Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Great Sea Monster

For most of history, sea monsters were considered among the greatest perils of sea travel. Most probably, the “monsters” that they feared were simply whales, sharks and giant squid that have now been thoroughly researched by modern science and are no longer considered “sea monsters.” However, the Midrash (Jewish legend) does record the existence of one “sea monster,” the mighty Leviathan.

On the fifth day of creation, the Torah states in Genesis 1:21, “Va’yivra Eh’loh’him et ha’taneeneem ha’g’doleem - God created the giant sea creatures.” The meaning of taneeneem has been much debated (sea monster, whale, crocodile, etc.). In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan said (Baba Batra 74b): “This refers to Leviathan the flying serpent [male] and to Leviathan the twisted serpent [female], for it is written: ‘In that day God . . . will punish Leviathan the flying serpent, and Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea’ (Isaiah 27:2).”

So why have scientists not found Leviathan? According to the Midrash, only a single Leviathan still exists: “Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in his world he created male and female . . . and had [the male and female Leviathan] mated with one another they would have destroyed the entire world . . . What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He castrated the male and killed the female, preserving it in salt for the righteous [to eat] in the world to come . . .” (Baba Batra 74b). Additionally, Rabbi Yochanan points out that God “will, in the ‘time to come,’ make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan” (Baba Batra 75a).

There are numerous other places in rabbinic literature where Leviathan is mentioned and described as enormous, multi-headed, fire-breathing . . . apparently Leviathan is the original sea monster.

This Treat was last posted on December 7, 2009.

Amazing Feedbags

Do not take the wonders of nature and the diversity of creation for granted.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Woman of Chemistry

If you or someone you love has ever been treated for leukemia, lupus or gout (or a host of other ailments) then you quite likely owe a debt of gratitude to Gertrude Elion (1918-1999), who would have been 99 years old today. This Nobel Prize winning chemist overcame the blatant chauvinism and anti-Semitism of her day to achieve her dreams of helping to fight cancer. (She set her mind on finding a cure for cancer after her grandfather died, painfully, from stomach cancer.)

Born in New York City, Elion graduated high school at 15 and went on to Hunter College. While working full-time in various other jobs, she attended New York University. After earning her Masters in chemistry, however, she struggled to find a position, finally joining the Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceutical company working with Dr. George Hitchings, with whom she would continue to work for many more years. The work was intense and exciting and, in 1950 she had her first breakthrough with 2 cancer drugs. At the same time, Elion was studying for her PhD, but was forced to choose between work and her doctorate. She chose work. Later, Elion would be awarded over a dozen honorary doctorates from a wide variety of institutions.

In addition to her position at Burroughs Wellcome, Elion held numerous positions in prestigious medical organizations and taught at Duke University. She officially retired in 1983, but continued working in her field and was part of the larger team that developed AZT, the first effective HIV medication.

In 1988, Elion and Hitchings, along with Sir James Black, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicie for “important principals in drug treatment.” Among the numerous other awards and honors she received, Elion was the first woman admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Better Place

Use your skills to try to make the world a better place.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hail to the Chief

“A blessing for the czar? Of course. May God bless and keep the czar... far away from us.” So jokes the rabbi of Anatevka during the opening number of Fiddler on the Roof. This was a real feeling among Jews, for many of their rulers were cruel to them.

And yet, there is an interesting law stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) requiring that a special blessing be said upon seeing a gentile king: Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood [man]. (Baruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, sheh’natan mee'kvodo l'vasar vah'dam.)

Not only is one supposed to recite this blessing, but a person is supposed to go to great lengths to be able to do so, even traveling long distances to see a gentile king.

Western democratic society in the 21st century is, for the most part, far-removed from the concept of royalty. Those countries that still do have a royal family view them more often as celebrities or figureheads rather than as leaders. Relating to the concept of a powerful monarch is therefore difficult, particularly for Americans who have never had a king or queen.

In fact, America’s lack of a monarchy makes the idea of running to see a king even more important. We are all subject to the ultimate King: God. Upon seeing a mortal king or queen, we can, perhaps, enhance our personal appreciation of God, the King of kings. And that is why the blessing states that God gave of His glory to flesh and blood. God allows these select men and women to radiate the glory of royalty so that everyone might better understand God’s own Divinity.

Let us know your thoughts: Do you think this comparison holds true for a President?

This Treat was last posted on January 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Don't let political conversations disrupt your Shabbat rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Significant Seventy

Nothing in the Torah is by chance, and so it is not without significance that the Torah reports: “All those who descended from Jacob were 70 soul” (Exodus 1:5), using a singular word, soul, for the unified group. These 70 souls were the foundation of a nation that was to become a separate and unique force in the world.

Within Jewish tradition, the number 70 is very significant when discussing nationhood. Traditional texts discuss that there are 70 core languages and that the greatest sages, and those who were members of the Sanhedrin, were required to know them all (Talmud Megillah 13b). These 70 languages correlate to the 70 nations of the world (listed as the descendants of Noah in Genesis 10 - 11).

The nation of Israel, created generations later when Abraham sought out a relationship with the Divine, is outside of the these 70 and has been instructed to be “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 60:3). In the time of the Temple, the Jewish people brought sacrifices for each of the 70 nations during the holiday of Sukkot.

The number 10 represents completion, while 7 is a number that symbolizes nature perfected. God structured the world with 70 nations, and brought down 70 souls to Egypt to serve as the foundations of the nation of Israel.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Family Units

Stay in contact with your extended family.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Connecting Words

According to the internet’s fun holiday websites, January 18th is Thesaurus Day.  The date is in honor of the creator of the first modern thesaurus, [Peter Mark] Roget’s Thesaurus.

A thesaurus is a reference work that lists synonyms and antonyms of words and is particularly useful in a language such as English that is really a combination of many different languages. Hebrew, on the other hand, is a language that is built on a root system. Words, both nouns and verbs, are built on 3 (sometimes 4) primary letters - although Hebrew has, by necessity, also absorbed certain unique foreign words that do not use a root system.

Like all languages, Hebrew is complex, and the interaction of different works build on the same letters in different order can be fascinating in their connections. Here are a few examples:

The word for intuitive understanding is binah, which shares the bet - nun - hey root in the same order with the word for building–boneh.

Words related to getting dressed are based on the root of lamed - bet - shin, but when one removes the lamed, one finds boosha, embarrassment!

And perhaps there is a connection to a first born son, a bechor (bet - chet - reish) getting a double blessing (bracha: bet - reish - chet).

Language analysis can often provide great insights into a nation’s culture and mindset. From this perspective, one could say that the root system of Hebrew is an expression of the Jewish understanding of how everything in the world is somehow connected to everything else and how everything in existence is built upon the “creating words” of the Ultimate Creator.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Complex Connections

Open your eyes and look for the many ways the world amazingly connects.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Say It with Satire

Politicians - love them or hate them, they have been inescapable over the last several months.

 There are many ways to stay on top of the latest political news, but perhaps the most subtly eye-opening is through satire. Political satirists turn modern day politics on their head, making their audience laugh as well as think. Few political satirists were as well known for this as Art Buchwald (1925-2007).

Born in Mount Vernon, NY, Buchwald had a difficult childhood. His mother was institutionalized for a mental illness, and his father, a curtain manufacturer, whose business failed during the Great Depression, sent Buchwald and his three older sisters to an orphanage.  They were bumped around in foster care for several years before returning to their father.

In 1942, at age 17,  Buchwald dropped out of high school and illegally joined the Marines. (He paid a drunk stranger to pose as his legal guardian.) He spent two years fighting in the Pacific. After three years at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (he did not receive a degree since he had not finished high school), in 1948, Buchwald went to Paris to develop as a writer. His first job was as a correspondent for Variety magazine. Shortly thereafter he began his career as a columnist producing social columns for the International Herald Tribune.

After 15 years in Paris, Buchwald decided to return to America. He moved to Washington, D.C., and began writing a political column for the Washington Post. While many had thought him crazy to leave the Tribune, his new syndicated column for the Washington Post was a tremendous hit that was, for many years, carried in 550 newspapers nationally. As a political satirist, Buchwald took aim at all political situations and politicians of all parties.  He received the Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Commentary in 1982.

Beyond politics, Buchwald’s column became noteworthy as the prolific writer struggled with his impending death from kidney failure, his unexpected recovery (during which he wrote a book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye) and his passing in January 2007.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Words, Words

Be careful that the words you write don't hurt someone else.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Freedom Caps

While an internet search can bring up many different statistics about the number of Jews involved in the civil rights movement, it is fair to say that it was a significant percentage when compared to the actual percentage of Jews in the national population.

At the grass roots level, young activist Jews joined the fight by riding buses south and volunteering to register black voters. Not only was there a lot to do, but it had to be done under threatening and dangerous conditions. As part of the civil rights legal team, there was a disproportionate number of newly graduated Jewish lawyers, many of whom had probably faced prejudice and persecution of their own.

Few people realize that among the many Jews participating in these historic marches there was quite a significant number of rabbis. Some, like Abraham Joshua Heshel, were well-known leaders, but most were passionate pulpit rabbis from every denomination.

One small but fascinating outcome of the rabbis participation in the civil rights marches was the "freedom cap." Although in the 1960s it was most common for rabbis in the Reform movement not to wear yarmulkes (kippa/skullcaps), almost all of them did so as a statement of identity during the March. According to several news reports, many of the other marchers chose to also wear them. In fact, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, "The demand for yarmulkes was so great that an order has been wired for delivery of 1,000 when the marchers arrive in Montgomery later this week..." (March 22, 1965). The marchers referred to their special caps as "freedom caps."

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Changed Country

Take a moment to contemplate and appreciate how much the country has changed in the last 60 years and how that has benefitted the American Jewish community.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Brilliant Mind

In an era when most young women were encouraged to find a proper husband, Rita Levi-Montalcini (a combination of the last names of her father and mother) dreamed of a career in medicine. Her choice of medicine stemmed from witnessing the death of someone close to her from stomach cancer. After her father, a firm believer that too much education was not good for women, finally acquiesced, Levi-Montalcini gave herself a crash course in all the things she hadn’t learned at her girls high school.

Levi-Montalcini was not certain if she wanted to go into practical medicine or medical research when she entered the University of Turin Medical School in Italy in the early 1930s. She graduated summa cum laude with degrees in medicine and surgery in 1936 and then began studying neurology and psychology.

Unfortunately, the fact that she was a Jew soon forced her to choose research, and much of the research that she did was performed in an at-home lab. In 1938, race laws implemented by Mussolini’s fascist government barred Jews from academic and professional careers.

Levi-Montalcini went to Brussels to continue her studies, but returned shortly thereafter when German forces began moving toward Belgium. Since she could not get a professional position, Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in her bedroom and began doing research on chick embryos and the development of the nervous system. She was joined by her former teacher Giuseppe Levi.

In 1941, Levi-Montalcini and her family (parents and twin sister) fled Turin and went to the countryside near Florence, where they lived in hiding. During this time, Levi-Montalcini would get fertilized eggs from local farmers for her research.

After the war, Levi-Montalcini published her findings, which drew the attention of Viktor Hamburger who invited her to do research at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. This turned into an associate professorship and then a full professorship. During this time she continued her research on nerve development. Beginning in the 1960s, Levi-Montalcini split her time between St. Louis and Rome.

In 1986, Levi-Montalcini received a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine along with her co-researcher Stanley Cohen. She returned to Italy full time after retirement and continued to do research and create institutions for further scientific discoveries.

Levi-Montalcini passed away on December 30, 2012 (17 Tevet)  at age 103.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Delicious End

Enhance your Shabbat meal by serving a delicious dessert.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

For Whom Do You Mourn?

In an era when media and entertainment are strongly integrated into personal lives, many people feel as if they have a connection to the celebrities they most admire. It is human nature to be drawn to people we relate to or to those who we feel have made an impact on our lives, even when we do not actually know them. This seemingly modern phenomenon can, perhaps, help one understand how it was that the people of Egypt mourned the passing of Jacob for 70 days.

When Jacob came to Egypt, he was already an old man. He had children and grandchildren, and, as far one can tell from the text of the Torah, his 17 years in Egypt do not seem to have been active.  On his deathbed, Jacob had his sons swear that they would bury him in Hebron, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah were buried.

After Jacob’s passing, Joseph ordered his father embalmed. The Torah records the burial and the mourning: “And 40 days were completed for him, for so are the days of embalming completed, and the Egyptians wept over him for seventy days...So Joseph went up [to the Land of Canaan] to bury his father, and all of Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house and all the elders of the land of Egypt went up with him” (Genesis 50:3,7).

One could think that Egyptian people’s outpouring of emotion for 70 days was to show respect for Joseph, who was second only to Pharaoh. But, the Midrash explains that it was “because a blessing had come to them when he [Jacob] arrived, the famine ended and the waters of the Nile increased” (Rashi on Genesis 50:3).

Jacob was not a celebrity. He was more than that. Like his grandfather Abraham, whom God blessed the “He who blesses you shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), Jacob was a source of blessing. Most of Egypt did not know Jacob, but they were aware of him, of who he was and of what he meant to their country. When Jacob passed away, it affected them all profoundly, and thus they mourned him for 70 days.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Be warm but understanding in giving those who have lost someone the time and space they need to mourn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Simeon, the Son of Jacob

Leah named her second son Simeon* (ben Jacob), saying “Because God has heard that I am unloved, He has given me this one also.”

Simeon, a zealous youth, often reacted quickly and physically, especially when paired with his brother Levi. When their sister Dinah was kidnaped by the prince of Shechem, Simeon and Levi slaughtered the men of the city, ignoring the fact that Dina’s other brothers had already convinced the residents of Shechem to circumcise themselves and live in peace with Jacob’s family (Genesis 34).

Jacob scolded their reckless behavior, saying, “You have brought trouble upon me, making me odious among the land’s inhabitants...I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated - I and my household!” Simeon and Levi, however, challenged their father, demanding: “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?!” (The Midrash notes that, thenceforth, Dinah dwelt in the tents of Simeon, her brother-protector.)

This “righteous temper” remained with Simeon. The Midrash identifies Simeon as the one who calls out “That dreamer is coming!” when the brothers see Joseph approaching (Genesis 37:19) and also as the one who threw Joseph into the pit. Many years later, when the brothers went down to Egypt, Joseph demanded that Simeon be imprisoned while the others returned home to get Benjamin (Genesis 42:18-24).

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. In their secret counsel let my soul not come and my honor not be included in their congregation, for in their anger they killed a man, and deliberately crippled an ox. Cursed is their anger, for it is powerful, and their rage, for it is callous. I shall separate them within Jacob and disperse them among Israel” (Genesis 49:5 -7). On his deathbed, Jacob rebuked the brothers so that their descendants would learn that outright cruelty is a behavior foreign to our people.

*Hebrew Shimon, alternate English version is Simon

This Treat was last posted on August 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What Causes

Choose carefully what causes to be zealous about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Rav with the Golden Carriage

The Talmud, which is the written compilation of the Oral Torah, records the discussions and decisions of the scholars who codified Jewish law. Without question, the scholastic scope of the sages is incredible, but the Talmud also records some of the fascinating facts concerning the sages’ lives.

One interesting persona was Rav Huna, a scholar who lived in Babylon and who studied under the great sage Rav. He was an incredible student and eventually succeeded his teacher as the leader of the Babylonian scholars and head of the Academy at Sura. Rav Huna was held in tremendous esteem throughout his 40 years as the Rosh Mesivta (Head of the School).

Beyond his scholarship, however, the Talmud also records more personal information about Rav Huna. He was extremely wealthy - so wealthy that he traveled in a golden carriage - but had actually grown up poor.

His wealth appears to have been achieved after a blessing he received from his mentor Rav: “Rav Huna once came before Rav girded with a string. He said to him, What is the meaning of this?
He replied: I had no [wine for] sanctification, and I pledged my girdle so as to get some. He [Rav] said: May it be the will of heaven that you be [one day] smothered in robes of silk (Talmud Megillah 27b).

Rav Huna was also extremely generous and active in caring for others. “He would survey every part of the city and he would order the demolition of any wall that was unsafe; if the owner was in a position to do so, he had to rebuild it himself, but if not, then [Rav Huna] would have it rebuilt at his own expense” (Talmud Ta’anit 20b).

When Rav Huna died at the age of 80, the sages followed his wishes and his body was transported to Israel for burial.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Insight Help

Try to seek opportunities to help people that don't require them asking for help. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Resurging Community of Basel

If you are a fan of fantastic beasts, then you might understand how appropriate it can be to compare Jewish communities to the incredible Phoenix bird, which is consumed by flames at its death only to be reborn in its ashes. Take, for instance, the Jewish community of Basel, Switzerland, which is best known among modern Jewish historians for Theodor Herzl's personal note: "I have founded the Jewish state in Basel."

Herzl was only a visitor to Basel, where he attend the first Zionist Congress, when he penned those words. Jews, however, had resided in Basel since the Middle Ages. The first recorded reference to a Jew dates back to around 1223 C.E. Sadly, as in so many places, the Jews were perceived as outsiders. When the Black Death devastated Europe, the people of Basel blamed the local Jews. Against the wishes of the town council, who tried to control the situation, rioters, led by the artisan guilds, rounded up 600 Jews and, on January 9, 1349, burned them in small huts that had  been specifically prepared.  There were no survivors. 150 Jewish children were forced to convert to Christianity. The town enacted a 200 year ban on Jewish residency (partially for the Jews’ own protection), but it was rescinded within a decade. There was a second exile in 1543, but it also did not last long.

In the late 18th century, reform swept through Europe and, by 1872, Jews had gained full civil rights. When Herzl arrived in Basel for the first Zionist Congress, he would have seen the beautiful Neo-Byzantine Dome of the Great Synagogue (built in 1868) and would have interacted with an active and seemingly secure Jewish community.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Before Bed

Before you go to sleep, take a few minutes to contemplate your day and thank God for all the unique moments of the day.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Nu, Don't Eat

A popular joke: Most Jewish holidays can be subsumed under the pithy phrase: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” For a nation obsessed with food, what’s with all the fasting?

While there are 5 main fast days on the Jewish calendar, only Yom Kippur is of Biblical origin, with the Jewish people commanded to “afflict your souls” (Leviticus 16:29). While some Jewish scholars have opined that fasting makes one more like the angels, it seems certain to all that fasting on Yom Kippur, is primarily a tool of repentance. And this sets the tone for all the other fast days.

But the 10th of Tevet,17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av are observed as fast days in mourning and remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples--how is that atonement? Judaism recognizes that different days have different “karma.” The day of Yom Kippur is holy in and of itself. We merely piggy-back the theme of repentance on the holiness of the day. So too, Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, is not a good day for the Jews. It wasn’t only the date of the destruction of both Temples, but a number of other calamities as well. On such an inauspicious day, Jews go to great lengths to demonstrate a desire to mend their ways.

Even the historic fasts, such as the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s request that all of the Jews of Persia/Medea fast for her as she approaches King Achashverosh, are focused on teshuva, repentance. Only when the Jews did teshuva did God nullify Haman’s evil plan.

One connection between fasting and teshuva is that it encourages people to focus on their spiritual self rather than their physical self. 
This special focus gives  their soul an opportunity to strengthen its connection with the Divine.

This Treat was last posted on June 25, 2013.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Think On It

Take a few moments and contemplate the significance of fasting in memorial of the destruction of the Temple. 

Friday, January 6, 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 on Sunday, January 8, 2017.

This Treat is posted each year before the fast. 

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Drink Up

Prepare for the fast by drinking extra water.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Closing Eyes

Can you murder a dying man? There is an interesting passage in the Talmud that states:“Our Rabbis taught, ‘He who closes [the eyes of a dying person] at the point of death is a murderer. This may be compared to a lamp that is going out: if a person places a finger upon it, it is immediately extinguished’” (Talmud Shabbat 151b). One cannot presume to know the fate of another person, especially at what seems like the moment of imminent death.

However, once a person does pass away, one should close the deceased’s eyes. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law - 1874) wrote about this idea: “The eyes of the deceased must be closed. If there are sons, it should be done by his son, as it says (Genesis 46:4), ‘Joseph shall pass his hand over your eyes.’ If there is a firstborn son, he should do it” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 194:7).

Closing the eyes of a person who has passed away represents the fact that one cannot behold both Olam Hazeh (this world) and Olam ha’Bah (the world to come) at the same time. Closing the eyes of the deceased is  also considered an act of respect, and treating the dead with respect is of primary importance in Jewish law. It is for this reason that the body of one who has passed away should be covered modestly and the body should never be left alone from the time of death until the burial.

Help at the End

Look into volunteering for your local Jewish burial society (Chevra Kadisha).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Jewish Ghost Town of Utah

As a dry wind blows across the dusty plains just south of Gunnison, Utah, a traveler might be shocked to stumble upon a small, gated Jewish cemetery. Indeed, the burial ground is so small that it is comprised of only two tombstones. This cemetery, along with the broken walls of an old water cistern and some foundation remnants, mark Utah’s Jewish ghost town, Clarion.

Clarion’s first settlers arrived by train from Philadelphia on September 10, 1910. The 12 colonists were part of the Jewish Agricultural and Colonial Association (JACA) and included the Association’s organizer and president Benjamin Brown. Along with Isaac Herbst, Brown was part of a group of co-religionists who felt Jews needed to leave their urban trades and begin working the land. They gathered potential settlers and began searching for the right place to start a settlement. When leads in states such as Wyoming and New Mexico did not work out, they heard that Utah was actively seeking settlers.

When Brown and Herbst arrived on their scouting trip, the Utah State Board of Land Commissions led them to a tract of land along the soon-to-be Piute Canal. With the prospect of a reliable water source and seemingly fertile soil, it seemed a perfect choice.

At its peak, Clarion was home to 156 Jewish residents. The Jews who joined JACA did so for a variety of reasons, and thus Clarion had a wide-range of Jews as residents - from Orthodox to political anarchists. Few of them had any farming experience.

Alas, as often happened with these small agricultural settlements, the initial success could not be sustained. While the soil was fertile, the growing season was short. Natural disasters and a lack of consistent water in the canal led to multiple crop failures. Soon the settlers of Clarion moved on. After the majority of Jews had left, other people moved in and tried to make the town work, but World War II (and the internment of Japanese citizens, a community of whom had moved into Clarion) put an end to further development.

Utah became the 45th state of the United States on January 4, 1896.


If you have recently acquired a new coat, hat or pair of gloves, donate your old one to those in need.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Jewish Connection to the March of Dimes

On January 3, 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was officially incorporated. The organization, which was run by Basil O’Conner, was based on an earlier effort run by O’Conner and Roosevelt, except now the organization was more effective because of the presidential backing. [Roosevelt actually contracted the disease as an adult, but the majority of polio victims were children.]

Today, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis is known by what was its catch-phrase: “The March of Dimes,” a term that was coined by famous Jewish performer and radio star Eddie Cantor. The March of Dimes was a play on the pre-movie newsreels titled The March of Time.  Once the March of Dimes promotional theme was agreed upon, Cantor used his influence with radio broadcasters to encourage them each to offer a 30 second spot promoting the March of Dimes the week before President Roosevelt’s annual Birthday Ball. The March of Dimes was a call for people, children in particular, to send in one dime to support the organization. The first two days, only $17.50 came in. By the end of the week, however, $268,000 had been raised.

Over the years, Cantor’s March of Dimes promotion raised millions in the fight against polio. When the vaccines of Jewish scientists Jonas Salk (1955) and Albert Sabin (1962) finally conquered the illness, the organization changed its focus to general birth defects. In 1979, the Foundation officially changed its name to The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and in 2007 it became simply, The March of Dimes.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For the Good of All

Put your talents to use helping causes that benefit the world. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Jewish Foundation in Science Fiction

 In 1981, in his introduction to the science fiction anthology More Wandering Stars, Isaac Asimov pondered the question, “Can science fiction be part of Jewish culture?” As this was the second volume of this collection of Jewish science fiction, Asimov was drawn to the conclusion that, surprisingly, the Torah itself enabled Jews to reach for the imaginative stars.

January 2nd is National Science Fiction Day (unofficially, according to Wikipedia) because it corresponds to Asimov’s birthday. Asimov, who began writing science fiction when he was still a teenager, published an incredible number of science fiction books and stories. More significantly, however, many of his works (such as the Robot series and the Foundation series) are considered cornerstone pieces in the development of the genre. Additionally, Asimov published numerous non-fiction books. Many of these made science accessible to laypeople.  Others were works on an incredibly diverse range of topics such as history and literature, humor (he wrote a Treasury of Humor)  and even several volumes of limericks. Asimov also published a volume that took an historical look at Jewish and Christian scripture titled Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. In total, he published over 500 books.

Born in Russia in 1920, Asimov immigrated to Brooklyn, New York at age 3. His parents, who spoke both English and Yiddish in their home, owned a candy store in which many newspapers and magazines were sold, enabling him to become a prolific reader. While Asimov is known as a writer, he actually had PhD in biochemistry and was on the faculty of Boston University.

Isaac Asimov passed away on April 6, 1992, at age 72, in New York City.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Is it?

Look for Jewish themes in works by popular Jewish authors.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Putting Chanukah in 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.

The Next 365

Find new ways to connect to Judaism in 2017.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Challenge of Fitting

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 © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Times to Remember

Remember to light your Chanukah lights before your Shabbat candles on Friday night and after Havdallah on Saturday night.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

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 © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hannah and Her Sons

The story of Hannah and her seven sons is a story of the Jewish resistance to Antiochus' attempts to Hellenize the Jewish people around 166 B.C.E.

When Antiochus demanded that Hannah's sons bow down to an idol before him, Hannah's eldest son stepped forward and said: "What do you wish from us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers."

The king had him tortured to death and demanded the same of the second son. He, too, and each of his brothers after him, refused and was summarily executed. Finally, only Hannah and her youngest son remained.

Antiochus begged the child not to be a martyr. He beseeched Hannah to convince her son to bow to the idol.

Hannah, however, said to her son, "I carried you for nine months, nourished you for two years, and have provided you with everything until now. Look upon the heaven and the earth--God is the Creator of it all. Do not fear this tormentor, but be worthy of being with your brothers."

When the young boy refused to yield, he too was put to death. As her child lay dying, Hannah requested that, when he arrived in heaven, he remind Abraham of how he (Abraham) had been willing to sacrifice one son to prove his loyalty to God, while she had sacrificed seven; for Abraham it had been a test, for her it was reality. Pleading with God that she should be considered worthy to join her children in the World to Come, Hannah, fearing torture, jumped from a roof and died.
By teaching her sons that there are times one must give up even life itself for the sake of one's beliefs, Hannah made a stand that resonates with all who hear her story.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Chaukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Tonight

Rosh Chodesh Tevet begins after sunset tonight, celebrate with a special meal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Maccabee's Who's Who

Mattityahu (Mattathias): A High Priest descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and then slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.

Yochanan (John) Gaddi: The oldest son of Mattityahu fought alongside his brothers. His death at the hands of the sons of Jambri from Medeba (in Moab, now Jordan) is recorded in the first Book of Maccabees.

Shimon (Simon) Thassi: The second son of Mattityahu, Shimon fought alongside his brothers. He was the first ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty, who came to power around 142 B.C.E, and also served as the High Priest.

Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee: The third son of Mattityahu, Yehuda was the recognized leader of the revolt after his father’s death (about a year into the revolt). He is considered one of the greatest Jewish warriors in history. After the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple, Judah continued to lead the battle against the still occupying Syrian-Greeks. The battles continued even after Yehuda’s death in battle in 160 B.C.E.

Elazar Avaran: The fourth son of Mattityahu was killed during the initial rebellion. The Syrian-Greeks had a cavalry of elephants. Elazar ran under one elephant and cut open its belly, but was unable to escape from under the animal before it collapsed on top of him.

Yahonatan (Jonathan) Apphus: The youngest son of Mattityahu, Yahonatan led the Jewish army after Yehuda’s death in 160 B.C.E. and also served as the High Priest. He was taken captive and killed by the Seleucid King Diodotus Tryphon in 143 B.C.E. (According to the historian Josephus, who claimed descent from Yahonatan’s daughter.) 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 a pinch 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 Jewishrecipes.org, 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 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 © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fry It

Enjoy a delicious fried treat in honor of Chanukah and the miracle of the oil.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

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.

Copyright © 2016 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 © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Fun

Add an element of fun to your Chanukah celebration.

Monday, December 26, 2016

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 © 2016 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 menorah with olive oil. This is done in order to most accurately recreate the original miracle.

When God instructed Moses on the construction of 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 that 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 items that was offered with the sacrifices in the Temple. However, only the menorah required the purest shemen zayit zachfrom 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 inner.org).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

Miracles All Around

Look for the miracles that occur in our every day lives.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

On the 25th of Kiselv

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 © 2016 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. 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.