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 the 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.


Judaism encourages enhancing all mitzvot by using beautiful items to do them, for instance buying a menorah that you find beautiful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

On the 25th of Kislev

It is not uncommon to find that significant events in Jewish history occurred in different years but on the same day on the Jewish calendar. For instance, Tisha B'Av (9th of Av), the day on which we mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temple, occurred on the same calendar day on which the Israelites in the wilderness listened to the spies and cried out in fear that God was leading them to their deaths. This resulted in 38 additional years of wandering in the wilderness before the next generation was allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Today is the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the first day of Chanukah. Chanukah is celebrated on the anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple by Judah Maccabee and his loyal followers. According to Jewish tradition, however, it is not a coincidence that this event occurred on the 25th of Kislev.

According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina, the construction of the Mishkan (temporary Tabernacle that was used before the permanent Temple was erected) was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Once the Mishkan was completed, however, Moses waited until the 1st of Nissan for its official dedication. The postponement, according to the Midrash, was because "God wanted to celebrate the rejoicing of the Tabernacle in the month in which Isaac was born (Nissan)...Kislev thus forfeited [the honor] though the work had been completed [during that month]. God therefore said: 'I will make restitution.' How did God repay Kislev? With the Chanukah (inauguration) of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees)" (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 184).

Because the Chanukat Ha'Mishkan, the dedication of the Tabernacle, did not occur on the day it was completed, the great honor of the miracle of Chanukah was reserved for the 25th of Kislev.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Gifts

"One who is diligent in lighting Chanukah candles will have children who are scholars" (Talmud Shabbat 23b).

The desire for scholarly children was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). In modern times, money has been replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights, intelligent children and gelt?

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah is so important that even a pauper, who has no money at all, is required to borrow money in order to buy oil for lighting. People therefore began to give a little money (gelt) to the poor so that they would not be embarrassed or forced to ask for assistance. Because the idea of "being diligent in lighting the Chanukah lights" is primary in both giving to the poor and meriting wise children, it became the custom to give children gelt as a reward for studying. Children who were diligent in their studies were rewarded with a shiny coin.

While gifts are an offshoot of the holiday, they represent an important element of Chanukah--chinuch, Jewish education.

The Maccabees fought so that their children and their children's children would be able to study Torah freely and be knowledgeable about their Jewish heritage. Jewish children are taught about Judaism not only for today, but for posterity as well, as it says in Proverbs 22:6: "Educate a young person in his/her own way, when he/she grows old he/she will not turn from it."

Over time, the simple practice of giving gelt (coins or presents) became a Chanukah custom - and not just for children. In truth, however, it is not surprising that gift giving has moved beyond just children. In our own day and age, we, the adults, also need encouragement to learn about who we are and what our Jewish heritage means.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Gifts for the Spirit

If you have a tradition of giving Chanukah gifts, try to think of gifts that imbue the spirit of Jewish dedication and education.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Al Hanisim, For The Miracles

Most Jewish holidays are marked not only by feasting and celebrations, but also by special prayers. On Biblical holidays, such as Passover and Rosh Hashana, these special prayers include an entire additional service (Musaf). On Chanukah and Purim, which are considered “post-Biblical” holidays because their observance was not commanded by God in the Torah, there is no additional service. However, to fulfill the desire to add further prayers of thanks and praise to these holidays, Al Hanisim is recited during the silent Amidah and Birkat Hamazon/Grace After Meals. (Additionally, on Chanukah only, Hallel is recited as part of the morning service.)

The opening stanza of Al Hanisim, which is the same for both Chanukah and Purim, reads: “For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.”

At this point, the prayers diverge. On Chanukah, the text continues with a description of life under the Hellenists, of how the government “rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will.” It then continues to describe how, with God’s help, the enemy was delivered into the hands of Matityahu and his sons, who then purified the Temple, kindled the lights and “instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

On Purim, the text describes Haman’s evil decree to “destroy, slaughter and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women.” Rather than describe the rest of the events narrated in the Book of Esther, the Purim Al Hanisim then praises God for the way in which he “foiled his [Haman’s] counsel and frustrated his intention.”
Click here to listen to a musical rendition of Al Hanisim.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Blessings

The Jewish people have said this prayer daily for thousands of years. On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/wick in oil is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.

Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, ah'sher kidishanu b'mitz'vo'tav v'tzee'vanu l'hahd'leek nayr shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'asah neesim la'avotaynu, bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.

The third blessing is recited only on the first night one lights.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

The Time Is Here

Bring your whole household together to light the first Chanukah candle this evening. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Chanukah: What's the Mitzvah

Here's a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the oil in the menorah in the Holy Temple burned for eight days instead of one.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after dusk. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used so that the Chanukah lights remain lit after nightfall.

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah and Divine Order

Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Tevet. (Rosh Chodesh is celebrated Friday, 1 Tevet.) This is significant because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.

The very first commandment that the Jewish people received as a nation - "This month shall be yours as the first of months" (Exodus 12:1-2) - instructed the Jews to sanctify the beginning of each new month. The Syrian-Greeks felt threatened by the Jewish concept of Divinely ordained time, since the sanctification of the month was based on the sighting of the new moon, rather than by a humanly calculated number of days.

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. The commandment of Shabbat states: "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Modern Miracles

Look for the everyday miracles in your life and let them inspire you for the upcoming holiday.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Chanukah

The Story of Chanukah
Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modi'in sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who had volunteered to make the offering. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greek forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, scrubbing the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden Menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure oil, and finally found only a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But the one flask of oil was sufficient for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared and
delivered. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the Menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, indicating to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

This treat is reposted annually in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Take It Out

It's time to take out your Chanukah menorah and make sure you have all you need to start lighting on Tuesday.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Biblical Story Familiar To Our Time

There are some Jewish commentators who state that the entire history of the world can be found in the Book of Genesis if one just knows where to look. The narratives of Genesis do indeed contain much of the good, the bad and the ugly of life.

One narrative that might strike a jarring chord with anyone following recent headlines is that of Potiphar’s wife. The story, as relayed through the written and the oral Torah, seems like a scintillating tale straight out of the tabloids. It begins with a simple statement: “Joseph was handsome and pleasing to look at” (Genesis 39:6). When Joseph became the head of Potiphar’s servants, his master’s wife took an interest in him and said, “Lie with me.” Joseph refused, attributing his refusal to his loyalty and devotion to his master. While the Torah states that Mrs. Potiphar “coaxed Joseph day after day,” the Talmud (Yoma 35b) explains that she changed her clothing often in order to entice him.

This case of basic harassment rose to the next level on a day when “none of the household was there in the house” (Genesis 39:11). The Midrash explains that Joseph expected the house to be empty since “It was the festival of the Nile. All had gone to the theater” (Genesis Rabbah 87:5).

Alone with Joseph, the mistress of the house grabbed him by his clothing and insisted that he lie with her. Joseph fled, leaving his garment behind. It was not, the Midrash explains, that Joseph was not tempted - after all, he was in the flush of his youth - but rather he overcame any thought of temptation by seeing a vision of his righteous father Jacob (Talmud Sotah 36b) and his departed mother Rachel (Genesis Rabbah 98:20).

The story ends with a further abuse of power. Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of trying to seduce her, and Joseph lands in jail. (In fact, according to the commentaries, Potiphar knew that his wife was lying, which is why Joseph was not summarily executed. Potiphar, however, did not want to be humiliated by his wife’s behavior, so he had Joseph sent to jail.)

Personally Connecting

Use the long Shabbat evening to relax and connect with your family and friends. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tooning Machines

There are not many people whose names appear as a dictionary entry, and even fewer whose names have become adjectives. As of 1966, however, the name “Rube Goldberg” took an official meaning when it was included in The Random House Dictionary of the English Language to mean “having a fantastically complicated improvised appearance.”

So who was Rube Goldberg, anyway?

Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California, on July 4, 1883. He demonstrated an early aptitude for creativity and started formal art lessons when he was eleven. Hoping to put his drawing skills to “practical” use, Goldberg studied engineering at the University of California at Berkley. After six months of working as an engineer, however, he quit to take a position as a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle.

By 1907, Goldberg was ready for the next step in his life. He moved to New York City and restarted his career as a cartoonist at the New York Evening Mail. Goldberg’s popularity as a cartoonist grew quickly, and by 1915, he was commanding a salary of $50,000 a year. Goldberg was responsible for several different cartoon strips, including “Mike and Ike (Look Alike),” “Foolish Questions,” and “La La Palooza.” However, he is probably best known for “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts,” a cartoon lampooning the incredibly inconvenient mechanisms people create in order to accomplish actual simple tasks. These were the original “Rube Goldberg machines.”

Goldberg also published political cartoons, and even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1942. However, some of his cartoons upset people causing his two sons to change their surname for safety. (Thomas decided to honor his brother by calling himself Thomas George, and George wanted family consistency so he renamed himself George George.)

When Rube Goldberg retired in 1964, he took up bronze sculpture. He passed away on December 7, 1970.

Chanukah Rube

Get yourself ready for Chanukah...enjoy this Rube Goldberg machine Chanukah candle lighting: Click here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Put On a Happy Face

"When one shows his teeth [smiles] to his fellow man, it is better than giving him milk to drink" (Talmud Ketubot 111b).

How does the song go? “When you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you.” And it’s true. On the whole, smiling at another person makes them smile too (unless they are in a really bad mood).

Imagine passing a smile down a street, "infecting" one person and then another. Unlike a virus, smiling is believed to have great health benefits! A wide range of professionals now believe that smiling not only makes you look better, but actually makes you feel better, perhaps even releasing a small dose of helpful endorphins.

The sages, however, were not focused on the effect that smiling had on the one who smiled, but rather on the one who received the smile.

Aside from the fact that both a toothy smile and milk are “white,” one could say that they are both nourishing. Everyone knows the health benefits of milk – how our bodies need milk's calcium and vitamins. A smile, on the other hand, is most beneficial to the soul.

Receiving a smile can change a person’s entire perspective. More than just changing a passing mood, smiles (sincerely, as is implied by the reference of showing one’s teeth) build self esteem, they change how a person views the world and how a person feels that he/she is viewed by the world.

While a cup of milk is a temporary pleasure, a sincere smile can actually change the world!

This Treat was last posted on May 4, 2009.

Smile You

Take deliberate action to smile at a stranger today.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

This Tomato Was Grown Where?

The view of Judaism is that humankind has the unique ability to synthesize the physical and the spiritual elements of life. Hence, Jewish law requires a person to recite a blessing over food they are about to eat. What that blessing is depends on the type of food. The wording of the blessing enhances one’s connection to the particular (often amazing) source of the food. 

Today, on the anniversary of the establishment of the first commercial hydroponics farm in Montebello, California, Jewish Treats asks whether a vegetable, a fruit of the ground, is still a vegetable if it does not grow in the ground. Produce grown through hydroponics sit in water and absorb the necessary nutrients from a liquid source, while, similarly, produce grown via aeroponics are “fed” via a nutrient-rich mist. Neither method produces anything from the ground. 

While research into hydroponics has been going on since the middle ages, the actual use of the technology only began in the mid-20th century. For Jews, this led to a number of questions such as whether hydroponic plants could be grown and/or harvested during the Shemittah (Sabbatical) year in Israel (yes) and whether one needed to wait three years to harvest fruit from a hydroponic fruit plant (the mitzvah of orlah, and no). 

The most common question, however, was what blessing should be recited over such produce. The blessing recited over most vegetables is borei pri ha'adama–blessed is  [God] Who created the fruit of the land. Since hydroponic/aeroponic plants do not grow in the ground, this blessing would be inaccurate. The general opinion is that if one knows that one is eating produce from hydroponics, the blessing to be recited is sheh’ha’kohl nee’yeh bid’varo,–blessed is God by Whose word all things came to be. If the source of the produce is unknown, one can assume that the regular ha’adamah blessing would apply. These halachic opinions, however, are not unanimous and one should consult their local rabbi.

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

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Clean and Fresh

Remember that even hydroponic plants may need to be checked to prevent eating bugs.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Celebrating with a Parade

Name a Jewish celebration that is not a wedding that includes a chuppah, music and dancing. The answer is a Hachnassat Sefer Torah, literally “Welcoming the Torah Scroll,” the ceremony of bringing a new Torah to a synagogue.

When the writing of a new Torah scroll is completed, there is generally a major communal celebration. The Hachnassat Sefer Torah begins with completing the final letters of the Torah. The sofer (scribe) who writes the Torah purposely leaves the final letters as only outlines to be filled in on the day of the Hachnassat Sefer Torah. If the Torah is sponsored by an individual, the donor completes the writing. If the Torah is “written” by a community or as a community fundraiser, then several people may have the honor of writing an individual letter or letters.

Once the Torah is completed, a celebratory procession begins. This “Torah parade” mimics the procession of King David when he brought the Ark to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6). With the Torah carried beneath a chuppah (celebrating the Torah as a symbol of the marriage-like union of God and the Jewish people), the men, women and children of the community escort it to its new home. This is accompanied by music, dancing and, often, candy gift bags for the children.

As the procession nears its final destination, the Torah scrolls already owned by the synagogue are brought out to serve as escorts of the new scroll. With a celebration similar to Simchat Torah, the procession moves into the sanctuary. The new Torah is placed on the bimah, the donor or a designated honoree recites a Sheh’heh’che’yanu blessing (thanking God for allowing this auspicious occasion to be reached) and the last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy is read publicly. Following the synagogue service, the Torah is returned to the ark and a Seudat Mitzvah (a festive meal acknowledging a mitzvah) is served.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Torah Time

If you hear of a Hachnassat Sefer Torah (Welcoming of a Torah) in your town, clear your calendar to attend.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Result of This Union

There are many famous narratives (such as the story of Creation, the great Flood, the histories of the Patriachs, etc.) in the book of Genesis. There are, however, an equal number of “esoteric” narratives that are merely alluded to by a few words. For instance: “And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz, Esau's son” (Genesis 36:12) and “and Lotan's sister was Timna” (ibid :22). The Book of Genesis contains several listings of generations, but these two verses stand out for their connected reference to a woman named Timna.

The identification of Timna as Lotan’s sister informs us that she came from royalty, as Lotan is listed as the oldest son of Seir. Her noble background forces the commentators to ask why Timna became a concubine, a far less respected position than a wife. According to the Talmud, Sanhedrin 99b, Timna desperately wanted to be part of the destiny of the family of Abraham. She approached Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but, for some unspecified reason, they did not welcome her as a proselyte. Rejected, Timna joined with Eliphaz, the son of Esau (also a descendant of Abraham), feeling that it would “be better to be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation” (ibid).

Eliphaz himself appears to have had a complicated relationship with his extended family. As Esau’s eldest child, he spent his formative years in the larger household of Isaac. He was also well aware of his father’s hatred for his uncle, Jacob. According to the Midrash, when Eliphaz was 13, Esau sent him to kill Jacob. Jacob, however, convinced the boy to spare him by taking all of Jacob’s possessions (even the clothes on his back), for one with no possessions is considered dead. Esau, as one can imagine, was not happy with his son’s failure to kill Jacob.

Both Timna and Eliphaz had the ability to see the spiritual distinction of the Jewish people but were kept apart from it. Their union produced one noted offspring, about which the rabbis opine. “From her Amalek was descended who afflicted Israel. Why so? -- Because they [the family of Abraham] should not have pushed her away” (Sanhedrin 99b).

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Welcome on Shabbat

Create a Shabbat environment in your home that is warm and welcoming to friends and acquaintances.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pidyon Ha'ben - Redeeming the Firstborn

“You must redeem the firstborn of a person ... when he is one month old, for the value of five silver shekels” (Numbers 18:15-16).

God sanctified the firstborn male Israelites when He protected them from the plague of the Death of the Firstborn in Egypt. Therefore, God commanded: “Sanctify for me every firstborn, the one that first opens any womb among the children of Israel...he is mine” (Exodus 13:1-2).

It was originally intended that the firstborn would serve as the Jewish priesthood. However, when Moses saw the Golden Calf, he smashed the Ten Commandments and called out: “Whoever is for God, [come] to me!” When only the tribe of Levi stepped forward, the firstborn lost their exalted position. Henceforth, the priesthood was transferred to the Kohanim (who are Levites). However, since the firstborn had already been “sanctified,” each firstborn('s father) has to pay a Kohain to take his child's place in the priesthood (this is referred to as redemption of the firstborn, Pidyon Haben.)

The following condition have to be met to celebrate a Pidyon Ha’ben, making it a relatively uncommon ceremony:

a. It’s a boy.
b. The mother had a natural birth with no previous pregnancies/miscarriages, since the Torah refers to a firstborn who “opens the womb.”
c. The father is not a Kohain or Levi, nor is the maternal grandfather a Kohain or Levi.

The Pidyon Ha’ben is performed when the baby is 31 days old. The child is brought by the parents (often on a silver tray decorated with jewelry) to the Kohain who has been invited to be part of the ceremony.

The Kohain asks: “Which do you prefer, to give me your firstborn or to redeem him?” The father replies, "To redeem him" and recites a blessing on the mitzvah of redeeming one’s son followed by the Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing. He then gives five silver coins (U.S. silver dollars are often used) to the Kohain, who blesses the child.

*This does not include miscarriages earlier than 40 days post-conception. 

This Treat was last posted on June 24, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Plan to Attend

Do not pass up an opportunity to attend a Pidyan Ha'ben.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

All-American Giver

Mervin Pregulman earned his initial fame as a college football star, but his real success was achieved later as a man of business and as a philanthropist.

Born in Lansing, Michigan, on October 21, 1922, Pregulman played football for the University of Michigan Wolverines from 1941 - 1943. As an outstanding player, he earned more than just the respect of his teammates and the praise of the fans; in 1943 he was named to the All-America team.

After his graduation, Pregulman was a first round draft pick for the Green Bay Packers, but the year was 1944 and duty to country came first. Pregulman joined the Navy, where he served as a gunner in the Pacific and narrowly survived a kamikaze attack on the ship on which he served.

Returning to civilian life in 1946, Pregulman began his NFL career. He played for the Packers in 1946, the Detroit Lions in 1947 and 1948, and for the New York Bulldogs in 1949. He retired in 1950. In 1957, Pregulman moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the hometown of his wife, Helen, and joined her family’s business, Siskin Steel, of which he became president in 1978. Pregulman took the already successful company to a new level and greatly expanded the business.

Pregulman’s philanthropic activity was initially centered around the family’s Siskin Memorial Foundation, which sponsored the Siskin Children’s Institute and the Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation. He was also involved in supporting numerous local educational institutions as well as a wide-range of charities. But Pregulman and his wife were also very involved with the Jewish community. Pregulman served as the president of the Chattanooga Jewish Federation and gave much of their time and money to Jewish organizations. In 1998, the Pregulmans endowed a scholarship at the University of Michigan that seeks candidates who are committed to working in the Jewish community after graduation.

Mervin Pregulman lived the All-American dream but never forgot the importance of being part of the Jewish community. He passed away on November 29, 2012.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Own Town

Assist local Jewish organizations through direct activity or financial support.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Albania and the Jews

Albania, which today marks its Independence Day, is a small Balkan country with an almost minute Jewish population. While it was never a country with a large Jewish population, there have been Jews residing there for centuries. Some historians even believe that a small group of Jews came to the area in 70 C.E., and archeologists have found what they believe to have been a 5th century synagogue in Saranda. A more consistent record of Jewish settlement occurs after the Spanish expulsion in 1492, when the area was under Ottoman control. Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in many Albanians towns.

Perhaps the most interesting point of Albanian Jewish history is the fact that there were approximately 200 Jews in the country at the start of World War II and close to 2,000 at the war’s conclusion. In 1937, even as European anti-Semitism was increasing, the government of Albania officially recognized the Jewish community. Two years later, however, Albania became a puppet state under Italian control. Fascist laws limiting the freedom of Jews (and other minorities) were enacted, but the majority of Albanians did not act upon them. In fact, their embassy continued to issue visas to Jews long after other European countries had ceased to do so.

Hundreds of Jews managed to seek refuge in Albania, and the Albanian people did not distinguish between them and Jews native to the country. When the Germans took control of the country in 1943, they demanded that a list of Jews be provided to begin deportation. The local governments did not comply and even provided Jews with forged documents.

The Albanian people, influenced by their custom of hospitality and “Besa” (words of honor) hid most of the Jews in their mountain villages. Some of these Jews went on to work for the resistance, while others were escorted to the Albanian ports and escaped. Yad Vashem has recognized 69 Albanians as Righteous Among the Nations.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Senior Respect

Stand up to show respect for the seniors in your community.

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's The Hebrew Alphabet

Aleph - Bet - Gimmel - Daled -’s the Hebrew alphabet!

According to the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet has its own meaning and power. The 22 letters are regarded as the building blocks of the world. In fact, the Biblical artisan Betzalel, who created all the vessels for the Tabernacle, was said to have been able to carry out God’s will in such perfect detail because he “knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created” (Talmud Berachot 55a).

Take, for example, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "aleph." (To see an image of the aleph, please click here .) The aleph is made up of one diagonal line with a leg and an arm - the aleph therefore has two ends that touch the "ground" and two ends that reach toward "heaven." Since it stretches between the two, aleph is regarded as the letter that unites heaven and earth. The aleph is also a symbol of strength because its form resembles the shape of an ox.

Each letter’s underlying meaning and power adds nuances to the word which it helps to shape and build. For instance, aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew word for truth, emet. One could say that it takes a considerable amount of inner strength to always follow the truth, and that one is judged for truthfulness both by fellow human beings and by God.

This Treat was last posted on November 3, 2008.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Language Use

If you know how to read Hebrew, practice it regularly. If you don't know how to read Hebrew, try starting with NJOP's

Friday, November 24, 2017

Bread and Clothing

Until recently, the repercussions of converting to Judaism meant more than just renouncing one’s previous religious beliefs. More often than not, a person who converted to Judaism also cut off ties with his/her family (and in many cases the family sought his/her arrest and punishment). Additionally, converts were often forced to forfeit any personal wealth that they might possess. This was a challenge for which the Torah was well prepared. Scripture, in Deuteronomy 10:18, states that God “loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.” Throughout the Torah, the Jewish people are reminded of the importance of being kind to converts (and widows and orphans). Throughout history, communities often took it upon themselves to help converts support themselves. 

In Genesis Rabbah (78:5), there is an interesting exchange about the broader meaning of the phrase “food and clothing.” The Midrash presents Akilas, a convert, who asks both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua about the meaning of the verse in Deuteronomy. 

Rabbi Eliezer responded to Akilas by pointing to Genesis 28:20, where Jacob vows to dedicate Beth-El as a place of God “If God will be with me...and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear.” Jacob had to ask God for the basic necessities, however, for the convert, God promises in Deuteronomy to give them bread and clothing freely, without their asking. 

Rabbi Joshua, on the other hand, taught that "bread" refers to the Torah (a common analogy), while "clothing" means a tallit (prayer shawl). Rabbi Joshua explained that the promise of “bread and clothing” means that even though converts are not raised with the Torah, they too will be able to attain a high level of Jewish spirituality. 

This Treat was last posted on August 18, 2011.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved. 


Be welcoming to any newcomers in your community.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

It's Not A Big Chicken

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to be in supermarkets in November, it’s turkey! In fact, many supermarkets even give them away to promote large purchases of other groceries.

As you put the turkey into the oven, take a moment to think about the significance of that bird. Did you know that a vast amount of rabbinic ink has been expended in discussing the kosher status of turkey?!

While the Torah specifically identifies those features that make animals and fish kosher (chews cud and split hooves for animals, scales and fins for fish), it does not specify the identifying features of a kosher bird. Instead it states that one may eat "all the clean birds," and then lists only the birds which one may not eat (Deuteronomy 14:11-20).

This has created a problem because not all the birds identified in the Torah’s prohibited list are known today. The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch completed in 1563) therefore ruled that only those birds traditionally known to be eaten by Jewish communities were allowed. This included chicken and ducks.

The turkey, however, was not a traditional bird. Turkeys are indigenous to the "New World" and were not seen by European Jews until explorers brought them back from America. As turkeys became more common fare in the general European community, the rabbis began to receive questions about the bird’s kosher status.

The turkey, which shares many similarities to other known kosher birds – the nature of their stomach, the shape of their beak, the structure of their feet, and that they were not predatory – was deemed kosher by almost all authorities.

So go ahead. Stuff the bird!

This Treat is republished each year in honor of Thanksgiving.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Feast of Gratitude

While the majority of the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah are related to atonement for sins or to celebrate feast days, the sh'lamim, peace offerings, were unique because they were not brought for either reason. And among the different peace offerings, the korban todah, the thanks offering, is set apart because it had to be eaten the same day on which it was offered. In this short span of time, a large portion of food had to be consumed: In addition to the meat of the offering, 30 loaves of unleavened bread and 10 loaves of leavened bread were offered and consumed by the kohanim, levi'im and those involved in the offering itself.

In his book The Call of the Torah*, Rabbi Elie Munk suggests that the quantity of food and the relatively brief amount of time in which it had to be consumed, required that the person who brought the offering invite guests to join in publicly giving thanks to God.

While only four types of people were required to bring a korban todah (a freed captive, one who traveled by sea; one who had crossed the desert, and one who recovered from an illness), in this day and age, when there is no Temple and thus no sacrifices, people who survive any life-threatening situation will often make a seudat hoda'ah, a feast of thanksgiving, after having survived a life-threatening incident or illness and on the anniversary of their survival.

There is no set ceremony for a seudat hoda'ah. To be considered a proper seudah (feast), however, bread should be served so that birkat hamazon may be recited. It is also customary to listen to words of Torah spoken either by the survivor or in the survivor's honor.

*Volume 3, page 59 
This Treat was last posted on November 24, 2011.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Gobble Kosher

Choose a kosher turkey for your Thanksgiving meal.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Jewish League

For American Jews today, it is hard to imagine that Jews in the U.S. in the early twentieth century faced a deeply anti-Semitic culture. Many public and private facilities posted blatant restrictions to Jewish access, while established educational institutions had quotas for Jewish students. The media of the day was rife with anti-Semitic stereotypes and inferences.

In 1913, a Chicago attorney, Sigmund Livingston, created an organization whose mission was “to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike...” He named his organization the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

While it started out as a two desk affair in Chicago, the ADL came under the auspices of B'nai Brith and grew into a larger, New York based, organization. Significantly, its founding coincided with the terrible ordeal of Leo Frank, whose false conviction of murder, and his eventual lynching in 1915, led to a noticeable rise in anti-Semitism.

The ADL began its work with “appeals to reason and conscience.” It actively used the media to counter negative stereotypes of Jews and to expose America’s unacknowledged intolerance. The organization also acted against hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan and was critical in ending the publication of Henry Ford’s hate-filled newspaper, The Dearborn Independent.

Over the first ten decades of its existence, the Anti-Defamation League grew from an organization that appealed to the logic of the American people and developed into a major moral force advocating for civil rights, sounding a strong voice in the discussion of the separation of church and state, and promoting Holocaust remembrance. While there have also been several controversies regarding the organization, such as their hesitation to recognize the Armenian Genocide, the ADL’s reputation is that of a major voice of empowerment for all Americans.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Always remember that all people are created in the image of God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Before They Knew Viral

Martha Wollstein, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Germany, began her medical education when she was 16 years old. The Women’s Medical Society of the State of New York was also only 16 years old at that time, having been founded by Elizabeth Blackwell in 1868. Wollstein graduated in 1889, after which she began a medical internship at The Babies Hospital in New York City. When the two year internship was over, she was hired by the hospital as a pathologist.

In 1930, despite not having actively treated children nor having made any singularly ground-breaking discoveries, Wollstein was the first woman to be awarded membership in the American Pediatric Society. But, over the four decades since she had graduated from medical school, Wollstein had dedicated herself to studying the source, and possible treatments, of illnesses such as malaria, polio, tuberculosis and mumps to name a few.

Wollstein’s research career first focused on infant diarrhea, which seems benign but can be extremely dangerous. Her work caught the attention of established researchers. In 1906, Wollstein received the distinction of being appointed as an assistant at the prestigious Rockefeller Institute. Her research work at the Rockefeller Institute continued until 1920, and her output was extraordinary. Her 1918 research on mumps was considered particularly informative on the viral nature of the disease. In 1921, however, Wollstein went back to The Babies Hospital paying particular attention to diseases affecting children. In 1928, she was appointed head of the pediatric section of the New York Academy of Medicine.

By the time of  her retirement, Wollstein had authored an impressive 80 scientific papers. Having moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, she remained there  until shortly before her death. Wollstein passed away in 1939 at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. In a sign of the times, her obituary noted that she “was also known as a pathologist” incredible understatement.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.