Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days in the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which was on Shabbat, is observed today:

As mentioned in the Talmud, five events are commemorated on this solemn day:

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the First Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the First (actually occurred on the 9th of Tammuz) and Second Temples.  
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the First Temple era.
5. Apustamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

Based on the biblical verses found in Zachariah, Chapters 7 and 8, it is our practice to fast from dawn to nightfall.

For more information, click here.

This Treat was last posted on July 14, 2014.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

 In truth, however, this period of "sadness" begins on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (observed today) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

 While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh'heh'cheh'yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

 From the first day of the month of Av onward (July 17, 2014), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, we customarily avoid the following activities (along with all of the above):

 1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

 2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

 3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for just a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

 This Treat was previously posted on July 15, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reflection

Take some time today for some solemn reflection on the travails of the Jewish people.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Insights into the American Revolution

The American Revolution was a time of great upheaval for the American colonists. Nearly everyone was affected, no matter whether they supported or opposed the revolution. The Jewish colonists were no different than their neighbors in the community’s divided loyalties.

Many Jews joined the revolution and fought alongside their fellow colonists. One noted Jewish soldier was Solomon Bush of Philadelphia, PA. In July 1777, Bush was appointed deputy adjutant-general of the Pennsylvania militia. Later that year, he was not only seriously wounded in the thigh during a skirmish with the British, but, shortly thereafter, taken prisoner. Freed during a prisoner exchange, Bush continued to serve the Continental Army, and, as a lieutenant colonel, was the highest ranking Jewish officer. (Bush is also noted in the congregation’s records as a contributor to Mikveh Israel Congregation in Philadelphia.)

While some sided with the colonists, others were loyalists.

Many of the Jews who were loyalists took refuge in British-controlled New York City . They were not wrong to be concerned about their safety. According to the Royal Gazette (published in New York): Mr. Isaac Hart, of Newport in Rhode-Island, formerly an eminent merchant, and ever a loyal subject, was inhumanly fired upon bayoneted, wounded in fifteen different parts of his body, and beat with their muskets in the most shocking manner in the very act of imploring quarter, and died of his wounds in a few hours after, universally regretted by every true lover of his King and country.

There were also many Jews who felt divided in their own loyalties. Abraham Wagg, who was living in New York City at the outbreak of the war, left for England in 1779. Although he chose to stay with the British, he nevertheless had positive feelings for the colonists and offered suggestions for bringing peace between the two sides.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Power of Shabbat

Jewish life ebbs and flows around the celebration of Shabbat. The days of the week are labelled by a count toward Shabbat (Sunday isYom Rishon, the first day; Monday is Yom Shaynee, the second day, etc). Fast Days (other than Yom Kippur) are rescheduled so that the celebration of Shabbat will not be compromised by the sadness of the fast. Indeed, with the exception of the fast of the tenth of Tevet, even Friday fasts are rescheduled. This year, the rule to push off the fast day from Shabbat effects both the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (this Shabbat) and the fast of the 9th of Av (three weeks from this Shabbat).

Shabbat is referred to as a gift God gave the Jewish people from his treasure room (Talmud Shabbat 10b). The gift is far more than a day off from work, a day to rest. It is a day of working on one’s relationship with God. The fulfillment of a complete and total observance of Shabbat is a powerful key to redemption.

On a personal level, the sages record that the proper observance of Shabbat is enough to negate even the sin of idol worship: “Rabbi Hiyya ben Abba said in Rabbi Johanan's name: He who observes the Sabbath according to its laws, even if he practices idolatry... is forgiven” (Talmud Shabbat 118b).

Additionally, Shabbat is meant to be a day of enjoyment: “Rav Judah said in Rav's name: He who delights in the Sabbath is granted his heart's desires” (ibid).

Shabbat is so powerful that it actually provides the key to salvation on a national level as well: “Rav Judah said in Rav's name: Had Israel kept the first Sabbath, no nation or tongue would have enjoyed dominion over them” (ibid).

Indeed, the unified observance of Shabbat by all Jews remains the continual hope of the Jewish people, as “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai: If Israel were to keep two Sabbaths according to the laws thereof, they would be redeemed immediately”(ibid).


This Treat was last published on October 24, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Calendar Awareness

Be aware that this Shabbat, which happens to be July 4th, is also the 17th of Tammuz, a notorious day in Jewish history.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The End of the Tamid Offering

In the year that the Israelites left Egypt, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Moses descended from Mount Sinai to find the Jewish people dancing around the Golden Calf. In exasperation, Moses threw down the two tablets of law given to him by God, smashing them.

During the centuries that followed, the 17th of Tammuz continued to be an inauspicious day for the Jewish people, a day on which great tragedies occurred. It therefore became a day of fasting and repentance from sunrise to sunset.

One such tragedy that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz was the cancellation of the daily offerings in the First Temple. This offering, known as the tamid (constant), is first mentioned in Numbers (28:3-4,6): “This is the fire offering that you will bring for God: unblemished he-lambs in their first year, two each day, for a continual burnt-offering. One lamb you will offer in the morning, and the other lamb you will offer at dusk ... It is a constant burnt-offering, which was offered on Mount Sinai, for a sweet savor, an offering made by fire for God.”

When the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem, the Jews still had enough livestock within the walls to maintain the tamid offering. As the siege continued, however, the priests of the Temple struggled to maintain the Temple service. They even sent baskets of silver and gold over the wall to buy sheep for the offerings from the Babylonians. On the 17th of Tammuz, however, the basket was returned to them empty - there were no more sheep to be purchased, and so the daily offerings came to an end. Needless to say, the cessation of the daily offering was a significant blow to the morale of the people of Jerusalem and the entire nation.

This Treat was last posted on June 25, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.




Positive Generosity

If you are unable to help someone out financially, try to be supportive emotionally.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Canadian Jewish Congress

The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) was founded in 1919 with the intention of uniting the voices of numerous Jewish Canadian organizations. In its inaugural year, over 25,000 Jews across Canada voted for delegates to attend the first CJC conference in Montreal. At the conference, the CJC created the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS), passed numerous political motions (such as a statement of loyalty to Canada) and elected an executive board. Despite the success of the initial convention, the CJC was a fairly dormant organization until the 1930s.

As in too many countries, the borders of Canada were basically closed to Jewish immigrants in the 1930s. With European anti-Semitism on the rise, the CJC was reconvened in 1934. It lobbied the Canadian government, with limited success, to open immigration to Jewish refugees. After the war, the CJC was involved in organizing relief and helping with displaced persons camps in Europe.

Over the course of the next several decades, the CJC set up organizational divisions focussing on the different needs of Canadian Jewry. The national organization  was highly active in political lobbying, most notably in support of Israel (for which Prime Minister Joe Clark - June 4, 1979- March 3, 1980 - tried to rebuke them at their 1982 convention but was himself rebuked when close to 50 delegates walked out) and on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

One fascinating initiative sponsored by the CJC was the International Jewish Correspondence (IJC), which  coordinated Jewish penpals around the world. In 2002, the IJC closed  its penpal services due to the popularity of online communication, but maintains a fascinating archive.

Although the Canadian Jewish Congress still exists, as of 2011, many of its primary functions are  under the auspices of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

Jewish Treats wishes its Canadian fans a happy Canada Day.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

O Canada

If you are a Canadian Jew, take pride in the freedom of religion that allows you to live a full Jewish life.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SEVEN YEARS!

In Jewish tradition, there is special significance to the number seven. The seventh day is Shabbat, the day of rest. The seventh month is Tishrei, the month with the most holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot). The seventh year of the sabbatical cycle is the Shmittah year, when the land of Israel is meant to lie fallow.

One understanding as to what is significant about seven is that it is one step beyond nature. It therefore symbolizes that which is kadosh - a word that is often translated as holy but also means sanctified, as in separated from the mundane.

Today, NJOP’s Jewish Treats celebrates its seventh anniversary.

From the beginning, NJOP’s goal has been to provide short - but juicy - tidbits about Jewish life and Jewish history that, hopefully, increase the readers’ connection to their heritage and heightens their Jewish pride. The short, daily “action tips” included each day offer suggestions for actively increasing the Jewish style of one’s life, and the review of different Jewish prayers enable Jewish Treats’ readers to enjoy a more spiritual approach to sanctifying their day.

NJOP salutes our Jewish Treats fans and followers and thanks you for your continued interest and support. In honor of Jewish Treats seventh anniversary, we ask you each to commit to sharing Jewish Treats with seven of your Jewish friends!

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Feedback

Let Jewish Treats know what topics you have most enjoyed and what topics you would like to see addressed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Goodly Tents

Much of Jewish life is built around community. Jews often live close to each other, often with a synagogue or synagogues at the center of their neighborhoods. As important as living in a community is, Judaism has always put a premium on maintaining individual privacy.

In the era of the Talmud, those living in towns and cities often built their homes around communal courtyards--comparable, perhaps, to today’s townhouse communities. Because people lived so close to each other, the Talmud contains detailed discussions about insuring privacy. For instance, it is written: “In a courtyard that one shares with others, a man should not make a door facing another person's door nor a window facing another person's window...On the side of the street, however, he may make a door facing another person's door and a window facing another person's window” (Baba Batra 60b).

Protecting individual privacy by not placing doors and windows that invade other’s privacy is more than good manners. The sages understood that respecting the privacy, and thus the modesty, of every Jewish family, is critical to maintaining the Jewish people’s mission to be a holy nation. Thus the Talmud continues:

Whence are these rules derived?--Rabbi Johanan said: From the verse of the Scripture, “And Balaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes” (Numbers 24:2). This indicates that he saw that the doors of their tents did not face one another, whereupon he exclaimed: “Worthy are these that the Divine presence should rest upon them!”


This Treat was last posted on July 7, 2011.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Nice Neighbors

Be aware of the sensitivities of your neighbors.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Truly Jewish Hospital

It happened during the Holocaust that Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam was shot in the arm by the Nazis. Afraid to go to the Nazi infirmary, which he felt meant certain death, Rabbi Halberstam used a tree leaf to staunch the bleeding and a branch to bind the wound. On that day, Rabbi Halberstam  decided that, were he to survive, he would build a hospital open to all people in the Promised Land.

It took years, decades really, but Rabbi Halberstam turned his dream into a reality. The Laniado* Hospital, located in Netanya, opened its doors in 1975. The hospital operates in strict adherence to Jewish law, which means far more than kosher food and Shabbat laws. Laniado is the only Israeli hospital that has never closed due to a strike; saving a life is of such importance to Jewish law that Rabbi Halberstam felt it important to include a non-strike clause in the hospital’s employment contracts.

The man behind the hospital was not a businessman or a medical pioneer. Rabbi Halberstam was, in fact, a Chassidic (Klausenberger) rebbe. Born in Romania in 1904, he was recognized early on as a  scholastic genius, and had a Chassidic following from a young age. Then came World War II. The Klausenberger Rebbe and his family were sent to Budapest. He was arrested several times. Living conditions were difficult, but Rabbi Halberstam refused to leave his followers. When the Nazis came, the Halberstam family was sent to Auschwitz. Only Rabbi Halberstam survived. His wife and 11 children were murdered.

After surviving multiple camps and work crews, Rabbi Halberstam finally made his way to New York. In Williamsburg (Brooklyn), he rebuilt his community (which became the Klausenberg-Sanz Chassidim). He also remarried and was the father of seven children after the war.  In 1960, Rabbi Halberstam moved to Kiryat Sanz, a Chassidic neighborhood that he established in 1958, in Netanya, in northern Israel.

Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam died on 9 Tammuz, 1994.

*Laniado Hospital was named after Alphonse and Yaakov Avraham Laniado, two Syrian Jewish brothers living in Switzerland who provided Rabbi Halberstam with the initial funds for the hospital.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Volunteer

Consider volunteering at a local hospital. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's All in the Timing

When setting out to conquer the Promised Land, the Israelites' first military confrontation was with Jericho. This battle is famous...Why? Because (now sing aloud to yourself): "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho...and the walls came tumblin’ down!"

Following Divine instructions, Joshua marched the Israelite troops around the city walls once each day for six days (thus making the city inhabitants rather nervous). On the seventh day (by which point the people in Jericho probably thought - oh those Israelites are circling again, no big deal), Joshua and his troops encircled the city seven times, and on the seventh time, at Joshua's signal, seven priests blew on seven shofars. Upon hearing the blasts of the shofars, the troops began shouting and yelling and, lo and behold, the walls of Jericho collapsed. Joshua and his people easily captured the city and began their conquest of Canaan.

A miracle? In the 1950s, archaeologists discovered the walls of ancient Jericho. Rather than falling inward, it appeared from the archaeological evidence that the walls had collapsed outward (exactly as described in the book of Joshua). Not willing to attribute this to a miracle, the archaeologists concluded that the walls had obviously collapsed as a result of an earthquake, thus negating evidence of a miracle. However, one sees that, according to Jewish tradition, a miracle rarely involves a complete aberration of nature. Rather, when performing Divine miracles, God often uses nature to change the course of events. Timing, of course, is also part of the miracle. So let's say the Israelites encircled Jericho, blew their shofars and, just as they let out their great shouts, an earthquake struck the town of Jericho.

I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty miraculous to me!

This Treat was last posted on June 30, 2009.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Perspective

Try to see the miracles in the world around you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Private versus Public

Moses’ greatest desire was to enter the Promised Land along with the Israelite nation whom he had led across the wilderness. Sadly, it did not happen. Moses died and was buried shortly before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan.

There is a great deal of discussion and debate among the commentators as to the deeper, more philosophical reasons why Moses could not enter the Promised Land, but the most basic reason is the one recorded in the Book of Numbers: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring the congregation into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). God thus rebukes Moses and Aaron immediately at Meribah, after they struck the rock to get water rather than speak to it as God had instructed (ibid 20:7-11).

According to the Midrash, the real issue was not that Moses or Aaron doubted God, but that they acted in a manner that might lead others to doubt God. The Midrash explains the situation with a parable comparing the situation, to a “case of a king who had a friend. Now this friend displayed arrogance toward the king, privately using harsh words. The king, however, did not lose his temper with him. After a time, he [the friend] rose and displayed his arrogance in the presence of his legions, and the king passed sentence of death upon him” (Numbers Rabbah 19:10).

Moses had a special and unique relationship with God. On more than one occasion, the Torah describes Moses challenging God - but those were always during one-on-one conversations. When Moses chose to act disrespectfully publicly the way he acted privately, God could not allow it to go unaccounted.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Aware of Place

Be aware of how you treat others both publicly and privately.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sir “The Jew”

The first Jew to be knighted by a monarch of England was not himself English. But, then again, neither was the king!

In 1688, Willem the Third of the Dutch Republic conquered England in an invasion now known as “The Glorious Revolution.” Along with King William III, as he became known in English history, came his financier and war contractor, Solomon de Median. Interestingly, his birth name was actually Diego de Medina, and he was born in Bordeaux around 1650.

Although he is referred to in written records as “the Jew Medina,” de Medina had a special relationship with William III. It is even noted that in 1699, the king once dined at de Medina’s home (also the first time an English king is recorded visiting a Jew). The visit was most likely motivated by the king seeking funds that had been denied him by parliament. De Medina’s knighthood  followed not long thereafter, on June 23, 1700.

Sir Solomon de Medina did not stay long in England, but he did play a further important role in the country’s history by assisting the Duke of Marlborough during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). He not only accompanied the Duke and assisted him financially, but, more importantly, according to the report of the Duke to Parliament, he also provided vital information through a communication system that was far faster than the official channels.

It is particularly noteworthy that despite his many outside business, political and social obligations, de Medina remained loyal and active in the Jewish community and was a major contributor to London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue. Not long after the start of the War of Spanish Succession, however, de Medina returned to Amsterdam. He continued his business from there with the assistance of his son-in-law who acted as his London agent. Sir Simon de Medina died in Amsterdam, some say penniless, on September 13, 1730.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Local Support

Support your local Jewish community.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Entertainer

Judging by the jokes included in so many movies about marriage, there is a great deal of pressure on the best man to present a toast that not only honors the groom, but is entertaining as well. At a traditional Jewish wedding, however, there is no specific concept of either a best man or a toast.

In some communities, particularly among the Chassidim, there is a person whose specific job is to serve as the wedding entertainer. The most common term for this person is “badchen,” although historically there are other types of wedding entertainers as well, such as latzanim (clowns, people performing a more base humor) and mashkilim (storytellers). While every badchen has his own “shtick” (repertoire), their performances generally combine humor, poetry, Torah subjects, Talmudic exposition and family history for their performance pieces. The best known aspect of badchanus (the act of the badchen) is the graman, a poem/song that humorously parodies the subject of the poem (usually the groom).

While the idea of the badchen/entertainer can be linked back to the Talmud, it is interesting to note that during the Middle Ages the custom of this type of wedding entertainment was discouraged. Many of the writings about the ban on badchanus consider badchanus the actions of a fool. However, many now believe that this was also a reflection of the challenges of the era, when many Jews were terribly impoverished and persecution was a constant concern.  The disregard for badchanusduring this era did not occur in the Chassidic community, which is why modern badchanim are primarily found only among the Chassidim.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fine Line

When joking with other people, be aware of their reactions and be careful not to overstep and embarrass them.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Importance of Dad

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

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


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


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


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


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


This Treat was last posted on June 15, 2014.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Day

If you can, call your father and wish him a happy Father's Day. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Respect of the Sons

In the twenty-first century, rebelling against one’s family is all-too-often presented as a right of passage, a natural part of growing up and as a means of declaring one’s independence. The Torah, however, stresses the importance of honoring one’s father and mother.

While halacha (Jewish law) provides guidelines on observing the particulars of honoring one’s father and mother, there are certain situations when honoring one’s parent(s) can be tricky. For instance, what should a person do when his/her parent is leading them into trouble?

There is a fascinating Midrash about the sons of Korach, Moses’ cousin who led a rebellion against his leadership in the wilderness. Korach and his followers were ultimately punished when the earth opened up and swallowed them alive (think spontaneous, isolated earthquake).  However, the Torah reports that “the sons of Korach did not die” (Numbers 26:11).

According to the Midrash, the sons of Korach were separated from Korach’s other followers because of one specific incident. Korach and his three sons were sitting by their tent and noticed Moses approaching. “They said to one another, ‘What shall we do? If we rise out of respect for Moses we will, in effect, be showing disrespect for our father, and we are commanded to honor father and mother. If we do not rise, we will have transgressed the command to rise before a sage.’ They decided to rise out of respect for Moses” (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni 752).

The sons of Korach were faced with a difficult dilemma, but what is particularly noteworthy is their decision-making process and how heavily they weighed the importance of honoring their father.

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers a Shabbat Shalom and a happy Fathers’ Day.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Always with Respect


If you disagree with your father or mother, make sure to be respectful in how you express your disagreement.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rosh Chodesh

The very first commandment that was given to the entire Jewish nation was the commandment to celebrate the appearance of the new moon. “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). That first month was the month of Nisan, the month of Passover.

The commandment of celebrating the appearance of the new moon was the first step in the Divine plan to teach the Jewish people to be free and to be holy. By instructing the Children of Israel to mark the start of each month, to take charge of their calendars, God gave them a sense of controlling time--something that they had lacked as slaves.

Originally, Rosh Chodesh (the "head" of the month) was determined by the testimony before the Sanhedrin of witnesses that had seen the new moon. Once the testimony was accepted, hilltop fires were lit to announce the new month to neighboring communities, who spread the word in the same manner. In the year 358 C.E., however, a set lunar calendar, integrated with the solar calendar, was introduced and accepted in lieu of witnesses.

Rosh Chodesh is celebrated with the addition of Hallel (Psalms of praise), ya’aleh v’ya’vo and musaf to the prayers, as well as a general acknowledgment of it being a festive day (nicer clothes, nicer food, etc). In the times of the Temple, the day began with the sound of the shofar, and special sacrifices were offered in the Temple.

Rosh Chodesh is either one day or two, depending on the month. Rosh Chodesh Tammuz is celebrated for two days, the second of which is today.


This Treat was last posted on August 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Special Day

Enjoy a special Treat today in honor of Rosh Chodesh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jews in Iceland

In honor of Icelandic National Day, Jewish Treats presents a history of Jews in Iceland.

It is interesting to note that long before any Jews actually visited Iceland, let alone resided there, there was a unique Icelandic word for Jews: Gyðingar, a derivative of the word Guð, meaning God. In fact, there is even a 13th century text called The Gyðingar Saga, which was a retelling of the Book of Maccabees and included fragments of the writings of the ancient historian Flavius Josephus.

Jews did not arrive in Iceland until the 1700s, and even then they only came as traveling merchants. There is particular note given to the arrival in 1815 of “The Ulricha, “ a trade ship controlled by Ruben Moses Henriques of Copenhagen that is specifically referred to as a Jewish ship.

In 1853, as a dependent of Denmark, Iceland was pressured to follow the path of Denmark, which had permitted Jews to settle in its lands in 1850. The Icelandic parliament, the Althing, refused. Two years later, however, this decision was overturned - although it was many years until any Jews took advantage of this law. One interesting recorded Jewish resident was Fritz Heymann Nathan of Copenhagen, who arrived in 1906. An extremely successful businessman, Nathan built Iceland’s first “tall building” (five stories) in 1916. The next year, after marrying, he realized that his family could not live a full Jewish life in Iceland and he returned to Copenhagen.

A real Jewish community was not established in Iceland until the allies arrived there during World War II. (In fact, Iceland had a closed immigration policy and only a few European Jews managed to find refuge there.) With the influx of Jewish Allied soldiers, a congregation (one that still exists today) was established. It was during World War II that Iceland reached its greatest Jewish population. While some Jews remained after the war, there is great pressure on all minorities to conform and assimilate into the Icelandic culture. Today, there are only 50-100 Jews living in Iceland.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kindness

On a hot day, offer a cold drink to your local mail delivery person.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Never to Forget

In 1938, when  native New Yorker Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz (1915-1990) was 23 years old, she traveled to Vilna, Lithuania, in order to immerse herself in the Yiddish culture that she had begun studying during a Masters program at Columbia University. Her experiences during that year, in which she studied at YIVO (Yiddish Scientific Institute) in Vilna, and the tragic world events that followed shortly thereafter, would shape the direction of the rest of her life.

Returning home to New York one month before the start of War World II, Dawidowicz worked for the New York branch of YIVO. Although she had witnessed the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, like many Americans, she had no real comprehension of the full horrors of the Holocaust until after the war. In 1946, she returned to Europe with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and worked as an aide in the Displaced Persons camps. At the same time, she actively participated in the recovery of looted and confiscated books.

After returning to the United States in 1947, Lucy Schildkret married Szymon Dawidowicz, a Jewish refugee from Poland. Dawidowicz focused her energies on preserving the culture of the Eastern European Jewish world that had been destroyed. She published numerous articles in prominent newspapers and magazines. She also began teaching at Yeshiva University, where she eventually held a Chair in Interdisciplinary Holocaust Studies. Dawidowicz published several books on the Holocaust. The best-known of which is 1975's The War Against the Jews 1933-1945. 

In 1985, Dawidowicz founded the Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature from Yiddish and Hebrew* into English. She was also active in the campaign for freedom for Soviet Jewry.

Dawidowicz, whose 100th birthday would have been today, passed away on December 5, 1990.

*As recorded on Wikipedia.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read Up

Read up on Jewish history.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Officers of the Law

The Bible in Deuteronomy states, “Shoftim v’shotrim, Judges and “shotrim” you shall appoint in your cities.” Most English versions of the Torah translate the word shotrim as “officers,” and numerous commentators explain this term to refer to those who were responsible for enforcing the rulings of the judges. These shotrim were not police officers who caught people and brought them to jail, as we think of the term today, because jail is not one of the penal practices listed in the Torah. (Although it is interesting to note that the Torah does refer to jail time in Genesis 39-40, when Joseph is imprisoned for two years.)

While the Torah system of law and order may not include the modern concept of police officers, the Torah promotes a deep respect for those who work to ensure “law and order.” These officers of the law are admonished throughout the written and oral law to pursue justice and are given a great deal of guidance on how to function.

Today is marked as a National Day of Prayer for Law Enforcement Officers on numerous holiday-list websites. Law enforcement officers of every era are tasked with great responsibilities. While all people naturally desire justice in life, the men and women who work in law enforcement accept upon themselves a duty to fight for justice each day.

On this day of prayer for them, Jewish Treats salutes all those who stand up and often risk their lives for a just society.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Word or Two

When you see someone working for the benefit of society, take a moment and say thank you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Stay Cool

As the summer heats up, people everywhere are turning to whatever means possible to keep cool. Many find relief in the artificial coolness of air conditioning. (Thank goodness for living in the twenty-first century.) Others, however, are inclined to turn to far older methods of cooling off.

While the laws of Shabbat limit a person’s ability to manipulate their environments (given the m’la'chot, the 39 prohibited creative labors), one might think that they are limited in how they can cool down on a hot Shabbat day. Most methods of staying cool, however, are fine for Shabbat as long as attention is paid to details and nuances.

For instance, while there are few things as refreshing on a hot day as an ice cold drink, one must be careful about how ice cubes are obtained on Shabbat. Using ice cubes from an old fashioned ice cube tray is perfect, but taking ice cubes from an automatic ice cube maker (built into the freezer) is problematic. Removing ice from the bucket makes the bucket lighter, which triggers the ice cube making mechanism.

Fans are also an excellent means of cooling off in the summer heat. While one may neither turn a fan on or off nor adjust the speed of the fan, one may move the fan itself in order to redirect the air flow. Additionally, since the general mechanism for causing the fan to oscillate or not oscillate is a mechanical button that simply locks or unlocks the gears, one may change the oscillation on the average standing fan. (If one knows that there is an electric component to a specific fan’s oscillation mechanism, then this feature may not be used.)

Jewish Treats wishes you an enjoyable and cool summer.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Cool

Freeze some grapes for a delicious, nutritious and cooling Shabbat treat.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Salty Ghettos

It is a fairly well-known fact (perhaps due to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice) that Jews in many European cities were forced to reside in ghettos. The first of these areas of restricted residence was in Venice - hence, the Italian name.

Alas, Europe was not the only place where Jews were forced to live separately from the general population. The terms for these “Jewish Quarters” varied from location to location. In cities controlled by Spain, they were often referred to as Juderia. However, the Jewish Quarters most often compared to the ghettos of Europe were the Mellahs of Morocco.

It has been speculated that the term “Mellah” comes from the salty nature of the soil where the Fez Jewish Quarter was established. Mellah is also the Arabic word for salt. This first Mellah was not created in an effort to restrict the Jews, but rather to protect them from Arab rioters.

The Mellah in “Fez” was created in the fifteenth century. Over the next two hundred years, a few other cities such as Marrakesh and Meknes followed suit. These Mellahs were still seen as quarters of privilege and protection. The 19th century, however, saw a change in nature of the Mellah. By decree of the sultan, Jews were forced to live in these restricted quarters in all of the coastal towns. The stately gates that once suggested the protected status of the Jewish population became symbols of restriction. The Mellahs were transformed into zones of confinement that were often described by travelers as being poverty-ridden and over-crowded.

Beginning around the turn of the twentieth century, the more affluent Jews were able to leave the Mellah and settle into new neighborhoods. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, a large portion of the Jewish population of Morocco moved to Israel. Many of these former “Jewish Quarters” are now popular sites for Jewish tourists.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Well Wishes

If a friend is ill, send them a message letting them know that they are in your thoughts. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Might of the Pen

The fact that today is National Ballpoint Pen Day offers Jewish Treats the opportunity to introduce Lazlo Biro, the Hungarian-Jewish inventor of the now ubiquitous ballpoint writing implement.

Born on September 29, 1899, in Budapest, Hungary, Biro found his first calling in journalism. As a journalist, he was frustrated by the constant smudging of his written notes. Noting that the ink used for newspaper printing dried quickly, Biro attempted to use the same ink in his fountain pen. While the newspaper ink did not flow properly from his fountain pen, Biro knew that he was on to something.

Working together with his brother Gyorgy, a chemist, Biro developed a fluid ink that worked with a ball tucked into the tip, an idea he perfected based on previous attempts at pen improvement. The ball blocked the ink from draining out of the pen while, at the same time, constantly picking up fresh ink from the interior cartridge as it rolled.

Although the Biro brothers invented their pen in Budapest, they patented it in Paris in 1938. Paris was the city to which they fled just one day before Hungary implemented anti-Jewish laws. Feeling (rightly) that Paris would not be a safe refuge, Biro emigrated to Argentina, where he continued developing and refining his pen. On June 10, 1943, he obtained a new patent in Argentina.

There was a great deal of international interest in Biro’s pen. In fact, the British government invested in his work because they needed a pen that could be used by their airplane navigators in the air pressure at high altitudes. In 1945, Biro sold the patent rights to his invention to Frenchman Marcel Bich, who created the Bic pen company.

Biro continued to live in Buenos Aires. None of his other inventions, however, gained the renown that his ballpoint pen achieved. He died in Argentina on October 24, 1985.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Imagine

Don't hesitate to follow your natural creativity.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Camp

The end of the school year is upon us, and across the country, many parents are packing their children’s trunks for summer camp. The world of Jewish camping began as a reaction to urbanization. Those interested in “social welfare” and the health of the children, promoted summer getaways so children could experience nature and fresh air. Such was the goal when, in 1893, the Jewish Working Girls Society of New York opened Camp Lehman (later called Camp Isabella Friedman). 

Originally, Jewish camps were only for Jews simply because society at that time was more culturally segregated. However, the positive potential of these all-Jewish environments was soon recognized. For instance, in 1927, Camp Achvah opened as the first Hebrew-speaking camp. Other camps, such as Camp Cejwin, surrounded children with the Jewish culture that was being lost in the American “melting pot.” One of the most famous of these Jewish cultural camps was Camp Massad in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

In the middle of the 20th century, the trend in Jewish summer camps began to separate along denominational lines. The first Camp Ramah, the camp of the Conservative movement, opened in Wisconsin (near Chicago) in 1947. The first official camp of the Reform movement, UAHC Camp-Institute opened in 1950, also in Wisconsin. Both of these camp movements continued to grow. There are currently 8 Ramah camps in North America and 13 URJ Camp-Institutes. In the late 1950s, Chabad joined the camping world when it opened Camp Gan Israel, which has grown into the largest chain of Jewish camps in the world. Summer camps are also very popular among the Orthodox, but as there is no umbrella organization within Orthodoxy, they remain mostly independent institutions. 

In addition to the overnight camps, the Jewish camping world includes many independent Jewish summer camps, as well as hundreds of day camps (often affiliated with Federation-JCCs). Jewish camping has proven so powerful a tool in giving children positive Jewish identities that the Foundation for Jewish Camp was created in 1998.


This Treat was last posted on June 11, 2012.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Summer Memories

If you have fond memories of Jewish day camp, make the effort to reconnect with your camp friends. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Oh Evil Tongue

“Come and see how great the power of an evil tongue is! Whence do we know [its power]? From the spies: for if it happens thus to those who bring up an evil report against wood and stones, how much more will it happen to he who brings up an evil report against his neighbor!”
Rabbi Eleazar ben Perata
Talmud Arachin 15a

According to Jewish tradition, many of the unfortunate events that befell the Jewish people were a result of the sin of the spies who scouted the Promised Land and then reported to the people that it was a dangerous place. One reason given for their actions was that they distorted the truth because they were afraid of change, and slandered the Land of Israel.

Slander, which is one of the most devastating sins that a person can commit, is known as lashon harah, the evil tongue. Few other sins are referred to by such euphemisms, so what is the symbolic significance of the tongue? “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Joseph ben Zimra... “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the tongue: All members of the human body are standing, you are lying; all members of the human body are outside, you are guarded inside; not only that, but I surrounded you with two walls, one of bone and one of flesh” (Arachin 15b).

Not only is the tongue one of the most visible organs of speech, it is, as any speech therapist will tell you, one of the easiest muscles to retrain.  A person who speaks ill of others can, with relative ease, reverse course and learn to refrain from lashon harah. In fact, in the same section of the Talmud, Rabbi Hama ben Hanina is quoted as saying: “What is the remedy for slanderers? If he be a scholar, let him engage in the Torah...If he be an ignorant person, let him become humble” (ibid)

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Word Wise

Be aware of the power of the words you choose.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Resource Sharing

June 5 has been declared World Environment Day by the United Nations. In honor of this year’s theme, “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care,” Jewish Treats presents a brief review of how Torah law views “resource sharing.”

It goes without saying that in Biblical times the idea of a world population surpassing seven billion people was unthinkable. However, this incredible number attests to the fulfillment of the very first Divine commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land” (Genesis 1:28). At the same time that God commanded humankind to multiply, He gave them dominion over the earth. Simultaneously, however, He placed upon humankind the responsibility of taking care of the world. Within this formative time for humankind came the instinct to populate the world and the innovative abilities to make the world liveable for all creatures. While it is up to humankind to utilize that innovative ability, it does not guarantee an equality of resource distribution.

Clearly, the Torah does not advocate for a communist-like equality, yet it includes many measures to ensure that everyone has access to their basic needs. For instance, a farmer is instructed not to harvest the corner of the fields so that the poor and the stranger might reap their needs from the unharvested corners (Leviticus 19:9-10). Similarly, a fallen sheaf of wheat that was missed by the harvesters during the harvest becomes ownerless so that it may be collected by “the stranger, the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

On the other hand, there is the Torah prohibition of bal tashchit ("dare not waste"), which is derived from the commandment not to destroy fruit bearing trees, but is understood within Jewish law to refer to any situation of waste or wanton destruction.

These are just a few examples of the way resource sharing was built into the framework of biblical society.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Being Sensible

When preparing for Shabbat, don't prepare extras if you know they will not be eaten as leftovers. 
 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

All About Abaye

Students of the Talmud, who wrestle with legal arguments and explore Jewish legends and traditions, are also introduced to a myriad of rabbinic personalities, each of whom brings his own unique perspective and argument style into the beautiful mosaic of the Oral Torah. Today, Jewish Treats brings you a brief introduction to one such sage, Abaye.

Actually, Abaye (meaning little father) was his nickname. His actual name was Nachmani, after his grandfather. It is recorded that Abaye was an orphan whose father died before he was born and whose mother died during childbirth (Talmud Kiddushin 31a). There are, however, many references of Abaye quoting his mother (generally on food-related topics). These references actually refer to his foster mother, the wife of his uncle Rabbah bar Nachmani (also a noted sage). Abaye, who was born and raised in Babylon, succeeded his uncle as the head of the Talmudic Academy of Pumbedita.

While much of what is included about Abaye in the Talmud is in reference to his legal arguments and his interchanges with the sage Rava, there are some interesting notes that provide insight into his personal character. Two such example are:

“Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar said: How do we know that the sage must not trouble [the people]? ...Abaye said: We have it [on tradition] that if he [the sage] takes a circuitous route, he will live [long]. Abaye took a circuitous route (to avoid the people so they would not have to stand for him out of respect)...” (Talmud Kiddushin 33b).


“A favorite saying of Abaye was: A man should always be subtle in the fear of heaven. A soft answer turns away wrath, and one should always strive to be on the best terms with his brothers and his relatives and with all men and even with the heathen in the street, in order that he may be beloved above and well-liked below and be acceptable to his fellow creatures” (Talmud Brachot 17a).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sage Advice

When someone speaks to you in anger, remain calm.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Joy to the Bride and Groom

Have you ever been to a traditional Jewish wedding? At traditional weddings there are, of course, the normal, wonderful things that may be found at all weddings: the beautiful bride and handsome groom, the happy sound of friends and family coming together, the delightful celebration feast, the music, etc...but at a traditional Jewish wedding there is one additional element: the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah, the mitzvah of rejoicing with the bride and groom!

The mitzvah of gladdening the bride and groom is found in the Talmud, in Brachot 6b.

What does it mean to gladden a bride and groom? Really, this answer varies greatly, depending on a number of factors - such as one’s relationship to the bride and groom. For instance, the mere presence of a close friend who has traveled a great distance may give the bride or groom immense joy. Many people, however, take this mitzvah quite seriously and work hard to make certain that the dancing during the reception is leibadik (Yiddish, meaning heartfelt, but is often used to imply high-spirited and energetic). Thus, at a traditional wedding one might see people dressing up in costume to make the bride/groom laugh, jumping rope, performing amateur acrobatics and even lighting their hats on fire.

The tradition of happily making a fool of one’s self to bring joy to the bride and groom is an ancient one. Indeed, the Talmud (Ketubot 17a), mentions Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Isaac who was known for juggling myrtle twigs before the bride. While his peer, Rabbi Zeira, felt that this debased the scholar’s honor, Rabbi Shmuel was greatly honored for his efforts to fulfill the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah.


This Treat was last posted on January 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Joy for the Couple

When attending a wedding, focus on the bride and groom enjoying their special day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Anomalies and Interpretations

The writing of a Torah scroll is an incredibly intricate process. To write a Torah, the scribe must not only be meticulous and devout, but must know all of the many laws associated with writing a Torah. Additionally, there are numerous places where traditional anomalies are built into the text. Sometimes this means a letter is written larger than others, and sometimes smaller. For each of these apparently odd letters, however, Jewish tradition has a reason and a meaning.

An excellent example of a Torah anomaly and its interpretation can be found at the end of the tenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. Verses 35 and 36 are offset by the Hebrew letter nun written backward. In the Talmudic Tractate Shabbat (115b - 116a), two separate but fascinating reasons are offered as to why these nuns are inserted into the text.

The sage Rabbi declared that these verses were set apart because they constitute a book unto themselves. (He thus divides the Torah into Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and three separate books from the Book of Numbers.) As a proof text, Rabbi cites Rabbi Samuel ben Nahamia in the name of Rabbi Jonathan, who explained the verse "She [wisdom] has hewn out her seven pillars" (Psalms 9:1) as referring to seven Books of Law.

Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel, on the other hand, explained that these verses were offset because they were deliberately written in the wrong place in order to separate two shameful incidents where Israel deserved punishment. The first incident is Numbers 10:33, when the Israelites “moved away from the mount of the Lord,” which Rabbi Hama ben Rabbi Hanina explained as reference to the Israelits turning away from God (Talmud Shabbat 116a). The second incident is recorded in Numbers 11, which begins, “And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the Lord” (11:1).

According to Rabbi Hama benHanina, Numbers 10:35-36 should be part of the earlier section dealing with the banners of the Israelites and the way in which the large camp moved (Numbers 2).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Think First

Before you complain, think about all the blessings you have in your life. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Living in The Pinch

In honor of the anniversary of Tennessee becoming the 16th state of the United States in 1796, Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the Jewish community of Memphis.

American Jewish culture thrives upon the communal memory of New York City’s famous Lower East Side, the neighborhood that was the heart of early twentieth century Jewish America. But New York was not the only city to which Jews immigrated, nor was the Lower East Side the only Jewish city-within-a-city.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the primary location to which the Eastern European Jewish immigrants moved was known as The Pinch. The area, which was one of the earliest sections of Memphis settlement, acquired this name from the near-starving Irish immigrants who had previously dominated the area.

While The Pinch became the primary Jewish area in Memphis in the late 1800s, the Jews who arrived at that time were not the first Jews to settle in Memphis. Jewish settlement began as early as the 1840s. As was the case across the United States, most of the mid-nineteenth century Jewish settlers were merchants and peddlers who had immigrated from Germany. A large portion of the original Jewish community was lost to Memphis, however, after the devastating outbreaks of Yellow Fever in 1873 and 1874. Many died and many fled, and of those who left the city, many did not return.

Jewish life in The Pinch has been compared to Jewish life on the Lower East Side. There were pushcarts and peddlers, kosher bakeries and delis. Community life did not center on one or two large congregations, but on numerous small synagogues catering to specific landsmen (people from the same area of Eastern Europe) grouped in neighborhoods.

It should be noted that The Pinch was also home to the famed Baron Hirsch Synagogue. Established in the 1860s, it remained in The Pinch area until around 1952. The Baron Hirsch Synagogue, which remains a vibrant and active congregation today, was considered the largest Orthodox congregation in the United States in the 1950s.

The Pinch remained an area of vibrant Jewish lifetime until the late 1940s, when the community moved out of the city. The area, with its many Jewish landmarks, went through an era of decay and is now experiencing a period of resurgence.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spring Dress

Dress for spring, but remember the Jewish value of modesty (for both sexes).

Friday, May 29, 2015

Shabbat in the Spring

As spring takes hold of the northern hemisphere, and the hours between sunrise and sunset lengthen, people often spend the long Shabbat afternoon enjoying the outdoors. Even as one soaks in the sense of kedusha, holiness, on a restful Shabbat afternoon such as this, one must still remember to guard the Sabbath day. Almost all of the 39 m’la’chot, the creative works that are prohibited on Shabbat, are related to agriculture, and thus to nature. So here are a few quick tips for observing Shabbat while enjoying the outdoors:

1) Most people will easily conclude that mowing the lawn on Shabbat would be prohibited. The ma’la’cha of kotzair, cutting, however, also includes “plucking” at the grass, a habit most people develop in their childhood. Not only does refraining from this sort of “harvesting” of grass, flowers or even weeds uphold the observance of the Sabbath, but it encourages an environmentally friendly attitude towards plant life, if only for the day.

2) Every woman enjoys the sweet gesture of a bouquet of wildflowers, whether from a partner, child or friend. But, gathering wildflowers (assuming that they were already plucked, see above) falls into the category of m’amair, gathering things that grow.

3) A refreshing cup of lemonade or iced tea is perfect in the yard. But one should be careful not to empty the cup in the rhododendron bush. People often casually spill their drinks on the ground. But this actually constitutes watering the plants...which is part of the ma’la’cha of zorey'ah, seeding.

4) Bugs are God’s creations too. On Shabbat one should avoid trapping and/or killing insects (an exception is made for dangerous insects such as bees and hornets, although one should not use a specially designed trap) as both acts are ma’la’chot (tzad and shochait).

This Treat was last posted on May 27, 2011.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Walk

If the weather is pleasant, take a long Shabbat walk.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Be Strong

For many readers, completing a book leaves one with a variety of feelings. Some people have a sense of satisfaction, others of relieved accomplishment, and still others are left with a vague sense of longing for the book to continue. For those who so strongly connect to the book that  they are reading, these emotions are very real.

It is interesting to note that it is a custom among Ashkenazic Jews to acknowledge the significance of completing a book.

The Torah is divided into the Five Books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Each of these books is divided into parashiot (singular form is parasha) that are read in order on a weekly basis.  At the conclusion of the reading of the final Torah portion of each of the Five Books, the custom is for the congregation to rise and call out “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchasek - Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.” The Torah reader then repeats the phrase after the congregants.

The phrase chazak, chazak v’nitchazek can be sourced back to several biblical verses where similar terminology is used, such as  “Only be strong, and let not this book of the law depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:7-8). Many understand that the point of reciting this phrase in synagogue is to serve as a call to the congregants to strengthen themselves and continue their dedication to the Torah, particularly as they begin the next book of the Torah. Conversely, it can also be understood as a call for the congregants to be strengthened in their faith and practice from all that they have learned in the Torah book that they have just completed.

Reading Alone

 
If you cannot attend Shabbat services, try to review the Torah reading.