Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mimouna

Jews rejoice on Passover to celebrate their redemption from slavery in Egypt. Because of Passover’s connection to redemption, there is much hope that the final redemption will soon be at hand (thus the inclusion of Elijah’s cup at the Seder). At the end of the week-long holiday, on the day after Passover, in order to prolong the rejoicing and, many say, as a means of asserting their faith in the final redemption, Jews of North African origin celebrate a unique holiday known as “Mimouna.”

While some have suggested that the name Mimouna derives from ma’amoun, the Arabic word for wealth and good fortune, others connect it to the Hebrew word emunah, faith. Taking the latter opinion one step further, the name may be an Arabic adaptation of the phrase, “Ani Ma’amin” (I believe).

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam, 1135-1204) set forth the Thirteen Principles of Faith, each of which begins with the phrase “Ani Ma’amin.” The twelfth statement of faith is: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.” The connection between the Thirteen Maimonidean Principles of Faith and Mimouna is further confirmed since Mimouna is celebrated on the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, the Rambam’s father (a great scholar in his own right).

The Mimouna holiday, which is most often associated with Moroccan Jews but is customary among many North African communities, has no specific halachot (laws). The customs, however, reflect the community’s exuberant, joyful nature. Tables are decorated, often with symbols of luck and fertility (golden rings hidden in bowls of flour, items set out in sets of five, and sometimes live fish in bowls). Sweet delicacies (made of chametz) are served, particularly mofletta, a special pancake served with honey.


This Treat was last posted on April 20, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Second Days


Enjoy the final days of the Passover holiday, which concludes after nightfall on Saturday night.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Seven Days to the Sea

The Passover celebration lasts seven days (eight days, outside of Israel. For more information as to why, please click here). The first day (and second, outside of Israel) is a Yom Tov, festival day, on which the seder is celebrated. However, the Torah also explicitly commands “and in the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you” (Exodus 12:16).

The Seventh Day of Passover (and eighth, outside of Israel) is the only Jewish festival that is distinctly not distinct. This is most noticeable by the fact that on every other Yom Tov (festival day), the special Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing, which praises God for keeping us alive and allowing us to celebrate the holiday again this year, is recited either when one lights candles or following the recitation of kiddush (the blessing of sanctification over wine/grape juice).

The simplest explanation that Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu is not recited on the Seventh Day is that the offerings of the day were no different than those on the interim days of Passover. However, it should also be noted that the Seventh Day marks the anniversary of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, an event that was already praised during the seder. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he followed God’s directions “that they turn and encamp before Pi-Ha'chirot, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon: you shall encamp before the sea” (Exodus 14:2). By the time they encamped before the sea, Pharoah had changed his mind about freeing the Israelite slaves and led his army after them. At the moment of greatest peril, Moses stretched his staff over the waters, and God sent a strong east wind to split the sea, enabling the Israelites to cross on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to follow them, the watery walls crashed down upon them and the entire Egyptian army drowned. Since the entire holiday is a celebration of redemption, the story is not retold again in any grand ceremony on the Seventh Day. But, because of its importance, God gave His people the gift of an extra day of Yom Tov and elevated the day in commemoration of that glorious event. The additional festival day acknowledges that seven days after they left Egypt, the Israelites were once again miraculously redeemed and that the entire Passover holiday is a time of redemption.

This Treat was last posted on April 20, 2014.





Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Looking Fine

Dress in something special to honor the Passover holiday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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 asYamim 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 andHallel (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 was previously published on April 6, 2015.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Time

If you are able, take time off to enjoy the week long holiday.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Chag Ha'matzot

The name of the holiday “Passover,” is an allusion to God’s passing over the Israelite households during the plague of the firstborn, a critical element in the events of the Exodus. The name "Passover," however, may be derived from an English convolution of the Hebrew word Pesach, the Torah’s term for the Paschal lamb sacrificed on the holiday.

The Torah refers to Chag Ha’pesach, the Holiday of the Paschal Lamb, only as the actual seder feast. In almost all other cases,* the Torah refers to this springtime holiday as Chag Ha’matzot, the Holiday of the Unleavened Bread: "The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread" (Exodus 34:18).

In honor of Chag Ha’matzot, Jewish Treats presents a little bit of information on matzah:

To guarantee that matzah is Kosher for Passover, no more than 18 minutes may pass from the moment the water and flour come in contact with each other, until it is removed, fully baked, from the oven. The entire working area (and the workers’ hands) is scrubbed between each 18 minute process.

Special Matzot Many Jews will only eat shmura matzah (especially during the Seder). Literally "guarded matzah," shmura matzah has been carefully supervised from the time the wheat was harvested until it was baked so that it remained perfectly dry until being deliberately mixed with water (lest it become chametz). This practice is based on the verse in Exodus 12:17, "And you shall guard the matzot..."

Egg matzah is "enriched matzah." Since it is more extravagant, it fails to fulfill the requirement of "lechem oh’nee," bread of affliction (poverty). According to Ashkenazi custom, egg matzah may only be eaten on Passover by someone who is physically infirm, very young or very old, and has difficulty digesting regular matzah.

Depending on how they are prepared, flavored matzot (such as garlic and onion or grape) may or may not be Kosher for Passover. Please check the box for proper Kosher for Passover supervision.

*It is also referred to as Chag Ha’aviv, the Holiday of the Spring.

This Treat was last posted on April 7, 2015.




Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

KFP Foods

Be creative in your Passover food preparations.

Friday, April 22, 2016

You Are Royalty

Passover is known as the festival of freedom. And who is more free than royalty? At the Seder, all Jews are supposed to consider themselves royalty. Some of the ways we demonstrate this are:

LEANING - As a sign of royalty, the Sages taught that one must lean to one’s left while drinking the wine and eating the matzah. In the time of the Mishnah, it was customary for royalty to eat in a lounging position. (Think of pictures of Roman nobles eating.) In many Jewish homes, people cover the pillows upon which they lean, with fancy, decorated pillowcases. In fact, decorating Passover pillowcases is a great way to involve the children in preparations for the holiday.

RED WINE - While wine connoisseurs around the world may argue over white versus red, sweet versus dry, etc., Jewish tradition strongly recommends that the wine at the Seder be red. Why red? In ancient times, wine merchants sometimes watered down the white wines, making it cheaper both in price and quality. Thus, since we Jews live as royalty for this evening, red wine is recommended. Additionally, red wine reminds us of the blood of the Jewish people slaughtered by Pharaoh. (However, if you strongly prefer white wine, by all means, drink it.)

POURING THE WINE - Would a king or queen pour their own wine? Not likely. It is therefore customary at the seder that one does not pour his/her own wine. However, since the wine cups must be refilled, and most of us do not have a wait staff at the seder, it is customary that each person fill the glass of the person next to him/her at the table.


This Treat was last posted on April 13, 2014.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Can You Count to 49?

There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:

Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.


Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the Counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Saturday night, April 23.

This Treat was published on April 3, 2015.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fast of the Firstborn

There has always been a lot of pressure on firstborn children, as they were often expected to care for the family property or business in order to ensure stability within the community. Even in modern society, the firstborn usually receives the most attention and the most responsibility.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborns, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborns was also the only plague during which the Israelites needed to take an active role in order not to be affected (marking their doorposts with blood).

While Passover is a commemoration of the story of the Exodus, there is also a special Fast of the Firstborns, which is observed on the 14th of Nisan, the day before the first seder.* It is observed only by the firstborn. This includes minors--except that, halachically, minors (under the age of bar/bat mitzvah) are not supposed to fast. Therefore, it has become the accepted practice that the firstborn’s father fasts instead.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) infers that Egyptian women/girls also died during the Death of the Firstborns, and therefore there are different opinions as to whether firstborn women/girls should fast as well (one should follow the custom of the community).

The Fast of the Firstborns begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall (with the start of the seder). It is customary, however, for those obligated to fast to attend a seudat mitzvah (the feast of a mitzvah) such as a brit milah (circumcision) or, most often, a siyyum (celebration of the completion of studying a section of Torah or Talmud), which cancels the fast.


*unless it coincides with Shabbat
(I don't think photos verses vecThis Treat was published on April 2, 2015.




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Biur - Burning

The night before the Passover seder, the home is thoroughly searched for any remaining chametz. The chametz found is then set aside to be burned in the morning. Biur Chametz, the destroying of the chametz, is the final step of pre-Passover preparations.

Why is the chametz burned? Burning is considered the ideal means of disposing of one’s chametz. The Mishna cites Rabbi Judah, who said, “There is no removal of chametz save by burning.” The sages, however, maintain, “He [a person may] also crumble and throw it to the wind or cast it into the sea” (Pesachim 21a).

On the morning before the seder, chametz may be eaten until the fourth halachic hour of the day.* Biur Chametz takes place before the fifth halachic hour of the day.* In larger Jewish communities, there is frequently a designated location for Biur Chametz, often in conjunction with, and overseen by, the local fire department. 

All of the chametz thrown into the fire is burned so completely that even a dog would not eat it. While burning is the ideal way to destroy the chametz, if one is unable to do so due to timing or other limitations, one may pour a chemical disinfectant such as cleaning fluid on them so that the chametz become unfit to be consumed even by a dog. One may also flush the chametz down the toilet. 

After all of the chametz has been destroyed, a decree of renouncing ownership is recited, fulfilling the biblical mitzvah of ridding oneself of chametz: “Any chametz or leaven product that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered null and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

*The length of a halachic hour of the day is calculated by dividing the actual daylight hours from sunrise to sunset by 12.

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

This Treat was last posted on April 1, 20165.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

All Gone

Get rid of the last of your chametz with a picnic supper if the weather permits.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dipping Plagues

On the night of the seder, and whenever one recounts the story of the Exodus, the recitation of the 10 plagues presents a particularly dramatic moment. It is interesting to note that the 10 plagues are so essential a part of Jewish history that the sages did not feel it was necessary to explain them in any more detail than to list them.

Blood - Frogs - Lice - Wild Beasts - Pestilence - Boils - Hail - Locusts - Darkness - Plague of the First Born

During the seder, there is an almost universal custom to “spill” a small drop of wine as each plague is recited. (How the wine is removed varies from family to family: some pour the wine out directly from the cup, while some dip a finger or spoon in the wine and remove a drop). Why do we do this?

The Midrash tells us that as the Egyptians were meeting their horrible end in the churning waters of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the angels wished to sing out praise to the A-lmighty. God rebuked them and said “My creations are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises?!” (Talmud Megillah 10b). The custom of spilling the wine, explained theAbrabanel (a famous medieval Spanish commentator), is because wine is a sign of rejoicing. But one should not rejoice when an enemy falls, because they too are creations of God.

This custom of spilling is also performed when the statement “Blood, Fire and A Column of Smoke” is read, that precedes the 10 plagues and also when reciting “D’tzach, Adash, B’achav,” Rabbi Judah’s mnemonic for remembering the plagues in order.

(After spilling, the glass should be refilled before it is used for the second cup.)


This Treat was last posted on April 6, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Searching for Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is conducted on the night before the seder. (*When the first Seder is Saturday night, Bedikat Chametz is performed on the previous Thursday night.)

Bedikat Chametz begins shortly after nightfall. When one is ready to begin the search, a blessing is recited (see below), after which no talking is permitted with the exception of conversation pertaining to the search itself. The search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (if the candle might cause danger, for instance when searching near draperies, one may use a flashlight). Among Ashkenazi Jews, it is also customary to use a feather to "sweep" any chametz crumbs into a paper bag.



Sometimes getting into the right frame of mind for the search may be difficult, especially if the house has already been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. In order to be in the right frame of mind and to make certain that the blessing over the search is not said in vain there is a custom, therefore, to have someone else carefully "hide" ten pieces of chametz (for instance 10 pieces of pretzel wrapped in foil) in the rooms which will be searched. The search will thus be more diligent, and will not conclude until all the rooms have been checked and the 10 pieces found.

When the search is over, one makes a general declaration stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless. The chametz in the bag is set aside to be burned the following morning. One may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast (and Shabbat meals when applicable), making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the chametz bag afterwards.

Please note that there are many situations (for example, someone who is renting a room in a house that is not being cleaned for Passover), where it would be best to consult with a rabbi to determine how to proceed.


The Prayers of “Bedikat Chametz

Blessing before the search:
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 Bee'oor chametz.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctifies us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz

Annulment of Ownership of Unknown Chametz (recited after the search is concluded):
Kol chameera va’chamee'ah, d’eeka veer’shootee, d’lah cha’zee’tay, ood’la vee’ar’tay, ood’lah y’dah’nah lay. lee’bah’tayl v’leh’heh’vay hef’ker k’aphra d’arah.

"Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth."


This Treat was published on April 1, 2015.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Light Wine

Purchase a light wine for the four cups of the seder.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tap on the Head

The history of the Jews of Spain is one of glory and fear. By the end of the 15th century, Jewish life was something celebrated in dark cellars with the ever-present fear of discovery. Before the Inquisition, however, the Jews had a beautiful and unique culture, remnants of which are found in the shared customs of Sephardic Jewry around the world. 

One poignant Passover custom that can be found among Jews descended from the dispersed Spanish community is tapping the seder plate. The seder leader takes the seder plate and taps it or passes it over the head of the each seder participant. In some places, the custom is to do so three times for each participant. References to this custom have been found as early as the mid-fourteenth century. 

While many attribute luck-for-the-year-to come to this custom, this is a superstition that becomes associated with an already established custom. Like so many traditions of the Passover seder, the root of the custom of tapping participants’ heads with the seder plate is rooted in the desire to cause the children to ask questions. The seder plate is the equivalent to the table mentioned in Talmud Pesachim 115b: “Why do we remove the table (a custom noted earlier in the text)? The school of Rabbi Yannai said: So that the children will see and inquire.” As the table was removed, it was lifted over the heads of the participants or the children, and thus the custom evolved. 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Seek the Answer

The Four Questions (Mah Nishtana - What makes it different?) is one of the most famous features of the Passover Seder. In Ashkenazi homes, these four lines are recited by the youngest person present, or, quite often, by all the children at the seder.

Before you start scanning your haggadah to discover four answers, wait. The haggadah doesn’t answer any of these questions directly! So why ask them?

The haggadah mimics the style of the Talmud, which is full of rhetorical questions and answers that appear not to match the questions asked. Students of the Talmud, however, learn to understand these type of strange dynamics.

The immediate answer presented in the haggadah is a paragraph known as Avad’im Ha’yee’nu, “We Were Slaves...”:

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord our God took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Had God not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, then we, our children and our grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if we all were wise and perceptive, experienced and well-versed in Torah, it would still be our duty to tell about the exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about the exodus, the more praise one deserves.

The Four Questions are left unanswered because they are meant to encourage children (and adults) to listen for the answers. In a way, the answers are there. We eat matzah because this was the bread of affliction of our ancestors in Egypt. We eat maror, bitter herbs, to remember the pain of slavery. We dip our vegetables (first the karpas and then the maror) and we recline as we eat (except the maror), because these are the ways of free people. And the answer to all of the questions of the seder truly is...we were slaves and now we are free, all, thanks to God.


This Treat was last posted on April 6, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Ancient LInk

Stay connected to your heritage by discussing the origins of your family customs.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Afikomen

Those who have attended a Passover Seder know that one of the most beloved Seder traditions is the hiding* of the afikomen, a specially designated half-piece of matzah. But what exactly is the afikomen?

The word afikomen is of Greek origin and, while its exact translation has been lost, seems to refer to after-dinner deserts, drinks and entertainment. In reference to Passover, the Mishnah states (Pesachim 119b-120a) that “One may not conclude the Paschal meal [by saying] ‘Now to the entertainment’...it was taught as Rabbi Johanan, ‘You must not conclude after the Paschal meal with dates, parched ears and nuts [desserts].”’ (Don’t eat anything more...)

Initially, the halacha was that the eating of the Paschal lamb marked the conclusion of the seder feast. After the destruction of the Temple (since the Paschal lamb can no longer be brought), the sages ordained that matzah must be the last taste one has at the seder. Since this matzah was eaten in lieu of the afikomen (meaning dessert, drinks and entertainment) it assumed the name “afikomen.”

While the afikomen is involved in several steps of the seder (Yachatz - when the middle matzah is broken in half and the larger piece is set aside for the afikomen, and Tzaphun, when the afikomen is eaten), it is only vaguely mentioned in the Haggadah.

There are many differences in customs involving the afikomen, depending on one’s background. Ashkenazim hide the afikomen (and find it) as a means of keeping the children interested. Iraqi Jews conduct a dialogue while holding it. (“Where are you from?” “Egypt.” “Where are you going?” “Jerusalem.”) Many North African Jews wrap the afikomen in white and carry it around the room on their shoulders.

*an Ashkenazi tradition


This Treat was last posted on April 11, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

The Passover Story in Brief

On Passover, we commemorate the exodus from Egyptian slavery. The following is a brief summary:

Jacob's family came to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Joseph, Jacob's son and the Viceroy to Pharaoh, settled his family in the land of Goshen, apart from the Egyptians.

Joseph's contribution to Egyptian society was forgotten after his death, and the new Pharaoh, feeling threatened by the demographic success of the Israelites, enslaved them with cruel and bitter labor. 
According to the Midrash, Pharaoh was alerted to a prophecy that the Israelites would be led to freedom by a boy yet to be born, so he ordered all newborn Jewish boys cast into the Nile. Yocheved set her newborn son (Moses) adrift in the Nile in a basket to escape the decree, where he was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who adopted him.

Years later, Moses came upon an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Outraged, Moses slew the Egyptian and then fled Egypt fearing that his action had been discovered. He took refuge in Midian with Jethro and married Jethro's daughter, Tziporah. While shepherding Jethro's sheep, Moses came upon a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire and from which he heard God's voice instructing him to go back and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses, joined by his older brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites. Pharaoh repeatedly said no--nine times. Each time he said no, another plague (blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness) struck Egypt. Finally, God struck all the Egyptian first born dead. After this tenth and final plague, Pharaoh finally said "yes," and the Jews left Egypt, matzah in hand.
Permalink

Pharaoh changed his mind and chased the Israelites, who were eventually trapped between the Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds. But the Sea miraculously split and they crossed safely while the Egyptians drowned in the returning waters. According to the Midrash, only Pharaoh survived.

The Israelites then continued their journey to Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah.


This Treat was published on March 24, 2015.













Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

A Good Plan


If you are still in need of Passover Seder accommodations, find out if a synagogue in your are is hosting a Passover Across America Seder or call your local rabbi for assistance.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Why Laban is in the Haggadah

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Passover, it is time to review the important narrative featured in the Haggadah...the story of Laban. Many Jewish Treats readers are, perhaps, scratching their heads and wondering not only what Laban has to do with Passover, but just exactly who he was.

The longest section of the Passover Haggadah is Maggid, the retelling of the Exodus, and the largest section of Maggid, begins with the words:

“Go and learn what Laban the Aramean tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh decreed death only for the newborn males, Laban tried to uproot all of Israel...”

Laban was Jacob’s father-in-law, the father of both Rachel and Leah. When Jacob left his parents’ household, he went to his Uncle Laban, in Padan-Aram, where he remained for over 20 years -- thus Laban is called an Aramean. Laban was a cheater and a thief  -- accumulating wealth was his obsession. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban indentured him for seven years, and then at the wedding switched Rachel for Leah. When Jacob discovered the treachery, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well, but at the price of another 7 years of labor. Twenty years later, when Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan-Aram, his father-in-law was greatly angered, yet feigned being hurt by Jacob’s desire to take away his grandchildren (when all he really wanted was Jacob’s wealth).

The Haggadah mentions Laban before describing the Jewish enslavement and redemption in order to underscore the cycle of history. Laban sought to use Jacob for his own purposes, to keep him in Padan-Aram for his own benefit, with false words. So too, Jacob’s descendants were lulled by kind words into a false sense of security and ultimately, into slavery in Egypt.


This Treat was last posted on April 9, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Cut Off

"...Be as scrupulous in performing a 'minor' mitzvah as a 'major' one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvot. Calculate the...reward of a sin against its cost" (Ethics of the Fathers2:1). While we do not know the full reward and punishment for each mitzvah in the Torah, there are some actions that are so severe that God Himself informs us that they are punishable by the dreaded kareit.

Kareit, often defined as excision, is extremely hard to comprehend. In fact, the sages of the Talmud even debate what this punishment is. Many sages and rabbinic leaders have also noted that kareit may have a different effect on people today than it did in the days of the Holy Temple.

Kareit is often translated as being cut-off. It is believed that, in times when our connection to the spiritual realm was more tangible, kareit was actual death. (Not instant death, but rather death at a young age--under 60--accompanied by a lack of further offspring.) But, kareit is also understood as a spiritual excommunication, in which one's soul is cut off from God.

There are 36 transgressions for which one might receive kareit, but only if one is forewarned and purposefully committed the transgression and did not repent for the act. Some offenses for which one is punished by kareit are: incest, eating blood, and consulting ghosts or spirits.

Almost all of the sins for which kareit is a punishment are prohibitions. However, there are two positive commandments for which kareit is the punishment when they are not fulfilled. These are (1) to have oneself circumcised (if not done when a man was a baby) and (2) to offer the Paschal lamb (in Temple times and when one was not in a category allowing for exemption).


This Treat was last posted on April 7,  2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Beginning of the Week


Shop for Passover supplies before it becomes last minute.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Great Shabbat

The Shabbat immediately preceding Passover is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It is best known for being the Shabbat on which the rabbi of the community (or another leading scholar) gives a detailed sermon that is often a review of the laws of Passover. While it has been suggested that these sermons are the source of the title "HaGadol" (gadol means both great and large), there is an actual historical significance to this Shabbat.

In the year that the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, God commanded the Jewish people that on the 10th of Nissan, each Israelite household (or combination of households) must take a lamb to use for a sacrifice (Exodus 12:3). Choosing a lamb for a sacrifice might not seem like a big deal, but the Egyptians viewed sheep as holy animals. (Having lived among the Egyptians for so long, many Israelites had assumed the false belief that sheep have special spiritual significance.) By taking the sheep and preparing it for slaughter, the people displayed defiance of their Egyptian masters and rejected any religious significance for the sheep itself.

Shabbat HaGadol is marked in synagogue by the reading of a special haftarah from the book of Malachi (3:3-24). Some people connect the concluding line of this reading to the term Shabbat HaGadol: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great (hagadol) and awesome day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." (3:23-24).


Passover is the holiday on which Jews celebrate redemption, and Elijah the prophet will be the harbinger of the final redemption, the coming of the Messiah. The ultimate redemption cannot come, however, until the Jewish people do teshuva (repent). Some scholars, such as the Chatam Sofer, have commented that this is the true meaning of Shabbat HaGadol - that when the Israelites began their preparations for the exodus by taking a lamb into their house, they were doing teshuva for having followed the ways of their Egyptian neighbors.

This Treat was published on March 27, 2015.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Kitniyot and Gebrouchts

Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Hungarian, Yekke (German), Lithuanian?

At no other time on the Jewish calendar is it so important to know your ancestry as it is on Passover. What one does or does not eat on Passover (beyond obvious chametz) is strongly dictated by ancestral customs.* Here’s how it matters:

Kitniyot (Legumes) - During the holiday of Passover, Ashkenazim follow a rabbinic decree not to eat foods containing kitniyot, such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. This rule was established because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover. The decree only prohibits the eating; products containing kitniyot do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in most Sephardi communities. However, while Sephardim may eat rice, beans, etc., the food must be thoroughly checked to make certain that it is not mixed with chametz.

Gebrouchts (Wet Matzah) - Another custom followed by Ashkenazi Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchtsGebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided out of a concern that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined. Those who are stringent not to eat gebrouchts will therefore not eat matzah balls, matzah brie, matzah lasagna, etc. Those who refrain from Gebrouchts will eat them on the eighth day, since this is an extra day observed only outside of Israel.

This custom was broadly accepted in many Chassidic communities (Hungary, Galicia, Romania). In those communities where mitnagdim (non-Chassidic) were dominant (Lithuania, Germany), it was almost considered a mitzvah to eat gebrouchts food in order to make the point that it was permissible.

*Traditionally, one follows the customs of the paternal line. For example, if a Russian woman marries a German man, she follows his “Yekke” customs, as do the children. Those who cannot trace back their lineage to know their family customs should consult their rabbi.



This Treat was published on March 29, 2015.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Chametz Delights

Be creative in using up your chametz while preparing for Shabbat.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Pharaoh Enslaved the Israelites

While reading the Book of Exodus, one might wonder at the swift descent of the Jewish nation from being the privileged family of the Viceroy, Joseph, to becoming downtrodden and abused slaves. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historical phenomenon. But, one would think that transforming a nation into slaves would take generations or result in rebellion.
The sages, however, explain in the Midrash that the Egyptians were cunning and enslaved the Jews through artifice. This is understood from Pharaoh, whose name can be broken up to mean peh rah, which means evil mouth, and can be understood as well to relate to peh rach,soft mouth.

Language is a powerful tool, and even Pharaoh understood this. When he decided to enslave the Jews, he declared a national week of labor during which all good citizens of the realm were to come and help in the building of the great store cities of Pithom and Ramses, with Pharaoh himself in the lead. The Jews, wanting to show their great loyalty to their host country, joined in enthusiastically. Within a few days, however, when the Jews arrived at the building sites, the Egyptians did not join them. Shortly thereafter, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they perform the same amount of work that they had done on their own volition the day before. It was through soft and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jewish nation into slavery.

Not only is this Midrash itself interesting, but it is reflective of the importance that Jewish thought and Jewish law places on the use of words. Obviously, what Pharaoh did was wrong. In fact, Jewish law even forbids the use of words to manipulate another person into paying for lunch (let alone to enslave them).


This Treat was last posted on April 9, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Public Words

Think carefully about the motivation behind the words of all public figures.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Beauty of the Book

Illuminated manuscripts inlaid with gold or silver leaf and spectacularly illustrated are most often associated with the Medieval church (the Gospels, Psalters, etc), where texts were generally hand-copied until Western Europeans discovered the printing press.

The Jewish world, however, has often been influenced by its surrounding communities and it is, therefore, not at all surprising that Jewish illuminated manuscripts exist as well. Although many Jewish books and texts were destroyed in the course of Jewish history, whether by natural disintegration or, more often, in the flames of pogroms and book-burnings, many important manuscripts have been preserved. Of these, the two most famous are Haggadot.

While it is known that the Sarajevo Haggadah was created in the mid-1300s, it’s exact origins are unknown. The history of this Haggadah, however, is well established: it changed hands in 1510, there is a note from 1609 stating that the Haggadah does not speak against the Church, and, in 1892, Josef Cohen tried to sell it. It was bought by the National Museum in Sarajevo and tucked away for safe keeping due to its delicate nature. The curators even managed to keep it from the Nazis and hid it during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Haggadah was displayed for the public during Passover in 1995.

The Birds’ Head Haggadah is named after the distinctive figures used in its illustrations. Creating humanoid figures with bird-like faces was one way Jewish artists avoided violating the practice of not creating images of humans. (The artist used other facial distortions as well). Discovered in 1946, the Birds' Head Haggadah is among the oldest surviving Ashkenazi illuminated Haggadot (late 13th century). Its origin is placed in Southern Germany, where Jews were mandated to wear the conical “Jew’s Hat” shown on the adult male figures in the Haggadah.

This Treat was last posted on April 4, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Your Choice

Choose a haggadah that is both inspiring and easy to follow during the seder. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

OMG! Passover is Coming

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: "Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses..." (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one's possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating). To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that only a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to rid one's home, office and even one's car (any personal place where chametz may have been brought). It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be "turned over "-- the kitchen converted from chametz status to "ready-for-Passover" use. "Turning over the kitchen" includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops, which come in direct contact with chametz.*

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or otherwise removed. Chametz may also be sold through a rabbi to a non-Jew. For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit NJOP's Passover Preparations page.


*Certain items, depending on the material, maybe kashered or may not need to be covered.

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



This Treat was published on March 23, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Begin Simply

Don't let Passover preparations overwhelm you, begin simply by taking stock of the chametz that you currently have.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Wellspring of Technology

If you follow @JewishTweets or are a Facebook follower of Jewish Treats, you might have noticed the incredible abundance of technical and medical breakthroughs that occur in the State of Israel. Dig a little deeper and you will find that many of the men and women behind these discoveries and inventions are graduates of the Technion - the Israel Institute of Technology.

Established in 1912, the Tecknikum (as it was originally called) was conceived and sponsored by a German-Jewish fund. The hope was that the school would be a viable alternative for European Jews who were often restricted in their ability to attend university. Indeed, with the rise of the Nazis, it became a safe-haven for many brilliant scientists who fled Europe.

Although the cornerstone for the Technion was laid in 1912, studies did not begin at the school until 1924, when it welcomed its first class of sixteen students (including one woman). The school had many noted supporters, including Albert Einstein, who planted the first palm tree in front of the original building in 1923. One of the major delays was the fierce debate concerning the language of instruction: German or Hebrew.

The Technion’s first campus was located in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa. It moved to its new, expanded campus in the 1950s, and today it has 10 academic facilities, 52 research centers and one affiliated teaching hospital. Three Technion professors have won Nobel Prizes, and an incredible number of the school’s graduates are leaders in the high-tech industry around the world.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

First Thoughts

Begin thinking about Passover preparations with Jewish Treats' "Passover Seder Cheat Sheet." (Download for free here.)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Parasha of the Month

This Shabbat is Parashat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of “The Month.”

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional reading) after the conclusion of the reading of the regular weekly Torah portion, commands that the Jewish people declare Nissan to be the first month of the lunar calendar and instructs the Children of Israel to prepare for the Exodus (Exodus12:1-20). Parashat HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh itself.

The reading begins, “And God spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus12:2).

When God first commanded that the Israelites mark the new month, they were still in slavery. As slaves, time was something over which they had no control. This command, however, was God’s way of gradually empowering the people to take hold of their own fate.

The command also promises a future. At this point in time, nine out of the ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land was decimated, almost all the livestock had perished, and the Egyptian people themselves were scared and desperate. The Israelites, who had remained unharmed by the plagues, became increasingly concerned about the pent-up anger of the Egyptians. (Not to mention that Pharaoh was still refusing to let the Israelites leave.) Beginning a new calendar, however, underscored that they would have a future.

Having been reassured and empowered, the Israelites were able to obey Moses’ instructions to take a lamb on the 10th of the month of Nissan and mark their doorposts with the lamb’s blood on the eve of the 15th, when God would strike the Egyptian firstborn and the Children of Israel would finally leave Egypt.

This Treat was last posted on March 20, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Shabbat And

This Shabbat, don't forget to include the prayers of Rosh Chodesh (listed in most siddurs).

Thursday, April 7, 2016

In Honor of World Health Day

World Health Day, which is sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), is an annual event held on April 7th, the anniversary of the founding of the WHO in 1948. A sub-agency of the United Nations, the WHO concerns itself with international health matters. This year, the focus of World Health Day is the growing concern regarding the reported increase in diabetes throughout the world.

Although cases of people suffering the symptoms of diabetes have been found throughout the ancient world, neither the Torah nor the Talmud discuss it directly. As is well-known, Type II Diabetes is closely related to lifestyle, and many of the recommendations for healthy living in order to avoid diabetes are encouraged in Jewish tradition as well.

One critical factor in preventing Type II diabetes is maintaining a healthy diet. Not only do the sages stress the importance of eating vegetables (Talmud Eiruvin 55b - “No scholar should dwell in a town where vegetables are unobtainable”), but gluttony is also one of the 365 negative commandments.

Exercise is also considered vital to staving off diabetes. As is frequently noted in the media today, a lifestyle without exercise is extremely detrimental. This fact was pointed out by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides - 12th century Spain), “As long as you exercise, take care not to eat to the point of satiation and keep your bowels soft, you will not fall ill and your strength will increase. . .The opposite is true of someone who leads a sedentary life and takes no exercise” (Hilchot Deot 4:15).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Doctor's Advice

Follow your doctor's advice to maintain your optimal health.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Great Scots!

The story of the great masses of Eastern European Jews who arrived in New York and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is now more than conventional history, but an ingrained narrative of American Jewry. Back on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, a similar history was unfolding on a smaller scale, only the port was Glasgow, and the tenement neighborhood that became home to multitudes of immigrants was called the Gorbals.

Until the influx of Russian and Eastern European Jews at the end of the 19th century, Scotland’s Jewish population had been quite small. Although there are reports of individual Jews who settled there prior to the 1800s, the early history of the Scottish Jewish community is marked by individuals such as Levi Marks a student at the University of Glasgow (where he was able to avoid having to swear a religious oath) and Herman Lyon, a dentist of German origin who was buried in Edinburgh. The first Jewish congregations in Scotland were founded in Edinburgh in 1816 and in Glasgow in 1823.

Similar to the story of the Russian/Eastern European Jewish migration that came to New York in the late 1800s, the Jews who came to Glasgow were often impoverished and uneducated, but dedicated to bettering their lots. As in New York, they too became peddlers and merchants and slowly built successful lives.

As immigration levelled out, the Jewish population of Scotland became more established and then slowly began to decline, particularly as many young adults left to attain a higher education abroad and did not return. Scottish Jews, however, have tremendous pride in their dual identities, as can be seen by the excitement resulting from the recent approval for, and issuing of, an official tartan* for the Jewish people of Scotland.

This Treat is in honor of Tartan Day, a North American celebration of Scottish heritages.

* “A woolen or worsted cloth woven with stripes of different colors and widths crossing at right angles, worn chiefly by the Scottish Highlanders, each clan having its own distinctive plaid” - via Dictionary.com 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved