Monday, January 15, 2018

The Thing About Nails

If you are a fan of manicures, you might be surprised that Jewish law has a thing or two to say about nail care. For instance, traditional Jewish thought discourages cutting one’s fingernails and toenails on the same day as it is said to lead to forgetfulness. It does, however, encourage a person to cut their nails on Friday in particular as part of one’s Shabbat preparation.

One would not naturally think that such a mundane activity as nail care could have spiritual ramifications, but it does. One such example is the fact that it is considered hazardous for a pregnant woman to step on discarded nails. This is based on the statement in the Talmud: Three things were said about nails: “One who buries them is [deemed] righteous. One who burns them is [considered] pious. One who throws them away is [regarded as] wicked. What is the reason? Lest a pregnant women pass over them and miscarry” (Talmud Moed Katan 18a). No further explanation of the danger is provided.

Beyond the considered danger of haphazardly discarding one’s nails, Jewish tradition also strongly suggests that one not cut their nails in order. Reference to this custom can be found in texts from the early Middle Ages along with the implication that cutting one’s nail sequentially might lead to forgetfulness,  poverty, and, even, God forbid, the death of one’s children! The preferred order, which has its roots in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), is to begin with the left hand and trim the ring finger, index finger, pinky, middle and the thumb. Switching to the right hand, one then trims the index, ring, thumb, middle and then pinky. This custom applies to fingernails only.

Self Help

Take time to take care of yourself.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Name Full of Promise

The best-known Hebrew name of God is spelled Yud - Hey - Vuv - Hey. It is a name considered so sacred that we never verbalize it, but instead read it as Ah-doh-nai (meaning “my Master”), and in speech and non-sacred texts it is replaced by the term Hashem (literally “the Name”).

This holy four-letter name of God, known as the Tetragrammaton, is found throughout the Torah and the Jewish liturgy. The familiarity of the use of this name makes God’s statement in Exodus 6:2-3 particularly interesting. After Moses despairs of success on his mission to liberate the Israelites, God says to him: “I am Hashem (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey). Even when I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as E-l Sha-dai (another name for God that is commonly translated as “God Who Sets Limits” ), by my name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey I did not make Myself known to them.”

If God’s Name, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, is such an important name and is used throughout the Book of Genesis, is it really accurate to say that the patriarchs and matriarchs were unfamiliar with it? The commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, Provence, France 11th century) explains that God was telling Moses: “I was not recognized by them [the patriarchs] by my attribute of keeping trust, and the reason for which My Name is called Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey is that I may be trusted to keep My promises but have not [as yet] fulfilled them.”

The name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey is a Name that demonstrates God’s eternal omnipresence because it conjugates the Hebrew verb “to be” as past-present-future melded into one. God is telling Moses that He will fulfill the promise from Genesis 15, in which He told Abraham that his descendants will be enslaved in a strange land but that eventually they will go free with great wealth. It was a promise that spanned generations, but whose time had now come to be fulfilled.

Eternal Contemplation

As you celebrate Shabbat, contemplate the eternity of God and the incredible history of the Jewish people.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Stories from Safed

The city of Safed in the northern Galilee is one of Israel’s most popular tourist destinations. One of its primary draws is its magnificent synagogues whose congregations date back to the Middle Ages and the era of the kabbalists (mystics). Many of these famous synagogues, however, were actually rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century, after their original buildings were damaged or destroyed by a powerful earthquake on January 1, 1837, the 24th of Tevet. In a city known for holy synagogues, the stories of what happened to these buildings provides insight into the city’s communal priorities.

The Abuhav Synagogue was built by Jews expelled from Spain who had been disciples of Rabbi Isaac Abuha (14th century Spanish Talmudic scholar). Among the synagogue’s prized possessions is a Torah scroll written by Rabbi Abuhav. After the earthquake, the only wall of the synagogue left standing was the southern wall in which the Torah scrolls were stored.

The Avritch/Beit Ayin Synagogue was completely destroyed except for the area immediately near the Torah scrolls. The earthquake occurred at the time of Mincha (afternoon service). A minute before the quake, according to legend, Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avritch called out, “Whoever wants to live come to me!” His congregants ran to him, and when the rest of the building collapsed, they survived.

The ARI Ashkenazi Synagogue, which had been built in the 16th century by Greek Sephardim but had become a chassidic synagogue, was destroyed by the earthquake. Among the rubble, however, Rabbi Shmuel Heller (1809-1884) was discovered alive but buried up to his neck in debris. (He was bed-ridden for 6 months and never regained the use of one arm.) Rabbi Heller remained a leader of the Ashkenazi community, even after the quake that killed his wife and children.

Over 2,000 residents of the city’s Jewish quarter were killed by the quake and resulting landslide, along with hundreds of other victims in the northern Galilee. While many survivors decided to move, many others heeded the pleas of leaders like Rabbi Avraham Dov to stay and rebuild the community.

Life Gift

Give blood to your local blood bank.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Purims Plus in Tripoli

Throughout history, Jews have faced times of peril, and when the times of danger were over, Jews always found different ways to express their gratitude to God for their survival. In quite a few instances, this has taken the form of an annual local Purim.

In the city of Tripoli, Libya, two such Purims were celebrated and both were in the Hebrew month of Tevet.

Purim Al-Sharif, observed on the 23rd of Tevet, celebrated the end of a siege on the city by Ibrahim Al-Sharif, the Bey of Tunisia, in 1705. Al-Sharif was upset when Tripolitan corsairs captured an Egyptian ship bearing presents for him. Eventually, Al-Sharif’s troops were forced out of the city. Although the siege did not single out the Jews in particular, the Jewish community of Tripoli took upon itself an annual celebration. On this thanksgiving day, the Jews feasted, exchanged gifts and charity and did not work. On the Shabbat prior to Purim Al-Sharif, a special Mi Kamocha (Who is like You [God]) Poem, written by Rabbi Shabbeti Tayyar, was read to the community.

Purim Burghul, observed on the 29th of Tevet, celebrated the city’s release from the reign of terror of Ali el-Jezairli, who was also known as Ali Burghul. Burghul took control of the city at the behest of the Sultan of Istanbul when the ruling Karamanli family began fighting among themselves. Burghul was merciless and pressed heavy taxes upon the people, particularly the Jews. A peace between the Karamanlis was negotiated (with the assistance of a Jewish man named Rahamin Barda), and they retook the city. The Mi Kamocha commemorating these events was recorded by Rabbi Avraham Khalfon, whose son had been burned at the stake by Burghul.

References are all in the past as there is no longer a Jewish community in Tripoli.

Local Time

Participate in local celebrations and demonstrate Jewish pride in your community.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Not Such a Little Theft

The entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land is a fairly well-known narrative. It began with the miraculous battle of Jericho, which ended victoriously when the walls came crashing down (click here for more details). Far less famous, however, is the second battle fought by the Israelites in the Land of Canaan.

After the victory at Jericho and a quick scouting of the city of Ai, the Israelites presumed that they faced an easy victory. In fact, they decided to send only a small force, assuming that, just as at Jericho, God was with them. Only He wasn’t.

Before the Battle of Jericho, the Israelites were given a few specific instructions, most importantly: “You must beware of that which is forbidden , or else you will be accursed. If you take anything from that which is forbidden, you will cause the camp of Israel to be accursed, you will bring calamity upon it” (Joshua 6:18).

Fearful of the punishment, all the Israelites refrained from touching the booty of Jericho. All but one.

The first battle of Ai ended in defeat. Distressed by the outcome, Joshua resorted to a lottery for Divine guidance to determine who had sinned. The outcome identified Achan the son of Carmi from the Tribe of Judah as the violator. Achan admitted that he had taken the booty and had buried it beneath his tent. Achan and all those who knew of the hidden valuables were executed by stoning. Shortly thereafter, the Israelites captured Ai.

Achan’s story is tragic. One moment of greed led not only to the violators’ death, but to the death of the innocent soldiers who went into battle at Ai.

However, Jewish tradition relates that, before his death, Achan repented. His words of teshuva (repentance) were recorded and are found in the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer (which begins Al Kein Nekaveh an acrostic of Achan’s name) that is recited at the conclusion of each of the three daily prayer services. (Click here for the words).


Always consider how your individual actions might affect other people.

Monday, January 8, 2018

What's With The Hat?

Hair Is A Woman's Crowning Glory

Is there any question that a woman's hair is an essential element of her beauty? Think about all those shampoo commercials where a woman seductively whips her hair about--no doubt they are playing on the attractiveness of luxurious locks.

The sages recognized the significance of hair to a woman's beauty and the role that beauty plays in married life. In the Talmud (Berachot 24a), a married woman's hair is defined as ehrva, those parts of the body that are kept covered for reasons of modesty.

The practice of women covering their hair was once a societal norm (as it still is in many non-Western countries). With the changing standards of fashion and modesty, however, different forms of hair covering are seen in the Jewish community.

In some communities, women may wear a hat or bandana with some of their own hair flowing out. In other communities, women will wear hats or scarves with all of their hair carefully tucked out of sight. Wigs (called sheitels) are also common in such communities.

Among some sects of Chassidim, women keep their hair extremely short and wear both a wig and a hat.

The mitzvah of covering one's hair is known as kisui rosh.

This Treat was last posted on February 3, 2009.


Try to understand Jewish law to enhance peace among the Jewish people.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Touching the Equation

Imagine having a passion for mathematics but lacking the language to express it. Math, with all of its detailed and complex problem solving, is an extremely visual field of study. Because of math’s visual nature, a young blind man named Abraham Nemeth was dissuaded from studying mathematics when he began his academic career at Brooklyn College. Instead, Nemeth studied psychology, and even earned a Masters in the field from Columbia University. His passion for mathematics, however, never dampened.

Born on October 16, 1918, Nemeth was blind from birth, a challenge his parents never used as an excuse and were determined to teach him to explore the world. His parents and grandfather, with whom he had a close relationship, encouraged his independence in his Lower East Side neighborhood and beyond. Nemeth received a full education at the Jewish Guild for the Blind School in Yonkers, New York.

Alas, in the mid-20th century, there were few professional opportunities for the visually impaired, and Nemeth was unable to find a position worthy of his Masters in Psychology. He earned a living playing piano and working in the shipping department of the American Federation for the Blind.

Nemeth continued to explore mathematics. It was his frustration at the lack of Braille coding for anything beyond basic arithmetic that fuelled him into action. In 1950, at the encouragement of friends, he presented the American Joint Braille Committee with an entirely new system that came to be known as the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation. It is still in use today.

Shortly thereafter, Nemeth was hired to teach at the University of Detroit and then attained a Doctorate in Mathematics from Wayne State University. Nemeth was able to teach seeing students by visualizing the chalkboard before writing precise lines of equations.

In addition to his incredible achievements for the general visually-impaired community, Nemeth put his talents to use helping the Jewish Braille Institute (now JBI International) produce Jewish books in Braille and create a single prayerbook (replacing the multi-volume Braille prayerbook).

Abraham Nemeth passed away on October 2, 2013.

January is National Braille Literacy Month.

Basic Behavior

Do not make presumptions about other people.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Based in Burma

Today’s Jewish Treat presents the unexpected Jewish history of Myanmar (formerly Burma), which gained its independence from the United Kingdom on January 4, 1948.  A synagogue is among the 188 Heritage Buildings in Yangon City (formerly Rangoon).

Although there was no Jewish settlement in Burma until the 19th century, it is recorded that a Solomon Gabirol was the commissar of the army of King Alaungpaya. However, real Jewish immigration only began after the British took control of the region. In the 1800s, Jewish merchants came from India and settled in Rangoon and several smaller cities. Many of them were involved in the teakwood trade. The Burmese Jewish community came to be comprised of Baghdadi Jews, Cochin Jews and Bene Israel, three distinct communities of the Indian subcontinent. (There is also a small Bnei Menashe community in the north.) The Jews were accepted well-enough by the general community that there were at least two Jewish mayors in the country during the 20th century.

The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in what is now downtown Yangon, started out as a simple wooden structure built in 1854. In 1893, construction began at the same location (a plot of land granted by the British Colonial Government) for a stone edifice. The new building was completed in 1896. It is said that there was a second synagogue built in 1932, when the Jewish population peaked at close to 2,500 people, but no record of it remains.

When the Japanese invaded Burma in 1942, they did not persecute Jews like their German allies, but they were suspicious of them as European sympathizers. As a result, the majority of Jews left Burma. After the war there were still approximately 300 Jews, but half of them fled the 1962 military coup that transformed Burma into Myanmar and greatly limited personal freedom.

Today, the Jewish community consists of only about 20 people, bolstered by the diplomatic staff from the Israeli consulate and occasional Jewish tourists. The synagogue remains a popular tourist stop.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Community Connects

Build connections between the different elements of your local Jewish community.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Look At The Law

There are three types of laws in the Torah...mishpatim, edot and chukim:

Mishpatim are basic laws. In fact, mishpatim are generally translated as those laws which are necessary and logical for the conduct of society. Don’t steal, don’t murder, set up courts of law...statutes that are all necessary for civilization to function and could be deduced through basic common sense.

Edot are commandments which testify to an idea or mark an occasion, like a holiday. The actual performance of the mitzvah is meant as a reminder of an event or a concept. For instance, Americans celebrate the 4th of July and commemorate their independence from Britain with picnics, parties and fireworks. Jews celebrate their freedom from the slavery of Egypt by thanking God, participating in a seder filled with actions directly related to the Exodus and by eliminating bread and leavened products, just as our ancestors did. The edot, the testimonies, do not just mark days or items as part of our history, but enable us to make the spiritual connection that bonds all Jews - past, present and future.

Chukim are those laws which generally cannot be logically explained, such as keeping kosher. These laws are usually the first to be cast aside because they are often difficult to understand. Yet chukim are very important in Judaism. Indeed, chukim go hand-in-hand with the very first commandment of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God.” Since belief in God is a fundamental principle of Judaism, observing those laws known as chukim expresses our commitment to this fundamental principle of belief. Thus observant Jews keep kosher not because they believe it is a healthier diet, but because God commanded the Jewish people to live by these dietary laws.

This Treat was last posted on November 11, 2008.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mitzvah Types

As you perform a mitzvah, think about which category or categories the mitzvah might fall into.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

More Than A Book Seller

Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, born on January 2, 1836, to a poor family near Minsk, had a traditional religious Jewish childhood. After his father passed away when he was 13,  Abramovitsh lived as a yeshiva teg-essen (literally day eater) student who received free meals from different charitable families on alternating days.

In 1854, Abramovitsh settled in Kamionets-Podilsky, where he was introduced to the Haskala Movement that sought to promote secular education as a means of improving the lives of the Jewish people. He began learning Russian and other languages and  reading secular literature and philosophy. He also met Avram Ber Gotlober, a writer and poet who took Abramovitsh under his wing and even submitted Abramovitsh’s first work, an essay on education, to the Hebrew newspaper, Hamagid.

Abramovitsh’s first stories were written in Hebrew. However, after a few years, he switched to Yiddish, enabling him to address a much larger audience. In 1869, Abramovitsh’s Yiddish novel Fishke der Krumer (Fishke the Lame) included a character whose name became the nom de plume by which Abramovitsh is still remembered: “Mendele Mocher Sfarim” (Mendele the Book Seller).

In the 1870s, Abramovitsh moved away from the Haskala Movement and became an advocate of social reform. Much of his work in this era explored the challenges of the lives of the poor and sought answers for societal improvement.

In 1869, finding it difficult to support himself and his family, Abramovitsh moved from Berdechev to Zhytomer, where he trained at a government sponsored rabbinic school. In 1881, he was hired as the head of a new Talmud Torah in Odessa, where he remained for the rest of his life.

The Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem dubbed Abramovitsh the “Grandfather of Yiddish Literature.” His work was tremendously influential on the development of both Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Mendele Mocher Sfarim (Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh) passed away on December 8, 1917.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Basic Education

Even if you do not have kids in the system, help support your local Jewish educational institutions.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” This question is posed by the classic New Year’s Eve song Auld Lang Syne. The song originated in Scotland and is sung at times of farewell (to the old year, with an uncertain new year ahead).

The Talmud (Berachot 58b) cites an interesting rule about old friends and how, indeed, they are never truly forgotten. “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: One who sees a friend after a lapse of thirty days says: Blessed is He who has kept us alive and preserved us and brought us to this season. If [it is] after a lapse of twelve months he says: Blessed is He who revives the dead. Rav said: The dead are not forgotten till after twelve months, as it says (Psalms 31:13): ‘I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind; I am like a lost vessel.’”

Jewish life, however, is long on memory. The first year after a person passes away, there are numerous commemorative markers (shiva - the first seven days; shloshim - the thirty day mark; yahrtzeit - the one year mark). Afterward, the annual observance of the anniversary of death (yahrtzeit) generally keeps a person’s memory alive for many more years.

In some cases, a person who has passed away only comes to mind at the time of their yahrtzeit, just as the return of an old friend into one’s life brings back memories of times past.

The custom of greeting an old friend with a blessing is no longer in general practice. Of course, in this day of telephones, internet and the various social media platforms, it is far less common to completely lose touch with good friends. 

This Treat was last posted on December 31, 2013.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reach Out

Reach out to old friends.

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Tale from Texas

In 1968, the State of Texas decided to honor the deeds of Jacob Raphael De Cordova (June 6, 1808 - January 28, 1868) by reinterring De Cordova and his wife from their original burial place in Kimball, Texas,  to the State Cemetery of Texas in Austin. De Cordova’s claim to fame  resulted from the work he did to promote the settlement  of Texas. In the mid-1800s, De Cordova purchased large swaths of land that he sold out in parcels. Most notably,  he was one of the key developers of the planned city of Waco and actively brought settlers and businessmen to the city by developing infrastructure and giving concessions.

De Cordova did not start his career as a realtor, nor was he a native of Texas. Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, De Cordova was raised by an aunt in England after his mother died during his birth. At 17, he rejoined the household of his father, who had moved to Philadelphia. After learning the printing trade (in which his family had been involved with for generations), he returned to Jamaica and started the Kingston Daily Gleaner (a newspaper still in print) with his brother Joshua. Two years later (1836), however, he moved to New Orleans, where he began to trade with the Republic of Texas. He was drawn to the possibilities in what was then an independent territory and moved to Galveston in 1839 and to Houston shortly thereafter.

In Houston, De Cordova got involved in politics. In 1847, he was elected to one term in the Second Texas Legislature. Two years later, in conjunction with Robert Creuzbaur, he created a map of Texas. Through his travels working on this map, he saw the incredible potential of the territory.

In the 1850s, to promote settlement, De Cordova wrote several books and conducted a lecture tour to the northeast and to England. He also started two newspapers. De Cordova’s next project was planning a power project on the Brazos River, but it never developed due to the Civil War. De Cordova died in 1868. When a dam was built in the 1930s, the new reservoir was named in his honor.

This Treat was written in honor of the anniversary of Texas becoming the 28th state of the United States.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat La La

Express your love of Shabbat in song.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Sense of Guilt

At the end of the Book of Genesis, when Jacob passes away, his twelve sons journey together from Egypt to the Land of Israel to bury their father and then return to Egypt. After describing the funeral procession and burial, the Torah states: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him?!” (50:15). This is a strange question since Joseph had already assured them that he had forgiven them for selling him to the Ishmaelites, and he and his brothers had been living peaceably in Egypt for some time.

If one looks at this verse from the perspective of modern psychology, one might wonder if the brothers, after burying their father, were not experiencing a kind of unresolved guilt. The text itself shows no evidence that Joseph had demonstrated any change in his attitude toward them, and yet this was the issue that gnawed at them upon returning from the burial of their father.

According to the Midrash, Joseph did change his behavior toward them, but not from anger. The brothers worried that the kindness that Joseph had shown them while Jacob was still alive was only for their father’s sake. Apparently, according to the Midrash, after Jacob’s funeral, Joseph stopped inviting them to dine at his table. Joseph, according to the Midrash, did so because when their father was alive Jacob had assigned the seating, placing Joseph ahead of both Reuben (the first born) and Judah (the proven leader). Now that their father was not there, Joseph felt uncomfortable about inviting them to sit beneath him (which would have been the only politically correct choice).

In reaction to their fear that Joseph would be vengeful, the brothers sent a message to Joseph reiterating their repentance. In turn, Joseph repeated not only his forgiveness, but his firm belief that everything that had occurred had been part of a much larger Divine plan.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For the Fast

Fast days such as today are meant for inspiring acts of teshuva (repentance). Think about how your actions may have affected other people and apologize or forgive if necessary.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Tenth of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Tammuz] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4). 

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (in 588 B.C.E.), it was also the beginning of the end. 

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah. 

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon 

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance). 

This year, the Tenth of Tevet is tomorrow, December 28, 2017.


This Treat is posted each year before the fast. 

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Drink Up

Drink water today to prepare for tomorrow's fast. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Painting Our People

Born on December 26, 1902, in Rahachow, Belarus (in the Pale of Settlement), Anatoli Lvovitch Kaplan was a Jewish painter who celebrated his Jewish heritage and the Jewish world in his artwork even at the risk of official disapproval. In  an era of dangerous and shifting politics, Kaplan managed to both express himself and remain accepted by the Soviet authorities.

The son of a butcher, Kaplan moved to Leningrad when he was twenty years old and got himself accepted to the Russian Academy of Arts, from which he graduated in 1927. Remaining in Leningrad, Kaplan found work as a stage designer while also exploring new art forms. In the 1930s, Kaplan was included in a group of artists instructed to create artistic works about the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Stalin’s attempt to form a “Jewish state”).

Although he was initially evacuated to the Ural Mountains during World War II, Kaplan returned to Leningrad early and therefore lived through the city’s blockade during the war. He captured his experiences during the blockade in his lithographic series: “Landscapes of Leningrad Series During the Days of the Blockade.” Pieces from the Leningrad series were displayed in numerous Soviet museums.

Kaplan’s work, which is often compared to the painting of Marc Chagall, also capture the life and lore of the shtetl. Included in his wide range of works are the designs included in his illustrated Passover Haggadah (printed in 1961) and illustrations for several of the stories of Shalom Aleichem, such as the Tales of Tevya the Milkman.

Anatoli Kaplan passed away in Leningrad on July 3, 1970.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lovely Home

Fill your home with Jewish art.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Board of Deputies

The contemporary Jewish community of England began to form in the late 17th century, after a nearly 400 year ban on Jewish settlement. While the majority of the Jews who initially came to England at that time were Sephardim, it did not take long for a second community of Ashkenazim to form. The two groups of Jews were, in many respects, independent of each other. This duality came to an end after the ascension of George III to the British throne in 1760. After the Sephardim sent a delegation to pay homage to the new king, the delegation became a standing committee to deal with political issues. The Ashkenazim then set up their own separate committee. On the 7th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet that year, the two groups united to form the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

While the Board of Deputies met only intermittently during its first several decades, it received official recognition to represent British Jewry in the 1830s after it adopted a constitution. One of its first presidents was Sir Moses Montefiore, who held the position from 1838 until 1874.

Since its establishment, the Board of Deputies has acted as a watchdog and advocate not only for the Jews of the United Kingdom, but for Jews throughout the British Empire. It also serves as a lobbying commission for the protection of Jews in foreign countries. Although there have been numerous controversies throughout its existence, whether it was the initial reluctance to include new congregations or its changing stance on Zionism, the Board remains as an important voice of British Jewry today. It is populated by deputies elected from synagogues and other established community organizations. The Board of Deputies of British Jews also represents the Jews of the United Kingdom at the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Organized Together

When you are able, participate in local Jewish organizations.

Friday, December 22, 2017

An Attitude for Living

People who love language, delight in discussing the nuances of word choice. And while it may seem trivial to some, the subtle difference in choosing one particular word over another may have profound implications. Two of the most important words in the study of Torah are words that could have the same translation, but, according to tradition, have very different meanings. The two words (in their infinitive form) are la’goor and layshev, both of which may be translated as “to dwell,” but are more specifically defined as “to sojourn” and “to settle.”

There is a famous statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) attributed to Rabbi Yochanan noting that whenever the verb layshev is used, trouble follows shortly thereafter. Rabbi Yochanan cites several examples, including Israel’s settling in the Land of Egypt when they had initially come down to escape the famine and to reunite Jacob and Joseph.

“Settling” is related to the word sitting, both of which reflect a similar lack of movement. Those who “settle” put down roots and assume a specific future. Those who “sojourn,” however, intend, sooner or later, to continue on to someplace else.

Although Rabbi Yochanan's comment was made regarding the scriptural use of the word “to settle,” one might see his comments as a message for every generation. From one point of view, those who settle have no need to try to grow spiritually, whereas those who only sojourn hope to move forward.  One might also compare the question of “settling” verses “sojourning” regarding the basic Jewish belief in the imminent arrival of the Messiah. While one need not shun acts of settling (establishing a career, buying a house, etc.), one should always remember that the Messianic era may be only a moment away.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Beautiful Shabbat

Wherever you go, make your Shabbat beautiful.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Leading Lady Computer

Over the last few years, much has been written about the importance of encouraging girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Because women have, historically, been a distinct minority in the math and science professions, learning about those women who have had a major impact on today’s technology is always inspiring. One such woman was Adele Katz Goldstine, whose work in computer programming was ground-breaking.

Born on December 21, 1920, in New York City, Adele Katz attended both Hunter College High School and Hunter College, from which she received a Bachelors in Mathematics. She then went on to receive a Masters degree in Mathematics from the University of Michigan, where she also met her husband, Herman Goldstine, who was one of the developers of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer).

The Goldstines moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Adele Goldstine joined the faculty of University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. Funded by the army, the Moore School included a pool of close to 80 female “computers,” mathematicians who manually performed complex differential calculations. During the war, they analysed ballistic trajectories.

In 1945, the army decided to try to use ENIAC to compute trajectories. Goldstine, who had already written one of the earliest computer programs, was charged with training six* of the school’s “computers” to use ENIAC. The machine was made up of 40 eight-foot panels that had to be manually manipulated to run different formulas and programs. Goldstine also wrote an operating manual for the machine. The ENIAC ladies took the giant computer to the next level by engineering it to store multiple programs.

 After the war, Adele Goldstine worked on programs to be run on ENIAC for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sadly, at the young age of 43, Goldstine, who was the mother of 2 young children, lost her life to cancer in 1964.

 * The six ladies were: Kay McNulty Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth "Betty" Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Day After

Clean your menorah before you put it away so you don't have to scrape the wax off next year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Putting Chanukah in Historical Perspective

The events of Chanukah took place about 150 years after the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE), which brought 40 years of civil war to his empire. Eventually, the empire was divided into 3 smaller empires: the Antigonid Empire in Greece, the Selucid Empire in Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Judea and Cyrenaica (Libya). By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes assumed the throne of the Selucid empire in 175 BCE, Judea was under Selucid control. He began his oppression of the Jewish people in 167 BCE, after his attempt to conquer Egypt was thwarted by threats from Rome. Antiochus's initial anger at the Judeans was for the ousting of Menelaus from the office of High Priest, to which Antiochus had appointed him.

The Maccabees redeemed Jerusalem and re-dedicated the Holy Temple in 165 BCE. While they won religious freedom, the Jews never completely regained their political independence. Jewish kings reigned but were often vassals to greater political empires. Sadly, the era following the great Maccabean uprising is one known for corruption and treachery.

The Maccabeans began their reign just as a powerful new empire was emerging: Rome. Julius Caeser was born in the year 100 BCE. Just 100 years after the Maccabean victory, Pompey brought the Roman army into Judea at the invitation of Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, the two Hasmonean brothers who were vying for the throne. It was the beginning of a very sad ending to an inspiring victory!

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Bringing It On

On this last day of Chanukah, contemplate the larger meaning of the holiday and how you can bring that into the rest of your year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

THIS is Chanukah

Tonight is the eighth and final night of Chanukah. After the flames die down, many people will pack up the menorah and think little of the holiday again until next year. However, the lighting of the menorah at nightfall is only the beginning of the eighth day, and, according to tradition, the eighth day of Chanukah is the essence of the holiday.

This final day of Chanukah is known as Zot Chanukah, which translates as “This is Chanukah.” The designation comes from the eighth day’s Torah reading, the final verse of which begins with the words “Zot chanukat hamizbeiach, This is the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:88), an allusion to the ceremony dedicating the altar of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Beyond the overlap of the term chanukah (dedication), the fact is that “eight” is a significant number in Jewish life as it represents that which is beyond nature. As Chanukah is a celebration of miracles, it seems to make sense that the eighth day, the day beyond the natural week, should encompass the essence of the holiday.

It is interesting to note that the only other specific eighth day celebration is the Torah command to observe Shemini Atzeret, the Gathering of the Eighth, which is an independent holiday connected to the festival of Sukkot that celebrates the unique relationship of God and the Jewish people (whereas Sukkot itself includes the other nations - click here).

Chanukah is a holiday that commemorates the Jewish people making the profound choice to remain loyal to their spiritual heritage rather than the more immediately rewarding lifestyle of the Hellenist Greeks. And the eighth day is, metaphorically, when the people’s dedication to their heritage shines brightest.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Chanukah Heroine

Have you ever heard of Yehudit (Judith), the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, who saved her city, Bethulia, from destruction at the hands of the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes?

As the Jews in the town of Bethulia neared starvation due to the enemy siege, Yehudit told the elders that she had a plan to deliver the enemy into their hands, but they must not ask her about it. They must simply have faith in her. Knowing her reputation for wisdom and piety, they agreed.

Accompanied by one maidservant, Yehudit managed to gain an audience with Holofernes and told him that, for the sake of those suffering from the siege, she wanted the city to fall. She proposed to report to him, daily, on the status of the town’s supplies and let him know when was the best time to strike.

After several days, Yehudit felt that she and her maidservant had gained the trust of the enemy. They came and went as they pleased.

When she told Holofernes that the city had no food left and that it would be a good time to strike, he invited her to come alone to his tent to celebrate. She agreed, insisting that he partake of her ‘renowned’ goat-cheese. As he ate the salty cheese, Yehudit quenched his thirst with the heavy wine that she had brought with her. When Holofernes finally fell into a stupor from too much food and drink, Yehudit cut off his head with his own sword. The two women wrapped the head in a cloth and returned to Bethulia.

Yehudit instructed the Jewish elders to attack the Syrian-Greeks immediately.

The Syrian-Greek soldiers awoke to find the Judeans attacking and their leader mysteriously dead. The Syrian-Greek army fled in confusion and panic.

In honor of Yehudit, there is a custom to eat dairy on Chanukah.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Oh Chanukah

Tomorrow, when there will be no more candle lighting to look forward to, do something to mark the last day of the celebration of Chanukah.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Chanukah Yum

While Jewish holidays are known for their food (except Yom Kippur, of course), most of these foods are not known for being particularly healthy. Chanukah is no exception. Forget matzah or apples, those are healthy in comparison--pull out your deep fryer, because Chanukah is a celebration of oil.

Soufganiyot (that’s Hebrew for doughnut): Did you know that Homer Simpson’s favorite treat is a traditional Chanukah delight in Israel? Deep fried dough, most often filled with an injection of jelly, is how Israelis celebrate the tiny cruse of oil found by the Maccabees. This tradition probably developed from the custom among some Sephardi Jews to celebrate Chanukah with bimuelos, which are best defined as a type of fritter.

According to, the Greek Sephardi community eat loukoumades, a popular, deep-fried Greek pastry comparable to a doughnut, coated with honey and cinnamon. “Romaniotes, the Jewish community in Byzantine Greece, called this pastry ‘Zvingous/Zvingoi.’... Today both Greek Jewish communities, Romaniotes and Sephardi--who immigrated to Greece five centuries ago--make these Chanukah treats.”

Latkes: (That’s Yiddish for pancake, in Hebrew they are called levivot): Read any children’s Chanukah book today and you’ll find descriptions of pancakes made of grated potato sizzling away in oil. But, potatoes were only introduced into European society in the 1500s (they originated in South America).

Prior to the introduction of the potato to the latke, Ashkenazi Jews celebrated Chanukah with cheese latkes. Same basic idea, yummy food fried into pancakes. Dairy, however, has its own special connection to Chanukah. Dairy foods were eaten as a reminder of Judith (Yehudit), who, according to tradition, was a beautiful widow who beheaded an enemy general by plying him with cheese and wine until he fell asleep (read the complete story here).

Happy Chanukah. Now get out the griddle and enjoy!

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book(s) of Maccabees

Chanukah is neither directly ordained in the Torah (like Rosh Hashana, Passover, etc.) nor mentioned in any other biblical text (as Purim is in the Book of Esther). The Books of Maccabees are not included in the Biblical canon, because these events occurred after the sages had declared the Tanach (complete Hebrew Bible) closed to further additions (around 250 B.C.E.). Writings, such as the Books of Maccabees, which have historical import but are not included in the Tanach, are often referred to as Sfarim Chitzonim (external books) or by the Greek term Apocrypha (hidden books).

While Maccabees I was originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek translation survives (although it has been re-translated from Greek into Hebrew). Maccabees I is a historical work that describes Antiochus Epiphanes’ assumption of the Selucid throne (175 B.C.E.), the actions of the Jewish Hellenizers, and, in detail, the revolt of the Maccabees. The book concludes with the death of Simon the Hasmonean (Maccabee) and the appointment of his eldest son, John Hyrcanus, as ruler (135 B.C.E.).

Maccabees II was written in Greek, and, in the style of Greek historians, is full of drama and rhetoric. Focusing mainly on the deeds of Judah Maccabee, the leader of the rebellion after the death of Mattitiyahu, Maccabees II also includes details of the actions of the Hellenizers (power-plays and bribery were a serious problem in the priesthood at the time) and acts of sacrifice and martyrdom by those dedicated to keeping the Jewish faith.

While Maccabees III and Maccabees IV are sometimes grouped together with the first and second books mentioned above, neither of them are accounts of the events of Chanukah, nor are they accorded the same historical veracity as Maccabees I and II.
This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Delightful Doughnuts

Buy doughnuts from your local kosher bakery or try making some at home.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spin the Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!

The dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When it falls, depending on which Hebrew letter is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday?

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 B.C.E.), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the word Poh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt.


This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

These Lights We Kindle

While the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is an outward-focused mitzvah - the menorah is lit in a window or doorway - it is also an opportunity for personal reflection on the deeper meaning of the holiday. Recognizing this, a special paragraph was added to the menorah lighting ritual. Ha’nayrot Halalu, as it is called, is recited immediately after the Chanukah blessings:

These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and on the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days in this season, through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred. We are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them, in order, to express thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

Ha’nayrot Halalu reminds us that there are many extraordinary events within the celebration of Chanukah. There are the miracles, such as the single flask of oil lasting eight days instead of one. There are wonders, such as the fact that there remained even one single flask of pure olive oil still sealed by the High Priest. And there are salvations, such as the incredible courage of the small Jewish army to go into battle while so severely out-manned and their ability to overthrow the soldiers of the mighty Syrian-Greek empire.

Additionally, Ha’nayrot Halalu contains a reminder that while there are no work restrictions on one’s actions on Chanukah (as there are on the Biblical festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), one must not forget that the days of Chanukah are holy as well. Thus it is that one may not use the Chanukah candles for any purpose other than as a reminder of the many ways of God’s salvations.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Friendly Festival

Gather friends together to celebrate Chanukah.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Challenge of Fitting In

The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which almost always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph, the son of Jacob, from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah.

The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in a non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him by the name Tzaphenath Pa'nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him.

Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, he declared: “...for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).

Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession.

Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks--their dress, their language, their names--they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle.

Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rock of Ages

“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower....” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as loosely translated from the original Hebrew by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s. And while tzur may mean rock, the rest of the verse actually means:

Refuge, Rock of my salvation/ to You is a delight to give praise
Restore my House of prayer/so that there I may offer You thanksgiving
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe/
Then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar's dedication.

Maoz Tzur is one of the best known Hebrew piyyutim (religious songs/poems). Most people, however, are only familiar with this first verse (there are 5 more verses--click here to read the entire song). Thought to have been written in the 13th century, it has become a near universal custom to sing Maoz Tzur after lighting the Chanukah candles.

Maoz Tzur is a song of redemption. Its paragraphs refer to the many different exiles the Jews have endured, but also reflect the fact that God is always present in Jewish history as our Savior. The exiles are treated in chronological order:

Verse 2 - “...when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule”
Verse 3 - “...Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved”
Verse 4 - “The Agagite, son of Hammedatha (Haman)...”
Verse 5 - “Then the Greeks gathered against me...”
Verse 6 - “...Thrust the enemy into the darkness...(the word admon refers to Roman exile)”

The author of Maoz Tzur, a man known only as Mordechai (the letters of his name serve as an acrostic of the first letters of the first five stanzas), focused on each exile in order to acknowledge the redemption that God has brought the Jewish people in the past and to pray for a speedy redemption in our own day.

*Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd. 

Rich Traditions

Celebrate Shabbat and anchor your Jewish identity in rich weekly traditions.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Beauty and the Greeks

What does Noah’s son Yephet have to do with the story of Chanukah and the mitzvah of circumcision?

When the Syrian-Greeks sought to force Hellenization on the Judeans, one of the first mitzvot they outlawed was brit milah, circumcision. In fact, performing a brit milah on one’s child became a capital crime. The Syrian-Greeks found circumcision particularly offensive because of their own culture’s devotion to the beauty and perfection of the human body. The ancient Greeks are renowned for their sculptures and naked athletics. From the perspective of Hellenistic culture, the male body represented perfection. It was, therefore, unconscionable that the Jews should alter it, or maim it, especially by Divine decree.

The Greeks are known in the Bible as “Y’vanim,” the people of Yavan. They are, according to the sages, the direct descendants of Yavan, the son of Yephet, the son of Noah.

Noah had three sons: Yephet, Ham and Shem. Very little is written about Yephet other than the fact that, following Shem’s lead, Yephet covered his father’s nakedness, which had been exposed by Ham. For this noble act, Yephet is praised. (See Genesis 9).There is, however, much one can learn about a biblical personality through his/her name. The name Yephet derives from the Hebrew root (y-ph-h), which is the base of the word Yafeh, beautiful. Thus, beauty, and the admiration of beauty, are part of Yephet’s nature. Consequently, Noah blessed him: “May God grant beauty to Yephet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).

Yephet is associated with beauty and adoration of the human body, the two cultural traits that came to define Yavan-Greece. Perhaps, then, it is not so surprising that they abhorred the dedication of the Jews to the mitzvah of brit milah. 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pure Olive Oil

While a large number of Jews today light Chanukah candles, the more traditional custom is to light the Chanukah candles using olive oil. This is done in order to most accurately recreate the original Chanukah miracle.

When God instructed Moses to construct the Tabernacle in the wilderness (the vessels of which were eventually placed in the Temple in Jerusalem), He specifically stated: “And you will command the children of Israel, to bring to you pure olive oil, pressed for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually” (Exodus 27:20).

Pure olive oil, known in Hebrew as shemen zayit zach,* is the first drop of oil when the olive is first squeezed or pressed. The Mishna states that there is nothing better than the first oil of the first crop, and the sages of the Talmud described the process of how this oil was produced:

“The first crop is when the fully ripe olives are picked from the top of the tree; they are brought into the olive-press, are ground in a mill and put into baskets. The oil which oozes out is the first kind [of oil]. They are then pressed with the beam, and the oil which oozes out is the second kind” (Talmud Menachot 86a).

Olive oil, which burns slowly, cleanly and without an unpleasant odor, has many uses both in daily life and in Jewish rituals. Indeed, oil is one of the ingredients that was offered with the sacrifices in the Temple. However, only the menorah required the purest shemen zayit zach from the first pressing.

“If the candlestick, which does not need [the oil] for eating [but as fuel], requires pure olive oil, how much more do meal-offerings, which [need the oil] for eating, require pure olive oil! But the text states, pure olive oil beaten for the light, but not ‘pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings’” (Menachot 56b)

*It is interesting to note that the words shemen zayit zach, when written in Hebrew, are composed of eight letters, one of the many interesting allusions to Chanukah that are hidden in the Torah  (as found on

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.