Friday, June 24, 2016

Cloud Positioning System

Those who enjoy travel, love to hear tales of adventurous backpackers who head off into “parts unknown” without a clear plan of action. Most people, however, would not travel without a plan - even the most basic itinerary such as a list of sites one would like to visit.

When the Israelites followed Moses out of Egypt, they had no plan, only the hope of following Moses to the Promised Land. The journey, perhaps, could have been straightforward (there were, after all, active trade routes), but God had different plans and implemented His own Global Positioning System to guide the Israelites through the Wilderness. They were guided by the movement of the Clouds of Glory.

When the cloud that normally rested on the Tabernacle rolled itself upwards, the Israelites knew that it was time to move. This system served to protect the people both from aimless wandering and, according to Numbers Rabbah 1:2, by striking “down before them the snakes and scorpions...”

On the other hand, by following the Clouds of Glory, the Israelites were better able to recognize God’s leadership, particularly as they had no foreknowledge of when they would be traveling or to where. As it is written in the Book of Numbers: “Sometimes the cloud tarried on the Tabernacle many days, then the Children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not journey. Sometimes the cloud was a few days upon the Tabernacle...and sometimes the cloud was from evening until morning" (Numbers 9:19-21).

The Children of Israel have come a long way since their travels in the Wilderness, but the lesson that can be learned from God’s “Cloud Positioning System” is one that is relevant even today. Every person’s journey in life, no matter how free-flowing it may appear, is guided by the hand of God.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Divine Doing

Be mindful of God’s hand in your life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Protecting Widows

June 23rd is the official date recognized by the United Nations as International Widows Day. The day was first observed in 2005, and, in 2010, it was ratified by the U.N. to address “the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows.” Too often, particularly in agrarian societies, the death of a woman’s husband leaves her without a means of support or at the mercy of others who have a claim on the estate.

In Jewish law, a marriage is made official by means of a ketubah, marriage contract, which establishes the support that husbands are required to provide their wives. If a husband passes away, the support is expected to come out of the deceased’s estate. This is important because according to the Jewish laws of inheritance, a man’s estate normally goes to his son(s). While one would hope that these sons would be naturally inclined to support their mother, that is not always the case. This law also provides protection for widowed step-mothers, who might otherwise be cut off  by their step-children.

One of the most interesting aspects of the mitzvah not to oppress the widow is that, whereas one may think that these rules are only directed at widows who face impoverishment, it applies to all widows, no matter what their socio-economic status may be.

The protection of a widow, and orphans, is not only a question of financial support. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808-1888), the word almanah (widow) is related to the word illem, which means “dumb” or unable to speak, because the widow loses her ability to speak to the world on her own behalf. “It [the law] says any widow not only poor, even rich widows and orphans are easier to be taken advantage of and misused, than other people” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, commentary on Exodus 22:21).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

An Extra Thought

Be aware of people in your community who may need a helping hand and see how you can help them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Joy to the Bride and Groom

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on January 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

At A Wedding

If you attend a wedding, focus on what will make the bride and groom happy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Three Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

While Jewish prayer has many aspects that are introspective, prayer is also designed to serve as a vehicle of communication with the Divine. The central focus of every prayer service is the Amidah, which means standing, a prayer that, during the weekdays, consists of 19 blessings of praise, supplication and gratitude. During the recitation of the Amidah, it is customary that one stand erect with feet together - reminiscent of the stance of angels.

When reciting the Amidah, one should have the mindset of truly standing before the King of kings. For this reason, tradition suggests a proper way of approaching the Amidah, which is to take three steps forward into the posture of prayer. An additional custom has developed to take three steps back prior to taking the three steps forward, which apparently derived from the practical need for the space in which to move forward.

At the conclusion of the recitation of the Amidah, when one is ready to withdraw from the Divine communion, it is customary to take three steps backward and bow to the left, right and center while reciting: “He Who makes peace in His heavens, may He make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say Amen.” This follows the dictates of the Talmud: “Rabbi Alexander said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: One who prays [the Amidah] should go three steps backward, and then recite ‘peace.’ Rabbi Mordecai said to him, ‘Having taken the three steps backward he ought to remain standing, as should a disciple who takes leave of his master’” (Talmud Yoma 53b).

Numerous explanations have been given for the significance of the number three. The most basic purpose of this movement, however, is that it creates a separation between that which is mundane and that which is holy.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Focus

Make it a point to clear your mind and focus before reciting prayers. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

In West Virginia

West Virginia, which became a state on this day in 1863 after breaking away from the more southernly aligned State of Virginia, is not generally thought of as a state with a wealth of Jewish history. However, there have been Jewish communities in this area since the mid-1840s (Wheeling) and Jewish immigrants are recorded as early as 1770s.

Coal mining was a critical industry for West Virginia, a broad strip of which is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Few Jews worked in the mines, but a fair number of Jews settled in the mining centers, providing retail alternatives to the company store. Jewish communities developed and still exist in quite a few of the state’s small mountain cities such as Beckley, Bluefield and Logan. Many others, however, have disappeared.

In Huntington, which is the second largest city in West Virginia, Congregation B’nai Sholom is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The story of B’nai Sholom is a unique picture of communal unity. Until 1974, Huntington had two synagogues: Ohev Sholom (established in 1887) and B’nai Israel (established in 1910). The first synagogue affiliated itself with the Reform movement, while the other was founded as an Orthodox congregation but later joined the Conservative movement.  By the 1970s, the Jewish population of Huntington could no longer support two synagogues. Already the city’s religious schools had merged. Negotiations began and, by 1974, Ohev Sholom and B’nai Israel became B’nai Sholom. According to the agreement, Friday nights followed the Reform liturgy and Shabbat morning was a Conservative service. While the merged congregation was located at the Ohev Sholom building, the historic windows that had graced B’nai Israel were transferred to the congregation’s new home.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Local Place

Make a donation to support your local synagogue.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Importance of Dad

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

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


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


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


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


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


This Treat is reposted each year in honor of Father's Day.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Express It

Express your gratitude to the father figures in your life.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Avinu - Our Father

One of the most common ways of addressing God in the Jewish liturgy is Avinu, our Father. By addressing God as Avinu, one can not only learn about humanity’s relationship with God, but also about Judaism’s view of fatherhood. 

From the perspective of a child: Obviously Judaism does not expect a child to make his/her father into a god...but the Torah commands a child to both honor and revere his/her parents. One can learn how to fulfill these commandments by reflecting on the way one is supposed to relate to God. For instance, just as one does not take God’s name in vain, a child is prohibited to refer to a parent by his/her first name. 

When it comes to religious reflection, Jewish tradition notes that most people’s relationship with God is based on reverence (yee’rah) before love (a’hava). Ideally, each person is supposed to work on serving God out of love. Similarly, the sages notice that a father-child relationship often has more fear/reverence in it, while a mother-child relationship has more love (see Kiddushin 31a). A child must therefore seek to look beyond the father’s role as rule-maker/ disciplinarian to feel the same love for one’s father as for one’s mother.

From the perspective of a father: In relating to the Divine Avinu, a father must remember that in his own home he must temper strict justice with mercy, just as God does on earth. This is often difficult, but necessary. Nevertheless, a father must not be afraid to be firm, as it says in Proverbs 13:24: “He that spares his rod, hates his son; but he that loves him, sometimes chastises him.”

This Treat was last posted on June 21, 2010.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Don't Wait

Don't wait for Fathers' Day (or Mothers' Day), make honoring your parents a part of every day.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Equal Tribes

Each of the twelve tribes of Israel descended from one of Jacob’s twelve sons, and each had distinct qualities for which they were renowned. The tribe of Issachar, for instance, was known for its Torah scholars, whereas the tribe of Judah was known for producing leaders. While each tribe was unique, they were each of equal importance to the nation of Israel. Few incidents in the Torah are as demonstrative as the gifts of the tribal presents.

At the grand inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the princes of the 12 tribes brought “six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for each two princes and an ox for each one” (7:3).
In addition to this unified gift, the princes brought individual offerings as well. The fact that every prince presented the same gift represented the beautiful equality of each tribe.

The first to bring his gift was the prince of the tribe of Judah, Nachshon ben Aminadav, who gave one silver bowl and one silver sprinkling basin both filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil, one golden spoon filled with incense, one young bull, one ram, one first year lamb, and one he-goat. Additionally, he donated two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five first-year lambs (7:11-17). The next day, Nethanel ben Zu’ar of Issachar brought the exact same offerings; and so forth until Ahira ben Enon of Naphtali brought the very same offering on the twelfth day.

It might have been simpler for the Torah to just state that the prince of each tribe brought the exact same items, listing them only once Instead, each prince and his offerings are listed separately and equally, requiring a total of 128 verses, to show the significance of each individual and his offering.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

All People

Don't judge a person by what you see them giving or doing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wind Power

When the European Wind Energy Association launched the first Wind Day in 2007 (which became Global Wind Day in 2009 in coordination with the Global Wind Energy Council), it was probably not familiar with the fact that Jewish tradition discusses wind as one of the constant, dependable forces of creation. Many of the Global Wind Day (June 15) events demonstrate the incredible potential of harnessed wind energy.

In Tractate Ta’anit of the Babylonian Talmud, the sages discuss the nature of wind: “It has been taught, the sages did not make obligatory on one to mention [in the daily prayers] dew and winds, but if one desires to mention [them] one may do so. What is the reason? Rabbi Chanina said: Because they are never withheld” (Ta’anit 3a). God might hold back the rains or obscure the sunshine (too much rain), but the wind is a constant.

Jewish tradition often discusses winds by the direction from which they come. An east wind not only split the Sea for the Israelites, but brought the locust into Egypt during the Ten Plagues (whereas a west wind swept them away). Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac observed that “legal study requires as much clearness as a north wind day” (Talmud Eiruvin 65a).

Wind, as the energy companies know so well, is a powerful force. It is stated in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “There is no person who has power over the wind, to retain the wind” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Whereas humankind’s behavior and prayers can effect rain, tradition maintains that this is not the case with wind. So while the inherent energy of wind can be harnessed, it cannot be stopped.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Walk About

When walking in the sun and enjoying a cool breeze, remember that the wind is a Divine gift.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Making it Transfusable

In honor of World Blood Day (June 14), Jewish Treats takes a brief look at the Jewish researchers who made safe blood transfusions possible.

In 1901, Karl Landsteiner (June 14, 1868 - June 26, 1943) discovered that people have different types of blood, and by 1909 he was able to begin labelling the different blood types. Born in Vienna, Landsteiner attended the University of Vienna, where, after several years of outside research, he became a professor. In 1919, Landsteiner moved to The Hague, from where he was recruited in 1922 by the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for his work on blood types in 1930, Landsteiner was involved in important research in immunology, pathology and hematology. During his work at the Rockefeller Institute, he collaborated with two other well-known Jewish hematological researchers, Alexander Wiener and Philip Levine.

Alexander Solomon Wiener (March 16, 1907 - November 6, 1976), a life-long New Yorker, was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. At 15, he received a scholarship to Cornell University.  Afterward, while attending the Long Island College of Medicine, Wiener began doing research on blood groups at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital alongside Landsteiner. While working on creating a blood “fingerprint,” they discovered the RH +/- factor. They named this blood factor RH in honor of the Rhesus monkeys that they used as test subjects. It was Wiener who was responsible for recognizing the trouble that incompatible RH factors caused in blood transfusions; RH+ given to an RH- patient will cause the creation of dangerous antibodies. An interesting sidenote: Due to his research furthering the development of forensics and criminal identification, Wiener was made an honorary member of the Mystery Writers of America.

Philip Levine (August 10, 1900 - October 18, 1987) moved to New York from Kletsk, Russia, when he was 8 years old. He attended City College and Cornell University, after which he worked as Landsteiner’s assistant. From 1932 - 1935, Levine led a research team at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but returned east for a position at Newark Beth Israel. Based on the research findings on RH+/-, Levine hypothesized correctly that this was the cause of hemolytic disease of newborns. Together with Wiener, Levine created a transfusion procedure that saved the lives of an untold number of infants.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Blood Drive

Do not hesitate, if you are able, to donate blood.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. When they reached Israel, however, Naomi urged them to go back to their fathers’ homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi]  go, I shall go, your people will be my people...your land will be my land, and your God will be my God" (1:16).

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s family had fled the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

In the meantime, the elders of Bethlehem debated whether Ruth was a true convert and whether she could marry a Jewish man. Naomi, however, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere. She directed Ruth to go to the ceremony at the close of the threshing and seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David.
The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot.

This Treat was last posted on May 22, 2015.



Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

In the Wilderness

The Torah was given to the Jewish nation in the midst of the wilderness on a tiny mountain called Sinai. Throughout the Torah, however, there is much focus on the “Promised Land” and the mitzvot that can only be performed when the Israelites settle the land.

There are two significant ideas that one may learn from the fact that the Torah was given in the desert:

1) The Torah is not only for those who live in the Land of Israel. Its laws and precepts are meant to be practiced by the Jewish People no matter where they may live. (It must, of course, be noted that there are a significant number of mitzvot that can only be observed in the Land of Israel itself.)

2) Attaining possession of the Holy Land is a great reward. The Israelites spent their time in the wilderness preparing themselves, studying and practicing the laws of the Torah. The books of the Prophets, which record the history of the Jewish people following their entry into the Promised Land, teach that whenever the people strayed from the Torah, the land was conquered and the people subjugated until they mended their ways.

There is no question that the Jews are bound to the Land of Israel. This fact is evident throughout the Bible, the Talmud, the liturgy, and the extensive canon of Jewish writing. Judaism, however, is bigger than a particular location. Judaism is a way of living wherever a Jew may be.


This Treat was originally posted on May 18, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Double Wishes

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you a Shabbat Shalom and a happy Shavuot.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Preparing for the Torah

Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves. 

There is no way to describe the effects of being in the presence of God because there is no human being alive today who has experienced this level of holiness. In fact, Moses was the only prophet who had direct interaction with God, and God’s Presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given was a one-time-only event. 

However, it is understood that being in the Divine Presence requires preparation, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses, prepared themselves for three days. They washed their clothes and prepared their souls. 

It was not just the people who needed to be prepared. God’s presence affected the inanimate earth as well. The Israelites were instructed, under threat of death, not to go up, or even draw close to, the mountain until the shofar was sounded. 

The three days preceding Shavuot (Sivan 3, 4 and 5) are known as Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of boundaries. These three days were, and still are, days of preparation. Today, while we do not stand at the physical base of Mount Sinai, we can, and should, prepare ourselves to ascend to a higher level of spirituality and religious commitment on Shavuot. 

Today is the first day of the Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of preparation. The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah, begins on Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat. 

Treat was last posted on May 21, 2015. 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Different Set of Loaves

There are several well-known connections between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The most obvious of these is that the celebration of Shavuot is dependent on the count of 49 days that begins on the second day of Passover. Additionally, on Passover we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and on Shavuot we celebrate the true culmination of that event, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

One fascinating juxtaposition of the two festivals is that whereas on Passover there is a prohibition against eating bread, on Shavuot the priests brought a special Offering of the Two Loaves (of bread) in the Temple. In fact, they were specifically leavened bread (chametz), as opposed to the unleavened bread (matzah) of Passover. The holiday of Shavuot is also known as Chag Habikurim, the Holiday of the First Fruits, because of the offering of the first fruits that was brought to the Temple. Although the Offering of the Two Loaves was officially separate, it was another form of offering “first fruits,” as the Two Loaves were made from the first cut of the new wheat harvest.

Generally, when one thinks of sacred Jewish bread, one imagines beautifully braided challahs, perhaps the stunning twelve (or more) stranded challahs often seen at weddings or bar/bat mitzvahs. Actually, the Offering of the Two Loaves were shaped like large bricks. Their dimensions were seven hand-breadths long, four and a half hand breadths wide and four 'fingers' high (approximately 22 inches x 9.5 inches x 3 inches).

The rules associated with the Two Loaves go into great detail as to the preparation of the wheat and the loaves. The Torah instructs that the two loaves be taken as a wave offering, after which each of the priests is given a small piece to consume with a portion of the peace offerings. All of this comes to underscore our constant dependence upon God for our sustenance and our gratitude to Him for our total well-being.

This Treat was last posted on May 30, 2014.




Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Prepared

Prepare for the holiday of Shavuot by clearing your schedule.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Day of Distinction

On the first day of Sivan in the year 2448 (Jewish calendar), only seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the Wilderness of Sinai. On the desert plain around the mountain, they set up camp and watched as Moses set off toward the mountain to hear God's will.

The next morning, Moses called for the elders of Israel and transmitted God's message to them (which they then related to the rest of the nation). God had instructed Moses to tell the Israelites:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now, therefore, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).

On that day, 2 Sivan 2448, the Israelites made the most monumental decision in history. They chose to become a people with a distinct and direct relationship with God. They chose to become God's servants, to follow His rules and to faithfully serve Him. They chose to strive for holiness. On the second of Sivan, they chose to be “chosen” when they responded with one voice: “All that God has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

The second day of Sivan is not marked as a holiday, as is the sixth of Sivan (Shavuot), the day on which the Israelites actually received the Torah. However, to honor the agreement that was presented and accepted on this day, the second of Sivan is known as Yom Ha'meyuchas, the Day of Distinction.

This Treat was originally posted on May 20, 2015.




Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Whose First Fruits

When the Oral Law was first codified, most Jews lived in agrarian settings. Today, being less familiar with agrarian culture, some people find it difficult to relate to some of the discussions in the Mishna (Oral Law) regarding planting or livestock. Although we may no longer farm or herd flocks, the importance of responsible land ownership and use is a value that has remained throughout time.

For Jewish farmers in the land of Israel, one of the mitzvot that is part of the cycle of crop production is that of bikkurim, the first fruit offering. The first fruit to blossom on each plant of the seven species of the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) is marked (with a string) to be set aside for an offering at the Temple. One might assume that this mitzvah would apply to all farmers, but, in fact, the rabbis understood the pronouns in this commandment to be very specific: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land” (Deuteronomy 26:2).

The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:2) states that “tenants, lessees, or occupiers of confiscated property--or a robber--may not bring them...because it says, ‘the first-fruits of your land.’” As significant as the first fruits are, the relationship of the farmer to the land upon which the plant grows is also important.

But ownership of the land is not the only criteria. “These may not bring them [bikkurim]: He who plants on his own soil, but sinks [a shoot] so that [it] nourishes from the territory belonging to an individual or to the public...[or similarly]...so that it grows on his own property”(Bikkurim1:1). In other words, this mitzvah can only be performed by one who makes certain not to infringe on the property rights of others or the public.

This Treat was last posted on May 19, 2015.




Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

About the Divine

Spend time thinking about your relationship with God.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Saturday night (June 12th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their normal human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

This Treat was last posted on  May 19, 2015.




Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Two Pillars of Five

Jewish law, and thus Jewish life, rests on two pillars, the mitzvot between a person and God and the mitzvot between one person and another. These two pillars of law are laid out in the Ten Commandments.

According to the sages, the first five commandments concern one’s relationship with God. The second five are concerned with interpersonal relationships. Strikingly enough, these two sets of five parallel each other:

1) I am the Lord your God and 6) Do not murder: When someone murders another person, the perpetrator, in effect, denies that the victim is created b’tzelem Eh'lokim, made in the image of God. A murderer assumes that there is no higher power who will either punish him/her or who will punish the person whom he/she feels has wronged him/her.

2) You shall have no idols and 7) Do not commit adultery: Just as adultery is being unfaithful to one’s spouse, worshiping idols is tantamount to being unfaithful to God.

3) Do not make a false oath and 8) Do not steal: One who swears falsely in God’s name distorts the trust that people place in God to uphold justice. One who steals twists the trust another person puts in him/her.

4) Sanctify the Sabbath and 9) Do not bear false witness: By sanctifying the Sabbath day, one bears testimony that God created the world and redeemed the Jews from Egypt. Violating the Sabbath denies both.

5) Honor your mother and father and 10) Do not covet your neighbor's possessions: By honoring our parents, we recognize God as our Creator, thereby honoring Him as well. When we covet our neighbor's possessions we deny God as the Ruler of the world and believe that we have been denied something that we deserve.

This Treat was last posted on February 9, 2013.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Ten

Review the Ten Commandments before Shavuot.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Green Cheesecake at Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:


Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.
  
For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

This Treat was last posted on May 18, 2015.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Littlest Mountain

When the Israelites were gathered at Mount Sinai, God gave them the Torah.

Scholars and academics have spent lifetimes debating the exact location of Mount Sinai. The Sinai peninsula is covered with mountains, some wide and flat, others tall and rugged. Trying to establish which mountain is actually Sinai based on the fact that the Jews converged on Mount Sinai just short of 7 weeks after leaving Egypt, is almost impossible given the many different factors such as speed, route taken and stops made.

There is a mountain on the Sinai peninsula that is called Mount Sinai (in Arabic Jebel Musa, the mountain of Moses), but many doubt that this is the true location.

What do you picture when you think of Mount Sinai? Given the important event that occurred there, most would assume that it was a tall, grand mountain when, in fact, it was just the opposite: The Midrash relates that all of the tall mountains fought to be chosen as the location for the giving of the Torah. Mount Sinai, knowing that it was the smallest of the mountains, remained silent, and God chose Sinai because of its simple humility.

The allegories of the Midrash are not whimsical fancies, but are an important means of teaching critical life lessons. Judaism considers humility to be a most important character trait. Moses is described as the most humble human who walked the earth. However, being humble, according to the Torah, does not mean making one’s self a doormat. Rather, a humble person will know his/her own strengths and self-worth (as well as his/her weaknesses), and will not need others to acknowledge his/her significance.

This Treat was last posted on May 21, 2015.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Cakes of Cheese

Prepare for Shavuot by buying or making a cheesecake (for those who can't eat dairy, look online for non-dairy recipes).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Give Them A Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder...and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. Perhaps this is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

This Treat was last posted on May 22, 2015.




Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

If I Forget Thee

“If I forget thee O’ Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” (Psalms 137:5 -Im esh’kachech Yerushalayim, tishkach y’meenee)...poignantly expresses the Jewish people’s longing for Jerusalem. The Bible guarantees that the land of Israel is destined to have one specific site that will be holy beyond all others and refers to this site as “the place which God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there” (Deuteronomy 16). The place God chose was Jerusalem.

The old question of “the chicken and the egg” (which came first?) can be applied to the holiness of Jerusalem. Was the location of Jerusalem holy before the Temple was built or did Jerusalem become holy because the Temple was built there? 

According to the sages, Jerusalem is built upon Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed (Genesis 22:14), indicating clearly that, beyond its role as the Temple location, the spot had inherent spiritual significance. It is traditionally assumed that King David had prophetic knowledge of this holiness when he selected Jerusalem to be the national and spiritual capital of the Jewish nation.

In Jewish law, objects used for sacred purposes may not simply be discarded or destroyed but must be disposed of in a respectful manner (“Rava said: ‘Covers of single books of the Torah and cases of Torah scrolls, are accessories of sacred items [that are no longer usable] and must be hidden” -- Megillah 26b.) One can therefore readily understand that the city of Jerusalem, the place where the Temple stood, remains eternally holy.

For nearly two thousand years the Jewish people could only be guests in their holy city (and sometimes not even that). On the 28th of Iyar in 1967, however, Israeli troops captured the Old City, unifying Jerusalem and allowing Jews to live and pray in the city that lives in our hearts.

This Treat was last posted on May 28, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn More

Sign up for local classes to learn more about Judaism.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Old City

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Jerusalem is the “City of Gold.” This description usually refers to the city’s physical appearance (casting a golden light at dusk due to the unique Jerusalem stone with which its buildings are built). 

The heart of the city is the “Old City,” “Ha’ir ha’atika.” As ancient as the walls of the Old City may appear, the Old City is NOT the original city in which King David dwelled. The City of David (Ir David, as it is called today) now being extensively explored and excavated, is to the southeast of the current Old City, although the Temple Mount is part of both cities. 

The current Old City encompasses the Temple Mount (known in Hebrew as “Har Ha’bayit,” The Mountain of The House) and its Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall, Kotel Ha'Ma'aravi), as well as the area to its west and north. It is a treasure trove of Jewish history. In the 1970s, archeologists discovered and excavated the wall built by King Hezekiah to protect Jerusalem from the Assyrians, and the Cardo, the famous central road from Roman times. Other archeological sites in the Old City, include Wilson’s Arch and the remains of priestly houses from the era of the Romans. 

The famous walls that surround the Old City today were erected by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in the mid-sixteenth century C.E.. This enormous structure, with its 11 grand gates, encompassed structures from many previous eras in history, including the Temple Mount upon which stands the Al-Aqsa Mosque that was built in 705 C.E. 

The Old City is divided into four quarters (Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim - named for their local residents). The Jewish Quarter is the most modern quarter. Most of it was destroyed between 1948 and 1967, after the Jewish population of the Old City was taken captive and driven out of the city by the Jordanian army. During the Six Day War of 1967 (on the 28th of Iyar), the Israeli Defense Force took back the Old City and began rebuilding the Jewish Quarter. 

This Treat was last posted on June 1, 2011.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Jerusalem Day

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine (Israel) into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an “international city” for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the Partition Plan). 

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall, the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the retaining wall that supported the Holy Temple, and nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.

On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. The war itself lasted six days, but on June 7, 1967 - 28 Iyar 5727 - Jewish troops took the Old City and, for the first time in almost twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.


This year, 28 Iyar coincides with Sunday, June 5th.

This Treat was last posted on May 8, 2013.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Jerusalem Kugel

If you have a local kosher food store, buy some Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) Kugel for this Shabbat.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Personality Assessment

The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers contains an interesting assortment of lists. Among these listings are several that compare, contrast and label human behavior patterns. For instance, the 14th Mishna defines four patterns of temperament: (1) Easy to provoke and easy to appease - the loss is cancelled by the gain, (2) Hard to provoke and hard to appease - the gain is cancelled by the loss, (3) Hard to provoke and easy to appease - this is a saintly person, and (4) Easy to provoke and hard to appease - this is a wicked person. Pirkei Avot 5:15 follows a similar pattern, but focuses instead on the ability to acquire knowledge: (1) Quick to learn and quick to forget, the gain is cancelled by the loss, (2) Slow to learn and slow to forget, the loss is cancelled by the gain, (3) Quick to learn and slow to forget, this is a happy lot, and (4) Slow to learn and quick to forget, this is an unhappy lot.

Those who read these two sets of comparisons may nod their heads knowingly. After all, these assessments are not particularly novel, but rather appear as common sense. The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot provides much insight about how to live one’s own life and how to view the lives of others. While those who read the above passages may chuckle at how accurately these descriptions fit certain friends and acquaintances, they are intended to increase one’s compassion for others.

A second reading of the passages, however, inspires a person to look deeper at one’s own life. One may be inspired to pay more attention to detail or to work harder on anger management. The deeper wisdom of these passages in Pirkei Avot is evidenced by learning that by reflecting on others, one is better able to reflect on oneself.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Look Within

Once a week, take a few moments to think about how you can become a better you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Language of Unity

The penultimate chapter of the Book of Leviticus begins with a description of the myriad benefits of following in the path of the Torah. Some of the promises include: rains in their proper season (26:4), peace in the land (26:6) and the ability to “eat old grain and remove the old to make way for the new” (26:10). The second half of the chapter, however, records the terrible price to be paid for departing from the path of Torah. These include illness (26:16), infertile lands (26:20) and war (26:25).

This chapter is both inspiring and intimidating. Most significantly, the entire chapter is written in second person plural. The blessings and curses, mapped out in Leviticus 26, and read as part of Parashat Bechukotai, are addressed to the Children of Israel as a whole. The significance of this fact underscores one of the reasons why Jewish unity is so important.

According to Jewish tradition, the destruction of the Second Temple and the current diaspora that the Jewish people have experienced for the last 2,000 plus years is primarily a result of a lack of unity. Beyond interpersonal disputes, there was, at the time of the Second Temple, a terrible amount of infighting; Saduccees verses Pharisees and zealots fighting the Romans against those who wished to make peace.

Some of the terrible curses of Leviticus 26 seem to have come to pass, and yet the Jewish people continue to frequently strive against one another. History is full of the sad tales of Jews putting their differences first, with tragic results. However, it is also full of wonderful instances where Jews
came together and reflected to incredible strength, and beauty, of Jewish unity.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

As One

Participate in activities that enhance Jewish unity.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Emergency Relief

In honor of the final day of Jewish American Heritage Month, today’s Jewish Treat looks at the evolution of Jewish emergency relief.

On May 31, 1889, after two days of ferocious downpours, the dam on the Little Conemaugh River in Western Pennsylvania burst. Twenty million tons of water were let lose. As the water raged, it destroyed everything in its path until it finally smashed into Johnstown, a small but flourishing town. Over 2,200 people were killed.

Johnstown had only been founded in 1800 and had only begun to industrialize and prosper after the completion of Pennsylvania’s Main Line of Public Works canal and railroad system that connected Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. As the town industrialized, it attracted an increasingly immigrant population, including not a few Jews who had recently immigrated from Germany.

The 1889 Johnstown Flood is noted as the first disaster relief action of the newly formed American Red Cross. This organization brought food, clean water, clothing and medical supplies   to the area, and set up shelters as well. And while disaster relief funds were collected around the country, the Pittsburgh Jewish community took special note of their own brethren. Enoch Rauh (1857 - 1919), a successful businessman turned politician, kept hold of the recorded notes of a meeting in which the distribution of relief funds was discussed specifically for the “Johnstown Israelites.”

Despite the terrible flooding and the loss of precious lives,  the city rebuilt and a Jewish community did flourish. At its peak, in the 1940s, there were over 1,300 Jews in town. They had three synagogues. But, as was the situation in so many developing areas, the Jewish population was difficult to maintain.

Having been built at the intersection of two rivers (Little Conemaugh and the Stony Creek Rivers), Johnstown continued to be plagued by periodic floods. The flood of 1977, which led to 84 deaths, made national headlines. The 1977 flood was far less devastating than the 1889 flood, but the reaction was much more organized. According to the JTA, over $100,000 was raised by the Jewish community for aid, and many organized packages were dispatched to the rest of the community.


Relief

Participate in efforts to help those in emergency situations.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Museum

Washington, DC, is a city of museums. Beyond the vast assortment of divisions and galleries at the Smithsonian Institute and the many political memorials, there are also smaller museums throughout the city. For instance, if you head up to Dupont Circle, you can visit the National Museum of American Jewish Military History (NMAJMH).

First suggested by the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Association, NMAJMH's creation was part of the organization’s move to Washington, DC, from New York.

The Museum opened in 1954 at the JWV’s new building on New Hampshire Avenue. At that time, it was known as the National Shrine to the Jewish War Dead, and it was mostly a repository for documents and memorabilia. Four years later, the Shrine became a full-fledged museum when it was granted a Congressional charter. In 1983, the museum and the JWV moved to their current location on R Street (NW), a dignified brick edifice that houses two floors of permanent and special exhibit space.

NMAJMH does more than just house and display Jewish military memorabilia, it is also an excellent research resource.

Permanent exhibits include displays on known Jewish war heroes, such as Major General Julius Klein, who served in both World Wars. Special exhibits focus on important matters for Jews in the military, tributes to the supporting family members of those in the military and on specific historical figures like Uriah Levy.

In addition to their exhibits, the museum reaches out over the internet to educate people about the role of Jews in the military, to fight anti-Semitism and to advocate for veterans in general. The online undertaking is known as the American Jewish Military Heritage Project.



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Support For

Make a donation to museums that promote pride in one's Jewish heritage.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What's With The Salt

At every Shabbat meal, the blessing of Ha'mo'tzee (the blessing over bread) is recited over two complete loaves of bread. This 'bread' is usually the braided loaves known as challot, but any type of bread is acceptable as long as it is uncut and unbroken.

There are actually several steps involved in this formal 'breaking of bread.' The challah is covered by a cloth until everyone is ready (see Jewish Treats: Covering The Challah). The person making the blessing over the challah then makes a gentle knife mark on the challah that will be cut first, raises both challot and recites the blessing. The marked challah is then cut, dipped in or sprinkled with salt (just a pinch) and distributed to everyone at the table.

The challah is dipped into salt to commemorate the sacrifices offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, which always contained salt. Although the Temple no longer stands, the salt reminds us that our table is like the altar of old, as the sages attest in Berachot 55a: '...as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man's table atones for him.' With every offering brought to the Temple, a salt offering was also prepared (Leviticus 2:13: And you will season every meal-offering with salt; neither shall you suffer the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meal-offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.) to commemorate the eternal covenant with God, which, like salt, never spoils.

While many people know and are familiar with the rules of dipping one's bread in salt on Shabbat, the law actually applies to any time one has a meal with bread.

This Treat was last posted on February 12, 2010.



 Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Challah Time

Enjoy fresh challah to honor Shabbat.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bows and Arrows

Lag Ba'omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. Its observance commemorates the end of a tragic plague that took the lives of nearly all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. It is also the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the great Kabbalist and presumed author of the Zohar.

While Lag Ba’omer is most commonly associated with the lighting of bonfires, another popular Lag Ba’omer activity is archery. One does not usually associate a hunting tool/weapon of war with a Jewish holiday. The bow and arrow, however, remind us that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans after the destruction of the Holy Temple. In this era, these great Torah scholars were outlaws, since teaching Torah was forbidden under penalty of death. In fact, Rabbi Akiva lived during the famous Bar Kochba Rebellion, around 135 C.E.

Bar Kochba was a talented military leader, and he even managed to capture and rule a portion of Judea. So highly was he regarded that many, including great sages such as Rabbi Akiva, believed him to be the Messiah. The hope was shattered, however, when Bar Kochba was killed by the Romans during the capture of Betar. The association of Rabbi Akiva with Bar Kochba is one possible reason for the bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer.

This Treat was last posted on April 28, 2013.



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