Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neilah: The Final Service

While one may make requests of God or atone for transgressions at any time of the year, the first ten days of Tishrei (from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur) are considered particularly propitious for repentance. In fact, it is said of this time period that the heavenly Gates of Mercy are cast open to more readily receive the prayers of penitents.

Although the “gates of heaven” are a poetic metaphor, it is one that makes a metaphysical process easier to comprehend. Indeed, in many ways, this imagery reflects the process and urgency of the Yom Kippur Neilah service. The final service of the Day of Atonement, Neilah means “closing,” an allusion to the fact that, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the Gates of Mercy are closing.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that many people find the Neilah service to be incredibly emotional and inspiring.

In the days of the Temple, a Neilah service was added to other fast days. Today, Neilah is a service unique to Yom Kippur. But, even in Talmudic times, the Yom Kippur Neilah had its own special instructions: “On Yom Kippur, as it becomes dark, one reads the seven benedictions (the holiday Amidah) and makes confession and concludes with confession” (Yoma 87b).

Following the conclusion of the Neilah Amidah, is a series of powerful call-and-response declarations that include the words of Shema, the pronouncement “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (three times), and the proclamation “The Lord - Only He is God” (seven times). Then the shofar is sounded, and the congregation joyfully declares “Next year in Jerusalem!”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one "afflict one's soul"? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur. If a doctor instructs a person not to fast, that person should discuss the situation with their rabbi, who should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.

Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast, it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. Crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Two For One

While Yom Kippur is a very serious day of introspection, it is also regarded as a joyous day, since God annually forgives the Jewish people. As fasting is not conducive to celebration, the day prior to Yom Kippur is considered a festive day, where we are commanded to eat and rejoice. Apparently, it takes two days to fully absorb the power of Yom Kippur.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Post Labor Day Whites

When is it fashionably acceptable to wear white after Labor Day? On Yom Kippur!

Many people have the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur. In the synagogue you will often see women dressed in white suits or dresses and men bedecked in a white garment known as a kittel (Yiddish for robe).

There are several reasons for this custom:

1) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which we ask God to overlook all of our mistakes. Consequently, it is customary to wear white as a way of emulating the angels, who stand before God in purity. In Hebrew, angels are known as "malachim" (singular-mal’ach) which means messenger(s). The malachim were created as God’s spiritual messengers and are pure, totally spiritual creatures. Human beings, on the other hand, were created of both matter and spirit. It is this combination that gives us "Free Will," enabling us to make choices that, unfortunately, are not always the best. These unwise choices are what require us to engage in teshuva (repentance). On Yom Kippur, one wishes to emulate the malachim, the pure spirits who exist only to serve the Creator.

2) White garments, especially the kittel, are also reminiscent of the burial shroud. On Yom Kippur, one’s life is held in balance by the greatest Judge of all. When one is reminded of one’s mortality, a person is more likely to engage in honest introspection...Did I really act properly? Was there anything I could have done better? etc.

3) And of course, on Yom Kippur you don’t have to worry about food stains!

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

The Book Of Jonah

The Book of Jonah is one of the best known stories in the Bible and is read during Mincha (the afternoon service) on Yom Kippur because of its powerful message of repentance:

God instructs Jonah to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn them that Nineveh will be destroyed unless the people mend their ways. 

Hoping to flee and avoid this mission, Jonah boards a ship. 

God sends a great storm. The people on the ship, fearing for their lives, discern that Jonah is the cause of the storm and, at Jonah's suggestion, throw him overboard. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. (The Hebrew word is fish, but it is commonly translated as a whale.) Jonah lives inside the fish for three days, praying to God and accepting God’s command to go to Nineveh.

When Jonah is spit out on dry land, he goes to Nineveh to bring them God’s message. The people repent and are saved. Jonah, however, leaves the city depressed and angry that this city of idol-worshipers heeded God’s warning and will be saved, while his fellow Jews often do not. He sits outside the city waiting to see what will happen.

Jonah falls asleep, and while he sleeps, God makes a gourd grow over him to shade him from the intense heat. Jonah awakens and rejoices over the gourd. On that very night, God sends a worm to destroy the gourd that provided him with protection from the harsh sun, causing Jonah to weep.

God then rebukes Jonah for having pity on a plant that appeared and disappeared in one night, but having no compassion for the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

God Is Everywhere

The Book of Jonah teaches us that while one cannot hide from God, God is ultimately compassionate. Remember that, as we approach Yom Kippur.

Friday, September 14, 2018

For The Sin We Committed

One of the main steps in the process of teshuva (repentance) is confessing one’s sins and verbalizing one’s errors. In so doing, a person admits committing a sin, not so much to anyone who happens to hear, but, more importantly, to one’s self.

On Yom Kippur, there is a special service of confession, known as Vidui, that is an integral part of each of the five prayer services that are recited during the day. The great sages recognized how difficult it is for people to recall all of their actions over the past year, so they created a formula to help people understand the consequences of some of their actions.

The most prominent section of the Vidui is the section known as Ahl Chayt. Each verse begins with the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” and then enumerates a general transgression. While reciting the Vidui service, it is customary to stand in a humbled position, with one’s head lowered. Upon reciting each Ahl Chayt, the supplicant strikes the left side of his/her chest with his/her right hand.

Due to space, Jewish Treats can provide you with only a sampling of some of the confessions from the Vidui service:

For the sin we committed before You without knowledge, and for the sin we committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin we committed before You with wicked speech, and for the sin we committed before You by scoffing.

For the sin we committed before You in business dealings, and for the sin we committed before You in eating and drinking.

When the prayer leader repeats the confessional service out loud, the Ahl Chayt section of the Vidui is divided into three sections. Between each section the prayer leader, and then the congregation, sing: “And for all of these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, grant us atonement.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Whosoever Is Wise

"Return, O Israel, for you have stumbled in your sin" (Hosea 14:2).

Um, who has the remote control? Can someone please change the channel?!

Let’s face it, none of us really want to hear a fire-and-brimstone reproof of all of the things we’ve done wrong and how we must mend our ways. This is basic human psychology and is obviously the great challenge facing all rabbis in the preparation of their Shabbat Shuva sermons.

Shabbat Shuva, which is so called because of the first word "Shuva," return, in the week’s haftarah reading (Hosea 14:2 -10), is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Traditionally, it is this Shabbat sermon that is regarded as the highlight of the year, the premier opportunity for rabbis to inspire their congregants to work harder on becoming better Jews. The goal, as with all things in the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is teshuva, repentance. (It is interesting to note that in many communities in pre-war Europe, the Shabbat Shuva sermon was one of only two sermons that the rabbi delivered during the year - the other being just before Passover.)

But what is the source of inspiration, and what motivates change? There are those who want to be humored into self-improvement, while others wish to hear inspiring stories of triumph over challenge.

Perhaps the prophet Hosea said it best: "Whosoever is wise, let him understand these things, whosoever is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of God are right, and the just walk in them; but transgressors do stumble therein" (14:10).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shabbat Shuva.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 


Any preparations you can do for Yom Kippur will enhance your experience.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Do We Attempt to Fool God this Week?

During the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, Jews are encouraged to improve their actions, with both God and people. Every year Jews endeavor to transform themselves, by making the effort to elevate their speech, demonstrate less jealousy, act less materially, pray better and observe the commandments the way they should be observed. But many of us also know that we often cannot sustain the newfound piety much past breaking our fast on Yom Kippur night. What is the goal of our spiritual push during these ten days, when we know the likely outcome? Are we trying to pull a “fast one” on the Almighty?

Attempting to deceive someone, Geneivat Da’at, which literally means stealing someone else’s knowledge, ranks first in a Rabbinic list of the types of robbery (Tosefta Bava Kama 7:8). As a matter of fact, Rabbi Yechiel M. Epstein (1829-1908) suggested that during the Ten Days of Repentance, it is not always appropriate to attempt to act more stringently than one would normally, since it would be hard to justify returning to the less stringent behavior after Yom Kippur (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 603:2).

Rabbi Jonathan Eibshutz (1690-1764) views the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as opportunities for atonement. “There are seven days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, corresponding to the seven days of the week. Each of those seven days atones for the sins committed on those days throughout the year. On the Sunday of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, one attains penitence for all vice that took place on that past year’s Sundays, and so on” (Ye’arot D’vash, 1:10).

Others note that the prophet Isaiah taught (Isaiah 55:6), “Seek out God when He can be found, call to God, when He is near.” Maimonides asserts that “when God can be found” refers to the Ten Days of Repentance (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:6). As such, our behavior during this period need not comport to how we act after Yom Kippur.

Ultimately, of course, the efforts we make during this holy week, ought to be serious. Every Jew should try to make any upgrades made to their piety and spirituality during Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, permanent.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Make the Effort to Improve and Sustain that Improvement

Think seriously about your Jewish New Year’s resolutions and how you will be able to make them really happen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

From Holy God to Holy King

On Rosh Hashana, God judges the world (and all the people therein), but their fates are not sealed until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days that we must present a compelling case of our worthiness to the heavenly court.

These ten days that start on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom Kippur, are known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, people go out of their way to make amends both with their fellow humans and with God. In addition to the acts of teshuva, the sages of the Talmud altered the words of the Amidah in order to create the mind-set necessary for this time of year:

“Raba ben Chin’neh’na the Elder also said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year one says in the prayer [Amidah], ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who loves righteousness and judgment,’ except during the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’” (Berachot 12b).

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).
These changes are discussed at length in the codes of halacha. The general consensus is that if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y'mei Teshuva.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Fast of Gedaliah (Tzom Gedaliah)

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed to commemorate the murder of Gedaliah, the son of Achikam, which is described in the last chapter of the Second Book of Kings. This murder resulted in the exile of the Jews who remained in Judea after the Babylonian conquest.

After the first Holy Temple was destroyed (586 BCE) and the Babylonians had exiled the majority of the Jewish people, a small minority were permitted to remain in the Land of Israel. Also, Jews who had fled during the war returned and began to work the land.

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, appointed Gedaliah to be the Jewish governor over the remaining population. The King of the neighboring country Ammon, who was vying with the Babylonians for control of the Land of Israel, commissioned Yishmael the son of Netanyah to remove Gedaliah.

Yishmael, who was a descendant of King David, came to the town of Mitzpeh and murdered Gedaliah and all those who were with him. Fearing retribution for the murder of the appointed governor, the remaining Jews fled the Land of Israel, thus completing the exile.

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed on the third day of Tishrei, the day after Rosh Hashana. If the third of Tishrei is Shabbat, the fast is observed on Sunday. The fast begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.*

*Some people rise before dawn to have an early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so was verbally expressed the night before).

This Treat was last posted on September 28, 2014.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Biblical History Parallels Current History

The tragedy of Gedaliah, for which Jews fast today, was a result of Jew-versus-Jew hatred. We must always learn from the tragic lessons of our past, as they are often very relevant to our lives today.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

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 5775 to 5776).

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

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

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 © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Two Days As One Day

How many days is Rosh Hashana? It seems the simplest of questions, since all around the world, no matter where you may be, Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days (as opposed to the first and last days of Passover, Shavuot, the first days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret - all of which are observed as one day in Israel and two days elsewhere).

The Torah commandment to observe Yom Teruah (the Day of the Sounding [of the shofar]) states that the holiday is to be observed on the first day of the seventh month.* It is the only holiday that occurs on the first day of a month. The Jewish calendar is lunar based and, until approximately 350 C.E., the declaration of the new month was dependent on two witnesses reporting the appearance of the new moon to the Sanhedrin. If the new month was declared late in the day, word still needed to reach those who did not live close to Jerusalem. 

Wanting to prevent any possible desecration of the holiness of the day, the rabbi declared that the New Year be celebrated as a Yoma Arichta (Aramaic for one long day), meaning that the one day was spread over two days. In other words, while Rosh Hashana is observed on the first and second of Tishrei, the two days are thought of as a single day.

One of the more interesting effects of this transformation of two days into one is the question of whether or not a person recites the Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing during candle-lighting (for women) or kiddush (for men) on the second night on Rosh Hashana. On all the other holidays, the second day is treated the same as the first. Since sheh’heh’cheh’yanu is also recited over a new possession or a food that one has not tasted in over a year, it has therefore become the custom to include a new fruit at the beginning of the second night meal of Rosh Hashana and have the new items in mind when reciting the sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing. 

*Rosh Hashana is the new year of the counting of years, but Nissan is considered the first month in the counting of months.

This Treat was last posted on September 4, 2013.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wish both Jews and Non-Jews a Happy and Successful Jewish New Year

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the creation of the first human being. While only Jews celebrate Rosh Hashana, it is an important anniversary for all humankind.

Friday, September 7, 2018

God's Secret Things

On Sunday night, 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 © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

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 "blineder" - 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 © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Be Careful with Your Words

Annulling vows, highlights the fact that sometimes we are not careful enough with what we say. Be cautious with what comes out of your mouth.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

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 © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.  

Reach Out

God makes Himself close to us during the month of Elul. Make sure to reach back!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

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 © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Office Hours

Our sages liken the month of Elul to the King entering the field to meet with his subjects. “Approach God during Elul for He is close” (Isaiah 55:6). The month of Elul can be likened to God’s “Office Hours.” Take advantage of them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Multi-Generational Covenant

During the bleak times of the Holocaust, a woman inmate, like all others, stared into the sky of Auschwitz, praying to God to end the darkness. Like millions of others, she never witnessed the redemption for which she implored. She also did not know that her grandson would one day help lead a Jewish army built upon the ashes of the Shoah, never forgetting his grandmother’s plea.

On September 4, 2003, that woman’s grandson, Brigadier General Amir Eshel, flew his Israel Air Force (IAF) F-15 fighter jet over Auschwitz. He flew so low, that the 200 IDF soldiers standing at attention at a ceremony below could see the blue Magen David on the bottom of the plane. That same sky that had absorbed the prayers and final faithful words of millions of anguished Jews, now absorbed the jet wash of that multi-million dollar McDonnell Douglas flying machine. Prior to departing from Israel, Brigadier General Eshel, dramatically declared: "We are flying over the camp of horrors - we have risen from the ashes of the millions of victims and carry their silent cry. We salute their heroism, and swear to be a shield to the Jewish people and their country, Israel."

Parashat Nitzavim opens with a powerful description of the covenant between the People of Israel and God: “Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this imprecation, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem, our God, and with whoever is not here with us today” (Deuteronomy 29:13-14).

Prior to his death, Moses gathered the entire nation, and audaciously insisted that they too are bound by the covenant ratified by their parents. How could that generation be responsible for an agreement made 40 years earlier? Some Biblical commentators suggest that the souls of all future unborn Jews were present at Sinai, and assented to the pledge. Others try to tie the binding nature of the pact to the laws of inheritance. Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, known as the Malbim, however, offers a different and less esoteric approach. He suggests that the covenant between the Jew and God is of ultimate importance. It’s not a legal issue; it’s the major factor of our religious personality! If our covenantal community is due to the commitment of that great generation that stood at Sinai, so must our covenantal identity.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Identify With, and Act for Jewish Causes

Our personal identity revolves around family, geography, ethnicity and ideology. Never forget that each Jew is an integral and irreplaceable part of the Jewish community.

Monday, September 3, 2018


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 loving kindness 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 © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 


Raising the Intensity for the Day of Judgment

As we begin to recite Selichot prayers (either late at night or early in the morning) the week prior to Rosh Hashana and during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance), we must intensify our preparations for God’s judgment on Rosh Hashana.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Happy Birthday Maestro!

Not too many people can claim to have entertained the Queen of England, played at a Presidential Inauguration, conducted symphony orchestras, appeared on numerous occasions in Carnegie Hall and at other venues of high culture, and whose nimble fingers have recorded some of the most recognized classical and modern musical compositions. Itzhak Perlman, however, is one of those very few remarkable people.

Born on August 31, 1945 in British Mandatory Palestine, Itzhak heard a classical music concert on the radio and, while yet a young child, resolved to learn to play the violin. Six years after contracting polio, resulting in having to rely on leg braces and crutches for mobility, Perlman enrolled in the Shulamit Conservatory in Tel Aviv and participated in his first concert at age 10. He and his family moved to New York, to enable young Itzhak to attend the acclaimed Juilliard School. While only 13 years old, Itzhak appeared on the popular “Ed Sullivan Show,” and again, six years later. Among his most memorable recordings, Perlman played the haunting violin solo in the theme to “Schindler’s List” and laid down the violin track on Billy Joel’s “Downeaster Alexa.”

Perlman loves to share his love of music with others as well. Since 1975, Perlman has taught at Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music and, since 2003, has occupied the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at Juilliard. Perlman also teaches students one-on-one in the Perlman Music Program on Long Island, NY, which was created in 1995 by Itzhak’s wife Toby, also a classically trained violinist. The Perlman Music Program, which began as a summer program for gifted violinists between the ages of 11 to 18, has been transformed into a year-round program.

Perlman, (whose daughter Nava, attended an NJOP Beginners Service,) has produced countless recordings, both solo and with collaborators. He has won 4 Emmy awards, 15 Grammy awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, and received the Genesis Prize from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Support Jewish Artists

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Thursday, August 30, 2018


Legendary Jewish comedian Mort Sahl shared the following anecdote during an appearance on the Merv Griffin show:

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, while meeting with President Ronald Reagan, saw three phones on the president’s desk in the Oval Office. Reagan explained that the red phone was “The Hotline” to Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev, the white phone reached NATO and the blue phone was a direct line to God. Begin asked to speak to God. After 20 minutes, he hung up and David Stockman, Reagan’s Budget Director, told Begin that the call cost $23.85.

A month later, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis visited Begin’s office in Jerusalem and saw a blue phone on his desk. Begin confirmed that indeed, it was also a phone to God. Begin responded, “It would be my pleasure to reciprocate and allow you to speak to God.” After 20 minutes, Lewis asked Begin how much it cost, and Begin responded, “a dime, because here, it’s a local call!”

On August 30, 1963, the “Moscow-Washington Hotline” was instituted, linking the Pentagon with the Kremlin, as one way of trying to directly relieve any tensions between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers. While the presence of a “red phone” and a “hotline” are apocryphal, the “hotline” was initially a teletype machine and, in 1986, became a fax machine. A secure computer link replaced the fax in 2008, enabling protected emails to be shared between the United States and Russia.

Talk of enhanced communication between the Cold War rivals, was an issue in the 1960 presidential election, and after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, where the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were closer to war than ever before. The concept of a hotline was approved, and fast-tracked.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, diplomatic messages took six hours to deliver, and it took the U.S. military 12 hours to receive and decode U.S.S.R. Chairman Khruschev’s 3,000-word dispatch regarding a settlement for the standoff. While the United States crafted its response to Khruschev, a different and less generous offer was received. Ultimately representatives of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. signed the “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line” on June, 20, 1963 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Direct communication is the best way to minimize tensions. This is good advice for life, especially for our generation, which has many electronic and indirect ways to communicate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Maharal of Prague

To the Jewish community and general population at large, the Maharal of Prague is the revered, mystical medieval rabbi who created the Golem to protect the Jews in the Prague ghetto. But the Maharal’s true contribution to Jewish life has little to do with the legend of the Golem.

The acronym, MaHaRaL, stands for Moreinu HaRav Loew,* whose full name was Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew (1520 - 1609). The Maharal is also known by the title of his most distinguished publication, Gur Aryeh (Ahl HaTorah) - “The Little Lion on the Torah.” His use of the title Gur Aryeh is a reference to Jacob’s Biblical blessing of his son Yehuda (Judah) and is significant either by reason of the fact that Loew is a derivitive of the German word for lion or an allusion to the Maharal’s ability to trace his lineage back to King David.

While the Maharal is credited with being well-versed in kabbalah (hence his assumed ability to create a Golem), his studies and commentaries in Torah and Talmud are highly regarded. The Maharal stressed the importance of understanding the p‘shat, mainly the simple, literal meaning of the words. He was also well-versed in Aggadah, the non-halachic, homiletic passages of the Talmud.

The genius of the Maharal is acknowledged by Jews from many walks of life. His work had a significant influence on the Vilna Gaon (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720 - 1797), and he was the great-grandfather of the founder of Chabad Chassidim, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (“Baal HaTanya,” 1745 - 1812). The Maharal was also well-known and respected outside of the Jewish community. He communicated with the astronomer Tycho Brahe and had a memorable audience with the Emperor Rudolf II of Austria.

*alternatively spelled Lowe

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2010.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read More about the Maharal

Visit Jewish bookstores, online venues and local libraries, for children and adult books about the Maharal and his life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Is there an Abracadabra for Repentance?

Paragraphs two and three of the first chapter of Maimonides'Laws of Teshuva” invoke the Biblical case of the scapegoat, which, in ancient times, helped effect atonement for the Jewish people, not as a magic wand, but with human intervention as part of the process.

In ancient times, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest in the Temple, offered a confessional prayer over a “scapegoat,” an animal selected to be cast away to the wilderness together with the people’s sins. Maimonides rules that “the scapegoat atones for all the sins in the Torah, both severe (iniquities for which a death penalty or excision may apply) and less severe sins, whether committed inadvertently, or and whether the one who committed them is aware of them or not.” However, the atonement can only be effected when individuals have done teshuva--repentance. Without teshuva, the scapegoat does not atone even for less severe transgressions.

Maimonides teaches that, in the post-Temple period, without the ability to achieve atonement through a scapegoat, we are left only with teshuva to achieve forgiveness. Maimonides concludes with the following powerful testament to the power of true teshuva: “Wicked persons who engaged in teshuva at the very end of their life are forgiven, to the extent that none of their illicit behavior is known to them. [In the absence of the scapegoat and the Temple service], the very essence of Yom Kippur atones for sins today, as the Biblical verse (Leviticus 16:30) explains.”

It is hard for modern sensitivities to accept the notion of achieving atonement through animal sacrifice, or to appreciate the idea of relieving accountability for one’s prohibited behavior via someone or something else’s actions. After all, Judaism’s position on forgiveness centers around personal responsibility. This concept is familiar to the modern mind. Ultimately, humankind is given free choice how to behave. But that does not mean that behaviors have no consequences. 

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While God affords humans with freedom of choice, we must realize that in most areas of life, behaviors have consequences.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Potential Energy

Parashat Ki Tavo begins by juxtaposing two important agricultural laws. First (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), the Torah instructs the Israelites to bring bikkurim, the first fruits from among the special fruits of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). When bringing the bikkurim to the Temple in Jerusalem, the farmer is to read a text invoking the bitter Egyptian enslavement of the farmer’s ancestors, the Israelites’ prayers for redemption, and a declaration acknowledging God heeding those prayers by delivering the former slaves to a land flowing with milk and honey. The bikkurim were brought in beautiful containers and the farmers were accompanied to the Temple amid great joy and pageantry.

Immediately following in the text of the Torah, is a passage about Ma’aser, tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12-16), immediately follows the paragraph of bikkurim. The Bible commands the Jews to give 1/10th of their produce to the Levites, the tribe sanctified to minister in the Temple who were not given a portion of land in the Land of Israel. This tithe is called Ma’aser Rishon, the First Tithe.

The Torah also required additional tithes, based on the seven year agricultural cycle. In years 3 and 6, Jews gave Ma’aser Ani, a tithe to the poor, which is the subject of these verses. In years 1,2,4 and 5, the Jews took the tithe, known as Ma’aser Sheini, the Second Tithe, which was to be eaten in Jerusalem (or its value spent in Jerusalem).

The farmer who brought his tithes, asks God to bless the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, to fulfill its special mission.

Why are Bikkurim, which celebrate the first fruits at the very beginning of the harvest, commemorated with such fanfare and public celebration, yet bringing the ma’aser, which offers gratitude after the harvest is complete, seems to be done privately and without any festivity? Would it not make more sense to celebrate the conclusion of an entire planting cycle, which potentially provides sustenance for an entire family, rather than make much ado about some individual figs and grapes that have matured? The same question may be asked, regarding why we expend so much effort to make big and joyous weddings, while 25th or 50th anniversary celebrations – clearly greater accomplishments – are much more subdued and smaller occasions.

The answer to all these questions may be that while Judaism believes in rejoicing in “results and outcomes,” it celebrates potential even more, because the goals are limitless.

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Brides and Grooms

Go out of your way to gladden brides and grooms at their weddings and the subsequent celebratory week of Sheva Brachot.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Moral Yoking

While organizations such as PETA and local SPCAs were created to protect animals and safeguard them from undue suffering and cruelty, the Torah has, for millennia, maintained strict laws regarding the treatment of animals.

In Parashat Ki Teitzei, the Torah presents several such laws, one of which is the following (Deuteronomy 22:10): “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” The reason should be clear. An ox is a heavier and, presumably, stronger beast of burden than a donkey. It would be unfair to both animals. The ox would become impatient because the donkey’s relative weakness would slow it down. The donkey would not be able to keep up with the ox, and that too would cause it to suffer. The Talmud (Bava Kamma 54b) extends this prohibition to all animal species.

The Ba'alei Tosafot, in their commentary on the Torah, offer a wholly different rationale for the prohibition. Think of the poor donkey, they suggest. The ox, from the vantage point of the donkey, is chewing the entire time of their work. “Why is the ox rewarded with food, and I am not?” imagines the donkey. In reality, of course, the ox is not eating. It is merely chewing its cud, a physiological reflex with which the donkey is unfamiliar. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the late dean of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem used this teaching to underscore how compassionate and empathic we must be. If we must show such empathy to a donkey, he declared, consider how we should treat one another!”

The Torah’s legislation to care for all of God’s creations, whether human, animal, or even vegetable, has been solemnly safeguarded by Jews, and to a degree, all of humankind, for over 3,300 years. When we look into the Torah, we are amazed to find numerous revolutionary ideas that speak to us today.

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Delve into the Torah’s Ethical Teachings

If you study the Torah’s ethical teachings, you will find that many are the underpinnings of our western civilization and contemporary ethos.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Mission Impossible

If you were to search the famous “Hollywood Walk of Fame” in Los Angeles, for a star with the name “Solomon Krakovsky,” you would be on a mission impossible. Solomon Krakovsky, who eventually changed his name to Steven Hill, was born on February 24, 1922, to Russian immigrant parents in Seattle, WA. After graduating high school and serving for four years in the United States Naval Reserve, he moved to New York City, in pursuit of an acting career.

In 1947, Hill was one of 50 actors accepted into the initial class of the Actors Studio, joining such notable thespians as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris. Upon graduation, his acting career skyrocketed, culminating in his being cast in 1966 as Dan Briggs, the leader of the “Mission Impossible” team. The only impediment to his success in Hollywood was the re-igniting of interest in his religious faith.

Hill tells the story that while appearing in a play, “A Far Country” in 1961, a character screams at the Sigmund Freud character, saying, “You are a Jew!” This line spoke to Hill, so much so, that he underwent a serious exploration of his faith, and ended up learning from Rabbi Yakov Yosef Twersky (1899-1968), the late Skverer Rebbe. He moved to Monsey, a burgeoning Orthodox community in Rockland County New York, to be in closer proximity to the Skverer Rebbe. 

Prior to filming the first season of television’s Mission Impossible, Hill informed the producers that he would need to leave the set early on Fridays, and could not work at all on Saturdays. The producers tried to accommodate Hill’s requests through various creative ways, such as presenting “Dan Briggs” in a mask, so other actors could take over the role. Often, Martin Landau, who played Rollin Hand, assumed the leadership of the team. By the second season, Peter Graves replaced Hill as leader.

The most notable role he played after “Mission Impossible,” was that of Adam Schiff, the DA on the NBC’s original “Law and Order.” He assumed that role from 1990 to 2000, and left the show as the longest-serving member of the original cast.

Hill died on August 23, 2016. He and his first wife, Selma Stern, had four children. In 1967, Hill married Rachel, with whom he had an additional 5 children.

Although there is still no star on Hollywood Boulevard for Steven Hill, he has left his mark through his many children and grandchildren who are faithful to his beloved Judaism.

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Seek Role Models

When looking for heroes in popular culture, seek those who have acted in an upright manner.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Dictionary for the Days of Awe

In Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance, he invokes five important and pertinent terms in his first paragraph, that are worth defining.

Teshuva – means return (click here to the week before), but connotes repentance or personal transformation and change.

Cheyt – usually defined as “sin,” really means to miss the mark (see Judges 20:17). According to Jewish thought, Cheyt is not a permanent stain; it connotes missing a target, which can be rectified by trying again (i.e. teshuva).

Aveirah - this term means the opposite of a mitzvah, a commandment. It literally means to pass, or to avoid doing something. It is basically synonymous with chet. It too implies something that was passed over, which ultimately can be repaired.

Viduy – means confession. Maimonides writes that a verbal confession is required in order to achieve proper teshuva.

– atonement or forgiveness, (i.e. Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement). It is important to note that the first four terms are human actions directed toward God, while kapparah, the goal of Yom Kippur, is the one action that emanates from God toward humankind. With these terms, we now have the tools to understand the first halacha (law) of Hilchot Teshuva (the Laws of Teshuva), which follows.

If one transgressed (aveirah) any commandment of the Torah, whether a positive or a negative one, whether deliberately or accidentally, then when one repents (does teshuva) one has to confess verbally (viduy) to God... This means verbal confession, which is commanded positively to do, and is performed by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such-and-such, and I am ashamed by my actions and will never do it again.' This is the main part of verbal confession, and expanding on it is praiseworthy… Capital and corporal punishment do not atone (kapparah) unless the recipient repents and confesses verbally. Likewise, if one does financial damage to someone, one is not forgiven unless one repents and resolves never to do it again, even if one paid back the money, for it is written, "...any sin that people commit".

English translation of Immanuel O'Levy, courtesy of Jonathan Baker: http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker/MadaT.html

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Resolve To Change

Embrace this Hebrew month of Elul, to repair relationships, confess malfeasance and resolve to do better in the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Workmen's Circle

One probably associates Yiddish with a language spoken by East European immigrants to the United States in the early decades of the 20th century, and the lingua franca of insular Chassidic Jewish sects who are somewhat fearful of modernity. But one should also associate Yiddish with “Der Arbiter Ring,” the Workmen’s Circle.

Workmen’s Circle was founded on September 4,1900, corresponding to the 10th of Elul, as a mutual aid society for Ashkenazic (Eastern European) immigrants to the United States. Eventually, the New York-based society developed affiliates all over the United States. Their goal was to sustain a secular, anti-Zionist Jewish identity through education, the Yiddish language and literature, and socialist ideals. Workmen’s Circle promoted Yiddish culture through the “Folksbiene” Yiddish theater troupe, Yiddish schools, Yiddish summer camps, and identified with the American labor movement. The Yiddish newspaper “The Forward” was associated with this movement as well. The Workmen’s Circle serviced those who sought the perpetuation of Ashkenazic Yiddish culture without going to synagogue or joining youth groups. When Bundists (members of Russian Jewish socialist organizations) joined en masse, they advocated for Workmen’s Circle to fight abusive labor practices and embrace a liberal political stance, thereby minimizing the mutual aid component. In 1920, Workmen’s Circle hit its apex with 84,000 members, 125 schools and many branches nationwide.

By the time of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s, Workmen’s Circle, still in its heyday, moved toward political liberalism.

The Workmen’s Circle saw a decrease in interest beginning in the 1960s. Medicare legislation was enacted in 1965, rendering the Circle’s medical services less critical. Much of the Jewish community prospered and joined the middle class and moved in large numbers to the suburbs. In 2010, Workmen’s Circle had 10,000 members and 20 branches.

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Chutzpah, Shlepp, Nosh

Appreciate the Yiddish words that are commonly used in English (or as part of the English vernacular).

Monday, August 20, 2018

Before Bagels On Broadway

During the 2016 election, a presidential candidate uttered the words, “New York values,” and was accused of referring pejoratively to New York Jews. Of course, he denied the allegation. There is no doubt, however, that New York is home to the largest Jewish community outside of the State of Israel, with a population well over one million. But, who was New York’s first Jew?

That man would be Jacob Barsimson. Historians teach that Barsimson was appointed by Jewish leaders in Amsterdam to travel to New Amsterdam (current day New York City) to determine its suitability as a haven for Jewish immigration, in the wake of the fall of Dutch Brazil. He left Amsterdam on July 8, 1654 and arrived in New Amsterdam on August 22, 1654, corresponding to the 9th of Elul. Since he traveled with papers identifying him with the Dutch West India Company, New Amsterdam governor, Peter Stuyvesant, raised no objections, despite his well-established anti-Semitism.

23 Jews from Recife, Brazil, arrived in New Amsterdam harbor in September. It was in Recife where the first synagogue was established in the Americas, Kahal Kadosh Zur Israel. The Recife Jews had fled Portugal’s inquisition and moved to Dutch Brazil, where religious freedom was protected. After immigrating to New Amsterdam, they succeeded in establishing the first Jewish community in (what would become) the United States. These 23 Jews actually came to New Amsterdam by accident (see this treat for the story). Stuyvesant tried to bar them, including Barsimson from New Amsterdam, but the owners of the colony, the Dutch East India Company, rejected his petition. Barsimson and Asser Levy, one of the 23 immigrants from Recife, led the nascent Jewish community of New York in obtaining religious freedoms. When in 1658 a charge was leveled against Barsimson, and he was ordered to appear before the court on Saturday, the judge brought no judgment against him since he was summoned to appear on his Sabbath.

It’s amazing how far New York Jews have come during the past 364 years.

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Prayer For The Government

Familiarize yourself with the prayer for the U.S. government (or other democratic nations) and appreciate the freedoms with which the Jews, and all minorities, have been blessed.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Special Yom Tov

Rabbi Gershon Shaul Yom Tov Lipmann Heller was born in Bavaria, Germany, to a renowned rabbinic family. He received a traditional Jewish education and studied under the legendary Maharal of Prague. By the age of 18, he was ordained a rabbinic judge in Prague. His itinerant rabbinic career brought him to Moravia, Vienna, Prague, Nemirov, Ukraine and Ludmir, Poland. He ended his rabbinic career in Kracow, Poland, succeeding the renowned Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640). He served Kracow’s Jewish community during the devastating Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1649.

In 1629, prior to his move to Kracow, Rabbi Heller was arrested and falsely accused of insulting Christianity, and was sentenced to hard labor. An influential “court Jew” paid 12,000 thalers for his release, conditioned on his departure from the country and his position. As a result, Rabbi Heller instituted two annual observances. On the 5th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the initial day of the difficulties, he would fast. On the 1st of the Hebrew month of Adar, the anniversary of his appointment as rabbi of Cracow, he created a mini Purim celebration where he would read from a special megillah he wrote, entitled Megillat Eivah (scroll of hatred). Rabbi Heller’s descendants continue to observe these dates annually.

Rabbi Heller authored a commentary on the Mishnah, entitled Tosafot Yom Tov, and wrote Ma’adaney Yom Tov, a commentary to Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel’s halachic code. Additionally, he is the author of a prayer recited publicly to bless those who avoid unnecessary conversation during prayers. Rabbi Heller passed away on the 6th of Elul, corresponding to August 19, 1654.

A story is told about Rabbi Heller’s burial site. The burial society begged a miserly man on his deathbed to donate some of his fortune to the desperate communal organizations. Were he not to accede to their request, they threatened to bury him in the far corner of the cemetery. When the “miser” passed away without offering any support, the burial society felt the need to carry through with their threat. A few days after his death and burial, all the anonymous donations offered at all the local communal institutions suddenly ceased. The connection to the “Holy Miser” was clear. Rabbi Heller instructed the burial society to bury him at the corner of the cemetery, next to the “Holy Miser,” where he lies in repose to this day.

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Revere Important Family Dates

Every family has its important dates, even those outside of birthdays, yahrzeits and anniversary. It’s important to observe them and transmit them to the next generation.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Jews Of Cyprus

The history of the Jews in Cyprus is surprisingly "benign" given the island’s proximity to both Europe and the Holy Land.

The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus was home to a significant Jewish community during the Roman era, and several synagogues were established on the island. However, in 117 C.E., the Cypriot Jews participated in an uprising against the Romans, and, in response, the Romans banned the Jews from the island. The ban was not well-enforced, and the community returned and thrived with little record of any major anti-Semitism.

During the Middle Ages there are records of communities in Famagusta, Nicosia and Paphos. However, after Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, the community dwindled and the next recorded Jewish presence did not occur until the island was under British Administration (1878).

In 1883, a large party of Russian Jews created a settlement in Orides near Paphos. Two years later, 27 Romanians arrived on Cyprus, but their settlement failed to thrive. Another colony was attempted, with the support of the Jewish Colonial Association and Ahavat Zion of London in 1897 in the areas of Margo, Kouklia and Cholmakchi. Over two dozen Romanian Jews and their families came, but, as so often happened, these colonists were not properly prepared for the challenges of the land.

The most significant connection of Cyprus to Jewish history is the role the island played in the history of the settlement of Israel. The British saw Cyprus as the perfect solution for “illegal” Jewish immigration. Less than 300 miles away from the Israeli coast, Cyprus became host to an extensive detention center for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe who were stopped from reaching the Land of Israel. Ironically, several hundred Jews who had fled to Cyprus in the 1930s were relocated to Israel and Africa in 1941, before the Cyprus camps were created.

By 1951, there were less than 200 Jews on the island. That number continued to decline until recently, when the Jewish population grew enough through professional relocations to warrant the opening of a Chabad house. On August 16, 1960, Cyprus declared its independence.

This Treat was last posted on August 16, 2017.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

International Jewish Community

Learn about the local Jewish history of areas to which you plan to travel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Is It Good To Be The King?

Parashat Shoftim addresses many issues, among them the Jewish jurisprudential system, false prophets, and the Arei Miklat, cities of refuge. The guidelines for the appointment of a future Jewish king, which also appears in the parashah, however, will be the topic discussed in this Treat.

The Torah (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) asserts that a king may be appointed, once the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land. God shall “select” the king from among his brethren of Israel. The king may not collect too many horses so he will not return the people to Egypt. He may not marry too many wives, lest they seduce him away from the proper path. Nor may he amass too much silver and gold. He shall write a Torah which shall be on his person at all times.

The Shulchan Aruch does not include in the code halachic matters that are only relevant in a post-Messianic age. Maimonides’ halachic code, the Mishneh Torah, however, does categorize such topics, and it is there (Laws of Kings chapters 1-4) that we find more details. Maimonides rules that a king may be anointed only once a legitimate prophet has identified him as the prospective king and the Sanhedrin confirms his reign.

The king wields great power and is due great homage. No one may ride on the king’s horse nor sit on his throne. After his death, all of his belongings are burned and no one else may marry his wife. His hair is cut daily and people must bow to the ground in his presence. The king does rise before great Torah scholars while in private, but not publicly.

The sages ruled that a king may have no more than 18 wives, and may only own enough horses for his entourage. He may not collect more money other than what is needed to pay his staff and his soldiers. The king may tax his subjects as he desires, to collect for his needs or to cover the costs of wars. After a military conquest, the king may take 1/13th of the resulting bootie, with the other 12 portions being evenly divided among the 12 tribes of Israel.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


With any position of leadership come privileges and responsibilities. If you focus on what you can do for others and accept the mantle with humility, you should succeed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


There are certain entertainers who are known by their first name, such as Matisyahu, Madonna, Cher, Eminem etc. Others are known by their first name, despite widespread knowledge of their last name, such as Elvis, Oprah, Lebron and Beyonce. ‘Fyvush” would fall under this category.

Philip Finkel, Fyvush in Yiddish, was born in his parents’ home on October 9, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Harry, or Tzvi Hersh, was a tailor from Warsaw; his mother, Mary, or Miriam, was a housewife from Minsk. Fyvush began his 35-year career in the Yiddish theater of the Lower East side of Manhattan at age 9. Simultaneously, he performed as a standup comedian in the so-called “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills Mountains, north of New York City.

In the early 1960s, with the Yiddish Theatre standing at the very precipice of its demise, Fyvush “crossed over” to performing uptown on Broadway. His first performance was in the role of “Mordcha” the bartender in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Eventually he assumed the title role of “Tevye” in the traveling company.

While Finkel was naturally cast for Jewish roles, he played all kinds of characters throughout his theater, movie and TV career. In 1994, Fyvush won an Emmy award for his portrayal of Douglas Wambaugh, the public defender, on the CBS drama “Picket Fences” (1992-1996).

But he will always be remembered for his unrelenting love of Yiddish and the Yiddish theater. The New York Times wrote in his obituary: “In winter he traveled to Florida to bring his valise of routines to the beachfront condominiums. Fifteen condos in 10 days, he boasted to an interviewer. In summer, like a monarch butterfly, he fluttered north to the handful of surviving Catskills hotels, sampling the borscht when there was no longer a belt and delighting the hotel denizens with jokes many had heard more than once.”

Finkel was married to Trudi Lieberman from 1947 until her death in 2008 (61 years!). They had two sons: Ian and Elliot, both musicians. He died on August 14, 2016.

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