Sunday, September 25, 2016

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year three books - a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle - are opened. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balanced
between extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhvu v’taychataymu (that’s the plural form).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we declare: "Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!" In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts: Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

Teshuva (repentance), a central theme of the High Holidays, means more than just saying "sorry." Teshuva means recognizing one’s errors and making an effort not to repeat them. In many ways, teshuva is a private act because one must be introspective in order to recognize one’s own mistakes.

Tefila (prayer) is the acknowledgment of God as the King and Ruler of the universe. Tefila is almost private, but not quite. It is a conversation between the person and God.

Tzedaka (charity) is a critical step necessary to reverse an evil decree simply because it constitutes an action. The performance of this mitzvah affects the person giving, the person receiving, and its benefits often extend to others as well. Tzedaka is reaching out beyond one’s self, and is thus a public act.

Everything that a person does affects the world in multiple ways. It affects the person’s relationship with him/herself, his/her relationship with the Divine and his/her relationship with his/her fellow human beings. The path to reversing an evil decree must therefore involve the private, the spiritual and the public spheres of our lives.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holidays Are Coming

Rosh Hashana begins one week from tonight, make plans now.

Friday, September 23, 2016


In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).

Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).

Ayl: He is powerful.

Rachum: He is compassionate.

V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.

Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.

V’rav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.

V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.

Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.

Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.

Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.

V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.

V’nah'kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night - as it does this year). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are usually recited prior to the morning service.

--Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Read 'Em

If you can't attend Selichot services, find a copy of the text in your native language and read through it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


There are not too many cultures where people laugh when they are told to “shut up, please!” Yet, there are many Jews who, in that situation, do exactly that- laugh! In fact, anyone who went to a Jewish camp or Hebrew school may now be feeling a desire to yell “Hey!” after reading the words sheket bevakasha...(go ahead, yell ‘hey!’).

While sheket means quiet, religious texts more often use the word shtika to refer to silence. The famous Rabbi Akiva is noted for saying, “a safety fence for wisdom is silence” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 3:13). Elsewhere in the Talmud it is written, “the best medicine of all is silence. When Rabbi Dimi came, he said: ‘In the west they say a word is worth a sela, silence two selas” (Talmud Megillah 18a).

By extolling the merits of silence, the sages were not trying to hush a gathering of noisy, rambunctious youth. Rather they were discussing a character trait.  Jews may joke, Jews may debate, and Jews may even argue, but Judaism places tremendous importance on peace. Knowing when to refrain from speaking is often the best way to maintain peace. Whether this means refraining from gossip, holding back a sharp retort or not trying to prove that one person knows better than another, shtika is the silence of self-discipline. That is why the recommended remedy to employ when one finds oneself about to say something one shouldn’t, is to tell oneself Sheket...Bevakasha.


Good Communication

Listen carefully to what other people are saying and think before you speak.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Partners Throughout

The relationship between two people sharing authority can often be difficult. Nevertheless, in the early Talmudic era, the leadership of the Jewish people was usually shared between two sages. Known as zugot, one of these leaders was the head of the Sanhedrin (nasi) and the other was the head of the court (av beit din). Among the many unique zugot was the famed partnership of Shmaya and Avtaliyon.

According to tradition, not only did these two share their leadership, they actually studied together under Rabbi Judah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shetach. Additionally, they were both converts to Judaism, believed to be descendants of Sancherib, the Assyrian King who had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Living in a time of great political upheaval - the era of Herod the Great (74 BCE-4 BCE)- Shmaya and Avtaliyon were more than just scholars. They were greatly loved by the people. The Talmud relates how one year, just after the conclusion of Yom Kippur, they came upon a crowd escorting the High Priest to his home. So beloved were Shmaya and Avtaliyon, that when the crowd saw them they abandoned the High Priest and followed the nasi and av beit din (Talmud Yoma 71b).

Another story that demonstrates how beloved they were and how eager scholars were to study with them is about one of their most famous students, Hillel the Elder. A very poor man, one Friday,  Hillel did not have the small fee necessary to enter the House of Study. Rather than return home, he climbed up on the roof of the House of Study. The next morning, Shmaya and Avtaliyon noticed that the skylight was blocked. Finding Hillel frozen and covered in snow, they quickly  brought him inside and revived him (Talmud Yoma 35b). They decided never to charge fees again.

Even in death Shmaya and Avtaliyon are joined together. Their tomb, located in the village of Jish in the Galilee region of northern Israel, receives many visitors each year.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Say It

Express gratitude to someone from whom you have learned something valuable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The Book of Deuteronomy records the statement declared by the ancient Israelites upon fulfilling  the mitzvah of tithing. Within this declaration it is written: “I have not eaten of it while in mourning, I have not cleared out any of it while I was unclean, and I have not deposited any of it with the dead....” (Deuteronomy 26:14). This particular verse offers an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the term “unclean.”

The Hebrew word tameh does not have an accurate English translation. It actually refers to the state of one’s spiritual rather than one’s physical being.  It is most frequently translated in English as “unclean” or “impure” because one who is tameh may not participate in certain sanctified  rituals or enter the Temple. The opposite of being tameh is to be tahor, which is equally inaccurately translated as “clean” or “pure.” These translations are reinforced by the fact that one must go through a ritual cleansing process in order to go from tameh to tahor.

The reason, perhaps, that there is no proper translation for tameh and tahor is that both these terms reflect a metaphysical state of being related to life. The “energy” that is often referred to as one’s life force is a flow of Divine energy. When someone (or anything living) dies and loses that Divine energy, those who come in contact with it become tameh.

Being in mourning after the loss of a close relative and having contact with death can both have a profound effect on one’s spiritual and emotional ability to connect to the Divine, which, in turn, can affect a person’s ability to fulfill a mitzvah properly. On a simplified level, this is the fundamental  meaning of the biblical term “unclean” or “impure.”

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Live It!

Celebrate life whenever you can.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Incomplete Repentance

“Repentance” sounds like a grand and powerful word. In truth, the most important adjective that must be attached to the act of repentance is the word “sincere.”

At one time or another, we all experience insincere apologies, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better to receive one. Since an apology is critical to the repentance process, an insincere apology does not bode well for true repentance.

One particular story in the Bible highlights the tragedy brought about by an insincere apology: King Saul, the first King of Israel, was responsible both because of a general commandment in the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) and a personal directive issued through the words of the prophet Samuel, to completely wipe out the Amalekites, ancient enemies of the Jewish people. While he was victorious over them, “Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, oxen ... and lambs, and all that was good...”(I Samuel 15:9).

When confronted the next morning by Samuel (to whom God had already expressed his anger over Saul’s disobedience), King Saul’s response was to declare that he had listened to the Divine command, capturing King Agag alive and destroying the Amelekites. He then added, “the people took of the spoils, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things” (I Samuel 15:21) to sacrifice to God. Finally, Saul admits his wrong-doing, but still does not take responsibility: “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of God, and your words; because I feared the people, and hearkened to their voice” (I Samuel 15:24).

By blaming the people, Saul voided his apology. Perhaps, if he had immediately recognized his mistake, admitted it and apologized sincerely, the dynastic line of kingship would not have been removed from his family and given to David.

This Treat was last posted on September 10, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Plan Ahead

Make a plan to put any personal resolutions into effect.

Friday, September 16, 2016

He Gave Us Curious George

Today, September 16th, is the birth date of the father of the famed children’s book series Curious George. Hans Augusto Reyersbach, better known as H.A. Rey, was born on this day in 1898 in Hamburg, Germany. Still a teenager at the outbreak of World War I, Rey served in the German army during the war and later painted circus posters while attending university.

Several years after moving to Rio de Janerio, Brazil (in the mid-1920s), while selling bathtubs in the Amazon,  H.A. Rey met fellow Hamburg native Margarete (Margret) Waldstein. He had actually met her once before, at her older sister’s birthday party, but in Brazil they fell in love. After their 1935 wedding, the Reys decided to return to Europe and moved to Paris, where they began writing and illustrating children’s books.

Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, the Reys’ first published title, came out in 1939. The youngest monkey, Fifi, was so popular that the Reys began writing just about him. On the threshold of true success, their lives were suddenly overshadowed by world events. Hours before the Nazis entered Paris in 1940, the Reys, aware of the danger they faced as Jews, fled the city on self-assembled bikes.

After they arrived in the United States, the already-written Fifi manuscript was published with a new name for the title character, Curious George. The Reys only wrote eight Curious George books, the rest were written by other artists/illustrators.

In addition to his love of animals and art, Rey was fascinated by astronomy. In the 1950s, he produced an illustration of the constellations that made them easier to recognize and identify. The Stars: A New Way to See Them was re-released as recently as 2008.

H.A. Rey passed away on August 26, 1977.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


This Shabbat, take some time to be curious about Judaism.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Assisting a Runaway

Once upon a time, slavery was an almost universally accepted economic system. Whatever our values and opinions about slavery may be today, slaves were a fact of life in the not nearly so distant past. In some cultures, slaves were simply unpaid labor, treated decently. In others, slaves were no better than objects or livestock. Because slavery was such a natural part of life, it is not surprising that the Torah includes slavery and laws on how a slave must be treated.

Beyond the laws that define an Eved Ivri (Hebrew slave) and an Eved Canaani (non-Jewish slave), there is an additional halacha (law) concerning runaway slaves: “You shall not deliver to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He will dwell with you, in the midst of you, in the place which he shall choose within one of your gates, where it is good to him, you shall not harm him” (Deuteronomy 23:16-17).

This law applies to any slave, whether Jew or non-Jew. One might then ask, how can a society that permits slavery not return a runaway slave? The Jewish laws on slavery are focused very much on the proper master-slave relationship. A slave is given the same accommodations as a member of the household (quality of food, sleeping quarters, etc.), and if a master accidentally maims (even just knocking out a tooth) a slave, then that slave is set free. Perhaps, Deuteronomy 23:16-17 is premised on the belief that any slave who needed to run away was not being treated to the Torah’s standard and was therefore deserving of freedom.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If you have household help, be certain to treat them with honest respect.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Games in Tel Aviv

This week is the main week of the 2016 Paralympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These Games, which provide a competitive opportunity for people with disabilities, receive far less attention that the Olympic Games themselves, although the stories of these athletes are often truly inspirational.

What few people know is that Israel, which never hosted an Olympic Competition, took up a dropped torch and welcomed the 1968 Paralympics to Tel Aviv. In 1963, Mexico won its bid to host the 1968 Summer Olympics, and it was understood that this would include the Paralympics. In 1966, however, Mexico determined that they would not be able to meet the technical needs of a second schedule of games. When Mexico backtracked on the Paralympics, Israel jumped in and volunteered.

There were many reasons to be impressed with this short-notice change of venue. Most significantly was the fact that the State of Israel had only been created 20 years earlier in 1948. Nevertheless, they not only arranged a successful multi-event competition, they even added several sports such as Lawn Bowl and Women’s wheelchair basketball.

The opening ceremony for the games was held in Jerusalem, at the Hebrew University Stadium, on November 4, 1968 (not late, considering that the Mexican Summer Olympics took place in late October). The remainder of the games took place in Tel Aviv.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


When you see a person in need of support, don't hesitate to volunteer what you can to help.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Seeking God in Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat was last posted on August 21, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Take time out each day to connect with God.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Swiss Jews

A Jewish presence in Switzerland can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Until the 19th century, Jews in Switzerland were restricted in their residence and employment. While there were several notable physicians who were given special treatment, the most common Jewish profession for Jews in Switzerland was moneylending. Because Christians were forbidden to lend money, there was an all-too-common cycle of the expulsion of the Jewish community when an area became too indebted, and then, when the economy began to stagnate, an invitation for the Jews to settle in the area once more.

This ambivalent history of the Jews of Switzerland is not particularly surprising for a Western European country. The Jews were constantly persecuted and harassed, especially during times of trouble such as the black plague, when the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. There were also numerous instances of blood-libel accusations.

As in many Western European countries, the first real taste of equality came with the Napoleonic conquest, but left with it as well. Only in 1841 did the Swiss grant Jews any level of civic equality, and even the new Swiss Constitution of 1848 did not actually open the country to free Jewish settlement. Full civil rights only came to Jews in Switzerland with the revised constitution of 1874.

Although the Jews were considered equal citizens after 1874, there remained issues over certain Jewish religious practices, such as ritual slaughter (shechita). In 1887, the Jews of Baden challenged a general prohibition against shechita, but the ban was upheld by the Swiss courts, which ruled that preventing cruelty* to animals was more important than religious freedom. The prohibition of kosher slaughter was added into the constitution, and it remains forbidden to this day. (Kosher meat must be brought in from other countries.)

The Swiss are most noted for their neutrality, and, because of this policy, the Jews of Switzerland were protected during World War II. However, the Swiss very quickly closed their borders to any refugees with a J-marked passport, leading to the ultimate demise of an untold number of Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

*Please note that the specific methods of shechita have been scientifically proven to minimize any cruelty to the animal by causing an almost instantaneous death.

Today, September 12, is the anniversary of the signing of the constitution of the modern state of Switzerland in 1848.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Home Base

Support charitable institutions in your home city.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Natural Born Leadership

“No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President” (U.S. Constitution II.1).

Over the last decade or so, the question of defining “natural born citizen” has come up with increasing frequency, although mostly for the purpose of political posturing. The terminology appears to be derived from British citizenship laws, but the legal qualification of being a natural member of the nation can be traced back to the Biblical laws of kingship.

“You shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother” (Deuteronomy 17:15).

One might wonder why any nation would choose a foreigner to rule over them, but it has happened. The natural born status necessary to serve as the king for the Children of Israel, however, is just one of numerous laws that are listed in the Torah regarding a Jewish monarch. A Jewish king cannot have too many wives or own too many horses. He is also obligated to write his own copy of the Torah, which he is to use in order to increase his knowledge and fear of God. The ideal Jewish king is inextricably tied to the Torah, and thus a foreigner would be unable to fulfill this role and its obligations.

When the time came for a king to be appointed over Israel, God first chose Saul from the tribe of Benjamin and then David from the tribe of Judah, from whom all future Jewish kings must descend. While this guarantees the paternal lineage of any king over the Jewish people, one should not conclude that the terms used (brother/foreigner) are entirely exclusionary. After all, King David was the descendant of a Moabite convert (Ruth) and considered just as much a part of the nation as one who could trace his complete lineage back to Jacob himself.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Is Coming

Greet the Shabbat Queen by lighting Shabbat candles.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Paralympics’ Jewish Roots

The competitive spirit of this year’s Summer Games in Rio did not end with the Closing Ceremony. From September 7 - September 18, 2016, thousands of athletes with physical disabilities will take over Rio’s Olympic venues for the 2016 Paralympics. These amazing athletes can credit this grand event, and indeed an entirely new philosophy in dealing with physical disabilities (particularly spinal injuries), to a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

Sir Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (1899 - 1980), a native German, believed, at first, that the Nazis were a temporary departure from the norm. After he was prohibited from working in public hospitals in 1933, he immediately accepted the position of Director of the neurological/neurosurgical department at the Breslau Jewish Hospital. It was not until after Kristallnacht (1938), after he was forced to justify the admission of 64 patients to the hospital following the beginning of deportations, that Dr. Guttmann realized he had to leave Germany.

In England, a paper by Dr. Guttmann was influential in the creation of the Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, a unique institute for dealing with spinal cord injuries. As the director, Dr. Guttmann took a holistic approach to helping those with spinal injuries. Dr. Guttmann showed the injured that they could use their bodies in new ways.

The athletics that were a natural part of Dr. Guttmann’s rehabilitation program soon became recreational for his patients. On July 29, 1948, the same day as the opening of the 1948 London Olympics, Dr. Guttmann oversaw the first Stoke-Mandeville Games. Sixteen injured soldiers competed in archery. Four years later, Dutch soldiers participated, making the games international. The Stoke-Mandeville games continued to shadow the Summer Olympics. The 1960 games in Rome are formally recognized as the first Paralympics, as the competition was open to veterans and civilians alike. The winter Paralympics began in 1976. Since 1988, the Paralympics have been held in the same city as, and  immediately following, the Olympics.

This Treat was last posted on August 29, 2012.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Inner Strength

Push yourself to overcome challenges.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Customs of Place

Jewish life is defined by halacha (Jewish law) and colored by minhag (Jewish custom). While Jewish prayer may have the same form and structure around the globe, the way in which it is recited varies from community to community. There are many ways in which minhag affects a community: foods served on Shabbat, traditional dress, songs...even the pronunciation of Hebrew.

In previous generations, before technology made travel and communication almost effortless, communities were often isolated and, therefore, homogeneous. A person followed the customs of his/her family, which were usually the customs of the town unless the family had accepted stringencies upon themselves. Then, as now, a woman assumed the customs of her husband and his family to ensure shalom bayit (domestic tranquillity).

As the world has grown smaller, so to speak, the question of community, identity and, thus, minhagim has become slightly more complicated. A neighborhood can include Jews from several different backgrounds who form independent communities within the larger community.

Sometimes, however, minhagim are rooted in location, and people who come to that location follow the guideline of observing the minhag hamakom, the distinct customs of that particular place. There are many examples of issues affected by minhag hamakom. For instance, in most communities, the time to light candles before Shabbat is 18 minutes prior to sunset, but in Jerusalem it is customary to light candles 40 minutes before sunset.

If one has a strong family or personal custom, it might seem odd to deviate from it because of a change in location. However, the dominant purpose of minhag hamakom is to ensure peace among people and a way to avoid disagreements.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Know It

Be aware of the customs of your family and your community.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Alarm Clock

New beginnings are often difficult.

For those who are not “morning people,” every day is a new beginning, and we must be thankful to whoever invented the alarm clock, which keeps us from being labeled as “slothful” and “lazy.”

No other beginning is quite as profound as the one we face annually at Rosh Hashana. During the High holidays, God gives all people the chance to face His judgment and wipe their slate clean.

Looking honestly at one's actions and resolving to make changes to one's life is a daunting task. Just as in the morning, people naturally desire to continue sleeping and not wake up at what feels like the crack of dawn, most people wish to roll over and bury their heads back in the blanket rather than face the challenge of change.

The great symbol of Rosh Hashana is the shofar. Knowing well the nature of people, the sages realized that what was really needed was an "alarm clock." They therefore instituted the custom of blowing the shofar every morning during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana. When the shofar is sounded in the synagogue, it is meant to serve as an alarm clock that awakens our souls and reminds us that Rosh Hashana is soon at hand.

This Treat was last posted on Monday, August 18, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time To Think

Use the month before Rosh Hashana to contemplate what role you want Judaism to have in your life.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Proud Maker of Music

Giacomo Meyerbeer (born in 1791 as Yaakov Liebmann Beer) succeeded in creating the 19th century’s most frequently produced operas while maintaining and taking pride in his heritage. While so many are known to have changed their names to hide their Judaism for fear of anti-Semitism, he actually added the name Meyer in honor of his grandfather. (He began using Giacomo, an Italian form of Jacob, while studying in Italy.)

The son of a wealthy businessman, Meyerbeer was raised with the greatest advantages of Berlin society. However, his natural talent and his incredible musical abilities, particularly on the piano, were recognized while he was still quite young.

As he matured, however, Meyerbeer’s true desire was to compose, and in order to learn composition, he took himself to Venice. Meyerbeer was strongly affected by his time in Italy, especially by the friendship he formed with the famed Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. The two collaborated on some of Meyerbeer’s earliest works.

In 1824, Meyerbeer’s first major success, Il crociato in Eglitto, premiered in Venice. It was produced in London and Paris the next year, giving Meyerbeer his entry into the world of Parisian Opera. When his Robert le diable premiered in Paris in 1831, Meyerbeer became a true celebrity.

In addition to his Parisian operas, which he continued to create throughout his life, Meyerbeer remained attached to his native Berlin. His wife and daughters resided there, and he was appointed as the Royal Director of Music.

Whereas most other artists struggled to get by, Meyerbeer benefited greatly from his family’s wealth. It is known that he lent money to both Heinrich Heine and Richard Wagner, the latter who was once an ardent fan but later repaid Meyerbeer’s generosity (both financially and in assisting in getting Wagner’s earlier work produced) with vitriolic anti-Semitism later in life.

Meyerbeer passed away on May 2, 1864, at the age of 72. His final opera,
L'Africaine premiered after his death.

Today’s Treat was posted in honor of Classical Music Month and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 225th birthday.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Talent to Praise

Use your natural talents to express gratitude to God for those talents.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Krymchaks: The Unique Jews of Crimea

The Crimean Peninsula, which extends into the Black Sea, has been home to a succession of dominant cultures. Among the many who have settled in this region have been Jews, whose presence there is recorded as far back as the first century C.E. In fact, there is a fascinating document describing how the Jews freed their slaves on condition that they convert and join the community, which the former slaves did.

The Jewish community stayed in the Crimea when the Huns invaded in the fourth century, and when the Byzantines arrived in the sixth century. When the Khazars took over the region in the seventh century, the Jews found like-minded rulers, especially after the Khazar nobility converted to Judaism. At this time, the Crimean Jewish community also absorbed Jewish refugees fleeing Byzantium persecution.

In the mid-13th century, the area was conquered by the Tatars and the Mongols, who remained the dominant culture even when the area was under Turkish rule until the area was annexed by Russia in the late 18th century. This was a critical time for the development of a unique Jewish community. While Jews from all over had migrated to Crimea, the distinctions between Ashkenazic and Sephardic had disappeared so that the community not only had their own distinct nusach (customs in prayer) but also their own patois language as well. Like other Jewish tongues, Krymchak, as it later came to be called (when the community labelled themselves in order to distinguish themselves from more recent Ashkenazic communities), was a meld of the local language and Hebrew. In this case, Crimean-Tatar and Hebrew. It was written in Hebrew characters.

By the 20th century, the Krymchak population was a shrinking community, having faced first Russian persecution and then Soviet oppression. The community’s fate, however, was tragically sealed when the Nazi High Command in Berlin ruled that the Krymchaks were not to be seen as a distinctive community and were to be treated like all other Jews (some other distinct communities were given exemptions).
More than half the Krymchak population was murdered, and assimilation and social pressure took care of the rest. In the last few years, however, there has been a resurgence in interest in the Krymchak language and descendants of this unique community have been trying to preserve their near extinct linguistic history.

Sunday September 4, 2016, is the European Day of Jewish Culture, which this year will be celebrating Jewish Languages. 

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Try to preserve any special languages or customs that are part of your family heritage.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

On the Canadian Prairie

Thirty-three years old at the time of his immigration, Grodno-born Rabbi Israel Isaac Kahanovitch was called to Winnipeg, Manitoba, after spending a year in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He had left his Russian homeland two years earlier in the wake of devastating pogroms and traveled across the ocean with his wife and several small children.

When Rabbi Kahanovitch and his family arrived in Winnipeg, the prairie city was still quite young and the Jewish community was composed of struggling groups of immigrants, most of whom had fled from Russia following pogroms in 1882 and 1905.

In addition to his high level of Torah knowledge, Rabbi Kahanovitch was known for his warmth, energy and dedication to the people of the region. He organized Talmud study groups and helped establish the Hebrew Free School. In addition to his rabbinic duties in Winnipeg, Rabbi Kahanovitch traveled throughout the Canadian prairies to support the larger Jewish community. He was involved in creating a Jewish school in Regina, a synagogue in Melville (both in Saskatchewan), and etc. He was often referred to as the Chief Rabbi of Western Canada.

A passionate Mizrachi Zionist, Rabbi Kahanovitch served on the National Executive of the Zionist Organization of Canada. This was not his only national activity. He was overwhelmingly elected to serve as a delegate at the first Canadian Jewish Congress in Montreal in 1919. Additionally, Rabbi Kahanovitch created Winnipeg’s Unity Charity organization.

Rabbi Kahanovitch passed away on June 22, 1945. His contributions to Canadian society were recently recognized by the Canadian government. In March 2016, a plaque in his honor was unveiled by Parks Canada, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

On September 1, 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan, two of the three prairie provinces, joined the Canadian confederation.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

New in Town

Make a special effort to meet a new rabbi in town.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

B'sha'a Tova

“Mazal Tov!” This Jewish expression has, without question, crossed the societal divide and is a well-known phrase throughout the western world. And while many popular entertainers and media figures may mispronounce it, it is no longer considered a foreign phrase to Americans.

While “Mazal Tov” is used in lieu of congratulations, it is most accurately translated as “good fortune.” But the Jewish faith does not believe that fickle fortune, otherwise known as “fate” or “destiny,” rules the lives of Jews, and so this too is an inaccurate translation. Rather, Mazal Tov is a means of declaring that God has brought good fortune upon a person. (For more see Rabbi Buchwald's comments on parashat Balak 5768)

Mazal Tov has come to be used as a means of congratulations for virtually every event--from getting married to getting a raise. For some situations, however, there is a far more appropriate term: “B’sha’a Tova,” which figuratively means “in a propitious time.”

What is the true meaning of the term “B’sha’a Tova”? In actuality, it is a blessing calling for the good tidings to come to a fortuitous conclusion. Most often it is said to an expectant mother, although it can be applied to any good news that has not yet come to a full conclusion, such as an engagement.

This Treat was last posted on November 4, 2010.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Well Wishes

Be happy for other people's special moments.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Houston Healthcare

Many cities have Jewish hospitals, but only Houston has a Jewish Institute of Medical Research.

In the 1950s, Houston’s Jewish community sought to create a medical facility that had a specific Jewish feel, but found that they did not have a large enough population to support the endeavor. When, in 1958, Dr. Bernard Farfel learned that the federal government was offering matching funds for the creation of medical research facilities, it was the perfect opportunity for the Jews of Houston to contribute to the city’s famed medical community.

The Jewish community raised over $450,000, which they donated to Baylor College of Medicine.  The building for the Jewish Institute for Medical Research was designed with a beautiful Star of David on the exterior and a mezuzah on the doorpost. Since its creation, the Institute has not only drawn outstanding medical professionals to the area,  its doctors have been involved in key research that has benefited all humanity.

While the Jewish Institute for Medical Research was created as a communal effort, one member of the local Jewish community had already become well-known for his philanthropic support of Houston’s medical institutions. Ben Taub (1889–1982), the son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary, was born and raised in Houston. A successful businessman and real estate developer, he dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort serving on the boards of important city organizations and particularly on medical facilities. He donated land and money to so many worthwhile city institutions that when the city opened a new charity hospital in 1963, they named it the Ben Taub General Hospital in his honor. In 1986, Baylor College of Medicine opened the Ben Taub Research Center.

This Treat was written in honor of the founding of the city of Houston on August 30, 1836.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Time

If you have time available, volunteer at your local hospital.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Walk This Way

If God has no corporeal form, which is a basic Jewish belief, then why are there so many physical references to God in the Torah? There are references to God hiding His face (Deuteronomy 31:17), to His feet (Exodus 31:17) and even to His enjoying the aroma of certain offerings (Genesis 8:21).   

The simplest explanation for these anthropomorphic terms is that the Torah is written in a language that humanity can understand and relate to. One can, however, see a more meaningful explanation by noting that the Jewish people are commanded “After the way of God shall you walk” (Deuteronomy 13:5).

Rabbi Chama ben Rabbi Chanina wondered what is actually meant by this verse.  “Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Divine Presence... But rather, [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. Just as He clothes the should you also clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, visited the should you also visit the sick. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, comforted should you also comfort mourners. Just as the Holy one, blessed be He, buried the should you also bury the dead” (Talmud Sotah 14a).

The narrative of creation describes God as creating Adam in God’s image. One way this can be understood is that each person has the ability to be Godlike by emulating God. The world is full of opportunities to walk in God’s way, we just have to see them.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be On The Lookout

Be on the lookout for opportunities to do something helpful for another person.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Conscripted for Life?

On August 26, 1827, Czar Nicholas I set into motion the terrible ordeal of the cantonists. Cantonist schools, which had originally served as pre-military boarding schools for military sons, were transformed into conscription centers.  

While the cantonist laws affected all Russian citizens, and was harder on minorities such as Polish Catholics, Romani and Muslims, the decree was particularly harsh on the Jews. Whereas conscription for non-Jews began at age 18 (and lasted until 35), Jewish conscription was set for the ages of 12-25. However, often times, boys as young as 8 were sent to serve. They remained in the cantonist schools until 18, at which time they began their 25 years of army service. 

At first the conscription order was for 2 out of every 1000, the same as among other populations. However, the required quotas changed and a disproportionate number of Jews served as cantonists. 

The responsibility for recruitment was placed on the Jewish community leaders. With restrictions limiting the recruitment of adults, the recruits were often children from the poorest families. Many boys eligible for conscription fled the country, while others disfigured themselves to become ineligible.

Beginning in 1844, the Russian government decided to increase the missionizing pressure already in place on the Jews (and, to some extent, other minorities) in the military. Many boys lost all knowledge of their heritage. However, it is significant to note that only about 1/3 of the youth succumbed to baptism (and not a few of them tried to return to Judaism later in life). Only about 2% of the adult conscripts converted.

After Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (a period of time during which the conscription efforts were significantly increased), Czar Alexander II realized that he needed to modernize the army. One means of doing this was to abolish the Cantonist Decree and to order the return of all unconverted cantonists under the age of 20 to their families. (Unfortunately, youth who had accepted baptism had to stay with their government assigned “godparents”). 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Shabbat L'Chaim

Enjoy a nice wine in honor of Shabbat.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


“If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, sows in the sowing season, reaps in the reaping season (and etc.)...what is to become of the Torah?” (Talmud Brachot 35b). 

This question, asked by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, is one that has been pondered by dedicated Jews for generations. While the mitzvah of studying the Torah is compared in greatness to all other mitzvot, one must stll earn a livelihood.

Rabbi Shimon’s question is derived from a conversation about a verse in Deuteronomy 11, in which God promises that if the Jewish people keep His commandments then God will send the right amount of rain in the proper seasons so that “you (the Jewish people) will gather in your grain” (Deuteronomy 11:14).

Rabbi Shimon proposed his own answer, suggesting “that when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others.” It is, however, important to note Rabbi Ishmael’s understanding of the verse: “And you shall gather in your grain.” Rabbi Ishmael sees in this verse an implication that one is to combine the study of them [the words of Torah] with a worldly occupation (Brachot 35b). The ability to combine these two vocations is part of the blessings of following God’s words. 

There are, of course, some for whom studying Torah is their profession. In fact, when the 12 tribes were complete, the Tribe of Issachar dedicated itself to studying Torah while the Tribe of Zebulon worked to support them. Today, there are many Jews who have been able to follow Issachar’s path thanks to those who fulfill the role of Zebulon. Many others, however, live by Rabbi Ishmael’s ideal and choose to dedicate time for Torah study while working in other fields.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn at Lunch

If there are several interested Jews in your office, see if you can arrange a "lunch and learn" once a week.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Changing Ukraine

Kiev, Odessa, Zhitomyr, Uman...the cities of Ukraine are places marked in Jewish history for both horror and hope. Jews have lived in Ukraine for well-over a thousand years, and there is even mention of a Jewish Gate as one of the three gates into Medieval Kiev. 

By the 15th century, Ukraine was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe and was the region where, in the 18th century, the chassidic movement developed. Unfortunately, Ukrainian nationalism often led to tragic violence against the Jewish people, including the Chmielnicki Pogroms in the 17th century. Needless to say, the Holocaust was particularly horrific in Ukraine, and its Jewish population was persecuted brutally during the Communist era that followed World War II.

By 1989, there were approximately 840,000 Jews left in Ukraine (where once there had been close to 1.5 million).

Twenty five years ago today (August 24, 1991), the people of Ukraine declared their independence from the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, in the new era of freedom, a large percentage of the Jewish population chose to leave Ukraine, and many moved to Israel.

Although anti-Semitism certainly still exists anti-Semitism in the country, Ukraine has made efforts to recognize the role played by Jews in its history and to show deeper appreciation for its current Jewish population. Organizations have been created to look after Jewish interests, and there has been a religious revival since communist restrictions were lifted. Beginning in Fall 2007, Ukrainian government has periodically released Torah scrolls from the government archives that had been confiscated by previous Ukrainian regimes. 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Orderly Accounts

Create a separate bank account from which to donate to charity.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Something Extra In Your Lettuce?

Here’s a delicious-sounding salad: romaine lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, red onion, red cabbage, chickpeas and strawberries. At first glance, this combination of fresh vegetables, chickpeas and berries sounds like the perfect easy kosher lunch. All of the ingredients listed are, by their very nature, kosher. However, five of the seven items are also natural habitats for a variety of tiny insects.

The Torah states that eating insects, referred to in scripture as “swarming things,” is not just prohibited, but detestable. “And every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:41).

The sages clarify: “Said Rab Judah: If one [knowingly] eats a worm in a cabbage, he incurs flogging. A certain fellow [once deliberately] ate a worm in a cabbage and Rab Judah had him chastised” (Talmud Maakot 16b).

Most people would not deliberately eat a worm or a gnat but do not think beyond these common insects. They certainly are not concerned about tiny mites and aphids that are the most frequent infestations. But if one knows that spinach leaves are often the home to these tiny creatures, does that not make eating unchecked spinach a deliberate violation?

Don’t worry, Popeye can still have his spinach, but only after the spinach leaves have been thoroughly cleaned and checked for bugs. Kashrut experts around the world have compiled, and continue to compile, the different methods for extracting the bugs. Some produce must simply be rinsed, while others must have their leaves individually inspected with a bright light, and still others (such as dried fruit) must be cut open in order to be checked. For more information on how to eat bug-free produce, most major kashrut organizations have detailed instructions available online for many varieties of produce, and it is best to check the necessary method for each food item.

This Treat was last posted on June 17, 2013,

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Good Food

Maintain a healthy, well-balanced and kosher diet.

Monday, August 22, 2016

All Generations

According to recent reports, Western civilization is a rapidly aging society. The elderly, the reports warn, will soon outnumber the youth, and society will have to come up with new ways to support those who are no longer able to provide for themselves. This seems like a great burden for the younger generation, particularly when they themselves face significant challenges trying to make ends meet. 

According the Jewish tradition, respecting and showing concern for seniors is not just nice, it is a specific mitzvah:  “You shall rise up before the hoary [aged] head and honor the face of the old man...” (Leviticus 19:32). Fulfilling this mitzvah even with one’s own parents or extended family is not always easy. The mitzvah, however, is far broader than one’s immediate relatives and extends to all seniors. 

Being aware of the need to care for and include the elder generation has an interesting historical basis in the Torah. Just after the plague of hail, Pharaoh contemplated allowing the Children of Israel to go and worship God. He then asked Moses whom he would take with him into the wilderness. Moses responded, “With our youth and with our elders we will go...” (Exodus 10:9). Moses thus informed Pharaoh that everyone was included. While there was no question that the youth, the future, needed to go with Moses, one could have thought that it would be more sensible to leave the elderly behind lest they become a burden on the journey. Moses, however, makes no distinction in importance because no matter one’s age, every Jew is important to the nation.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Make an effort to spend time with older family members.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Shabbat L'Chaim

Enjoy a nice wine in honor of Shabbat.

No Holiday As Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, the Talumud states that: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av...” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised...’” (Proverbs 31:30).

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu B’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Today is Tu B’Av.

This Treat was last posted on July 31, 2015.

On the 15th of Av: What Hoshea Did

How can one action be both praiseworthy and unacceptable at the same time? Such was the conundrum of Hoshea ben Elah, the last King of Israel (the Northern Kingdom of Ten Tribes).

After the unified Kingdom reigned over by David and Solomon split in two, Jereboam ben Nevat, the northern king, set up two golden calves (one in Bethel and the other in Dan) as roadblocks to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem, announcing to the people, “Here is your God!”

The two kingdoms were separated for more than two centuries, and throughout that time, roadblocks prevented access between them. The Jews of the Kingdom of Israel could not go down to Jerusalem to partake of the festivals or to offer sacrifices. The Talmud describes the situation thus: “Jeroboam had stationed guards on the roads to prevent the Israelites from going up [to Jerusalem] for the festivals, and Hoshea disbanded them, and for all that time the Israelites did not go up to the festivals. Thereupon God decreed that for those years during which the Israelites had not gone up to the festival they should go a corresponding number into captivity” (Talmud Gittin 88a).

Hoshea’s action of removing the roadblocks was praiseworthy and is noted as one of the positive actions that occurred on Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av. However, the sages also note that, upon removing the roadblocks, Hoshea said: “Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire” (Talmud Taanit 31a). He did not tell them to go to Jerusalem as he should have, and therefore the Israelites continued to follow false gods. The fact that they did not choose to return to tradition led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians.

This Treat was last posted on July 22, 2013.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Comforting Shabbat

Try to go to synagogue and hear the comforting words of the Haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Athlete and Architect

When Arnold Guttmann was 13 years old, his father drowned in the Danube River, and Arnold decided that he needed to learn how to swim. Six years later, after changing his name to Alfred Hajos (which is Hungarian for sailor), he won two gold medals at the very first Olympics in Athens. He came in first in both the 100 meter and the 1200 meter freestyle in races that were conducted in cold and choppy ocean waters.

Although swimming was the only sport in which Hajos competed in the Olympics, he won national tournaments in Track and Field (sprinting, hurdles and discus) as well. Additionally, Hajos was a member of Hungary’s national football team for several years, later serving as the team’s coach.

Hajos was able to meld his love of sports into his professional life. At the time of the first Olympics, Hajos was studying architecture at the Polytechnical University (where the dean was not particularly supportive of his frequent absences to compete!) As an architect, Hajos specialized in designing and building sports facilities. Some of the arenas that he built are still in use, as is the well-known Hotel Aranybika in Debrecen, Hungary.

Hajos’ architectural skills won him another Olympic medal in 1924. From 1912-1948, the Olympic Games included several artistic categories (architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture). All entries had to be inspired by sports. Hajos who partnered with Hungarian colleague Dezso Lauber, won a silver medal for a stadium design. It is interesting to note that no gold medal was awarded that year.

Imprisoned briefly in the Budapest ghetto during World War II, Hajos’ connections were able to keep him and his family safe from the Nazis. In 1953, the International Olympic Committee awarded him an Olympic diploma of merit. He passed away in 1955 in Budapest.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.



As the school year begins anew, make sure the children in your life are receiving a Jewish education as well.