Wednesday, September 20, 2017

God's Secret Things

Tonight, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, will be celebrated. While New Year’s celebrations are nice (the Jewish calendar actually has four of them!), Rosh Hashana’s significance is far greater than a mere New Year. It is, in fact known as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and is a time when Jews focus on recognizing God as the King of Kings.

The weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana are meant to be spent reflecting on one’s actions and evaluating whether one has sincerely become a better person. Unfortunately, our 24-hour media-fueled world not only teaches us to focus on that which is going on around us, but also presents a world of tragedies.

As we move into Rosh Hashana (and, in truth, throughout the year), the way in which we perceive the often tragic events in the world colors our ability to connect with and relate to God as the King of the world.

Why do tornadoes devastate whole towns? Why is there a drought? Why did any tragedy strike? The answer is...we don’t know. As painful, difficult and unhappy as these situations are, Jewish tradition teaches that God runs the world and therefore there is a reason for everything.

Not knowing is a great challenge for many people, especially in today’s “information age.” In the Western World we are accustomed to being in control, which makes it harder to accept the Bible’s declaration that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:28).

Moses makes this statement after describing the violent repercussions that will happen to the Israelites if they cast off the yoke of Torah. However, like every verse in the Torah, it has a deeper meaning as well. The Torah is a guidebook for living, and it contains much wisdom to help us to better understand the world. We must always remember, as the conclusion of the previously cited verse states, that “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”



This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Tashlich

The Rosh Hashana tashlich ceremony is a tradition that is dear throughout the many diverse Jewish communities. Tashlich literally translates as "You will throw." But what, exactly, is it?

Tashlich is meant to be a symbolic physical representation of casting away one’s sins. Along with a selection of Psalms and supplications, Micah 7:18-20 is repeatedly recited: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the remainder of His heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; yes, You will cast our sins into the depth of the sea."

The reference in Micah to the depth of the sea appears to be the source for the custom of reciting tashlich next to a body of water, such as a lake or a river (or an ocean, of course) in which fish live. As long as one can see the water, even from a distance (even by climbing to the rooftop of a building), one may recite tashlich.

Tashlich is usually performed in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashana. However, if one is unable to do tashlich at that time, the ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. If the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim wait until the second day.

Although descriptions of tashlich often include the casting of bread crumbs, feeding wild animals is prohibited on Shabbat and the holidays. The casting of bread is a poetic physical expression of tashlich, but is not necessary to the ceremony. This custom may have evolved from the chassidic custom of intentionally shaking off crumbs to represent casting away sins.


This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.



Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

From Us To You

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you and yours a happy and sweet new year.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Annulment of Vows

"I swear that this time I will lose weight"

"I am going to pray every day..."

We make promises all the time. We swear that we are going to do something, and then hope that we will be in a position to fulfill the vow.

But did you know that according to the Torah, words often have binding force and may not be taken lightly? The Jewish legal view on oaths and vows is based on the verse, "He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that he has uttered" (Numbers 30:3).

When you swear to do something, you’ve made a serious commitment. Words, from a Torah perspective, can be binding. (It is for this reason that many people, after promising to do something, will append the caveat "bli neder" - without intending to vow, to prevent themselves from vowing falsely.)

According to the Torah, vows and oaths, however, can be retroactively nullified, by a "court" of knowledgeable people.

It was considered particularly important by the sages that, as the High Holidays approach, people ensure that they have not violated their previous year’s vows. They therefore created a formal nullification of vows that all are urged to perform before Rosh Hashanah. Known as "Hatarat Nedarim," the traditional "annulment of vows" takes place in front of a Jewish court of at least 3 knowledgeable men. In addition to nullifying past vows made "in error," the Hatarat Nedarim also declares that any such statements made in the coming year should be considered null and void.

(Of course, the nullification only covers those vows that are allowed to be nullified - not vows such as those regarding owing someone money - and vows that are made by one individual to another.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.




Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Day Without Sleep

While Rosh Hashana is frequently translated as “new year,” the literal meaning of the Hebrew words is “head of the year.” According to Jewish tradition, one’s actions on these auspicious days serve as templates for one’s actions in the year to come. For this reason, people make a conscious effort to be especially careful of the words they utter on Rosh Hashana, they pray with proper awareness and are careful to recite blessings over the foods they eat. 

The impact that one’s actions on Rosh Hashana have on the year to come is reflected in the statement made by the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud: “If one sleeps at the year's beginning, his good fortune likewise sleeps.” 

There is much discussion about what “sleep” is referred to in this Talmudic dictum, given that Rosh Hashana is celebrated over a two day period. It is generally understood that sleeping overnight is completely acceptable and that the sages of Israel were referring to sleeping during Rosh Hashana day itself, since that is the time of judgment. Napping, on the other hand, is avoided by many people so as not to set a “sleepy tone” for the rest of the year.

While the custom not to nap is a literal understanding of the sages’ words, the statement actually presents a philosophical insight into the importance of Rosh Hashana. The Day of Judgment is a precious opportunity granted to the Jewish people to make a fresh start for the year to come, an opportunity through which one would certainly not wish to sleep.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.





Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Promise Particulars

Always be careful of how you express a promise so that it is not an oath.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’etz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.


Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.

Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).

There is a custom to avoid nuts on Rosh Hashana since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is connected to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.




This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2017 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 © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Meals

Prepare for Rosh Hashana by planning your holiday meals in advance.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Shofar Shorts

The shofar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rosh Hashana. Although it is preferable that a shofar be fashioned from a ram’s horn, the horn need only come from a kosher animal.* However, not all the horns of a kosher animal are usable. For instance cows’ horns and deer antlers are solid bone and cannot be fashioned into a shofar, whereas the horns of animals such as rams are made of keratin and can be hollowed out to become a shofar.

Shofars are prepared by applying heat. They are cleaned in boiling water, and heat is applied in order to either straighten or bend the horns. A shofar may be engraved or decorated with metal as long as the weight does not alter the shofar’s sound. However, extra material may not be placed near either end of the shofar.

On Rosh Hashana three distinct sounds are blown on the shofar:

Tekiah - The tekiah is a long, solid blast like the blowing of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. This sound reminds us that God is the King of Kings.

Shevarim - The shevarim are three medium-length blasts, reminiscent of deep sighs or soft crying, (where one is gasping for breath). The shevarim represents the first step in recognizing all that God does for us, and all that we could be doing, thus the sighing sound.

Teruah - The teruah are nine quick staccato blasts which evoke the feeling of short piercing cries of wailing. It represents the recognition that the new year is upon us, and the time for repentance will soon pass.

--A combination of Shevarim-Teruah is also sounded during the shofar service.

Tekiah Gedolah - The tekiah gedolah, the final blast, is a long solid note. It is a triumphant shout that reaches out to the hearts of all to assure them that their prayers have been heard.

(*If one has absolutely no other option, one may use the horn of a non-kosher animal, but cannot recite the blessings over hearing the sounds.)




This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Birthday of the World

According to Jewish tradition, this Wednesday night, when Rosh Hashana begins, the world will be 5778 years old. This claim easily stirs up sharp debate. How, it is often asked, can one say that the world is only 5778 years old when carbon dating records certain fossils as being millions of years old? Science and religion often seem in conflict with one another, but only at first glance.

While Rosh Hashana is considered the first day of the year, it is actually only the beginning of the counting of the years of the world. The Bible recounts that it took "six days" to create the world, and on the sixth day God created Adam. According to the midrash, until Adam was formed, the world was static. Only after Adam was created and prayed for rain, did the world come to life.

Think of it like conception and birth. Six days before Rosh Hashana, the world was conceived...that was "Day One" of Creation. The next five days were a gestational period, when the world was formed and developed. Birth, the completion of the world, only occurred on the sixth day with the introduction of Adam.

More that just the world "came to life" with the creation of Adam, the world acquired time then as well. Prior to Adam, no one noted when the sun rose or set, or the moon waxed and waned or whether there were seasons. No one can say with certainty how long the days of creation were because there were no human beings to mark the beginning and end of a day.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.




Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Blower

If you know how to blow the shofar properly, volunteer to do so for those who cannot make it to synagogue on Rosh Hashana.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Selichot

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). 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.





Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Five Names of Rosh Hashana

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana has several names that can help us understand the importance and power of this holiday.

Rosh Hashana literally means "Head of the Year" because Rosh Hashana marks the point when we begin the new calendar year (e.g. from 5777 to 5778).

Yom Harat Olam is translated as "The Birthday of the World."

Yom Hazikaron is translated as "The Day of Rememberance."

Yom Hadin is translated as "The Day of Judgment."

Yom Teruah is translated as "The Day of Sounding (the Shofar)." This is the actual name that the holiday is called in the Torah.

Ok, so there are five different names for the holiday. What is the significance of that? How do these different themes relate to each other?

The Teruah is the staccato sound blown on the shofar. Yom Teruah serves as a call to attention because this day is Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and it is imperative that one be cognizant of the importance of the day.

It is the Day of Judgment because it is Yom Hazikaron, the day on which God looks back and "remembers" our deeds, individually, collectively and historically (a record of over 4,000 years of Jewish history).

Why is this the Day of Remembrance? Because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world (Yom Harat Olam). Since the annual cycle is closing, it is the perfect time for reflection and judgment. This new beginning allows us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

And since the old year and the new year are seamless, this day is also Rosh Hashana, the head of the year.




This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kindness Complete

Emulate all of God's traits of kindness.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King."

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, "Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!" Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana* includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us."

By addressing God as both "our Father" and "our King," we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product of his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashana and throughout the days that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

*It is also recited during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and on fast days. When Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Relationship Talk

Talk to the children in your life about having a relationship with God.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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 balancedbetween 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 wicked...in 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 © 201y NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friends, Friends, Friends

Use this time of year as a reason to get in touch with old friends.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Day for Publishers

The American world of books and letters owes a great deal to the date of September 12th, for on this date, in 1891 and 1892, two giants of the American publishing industry were born: Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Alfred Abraham Knopf, Sr.

Arthur Sulzberger was not, by nature, a literary man. In fact, he studied engineering at Columbia College. He entered the world of publishing when he married Iphagene Ochs, whose father, Adolph Ochs, only agreed to the union if Sulzberger would join his staff at the New York Times.

Sulzberger proved himself an astute businessman and helped the Times grow by implementing such creative strategies as commissioning an exclusive on Charles Lindbergh’s cross-Atlantic flight. In 1935, upon the death of his father-in-law, Sulzberger took over leadership of the paper. As a voice in journalism, Sulzberger found himself torn by his Jewish identity. He was the proud descendant of both German and Sephardic Jews, and, in 1929, was the founder of the Jewish Advisory Board (later Columbia-Barnard Hillel) at his alma-mater. This very same pride in his Jewish heritage, however, made him feel conflicted about seeming to be biased in his presentation of the Jewish situation in Europe and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s (he is often criticized for downplaying the situation). It is also often noted that, following the lead of the Reform Movement of the time, Sulzberger was opposed to Zionism.

Arthur Sulzberger passed away on December 11, 1968.

Albert Knopf was a true literary man. He too was drawn to the publishing profession while studying at Columbia College. A year and a half after graduating, following a short stint at Doubleday and working for Mitchell Kennerley, Knopf opened his own eponymous publishing house.

Knopf books, which were known for their physical and literary quality, published many Russian and European authors who were completely unknown in America, including Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, as well as publishing a host of now well-known American authors such as Willa Cather. At the time of his death, on August 11, 1984, authors of Knopf books had been awarded 16 Nobel and 27 Pulitzer prizes.

Donate

Pay attention to what is needed to assist people in the areas recently devastated by severe weather.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Both Oral and Written

The development of the printing press had an incredible impact on Western civilization. Prior to the printing press, all documents were hand-written, limiting their dissemination and leaving large swathes of the population illiterate.

There is a mitzvah derived from Deuteronomy 31:18 (“Now therefore write this “song” for yourselves”), which is interpreted to mean that one should write one’s own Torah scroll. It is a mitzvah that few have the privilege of fulfilling unless they have the resources to hire a professional Torah scribe. Due to the printing press, however, the Torah is now printed in a wide variety of published editions, in a multitude of languages and with a wide assortment of commentaries. However, the scroll written by a trained scribe remains the holiest document of the Jewish people.

Given the strong emphasis of Judaism on literacy, it is interesting to note that there is also a mitzvah that empowers those who cannot read or own a copy of the Torah to engage in an intensive learning experience. Moses commanded the Jewish people that every seven years (the year after shmittah), on Sukkot, the Jewish people should assemble “the men and the women and the little ones, and your stranger that is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn and fear the Lord your God and observe all the words of this law” (ibid. 31:12). It was this mitzvah of “Hakhel,” with the king of Israel himself reading from the Torah, that served as a massive communal celebration of religious education.

According to the Talmud, in order to make certain that Torah was studied regularly, it was decreed during the days in the Wilderness that there should be a partial reading of the Torah every Shabbat, Monday morning and Thursday morning. A Mincha (afternoon) Shabbat Torah reading was later added, and it became customary to assign one (sometimes two) portion of the Torah to each week (Talmud Baba Kama 82a).

Today we are blessed with a plethora of options for reading and studying the Torah, as well as opportunities to discuss the commandments and listen to the Torah read aloud. The Mitzvah to write one’s own Torah serves as a reminder of the importance of acting on these options.

Jewish Library

Strive to acquire a complete Jewish library (Pentateuch, Prophets, Writings, Talmud and Code of Jewish Law), which, according to some opinions, is a fulfillment of writing a Torah scroll.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Forgiveness: An Elul Treat

Many feel that the three hardest words to say are: “I am sorry.” Yet, we all know how very important those words are. Indeed, saying one is sorry, or at least admitting one’s guilt, is a critical part of the process of teshuvah, repentance.

Equally important, however, is the ability to hear someone else’s apology and to accept it. Even greater is the ability to forgo an apology altogether and simply forgive the person for hurting you.

Jewish tradition teaches that one is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for their misconduct, as he/she has demonstrated true regret. The one who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

What is wrong with bearing a grudge against a person who really hurt you? Beyond the fact that it is a violation of a Torah prohibition (Leviticus 19:18), bearing a grudge affects the person psychologically. A person bearing a grudge is, in general, less happy with the world and with other people because he/she cannot get past the feeling that he/she was wronged.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is rather easy to bestow. And when it is done with sincerity, it is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to the person we forgive.

*This Treat was last posted on August 31, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Be Honest Within

Sit and think about any people to whom you might have caused harm during the last year, and make an effort to apologize.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Synagogue in Mozambique

Mozambique is not the first place one would expect to find a stately Portugese-Baroque synagogue. Nevertheless, there is. And while for many years it was used for other purposes, there has been a small revival of Jewish life on the island because of this synagogue.

Jewish life in Mozambique began in the late 19th century, when the island came under Portuguese control. Jews came from many places, creating a mix of both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In the late 1890s, Reverend Dr. Joseph Herman Hertz was exiled from Johannesburg for his pro-British sympathies. He spent one week in Mozambique and, during that brief time, he convinced the community to organize. In 1899, Congregation Honen Dalim was created. Soon after,  a cemetery with a small chapel was created. Building a synagogue was next, which was consecrated in 1926, when Laurenco Marques (now Maputo) had fewer than 50 Jews. The 1920s and 1930s saw a steady increase in Mozambique’s Jewish population. It peaked in 1942 at close to 500. After the war, Jews were fairly quick to move on.

The Portuguese left Mozambique in 1975, and the new government was headed by anti-religion Marxists who took possession of the Honen Dalim Synagogue. By then, the synagogue was rarely used and its Torah scroll had been sent to South Africa for safe keeping.

This could easily be the end of the story for Jews in Mozambique. In 1989, however, a man named Alkis Macropulos (not Jewish) organized a campaign to reinvigorate the Jewish community and, as a result, the few Jews living in Mozambique began to get involved. The synagogue was restored (rededicated in 2013). Their original Torah scroll was found but discovered to no longer be kosher, and a new Torah was gifted to them by the South African Jewish community.

Volunteer

Volunteer in your local Jewish community.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Paying the Pledge

It is easy to pledge money to an organization. There are an astounding number of well-intentioned non-profits that send mailings, or solicit donations over the phone. There are also pledges that are made “casually” on certain occasions, such as in synagogue after being given an honor during the service.

It is not always so easy to remember to fulfill such pledges. Donor based non-profits all have specific pledge reminder mailings designed solely to help donors remember to send the money they promised.. It is generally assumed that most people are sincere when they promise to donate. People get busy and just forget, and that is totally understandable.

Charity is very important in Jewish life. In fact, in addition to the general concept of doing a kind act to help another person, Judaism also has specific, required tithes that Jews must fulfill that are spread out over a period of three years. These include Maaser Rishon (the first tithe, given to the Levite and the Kohain), Maaser Shaynee (the second tithe set aside for consumption at the Temple) and Maaser Oni (the tithe for the poor).

In Deuteronomy 26, the Torah notes an interesting law related to the giving of the Maaser tithes: “Then (at the end of the three year tithe period) you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Your commandment which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, neither have I forgotten them” (Deuteronomy 26:13). This declaration continues on to state that nothing pledged for Maaser was taken or used improperly and expresses a desire for God to bless the land.

Although, the Jewish people are no longer able to tithe in the proper fashion as was done in the days of the Temple, nevertheless, giving charity remains a priority and fulfilling our pledges is immensely important.

Pledge Posts

Take stock of any outstanding pledges which you might owe.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

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 is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.




Morning Moment

During the rest of the month of Elul, add some personal reflection time into your morning schedule.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Samuel Gompers, Labor Leader

In honor of Labor Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Samuel Gompers, a man who helped transform the early American Labor Movement.

Born in London, England, in January 1850, Gompers was the son of a family of Sephardic Jews whose families had settled in Amsterdam. He was educated at the Jewish Free School until he was ten years old, when he began learning the skills of cigar making from his father. In the evenings, he continued his basic Jewish education, learning Hebrew and studying Talmud.

In 1863, the Gompers family came to America and settled on the Lower East Side. Gompers worked at home with his father until he secured a position in a shop. Once employed (at age 14), he joined the Cigarmakers Local Union #15. Several years later, he received a unique education in politics and labor from his new coworkers when he began working at the more upscale David Hirsch & Company These cigarmakers were mostly German Socialists who introduced him to the works of Karl Marx and explained to him the significance of labor unions.

Gompers political career began in 1875, when he was elected president of his local Cigarmakers Union. Over time, he introduced a high dues structure along with special benefit programs for loss of work, illness and death. In 1886, he was elected Second Vice President of the International Cigarmakers Union, and, ten years later, First Vice President, a position he held for the rest of his life.

In 1881, Gompers helped create what would become (in 1886) the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a coalition of like-minded unions. The AFL, which became one of the largest and most influential organizations in the American Labor Movement, smoothed over union disputes and was able to advocate for the collective good of all workers. Gompers himself was not a Socialist, Communist or Anarchist. In fact, he tried to keep the AFL politically neutral in order to work better with government agencies.

Samuel Gompers passed away on December 13, 1924, a few days after falling ill at a Pan-American Federation of Labor meeting in Mexico City.



Calm Compromise

Look for ways to compromise with others.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Keep it Fair: Ox and Donkey

“Fair” is a word we hear very often. From our earliest years, human beings have a seemingly innate desire for things to be, or at least appear to be, fair. When children use the word, it is usually to insist that they should have equal to what others have. When adults use it, it is (in the best of circumstances) in the hope of achieving a better society that they often presume means more balanced or equal.

Within the framework of Jewish law, however, fair has nothing to do with equal. One interesting lesson about the Torah’s concept of fairness can be found in Deuteronomy 22:10: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” A pair of oxen are capable of pulling a plow. A pair of donkeys are also capable of pulling a  plow. But putting an ox and a donkey together is inherently “unfair.” The ox will have to bear the greater burden of the work simply because its strength and build is so much greater than the donkey’s. The donkey, on the other hand, is yoked to an animal that seems to be eating at all times (since the ox constantly chews its cud) while the donkey has no food.  While the verse specifically mentions an ox and a donkey, the rule applies to any two animals of different kinds.

At face value, the verse appears to be about husbandry and agriculture, but no verse in the Torah should be read without seeking a deeper understanding. Deuteronomy 22:10 is one of many verses that provide fascinating insights into the Jewish values of a just society.


Strength and Talent

When working with people be aware of their unique strengths and talents.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Jews of Luxembourg

When the small European nation of Luxembourg became independent in 1815, there were fewer than 100 Jews in the country. The earliest records of Jewish residence in Luxembourg, however, date back to 1276. The first Jewish settlement followed in the early 14th century. While Luxembourg appeared fairly tolerant of its Jewish settlers, the outbreak of the Black Death proved how precarious the Jews' situation was. They were blamed for the horrific plague and driven out of the country.

Uninterrupted Jewish settlement in Luxembourg began after Napoleon’s march across Europe. By 1823, there was a large enough community for a synagogue in Luxembourg City, and a Chief Rabbi (Samuel Hirsch) was appointed in 1843. The Jews played an important role in the country’s industrialization and development, resulting in a steady growth in the community. By the 1930s, with an influx of immigrants from Germany, there were approximately 4,000 Jews in Luxembourg.

On May 10, 1940, the Nazis arrived. Shortly thereafter, the Nuremberg Laws were proclaimed and enforced. While the majority of the country’s Jews managed to leave Luxembourg, many of those who escaped ended up in Vichy France and were sent to concentration camps from there. At least 100 Jews were saved by the country’s former Minister of Justice, Victor Bodson, who organized an underground escape route across the River Sauer.

The Chief Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Dr. Robert Serebrenik, and his wife, Julie, managed to escape to southern France. In March 1941, he met with Adolf Eichmann, who warned him that Luxembourg would be free of Jews in eleven days. Rabbi Serebrenik managed to get 250 more Jews out of the country. The Serebreniks went to New York City where they, along with 61 other refugees from Luxembourg, founded Congregation Ramath Orah in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

After the war, Jews did return to Luxembourg. Uniquely, the government actively worked to help the Jewish community rebuild and provided support for the building of a new synagogue. The small Jewish community continues to grow.

To Tex

Make a donation to help flood victims in Houston.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Don’t Wake Them

If you have ever had a noisy neighbor or lived next door to a construction site, then you know how frustrating it can be to lose sleep because of someone else’s actions. In order to protect citizens from being disturbed (or from loud domestic fights), many municipalities actually have noise laws determining from what time in the night until what time in the morning one must refrain from loud noises.

This topic, sometimes referred to in Jewish sources as gezel sheina (stealing sleep),  actually comes up in discussions of Jewish law. It is agreed upon by all that one should not wake another person unnecessarily. In fact, there is a source for this concept in the Talmud: “Rabbi Nachman said to his slave Daru: ‘For the first verse [of Shema] prod me, but do not prod me for any more.’” (Talmud Brachot 13b). Prod, in this case, means to awaken someone from sleep and implies a discomforting act.

The rabbinic discussions revolved around the fact that the exact commandment or transgression involved is unclear. The use of the term gezel refers to an act of theft, and, most famously, the Chofetz Chaim - (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagen, and lived from 1838-1933) - is noted as saying that gezel sheina is the worst type of theft because it cannot be repaid. Theft, however, implies the loss of something tangible. In contrast, the prohibition of waking someone is frequently associated with the commandments of “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and “Do not mistreat your fellow” (ibid. 25:17).

Whatever the reason for the prohibition, one should keep in mind to be considerate of others when hosting a party, beginning a renovation project or even just having a late night telephone shmooze.


Shhh Please

Be aware of the amount of noise you create when people in your house are sleeping.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Interesting Philologist

Language is considered to be one of the unique characteristics of humankind. Lazarus (Eliezer Solomon ) Geiger believed that there was a great deal to learn about humanity from studying the development of language. He was particularly interested in the evolution of the language of color, the changing recognition of color and how it connected to the development of humanity. Specifically, a thorough study of ancient texts demonstrated that earlier cultures did not recognize colors, such as blue, in the same way as it was recognized in Geiger's day and age (or our own). One of his primary theories was the connection between the evolution of human reason and the development of language.

Born in Frankfurt-on-Main, on May 21, 1829, Geiger's earliest language lessons appear to have been in Hebrew, which he studied from a young age with his father. His first instinct was not to follow an academic path, but after a short stint as a bookseller in Mayence, he returned to Frankfurt, finished gymnasium, and went on to study philology at the universities of Marburg, Heidelberg and Bonn. After completing his studies, Geiger settled in Frankfurt and continued his research and writing, publishing his first major work in 1865. At the same time he worked as a teacher in the city’s Jewish high school.

Being in Frankfurt put Geiger right in the heart of the shifting religious tides of German Jewry. His own family reflected that divide. Geiger was raised in an Orthodox home while his father’s brother, Rabbi Abraham Geiger, was a leader in the new Reform movement. As enmeshed as Geiger was in the intellectual world, he stayed deeply rooted in tradition.

As Geiger worked toward publishing his complete theory regarding language, color and human development, he developed an infection of the heart that claimed his life on August 29, 1870, at the age of 41. Much of his academic work was published posthumously by his brother Alfred.

Lovely Language

Keep in mind that the words you choose should reflect the person you want to be.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I Am To My Beloved

The Torah verse that epitomizes the emotion of love is: “Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee” - I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). The ideal love relationship according to the Torah is one in which both parties are willing to give themselves to their chosen partner. The Hebrew acronym for the verse Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee is “Elul,” the name of the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana.

When speaking of Rosh Hashana, the sages discuss the great sense of awe that one must feel. They do not, however, mean awe as in fear. Rather, they mean awe as in a sense of reverence, of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God. The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not simply to make people feel guilty for their mistakes or promise to do better (although that too is important), but, as with much of Jewish life, it is to help develop each individual’s relationship with God.

To have a relationship with God, a person must recognize all of God’s roles--including King and Judge, as is the focus of Rosh Hashana. During Elul, however, we focus on God as the Beloved of the Jewish people.

In many rabbinic allegories, the Jewish people are likened to a bride while God is portrayed as the waiting groom. The Jewish people (both as individuals and as a nation) can gain the most by recognizing that God loves His people and wishes to bring blessing upon their homes.

"I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me." When “I” (meaning the Jewish people) can truly give to “my beloved” (meaning God), then God will become ours in a beautiful and Divine partnership.

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Relationship Development

Write a short list of ways you feel you can build your relationship with God.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Teacher Shrouded in Mystery

In 1956, Uruguay received one of its most interesting Jewish immigrants, known to history only as Mr. Chouchani. While he was not a displaced person, by most accounts of those who knew him, he always seemed to be a man who was forever on the run. Chouchani’s background is elusive, and much of what is known about him is  anecdotal.

It is believed that Chouchani was born and raised in Eastern Europe and given a traditional yeshiva education. It is also believed that he was, for a time, a student of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook before embarking to America, a country he later refused to set foot in. In the 1930s, he was in France. With the rise of the Nazis he fled to Switzerland, supposedly crossing the border by posing as a Muslim and quoting extensively from the Koran.

After World War II, Chouchani returned to his itinerant life in France. He is described as shabbily dressed and lacking interpersonal skills. However, he made a deep impression on those he met. The range of knowledge, religious and secular, attributed to him is rather astounding.

In 1947, in Paris, Chouchani met and eventually became mentor to both Elie Weisel and philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, who both spoke of Chouchani as an irreplaceable teacher who unexpectedly opened up their minds to entirely new ways of thinking.

After spending four years living on religious kibbutzim in Israel, Chouchani moved to Montevido, Uruguay. Here he was able to live in relative obscurity, although he attracted new students (such as philosophy professor Shalom Rosenberg) and was visited by his old students. In January 1968, Chouchani and Rosenberg were at a Bnei Akiva, religious zionist, weekend when Chouchani suffered a heart attack. Lack of access to proper medical care took his life. Buried in Montevido, his tombstone reads: “The wise Rabbi Chouchani of blessed memory. His birth and death are shrouded in mystery.”


Find One

Develop a relationship with someone with whom you can explore Judaism more deeply.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Leading Ahead

The Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir used to say, "Great is repentance, for on account of one true penitent, the entire world is pardoned" (Talmud Yoma 86b). In effect, this statement posits that a single person's honest repentance can alter the judgment of the entire world. But, how can redemption come for transgressions that are not redeemed or repented?

In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah describes what a community should do when a dead body is found outside a city and neither the murderer nor the victim are known. "If a slain person is found in the land which the Lord, your God is giving you to possess, lying in the field, [and] it is not known who slew him, then your elders and judges shall go forth, and they shall measure to the cities around the corpse. And it will be, [that from] the city closer to the corpse, the elders of that city shall...[perform a ritual known as the eglah arufah that absolved them of guilt]" (Deuteronomy 21:1-3). 

The Torah clearly maintains that individuals must take responsibility for their actions. But, this section of the Torah also demonstrates the Torah's belief in the importance of communal responsibility. The leaders are held responsible because their community did not make an effort to get to know the stranger who journeyed through their city and did not foster a caring community that would ensure the safety of travellers. 

Sadly, the Talmud notes that the ritual of the eglah arufah stopped being performed 

"Our Rabbis taught: When murderers multiplied, the ceremony of the eglah arufah was discontinued, because it is only performed in a case of doubt; but when murderers multiplied openly, the ceremony of the eglah arufah was discontinued" (Talmud Sotah 47b). This did not mean that the leaders of the town were no longer culpable for the actions of their citizens, it rather signified a general decline in society at large.

Perhaps the solution to this issue lies in Rabbi Meir's statement. If each individual took upon him or herself to focus on fixing their own transgressions, then perhaps we would return to a gentler society in which murder was a random and unexpected event.

You Are Welcome Here

Be warm and welcoming to people who are new to your community.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Jewish Legion

On August 23, 1917, the British government announced that they would create a military unit specifically for Jewish enlistees. The goal of the British government was to recruit the Russian-Jewish immigrants in England who had thus far refrained from joining the British war effort. The goal of the Jewish advocates who had been lobbying for its creation for several years was to create a regiment that could help defeat the Ottomans in Palestine.

The quest for what would come to be referred to as the Jewish Legion began in 1914, after the Ottomans had begun persecuting the Jewish population of Palestine and had exiled many thousands of them. In March 1915, Vladamir Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor proposed the idea to British General John Maxwell in Alexandria, Egypt. They were told that England would not enter Palestine and that the British could not recruit foreign nationals. The British did, however, allow them to form a brigade that became known as the Zion Mule Corps. The Corps served at the Battle of Galliopi, where the mules were essential for water transport. The majority of the corps were either killed or wounded.

After Galliopi, which was, ultimately, an unsuccessful campaign, the Zion Mule Corps was disbanded at the end of 1916, and Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor returned to lobbying the British government for a full fighting legion. When the Jewish Legion was created in August 1917, it was titled the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and was composed, primarily, of British and Russian-immigrant Jews. A second brigade, the 39th Battalion, was comprised of American and Canadian Jews (and a few non-Jewish volunteers). In 1918, the 40th Battalion was organized with Jews from Palestine. A 41st and 42nd Brigaide was created for Ottoman Jewish Prisoners of War, who served as depot battalions in England. The Jewish Legion only saw action toward the very end of the war, when they fought north of Jerusalem and participated in the Battle of Megiddo (September 1918). 

After the war, the 5 brigades were reduced to one battalion known as "The First Judeans," and were finally given a distinct badge with a menorah and the Hebrew word Kadima. The Mandate government, however, gave them very little support and they saw little action. Several members of the Legion founded their own moshav in Israel named Avichayil. 

Charitable Places

Designate a specific place or bank account in which to set aside money for charity.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

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.

Elul begins at sunset this evening

This Treat is reposted annually.

Serious Celebration

Celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul (the beginning of the month of Elul) with a special treat for yourself and share it with a friend.

Monday, August 21, 2017

How the Hechsher? Is it Kosher?

In addition to enabling the mass production of dry goods, clothing and automobiles, the industrial revolution allowed for the commercial production and distribution of prepared foods. While this meant less time and energy spent on food preparation, it also meant that people were less involved with, and aware of, the ingredients in their food.

Some brands recognized, early on, the unique needs of the kosher market. Indeed, in 1911, Crisco shortening promoted their vegetable-based shortening to the kosher market as the product for which “the Hebrew race has been waiting 4,000 years.” However, as foods became more complex, Jewish consumers faced the question of how to know if  packaged food was really kosher. In 1915, the New York State legislature made it illegal to falsely promote non-kosher food as kosher, demonstrating how easily the food industry could manipulate the market.

In 1924, the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America (founded  in 1898, now the Orthodox Union) created the first kosher certification agency in the United States. It was headed by Abraham Goldstein, whose background in chemistry allowed him to understand the composition of the food additives and to guide the organization’s growing body of kosher supervisors (mashgichim). In addition to overseeing already registered foods, the OU kashrut division actively sought to convince brands to obtain kosher certification. One of their greatest coups was when the Heinz food company agreed to OU certification for its Vegetarian Baked Beans in 1935.

Creating competition often allows for dynamic business growth, and Mr. Goldstein created that opportunity  when he left the OU and founded the Organized Kashrut Laboratories (O.K., also known as Circle K). The number of products accepting kosher oversight and trademarking a hechsher (symbol of kosher certification) continue to grow. Both the OU and the OK are still among the best-known hechsherim.

In order for a kosher certification to be trademarked, it must bear a distinct design, such as a  simple letter U encircled by the letter O. However, the letter  K alone with no particular embellishment* cannot be trademarked and any company is free to use it and  claim kosher status even without rabbinic  oversight.

*It should be noted that there are a few exceptions to this rule. For instance,  Kelloggs cereals, which have the oversight  of the Rabbinical Council of New England,  are marked only with a plain K or KD (for Dairy) in the United States.

Manners Before Munching

When asking someone about the kosher-standard of food, make certain to ask in a discrete and polite way.