Friday, November 15, 2019

Can’t We Agree on the Blessings over Brit Milah?

Parashat Vayera contains the story of the circumcision of Isaac (Genesis 21:4), the first person to undergo the ritual of circumcision on the eighth day of life.

At a Brit Milah, the mohel (individual who performs the circumcision) recites a blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl ha’milah. 
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding circumcision.

Immediately after the removal of the foreskin, a second blessing is reciting by the father of the baby: Ba’ruch Ahtah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu l’hach’nih’so bi’vri’to shel Avraham ah’vi’nu. 
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to bring him into the covenant of Abraham our father.

After the father completes his blessing, those congregated respond:
Amen. K’shehm she’nich’nas lah’brit, keyn yi’kah’nes le’Torah, uh’le’chupah, uh’le’ma’ah’seem toh’veem Amen. 
Just as he [the child] has entered the covenant, may he too enter into Torah, the marital canopy and to good deeds.

Some have the custom to recite a third blessing, which is recited in contexts of joy and newness.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh. 
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this occasion.

The She’he’cheh’yanu blessing is generally recited when one wears new clothes for the first time, when one fulfills a mitzvah for the first time (such as lighting Chanukah candles or waving the four species on Sukkot for the first time that year), and upon the birth of a baby girl. Generally, there is unanimity as to when to recite the She’he’cheh’yanu blessing. In the case of brit milah, Sephardic Jews recite it while Ashkenazic Jews do not. However, another anomaly exists in this context. Ashkenazic Jews in Israel do indeed recite She’he’cheh’yanu. Why the controversy in the case of Brit Milah?

Maimonides rules (Laws of Brit Milah 3:3) that the father of the baby boy recites the she’he’cheh’yanu blessing. Since the commandment to circumcise is fulfilled only on relatively rare occasions, he felt the blessing ought to be recited. Many disagree with Maimonides’ ruling. The Tosafists (Talmud Sukkah 46a) rule that since the Talmud only mentions the first two blessings, no other blessings are added. Others argue that since the baby is enduring a brief painful episode, we can’t classify the moment as fully joyous. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 265:7) comments that she’he’cheh’yanu is recited only when the father himself circumcises his son, and then explicitly quotes Maimonides’. Rabbi Moshe Isserlis ruled that Ashkenazim do not recite the blessing. This is indeed the custom among all of Ashkenazic Jewry in the diaspora.

However, many Ashkenazic Jews living in Israel have accepted the custom to recite the she’he’cheh’yanu blessing. Perhaps this anomaly can be explained as many modern day Ashkenazic customs in Israel derive from the practices of Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon (Sage), whose disciples were among the early settlers in modern day Israel (early 19th century). The Vilna Gaon advocated reciting the blessing, since the joy is felt upon performing of the mitzvah, not on the body of the baby.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rejoice at a Brit Milah

When attending a Brit Milah, make sure to help inject the event with joy.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Operation Magic Carpet

A decade ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on the involvement of the United States’ government in a mission that brought approximately 100 Yemenite Jews to America, a little less than half the remaining Jewish population of Yemen. While Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to protect this small remnant of a community, growing unrest made this nearly impossible. Harassment and outright violence have risen dramatically.

This mission may be the final step of “Operation Magic Carpet,” which began in the summer of 1949...

The history of the Jews of Yemen predates the Muslim religion by many centuries. But, when Yemen became a Muslim country, in the early 10th century, Jews became second-class citizens. Persecution and forced conversions were often governmentally approved (except during the period of Ottoman Rule, 1872-1918).

After the U.N. agreed to partition Palestine in 1947, anti-Semitic attacks became common. Miraculously, the Imam of Yemen allowed the Jews to emigrate. Between June 1949 and September 1950, approximately 49,000 Jews were transported on 380 secret flights to Israel. The flights were not made public until several months after the operation.

“Operation Magic Carpet,” as it was known, was a culture shock to most Yemenite Jews. Many had lived without electricity or running water, had never sat on furniture and certainly had never envisioned an airplane. In fact, many had to be convinced that the airplanes were safe (and they were quoted the Biblical verses referring to the redemption in Messianic times coming on the “wings of eagles” - Exodus 19:4, Isaiah 40:31).

It took a great deal of effort on the part of the Yemenites to assimilate into the modern world. Today, however, the Yemenite community is an integral part of both the Israeli and the worldwide Jewish community.

Operation Magic Carpet” began on November 8, 1949, corresponding to the 16th of Cheshvan.

The treat was originally posted on December 1, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek out opportunities to see God’s hand in history

Learn about current events that are the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, such as the ingathering of the exiles to Israel.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Kristallnacht, literally the Night of Crystal but generally translated as the Night of Broken Glass, was a tragic turning point in the fate of Germany’s Jewish community. The country-wide pogrom began on November 9, 1938, and lasted through the 10th. Over the course of Kristallnacht, close to 100 Jews were killed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, hundreds of synagogues were burned and desecrated and over 7,000 Jewish shops were vandalized and had their shop windows shattered.

The outbreak of violence was orchestrated by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. However, the Nazi leadership firmly maintained that the actions were a spontaneous uprising of the German people against the Jews. They also used fabricated Jewish crimes in order to enact further oppressive laws against Jews, including diverting insurance payments for property destroyed in the pogroms.

The excuse for the so-called “spontaneous” pogrom was the death, on November 9th, of German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath in Paris. He was shot by a 17 year old Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan. Young, unemployed and an illegal resident trying to avoid deportation from Paris, Grynszpan shot the diplomat as a reaction to his parents’ deportation to Poland. The Grynszpans had lived in Hanover, Germany, since 1911. In October 1938, the Germans expelled all Polish Jews from German soil just as Poland was about to implement a new law removing Polish citizenship from anyone residing outside of Poland for more than five years. But Poland refused to take the refugees, and 12,000 Jews were put in refugee camps at the border.

The involvement of German citizens in the pogroms, or at the very least the lack of protest from neighbors (and neighboring countries), affirmed the Nazi’s belief that they could do as they pleased concerning the Jews. Previously oppressive measures had been non-violent, but Kristallnacht was the first step toward the horror of the “Final Solution. 

Today is the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht. 

The country-wide pogrom began on November 9, 1938, corresponding to the 15th of Cheshvan.

This Treat was last posted on November 9, 2018. 

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Never Forget!

Identify a meaningful way today to remember the Holocaust and pledge to assure that acts of genocide will never happen again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Jews in the Fold

Yesterday, November 11, was celebrated internationally as National Origami Day. (Jewish Treats did not publish this essay yesterday in deference to Veteran’s Day.)

Origami is a compound Japanese term: ori means folding and kami means paper. Origami was created in the 6th century CE in Japan. National Origami Day, unsurprisingly, originated in Japan. Today, origami has become a very popular avocation. Some now even use tools to create the paper objects, a practice that had been avoided until relatively recently.

May one engage in origami on Shabbat?

Why would there be a problem?

The 39 categories of prohibited “work” on Shabbat, known in Hebrew as the melachot, are not based on exertion or what a labor union would consider “toil.” Rather, the sages understood the forbidden categories as those employed to “create” and “build” the Tabernacle, which housed the Ark of the Covenant and other vessels. The Tabernacle, or Mishkan in Hebrew, became the locus of Jewish spirituality until Solomon constructed the permanent Temple in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE. Those forbidden actions range from the process of baking bread (seeding to cooking), creating fabrics (sheep shearing to cutting and bleaching), fashioning leather (trapping, slaughtering and tanning) and others.

In his landmark work on the laws of Shabbat, composed in the 20th century, Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth ruled, based on the opinion of his teacher and renowned halachic expert, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that engaging in origami on Shabbat would not be permitted. He felt that origami would fall under the prohibition of creating a new utensil. Creating a new utensil can be a derivative prohibition of “building” or administering “the final hammer blow,” i.e. making an item usable. This ruling came in the chapter on children’s games in Rabbi Neuwirth’s magnum opus, “Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchita” (The Observance of the Sabbath according to the Law) (16:19).

A similar question is asked about folding napkins to make the dinner table more attractive. Rabbi Neuwirth, again, quoting his mentor, felt that one should avoid this because of its being similar to the prohibition of building. He felt, however, that folding a napkin does not parallel the prohibition of creating a new utensil. Rabbi Moshe Stern, (1914-1997) known as the Rabbi of Debrecin (Hungary), where he had served before World War II, dissented from Rabbi Neuwirth’s ruling on folding napkins (see responsa Be’er Moshe 8:134). He felt that folding napkins or paper would only be forbidden on Shabbat when the paper is of very thick stock.

Happy National Origami Day, especially when it does not fall on Shabbat!

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Study the Laws of Shabbat

Learning or reviewing Shabbat guidelines will enhance your Shabbat experience.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Story of Lenny Kravitz

On March 6, 1951, a platoon of American soldiers serving in the Korean War came under heavy fire by the Chinese Army near Yangpyong, Korea. When the platoon’s Machine Gunner was wounded, Private First Class Leonard Kravitz took over for his injured comrade. Shortly thereafter, the platoon was ordered to retreat. PFC Kravitz refused to withdraw, because he knew that if he left his position, the Chinese would take the advantage. His protective fire enabled a safe retreat for his comrades, but cost him his life. When the American troops retook the area, they found Kravitz’s body slumped over the gun, the majority of ammunition expended, and numerous enemy dead before him. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award accorded to members of the United States Army.

PFC Leonard Kravitz (the uncle of the musician of the same name)  was 20 years old when he was killed in action. His heroism may have remained just one of the many stories of fallen soldiers cherished by the surviving family, if not for Kravitz’s close friend from his Brooklyn childhood, and fellow Korean War veteran, Mitchel Libman.

Libman was bothered that Kravitz had not received the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious American military award. He noticed that Kravitz and numerous other deserving Jewish heroes had been given lesser honors for similar acts of valor by non-Jewish servicemen who had received the Medal of Honor. In fact, not one of the 136 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean War was given to a member of the Jewish faith.

Libman’s findings turned into a multi-decade campaign that was later taken up by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. In 2001, Representative Wexler introduced the Jewish War Veterans Act (informally called the “Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act”), which called for a review of Jewish veterans awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to determine if the more distinguished Medal of Honor should have been given. 

On March 18, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Leonard Kravitz, and 23 other veterans, including 17 Latinos, one African American and one Jew (Kravitz). In rectifying a national injustice, Obama stated: “Here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.” The president also honored Libman, 83 at the time, for his life-long work that made the new awards possible.

Mitchell Libman passed away in Davie, FL, on June 24, 2017.

This Treat was last posted on November 11, 2013.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Veteran Causes

Go out of your way to support financially or through volunteering, causes that benefit and express gratitude to U.S. veterans for their selfless contributions.

Friday, November 8, 2019

No Strings Attached

Deuteronomy 16:18 states: "...You shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words."

Although this statement of Jewish law is written in Deuteronomy, the final Book of the Torah, the concept of avoiding bribery is first found in Genesis 14. The patriarch Abraham is drawn into a regional war when his nephew, Lot, was taken captive when a group of Mesopotamian kings seized Sodom. Organizing his compatriots, Abraham and his followers attacked at night and defeated the invaders. When Abraham brought Lot and the rest of the captured citizens of Sodom home, Sodom’s king offered him all of the captured wealth in return for his subjects. Abraham responded: "I have lifted up my hand unto the Lord, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-lace nor anything that is yours, lest you should say: I have made Abram [Abraham] rich" (Genesis 14:22-23).

Abraham knew of the King of Sodom’s general lack of concern for others and did not wish to ever be beholden to him.
The sage, Rabba, notes the deeper ramifications of Abraham’s refusal to accept even a small token of appreciation: "[Because of this response, Abraham’s] descendants were worthy of receiving two commandments: the thread of blue [tzitzit/tallit katan] and the strap of the phylacteries [tefillin]" (Sotah 17a).

What is the connection between rejecting bribery and the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin? The answer can be summed up in Abraham’s response: "Lest you should say, I have made Abram rich." Tefillin, which are worn on one’s forehead and forearm, and tzitzit, which are attached to one’s clothing, are both mitzvot that are meant to be constant reminders of God’s omnipotence and of the fact that one should strive never to be beholden unto anyone except God.

This Treat was last posted on October 25, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Avoid even the appearance of being bribed

Always take the high road and avoid the appearance that external factors, such as a bribe or other negative factors, impacted the decision.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Jewish Winter Palace

November 7, 1917, or October 25th on the Julian Calendar that was still used by the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, marks the climax of the Russian Revolution. On that day, the Bolsheviks stormed the Czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the last remaining holdout of the official provisional Czarist government, paving the way for the creation of the Soviet Union. The gorgeous and glorious Winter Palace, which contained the throne of Peter the Great, was renamed The Hermitage, and functioned as a Soviet Museum during the decades-long rule of the Bolsheviks.

Jewish history also has a Winter Palace.

After the victory of the Maccabees in 165 BCE, the Seleucid Greeks were expelled from their hegemonic rulership over the Land of Israel. In 142 BCE, the Hasmonean Dynasty was established to rule over Judea. Later, when the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea, the Hasmonean kings became puppets to Rome. In 34 BCE, Herod overthrew the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, after winning a three-year civil war, initiating the Herodian dynasty.

The Maccabees and Hasmoneans were the same people, all descendants of Mattityahu the High Priest. While Hasmonean rule emerged from Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital city for millennia, a winter palace was constructed in the city of Jericho, about one day’s horse ride from the Capital, because its weather during the winter was milder. The palaces were places for the monarchs to rest, but also to conduct state business. Aqueducts from the nearby Wadi Kelt brought fresh water to the palaces, which was used for drinking and irrigating the vast agricultural fields that grew dates, plants and spices.

The Hasmonean palaces featured an open courtyard surrounded by rooms, a design closely paralleling Hellenistic architecture. There were bathrooms with bathtubs, colored frescos and twin swimming pools. Subsequent renovations included bathhouses and mikva’ot (pools for ritual immersion).

After the overthrow of the Hasmoneans, Herod built his Winter Palace over the Hasmonean palace. It was much larger and more lavish. It included the Hasmonean palaces on the north side of Wadi Kelt, and a palace on the southern side of the wadi was added, from land Cleopatra of Egypt leased to Herod. She received it as a gift from Marcus Antonius in 36 BCE. It was built in 3 stages, even connecting the two palaces with a bridge.

The palaces were destroyed during the Jewish rebellion against Rome from 66 to 70 CE.

The Hasmonean winter palace and Herod’s updates were some of the earliest archeological discoveries after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

World History and Jewish History

While there is much to learn from world history, it is critical to master Jewish history, which is not only “our history,” but it also enables the transmission of Jewish tradition and values.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Yonah of Geronah

It is a fact of history that students have frequently been at the center of radical movements, often under the influence of a teacher or mentor. This was the case of Rabbi Yonah of Geronah, who, following the lead of his teacher Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier, passionately called for a ban on the philosophical work of Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed. In fact, Rabbi Yonah is generally regarded as the instigator of the 1233 Inquisitional book burning of Maimonides’ work. 

Just under a decade later, Rabbi Yonah was himself witness to a far more threatening book burning of 24 wagon loads of the Talmud. He was deeply troubled by the fear that his own actions nine years earlier may have paved the path that led to this second book burning. According to tradition, he declared his error in condemning Maimonides’ work and vowed to visit Maimonides’ grave in Tiberias to beg for forgiveness from the legendary sage.  

In the 13th century, a journey to the holy land often took years. The first leg of his journey took Rabbi Yonah from Montpellier, France, to Barcelona, Spain, where he remained for three years before continuing on his way. He never made it to the Holy Land. When his travels took him to Toledo, the local community convinced him to assume a position as a Talmud instructor. It was meant to be a temporary situation, but on 8 Cheshvan* 1263, he died suddenly from a rare disease. 

Rabbi Yonah was a renowned scholar, and his death was mourned by all of Spanish Jewry. Rabbi Yonah is best known for his moral/ethical works: Iggeret Ha’teshuva, Sha'arey Teshuva, and Sefer Ha’yir'ah(Letter of Repentance, Gates of Repentance and Book of Awe).

One interesting additional fact about Rabbi Yonah is that his daughter married the son of his first cousin, Nachmanides, Rabbi Moses ben Nachmon.

*Some sources list 27 Cheshvan as the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yonah. 

This Treat was last posted on October 24, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Heroism

A Jewish hero, Jewish wisdom asserts, is one who can acknowledge wrongdoing and rectify the future by avoiding the misdeed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ginger Ail?

Happy “Love Your Red Hair Day”! Those endowed with ginger-ness (In Israel, a redheaded person is called a “gingy”), 1% of the world’s population and 2% of that of the United States, are sometimes associated with a fiery personality and other negative traits that are associated with their follicular hue. As we will see, traits that are ascribed based on hair color are largely unfounded. Individuals such as Alexander the Great, Mark Twain, Vincent Van Gogh, British Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Winston Churchill were redheads. U.S. presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower (three out of four were prominent generals) were also “ginger.”

Two Biblical characters are identified as redheads.

Genesis 25 (verse 25) describes the birth of Rebecca’s twins. “The first emerged 'Admoni,’ all over, like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau (or Esav in Hebrew).” At first glance, admoni, can be related to the Hebrew word adom for red. After all, the verse links the term to hair. However, Edom is also the name of a nation adjacent to the Land of Israel (modern day Jordan), that the Torah claims descends from Esav (see Genesis 36:9). Rashi in Genesis 25:25, states that the word admoni, however, refers to the blood that Esav, the hunter and warrior, will spill. Additionally, 5 verses later, (Genesis 25:30) Esav is described as arriving home starving, asking his brother Jacob to “feed me, I beg you, with that same red pottage; for I am famished; therefore, his name was called Edom (red).”

The second redhead mentioned in Scriptures is King David. When the prophet Samuel approached Yishai (Jesse) to anoint one of his seven sons to become king of Israel, the last son he contemplated for royalty was his youngest, David. The verse states (Samuel I 16:12): “And he sent, and brought him in. And he was admoni, with beautiful eyes, and good looking. And the Lord said, “arise, anoint him; for this is he.” While many assume this refers to his gingerness, the textual link is less clear, as hair is not specifically mentioned. Some feel it connotes a ruddy complexion.

Do David and Esav’s hair color indicate anything about their behavioral dispositions? David is the progenitor of the Davidic Dynasty, the bloodline of the Messiah. Esav, according to Rabbi Shimon the son of Yochai, claims that Esav will always be the enemy and foil of Jacob, the people of Israel (Midrash Sifri, Be’haalotcha, 69). Apparently, there does not appear to be any common denominators we can learn about being a redhead.

An interesting story is told, that when Napoleon (also a redhead) would go to battle, he would see a vision of a red-haired Jew bringing victory to the French. It was reported that he did not see a red-haired Jew before his battle at Waterloo, where he fell (recorded in “Imagining Holiness: Classic Tales in Modern Times” by Justin Jaron Lewis, pp. 125). This episode is similar to the story that appears in the Talmud (Yoma 69a) that Alexander the Great would see the image of Simon the Righteous before battles. When Alexander prepared to sack Jerusalem, its leader, Simon the Righteous approached Alexander, who bowed to the ground, finally witnessing the countenance that had always appeared to him in victory. Alexander, the Talmud concludes, agreed not to destroy Jerusalem.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Never Judge a Human Book by Its Cover

Genetic traits such as hair color do not determine how individuals behave. Be careful not to stereotype or even make assumptions about people based on their external features.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Counting on You?

Every nation seeks to know how many citizens it has, which can also inform the nation of the quantitative strength of its armed forces. In democratic countries, counting the nation also impacts on elections, and determines congressional jurisdictions in representative democracies such as the United States.

Israel conducted its first census on the 6th of Cheshvan, 1948. It found that 712,000 Jews and 68,000 Arabs lived within its boundaries.

Yet, Jewish tradition hesitates to count individuals. This reluctance has Scriptural origins, and in ancient times, conducting a direct census was avoided. Instead, all adult male Jews donated half a shekel annually, which was a back-handed way of counting the Israelite people (Exodus 30:12). The Torah warns not to count directly, “so that there be no plague among them…”

The Talmud (Yoma 22b) cites Rabbi Yitzchak’s assertion that counting Jews is forbidden. Rabbi Yitzchak learns this from a story regarding King Saul (Samuel I 11:8). Saul needed to know how many soldiers were in his army prior to a battle against Nachash the Edomite. Rabbi Yitzchak understands that each soldier presented a shard of pottery, so the pieces of earthenware were counted, rather than heads. Another source (ibid. 15:4) describes how each soldier brought a lamb to be enumerated. Maimonides (Laws of Daily and Additional Offerings 4:4) also prohibits counting Jews directly. The Talmud (Berachot 62b) notes that even school children are aware of this prohibition.

During the State of Israel’s 1972 census, rabbinic sages weighed in on the propriety of a census in a Jewish state. Rabbi Yechiel Y. Weinberg did not find any prohibition in a national tally, but another leading expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg found the census problematic. While Rabbi Isser Yehudah Unterman, Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in 1972, permitted participation in the census, the leadership of the Hareidi community forbade participation. Rabbi Weinberg argued that the names on the census form’s lines were being enumerated, not the people. He also felt that conducting a census fell under the rubric of national security, which takes precedence over almost everything else in Jewish law. Rabbi Weinberg also cited an opinion of Gersonides, which claims that after the original half-shekel donation, all subsequent national counts took place by counting names, not heads. In the Biblical book of Numbers (1:2 and 26:53) the text explicitly states, “according to the number of names.” Other sages suggested that the subsequent censuses were conducted with slips of paper (Rabbi Naftali Z.Y. Berlin, citing Arizal.)

In the 1983 Israeli census, as an accommodation to the objectors, the government removed the box on the census form which asked for the total number of people in the household. They also instituted that machines would conduct the count, not people.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Aggregates and Individuals

While it’s important to view data in totality, we should never forget that the collective is comprised of distinct and unique units. This is especially true when dealing with individual people.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Seven Mitzvot

Jewish law places great emphasis on the way a Jew must live and the rewards for living according to Jewish law. Laws such as Shabbat and kashrut create a lifestyle in which Jews mingle mostly with other Jews, and thus are separated from the rest of the world. That does not mean, however, that the Torah ignores non-Jews.

While many of the other major religions of the world insist that their way of life is the only way to live, Judaism expresses a very different opinion. According to the Torah, Jewish law is the ideal way for a JEW to live, and by living that way a Jew will receive great reward in the next world. However, a non-Jew may also receive reward in the next world by faithfully following the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah (Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach).

The seven laws are:

1. Prohibition of idolatry.
2. Prohibition of murder.
3. Prohibition of theft.
4. Prohibition of sexual immorality.
5. Prohibition of blasphemy.
6. Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive.
7. Requirement to have an effective judiciary to establish civil laws and enforce the preceding six laws fairly.

In recent years there has been a small, but growing, movement of non-Jewish people who observe these seven laws and have formed “Noahide” communities. They are dedicated to living their lives according the path set out by the Torah for non-Jews. These groups often associate with their local Jewish community, which supports the Noahides and gives them strength and encouragement to face the challenges of living a lifestyle that differs from the majority culture.

This Treat was last posted on February 4, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Covenant with Humanity

While God has made covenants with the Jewish people, He also has expectations for all human beings. As such, God is linked to all members of the human race and is the God of all of humanity.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Support Jewish organizations that were transplanted from pre-Holocaust Europe and survived

Take pride and support Jewish organizations that have resiliently survived Hitler’s genocide.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Belarus, China, Jerusalem and Brooklyn: The Odyssey of the World’s Largest Yeshiva

For 125 years, from 1814 until 1939, the Mir Yeshiva served as a beacon of elite Torah study on the European continent. Situated in the small town of Mir in Belarus, the yeshiva was founded by Rabbi Shmuel Tiktinsky. Eventually, after a few generations of Tiktinsky Roshei Yeshiva (Deans of Yeshiva), Rabbi Eliyahu Boruch Kamai was appointed Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of Yeshiva) and his daughter married a young scholar named Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, the son of the famed Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter of Slabodka, the sagacious, pious and inspiring leader of the Slabodka Yeshiva. Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda eventually was named Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva. With the exception of the World War I years, when the yeshiva was forced to move to Poltava, Ukraine, The Mir Yeshiva educated thousands of students in their building in Belarus.

The story of the Mir Yeshiva’s escape from Hitler’s clutches is legendary, and some would even argue, miraculous. The story how they approached the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, for exit visas is one of the few positive stories of Jewish rescue that emerged during World War II. After the Mir Yeshiva’s relocation to Shanghai, China, during the years of World War II, the faculty and students immigrated to Jerusalem, Israel, and New York. Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah served as Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Jerusalem until his death on July 19, 1965. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz. The reins of the yeshiva’s leadership returned to the Finkel family when Rabbi Nahum Partzovitz, Rabbi Shmuelevitz’ son-in-law passed away, and Rabbi Beinish Finkel, son of Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, was appointed as Rosh Yeshiva. American born and bred Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Beinish’s son-in-law, led Mir Jerusalem until his passing in 2011. Currently, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi’s son, Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, serves as Rosh Yeshiva.

The other branch of Mir moved to Brooklyn, NY, after the yeshiva’s sojourn in Asia. Mir Brooklyn, known as the Mirrer Yeshiva, was led by Rabbi Avraham Kalmanovitz, and then, Rabbi Kalmanovitz’ son-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum. Rabbi Bernbaum passed away in 2008, and the yeshiva is currently led by Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Nelkenbaum, Rabbi Elya Brudny Rabbi Asher Dov Bernbaum and Rabbi Asher Eliyahu Kalmanovitz.

Mir Jerusalem, with 8,500 students, is the largest yeshiva in the world.

The Mir Yeshiva in Belarus closed in Europe on the second of Cheshvan, 1939.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Month of Mar-Cheshvan

Today is Rosh Chodesh Mar-Cheshvan, the first day of the month of Mar-Cheshvan, which is the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar. (The count of the months begins with Nissan.) Although the month is named Mar-Cheshvan, it is more commonly referred to as Cheshvan.

During Mar-Cheshvan, the Jews celebrate...well, actually nothing. The uniqueness of the month is that it has no festivals, no days set aside for rejoicing, and not even a single fast day. In fact, its lack of holidays is why it is named Mar-Cheshvan; Mar means bitter.

The eighth month was not always called Mar-Cheshvan, which is a word most probably of Babylonian origin (as are many of the names of the months). When mentioned in Biblical sources it is referred to either as “the eighth month” or Bool (see I Kings 6:38), a word closely related to the Hebrew word mabool, meaning flood.

According to tradition, the 17th of Cheshvan was the start of the great flood that took place in the time of Noah and destroyed the world. Just over a year later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, Noah and his family discovered that the waters of the flood had completely receded.

The kabbalists also believe that Cheshvan is the month in which the Messiah will arrive. However, in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a, Rabbi Zeyra tries to discourage such calculations by quoting an earlier teaching that “Three things come from nowhere: Moshiach (the Messiah), a found article and [the bite of] a scorpion.” The mention of the scorpion is interesting because Cheshvan is associated with the zodiacal sign of the scorpion.

This Treat was first published on October 19, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Month Devoid of Pomp

While everyone likes a party and holidays, there is also holiness in the mundane. Each day brings with it opportunities for Godliness.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Can Hermit Day be Celebrated in a Group?

October 29th is celebrated as Hermit Day, lauding those who prefer to spend time by themselves rather than socializing with others. However, some point to Hermit Day not as a lifestyle, but as a tempting once a year respite from the rat race.

Does Judaism celebrate or condone living as a hermit?

The Nazarite may be the most obvious Biblical concept associated with the hermit. Nazarites, who accept ascetic practices upon themselves, abstain from cutting their hair, do not drink grape products and avoid coming in contact with the dead, all signs of social interaction. Interestingly, upon completion of the term of the Nazarite oath, the Nazir brings a sin offering. While some suggest that the “sin” was ending the Nazarite term, most of the commentaries suggest that the transgression was becoming a Nazarite to begin with, opting to shun all forms of socialization, and refusing to engage in pleasures of life that are permitted in Jewish law!

However, there are elements of asceticism that are considered productive.

Maimonides describes some of these elements when listing the attributes needed to receive Divine prophecy (Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, chapter 7). In addition to be fully conversant in all facets of the Torah, and behaving in a saintly and exemplary way, Maimonides writes that all prophets (with the exception of Moses) must prepare themselves for prophecy. In addition to intense concentration, and being in a state of joy, Maimonides writes that in order to attain the spirit of prophecy, one must be in “undisturbed solitude,” mit’bodedim.

There are ancient Jewish sources that advocate for a practice known as “hitbodedut,” which means self- seclusion. Although rabbis such as Avraham the son of Maimonides, Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the AriZal, and his student Rabbi Chaim Vital, all encouraged this practice, it is Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who is most identified with the exercise. The Breslover method has the individual communicating with God in an informal and intimate way, in a private or isolated setting. Rabbi Nachman favored natural settings such as fields and forests. He also preferred hitbodedut in the middle of the night, when less activity was taking place around him. The individual experiencing hitbodedut speaks to God as they would speak to another person, or more accurately, like a therapist, describing in the vernacular all of their issues. It is also meant to be a form of introspection.

So, enjoy the annual Hermit Day. Now you know how Judaism relates to various forms of asceticism.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don’t segregate yourself from the community

Humans are social creatures. It’s important for each individual Jew to be an active member of the Jewish community.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Don’s Commentary

Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) was one of the greatest statesmen of his time (the second half of the 15th century). He was a financial genius who served in the royal courts of Portugal, Castile (until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492), Naples and Venice. (For more on this aspect of his life, please see last year’s Treat: ”The Great Don”.)

Don Isaac Abrabanel was also one of the greatest Jewish minds of his generation. In fact, he is most commonly referred to among scholars simply as “Abrabanel.” After his arrival in Toledo (Castile) at the age of 46, he dedicated himself to studying and writing commentaries on the Torah. In a six month period he wrote commentaries on the Books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel. Abrabanel’s commentaries, which include works on the Pentatuch and the Prophets, are unique in several ways: (1) before each chapter of commentary, the Abrabanel presented a list of questions/difficulties that would be answered, (2) he integrated socio-cultural and historical information into his commentaries, and (3) he wrote extensively about the concept of the Messiah.

Abrabanel also produced philosophical works, even though he opposed many of the common philosophical viewpoints of his times. For instance, whereas Maimonides attributed some aspects of prophecy to the imagination, Abrabanel believed that they were always complete Divine communications.

Being a wealthy and pious Jew, Abrabanel was dedicated to helping his brethren. When Arzilla, Morocco, was conquered by Arab raiders, Abrabanel raised the money (donating generously himself) to redeem the 250 Jews from slavery. He then resettled them in Portugal and helped support them while they adjusted to their new country. Alas, while he tried, numerous times, to use his wealth to prevent the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, he was unable to counter the influence that Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, had on King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

On this yarhtzeit of Don Isaac Abrabanel, Jewish Treats pays tribute to a man who rose to great power but never relinquished his greatest treasure, the Torah.

This Treat was last posted on October 27, 2011.

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Busy People Study Torah

Everyone can study Torah. Even important politicians and business leaders can prioritize the study of Torah despite their very busy schedules.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ezer K'negdo

Today’s Treat begins with a short, sweet story about the great Tzaddik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, and his wife, Hannah. One day, Mrs. Levine hurt her foot and needed to see a doctor. Her husband escorted her to the doctor’s office, where they waited patiently for their turn. When they went into the exam room, the doctor asked what was the problem. Rabbi Levine looked up and said, “My wife’s foot hurts us.”
Rabbi Levine truly saw his wife as an extension of himself, and vice-versa. This is the ultimate understanding of the marriage partnership.

When God decided that it was not good for Adam to be alone, He stated: “It is not good that the human being should be alone; I will make a help-meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). What exactly is a help-meet? In Hebrew the term used is ezer-k’negdo, which is literally translated as helper-against him, seemingly a term that contradicts itself.

No one would argue against the formulation that marriage is a partnership. The Jewish perspective on this partnership, however, sheds an important light on just how that partnership works. For most people, the idea of ezer, helper, is obvious. Of course spouses are supposed to assist one another, to be there for each other in times of need.

It is, however, equally important for a spouse to be k’neged--in opposition--when it is in the other person’s best interest. After all, “helping” does not mean always agreeing. Sometimes a spouse has to force an issue, be critical, and push the partner to do the right thing. This may mean simply discouraging a spouse from wasting time/money, or something far more significant, such as confronting substance abuse. This is what a partnership is all about.

This Treat was last posted on June 8, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Life Partner

Treat your spouse like an extension of yourself. If you are looking for a husband or wife, seek someone to whom you would like to fully give of yourself.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

His Tricks Were Quite A Treat

It is commonly acknowledged that the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) set the standard for all performing magicians to come. Many people are also aware of the fact that he died on October 31st (on Halloween), 1926.

What many people do not know is that Houdini’s real name was really Ehrich Weisz, and he was the son of a Hungarian rabbi who brought his family to America when Ehrich was a baby. Ehrich became Harry, and he took the stage name Houdini to honor his idol, the French magician Robert Houdin.

Houdini’s interest and passion for magic began when he was in his early teens. By the time he was 20, he was performing throughout New York. One of the frequent ways in which Houdini gained fame was by escaping from police handcuffs and jails, encouraging the police in cities across America and in Europe to test his skill. Harry mastered every type of escape act, from straight jackets to water chambers, at the same time that he became the master of all illusion.

In addition to his magic, Houdini starred in several motion pictures (featuring excellent action and not-such-good acting), two of which he produced in his own studio. He was also fascinated by aviation and was the first person to fly over Australia. He was an avid book collector and authored a book of his own, “A Magician Among the Spirits,” which chronicled his investigation and debunking of “spiritualism” (mediums connecting to the world of spirits).

In October 1926, while on tour in Montreal, Houdini allowed a young man to punch him in the abdomen to prove his boast that he could withstand any blow to his body above the waist. Unfortunately, what Houdini did not know was that his appendix was infected. Due to the blow, his appendix burst, and Houdini died several days later of peritonitis.

Harry Houdini’s final performance occurred on October 24, 1926.

This Treat was last posted on October 31, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Follow the Artistic Accomplishments of Jewish Performers

Many Jews have been trailblazers in the entertainment industry. Take pride in their accomplishments.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

What Is Isru Chag?

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Isru Chag following Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Find Ways to Memorialize All Important Events

In addition to photos, videos and souvenirs, think of other ways to memorialize important life events and occasions.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility. The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah.

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Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 oxen were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests offered sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never-ending.

On the night of Simchat Torah, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.

During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.

For more information on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, click here.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Torah is Proud!

Some have pointed out that Simchat Torah, can be translated into English as “the Torah’s joy.” After celebrating Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Hoshana Rabba with fealty, awe and joy, the Torah itself rejoices in the loyalty and faith of the Jewish people.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (3:31b): "This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King."

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor.

On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around the bimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabba 5780 begins Saturday night.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Some people have a custom to eat kreplach, 
meat dumplings, on Hoshana Rabba.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Everyone Does the Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we can reach our full potential once again.

For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot.  Please click here.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

You Are So Beautiful

On Sukkot, enhancing and beautifying the mitzvot (commandments) of the Sukkah and the Four Species, is a virtue.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Singing Praises

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover and Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which the priests ceremoniously drew water from the spring of Shiloach and poured it into the designated bowl attached to the altar. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, the Celebration of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the spring of Shiloach and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah party, which generally takes place in the sukkah.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Music

One of the ways to celebrate the Jewish holidays, especially Sukkot -- the Festival of Joy, is through music. The Jewish music industry has exploded in recent decades, and many upbeat and lively songs can be purchased, downloaded or listened to for free online.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover and Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts and settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Shechina (Divine Presence) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..." and so on throughout the week.

*The order of the Ushpeezin may vary depending on community. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Value of Hosting

Even in a temporary dwelling, endeavor to welcome guests.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.

Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain, nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all. 

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.