some of the Missing in Action including American-born Zachary Baumel. Israelis, always aware of God’s role in the world, noted that the gematria (numerical equivalent based on assigning each Hebrew letter a value) for Mivtzah Shalom Hagalil is 656. It has been pointed out, however, that most Israelis use the less formal, Milchemet Levanon (Lebanon War). Those words too, amazingly, add up to the gematria of 656.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pray for Soldiers During Times of War

Soldiers are heroes willing to put their lives on the line to defend the values and borders of their homeland. When they go to war, it behooves the rest of the nation to pray for their safety and the success of their missions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Disputation of Paris

The month of June in the year 1240 C.E. was not a good time for the Jews of Europe. The trouble began with a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin. Wanting, perhaps, to prove his loyalty and faith to the church, he sent a letter listing 35 charges against the Talmud, many of them details of texts reputedly belittling Jesus or Mary, telling seemingly lewd stories or relaying other “offensive” messages. The letter went to Pope Gregory IX and a debate was arranged at which Donin would argue his charges against four prominent French rabbis: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel the son of Solomon of Chateau-Thierry.

The “Disputation of Paris,” as the debate came to be known, was a dispute with a foregone outcome. Although the rabbis were guaranteed their safety by the queen so that they would be free to respond, there were strict limitations on what they were allowed to say about Christianity and the Church.

The Chief Jewish spokesman, Rabbi Yechiel, responded well during the Disputation and was able to reply to and reframe the derogatory accusation of Donin. For instance, he argued that in the points brought up referring to Jesus, it was simply a matter of two men with the same name, and that these passages that they found derogatory were discussing a different man named Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the Disputation ended with a condemnation of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It was determined that these holy Jewish texts should be confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, 24 cartload of Hebrew books, including many volumes of the Talmud, were brought to Paris and burnt, this at a time before the printing press, when every volume was copied by hand! So great was the loss that the date of the burning of the Talmud was subsequently marked as a fast day that was observed by many European Jewish communities in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

The mass burning of the Talmud in the aftermath of the Disputation in Paris took place on June 17, 1244.

This Treat was last posted on June 12, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate the freedom of religion afforded to all Americans

The Founding Fathers’ addition of the “Bill of Rights” was a revolutionary moment in human history, where nation-states were enjoined to be tolerant of different forms of spiritual belief. These rights should never be taken for granted.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Importance of Dad

In honor of Father's Day, Jewish Treats presents this classic Treat on the importance of a father. 

Where does a child learn to be a mentsch (a good person)? From his/her parents! Indeed, in the Talmud (Sukkot 56b) it even notes that a child repeats in the streets what he/she hears at home. 

According to Dr. David Pelcovitz (author of Balanced Parenting), research studies have found that the active involvement of both parents in a child’s moral education is the strongest predictor of children's moral reasoning and empathy as they grow older.

In the traditional family model, in which mom tends to have the central role in parenting (i.e. spends a lot more time with the kids), it is important to note that these studies have found particular importance in dad’s involvement.

The father is often seen as the enforcer of the rules laid down by the mother. However, far more important than being involved in discipline is dad’s actual involvement in teaching his child(ren) how to live a Jewish life (i.e. being a mentsch), which has an incredibly positive influence on the child’s future. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (22:6), “Educate a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

According to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son), a father’s primary responsibilities are to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, and to teach the child a trade. Some say, to teach him/her to swim too (Kiddushin 29a). At the bare minimum, his fatherly obligations are to make certain that the basic necessities of child-rearing are attended to (by a third party if necessary). But, the best child-rearing includes dad sharing his time, knowledge and wisdom, and truly leaving a lasting and meaningful impression on his children. This

Treat is reposted each year in honor of Father's Day. Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Father’s Day

Reach out to a father, yours or someone else’s, and wish them a happy Father’s Day. For anyone hoping to become a father, offer them the prayer that their dreams should come true.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Importance of Flag Day

Today is celebrated as “Flag Day” throughout the United States. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the “Stars and Stripes” as the flag of the United States. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established every June 14, as “Flag Day.” An act of Congress followed suit in 1946, making Flag Day a national observance, though not technically a Federal holiday. On June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania, became the first U.S. state to celebrate “Flag Day” as a state holiday.

Why is a flag so important? Let us illustrate by discussing another flag.

In the late 1940s, there were those in the Jewish community who felt that only a religious state established by the Messiah, and that a secular Jewish state should not be celebrated or acknowledged. When an organization with such values held its convention in Jerusalem, they asked that the flags of all the convention participants be flown in addition to that of the State of Israel, given their antipathy to the State and her flag in its early days. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in a now famous lecture given before the Religious Zionists of America, responded as follows.

“If you were to ask me, how do I, a Talmudic Jew, look upon the flag of the State of Israel, and has it any halachic value? – I would answer plainly. I do not hold at all with the magical attraction of a flag or of similar symbolic ceremonies. Judaism negates ritual connected with physical things. Nonetheless, we must not lose sight of a law in the Shulchan Aruch to the effect that: “One who has been killed by non-Jews is buried in his clothes (and not in the traditional burial shrouds), so that his blood may be seen and avenged, as it is written: ‘I will hold (the heathen) innocent, but not in regard to the blood which they have shed’ (Joel 4:21). In other words, the clothes of the Jews acquire a certain sanctity when spattered with the blood of a martyr. How much more is this so of the blue and white flag, which has been immersed in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the War of Independence defending the country and the population (religious and irreligious alike; the enemy did not differentiate between them). It has a spark of sanctity that flows from devotion and self-sacrifice. We are enjoined to honor the flag and treat it with respect. It does not require a hechsher (rabbinic approval) from the non-Jewish Union Jack.”

On behalf of Jewish Treats, Happy Flag Day!

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Proudly Fly the Flag

Show your patriotism and proudly fly the Stars and Stripes today. It’s a symbol of a great nation, with great values.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Who Was a Nazirite?

One of the areas covered in Parashat Naso is about the Nazirite. This is a man or woman who opts to avoid the vices of wine and grape products, eludes any contact with the dead and does not cut his/her hair.

The Biblical verse (Numbers 6:7) informing that a Nazirite may not come in come in contact with the dead, states as follows: “He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because the consecration of his God is upon his head.”

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, of blessed memory, Dean of New York’s Yeshiva Torah VoDaath, noted that when the Torah describes (Leviticus 21:1-3) the deceased family members with whom a Kohen (priest) may come in contact, the list is more expansive. “God said to Moses; Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them: a dead person he shall not become impure among his people; except for his relative who is closest to him (his wife), to his mother, and to his father; to his son, to his daughter, and to his brother; and to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been until a man; for her he shall make himself impure.”

Why, asks, Rabbi Kamenetsky, when the Torah describes those for whom the priest may come in contact with the dead, the list includes parents, spouses, children and siblings, yet when the Torah lists those for whom the Nazirite may not defile himself or herself, the list is limited to parents and siblings?

Rabbi Kamenetsky offers a brilliant insight. Being a Kohen is not an optional status for a young man, as it is determined at birth purely by lineage. A Nazirite, however, is a voluntary vow that an individual chooses to make. What type of person swears off wine, haircuts and contact with the dead? An idealistic, somewhat ascetic young person! As such, there is no mention of children and spouses because the Nazirite has not attained a point in life where they have married and had children. Rabbi Kamenetsky cites a verse in Amos (2:11) and a Talmudical passage (Nedarim 9b) as support for his thesis.

The ability to alter one’s life drastically, as is seen by the actions of the Nazirite, cannot be accomplished by someone established in years. Rabbi Kamenetsky understood that the youth are more prone to make drastic changes and adopt idealistic actions such as that of a Nazirite.

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Live in Moderation

Maimonides counseled that we should choose the path of moderation in life. Extreme actions are usually not beneficial to us. When making decisions, the middle path is often the best path.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Falafel Day

What tasty food is made out of crushed chickpeas, often served with salads, and offers itself as a healthier snack alternative? You guessed it: Falafel.

Happy International Falafel Day!

Falafel historians are unsure of falafel’s origins. Many associate its beginnings with the Copts (Egyptian Christians) about a thousand years ago who ate it instead of meat during the Christian period of “lent.” Others have even speculated that it was eaten in the period of the Pharaohs, a much earlier era. Some opine that falafel was invented in Western Asia, specifically in India, where the culture enjoyed deep frying from an early time. Etymologically, some will point to the word falafel’s association with the Aramaic/Arabic/Hebrew “pilpal” which means a small round thing, or a peppercorn. The Persian “pilpil” means long pepper. A Coptic (Christian Egyptian) dictionary cites the phrase “pha la fel,” meaning “has lots of beans.” The Oxford English Dictionary first listed the word “falafel” in 1951.

It’s hard to identify Jewish food, or Jewish music, since most Jewish food and music derive from the diaspora cultures that have hosted Jews. Even though falafel is considered the national food of Israel (and that of Egypt), it clearly came from the cuisine culture of Middle Eastern countries that hosted Jews. Because falafel is plant-based, it is considered pareve (neither meat nor dairy) in Jewish law and may be eaten with any meal. As such, it is quite conducive to be regarded as a national food of a Jewish nation.

North American Kosher fast food restaurants have been serving falafel on their menu for decades, but since the 1970s, falafel has broken through to the mainstream American market mostly due to the marketing of the Israeli Sabra brand, and is often available as street food and in vegetarian establishments nation-wide. During the same time, falafel has become very popular in Germany as well, not just in Berlin’s large Arab community, but in its gentrified strata as well.

Want to make falafel? Take raw chickpeas (if you cook them prior they will fall apart) and soak them in water overnight. Some add a dash of baking soda in the mixture. Drain and grind the chickpeas together with some spices (popular ones are parsley, scallions, garlic, coriander and cumin). The mixture is shaped into small balls and then deep-fried. If you prefer, the balls can be baked. The balls are usually placed in a pita (small bread with a pocket), adding salad, and some garnishes such as tehina (made from sesame seeds) or humus (a paste made from chickpeas).

Bon Appetite and B’tayavon!

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Support Israel: Eat a Falafel

Find a local kosher restaurant and enjoy some fresh falafel. There, you will likely be able to learn about ways to support Israel by reading the ads on the bulletin board and speaking to the patrons.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Extended Isru Chag

Today is Isru Chag, the name given to the day that follows the 3 Pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot). Usually the main ritual manifestation on the day of Isru Chag is accomplished by omitting the Tachanun prayer, as it is on festive days. However, in regard to Shavuot, most congregations have the custom to skip Tachanun for the entire week following the festival, not just the day after the holiday. The reason is as follows:

Shavuot is the only pilgrimage festival that lasts only one day (two in the diaspora). Both Passover and Sukkot last at least a week, and they both have a festival day at the beginning and end of the holiday (two days in the beginning and two days in the end in the diaspora). The festival days also have the restrictions of Shabbat in that productive and constructive work is prohibited except that the Shabbat prohibitions of cooking (and the process of cooking) and carrying in a public domain are permitted. The intermediate days known as Chol Ha’moed, possess some characteristics of the festivals, and other features that resemble regular days. There are five days of Chol Ha’moed Passover (four in the diaspora) and six days of Chol Ha’moed Sukkot (five in the diaspora). Shavuot, however, has no days of Chol Ha’moed, although Nachmanides writes (Leviticus 23:36) that the 49 days of the Omer, the days that are counted between Passover and Shavuot, are a type of extended Chol Ha’moed between the two pilgrimage holidays.

So why does the omission of Tachanun in the daily prayers continue for a week after Shavuot? Rabbi Abraham Gombiner claims (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 131 :7) that the custom originated around the Korban Chagiga, the festival offering. Ideally, the Korban Chagiga is offered on the day of the festival, but if not, one has a week afterward to comply. On the pilgrimage holidays where there is already a built-in seven-day period, no extra time is needed. But since Shavuot only lasts a simple day, this extra week is added after the festival, not during the festival. Since the offering could be offered on these seven days, the additional week of potential festivity was recognized, and Tachanun is not recited. As such, the six days, and according to some, the seven days, (taking the extra day in the diaspora into consideration,) following the festival took on a certain level of joy.

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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Continue Studying Torah!

Don’t let the end of the Shavuot festival stop you from continuing to study Torah. Make sure to set aside time to continue learning Torah.

Friday, June 7, 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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Green Cheesecake At Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.