Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Story of Kurt Eisner

Did you know that there was a Jewish head of a German State in early 20th century. From November 8, 1918, until February 21, 1919, the Premier of Bavaria was Kurt Eisner, a Jewish republican who had helped overthrow the 700 year old Bavarian monarchy the day before.*

Born in Berlin on May 14, 1867, Eisner was actually a professional journalist, not a politician. Between 1890 and 1917 he worked on a wide variety of newspapers, including Vorwärts, the central organ of the German socialists. Eisner was drawn to the liberal politics in reaction to living under a rigid monarchy.

In 1917, Eisner joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. Later that year, even as Germany was at war, he was concerned about human rights. He incited the munition workers to strike, which was considered an act of treason and for which Eisner spent nine months in jail. He was later released as part of a general amnesty.

Following World War I, Eisner led the movement to move Bavaria toward democracy. Eisner believed that the German monarchies, influenced by the culture of Prussia, were at fault for the War. In fact, while Premier, he leaked documents demonstrating Prussian culpability.

Eisner was not a Communist. The revolution he started conducted elections almost immediately, and, in fact, his Social Democratic party was defeated in January 1919, just two months into his Premiership. Tragically, on February 21, 1919, as Eisner was heading to the parliament to officially resign, he was shot in the back by Anton Graf con Arco auf Valley, an angry German nationalist and anti-Semite (which was all the more tragic as Arco auf Valley’s mother was from the Jewish Oppenheim family). Eisner’s death was just one part of the post-war political upheaval that eventually allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power.

*Germany was a federation of smaller kingdoms.

Monday, February 20, 2017

President Woodrow Wilson and the Jews

In honor of Presidents Day, Jewish Treats presents a quick look at the relationship of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and the Jews.

Wilson’s most famous connection to the Jewish people is his appointment of the first Jewish Justice on the United States Supreme Court, Louis D. Brandeis. During the nomination process there was a great deal of reluctance, indeed outright opposition, to the appointment of a Jew to the Court. Wilson, however, worked many political angles to push people beyond their prejudices to pass the nomination.

A lesser known piece of history was Wilson’s approval of a proclamation of a National Jewish Relief Day shortly before the United States entered World War I.  National Jewish Relief Day was born of the efforts of the Central Committee for the Relief of Jewish Suffering (also known as Central Relief Committee). The proclamation recognized that within the countries waging war in Europe there were “nine million Jews the great majority of whom are destitute of food, shelter and clothing.” With the proclamation of the day (January 27, 1916) in hand, the Jewish relief agencies of the Central Relief Committee were able to rally other organizations to work for the cause and were thus able to create a highly successful campaign.

It has also been recorded that after the outbreak of World War I it was brought to Wilson’s attention that the Army Manual of Instructions for Medical Advisory Boards included the statement: “The foreign born, and especially Jews, are more apt to malinger [in order to avoid service] than the native-born.” When the Anti-Defamation League brought this manual to President Wilson’s attention, he ordered the manual recalled and revised.

Time Off

Use some of your time off to help others.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Um, What Day Is It?

Living in the “Age of Information,” it is hard to imagine a person not being able to find out what day of the week it is. But in the days before data flowed across the airways, a person alone in the wilderness could easily lose track of time. To many of us, not having a digital device or a calendar to consult might sound extremely relaxing, but it presents an extraordinary challenge for the celebration of the Day of Rest.

The Talmud actually discusses what to do if one is uncertain which day of the week it is: “Rabbi Huna said: If one is traveling on a road or in the wilderness and does not know when the Sabbath is, he must count six days and observe one. Chiya bar Rab said: He must observe one and count six [weekdays]” (Shabbat 69b).

The question remains, does one begin observing Shabbat immediately or counting immediately? The Talmud explains further the rationale behind each of these opinions.

“Wherein do they differ? One Master holds that it is like at the time of the world's Creation; the other Master holds that it is like [the case of] Adam” (Shabbat 69b).

Since Adam, the first human being, was created on the afternoon of the Sixth Day of Creation, a short while before God rested (the first Shabbat), acting like Adam would mean celebrating the Shabbat at the first sunset. Counting seven days, on the other hand, emulates God, and the idea that is at the heart of the celebration of Shabbat.

So what should one do if one has no means of knowing what day of the week it is? According to halacha (Jewish law), one should emulate God and begin counting six days, and only then begin to celebrate Shabbat.

This Treat was last posted on February 28, 2013.

Weekly Knowledge

Keep a Jewish calendar in a convenient place to check what time Shabbat begins each week.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

It’s All In How You Go

Living a Jewish life does not just happen on holidays or Shabbat or when looking for a good, kosher snack. Judaism is a way of life that is meant to influence everything one does, every step one takes, and the Torah serves as an instruction manual on how to do this.

In Exodus 20, God instructs the Israelites on the proper way to make an altar to Him. “And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift your tool upon it you have profaned it. Neither shall you go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness is not uncovered thereon” (Exodus 20:22-23).

Although these verses refer to how one should act while bringing an offering, it is a cogent example of the subtle lessons found in the Torah that actually apply to everyday life as well. In this case, the lesson reflects the necessity of modesty. The concept of modesty is often discussed in the context of religious life, usually in reference to a dress code. Modesty, however, goes beyond dress. It is a way people carry themselves, the way they interact with the world.

Being aware that walking up steps might reveal one’s nakedness reflects a general awareness of one’s surroundings and the necessary appropriate behavior in those surroundings. There is a time for laughter and a time for seriousness. There are places where it is appropriate to dress casually and places where formal dress is necessary.

Being a modest person means knowing when it is the right time to walk up the ramp rather than take the stairs.

A Modest Approach

Be conscientious to behave with appropriate modesty in every situation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Story of Irena Sendler

Despite the fact that Irena Sendler was recognized in 1967 by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, her story was mostly unknown until 1999. That year, four students took on a special year-long project for National History Day and transformed Irena Sendler’s life story into a play. The project, Life in a Jar, took on a life of its own and the play has now been produced hundreds of times and been brought to life on film as well.

The story of Irena Sendler, who was born on this day in 1910, is rooted in the exalted concept of “concern-for-others,” taught to her by her physician father, who died when she was young but left a powerful impression  on her. Many years later, when she and her husband moved to Warsaw shortly before the war, Sendler took a position as a social service director. Through her job, she worked with many Jews and, even after the creation of the ghetto in Warsaw, she still had access to the community. Soon, she and her coworkers began forging documents for Jewish residents of the Ghetto.

As persecutions increased, so did Sendler’s efforts. One of the first members of Zegota (Council for Aid to Jews), she was assigned to head its children’s department. In this capacity, she helped smuggle 2,500 babies and small children to safety, placing them with Christian families or orphanages. Most significantly, even though she had to give the children new names and teach them Christian prayers, her long-range hope was to return the children  to their families, so she kept detailed records of their real names in jars that she buried.

Sendler was caught, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis in 1943, but the guards were bribed to let her escape. She returned to Warsaw and continued rescuing children.

Following the war, Sendler was considered suspect in her loyalty by the Polish communist authorities. For this reason, she was unable to attend the ceremony honoring her at Yad Vashem or to receive any distinction until the communist government fell and her story slowly became known.  She has since received many honors and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Irena Sendler passed away on May 12, 2008.

Protecting History

Share stories of Holocaust heroes and survivors that you know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

With This Ring...

The traditional Jewish wedding band is remarkable only in its particular simplicity. The ring used in the marriage ceremony is customarily made of a single solid band of metal that contains no gemstones and is not carved through. It can be platinum, gold or even silver as long as it is worth at least a p’rutah (a coin of small value).

The minimum monetary value of the ring is necessary, since it serves as a means of affecting the marriage contract. In fact, before it became a tradition for a ring to be given, the groom gave the bride an actual coin. The use of a ring in the wedding ceremony is traced back to the 10th century, although many scholars believe it started several centuries earlier.

Perhaps it was during the transition from coin to ring that there developed a unique custom now often referred to as House Rings. These often ornate rings featured a miniature house or temple on the top of the ring. Some had Hebrew engraving, ornate fillagree and even movable pieces such as roofs that opened to reveal a tiny compartment. Most historians believe that, given the extreme detail and costly materials, these rings were actually owned by the community and were used as ornaments only during the actual ceremony. The persecutions that the Jews faced during the Middle Ages led many of these rings to be either stolen or hidden, and thus lost to history.

Additionally, the ring must be owned by the groom, who places it on the bride’s index finger in front of two witnesses and declares “Behold you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and [the People of] Israel.”

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Simcha Happy

When attending a wedding, remember to focus on bringing joy to the bride and groom.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What’s Yiddish for Radio?

World Radio Day (February 13) was created by UNESCO in order to honor the incredible and diverse contribution radio has made to the world. Not only has radio broadcasting allowed for the greater and faster dissemination of information, but it has created a vital network of connection between people around the world.

In the United States commercially licensed radio broadcasts began in 1920. Along with larger national networks, like NBC and CBS, smaller, local stations sought out niche markets by focusing on particular ethnic groups. Among these many stations vying for bandwidth were a small but hardy group of Yiddish radio stations.

The first steady Yiddish Broadcast was Brooklyn-based WLTH (Broadcast from Leverich Towers Hotel), whose general manager, Sam Gellard, brought in popular Yiddish performers such as Sholom Secunda, in order to attract a Brooklyn listener audience. They offered a wide range of programming, such as their Sunday Examiner, which hosted local rabbis repeating their Shabbat sermons. One of WLTH’s greatest assets was radio host Victor Packer, who broadcast four hours a day with a range of entertainment, including man-on-the-street interviews, game shows, music programs and comedy slots. He even read his own Dadist Yiddish poetry about everything and anything.

Another important Yiddish radio station was WEVD, a socialist station that was purchased by The Forward newspaper in 1932. One of WEVD’s most popular Yiddish programs was The Forward Hour, a Sunday morning variety show. The station broadcast lively programs of Jewish interest until it was sold in 1981.

Smaller Yiddish stations fought for audiences as well. Both WCBW and WBBC had popular Klezmer music programs. Many of these micro-stations were merged to form WBYN by the FCC in January 1941. By the 1950s, however, the heyday of radio was fading fast. Like small stations nationwide, the Yiddish radio broadcasts could not compete with larger stations or the rising popularity of television.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listen Jewish

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it may seem as if winter has just begun, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit www.njop.org

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tu B'Shevat.

What Is the Tree of Life?

In the Garden of Eden, which was teeming with all the wonderful flora of creation, God placed two special trees:  Etz Hada’at  (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and  Etz Hachaim  (the Tree of Life). Humankind ate from the Tree of Knowledge and was expelled from the Garden of Eden, cut off from the Tree of Life.

It is interesting then that this same term, “tree of life” (minus the definite article), is used as a metaphor for Torah, as it says in Proverbs 3:18, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, those who support it are happy.” Is there a connection between the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden and the Torah?

According to the biblical text, if humankind had eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have gained immortality: “And the Lord God said: 'Behold, the human has become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever.'
Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken (Genesis 3:22-23). While involving oneself with Torah does not gain a person actual immortality, it does earn a person eternal life in the world to come.

The life force of Torah, however, are mitzvot, often translated as good deeds or commandments. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-1888) commented on Proverbs 3:18: “For the righteous person, everything he does is a tree of life. Out of his every deed grows something beneficial and lifegiving to his surroundings.”

Tradition says that one mitzvah begets another (Ethics of the Fathers 4:2). Following the mitzvot of the Torah brings continual reward to its followers, just like a fruit tree that constantly replants itself through its seeds and thus continues to provide fresh air and nourishment to the world.

This Treat was last posted on February 4, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Shabbat of Song

Music speaks to the heart, and, not surprisingly, the heart often speaks through music. Thus, when the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds (aka the Red Sea) and witnessed the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army, they burst into spontaneous song (led by Moses). 

Az Yashir Moshe U’v’nei Yisrael... Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel...(Exodus 15:1). The song, which is recorded in Exodus 15:1-19, is known as the Shirah (the song). The Shabbat on which this Shirah is chanted in the synagogue (Parashat B'shalach) is known as Shabbat Shirah.

The lyrics of the Shirah constitute exalted praises of God, Who saves the Jewish people. Recounting the miraculous event, the Shirah calls out: “For the horses of Pharaoh went into the sea with his chariots and his horsemen, and God brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” (15:19).

Why is a special name given to this Shabbat? Because the Shirah inspires us to remember the heights that our people can reach.

Those who have read the Bible cannot help but notice that such spontaneous praise and gratitude from the Israelites was rare. The Israelites spent much time complaining. They wanted meat (Exodus 16), worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32), sinned with the Moabite women (Numbers 25), etc. But when the Israelites reached the far side of the Sea of Reeds, their faith in God and in their own significance was at an all time high. There was no restraint in their praise of God.

This Treat is reposted each year for Shabbat Shirah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

SIng for the World

This Shabbat, sing praises to God and the majesty of this world.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Foods of Tu B'Shevat

This Shabbat, Jews around the world will celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the new year of the trees. Tu B'Shevat is often celebrated with the 7 species for which the Torah praises the land of Israel: “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (from dates)” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Wheat (chitah): The Sages noted the importance of wheat in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21): “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no Torah, there is no flour.”

Barley (seh’o’rah): At Passover time, the Omer offering (a measure of barley from the new harvest) was brought to the Temple, symbolic of the start of the spring harvest.

Grape (gefen - literally grape-vines): The transformation of grapes into wine reflects humankind’s ability to choose to uplift itself or debase itself depending upon how they use the grape.

Fig (t’aynah): “... All the figs on one tree do not ripen at once, rather a few each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs one finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds" (Eruvin 54a).

Pomegranate (rimon): According to the Midrash, the pomegranate has 613 seeds equivalent to the number of commandments in the Torah.

Olive (zayit): “...Just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter, so too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off--neither in this world, or in the World to Come” (Menachot 53b).

Date (tamar): While the Torah uses the word d’vash, honey, it is understood as referring to date-honey because the date is frequently boiled to make a type of honey. “The righteous shall flourish like a date-palm tree” (Psalms 92:13), for those who act holy are sweet in God’s eyes.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Tu B'shevat.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fruit Stop

Stop by the store and pick up some special fruit for celebrating Tu B'Shevat this Shabbat.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What’s the Complaint?

People always like to complain. It is a fact. Sometimes they have legitimate complaints, and sometimes they don’t. Suffice it to say, however, that most often the reaction to the complaint is proportional to the legitimacy of that complaint.

When the Israelites, fresh out of Egyptian slavery, saw themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the sea, they cried out to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, you’ve taken us to die in the wilderness...” (Exodus 14:11-12). God responded to this outcry from the recently redeemed Israelites by instructing Moses to split the Sea.

On the other hand, the ungrateful Jews complained a second time (even though they had crossed the Sea and sang praises thanking God) when they “walked three days in the desert but did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter” (Exodus 15:22-23). In response to this complaint, the Israelites were given both a solution (Moses threw a special piece of wood into the water that turned the water sweet) and some behavior guidelines: “If you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, and you do what is proper in His eyes, and you listen closely to His commandments and observe all His statutes, all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you, for I, the Lord, heal you” (ibid. 26).

At Marah, the peoples’ complaint was based on supposition. The text doesn’t say that they did not HAVE water, but that they did not FIND water. The first water that they found was not potable, and they reacted. However, unbeknown to them when they complained, they were on a path to “Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters” (ibid. 27). God gave them what they felt they needed, but He also reminded them of the importance and need for trusting Him.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Without Complaint

Find positive ways to express the need for something to be changed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Never Too Late To Educate

It is a well-known fact that Judaism places tremendous emphasis on education. Thousands of years ago Rabbi Simon ben Shetach (75 B.C.E.) instituted compulsory school attendance. The earliest “public school system” was established less than a century later, in the era of the Talmud, when the great sage Joshua ben Gamala “came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town” (Talmud Baba Batra 21a).  “Resh Lakish also said to Rabbi Judah the Prince: I have this tradition from my fathers — others state, from your fathers: Every town in which there are no school children shall be destroyed” (Talmud Shabbat 119b).

For centuries, Jewish boys were sent to master basic Hebrew literacy. Familiarity with all of Jewish tradition was expected from a young age and continuing advanced education was seen as ideal. It should be noted that female education was mostly home-based, as was customary at that time in most of the world. Although there were always educated Jewish women, women’s education was not standardized until the early 20th century when Sarah Schenirer founded the Beth Jacob girls school movement.

In the last century, while Jews have continued to greatly revere education, the emphasis has shifted from Torah education to secular studies. For many Jews, learning Hebrew, if it was learned at all, was relegated to an after-school activity. Therefore, the ancient mission stated by Joshua ben Gamala has had to shift from children to adults.

Obviously, true education must extend beyond learning the aleph-bet. For some in the modern world, it means mastery of the rituals of Shabbat and Jewish holidays, as well as the fundamentals of Jewish law and community customs. For others, Jewish education needs to begin with simple Jewish pride. The onus to fulfill the obligation of teaching those Jews now falls upon every Jew who cares enough to share their knowledge with those who never had the opportunity to learn.

Support Education

In honor of NJOP's Annual Dinner tonight, make a donation to support its work of providing Jewish education to Jews across North America.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Irish in Fairbanks

In 1910, while visiting her family in her native town of Dublin, Jessie Spiro was introduced to her second cousin, Robert Bloom. He was eight years her senior and had spent the last decade in Alaska, starting out as a prospector for gold but finding prosperity after opening a hardware store in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Although born in Lithuania, Bloom’s family had moved to Dublin when he was a child.)

Jessie Spiro was not daunted by Robert Bloom’s unusual residence. She herself had chosen an independent path by moving to London (2 years earlier, at age 21) and becoming active in the suffragette movement.

In 1912, Robert and Jessie were married and, shortly thereafter, set off for Alaska. They settled in what was then the fledgling town of Fairbanks (established in 1901) and became actively involved not only in the city’s development but also in the development of the greater state of Alaska as well.

In 1918, Jessie opened the city’s first kindergarten. Several years later, she formed the first girl scout troupe in Alaska. Robert was a founder of the Alaska Agriculture College and School of Mines, a forerunner of the University of Alaska, and a charter member of Igloo Number 4 of the Pioneers of Alaska fraternal organization.

In the early 1920s, the Blooms founded the Fairbanks Aeroplane Company. Their affinity for airplanes was not limited to business. Robert was actively involved in establishing the Eielson Air Force Base. During World War II, the Blooms provided outstanding support for the Jewish servicemen stationed in Alaska. They opened their home for services and invited soldiers to their Passover seders.

Bloom actually had a long history of assisting his coreligionist, acting as a lay rabbi in his early years in Alaska and helping to establish Congregation Bikkur Cholim, which met in his home in its early years. Bloom was also chairman of Alaska’s Jewish Welfare Board.

In addition to helping build Alaska and foster the small Jewish community there, the Blooms raised four daughters. The Blooms eventually retired to Seattle, Washington. Robert passed away in 1974, Jessie in 1980.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Community Abroad

When travelling to an unfamiliar place, research the local Jewish community first.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Don't Pretend

Has someone you know recently emailed you from their overseas vacation pleading for assistance after being mugged? Have you received a phone call from a tax agent warning you of impending dire consequences? Get any mail from a remote foreign country? Today’s common scammers may be tech savvy, but they are simply modern versions of ancient swindlers.

“Our Rabbis taught: If a man pretends to have a blind eye, a swollen belly or a shrunken leg, he will not pass out from this world before actually coming into such a condition. If a man accepts
charity and is not in need of it, his end [will be that] he will not pass out of the world before he comes to such a condition” (Talmud Ketubot 68a).

While we may not be able to see exactly how this comes to pass - sadly, too many dishonest people seem to get away with fraud and deception - it is a solid warning against these vile actions. Pretending to be in need is not only an outright act of theft, but it also undermines society by creating constant distrust. Those who are normally open-hearted and generous feel as if they are constantly being taken advantage of and may become hesitant and start to question the integrity of those who are truly in need.

Although the Torah does not support any particular socio-political ideology (like communism or socialism), the Torah society is based on people helping one another whenever the need is genuine.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honest Shabbat

Put your heart into the celebration of Shabbat.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Blue Laws and the Supreme Court

In honor of the first session of the United States Supreme Court (February 2, 1790), Jewish Treats looks at one of the first Jewish issues brought before the Supreme Court Justices: Blue Laws.

Blue Laws regulate what activities are allowed on Sunday. The term Blue is connected to an out-of-date language usage suggesting a rigidly moral outlook. While most of the original Blue Laws were designed to protect the Christian Sabbath and included restrictions on business, entertainment and even personal activities (one Connecticut law prohibited mothers from kissing their children!), by the mid-twentieth century it was mostly businesses that were affected.

In 1961, the United States Supreme Court ruled on four different cases that sought to declare the Blue Laws unconstitutional. Two of the four cases involved Jewish litigants: Gallagher vs. Crown Kosher Super Market and Braunfeld vs. Brown. In all four cases, the Supreme Court upheld the existing laws.

Abraham Braunfeld’s suit challenged Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws on the grounds that they violated his ability for economic sustainability because, due to his religious beliefs as one who observes Shabbat, he was unable to do six days of business as his competitors were. Braunfeld owned a retail clothing and home furnishing store in Philadelphia.  Crown Kosher of Springfield, Massachusetts, sought relief from the state laws prohibiting stores from being open on Sunday. They had tried opening their store on Saturday nights, but had found it economically unfeasible. Their case was based on the fact that neither they nor their customers could do business on Saturday and so the enforcement of the Blue Laws violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits legislation preferring one religion over another.

By the 1960s, however, the states that still had Blue Laws had all asserted, and demonstrated, that the purpose of those laws was to create a civil day of rest for the betterment of society. For this reason, in each of these cases, the majority of the Justices ruled that the states’ Blue Laws were constitutional.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Quiet Weekend

Make the Sabbath a day of rest from electronics.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Real Thing

With a bit of creativity, one can easily think of reasons why a person might assume a new identity. Sometimes it is a need for safety, such as those who enter the Witness Protection Program. Sometimes it is for more nefarious reasons, such as the fugitive criminal who took on a false identity and moved into the Orthodox community of Lakewood, New Jersey, observing Jewish law and custom even though he was not actually Jewish. (He was arrested in 2008.)

As strange as it may sound, this type of identity theft is even mentioned in the Talmud: A certain [non-Jew] used to go and partake of the Passover sacrifices in Jerusalem, boasting: “It is written (Exodus 12:43, 48), ‘There shall no stranger eat thereof. . . no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof,’ yet I eat of the very best” (Talmud Pesachim 3b).

He mentioned this to Rabbi Judah ben Batyra, who was upset that this scoundrel was violating the sanctity of the Temple. Rabbi Judah told the [man] that the next time he should request the best part, the “fat-tail.” Since this part of the sacrifice is always burnt on the altar and never eaten, the man's request to eat the fat-tail aroused the suspicion of the priests, and “they investigated his pedigree and discovered that he was a [non-Jew] and killed him” (ibid.)

In an era that values experimenting with the cultures of others, it may seem shocking that the man was killed for this trespass. But there is also a reminder here that some things, such as the Passover offering, are particularly sanctified for the Jewish people, and no one else.

However, it is also interesting to note how very inclusive the right to eat of the Passover offering is. Exodus 12 declares that while no alien may eat of it, every person who is part of the household, even non-Jewish servants (as long as the males are circumcised) has the possibility of being included.  “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:49).

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Teach the children in your life about the special and unique beauty of Jewish life. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's in the Book: I Samuel

The First Book of Samuel concerns the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. It opens with Samuel the Prophet, the last Judge, who was raised under the tutelage of Eli, the High Priest.

When Samuel grew old, his sons’ corrupt behavior caused the elders to request that he “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (8:12) Samuel was not pleased with their request because the Israelites should have recognized that God was their King and that their desire to be like other nations was improper.

God, however, led Samuel to Saul, who was anointed as the first King of Israel. Saul’s extraordinary military prowess won the loyalty of the people.

Saul’s “downfall” began at the end of the war with Amalek. Although he was under strict orders to fulfill the Torah commandment to wipe out Amalek, he allowed the Amalekite king, Agag, to live. For his failure to follow God's command, Saul was informed by Samuel that his kingship would end and not become a dynasty.

The other major theme of I Samuel is Saul’s relationship with David, who was secretly anointed by Samuel to be Saul’s successor (chapter 16). David first came to Saul’s court to serve as a harpist in order to ease the king’s troubled spirits. When the Philistine giant, Goliath, challenged the Israelites to one-on-one combat, David achieved fame by killing Goliath with a sling shot.

Saul suffered from a paranoid hatred of David, whom he tried to kill. David was extremely close to Saul’s family--his best friend was the king’s son, Jonathan, and his first wife was Saul’s daughter, Michal.

The First Book of Samuel ends with the death of Saul and Jonathan during battle with the Philistines.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Appreciating a Blanket of Snow

If you live in a northern climate, then the end of January might just be the beginning of the seasonal period when your attitude becomes “I’ve had enough snow, thank you.” And yet, while almost every inhabited spot on earth receives at least some rain, there are millions of people who live in places where they will never see a single snowflake.

Fresh snow, with its startling whiteness and bright reflection of sunshine, can be quite beautiful. It blankets the earth with a sense of newness, which is why, perhaps, the color of snow is frequently used as a reference to purity: “If your sins will be like scarlet, they will become white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

While snow day after snow day may not make one smile, that is because part of the modern condition of looking at snow is to see snow as an impediment to one’s will. The sages, however, noted that snow, particularly in higher altitudes, is a tremendous blessing. “Raba said snow is of equal benefit to the mountains as fivefold rain to the earth, as it says (Job 37:6): ‘For He says to the snow: Fall you on the earth, likewise to the shower of rain” (Talmud Taanit 3b).

Why is snow more beneficial than rain? Firstly, snow blankets the ground and actually insulates the soil from the damaging cold. This, perhaps, is why God is praised as “He who gives snow like fleece” (Psalms 147:16), since fleece is also a lightweight material that provides insulation. Secondly, since snow often melts slowly, it provides easier-to-absorb hydration for the soil, whereas rain, especially rain showers, pounds the earth, causes soil erosion and a great deal of water is lost due to run-off.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Ride

Offer rides to friends or neighbors who are waiting for the bus.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Memorial in the United States

When the cornerstone for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was laid in October 1988, there were those who wondered why the country needed a Holocaust museum. Over forty million visitors later, it has become a fundamental part of the nation’s museum infrastructure.

The concept of a national memorial to the Holocaust was conceived of by President Jimmy Carter, who established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust on November 1, 1978, and appointed Holocaust survivor and noted author Elie Wiesel as its chair. A little under a year later, the commission recommended the creation of a museum, a recommendation that was approved unanimously by Congress on October 7, 1980. Government-owned land was given and private funds were raised. The museum opened on April 26, 1993.

The naturally emotional displays on the Holocaust are presented in a thoughtful and evocative manner that is enhanced by the museum’s unique architecture. Within the stark brick and limestone exterior are rooms of disquieting asymmetry. Visitors are encouraged to make their visit more than just a review of historical facts by connecting to a specific individual via a passport of an actual victim of the holocaust they carry throughout the three floors of the exhibit. The Permenant Exhibit is divided by floors: Nazi Assault - 1933 to 1939, The Final Solution - 1940 to 1945, and Last Chapter. Additionally, the museum has a special interactive child-friendly exhibit called “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is also a major research hub and maintains one of the largest collections of Holocaust artifacts. Additionally, the museum provides education on the Holocaust in order to prevent future tragedies of genocide. To this end, the museum’s National Institute for Holocaust Education provides ethics education based on the lessons of the Holocaust to a wide range of public service professionals. It also maintains the Committee on Conscience, which watches for, and suggests, action on contemporary hot spots for crimes against humanity.

January 27th is International Holocaust Memorial Day.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Family Shabbat

Include your family in your Shabbat celebration.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hong Kong Jews

On January 26, 1841, Commodore Gordon Bremer claimed the territory of Hong Kong as a British colony. Along with British control came settlement of the island and the development of trade. Among the earliest developers were the Sassoons, an Iraqi Jewish family whose financial base was Bombay and who were sometimes referred to as the “Rothschilds of the East.” (David Sassoon, the patriarch, had eight sons who were dispersed to different cities to establish additional branches of the family business.)

Beyond their multifaceted business dealings, the Sassoons were the backbone of the small but growing Hong Kong Jewish community. In 1855, the Sassoons purchased a tract of land for a Jewish cemetery. The first actual burial, a man named Leon Bin Baruel, took place in 1857. The Sassoon residences and business also hosted religious services until there were enough Jews to warrant a synagogue. The first synagogue, Ohel Leah, was built by Sir Jacob Sassoon in 1902.

The Kadoorie family first came to Hong Kong while working for the Sasoons. The Kadoories built  a large business empire of their own, split between Hong Kong and Shanghai. This connection proved incredibly important when refugees arrived in Hong Kong on their way to Shanghai during World War II. While Horace Kadoorie took care of the bureaucratic necessities in Shanghai, Lawrence Kadoorie took care of the refugees’ immediate needs, even housing them in his Peninsula Hotel.

Until the 1960s, the Jewish community in Hong Kong remained rather small. However, as Hong Kong became a thriving financial hub, the community began attracting business-people from around the globe. Today there are several thousand Jews, two Jewish schools and seven synagogues, including Ohel Leah, which is still in use.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Community Assist

Pay attention to the happenings in your local community and offer to help where needed. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Couldn't Hear The Hope

"Don't worry, it will get easier. Don't worry, I'm sure things will get better."

As heartening as these words may seem, most people who are in a difficult time of their life often hear these would-be comforting words as pedantic banter, a hollow promise of a future they just can't envision.

This is precisely what happened to the Children of Israel. Enslaved to the Egyptians, they struggled to envision a different future for themselves. Thus it is recorded that their reaction to Moses' declaration of God's promise to redeem them from slavery and take them up to the Land of Israel was less than enthusiastic. The Israelite's reaction is recorded in one verse: "And Moses spoke so [all that God had told him to say to the Children of Israel] but they did not listen to Moses because of cruel bondage" (Exodus 6:9).

The commentaries explain Israel’s strange response as reflecting how weary the Israelites were from their enslavement, so weary that they could not even spare the energy to think about the hope they carried deep within them. But that is all that the Torah records of their reaction, or lack thereof. The very next verse reports God speaking once again to Moses and instructing him to go directly to Pharaoh. The Israelites who had groaned in their oppression no longer had the ability to hear words of hope for the future and so it was finally time for action.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listen Well

Be a good listener by not assuming you know someone else's pain.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Great Sea Monster

For most of history, sea monsters were considered among the greatest perils of sea travel. Most probably, the “monsters” that they feared were simply whales, sharks and giant squid that have now been thoroughly researched by modern science and are no longer considered “sea monsters.” However, the Midrash (Jewish legend) does record the existence of one “sea monster,” the mighty Leviathan.

On the fifth day of creation, the Torah states in Genesis 1:21, “Va’yivra Eh’loh’him et ha’taneeneem ha’g’doleem - God created the giant sea creatures.” The meaning of taneeneem has been much debated (sea monster, whale, crocodile, etc.). In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan said (Baba Batra 74b): “This refers to Leviathan the flying serpent [male] and to Leviathan the twisted serpent [female], for it is written: ‘In that day God . . . will punish Leviathan the flying serpent, and Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea’ (Isaiah 27:2).”

So why have scientists not found Leviathan? According to the Midrash, only a single Leviathan still exists: “Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in his world he created male and female . . . and had [the male and female Leviathan] mated with one another they would have destroyed the entire world . . . What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He castrated the male and killed the female, preserving it in salt for the righteous [to eat] in the world to come . . .” (Baba Batra 74b). Additionally, Rabbi Yochanan points out that God “will, in the ‘time to come,’ make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan” (Baba Batra 75a).

There are numerous other places in rabbinic literature where Leviathan is mentioned and described as enormous, multi-headed, fire-breathing . . . apparently Leviathan is the original sea monster.

This Treat was last posted on December 7, 2009.

Amazing Feedbags

Do not take the wonders of nature and the diversity of creation for granted.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Woman of Chemistry

If you or someone you love has ever been treated for leukemia, lupus or gout (or a host of other ailments) then you quite likely owe a debt of gratitude to Gertrude Elion (1918-1999), who would have been 99 years old today. This Nobel Prize winning chemist overcame the blatant chauvinism and anti-Semitism of her day to achieve her dreams of helping to fight cancer. (She set her mind on finding a cure for cancer after her grandfather died, painfully, from stomach cancer.)

Born in New York City, Elion graduated high school at 15 and went on to Hunter College. While working full-time in various other jobs, she attended New York University. After earning her Masters in chemistry, however, she struggled to find a position, finally joining the Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceutical company working with Dr. George Hitchings, with whom she would continue to work for many more years. The work was intense and exciting and, in 1950 she had her first breakthrough with 2 cancer drugs. At the same time, Elion was studying for her PhD, but was forced to choose between work and her doctorate. She chose work. Later, Elion would be awarded over a dozen honorary doctorates from a wide variety of institutions.

In addition to her position at Burroughs Wellcome, Elion held numerous positions in prestigious medical organizations and taught at Duke University. She officially retired in 1983, but continued working in her field and was part of the larger team that developed AZT, the first effective HIV medication.

In 1988, Elion and Hitchings, along with Sir James Black, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicie for “important principals in drug treatment.” Among the numerous other awards and honors she received, Elion was the first woman admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Better Place

Use your skills to try to make the world a better place.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hail to the Chief

“A blessing for the czar? Of course. May God bless and keep the czar... far away from us.” So jokes the rabbi of Anatevka during the opening number of Fiddler on the Roof. This was a real feeling among Jews, for many of their rulers were cruel to them.

And yet, there is an interesting law stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) requiring that a special blessing be said upon seeing a gentile king: Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood [man]. (Baruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, sheh’natan mee'kvodo l'vasar vah'dam.)

Not only is one supposed to recite this blessing, but a person is supposed to go to great lengths to be able to do so, even traveling long distances to see a gentile king.

Western democratic society in the 21st century is, for the most part, far-removed from the concept of royalty. Those countries that still do have a royal family view them more often as celebrities or figureheads rather than as leaders. Relating to the concept of a powerful monarch is therefore difficult, particularly for Americans who have never had a king or queen.

In fact, America’s lack of a monarchy makes the idea of running to see a king even more important. We are all subject to the ultimate King: God. Upon seeing a mortal king or queen, we can, perhaps, enhance our personal appreciation of God, the King of kings. And that is why the blessing states that God gave of His glory to flesh and blood. God allows these select men and women to radiate the glory of royalty so that everyone might better understand God’s own Divinity.

Let us know your thoughts: Do you think this comparison holds true for a President?

This Treat was last posted on January 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Don't let political conversations disrupt your Shabbat rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Significant Seventy

Nothing in the Torah is by chance, and so it is not without significance that the Torah reports: “All those who descended from Jacob were 70 soul” (Exodus 1:5), using a singular word, soul, for the unified group. These 70 souls were the foundation of a nation that was to become a separate and unique force in the world.

Within Jewish tradition, the number 70 is very significant when discussing nationhood. Traditional texts discuss that there are 70 core languages and that the greatest sages, and those who were members of the Sanhedrin, were required to know them all (Talmud Megillah 13b). These 70 languages correlate to the 70 nations of the world (listed as the descendants of Noah in Genesis 10 - 11).

The nation of Israel, created generations later when Abraham sought out a relationship with the Divine, is outside of the these 70 and has been instructed to be “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 60:3). In the time of the Temple, the Jewish people brought sacrifices for each of the 70 nations during the holiday of Sukkot.

The number 10 represents completion, while 7 is a number that symbolizes nature perfected. God structured the world with 70 nations, and brought down 70 souls to Egypt to serve as the foundations of the nation of Israel.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Family Units

Stay in contact with your extended family.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Connecting Words

According to the internet’s fun holiday websites, January 18th is Thesaurus Day.  The date is in honor of the creator of the first modern thesaurus, [Peter Mark] Roget’s Thesaurus.

A thesaurus is a reference work that lists synonyms and antonyms of words and is particularly useful in a language such as English that is really a combination of many different languages. Hebrew, on the other hand, is a language that is built on a root system. Words, both nouns and verbs, are built on 3 (sometimes 4) primary letters - although Hebrew has, by necessity, also absorbed certain unique foreign words that do not use a root system.

Like all languages, Hebrew is complex, and the interaction of different works build on the same letters in different order can be fascinating in their connections. Here are a few examples:

The word for intuitive understanding is binah, which shares the bet - nun - hey root in the same order with the word for building–boneh.

Words related to getting dressed are based on the root of lamed - bet - shin, but when one removes the lamed, one finds boosha, embarrassment!

And perhaps there is a connection to a first born son, a bechor (bet - chet - reish) getting a double blessing (bracha: bet - reish - chet).

Language analysis can often provide great insights into a nation’s culture and mindset. From this perspective, one could say that the root system of Hebrew is an expression of the Jewish understanding of how everything in the world is somehow connected to everything else and how everything in existence is built upon the “creating words” of the Ultimate Creator.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Complex Connections

Open your eyes and look for the many ways the world amazingly connects.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Say It with Satire

Politicians - love them or hate them, they have been inescapable over the last several months.

 There are many ways to stay on top of the latest political news, but perhaps the most subtly eye-opening is through satire. Political satirists turn modern day politics on their head, making their audience laugh as well as think. Few political satirists were as well known for this as Art Buchwald (1925-2007).

Born in Mount Vernon, NY, Buchwald had a difficult childhood. His mother was institutionalized for a mental illness, and his father, a curtain manufacturer, whose business failed during the Great Depression, sent Buchwald and his three older sisters to an orphanage.  They were bumped around in foster care for several years before returning to their father.

In 1942, at age 17,  Buchwald dropped out of high school and illegally joined the Marines. (He paid a drunk stranger to pose as his legal guardian.) He spent two years fighting in the Pacific. After three years at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (he did not receive a degree since he had not finished high school), in 1948, Buchwald went to Paris to develop as a writer. His first job was as a correspondent for Variety magazine. Shortly thereafter he began his career as a columnist producing social columns for the International Herald Tribune.

After 15 years in Paris, Buchwald decided to return to America. He moved to Washington, D.C., and began writing a political column for the Washington Post. While many had thought him crazy to leave the Tribune, his new syndicated column for the Washington Post was a tremendous hit that was, for many years, carried in 550 newspapers nationally. As a political satirist, Buchwald took aim at all political situations and politicians of all parties.  He received the Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Commentary in 1982.

Beyond politics, Buchwald’s column became noteworthy as the prolific writer struggled with his impending death from kidney failure, his unexpected recovery (during which he wrote a book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye) and his passing in January 2007.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Words, Words

Be careful that the words you write don't hurt someone else.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Freedom Caps

While an internet search can bring up many different statistics about the number of Jews involved in the civil rights movement, it is fair to say that it was a significant percentage when compared to the actual percentage of Jews in the national population.

At the grass roots level, young activist Jews joined the fight by riding buses south and volunteering to register black voters. Not only was there a lot to do, but it had to be done under threatening and dangerous conditions. As part of the civil rights legal team, there was a disproportionate number of newly graduated Jewish lawyers, many of whom had probably faced prejudice and persecution of their own.

Few people realize that among the many Jews participating in these historic marches there was quite a significant number of rabbis. Some, like Abraham Joshua Heshel, were well-known leaders, but most were passionate pulpit rabbis from every denomination.

One small but fascinating outcome of the rabbis participation in the civil rights marches was the "freedom cap." Although in the 1960s it was most common for rabbis in the Reform movement not to wear yarmulkes (kippa/skullcaps), almost all of them did so as a statement of identity during the March. According to several news reports, many of the other marchers chose to also wear them. In fact, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, "The demand for yarmulkes was so great that an order has been wired for delivery of 1,000 when the marchers arrive in Montgomery later this week..." (March 22, 1965). The marchers referred to their special caps as "freedom caps."

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Changed Country

Take a moment to contemplate and appreciate how much the country has changed in the last 60 years and how that has benefitted the American Jewish community.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Brilliant Mind

In an era when most young women were encouraged to find a proper husband, Rita Levi-Montalcini (a combination of the last names of her father and mother) dreamed of a career in medicine. Her choice of medicine stemmed from witnessing the death of someone close to her from stomach cancer. After her father, a firm believer that too much education was not good for women, finally acquiesced, Levi-Montalcini gave herself a crash course in all the things she hadn’t learned at her girls high school.

Levi-Montalcini was not certain if she wanted to go into practical medicine or medical research when she entered the University of Turin Medical School in Italy in the early 1930s. She graduated summa cum laude with degrees in medicine and surgery in 1936 and then began studying neurology and psychology.

Unfortunately, the fact that she was a Jew soon forced her to choose research, and much of the research that she did was performed in an at-home lab. In 1938, race laws implemented by Mussolini’s fascist government barred Jews from academic and professional careers.

Levi-Montalcini went to Brussels to continue her studies, but returned shortly thereafter when German forces began moving toward Belgium. Since she could not get a professional position, Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in her bedroom and began doing research on chick embryos and the development of the nervous system. She was joined by her former teacher Giuseppe Levi.

In 1941, Levi-Montalcini and her family (parents and twin sister) fled Turin and went to the countryside near Florence, where they lived in hiding. During this time, Levi-Montalcini would get fertilized eggs from local farmers for her research.

After the war, Levi-Montalcini published her findings, which drew the attention of Viktor Hamburger who invited her to do research at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. This turned into an associate professorship and then a full professorship. During this time she continued her research on nerve development. Beginning in the 1960s, Levi-Montalcini split her time between St. Louis and Rome.

In 1986, Levi-Montalcini received a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine along with her co-researcher Stanley Cohen. She returned to Italy full time after retirement and continued to do research and create institutions for further scientific discoveries.

Levi-Montalcini passed away on December 30, 2012 (17 Tevet)  at age 103.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Delicious End

Enhance your Shabbat meal by serving a delicious dessert.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

For Whom Do You Mourn?

In an era when media and entertainment are strongly integrated into personal lives, many people feel as if they have a connection to the celebrities they most admire. It is human nature to be drawn to people we relate to or to those who we feel have made an impact on our lives, even when we do not actually know them. This seemingly modern phenomenon can, perhaps, help one understand how it was that the people of Egypt mourned the passing of Jacob for 70 days.

When Jacob came to Egypt, he was already an old man. He had children and grandchildren, and, as far one can tell from the text of the Torah, his 17 years in Egypt do not seem to have been active.  On his deathbed, Jacob had his sons swear that they would bury him in Hebron, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah were buried.

After Jacob’s passing, Joseph ordered his father embalmed. The Torah records the burial and the mourning: “And 40 days were completed for him, for so are the days of embalming completed, and the Egyptians wept over him for seventy days...So Joseph went up [to the Land of Canaan] to bury his father, and all of Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house and all the elders of the land of Egypt went up with him” (Genesis 50:3,7).

One could think that Egyptian people’s outpouring of emotion for 70 days was to show respect for Joseph, who was second only to Pharaoh. But, the Midrash explains that it was “because a blessing had come to them when he [Jacob] arrived, the famine ended and the waters of the Nile increased” (Rashi on Genesis 50:3).

Jacob was not a celebrity. He was more than that. Like his grandfather Abraham, whom God blessed the “He who blesses you shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), Jacob was a source of blessing. Most of Egypt did not know Jacob, but they were aware of him, of who he was and of what he meant to their country. When Jacob passed away, it affected them all profoundly, and thus they mourned him for 70 days.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Be warm but understanding in giving those who have lost someone the time and space they need to mourn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Simeon, the Son of Jacob

Leah named her second son Simeon* (ben Jacob), saying “Because God has heard that I am unloved, He has given me this one also.”

Simeon, a zealous youth, often reacted quickly and physically, especially when paired with his brother Levi. When their sister Dinah was kidnaped by the prince of Shechem, Simeon and Levi slaughtered the men of the city, ignoring the fact that Dina’s other brothers had already convinced the residents of Shechem to circumcise themselves and live in peace with Jacob’s family (Genesis 34).

Jacob scolded their reckless behavior, saying, “You have brought trouble upon me, making me odious among the land’s inhabitants...I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated - I and my household!” Simeon and Levi, however, challenged their father, demanding: “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?!” (The Midrash notes that, thenceforth, Dinah dwelt in the tents of Simeon, her brother-protector.)

This “righteous temper” remained with Simeon. The Midrash identifies Simeon as the one who calls out “That dreamer is coming!” when the brothers see Joseph approaching (Genesis 37:19) and also as the one who threw Joseph into the pit. Many years later, when the brothers went down to Egypt, Joseph demanded that Simeon be imprisoned while the others returned home to get Benjamin (Genesis 42:18-24).

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. In their secret counsel let my soul not come and my honor not be included in their congregation, for in their anger they killed a man, and deliberately crippled an ox. Cursed is their anger, for it is powerful, and their rage, for it is callous. I shall separate them within Jacob and disperse them among Israel” (Genesis 49:5 -7). On his deathbed, Jacob rebuked the brothers so that their descendants would learn that outright cruelty is a behavior foreign to our people.

*Hebrew Shimon, alternate English version is Simon

This Treat was last posted on August 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What Causes

Choose carefully what causes to be zealous about.