Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Operation Peace for Galilee/ the (First) Lebanon War

In 1981, frequent katyusha rockets launched into Israel by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists located on Lebanon’s southern border, made life unsustainable for Israelis living in settlements in the Galilee. When the PLO were expelled from Jordan in 1970, they relocated to Lebanon and created havoc for Israelis living in northern Israel. A year later, on June 3, 1982, Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain, Shlomo Argov, was shot in London and seriously wounded by assassins representing the Palestinian Abu Nidal terrorist group. Three days later, on June 6, 1982, corresponding to the 15th of Sivan, the Israeli military invaded Lebanon with the goal of neutralizing the threat to Israel’s north by pushing the PLO 40 KM further north, creating an Israeli-occupied security zone. The Israeli government named the operation Mivtza Shalom HaGallil, Operation Peace for Galilee, which included 60,000 Israeli soldiers and 800 tanks, along with a massive air assault. Within hours, Israel’s Air Force destroyed the Syrian Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries in the infamous Beka’a Valley, and downed 25 Syrian fighter jets – mostly Soviet MIG 23s –neutralizing the Syrian threat. Phase one of the operation ended on August 23, 1982 with the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. The PLO subsequently moved their operations to Tunisia.

Phase two, which lasted three years, was aimed at preventing the PLO, or their Syrian allies, from returning to Beirut. Since Israeli forces were stationed in Lebanon, they were subject to daily ambushes, by a newly-formed terror organization funded by the Iranians, named Hezbollah. The massive casualties associated with these ambushes, demoralized the Israeli public. During the three-year operation, 656 Israelis were killed in action, and 3,887 were wounded. In May 2000, the Israelis removed their presence completely from Lebanon after suffering the loss of an additional 559 soldiers. About 10 Israeli civilians were killed and 248 were wounded from the missile barrages.

Another casualty of the war was the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his defense minister, general, Ariel Sharon. Support for the government soured when a very public investigation found that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was passively complicit in a horrific Christian attack on unarmed Moslem men, women and children in a refugee camp in Beirut, which followed the assassination of Lebanon’s pro-Israel Christian President, Bashir Gamayel.

The number of 656 casualties from Operation Peace for Galilee has grown recently, due to the identification of remains of some of the Missing in Action including American-born Zachary Baumel. Israelis, always aware of God’s role in the world, noted that the gematria (numerical equivalent based on assigning each Hebrew letter a value) for Mivtzah Shalom Hagalil is 656. It has been pointed out, however, that most Israelis use the less formal, Milchemet Levanon (Lebanon War). Those words too, amazingly, add up to the gematria of 656.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pray for Soldiers During Times of War

Soldiers are heroes willing to put their lives on the line to defend the values and borders of their homeland. When they go to war, it behooves the rest of the nation to pray for their safety and the success of their missions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Disputation of Paris

The month of June in the year 1240 C.E. was not a good time for the Jews of Europe. The trouble began with a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin. Wanting, perhaps, to prove his loyalty and faith to the church, he sent a letter listing 35 charges against the Talmud, many of them details of texts reputedly belittling Jesus or Mary, telling seemingly lewd stories or relaying other “offensive” messages. The letter went to Pope Gregory IX and a debate was arranged at which Donin would argue his charges against four prominent French rabbis: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel the son of Solomon of Chateau-Thierry.

The “Disputation of Paris,” as the debate came to be known, was a dispute with a foregone outcome. Although the rabbis were guaranteed their safety by the queen so that they would be free to respond, there were strict limitations on what they were allowed to say about Christianity and the Church.

The Chief Jewish spokesman, Rabbi Yechiel, responded well during the Disputation and was able to reply to and reframe the derogatory accusation of Donin. For instance, he argued that in the points brought up referring to Jesus, it was simply a matter of two men with the same name, and that these passages that they found derogatory were discussing a different man named Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the Disputation ended with a condemnation of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It was determined that these holy Jewish texts should be confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, 24 cartload of Hebrew books, including many volumes of the Talmud, were brought to Paris and burnt, this at a time before the printing press, when every volume was copied by hand! So great was the loss that the date of the burning of the Talmud was subsequently marked as a fast day that was observed by many European Jewish communities in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

The mass burning of the Talmud in the aftermath of the Disputation in Paris took place on June 17, 1244.

This Treat was last posted on June 12, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate the freedom of religion afforded to all Americans

The Founding Fathers’ addition of the “Bill of Rights” was a revolutionary moment in human history, where nation-states were enjoined to be tolerant of different forms of spiritual belief. These rights should never be taken for granted.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Importance of Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treat is reposted each year in honor of Father's Day. Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Father’s Day

Reach out to a father, yours or someone else’s, and wish them a happy Father’s Day. For anyone hoping to become a father, offer them the prayer that their dreams should come true.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Importance of Flag Day

Today is celebrated as “Flag Day” throughout the United States. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the “Stars and Stripes” as the flag of the United States. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established every June 14, as “Flag Day.” An act of Congress followed suit in 1946, making Flag Day a national observance, though not technically a Federal holiday. On June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania, became the first U.S. state to celebrate “Flag Day” as a state holiday.

Why is a flag so important? Let us illustrate by discussing another flag.

In the late 1940s, there were those in the Jewish community who felt that only a religious state established by the Messiah, and that a secular Jewish state should not be celebrated or acknowledged. When an organization with such values held its convention in Jerusalem, they asked that the flags of all the convention participants be flown in addition to that of the State of Israel, given their antipathy to the State and her flag in its early days. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in a now famous lecture given before the Religious Zionists of America, responded as follows.

“If you were to ask me, how do I, a Talmudic Jew, look upon the flag of the State of Israel, and has it any halachic value? – I would answer plainly. I do not hold at all with the magical attraction of a flag or of similar symbolic ceremonies. Judaism negates ritual connected with physical things. Nonetheless, we must not lose sight of a law in the Shulchan Aruch to the effect that: “One who has been killed by non-Jews is buried in his clothes (and not in the traditional burial shrouds), so that his blood may be seen and avenged, as it is written: ‘I will hold (the heathen) innocent, but not in regard to the blood which they have shed’ (Joel 4:21). In other words, the clothes of the Jews acquire a certain sanctity when spattered with the blood of a martyr. How much more is this so of the blue and white flag, which has been immersed in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the War of Independence defending the country and the population (religious and irreligious alike; the enemy did not differentiate between them). It has a spark of sanctity that flows from devotion and self-sacrifice. We are enjoined to honor the flag and treat it with respect. It does not require a hechsher (rabbinic approval) from the non-Jewish Union Jack.”

On behalf of Jewish Treats, Happy Flag Day!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Proudly Fly the Flag

Show your patriotism and proudly fly the Stars and Stripes today. It’s a symbol of a great nation, with great values.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Who Was a Nazirite?

One of the areas covered in Parashat Naso is about the Nazirite. This is a man or woman who opts to avoid the vices of wine and grape products, eludes any contact with the dead and does not cut his/her hair.

The Biblical verse (Numbers 6:7) informing that a Nazirite may not come in come in contact with the dead, states as follows: “He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because the consecration of his God is upon his head.”

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, of blessed memory, Dean of New York’s Yeshiva Torah VoDaath, noted that when the Torah describes (Leviticus 21:1-3) the deceased family members with whom a Kohen (priest) may come in contact, the list is more expansive. “God said to Moses; Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them: a dead person he shall not become impure among his people; except for his relative who is closest to him (his wife), to his mother, and to his father; to his son, to his daughter, and to his brother; and to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been until a man; for her he shall make himself impure.”

Why, asks, Rabbi Kamenetsky, when the Torah describes those for whom the priest may come in contact with the dead, the list includes parents, spouses, children and siblings, yet when the Torah lists those for whom the Nazirite may not defile himself or herself, the list is limited to parents and siblings?

Rabbi Kamenetsky offers a brilliant insight. Being a Kohen is not an optional status for a young man, as it is determined at birth purely by lineage. A Nazirite, however, is a voluntary vow that an individual chooses to make. What type of person swears off wine, haircuts and contact with the dead? An idealistic, somewhat ascetic young person! As such, there is no mention of children and spouses because the Nazirite has not attained a point in life where they have married and had children. Rabbi Kamenetsky cites a verse in Amos (2:11) and a Talmudical passage (Nedarim 9b) as support for his thesis.

The ability to alter one’s life drastically, as is seen by the actions of the Nazirite, cannot be accomplished by someone established in years. Rabbi Kamenetsky understood that the youth are more prone to make drastic changes and adopt idealistic actions such as that of a Nazirite.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Live in Moderation

Maimonides counseled that we should choose the path of moderation in life. Extreme actions are usually not beneficial to us. When making decisions, the middle path is often the best path.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Falafel Day

What tasty food is made out of crushed chickpeas, often served with salads, and offers itself as a healthier snack alternative? You guessed it: Falafel.

Happy International Falafel Day!

Falafel historians are unsure of falafel’s origins. Many associate its beginnings with the Copts (Egyptian Christians) about a thousand years ago who ate it instead of meat during the Christian period of “lent.” Others have even speculated that it was eaten in the period of the Pharaohs, a much earlier era. Some opine that falafel was invented in Western Asia, specifically in India, where the culture enjoyed deep frying from an early time. Etymologically, some will point to the word falafel’s association with the Aramaic/Arabic/Hebrew “pilpal” which means a small round thing, or a peppercorn. The Persian “pilpil” means long pepper. A Coptic (Christian Egyptian) dictionary cites the phrase “pha la fel,” meaning “has lots of beans.” The Oxford English Dictionary first listed the word “falafel” in 1951.

It’s hard to identify Jewish food, or Jewish music, since most Jewish food and music derive from the diaspora cultures that have hosted Jews. Even though falafel is considered the national food of Israel (and that of Egypt), it clearly came from the cuisine culture of Middle Eastern countries that hosted Jews. Because falafel is plant-based, it is considered pareve (neither meat nor dairy) in Jewish law and may be eaten with any meal. As such, it is quite conducive to be regarded as a national food of a Jewish nation.

North American Kosher fast food restaurants have been serving falafel on their menu for decades, but since the 1970s, falafel has broken through to the mainstream American market mostly due to the marketing of the Israeli Sabra brand, and is often available as street food and in vegetarian establishments nation-wide. During the same time, falafel has become very popular in Germany as well, not just in Berlin’s large Arab community, but in its gentrified strata as well.

Want to make falafel? Take raw chickpeas (if you cook them prior they will fall apart) and soak them in water overnight. Some add a dash of baking soda in the mixture. Drain and grind the chickpeas together with some spices (popular ones are parsley, scallions, garlic, coriander and cumin). The mixture is shaped into small balls and then deep-fried. If you prefer, the balls can be baked. The balls are usually placed in a pita (small bread with a pocket), adding salad, and some garnishes such as tehina (made from sesame seeds) or humus (a paste made from chickpeas).

Bon Appetite and B’tayavon!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Israel: Eat a Falafel

Find a local kosher restaurant and enjoy some fresh falafel. There, you will likely be able to learn about ways to support Israel by reading the ads on the bulletin board and speaking to the patrons.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Extended Isru Chag

Today is Isru Chag, the name given to the day that follows the 3 Pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot). Usually the main ritual manifestation on the day of Isru Chag is accomplished by omitting the Tachanun prayer, as it is on festive days. However, in regard to Shavuot, most congregations have the custom to skip Tachanun for the entire week following the festival, not just the day after the holiday. The reason is as follows:

Shavuot is the only pilgrimage festival that lasts only one day (two in the diaspora). Both Passover and Sukkot last at least a week, and they both have a festival day at the beginning and end of the holiday (two days in the beginning and two days in the end in the diaspora). The festival days also have the restrictions of Shabbat in that productive and constructive work is prohibited except that the Shabbat prohibitions of cooking (and the process of cooking) and carrying in a public domain are permitted. The intermediate days known as Chol Ha’moed, possess some characteristics of the festivals, and other features that resemble regular days. There are five days of Chol Ha’moed Passover (four in the diaspora) and six days of Chol Ha’moed Sukkot (five in the diaspora). Shavuot, however, has no days of Chol Ha’moed, although Nachmanides writes (Leviticus 23:36) that the 49 days of the Omer, the days that are counted between Passover and Shavuot, are a type of extended Chol Ha’moed between the two pilgrimage holidays.

So why does the omission of Tachanun in the daily prayers continue for a week after Shavuot? Rabbi Abraham Gombiner claims (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 131 :7) that the custom originated around the Korban Chagiga, the festival offering. Ideally, the Korban Chagiga is offered on the day of the festival, but if not, one has a week afterward to comply. On the pilgrimage holidays where there is already a built-in seven-day period, no extra time is needed. But since Shavuot only lasts a simple day, this extra week is added after the festival, not during the festival. Since the offering could be offered on these seven days, the additional week of potential festivity was recognized, and Tachanun is not recited. As such, the six days, and according to some, the seven days, (taking the extra day in the diaspora into consideration,) following the festival took on a certain level of joy.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Continue Studying Torah!

Don’t let the end of the Shavuot festival stop you from continuing to study Torah. Make sure to set aside time to continue learning Torah.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Where in the World is Moses?

The centerpiece of Parashat Yitro is the Decalogue, the Revelation at Sinai, where the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Utterances (also known as the Ten Commandments) were declared. But you may need some Dramamine if you try to identify Moses’ location during this most seminal moment in human history.

Chapter 19 of Exodus describes the preparations for Revelation as the Children of Israel arrived in the Sinai wilderness. Verse 3 informs us that Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive a message from God for the Children of Israel, describing their chosenness and the miracles God performed on their behalf. Verse 14 states that Moses descended the mountain.

On the day of Revelation, the Children of Israel saw lightning, heard claps of thunder and the enduring sound of the shofar, and the nation of Israel trembled. In the midst of these tremendous natural phenomena, God descends upon Mount Sinai (verse 20) and summons Moses to the top of the mountain. In the very next verse (verse 21), God commands Moses to “go down to the people” and enforce the Divine imperative not to approach the mountain. In verse 24, once again, God commands Moses to, “Go, get you down, and you shall come up, you, and Aaron with you; but let not the priests and the people break through, to come up to the Lord…” The next verse states: “So Moses went down to the people, and spoke to them.” Immediately thereafter (Exodus 20:1), God spoke the words of the Decalogue, the “Ten Commandments.”

Why does God ask Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai so many times prior to Revelation?

A Midrash (Sh’mot Rabbah 28:3) advances the notion that had Moses been atop Mount Sinai during the Revelation, the Israelites may have been unclear if the statements emanated from God or from Moses. Moses was therefore dispatched to be with the people so there would be no ambiguity. Why then all the instructions from God for Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai, despite being 80 years old and in great shape? Rabbi Shmuel Goldin suggests in his Unlocking the Torah Text that his sorties up and down Mount Sinai were meant to teach Moses a lesson about leadership: Ultimately, the leader is the representative of the people that he or she represents. During the greatest moment in human history, consummating God and the Children of Israel’s relationship, Moses needed to be with those whom he represented and for whom he cared. God wanted Moses to learn this lesson on his own, by going up and down Mount Sinai.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Green Cheesecake At Midnight

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

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

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

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

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

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

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

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sleep on Shabbat to Enable Shavuot Torah Study

Although one should not prepare on Shabbat for events that take place after Shabbat, taking a nap this Shabbat is permissible since it will provide the energy and stamina to study Torah on the night of Shavuot, this coming Saturday night.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Give Them a Choice

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for the Torah

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparation is a Key to Success

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration” is attributed to American inventor, Thomas Edison. The same applies spiritually. One only grows spiritually with assiduous preparation and hard work.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Littlest Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on June 6, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Day of Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Contemplate Jewish Chosen-ness

If Jews historically accepted being God’s “chosen people” on this day, what does that unique selection mean for us in our lives?

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

King David's Day

According to tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot. To try and summarize the life of King David in a 300 word Treat would be impossible. In the annals of Jewish history, David was more than a king. He was a shepherd, a warrior, a scholar and a poet -- and these descriptions do not even begin to describe the complex personal life of David and his family. 

There are many reasons given to explain why King David was considered so extraordinary, but the Midrash reveals that he was unique even before he was born. According to The Midrash, God showed Adam the entire future of humankind. Adam noticed one particularly bright soul that was full of potential but had no years of life attached to it. Adam offered to give  this soul 70 years of his own life. Thus it was that David lived exactly 70 years, and that Adam lived 70 years short of a complete millennium.

David was born the eighth son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. He was born under what seemed to be questionable circumstances (click here to read more). In addition, according to Talmud Sotah 10b, he had the unusual distinction of being born circumcised.  

The Midrash also notes that King David's death was unusual. The Talmud, Shabbat 30a, relates that David was aware that he would die on Shabbat and wished to die on Sunday instead so  that he could be buried without any delay. God told him that this was not possible, but David took matters into his own hands. He spent every Shabbat immersed in Torah study so that the Angel of Death would have no power over him. Not to be put off from his Divine mission, the Angel of Death caused a great noise in the orchard beside David's study. David continued to study as he went to see what the noise was, but paused momentarily when a step broke beneath him. In that moment, the Angel of Death completed his mission.

This Treat was last posted on May 17, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book of Ruth

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

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

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

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

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

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, which, according to tradition, is the anniversary of David's birth and death.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Familiarize Yourself with the Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth, one of the 24 volumes of Tanach (Jewish bible) was canonized and included in Jewish Scriptures for a reason. Find a commentary with which you are comfortable and study this penetrating and relevant book.

Monday, June 3, 2019

A Different Set of Loaves

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

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The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating next Saturday night (June 8), is the only holiday not listed in the Torah by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer), the day on which the Omer Sacrifice was offered. The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

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

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

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

Like all holidays on the Jewish calendar, Shavuot celebrates both the “mundane” and the holy, and, in this way, reminds us that nothing in life is mundane.

*This Treat was originally published on May 21, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Shavuot Plans

If you have not yet made plans for the festival of Shavuot, now is the time to begin preparations.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Lions and Jerusalem Day

The original city of Jerusalem, conquered by King David from the Jebusites, is now known as Ir David, situated in the Silwan neighborhood, south of the Temple Mount. Over time, Jerusalem moved up the hill northward to the area now known as “The Old City” and, eventually, was surrounded by a wall. The city limits moved outside of the Old City walls in 1860, with the establishment of the Jewish neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Since that time, “West Jerusalem” has grown exponentially and represents the vast area that constitutes the municipality of Jerusalem.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan took control of “East Jerusalem” which included the Jewish Quarter of the “Old City,” the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and Ir David, and expelled all Jews from the territory that had been conquered. During the 1967 Six Day War, the city was reunited, and Israel became the sole sovereign power over Jerusalem and annexed the city (although the Israeli government agreed to allow the Temple Mount to remain under the Waqf, the Islamic authorities, under the auspices of the Jordanian government.) In August 1980, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 478 to declare Israel’s annexation over East Jerusalem (where many Arabs reside) null and void by a vote of 14-0 (the U.S. abstained). This was one of seven similar UNSC resolutions.

The Old City’s walls were built between 1535 and 1542 by the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent.” These walls included six gates which allowed access into, and egress from, the city: the Damascus Gate (facing Damascus on the north), the Dung Gate (referenced in Nehemiah 2:13-14), the Zion Gate (or the “Prophet David” gate, near the burial site of King David), the Jaffa Gate (facing Jaffa on the west), the Golden Gate (which led to the Temple Mount; Suleiman sealed it up in 1541), and the Lion’s Gate. Until 1887, the gates were locked at night.

Most of the names of the gates make sense. Either they describe a direction, or reference something from a previous generation, or in the vicinity of the gate. The anomaly is the Lion’s gate, which has four lions engraved into the wall above the gate, said to celebrate Suleiman’s victory over the Mamelukes in 1517. Others claim that Suleiman’s predecessor, Selim I, dreamed that lions would kill him were he to fulfil his plan to raze the city. The dream traumatized Selim, and he committed to build walls to fortify Jerusalem. Of note is that the lion has been the symbol of the Tribe of Judah, the seat of Jewish monarchy since Biblical times (Genesis 49:9).

A popular Israeli tour guide offered the following unsubstantiated rationale for the naming of the Lion’s Gate since it does not seem to be named for any reason connected to the city and/or her history. He notes that it was the Lion’s gate on the northeastern side of the Old City, where the Israeli paratroopers entered East Jerusalem during the Six Day War. Moments later, Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the 55th Paratrooper Brigade that liberated East Jerusalem, uttered the three iconic words every Israeli knows by heart: “Har Ha’bayit Be’yadeinu,” the Temple Mount is in our (Israeli) hands.” Gur, born in Jerusalem, was destined for this moment. The tour guide noted that “Gur” means lion cub in Hebrew. He suggested that the Lion’s Gate was named prophetically for a future event of seismic importance!

Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 52nd anniversary of Motta Gur’s declaration, is observed this Sunday, the 28th of Iyar.

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Relive the Reunification of Jerusalem

Jerusalem Day celebrates a miraculous battle that occurred 52 years ago, that resulted in the liberation of Jerusalem. Many remember “where they were” when they heard that Jerusalem had been reunited, in the midst of the Six Day War. If you do not remember, you can relive it through the Israeli army’s archives, a version of which can be found here.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Be Strong!

For many readers, completing a book leaves one with a variety of feelings. Some people have a sense of satisfaction, others of relieved accomplishment, and still others are left with a vague sense of longing for the book to continue. For those who so strongly connect to the book that  they are reading, these emotions are very real.

It is interesting to note that it is a custom among Ashkenazic Jews to acknowledge the significance of completing a book.

The Torah is divided into the Five Books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Each of these books is divided into parashiot (singular form is parasha) that are read in order on a weekly basis.  At the conclusion of the reading of the final Torah portion of each of the Five Books, the custom is for the congregation to rise and call out “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchasek - Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.” The Torah reader then repeats the phrase after the congregants.

The phrase chazak, chazak v’nitchazek can be sourced back to several biblical verses where similar terminology is used, such as  “Only be strong, and let not this book of the law depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:7-8). Many understand that the point of reciting this phrase in synagogue is to serve as a call to the congregants to strengthen themselves and continue their dedication to the Torah, particularly as they begin the next book of the Torah. Conversely, it can also be understood as a call for the congregants to be strengthened in their faith and practice from all that they have learned in the Torah book that they have just completed.

This Shabbat, we complete the reading of the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra) when we conclude the Torah portion, parashat B’chukotai. We look forward to beginning the next Book of Numbers (Bamidbar).

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What Torah Are You Studying?

Torah study should be a daily companion to each and every Jew. Identify Jewish-oriented classes being offered in nearby synagogues, Jewish centers or online.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Jewish Buckeyes

In 1817, when a pioneering watchmaker, Joseph Jonas, settled in Cincinnati, OH, from his native England, a permanent Jewish presence in Ohio was established. The Cincinnati Jewish immigrants held their first communal synagogue service in 1819, which led to the founding of Ohio’s first synagogue, the Orthodox B’ne Israel, in the Ohio Valley.

Two decades later, German Jews, led by Simson Thorman, raised in the Reform tradition, relocated to Cleveland, on the other side of the state. The first known Jew in Cleveland was Daniel Maduro Peixotto, who arrived in 1835 to teach at Willoughby Medical College. In 1839, these German immigrants founded the Israelitish Society, Cleveland’s first synagogue and Ohio’s second. Jewish German immigrants also arrived in Cincinnati in 1841 and founded the Bene Yeshurun Congregation. By 1850, Ohio’s six Jewish houses of worship were located exclusively in Cincinnati (four) and Cleveland (two). Prior to the American Civil War in 1860, Jewish communities were founded in five other Ohio cities: Columbus (1838), Dayton (1850), Hamilton (1855), Piqua (1858) and Portsmouth (1858). The Civil war saw 1,004 Jewish Ohioans participate as soldiers, a Jewish delegation second only to that of New York State.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews moved to Ohio in large numbers, populating cities such as Youngstown, Akron, Toledo and Canton. The American Jewish Year Book in 1902 recorded an organized Jewish presence in 18 Ohio cities, practically every major city, with 16 of them hosting over 50 Jewish organizations.

The founding of the U.S. Reform movement cannot be chronicled without mentioning Cincinnati. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded the Israelite in 1854, the first English language Jewish paper published west of the Allegheny Mountains. Rabbi Wise organized the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873 and, in 1875, he founded the first American rabbinical seminary (Reform), Hebrew Union College, all in Cincinnati.

It wasn’t until 1941, 65 years later, that the famed Telshe (pronounced “Telz”) Yeshiva, was relocated from war-torn Lithuania, to Cleveland.

At the close of the 20th century, 90% of Ohio’s Jews lived in one of three cities: Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, with approximately 80,000 Jews in the greater Cleveland area, and about 25,000 each in Columbus and Cincinnati. As of 2017, approximately 148,000 Jews resided in Ohio.

Joseph Jonas, the first Jew in Ohio, died on May 5, 1869, corresponding to Iyar 24.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn the Jewish History of Ohio

Before you travel to, or through, Ohio, learn its rich Jewish history.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


On this “Brisket Day,” celebrated annually on May 28th, it behooves Jews to contemplate our obsession with this delicious and popular holiday main course.

Brisket is considered one of the most desired “primal cuts,” i.e. those slices that are made first when butchering beef. The brisket can be found on the lower chest of the animal, below the chuck and above the shank. The brisket muscles support about 60% of the weight of the animal as cattle do not have collar bones. To be enjoyed as part of a meal, the brisket must be cooked correctly, since it includes much connective tissue, which takes a while to tenderize.

Although brisket can be traced to native Americans living in Southern Texas, it also is the stereotypical entrée at Jewish celebrations. The brisket is the source for pot roast, and for various deli types such as corned beef and pastrami. But, the brisket is also a staple in almost all meat-eating cultures.

So how did brisket become a popular kosher cut?

There are halachic (Jewish legal), economic and practical issues that resulted in brisket becoming such a popular Jewish cut of meat.

From the time of father Jacob, the gid hanasheh, the sciatic nerve, found on the lower hind part of the animal, may not be consumed by Jews. Since a brisket’s source is the front side of the cow, it will always be kosher, (assuming the animal was slaughtered properly and was not terminally ill at the time of death.) Removing the gid hanashe, is a specialty reserved for a few elite butchers and rabbis. This de-veining process known in Hebrew as nikur, and in Yiddish as treibering, is very difficult and expensive. In the U.S. today, most kosher supervisory agencies do not certify hind quarter cuts, such as sirloin, because of the expense and their proximity to the prohibited sinews. Even if kosher supervisory agencies were to permit hind quarter meats, the butchering required to remove them would still make it more economic to sell the entire hind quarter to non-kosher processing facilities.

Others note that since cooking the brisket is time-consuming and briskets cannot simply be grilled, its price was relatively low, which is why restaurants opt for more efficient cuts, and the demand was lower. Ironically, since brisket has become so popular, its price has indeed risen. Ribs, also from the front of the animal, are not as popular, since they could be processed more efficiently, and hence, are more costly. Also, since the brisket is a large cut, it’s conducive to a large gathering, such as a holiday celebration.

So, whether you celebrate with a brisket sandwich, a pot roast or some deli, enjoy the day, and appreciate the Jewish connection.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kosher Supervisory Agencies

With the advances of technology and the proliferation of kosher consumers, hundreds of kosher supervisory agencies place their kosher trademarks on millions of products. Familiarize yourself with the kosher symbols so proper kashrut can be observed.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Flying Rabbi

On October 24, 2011, a memorial to the Jewish chaplains of the United States Armed Services was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery. The 14 Jewish chaplains whose names were inscribed on the plaque all perished while serving their country. 

Today, Jewish Treats presents a short bio of Rabbi Louis Werfel (1916-1943). Rabbi Werfel attended Yeshiva College and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), both schools of Yeshiva University. After receiving his ordination from RIETS, Rabbi Werfel and his wife Adina, moved to Mount Kisco, NY, where he accepted a post at the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation. The next year, however, Rabbi Werfel was assigned to a rabbinic position at Knesseth Israel Synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Not long after they moved, the United States entered the Second World War and within a few months, Rabbi Werfel decided that it was his duty as a rabbi and as an American to enlist as a chaplain. In August 1943, after nearly a year of training and work on U.S. bases, Rabbi Werfel was deployed on his first over-seas assignment - North Africa.

As a result of the many military bases in North Africa, Rabbi Werfel often found himself flying from one base to the next in order to serve his congregation of soldiers. In fact, he flew so often, that the popular chaplain was nicknamed "The Flying Rabbi." 

On the second night of Chanukah, after Rabbi Werfel conducted a Chanukah service for troops stationed in Casablanca, the plane that transported Rabbi Werfel crashed in the Algerian Mountains. The next day, December 25, 1943, his young wife was informed of his passing. He was only 27 years old. He was deeply mourned by his family, his military colleagues and throughout the extended American Orthodox community. 

Rabbi Werfel gave his heart, his soul and his life in service to the soldiers of the U.S. Military. His story, like the story of each of the 14 men engraved on the Jewish Chaplain's Memorial, is one which we should take to heart and remember.

This Treat was last posted on December 25, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remember the Sacrifice

In addition to the commercial and seasonal associations with Memorial Day, find time to contemplate the sacrifice made by those members of the military and their families, who have guaranteed the freedoms that we enjoy.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Take A Sabbatical

It is interesting that the two most common professions which offer sabbatical leaves are academia and clergy. These two professions are fields in which practitioners devote a great deal of time to research and study.

The idea of the sabbatical rest is Biblical in origin. “For six years you will sow your field, and for six years you will prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But the seventh year will be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to God; you will neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard”(Leviticus 25:3-4).

The merits of an agricultural sabbatical year are obvious. A field lying fallow is able to renew its spent nutrients. From the theological point of view, a sabbatical year from working the fields was an active demonstration of the people’s faith that God would take care of them.

At the same time, however, the sabbatical year was also a gift to the farmers. In Jewish life there was nothing more important than the study of Torah. For those who were involved in agriculture, however, finding time to devote to Torah study, whether neophyte or advanced, was quite difficult. During the sabbatical year, however, farmers, and all those involved secondarily in agricultural trade, were able to learn at the feet of the scholars (as most learning was oral at the time).

Like Shabbat, the Sabbatical year (known as Shmittah) was an extended opportunity for the Jewish people to recharge their “spiritual batteries.”

This Treat was last posted on September 29, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Recharge Your Spiritual Batteries

What do you do to make sure your spiritual connections remain strong? Judaism has asked this question (and provided solutions) since the dawn of time.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bows and Arrows

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on May 3, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Freedom of Religion

The custom to play with bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer parallels that of dreidels on Chanukah. When the autocratic governing powers outlawed the study of Torah, these toys were used as excuses if and when troops came by. Fight for, and be thankful for, the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Lag Ba'omer

The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha’omer is not observed on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba’omer. In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. "Lamed" equals 30, and "Gimmel" equals 3, thus Lag (spelled "Lamed Gimmel") Ba'omer, literally means 33 (days) in the Omer.

Because the mourning period is now over or suspended for the day, Lag Ba’omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during most of Sefirat Ha’omer) and haircuts.* Some have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which the child first begins to learn Torah. Since haircuts are delayed until after the period of mourning, and because there is Kabbalistic significance to hair, many put off the hair-cutting ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba'omer.

Lag Ba’omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famed Talmudic Kabbalist whose teachings are revealed in the Zohar. In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron (near Safed) to observe his yahrtzeit near the cave in which he was buried. As per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated rather than mourned.

It is also common for families and friends to gather together for a bonfire and/or picnic on Lag Ba'omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the word Zohar translates to “shining light,” and bonfires bring light to the world.

*Some people observe 33 days of mourning starting from the beginning of the month of Iyar until three days prior to Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

Lag Ba'Omer begins tonight at sunset.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Find a local Lag Ba’omer Bonfire and enjoy the festivities!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Happy Birthday Birkat Hamazon!

The Torah (Exodus 16:1) reports that the Children of Israel arrived at the Wilderness of Sin on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, approximately one month after the exodus from Egypt. The Torah relates (Ibid. verses 2-4) that the Children of Israel began complaining to Moses and Aaron about the “wonderful” foods they ate in Egypt and their current lack of culinary choices. God tells Moses to inform the nation that manna would begin falling to feed the nation.

The Biblical commentator Rashi asks: Why was this particular date so important to be worthy of mention in the text? The Torah rarely mentions actual dates. Rashi explains that on this day, the 15th of Iyar, the supply of matzah and food that the Children of Israel had brought with them from Egypt had been completely consumed. Rashi notes that on the following day, the 16th of Iyar, a Sunday, the manna began falling.

The day the manna was introduced to the people is another significant anniversary, as the Talmudic passage below indicates: “Rabbi Nachman stated that Moshe established the first blessing of the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals,) “He who sustains the world,” when the manna began falling. Joshua established the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon, “the blessing of the Land,” when the Children of Israel entered the land of Israel. King David and King Solomon established the third blessing, “He who builds Jerusalem.” King David composed the words, “Be merciful, God, our Lord, upon Israel Your nation, and upon Jerusalem, Your city.” King Solomon added, “upon the great and holy Temple…” The fourth blessing, “He who benefits and causes benefit” was established by the Sanhedrin in Yavneh, after the dead from Betar were finally [permitted to be] buried” (Berachot 48b).

Imagine the glee of the Children of Israel when they literally received “manna from heaven” just as their food supply ran out. Who better than our greatest prophet, Moses, could compose the opening lines of Birkat Hamazon! Next time you recite, or even sing, Birkat Hamazon, think about the miraculous manna.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Feed the Hungry

When eating and reciting Birkat Hamazon, think of those who do not have enough to eat. There are many worthy organizations that help feed the hungry. Support them financially or consider becoming a volunteer.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Second Passover

On the first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel prepared to celebrate their first Passover as free people. God decreed that they should eat matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in commemoration of the great event, and, most importantly, that the Israelites should all partake of the Passover sacrifice (lamb).

On the eve of that second Passover, Moses was approached by a group of distraught men. “We are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering to God in its appointed time among the children of Israel?” (Numbers 9:7).

Contact with the dead renders a person tamei, spiritually impure, and any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Paschal lamb.

In response to their plea, Moses sought instruction from God. God responded that anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a far-away journey at the time of the Passover offering (14th of Nisan), would then offer the Pascal lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Those celebrating “Pesach Shaynee” (Second Passover) had to eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Passover.

Today, without a Temple, no one is able to bring a Passover sacrifice. Thus the laws of Pesach Shaynee have little practical effect in day-to-day Jewish life. However, there is a custom to eat some matzah on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Shaynee for ourselves and for future generations.

2019: The 14th of Iyar this year began on Saturday night, May 18 and ended on Sunday, May 19 at nightfall.    

This Treat is retreated annually.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Second Chances

Although Pesach Sheni was observed yesterday, any day is a great opportunity to seek out second chances.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Don't Shame The Name

The concept of “Chilul Hashem,” desecration of God’s name, is first mentioned in the Torah in Leviticus (22:32), when the Jewish people are commanded: “You shall not shame My Holy Name; and I will be sanctified amongst the people of Israel, I am God.”

Based on the grammatical structure of this sentence, it seems quite obvious that the only way not to shame God’s name is to sanctify God among the people of Israel. These words are much akin to a mother saying: “Don’t do anything to embarrass the family.” Which, of course, really means, “Go out and make us proud, honey.”

This commandment reminds us that all of our actions are a reflection not just on ourselves, but on the Jewish People and, most importantly, on God. 

Technically, the term Chilul Hashem refers to an act that is deliberately and willfully committed against the Torah. And a true Chilul Hashem is one in which an unseemly action takes place in front of other Jews (a quorum of 10).

However, colloquially, the term Chilul Hashem refers to all inappropriate actions that make Jews in general, and therefore God, look bad. When the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, they, in effect, accepted “ethical monotheism”--a full understanding that there were rules by which they would lead their lives.

Examples of Chilul Hashem can be as obvious as a Jew committing a crime, to the far more subtle acts of bad public manners, such as when a Jew cuts in front of another person in line or is rude to a store clerk. Alas, the Jewish Nation is made up of people, and people are, above all else, fallible. Therefore, living our lives to sanctify God’s name is a goal toward which each of us must strive, even if not all of us achieve it.

This Treat was last posted on February 1, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Live Knowing People See You as a Jew

Live your life knowing that during every moment, others will see your actions as representing Jews and Judaism.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Israeli-German Relations

On the 11th of Iyar, 1965, corresponding to May 13, Israel officially established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of (West) Germany (FRG). This event is quite notable since Israel was established in the shadow of the Holocaust, that was perpetrated by the previous German government. Israeli suspicion of, and anger toward, the Germans was widespread in Israel for many decades after the Holocaust.

Prior to official diplomatic contacts, the relationship between Israel and the FRG was purely financial, based on Germany’s payments of reparations to Israel for the heinous and murderous behavior of its predecessor government, Hitler’s “Third Reich.”

The Israeli public was bitterly split over accepting reparations from Germany.

In the early 1950s, Israel functioned under a policy of austerity due to the debilitating 1948 War of Independence, high unemployment and Israel’s absorption of tens of thousands of Jews from Europe and the Arab countries. Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion saw reparations both as a moral imperative as well as a practical means of alleviating Israel’s financial crisis. Ben Gurion argued that reparations should be accepted so “the murderers do not become the heirs as well.” Those opposed to reparations felt that it might serve as an expiation of the Nazis for their unspeakable crimes. Since this debate occurred only a few years after the Holocaust, the emotions were very raw.

Prior to the Knesset debate over reparations on January 7, 1952, 15,000 opponents rallied in Jerusalem’s Zion Square against the reparations bill, which ultimately passed 61-50. The rally turned violent, and ultimately disrupted the debate in the Knesset chamber, which was then located nearby on King George St. Menachem Begin, the leader of the opposition and a Holocaust survivor, gave a fiery speech at the rally against reparations, standing under a banner saying, “Our honor shall not be sold for money; our blood shall not be atoned by goods. We shall wipe out the disgrace.” Begin passionately told the crowd that when Haganah forces fired on the ship, Altalena, in Tel Aviv harbor in 1948, on which Begin himself was aboard, he famously ordered his Irgun forces not to return fire. “Now, however,” Begin told the crowd, “I will give the order to fight back.”

The reparations agreement was signed on September 10, 1952. The FRG paid Israel a sum of 3 billion German marks over the next 14 years, and 450 million marks to the World Jewish Congress. As of 2007, Germany has paid $25 billion Euros in reparations to the State of Israel and to individual Holocaust survivors.

Today, Israel maintains an embassy in Berlin and a consulate in Munich. Germany has its embassy in Tel Aviv and honorary consuls in Eilat and Haifa.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Money Can’t Buy Everything

While money can purchase a great deal, pride, morals, faith and repentance cannot be bought. Think about what is not for sale in your own life.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Jews and Chocolate Chips

Happy National Chocolate Chip Day, not to be confused with National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, which falls annually on August 4th.

Legend maintains that chocolate chips, also known as chocolate morsels, were invented around 1938 by a woman, Ruth Wakefield, at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Kenneth and Ruth Wakefield purchased an historical Cape-Cod style home originally built in 1709, which had served as a stop for voyagers during colonial times. Patrons paid their road toll, changed horses, dined, and slept there. Like many great inventions, the legend claims that it was serendipitous: Ruth chopped up some chocolate and added it to the cookie dough, and soon noticed that the morsel of chocolate did not fully reduce into the dough. Another version claims Ms. Wakefield was given a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream, but felt it needed something else. She then chopped up pieces from a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar into the cookie. The chocolate chip was born. Supposedly, soldiers from Massachusetts shared the delicious desserts with fellow GIs, all of whom requested of their loved ones stateside to send Toll House cookies. The Nestle Company contracted with Ruth Wakefield to include her chocolate chip cookie recipe on the packaging of their chocolate bars, in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate. To this day, Nestle’s brand of chocolate chips are used to make “Toll House Cookies” after the venue where they were allegedly invented.

Chocolate Chips became so ubiquitous and desired, eventually the kosher community wanted non-dairy cookies, so they could be enjoyed with both dairy and meat meals. The pareve (neither dairy nor meat) Toll House cookie recipe substituted oil for butter and used Nestle non-dairy chocolate, so at least one group of its many fans came from the kosher community.

In mid-2012, a popular Trader Joe’s chocolate chip brand that was pareve was suddenly labeled as dairy. The kosher overseer, OK Laboratories, claimed that the new designation was not related to the ingredients or recipe, but resulted from cleaning the production lines. The OK maintained separate milk and pareve chocolate lines, but there was a hopper in the filling line (where the chocolate chips are bagged) that needed to be thoroughly cleaned each time the lines were changed from milk to pareve. Trader Joe’s, however, decided that it was not economically worthwhile to clean the hopper any longer, rendering all the chocolate produced on those lines as dairy.

Happy Chocolate Chip Day. Be thankful that some chocolate chips are still pareve, so no impediment exists to eating delicious chocolate chip cookies with either meat or dairy meals.

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