Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Not A Big Chicken

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to be in supermarkets in November, it’s turkey! In fact, many supermarkets even give them away to promote large purchases of other groceries.

As you put the turkey into the oven, take a moment to think about the significance of that bird. Did you know that a vast amount of rabbinic ink has been expended in discussing the kosher status of turkey?!

While the Torah specifically identifies those features that make animals and fish kosher (chews cud and split hooves for animals, scales and fins for fish), it does not specify the identifying features of a kosher bird. Instead it states that one may eat "all the clean birds," and then lists only the birds which one may not eat (Deuteronomy 14:11-20).

This has created a problem because not all the birds identified in the Torah’s prohibited list are known today. The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch completed in 1563) therefore ruled that only those birds traditionally known to be eaten by Jewish communities were allowed. This included chicken and ducks.

The turkey, however, was not a traditional bird. Turkeys are indigenous to the "New World" and were not seen by European Jews until explorers brought them back from America. As turkeys became more common fare in the general European community, the rabbis began to receive questions about the bird’s kosher status.

The turkey, which shares many similarities to other known kosher birds – the nature of their stomach, the shape of their beak, the structure of their feet, and that they were not predatory – was deemed kosher by almost all authorities.

So go ahead. Stuff the bird!

This Treat is republished each year in honor of Thanksgiving.

Fine Thanks

Take pleasure in expressing gratitude.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Ever feel nervous just before the start of a trip? Ever have sleepless nights before boarding an airplane? Perhaps these hesitations connect back to a time when travel, whether by road or sea, was particularly perilous. Today, traveling is so common that we often think nothing of it, even if there are modern dangers.

Because a journey is not an everyday event, the sages created tefillat haderech, the wayfarer’s prayer. In English, the prayer is:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us to peace, guide our footsteps to peace, and enable us to reach our desired destination for life, happiness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, robbers, or vicious animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that rage on the earth. May You send blessing in everything we do, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplications because You are God Who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, God, Who hears prayer.

But what is the definition of a journey? Driving from New York to Boston takes approximately 4 hours. Flying between the same two cities takes less than an hour and a half (from take-off to landing, not counting check-in, security and waiting around time!). As there are different factors involved in different means of travel, please consult with your rabbi as to when tefillat haderech needs to be recited.

So next time you are off to visit grandma or heading to your dream vacation, take a moment for a little extra traveler’s insurance.

For tefillat haderech in Hebrew and transliteration, please click here.

This Treat was originally posted on July 17, 2012.

Road Safety

If you are driving to your Thanksgiving celebration, please drive safely.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bound to The Torah - the German Wimple Custom

Among the many communities that are categorized as Ashkenazim (Jews originally from central and eastern Europe), the descendants of German Jewry have maintained a distinct culture of their own. One of the most beautiful customs of the Yekkish community (as the German-Jewish community is called) is that of the “wimple,” a simple cloth that helps bind a child to the community and to Torah.

The wimple, a term which is often translated as sash, is created by reconstructing the blanket used to swaddle a baby boy at his brit milah (circumcision). The blanket is cut into strips that are then sewn together to create one long sash. Several feet long, it is generally embroidered (often by the baby’s mother or grandmother) or painted with the child’s name, birth date and traditional blessings and biblical verses.

In some Yekkish communities, the wimple is brought to the synagogue shortly after the brit milah. In other communities, it is brought there when the boy turns three - the age when a child traditionally begins to learn the aleph-bet. When the wimple is brought to the synagogue, the father and child receive the honor of g’leela, the rolling of the Torah scroll. When the scroll is closed, it is then wrapped in the wimple and returned to the aron (ark). The next week, when the Torah is brought out again, the wimple is removed and added to the synagogue’s wimple collection.

When the boy celebrates his bar mitzvah, his wimple is once again wrapped around the Torah as part of the celebration. Many families also incorporate the wimple into the aufruf ceremony the Shabbat before the young man is married.


Take an active role in sharing your family's customs with the next generation.

Monday, November 23, 2015

An Avante-Garde Artist in Russia

El Lissitsky was one of the great Avante-Garde artists of the early twentieth-century. Born on November 23, 1890, in Pochinuk, Russia, Eleazar Lissitsky had an early interest in art. At the age of 13, he began studying at the School of Drawing and Painting run by Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk (where he was a contemporary of Marc Chagall). Two years later, Lissitsky was instructing other young artists.

El Lissitsky was a painter, a typographer, an architect as well as the designer of propaganda and exhibitions. Indeed, the many fields and projects in which he was involved are too many to include in one short Treat. El Lissitsky was best known for his specific style of suprematism, which he called Proun (the Russian acronym for “Project for the Affirmation of the New). A variety of media were used for the Prounen (pl), and the works were multi-dimensional.

El Lissitsky appears to have accepted the Communist regime and even created propagandist art for the Bolsheviks, the most famous of which is titled “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.”

He was, however, deeply connected to his Jewish identity. At the outset of his career, when the harsh, anti-Semitic laws of the Czar were being cast aside, El Lissitsky illustrated Yiddish children’s books promoting Jewish culture. He also included Jewish themes and Hebrew letters in his later works.

Throughout the span of his life, Lissitsky found the means to continue his art, as the society around him was being recreated.  He was productive even in the era of Stalin, who persecuted many independent artists. After a long illness and a slow decline, El Lissitsky succumbed to tuberculosis on December 30, 1941.

Art Time

If you are artistic, use your talents to express your Jewish identity.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Boston is a famous and historic American city, with a rich early-American flavor. So it might therefore be surprising to learn that Boston is the home of its own unique chassidic sect.

It began with a rebbe - Rabbi Pinchas Dovid Horowitz.  Born and raised in Jerusalem, Rabbi Horowitz settled in Boston, Massachusetts in 1915, after he found himself unable to return to his native Palestine after the outbreak of World War I (he had been acting as an arbitrator in Russia). The descendant of chassidic rebbes, Rabbi Pinchas Dovid Horowitz quickly gathered a following. He traveled throughout the northeast to share inspiration with other Jews. Soon, Jews came from all over the country to join his chassidic community. He remained in Boston until he and a group of his chassidim moved to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in 1939.

When Rabbi Pinchas Dovid Horowitz passed away on 8 Kislev (November 28), 1941, he was succeeded as rebbe by two of his sons. Rabbi Moshe Horowitz took the helm in New York, while Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz resided in Boston. Most references to the Bostoner Rebbe refer to latter.

In Boston,  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (1921-2009) opened the New England Chassidic Center. Once established, the young rebbe focused on offering a warm and welcoming community to the Jewish students at Boston’s prestigious learning institutions. In the years that followed, an uncountable number of students from Harvard, M.I.T., and etc, attended classes, services and Shabbat meals at the Chassidic Center. Additionally,  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak founded ROFEH International, a renowned medical referral organization. In later years, he also expanded his Bostoner community to include a community in Har Nof, Jerusalem, where he spent half of each year.

Today there are numerous Bostoner chassidic communities around the world, each led by a descendant of the first Bostoner Rebbe.

Special Dress

Honor Shabbat by dressing in your best. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Trouble with Double

For some sisters who are particularly close, the idea of a double wedding may seem a romantic dream. Indeed, parents of such brides might contemplate such a wedding as an excellent means of reducing wedding costs. However, it is interesting to note that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law) states: “It is forbidden to perform the marriage ceremony for two brothers or two sisters on one and the same day because one festive event should not be joined with another. Some authorities hold that is even forbidden to do so in one week and they infer it from Jacob our ancestor, for it is written (Genesis 29:27): ‘Fulfill the week of this one’” (Kitzur 145:26).

The Biblical reference is to Jacob’s weddings, the first one to Leah and the second to Rachel. Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel but, at the very last moment, her father (Laban) insisted that her older sister Leah needed to wed first, so he switched the brides. After Jacob and Leah were married, Laban insisted that there be a week’s delay before Jacob could wed Rachel (with a commitment of seven years labor).

A more significant reason for prohibiting simultaneous weddings, is the desire to respect the need for individual rejoicing. On the day of their wedding, a chatan (groom) and a kallah (bride) are like a king and a queen. Enhancing their joy is the priority, and nothing is meant to take away.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shared Joy

Join your friends and neighbors in the celebrating a simcha (joyous occasion).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Into the Fire

It is written in the Book of Daniel (Chapter 3) that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and a committed idolater, had a statue that was 60 cubits (90-120 feet) high and 6 cubits (9-12 feet) wide. Those who failed to prostrate themselves before this idol when the royal orchestra played were to be cast into a fiery furnace.

As you can imagine, when that orchestra played, everyone present bowed. However, it was reported to Nebuchadnezzar that there were several Jewish advisors/ministers who refused to bow. Their behavior was regarded as a sign of the Jews’ disrespect for the king.

Nebuchadnezzar demanded an explanation from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Hebrew names: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), challenging them to bow down to the idol or be thrown into the furnace. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused.

Infuriated, Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be thrown in the furnace, and for the heat to be increased sevenfold. It was so hot that those who cast the three men into the furnace were themselves incinerated. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, however, remained unharmed.

When Nebuchadnezzar saw the three men walking in the flames of the great fire (accompanied by an angel), he was in utter shock. He called them forth from the furnace and had all those present witness that they were truly unharmed. Nebuchadnezzar publicly declared the greatness of the God of the Judeans and forbade any of his subjects to speak against the powerful Hebrew deity.

An interesting side comment in Talmud Pesachim 53b, cites Todos of Rome, who taught that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah chose to risk death in the furnace when they realized that they could do no less than the frogs (2nd of ten plagues in Egypt), who jumped into the ovens of the Egyptians in order to fulfill God’s words.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


When troubled by the news, do an extra act of kindness.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Jews of Paris

In honor of the people of Paris, Jewish Treats presents a broad overview of the early history of the Jews in the City of Light.

Settled in the 3rd century B.C.E. by the Parisii tribe, the island of the city of Paris was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century C.E.. Along with the Romans came an assortment of individual Jews, lone merchants and artisans, that slowly grew into a small community. The original settlement was in the area now called the 5th arrondissement, and the first Parisian synagogue is believed to have been built in this locale.

With the fall of Rome and the rise of the Christian feudal system, Jews throughout France faced a cycle of protection and persecution, invitation and expulsion. Nevertheless, there were many renowned scholars who dwelled in Paris during the Middle Ages and the 12th century traveler and writer Benjamin of Tudela described Paris as: “...the great city...scholars are there, unequalled in the whole world, who study the law day and night. They are charitable and hospitable to all travelers and are as brothers and friends unto all their brethren the Jews.”

While there were several different Jewish communities around the city, the primary Jewish neighborhood developed in the district of Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements). Known in early times as La Juiverie (The Jewry), it is today nicknamed the Pletzel, which is Yiddish for the Place.  Jews first settled in the Marais area in the 13th century. After being expelled from France in 1394, the Jews did not officially return to Paris until the 18th century. When they did return, the Marais area once again became a central part of the Jewish community.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era that followed, which began in 1789, changed life for Jewish Paris, as it did for all citizens of France. While Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite did not rid the country of anti-Semitism, a baseline of rights was established.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Every Prayer Counts

Take a moment and pray for the recovery of the victims of terror.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Jews of Elephantine

Follow the Nile River southward and one comes upon an island upon which are the unique ruins of an ancient Jewish military installation. The Jews of Elephantine Island, which is located near the modern city of Aswan, once served as a military garrison of the Persian Empire guarding the southern border of Egypt around the 5th century B.C.E.

Knowledge of the community of Elephantine Island first came to light around the beginning of the 20th century with the discovery of several Aramaic papyri and ostraka (pottery shards). The majority of the papyri that were deciphered were legal documents: business contracts, marriage agreements, etc.

The life recorded in these documents might not have attracted attention outside of scholarly circles were it not for the fact that, according to the papyri, the Jews of Elephantine Island had built themselves a temple where they brought offerings just as was done in the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the papyri, the Elephantine Temple had five stone gateways and a cedar roof. A decade or so before Persian rule in Egypt came to an end, the local priest of the Egyptian god Khnum led a riot in which the Jewish temple on Elephantine Island was destroyed. The community beseeched the Persian government to assist them in rebuilding the structure, but it appears that they received no response.

Information about the temple piqued the interest of archeologists, and several excavations were launched to find its ruins. The ruins of what is believed to have been the temple have been unearthed, as has remnants of the colony of Jews who once lived there.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Here Too

When travelling, never assume that a place is without some Jewish history.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Do You Use A Shopping Cart?

To most Americans, shopping carts are a mundane item to which very little thought is given. Shopping carts, like most of the little conveniences of modern life, were once a wonder of invention, and the man who invented them was a Jewish man born in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory.

When Sylvan Goldman (November 15, 1898 - November 25, 1984) was born, his father was working for his mother’s family in a dry goods store in Indian Territory. Goldman joined the family business after leaving school in 8th grade, and then used his mercantile know-how as a food requisitionist during World War I.

After the war, Goldman and his older brother Alfred entered the grocery industry. Starting out successfully in Texas, they went to California, but soon returned to Oklahoma where relatives offered to set them up in business. The Goldman brother’s Sun Grocery Company introduced supermarkets (multiple types of food items) to Oklahoma. After selling their chain to Skaggs-Safeway in 1929, the brothers moved to Oklahoma City, where they purchased (and later merged) two chains - Standard and Humpty Dumpty.

In June 1937, the same year Alfred passed way, Sylvan Goldman introduced his folding shopping cart. The idea came to him after he noticed that most shoppers checked out once their basket became too heavy to carry. The availability of a shopping cart allowed them to stroll comfortably through the store and purchase more items. It is fascinating to note, however, that Goldman had to actively promote the use of his carts by hiring a greeter to offer the cart to patrons and retained the services of fake shoppers to demonstrate the carts convenience. Once shopping carts were accepted, however, their popularity took off. Goldman made millions from his patent royalties.

Goldman and his wife Margaret were known for their philanthropic efforts. He was also involved in the University of Oklahoma’s National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Cart Plan

Fill your shopping cart with kosher delights for Shabbat.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Adopting Moses

In honor of National Adoption Month, Jewish Treats pays tribute to Bithia, the daughter of Pharaoh, whose adoption of a baby in a basket changed the course of human history.

While Moses’ tale is best known from the perspective of Yocheved (his mother, who set him in the Nile to save him) and Miriam (his sister, who watched over his floating cradle), little is said about the brave woman who raised him. Bithia (as she is called in the Midrash) knew that the babe in the basket was an Israelite, but, despite his pedigree, from the moment she spied him in the basket, a bond was formed. 

Certainly there were challenges. Pharaoh’s advisors did not trust the foreign child (see Rabbi Buchwald’s comments on Shemot 2002). But “Pharaoh’s daughter hugged and kissed him and loved him as if he were her own son” (Exodus Rabbah 1:26).

This love and devotion brought her the ultimate reward: “Said the Holy One to Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh: ‘Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You, too, are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter. Thus it is written (I Chronicles 4:18) ‘These are the sons of Bithia’ (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3) who is Bat (daughter) Yah (of God). This is why she is commonly referred to as Batya." 

While Moses was raised by Bithia, he did eventually come to know his biological family. While they also had a great impact on his life, the Midrash notes that, “Although Moses had many names, the only name by which the Torah refers to him is the one given him by Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh” (Exodus Rabbah 1:26).

Jewish Treats salutes all the adoptive/fostering families out there for the tremendous love that they provide to God’s children.

This Treat was last posted on November 19, 2010. 

Appreciate Adoption

Express appreciation to all the people you know who have taken on the difficult task of raising children.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jewish War Veterans

In honor of Veterans’ Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, which is more commonly referred to by its acronym JWV.

Originally formed in 1896  as the Hebrew Union Veterans Organization by Jewish veterans of the Civil War, it assumed its current name (after several variations) in 1929. In its early days, the headquarters of the JWV was located in New York City, but moved to Washington, D.C. in 1954.

The JWV has two primary missions - to uphold the American values of democracy and to support Jewish life in America. Thus, the JWV’s national constitution states that the JWV seeks to “...uphold the fair name of the Jew and fight his or her battles wherever unjustly assailed...”

To be an active member of the JWV, one must be a U.S. citizen, of the Jewish faith, of “good character,” have seen active service in a military campaign and received an honorable discharge. (An associate membership can be obtained by those who served in the military but not in wartime). The organization itself is made up of a hierarchy of national, regional and local posts. A national convention is held once a year.

JWV posts strive to advance religious freedom in the armed forces, promote community-oriented programs and to offer special benefits (insurance, discounts, etc,) to its member veterans.

One influential role of the JWV is maintaining and running the National Museum of American Jewish Military History located in Washington, D.C.

Veterans Day Honor

Visit with your local veterans to show them your appreciation for their service. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Few nations play as dominant a role in biblical history as do the Philistines. Settled in the lands along the Mediterranean coast (the area of contemporary Gaza), they were a continual presence in early Israelite history. The origins of the Philistines are linked to Crete, thus distinguishing them from the notorious seven nations of Canaan.

Throughout the Books of the Prophets, after the Children of Israel already settled in the Land of Canaan, the Israelites and Philistines are frequently at war. Some of the most famous Philistine villains were Delilah and, most notorious of all, Goliath of Gath, the giant defeated by King David in his youth. 

The first mention of the Philistines in the Bible occurs long before the Children of Israel’s return from Egypt. In order to avoid famine in Canaan, first Abraham and Sarah, and later Isaac and Rebecca, relocate to the Philistine city of Gerar. In both instances, the Philistine ruler (titled Avimelech) desired to wed the respective matriarch after being told that her husband was her brother. Isaac had additional dealings with the Philistines shortly after leaving Gerar when he was forced to negotiate with Avimelech, his friend Achuzzat, and his general Phicol, over a series of disputed wells (a means of claiming territory for shepherds). 

Like most parts of this region, the area once known as Philistia and ruled by the Philistines, was conquered and controlled by a succession of empires. The most noted ancient reference to the entire region, including Judea, under the name Palestine, is in the 5th century B.C.E., when the Greek historian Heodotus referred to the region as the “district of Syria, called Palaistine.” It was the Romans, however, who truly established the use of the name Palestine for the entire region, including Judea, when they merged Roman Syria and Roman Judea to form Syria Palestina shortly after the Bar Kochba rebellion.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Gratitude Country

Don't hesitate to express your gratitude to God. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Symbolic Synagogue

It is a surprisingly ironic fact that a synagogue whose name means “ruin” has, for many decades, been a symbol of hope. The Hurva Synagogue of Jerusalem, which was once known for its lone arch soaring over its ruins, has a fascinating history of building and destruction.

While excavations during the most recent (and hopefully final) rebuilding of the Hurva Synagogue revealed artifacts from as far back as the First Temple period, the location became significant when it was purchased by Rabbi Judah Ha’chasid (1660 - 1700), a Polish rabbi who led a large group of pilgrims to settle in Jerusalem. Alas, Rabbi Judah died suddenly the same week that he arrived in Jerusalem and purchased the property.

Rabbi Judah’s followers, who soon made up the majority of the Ashkenazi population of Jerusalem, decided to go ahead and build the synagogue despite their rabbi’s passing. In need of funds, they borrowed from local Arab lenders. The synagogue was built, but the acquired debt became unmanageable.  On November 9, 1720,* the creditors ran out of patience and set fire to the synagogue. Wishing to maintain peace in the city, the ruling Ottomans expelled the entire Ashkenazi community.

In the mid-1800s, followers of the Vilna Gaon who had recently settled in the Holy Land, decided to rebuild the synagogue. The Bais Yaakov synagogue, built in Ottoman style with a beautiful arch-supported dome, became a center of Ashkenazi Jewry in Jerusalem for the next 100 years.

Sadly, after the Jordanians took control of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City (1948), they blew up the synagogue. The Hurva was once again in ruins. Following the 1967 war, when Israel regained control of the city, there was much discussion about rebuilding. After a decade of indecision, one of the structure’s stone arches was rebuilt to serve as a monument to the synagogue and a promise of future reconstruction. The arch became a popular and powerful symbol of hope in Jerusalem. Actual rebuilding finally began in 2002, and the new, stunningly beautiful Hurva officially opened in March 2010.

*There are some differing opinions on the date.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Local Synagogue

Help support your local synagogue. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Baron Edmond de Rothschild

Although he came from a prominent banking family and was employed in the family bank, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (19 August 1845 - 2 November 1934) was best known for his love of art and his support for Jewish settlement in the Promised Land.

Born and raised in Paris, Baron Edmond underwent both a traditional Jewish education and a well-rounded secular education. He married his cousin, Adelhaid von Rothschild, and together they had three children.

Deeply appreciative of the art world around him, Baron Edmond became a renowned collector. Upon his passing, tens of thousands of pieces he had collected were donated to the Louvre museum in Paris.

Baron Edmond’s involvement with the yishuv (Jewish settlement in Palestine) began in the 1880s when he worked to help Russian immigrants escape their pogrom-ridden homes and settle in Palestine. As the new settlements in Palestine struggled to establish themselves, Baron Edmond stepped up to provide the funds for their financial rescue and underwrote the expenses of Rishon Lezion, Zichron Yaakov, Rosh Pina, Ekron and several other settlements. It was under his direction that vineyards were planted in Rishon Lezion and Zichron Yaakov, which remain important vineyards in Israel’s thriving wine industry today.

Additionally, Baron Edmond helped support many other aspects of the critical work that was necessary to build the Jewish homeland, including financing the draining of swamps to rid the land of malaria-infected mosquitoes. In 1924, he founded the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA) for land acquisition and management, which was directed by his son James.

Having given to many of these causes anonymously, Baron Edmond was often referred to as Hanadiv Hayadua, the “Renown Benefactor.” He passed away on the 24th of Cheshvan, 1934, and his wife died one year later. While they were initially buried in Paris, they were reinterred in Israel in 1954. Numerous streets in Israel are named after him, and Israel’s 1982/5752 Independence Day coin was dedicated to his memory.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Simply Shabbat

Sit back, relax and enjoy Shabbat.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sheep Shearing

While giving charity appears to be one of the fundamental good deeds a person may perform, it is, in all honesty, one of the hardest. Our possessions, our wealth, our outward signs of success, are all part of how we define ourselves. Additionally, physical possessions make us feel more secure in an often chaotic world. So when a stranger or even a friend asks for something – a donation, a free meal – a person’s natural inclination for self-preservation pipes in.

And yet, giving tzedakah might actually be just what is needed for self-preservation. The Talmud (Gittin 7a) says: In the yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael it was taught: Whoever “shears” off part of his wealth and gives it to charity will be delivered from the judgment of Gehinnom. This may be compared to two sheep crossing a river, one sheared and the other not sheared; the sheared one makes it across, the unsheared one does not.

Why was the unsheared sheep unable to successfully cross the river? Because the untrimmed wool became waterlogged and weighed the sheep down.

This idea is articulated in modern terms by the statement, “You can’t take it with you.” At the end of the day, hoarding one’s wealth provides no benefit or protection for a person. Stinginess weighs a person down, and inhibits one from becoming a better person.

Giving tzedakah, on the other hand, offers a person a chance to go beyond him/herself and to recognize that helping someone else is the true wealth of life.

This Treat was last posted on February 11, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Genuine Generosity

Work on giving charity without reservation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Torn Cloth

When Jacob was told that his beloved son Joseph was dead, he cried out in sorrow and tore his garments (Genesis 37:34). The dramatic act of tearing one’s clothes remains a distinct part of Jewish mourning practices. The act, known as kriah (tearing), is performed by all of the immediate relatives* of the deceased.

Although some people “tear kriah” immediately upon hearing the news of their relatives' passing, most often the act of kriah is performed as part of the funeral service. Generally, the mourners stand together and either rip their own garment or have someone rip it for them. For those who lost parents, the tear is made over the left breast, above the heart. At the loss of spouse/children/siblings, the tear is made over the right breast.

As the garment is being torn, a special blessing acknowledging the judgment of God is recited:
Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, dayan ha’emet.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the true Judge.

As it is customary that the tear should be approximately 3.5 inches, it is permitted to pin the garment closed, but not to sew it together. After the funeral, it is customary for the mourners to remain in the torn garment throughout the week of shiva, after which one should consult a local rabbi concerning repairing the garment.

*Immediate relatives are defined as spouse, parents, children and siblings.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time to Mourn

If you lose somebody, take the appropriate time to mourn.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Of the four matriarchs, it is Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, for whom the Torah provides the most background information. Notably, she is the only matriarch whose birth is recorded: “And Bethuel (the son of Abraham’s brother Nachor) begot Rebecca” (Genesis 22:23).

Rebecca’s father may have had the distinction of being Abraham’s nephew, but the Torah and Midrash expose him as a greedy man willing to kill (according to the Midrash, he tried to poison Abraham’s servant Eliezer when Eliezer came to his house to propose the match with Isaac). Rebecca’s mother and brother (Laban) were not much better.

Despite growing up in such a tainted household, Rebecca drew Eliezer’s attention because of her natural instinct to help others. When she saw Eliezer at the village well, she did not hesitate to offer water to him and his camels. It is understood by the commentaries that Rebecca clearly understood the difference between her parents’ home and the home of her future husband, for she was eager to leave with Eliezer and go to Canaan, even when her family suggested that she wait a year.

When they were not blessed with children, both Isaac and Rebecca prayed, as it says: “Isaac entreated God opposite his wife because she was barren” (25:21). Shortly thereafter, Rebecca struggled through a difficult pregnancy with the twins, Esau and Jacob.

While Isaac is renowned for having favored Esau, Rebecca’s background allowed her to understand her children more clearly and to recognize that Esau was deceiving his father. For this reason, Rebecca encouraged Jacob to do what was necessary to make certain that he received Isaac’s blessing and then helped Jacob flee his brother’s wrath.

Little is recorded about the rest of Rebecca’s life other than that she insisted that Esau’s idol worshipping wives be banished from her household. The Midrash infers that by the time Rebecca passed away, she could find no good in Esau. She ordered that her burial, at the Cave of Machpela in Hebron,  be held discretely at night so that Esau would not attend and people would not comment on his wickedness. Her death is thus encoded in the verse “Deborah, the wet-nurse of Rebecca, died” (35:8).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

By Example

Learn about the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Jews of North Dakota

On November 2, 1889, North Dakota was admitted to the United States as the 39th state (and South Dakota as the 40th). In honor of that landmark, Jewish Treats presents a brief review of the early history of North Dakota’s Jews.

As with many of the states of the Great Plains, North Dakota’s first Jewish community was established in the late 19th century and consisted of immigrant Jews, many of whom tried to eke out a living as farmers. The lure of farming was two-fold: 1) For those coming from the Russian Pale of Settlement, land ownership had been prohibited, but the Homestead Acts allowed everyone a chance to own land, and 2) the Jewish communities on the east coast encouraged new immigrants to go west as the cities were already overcrowded and jobs were difficult to find.

There were at least six Jewish agricultural settlements in North Dakota. One was named Jerusalem as a reflection of the Jewish hope of building a home free of oppression. Alas, the combination of their lack of farming experience and the harsh conditions (drought, grasshopper swarms, prairie fires, etc) led to the failure of the communities. The settlers drifted apart, with some leaving the region and others opting to open businesses in the towns.

While congregations formed briefly in the towns of Wing and Ashley (where a synagogue was built in 1917), more established communities developed in cities. Shortly after the arrival of Kovno born Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster in 1892, the Bnai Israel Synagogue was established in Grand Forks. The Fargo Hebrew Congregation was chartered in 1896. Today it is estimated that 400 Jews live in North Dakota, down from 1750 in 1899. Of all the states, only South Dakota has a smaller Jewish population (estimated at 250 Jews).

Cool Winds Coming

Donate extra hats, scarves and gloves to a local shelter for those in need.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Return of the Dead

The relationship of the living and the dead is an oft debated topic by the sages. Judaism firmly believes that, post mortem, a person's neshama (soul) goes to an afterworld known as Olam Habah, the world to come. But do the dead play any role in Olam Hazeh, this world, when they are gone? Many Talmudic sages were sure that the dead visit this world, especially cemeteries.

Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Jonathan were walking in a cemetery and the blue fringe (tzitzit) of Rabbi Jonathan trailed on the ground. Said Rabbi Hiyya to him: “Lift it up, so that they [the dead] should not say: ‘Tomorrow they are coming to join us [as they too shall die] and now they are insulting us [by showing off their ritual garments]!'” Rabbi Jonathan replied: “Do they know so much? Is it not written, ‘But the dead know not anything?'” (Berachot 18a). A long argument ensues in which different Biblical verses are cited. In the end, however, Rabbi Jonathan agrees with Rabbi Hiyya that the dead do visit this world. 

This is supported by an earlier statement (Berachot 18a): “It has been taught: ‘A man should not walk in a cemetery with tefillin on his head or a Torah on his arm, and recite the Shema,' and if he does so, he comes under the heading of ‘He that mocks the poor blasphemes his Maker' (Proverbs 17:5)." A person studying Torah or fulfilling mitzvot in a cemetery is mocking the dead who can no longer perform those mitzvot. 

Whether one believes that the dead are watching and interacting with this world or not, halacha (Jewish law) puts great stock in respecting the dead, if only to teach the living to be more sensitive to the living people around them.

This Treat was last posted on October 30, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Buy or prepare a nice dessert to enhance your Shabbat.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

National Hermit Day

Judaism is not known for encouraging asceticism. While the Torah commands the Jewish people to “afflict” themselves on Yom Kippur by fasting and refraining from certain pleasurable activities, it is also a day of communal prayer. On the whole, Judaism focuses on celebrating and sanctifying all the wonders of God’s creation. Instead of refraining from delicious foods, one elevates them by reciting blessings. The celebration of Shabbat centers around feasts of food and wine. In fact, it is customary to festively prepare for each holiday with the purchase of something new to wear, etc. In Tractate Kiddushin of the Jerusalem Talmud, our Sages teach: “On the day of judgment, every human being will be held accountable for everything that he or she beheld and did not partake of.” In effect, the Talmud is stating that God gave the world to humankind, and instructed people to enjoy what He has given. Failure to appreciate God’s world is, in effect, a sin, denying God’s benevolence.

Today, October 29th, is National Hermit Day. While Judaism’s distaste for asceticism discourages the life of a hermit, it does often share one particular value espoused by National Hermit Day, which is to encourage people to spend time in seclusion and using that time for contemplation. Many feel that this generation, with its ubiquitous personal electronic devices and cell phones, is especially in need of quiet time.

The concept espoused by National Hermit Day reflect the practices made popular by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th century Chassidic rebbe and the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Nacham advocated hitbodedut, engaging in daily self-seclusion focussed on conversing privatly with God.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Alone Time

Take time today for some quiet contemplation - perhaps on your commute home from work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cutting Through Stone

By all accounts, the First Temple was a magnificent edifice built with cedars from Lebanon and enormous quarried stones. When contemplating the manner in which the Temple was constructed, one comes across a unique conundrum. In Exodus, God clearly states: “And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you lift up your tool upon it, you have profaned it” (Exodus 20:21). This rule forbidding tools of metal applied to the building of the Temple as well. So how could one build this incredible structure out of enormous stones without metal tools?

King Solomon, who built the First Temple, asked this exact question. He “said to the rabbis, ‘How shall I manage [without iron tools]?’ They replied: ‘There is the shamir, which Moses used for the stones of the ephod’” (Gittin 68b).

According to legend, the shamir was a tiny, worm-like creature, the size of a barley-corn, that was one of 10 things created at the very end of the sixth day of creation (Pirkei Avot 5:6). The shamir was able to cut through any hard substance (Sotah 48b). The first instance in which the shamir was put to work was to etch the names of the tribes on to the twelve gemstones of the High Priest’s breastplate.

After the sages told Solomon about the shamir, he went to great lengths to find it (even asking demons for help - Gittin 68a), and he had to capture it from the care of a certain hoopoe bird. Thus it is recorded that the Temple “was built of stone made ready at the quarry; and there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building (I Kings 6:7).

Upon the completion of the building, the shamir was wrapped in wool and kept in a lead container. “When [the Second] Temple was destroyed, the shamir ceased [to exist] (Sotah 48b).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Great and Small

Be conscientious of all forms of life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Praying in Many Ways

Many nutritionists recommend that a person should have three square meals a day to maintain his/her physical well-being. Spiritual nutritionists (our sages) recommend that for the utmost in spiritual well-being, a Jew should pray three times a day (Shacharit, the morning service, Mincha, the afternoon service, and Maariv, the evening service).

Assuming that prayer is, in effect, an individual’s conversation with God, should we not pray as the prophet Jeremiah recommends in the Book of Lamentations (2:19), “Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord”? How can we pour out our hearts when the rabbis have mandated fixed times for prayer? Must we feel inspired just because it’s time for prayer?

The Jewish people have a special relationship with God. King David captured that relationship when he wrote (Psalms 148): "Praise God from the heavens, praise Him in the heights...Praise God from the earth...Young men and also maidens, old men together with youths. Let them praise the Name of God, for His Name alone is exalted." No matter where we are, or when it is or what inspired us, we can always open a dialogue with God. Whether we want to thank God for the goodness He has bestowed upon us, ask Him for help, or to just simply connect, God is always there for us.

But what happens when we become indifferent to the glory of God’s world, when our daily routines become rote? When we walk past the beautiful field twice a day for 365 days a year...when we stop being thankful for the world around us. It becomes a little harder to see God’s hand in the world.

So the sages made set prayers at fixed times, not to limit one's conversations with God, but rather, to ensure a minimum time in dialogue per day. After all, the flowers blossom whether we acknowledge them or not!

This Treat was last posted on December 15, 2008.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Part Of

Make prayer a part of your life.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Yesterday, 12 Cheshvan, was the 20th anniversary of the death of Yitzchak Rabin, who was assassinated on November 4, 1995.

Born in Jerusaem on March 1, 1922, Rabin grew up in Tel Aviv. He entered the military service in 1941 when he joined the newly formed Palmach. During World War II, he fought for the British authorities, but later fought against British control of the Land of Israel.  In 1964, Rabin was appointed the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and was thus in charge during the 1967 Six Day War.

In Rabin’s post military career, he first served as the Israeli ambassador to the United States for five years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Rabin was elected to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and was appointed Minister of Labor by Prime Minister Golda Meir. When Meir resigned, Rabin became Prime Minister. He led the country for two years, during which time the Sinai Interim Agreement was signed with Egypt and the passengers on a hijacked plane at the Entebbe (Uganda) airport were rescued during Operation Entebbe*. Rabin resigned when it was determined that the family’s U.S. bank account, opened while he lived in Washington, D.C., was in breech of Israeli law due to its lack of authorization.

Rabin remained an active Member of Knesset and served as Minister of Defense from 1984-1990.

Rabin’s second term as Prime Minister, which began in 1992, is best-known for the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which were signed on September 19, 1993. Rabin also signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. The same year, he, along with Shimon Peres and Yassar Arafat, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Less than a year later, Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli citizen.

*The operation's code name was Thunderbolt. It was later renamed Operation Jonathan.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Give a Little

Set aside a few extra dollars a month to use for unexpected charity.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What's In The Book: Proverbs

A proverb is defined as “a short popular saying that expresses effectively some commonplace truth or useful thought” ( As its name reflects, the Book of Proverbs is a collection of just such thought-provoking statements, which are attributed to “the wisest of all men,” King Solomon and King Hezekiah and his circle.

After a brief introduction in which Solomon declares his reasons for composing the book (That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning, and the man of understanding may attain unto wise counsels - 1:5), Proverbs’ most defining statement is written: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but the foolish despise wisdom and discipline” (1:7).

The Book of Proverbs has several distinct sections. The first several chapters of the Book of Proverbs appear to be the advice of a father to his son, or a grown man to a youth, much of the second half is written in the form of contrasting descriptions such as: “A wise son makes a glad father; but a foolish son is the grief of his mother” (10:1), “A false balance is an abomination to God; but a perfect weight is His delight” (11:1), and “A soft answer turns away wrath; but a grievous word stirs up anger” (15:1). The most famous section of the Book of Proverbs  is comprised of the final 21 verses, which are known Aishet Chayil, and extol the virtues of the Woman of Valor.

The Book of Proverbs was included in the Biblical canon as one of the works of Writings (Ketuvim). As such, it is considered a non-prophetic book of wisdom that has important life-lessons  to offer every generation.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wisdom Message

Teach the younger people in your life about the wisdom of Judaism.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Who Was Rava?

The scholars of Babylon had a tremendous impact on Jewish life. Many of the greatest rabbis came from the academies in Babylon, whose thoughts and opinions were recorded in the Talmud. Among these great Babylonian scholars was a sage called Rava.

Rava’s real name was Abba ben Joseph ben Chama. Both his father and grandfather were  respected sages as well. Raised in the town of Machuza, Rava was a student of the nearby Academy of Pumbedita (in what is today Falluja, Iraq). Rava’s rise to scholastic greatness was matched by his fellow student Abaye, with whom he is paired throughout the Talmud. In almost all of their recorded debates, however, the halachic ruling follows Rava’s opinion.

It is interesting to note that Rava is quoted saying, “I had asked three things of God: the wisdom of Rav Huna, the riches of Rav Chisda, and the modesty of Rabbah bar Rav Chuna, The first two requests were granted me, but not the third”(Talmud Moed Katan 28). His actual humility, however, was confirmed by the fact that he graciously stepped aside when Abaye was appointed as head of the Pumbedita Academy, even though Rava was acknowledged to be the greater scholar. After Abaye’s death, the students of Pumbedita looked to Rava as their leader, even though he was the head of the Academy in Machuza.

Rava’s wealth came from his wine business. Consequently, Jewish Treats will leave you with one interesting anecdote that demonstrates his excellent character, as well as his skill as a winemaker: “When Rava learnt this [that something he said had offended his teacher, Rav Joseph], he went before him on the eve of the Day of Atonement, and found his attendant mixing him a cup of wine.* ‘Let me prepare it for him [as a sign of respect],’ said he. So he gave it to him, and he mixed the cup of wine. On drinking it he observed, ‘This mixture is like that of Rava the son of Rabbi Joseph ben Hama” (Talmud Nedarim 55a).

*It was common to mix and dilute wine.

Happy For You

Put aside feelings of jealousy and be truly happy when others succeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Star Symbol

Looking for a nice piece of Judaica? Why not go for something really Jewish, like a Star of David. This ancient symbol of Judaism is...well, actually, although the Star of David is a popular Jewish symbol today, it isn’t an ancient Jewish symbol at all

The Star of David, also known as the Magen David (Shield of David), is supposedly the shape of the shield that was carried by King David. However, there are no Biblical descriptions of King David’s shield, nor have any archeological artifacts of such a shield ever been found. While there have been some ancient Jewish sites discovered with designs similar to a modern day Star of David, interlocked triangles were not an uncommon symbol in the ancient Middle East and North Africa.

It was not until some time in the 17th century that the Star of David began to appear as a Jewish symbol, particularly outside synagogues, possibly in contrast to the cross placed on the doors of a church.

The 1600s were also a time when kabbalistic (mystical) study flourished. As the Magen David became common, the kabbalists saw great meaning in its design. For instance, the six points represent six directions (East, West, South, North, Up and Down) while the empty space created in the middle represents the world as a whole.

Because this six-pointed star was associated with King David, the famed warrior who greatly expanded the borders of ancient Israel, it is not at all surprising that it was quickly adopted as a symbol by the early Zionist movement and is today the central symbol on the Israeli flag.

While the history of the Jewish star may surprise us, today it is almost universally accepted as a symbol of Judaism.

This Treat was last posted on December 8, 2008.

Be Proud

Express your pride in your Jewish heritage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

For Dew and Rain

As indicated by Jewish prayer, the rainy season in the land of Israel begins just after the holiday of Sukkot and ends at the start of Passover. During this time, there are two special phrases that are added to the Amidah, the central prayer of each service. The first - Mashiv ha'ruach u'morid ha'geshem, Who causes the wind to blow, and the rain to fall - is an expression of praise added to the second blessing of the Amidah beginning with the Mussaf service on Shemini Atzeret. The second insertion - v’tein tal u’matar, And bestow dew and rain for blessing* - is a request added to the ninth blessing of the Amidah (the blessing for a year of economic well-being). But, the date on which this phrase is added depends on where one lives. Those residing in the land of Israel begin saying V’tein tal u’matar on the 7th of Cheshvan (today). Those living outside of Israel, however, add it at the beginning of December.**

Whereas mashiv ha'ruach focuses specifically on rain for the land of Israel, v’tein tal u’matar is connected to one’s individual success, which is why it is included in the request for a year of economic well-being. The sages therefore took into consideration the well-being of the individuals and set the date for beginning to pray for rain on the 7th of Cheshvan, two weeks after the end of the holiday, so that the farmers who came to Jerusalem would be able to get home before the rains begin.

At the same time, the sages were concerned with the needs of the great number of Jews who lived in Babylon. Following Babylon’s seasonal schedule, the sages set the time to recite v’tein tal u’matar 60 days after the halachically recognized fall equinox. While the diaspora has expanded to encompass the entire world, the date for those living outside the land of Israel remains the one set for Babylon. This year, that date correlates to December 5th on the Gregorian calendar.

* The rest of the year, one recites - v’tein bracha And bestow blessing - at this same point in the prayer
**Due to the calculations of the Gregorian calendar, this date shifts by one day every century or so.

Gratitude for Rain

When it rains, let yourself feel a sense of gratitude.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Revealing Sodom

With recent news reports about the possible discovery of the ruins of the ancient city of Sodom, Jewish Treats presents a taste of the city's evil nature as recorded in the Midrash:

"Now, they had beds upon which travelers slept. If he [the guest] was too long, they shortened him [by cutting off his feet]; if too short, they stretched him out...If a poor man happened to come there, every resident gave him a denar (coin), upon which he wrote his name, but no bread was given to him. When he died, each came and took back his denar...A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, [hiding it] in a pitcher. Once the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. Thus it is written (Genesis 18:20), ‘And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, because it is great:’ whereon Rab Judah commented in Rab's name: On account of the [cries of the] maiden" (Talmud Sanhedrin 109a).

It was not only outsiders to whom the people of Sodom demonstrated their corrupt sense of morality:

“Rabbi Levi said: [God said]: ‘Even if I wished to keep silent, justice for a certain maiden does not permit Me to keep silent’ For it once happened that two damsels went down to draw water from a well. Said one to the other, ‘Why are you so pale?’ ‘We have no more food left and are ready to die [from starvation],’ replied she. What did she do? She [the other maiden] filled her pitcher with flour and they exchanged [their pitchers], each taking the other’s. When they [the Sodomites] discovered this, they took [the maiden who helped her friend] and burnt her” (Genesis Rabbah 49:6).

The people of Sodom weren’t just stingy, they were outright malicious to those in need. God destroyed the city because the city represented the true and utter perversion of justice in the world.

Others' Sake

Do not turn your back on someone in need.

Friday, October 16, 2015

This Day is Honored

Shabbat meals, like many aspects of Jewish life, are a beautiful synthesis of our physical and spiritual selves. Physically, we enjoy delightful feasts at which our most beautiful tableware is used and delicious foods are presented. Spiritually, we elevate ourselves through the sanctification of the day (Kiddush) and the divrei Torah (words of Torah) shared at the Shabbat table.

Singing zmirot, special Shabbat songs, is also an excellent means of physically and spiritually elevating the Shabbat meal, especially as song brings joy to both body and soul. Although many of the traditional Shabbat zmirot are somewhat abstract in their exact meaning, one of the most popular songs for Shabbat day, Yom Zeh Mechubad, is a true paean to the day of rest.

Yom Zeh Mechubad: The chorus of this song (Yom zeh mechubad mee’kohl yameem, kee vo shavat Tzoor oh’lameem) means “This day is honored above all days, for on it He Who fashioned the universe, rested.”

The five verses that follow serve to glorify the precept that “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said until Israel: ‘My children, borrow [money for your Shabbat needs] on my account and celebrate the holiness of the day, trust in Me, and I will repay” (Beitzah 15b). The first verse reiterates the basic commandment of Shabbat, that six days one may work, but the seventh day belongs to God. The concluding verses describe the ways in which one honors Shabbat and reiterates the Divine assurance that “You will lack nothing on it, you will eat, be satisfied, and bless God...” (Stanza 4).

The author of this simple but beautiful zemer is unknown, although, based on the first letter acrostic of each verse, it appears that his first name was Israel.

Listen to one version of the song by clicking here.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sing for Shabbat

Use song to enhance the spirit of your Shabbat.