Friday, December 9, 2016

Against Corruption

Today, December 9th, has been designated as International Anti-Corruption Day. Corruption is a terrible blight on organized civilization. Anyone with even a small amount of power, can misuse that power to cause great harm. Using one’s position to improperly influence others is especially common. Corruption, such as placing an unqualified relative or a friend in a job without proper authority or oversight or accepting bribes, undermines the society in which we live.

Corruption is not a recent problem of the modern world, but a problem that has impacted every era of history and almost every culture. The words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke out against the corruption of Jerusalem during the era of the First Temple, powerfully capture how far society can fall: “How is the faithful city [Jerusalem] become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become worthless, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loves bribes, and follows after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow come before them” (Isaiah 1:21-23).

Throughout both the written and the oral Torah there are numerous laws and strictures meant to warn against corruption. The Torah particularly stresses the issue when it pertains to judges. Indeed, even complimenting a judge on the day of one’s trial is reason for the judge to recuse himself from the judgment. Additionally, there are a host of laws against corrupt business practices and laws against those who try to corrupt the Jewish faith.

While many of us may not be in positions of power or authority, there are many ways that we can become more sensitive to our improper actions and prevent corruption. Of primary importance is to always follow the law precisely and never allow yourself to rationalize why you or someone close to you deserves to be above the law.

Put It Aside

Put aside all thoughts of politics or business and enjoy Shabbat.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reuben, Son of Jacob

Our forefather Jacob’s departing words to his firstborn son were: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity -- you cannot be foremost, because you mounted your father’s bed ...” (Genesis 49:3-4).

Reuben's history is marked by his impetuosity.

Reuben was the first son of Jacob and Leah. Rachel, Jacob's other wife and Leah's sister, died when Reuben was 14. Without permission, he moved his father’s bed into Leah’s tent to assert his mother’s primary position (Genesis 35: 19, 22). This was considered to be a great insult, for which Reuben would never be fully forgiven.

Eight years later, it was Reuben who suggested that Joseph be thrown into a pit rather than killed, intending to rescue him later. But, Joseph was sold without Reuben’s knowledge. Reuben later found an empty pit, “tore his garments,” and cried out to his brothers: “The boy is gone! And I - where can I go?!” (Genesis 37:21,22-29,30).

Reuben strove to do right, but somehow missed the mark: The brothers’ first journey to Egypt to buy food during the famine resulted in Joseph’s demand that Benjamin be brought to Egypt. Trying to convince Jacob to send Benjamin with them, Reuben, said: “You may slay my two sons if I fail to bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will return him to you” (Genesis 42:35-37).

Reuben showed a desire to do the right thing, but took the wrong approach to achieve this end. Because Reuben was not qualified to lead, Jacob divided the rights of the firstborn (leadership - Judah, priesthood - Levi, and monetary rights - Joseph). However, by blessing him first and calling him “my firstborn,” Jacob stressed Reuben’s permanent right to be honored as the firstborn.

Big Sibs

Be respectful to your older siblings. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Song of Nature

According to the introduction of Perek Shirah (A Chapter of Song), after King David finished composing the Book of Psalms, he cried out to God: “Is there any creature that You have created in Your world that says more songs or praises than I do?”  He received his response from a frog, who responded that he recited more songs and praises than David. While the introduction does not say it, one can imagine that King David was thus humbled and set his spiritual ear to nature and composed the 85 sections of Perek Shirah quoting nature praising God. (Many of the verses attributed to nature are from Psalms.)

The different clusters of verses are each attributed to a specific aspect of nature. The first chapter expressed the feelings of the heavens, earth, gehinom, etc. Chapter two quotes day and night, sun and moon, winds and rain, etc. The third chapter focuses on things that grow - trees and produce. Chapters four and five are filled with the praises of animals. Here are two examples:

The Seas say: "More than the voices of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, God is mighty on high" (Psalms 93:4).

The Snake says: "God supports the fallen and straightens the bent over" (Psalms 145:14).

Perek Shirah was printed early in the printing revolution, around 1576, when it was included in the liturgy.* There are references to it as far back as the 10th century. Many rabbis attribute great merit to reciting Perek Shirah, and some believe that reciting it for 4 consecutive days can help change a negative decree into a positive one.

*It is not generally included in the liturgy anymore.

Express It

When admiring nature, take the time to express gratitude to God for the world's beauty. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Jews of Ecuador

While Ecuador does not have a large Jewish population, (there are fewer than 400 active members of the community), its history mirrors that of many South American and Central American Jewish communities.

The first Jews who lived in the region now know as Ecuador arrived with the Spanish and Portuguese settlers. These Jews, however, kept their identities secret, living as conversos in fear of the Inquisition. Many of them settled in remote villages, far away from prying eyes.

By the beginning of the 20th century, there were only four families in the country who publicly identified as Jews. This increased to 14 families by 1917. By 1950, however, there were close to 4,000 Jews, as European Jews fleeing rising anti-Semitism started arriving in large numbers in the 1930s. Ecuador was one of the last South American countries to close its doors to immigrants.

Eventually, however, Ecuador determined that it could not accept any more foreigners. It was particularly problematic to the government that many of the Jewish refugees arrived on visas specific for agricultural occupation but ended up as merchants, businessmen and industrialists. To be fair, many did try to fulfill their agricultural obligation but failed in their endeavors. In the early 1950s, when the Jewish population of Ecuador was at its largest, the Ecuadorian government passed a law requiring all foreigners to prove that they were working in the occupation listed on their visas.

While the community is small, and struggles with high rates of assimilation and intermarriage, their community infrastructure remains strong. The majority of Jews live in the city of Quito and are connected to the Asociacion de Beneficencia Israelita. Most of their children attend the Colegro Experimental Alberto Einstein, a college preparatory school that includes Hebrew and Jewish studies. The school is so well regarded that many upper class, non-Jewish Ecuadorians choose to attend as well.

Relatives

Schedule time to visit elderly relatives.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rabbi Ashi

Every generation needs a leader. The Talmud notes that “a righteous man does not depart from the world until [another] righteous man like himself is created, as it is said (Ecclesiastes 1:5), the sun rises and the sun goes down’” (Talmud Kiddushin 72b). As if this statement needed confirmation, Rabbi Ashi, who was born in Babylonia in 352 C.E., was born on the same day that the great sage Rava passed away.

Babylonia, at that time, was a center of Jewish life and Rabbi Ashi had the opportunity to sit and study with many of the great sages of the generation. He studied in the academies of Pumbedita and Nehardea, then in the academy of the leading sage Rabbi Pappa, and in many small academies as well.

Rabbi Ashi moved to the town of Matha-Mehasia, which is a suburb of the city of Sura. His presence and actions revived Jewish learning in the town. Finding the synagogue in disrepair, he forced the townsfolk to renovate it. “Rabbi Ashi, who, observing cracks in the synagogue of Matha-Mehasia, had it pulled down. He then took his bed there and did not remove it until the very gutters [of the new building] had been completed”(Talmud Baba Batra 3B).

Rabbi Ashi is frequently quoted throughout the Talmud, which might be less surprising in that he and the sage Ravina were the ones who compiled and edited the rabbinic discussions that form the Talmud.  He was so dedicated to his task that he bargained for more life in order to complete it: Rabbi Ashi caught sight of him [the angel of death] in the market place. He [Ashi] said: “Grant me thirty days’ respite and I shall revise my studies, inasmuch as you say [in Heaven above]: ‘Happy is he that comes here [to Heaven] bringing his learning ready with him.’” He [the angel of death] came [again] on the thirtieth day; Said [Ashi], “What is the urgency?” He replied: “Rabbi Huna ben Nathan is close on your heels [and is ready to succeed you]” (Talmud Moed Katan 28a).

Local Support

Join your local synagogue and support the future of Jewish life in your city.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Can You Say A Little Prayer For Me?

It states in the Talmud, “Rabbi Pinchas ben Hama gave the following exposition, ‘Whosoever has a sick person in his house should go to a tzaddik (righteous person) who will invoke [heavenly] mercy for him’” (Talmud Baba Batra 116a).

Why should a person seek out someone else to pray for them? With three formal prayer services a day and an open invitation for informal, individual prayer, isn’t a person capable of praying for oneself? The answer is yes, people should pray for themselves, but it never hurts to have a little extra help.

There are many reasons a person might call upon a tzaddik  to say a special prayer: illness, help with livelihood, assistance with having children, assistance with raising children, etc. Sometimes a person will go to a tzaddik and just ask for a blessing, leaving it open-ended, asking for general well-being and success in life.

While every person can, and should, speak to God on their own, a particularly righteous person may have a special ability to connect with the spiritual. It is interesting to note that there can even be a difference between two righteous people. The commentators note that while both Isaac and Rebecca prayed for children, God responded specifically to Isaac’s prayers “Because the prayer of a righteous person who is the child of a righteous person is not like the prayer of a righteous person who is the child of a wicked person” (Talmud Yebamot 64a).

Whether one is in a position to request prayers from a righteous individual or not, one should not hesitate to ask others to pray for them.

Just Before You Light


Just before lighting candles for Shabbat, say a prayer for those you know who need to be healed or are waiting to meet their soulmate.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Zodiac

Horoscopes are fun to read, especially when they tell you that you are about to get rich or find sudden fame. While telling the future through one’s horoscope is not part of Judaism, this does not mean that all aspects of astrology are false. 

It might surprise you to learn that Jewish tradition recognizes the twelve signs of the zodiac, assigning the visual symbol of each to one of the months of the Hebrew calendar. Even though the zodiac symbols are known today by their Hellenic names, they appear, according to historians, to predate even the first Mesopotamian cultures. The zodiac’s ancient origin supports the Jewish belief that God taught the zodiac to Adam, the first human.

It is interesting to note that the Jewish holidays and the zodiac month in which they fall are often related.

Aries/Ram - zodiac for Nisan, when the Israelites sacrificed lambs and left Egypt on Passover. (Don’t forget, Egyptians worshiped the ram.)

Taurus/Bull - zodiac for Iyar.

Gemini/Twins - zodiac for Sivan, when God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments on twin tablets (Shavuot).

Cancer/Crab - zodiac for Tammuz.

Leo/Lion - zodiac for Av, while we mourn the destruction of the two Temples in Av, the sages teach that someday it will be a feast on which we celebrate God’s might (Tisha B’Av).

Virgo/Virgin - zodiac for Elul, which is the month leading to the High Holidays in which we try to recapture the purity of our spiritual essence.

Libra/Scales - zodiac for Tishrei, when God judges the people on Rosh Hashana and seals His judgement on Yom Kippur.

Scorpio/Scorpion - zodiac for Cheshvan.

Sagittarius/Archer - zodiac for Kislev, when Jews celebrate the military victory of the Maccabees (Chanukah).

Capricorn/Goat - zodiac for Tevet.

Aquarius/Water Bearer - zodiac for Shevat, during which we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the renewed growth of the trees.

Pisces/Fish - zodiac for Adar, when we celebrate hidden miracles (Purim) which are kabbalistically related to fish (hidden under the waters).

This Treat was last posted on August 9, 2010.

Kislev Has Come


Today is the first day of the month of Kislev. Locate your menorah. Chanukah is only three weeks away!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

For the Refugees

Oftentimes, one thinks of refugees as people who were forced from their homes. Most refugees, however, are not specifically expelled, but rather forced to flee due to increasingly untenable situations.

This was the case of the Jewish communities in the Middle East. As Arab nations emerged out of the ruins of colonialism, they were deeply affected by nationalism. In many countries, Jews were stripped of their citizenship rights. In others, there was outright legal discrimination. In countries such as Tunisia and Libya, communication with Jews abroad was restricted. Jews were forced out of certain businesses or instructed to teach their artisan skills to Arabs.

This discrimination did not begin with the creation of the State of Israel, but it intensified severely after its creation. In fact, there were reactionary pogroms in numerous countries. Thousands of Jews decided to resettle in Israel, while others joined communities in France and the United States. Those who remained in their native countries, often found themselves trapped, allowed to live as Jews but significantly restricted in their freedoms.

The influx of these refugees, many of whom had been forced to leave their possessions behind, was quite a challenge for the new Jewish State that was just beginning to develop its economy. However, these Jews were welcomed and settled, which is, perhaps, why the Jewish refugee situation (which continued into the 1970s), did not become a world concern.

In 2014, the Israeli Knesset declared November 30th to be “The Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran.”

In Need

Check with your local Jewish organizations to find out how to donate clothing to those in need after the fires that devastated Israel earlier this week.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What's in the Book: Joshua

The Book of Joshua (Yehoshua) is the first of the ten books known as Nevi'im, the Books of the Prophets. It begins after Moses’ death, when Joshua bin Nun assumed the leadership of the Children of Israel and led the people into the promised land.

Joshua not only led the Children of Israel in their upcoming military expedition, but also served as their spiritual guide. In this new stage of the Jewish people’s experience, they would no longer have the everyday miracles (manna, water, protective cloud) of the wilderness to sustain them.

Their entry into the Land of Canaan (Chapter 3) began with a miracle. As the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Jordan River, the waters of the Jordan stopped flowing and, as with the Red Sea, the Children of Israel crossed on dry land.

After crossing the Jordan, four days before celebrating Passover, all the men of Israel underwent circumcision, which they had been unable to perform in the wilderness due to medical considerations. They were then ready to begin conquering the Holy Land.

Much of the Book of Joshua is a detailed account of the conquest and distribution of the land to the tribes. This includes the famous Battle of Jericho (Chapters 5 and 6). Joshua and the army of Israel circled the city seven times before sounding the shofar and watching the walls come tumbling down.

The war with the 31 Canaanite city-states lasted for 7 years. While not all cities were conquered, the Israelites became the dominant force in the land.

Once the conquest concluded, Joshua allotted the land to the various tribes. Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe, however, settled east of the Jordan River.

This Treat was last posted on August 31, 2009.

Leadership

Stand up as a leader in your community.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cohen, Katz, Kagen

Meet a man named Cohen and it is fair to assume that he is a descendant of the priestly tribe, going all the way back to Aharon the High Priest. We all know that there are distinctly Jewish last names,  but not everyone is aware that some names point specifically to either Priestly or Levite heritage.

Cohen, with spelling variants as different as Cowen, Kahn and Kagen (where the Russians turned the soft h into a guttural g), is the most obvious of the priestly surnames. However, Kaplan and Katz, and their many derivatives, are often indicative of priestly lineage. Kaplan, which is also the German word for chaplain, is also believed to be an abbreviation of kohain ploni (meaning an anonymous priest). Katz, on the other hand, is said to be an abbreviation of kohain tzedek (meaning righteous priest). Others believe that Katz derives from kohain tzadok, referring to the specific line descending from Zadok, a priest in the era of King David. Among Sephardim, the name Mazeh is an acronym for me zerah aharon hakohen (descended from the seed of Aaron the Priest) and Azoulay is believed to be an acronym of Leviticus 21:7, which deals with the rules of whom a kohain may marry.

The descendants of Levi have similarly distinctive names, such as Levine, Leventhal, Lewin and Lewinsky.

It is interesting to note that some family names are identified with being a kohain or a Levite simply because of the family dominance/history. Rappaports tend to be kohanim. Horowitzes are often Levites, but only because of the 16th century patriarch of the family, Aaron Meshullam Horowitz, who had eight sons.

It should be noted that not every Cohen is a kohain, nor every Lewin a Levite. Adoption, blended families and even changes made upon immigration, have redefined families, and therefore no assumptions should be regarded as fact.

Surname

Research the history of your last name.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A-Hunting We Won't Go

Ah, Fall. The crisp air, the beautiful foliage and, for those who live in rural areas, the hunting season! Yes, this is the time of year when, permit in hand, hunters take to the woods for sport. 

The permissibility of hunting according to Jewish law is not as straight-forward as one might imagine. Actually, there are cogent arguments for and against hunting and trapping in Jewish tradition. 

In Genesis (1:26), God explicitly gives human beings dominion over the entire planet - meaning all animals, vegetables and minerals. Dominion, however, does not mean tyranny or abuse but, rather, responsibility. In fact, this verse is one that is at the heart of Judaism’s sensitive environmental philosophy. 

While humans have dominion over animals, Judaism prohibits tza’ar ba’alei chayim, causing undue suffering to living creatures. For this reason, hunting for pleasure is strictly prohibited. 

And while humankind has Divine permission to be omnivorous, Jewish law deems any animal not properly slaughtered to be "not kosher" (unfit) for Jewish consumption. Animals with life-threatening wounds, such as those resulting from guns, arrows or traps, are not kosher. 

So if animals may not be hunted for either food and pleasure, when might hunting be permitted? One may hunt only for a legitimate need, such as collecting fur and leather for clothes or shoes or to obtain animal products that are used for medicine. Even then, the animal must be killed in a manner that ensures the least possible pain. 

Jewish Treats leaves you with this question: Would hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation be prohibited as tza’ar ba’alei chayim or would it be permitted in order to make certain that fewer animals starve to death?

This Treat was last published on November 26, 2012.

Shabbat of Thanks

Make the celebration of Shabbat an integral part of your Thanksgiving celebration.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

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 © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Thanks

Express your thanks to God and to people.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Case of the Poisoned Dish

The only narratives included in the Torah are those that help us understand who the Children of Israel are. While some stories are detailed, others are written very much like outlines. Both types of narrative are better understood with the help of the Midrash, a component of the Oral Torah that elucidates the subtle nuances of text and character.

One fascinating example of a story and a character developed in the Midrash is that of Bethuel. Bethuel is mentioned in the Torah when Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer meets Rebecca and believes her to be the perfect bride for Isaac. She introduces herself as “the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor [the  brother of Abraham]” (24:24).

Rebecca brings Eliezer to her house, where he is invited in and given food. Before partaking of the food, he insists on stating his business first. Only after Eliezer tells them the full story of his task and of his unusual encounter with Rebecca at the well, does Bethuel appear to speak, and even then it is in conjunction with his son Laban. They appear to agree to the betrothal.

The Torah records that they then all ate and drank and then slept. The next morning, when Eliezer is ready to leave, it is Rebecca’s mother and brother who make the final arrangements before Rebecca leaves with Eliezer. Bethuel is never heard from again.

The Midrash therefore raises the question: What happened overnight? “Where was Bethuel? He sought to delay [the marriage of Rebecca and Isaac] and was smitten [and died] during the night” (Genesis Rabbah 60:12). The Midrash of Targum Yonatan goes into a bit more detail. Noting that it says in Genesis 24:33 that food was put before Eliezer, the Midrash say that it was food “containing deadly poison. Eliezer sensed it and he said ‘I will not eat until after I have spoken.’ (ibid.) [Later, by mistake] Bethuel himself ate of that dish, and the next morning he was found dead” (Targum Yonatan, Genesis 24:33).

Dive In

Read the Book of Genesis and try to understand the human nature of the forefathers/foremothers of the Jewish people.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chinese Tiles and Jewish Ladies

It is a well-known joke that Jews have a particular affinity for Chinese food, especially on a certain legal holiday in December. But there is another surprising connection of American-Jewish and Chinese cultures. In honor of National Games Week, Jewish Treats presents the Jewish side of Mah Jongg.

Originally a card game, Mah Jongg took its current tile form around the mid-1800s when it was a popular parlor game in China. The game is similar to Rummy in that teams aim to build winning sets by drawing or discarding tiles.

The modern American version of Mah Jongg dates to the 1920s, when anything from the Far East was seen as exotic. As local groups modified rules, each to their own preference, the game became complicated and thus fell out of favor...but not with American Jewish women. Playing Mah Jongg together had given them a perfect social venue. Many synagogues and Jewish women’s organizations hosted regular game nights, often adding a small financial component, the winnings of which were donated to tzedakah (charity).

In 1937, the National Mah Jongg League was create by a group of Jewish women. The league standardized rules and set up annual lists of winning combinations. While it is focused on Mah Jongg, it is often defined as a Jewish women’s organization.

Generations of Jewish women have played the game. Indeed, it was an intricate part of the social structure of summer during the heyday of the Catskills, when the men remained in the city all week. Many American Jews have fond memories of  their female relatives pulling out their Mah Jongg tiles at family gatherings or hearing about Mah Jongg clubs.

While the game fell out of favor for a generation or so, it has seen an unexpected resurgence in popularity over the last few years.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Generational Listening

Spend time with older relatives and listen to their stories of Jewish life when they were young.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Taking a Stand in North Carolina

In honor of North Carolina’s ratification of the United States Constitution on November 21, 1789, making it the 12th state of the Union, today’s Jewish Treat presents Jacob Henry, a proud Jew who stood up against bigotry to claim his place in the legislature.

Henry was a long-time resident of the city of Beaufort, North Carolina, having moved there in his youth with his parents from Charleston, when he was elected as state representative for Carteret County in 1808. He was, at the time of his election, a successful merchant with a growing family. (He and his wife Esther had 7 children.)

On December 5, 1809, not long after the beginning of Henry’s second term, Hugh C. Mills introduced a resolution that Jacob Henry should lose his seat in the legislature because he did not qualify for civil office. Indeed, the North Carolina constitution specified that “No person who shall deny the being of God, or the Truth of the Protestant religion or the Divine Authority either of the Old or New Testament… shall be capable of holding any Office or Place of Trust or Profit in the Civil Department within this State.” The House granted Henry one day to prepare a response.

Henry’s impassioned speech*, in which he extolled the virtues of religious freedom without directly mentioning his own Jewish faith, won the day. The resolution was voted down, and Henry was permitted to remain in the House of Commons. His speech was reprinted many times and was used as a model of great oratory.

What happened to Jacob Henry after this speech is not clear, but he did not return to the legislature for the next session. He is next noted in the 1820 census living in Charleston, South Carolina, where he remained until his passing in October 1847.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Speech of Jacob Henry

Though I will not conceal the surprise I felt, that the gentleman should have thought proper yesterday to have moved my expulsion from this house, on the alleged grounds that I “disbelieve in the divine authority of the New Testament,” without considering himself bound by those rules of politeness, which, according to my sense of propriety, should have led him to give me some previous intimation of his design: yet, since I am brought to the discussion, I feel prepared to meet the object of his resolution.

I certainly, Mr. Speaker, know not the design of the declaration of Rights made by the people of this State in the year ‘76, if it was not to consecrate certain great and fundamental Rights and Principles, which even the Constitution cannot impair: For the 44th section of the latter instrument declares, that the declaration of Rights ought never to be violated on any pretense whatever - If there is any apparent difference between the two instruments they out if possible to be reconciled. But if there is a final repugnance between them, the declaration of Rights must be considered paramount: For I believe that it is to the Constitution, as the Constitution is to a Law: it controls and directs it absolutely and conclusively. If, then, a belief in the Protestant religion is required by the Constitution to qualify a man for a seat in this House, and such qualification is dispensed with by the declaration of Rights, the provision of the Constitution must be altogether imperative, as the language of the Bill of Right is, “that all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience.” It is undoubtedly a natural right, and when it is declared to be an unalienable one, by the people, in their sovereign and original capacity, any attempt to alienate it either by the Constitution or by Law, must be vain and fruitless. It is difficult to conceive how such a provision crept into the Constitution, unless it was from the difficulty that human mind feels in suddenly emancipating itself from fetters by which it has long been enchained. If a man should hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, I do not hesitate to pronounce that he should be excluded from the public councils of the same; and I trust if I know myself, no one would be more ready to aid and assist than myself. But I should really be at a loss to specify any known religious principles which are thus dangerous. It is surely a question between a man and his Maker, and requires more human attributes to pronounce which of the numerous sects prevailing in the world, is most acceptable to the Diety. If a man fulfils the duties of that religion, which his education or his conscience has pointed to him as the true one, no one, I hold, in this land of liberty has a right to arraign him at the bar of any inquisition - And the day I trust is long past when principles merely speculative were propagated by force, when the sincere and pious were made victims, and the light-minded bribed into hypocrites.

The proud monuments of liberty knew that the purest homage man could render to the Almighty was in the sacrifice of his passions, and in the performance of his duties; that the Ruler of the universe would receive with equal benignity, the various offerings of man’s adoration, if they proceeded from an humble spirit and sincere mind; that intolerance in matters of faith, had been from the earliest ages of the world, the severest torments by which mankind could be afflicted; and that governments were only concerned about the actions and conduct of man, and not his speculative notions. Who among us feels himself so exalted above his fellows, as to have a right to dictate to them his mode of belief? Shall this free country try set an example of persecution, which, even the returning reason of enslaved Europe would not submit to? Will you bind the conscience in chains, and fasten conviction upon the mind, in spite of the conclusions of reason, and of those ties and habitudes which are blended with every pulsation of the heart? Are you prepared to plunge at once from the sublime heights of moral legislation, into the dark and gloomy caverns of superstitious ignorance? Will you drive from your shores and from the shelter of your constitutions, all who do not lay their oblations on the same altar, observe the same ritual, and subscribe to the same dogmas? If so, which amongst the various sects into which we are divided, shall be the favored one?  I should insult the understanding of this House to suppose it possible that they could ever assent to such absurdities. For all known, that persecution in all its shapes and modifications, is contrary to the genius of our government, and the spirit of our law; and that it can never produce any other effect, than to render men hypocrites or martyrs. When Charles V. Emperor of Germany, tired of the cares of government, resigned his crown to his son, he retired to a monastery, where he amused the evening of his life in regulating the movements of watches, endeavoring to make them keep the same time, but not being able to make any two go exactly alike, it led him to reflect upon the folly and crimes he had committed, in attempting the impossibility of making them think alike!

Nothing is more easily demonstrated than that the conduct alone is the subject of human laws, and that man ought to suffer civil disqualification for what he does, and not for what he thinks. The mind can receive laws only from Him of whose divine essence it is a portion; He alone can punish disobedience; for who else can know its movements, or estimate their merits? The religion I profess, inculcates every duty which man owe to his fellow men; it enjoins upon its votaries the practice of every virtue, and the detestation of every vice it teaches them to hope for the favor of Heaven exactly in proportion as their lives are directed by just, honorable and beneficent maxims. This then, gentlemen, is my creed; it was impressed upon my infant mind it has been the director of my youth, the monitor of my manhood, and will, I trust, be the consolation of my old age. At any rate, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you cannot see any thing in this religion to deprive me of my seat in this House. So far as relates to my life and conduct, the examination of these I submit with cheerfulness to your candid and liberal construction. What may be the religion of him who made this objection against me, or whether he has any religion or not, I am unable to say. I have never considered it my duty to pry into the belief of other members of this House, if their actions are upright and their conduct just, the rest is for their own consideration, not for mine. I do not seek to make converts to my faith, whatever it may be esteemed in the eyes of my officious friend, nor do I exclude any man from my esteem or friendship, because he and I differ in that respect - The same charity therefore it is not unreasonable to expect will be extended to myself, because in all things that relate to the State and to the duties of civil life, I am bound by the same obligations with my fellow citizens: nor does any man subscribe more sincerely than myself to the maxim, “whatever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye so even unto them, for such is the Law and Prophets.”

Copied from The American Orator: Selected Chiefly from American Authors; for the Use of Schools and Private Families by Samuel Clark, printed at the Intelligencer Office, 1828.

Dignified

Speak with dignity when you address others.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Chastisement with Love

“Reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).

Not too many people respond to criticism with increased affection. Even when it comes from someone whom they know has the best intentions (like a parent). In fact, most people really dislike being critiqued. And yet the Torah encourages people to give rebuke to each other.

In English there are quite a few synonyms for criticizing someone: reprove, rebuke, reproach, chastize, etc. In Hebrew, there is one term tochacha (noun form). Although “reproof” is close, tochacha has no perfect translation in English because the implication of the word is true constructive criticism. Tochacha means rebuke that is given for the best interest of the other person, and only when that person is able to process it. That’s a very tall order.

In the Midrash Genesis Rabbah 54:3, this verse from Proverbs is quoted in connection to Rabbi Jose ben Rabbi Chanina’s statement that “Love unaccompanied by reproof is not love.” When people are honest with each other, when they critique them for the purpose of helping them become a better person, that is love.

This dynamic is not limited to only personal interactions but can affect diplomatic and business relationships as well. “Reish Lakeish said: ‘Reproof leads to peace, hence (Genesis 21:25) ‘And Abraham reproved Avimelech’” (ibid.) Abraham met with Avimelech, the Philistine king, and reproached him about allowing his men to steal a common well. Because the rebuke was given with the right tone, Avimelech heard it without getting angry. He denied his involvement, and Abraham and Avimelech immediately made a peace treaty.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Absorb It

When someone offers you constructive criticism, try not to be defensive.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Philosophical Dialogue

Spain in the early Middle Ages was a breeding ground for philosophers. As the peninsula shifted from Christian control to Muslim and back to Christian again, philosophy became the common language of scholars. Of the many noted and important Jewish philosophical tracts that survived from this time, one of the most famous is known as The Kuzari.

The Kuzari, the complete name of which is The Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Most Despised Religion, was written by the Spanish poet, philosopher, physician and scholar Rabbi Judah Halevy. In an era and area of violently conflicting religions, Halevy’s work was meant to strengthen the faith of the Jewish people.

The book is called The Kuzari because Halevy chose to use the legend of the Khazar king as background for his philosophical text. For several centuries there had existed a small Eastern European kingdom where Judaism was the primary religion. According to the legend, the Khazars became Jewish after their king chose to convert to Judaism. In his search for a new religion, this pagan king, according to Halevy, interviewed a Christian scholar and a Muslim scholar and found their philosophies wanting. Since both acknowledged that their religions stemmed from Judaism, he invited a rabbi to speak with him. When he chose Judaism, his people followed.

While there is no record of this specific conversation, Halevy drew upon the idea of the conversation and the imagined dialogue to question and discuss God and creation, God’s role in the world as expressed through His names, the special nature of Israel, the idea of free will, and more.

Popular among scholars of the time, The Kuzari, which was written in Arabic, gained a resurgence in popularity after it was translated into Hebrew (the translation by Judah ibn Tibbon went into 11 editions). Today there are translations of The Kuzari in multiple languages, and it is a commonly studied text throughout the Jewish world.

Today’s Treat is in honor of World Philosophy Day.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Read It

If you enjoy philosophical texts, make sure to include Jewish philosophical texts in your reading.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Song to the Eternal

Not only is Adon Olam one of the most well-known Jewish prayers, but it is also one of the most frequently repeated parts of the liturgy. Depending on the community, it is included in the siddur at the beginning of daily morning service, at the conclusion of Mussaf on Shabbat and festivals, as part of the prayers recited before bedtime and in the liturgy recited  by, or in the presence of, one who is dying.

The prayer opens with the words “Adon olam, asher malach,” “Eternal Master, Who reigned supreme.” Verse after verse beautifully conveys God’s majesty, declares the constancy of the Divine in the world and expresses the belief in God’s intimate interaction with the individual. Its underlying theme of belief in God (concluding with the beautiful phrase “Ah-donai lee v’lo ee’rah,” “The Lord is with me, I will not fear) is precisely why it is included in so many parts of the liturgy. It can serve as both a source of inspiration and comfort. 

The origin of Adon Olam is unclear. Records of it in prayer books go back to at least the 15th century. Many attribute its composition to the 11th century Spanish poet and philosopher, Solomon ibn Gabriol. Adon Olam is a poem set in a meter of eight syllables. Because of its meter, it is said that Adon Olam can be sung to almost any tune. There are, however, traditional tunes, a few examples of which may be heard by clicking on the links below. 

Links
Adon Olam by Dudu Fischer
French Sephardic Tune
"Happy" Tune

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Prayers in Song

Don't hesitate to pray with song if it helps you to connect to the spiritual.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Crime of Stalin

In 1981, PEN International (an organization of poets, essayists and novelists advocating for freedom of expression and human rights) declared November 15 as the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. Its goal was to commemorate and publicize the fate of writers who are being persecuted for expressing themselves.

In the spirit of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Jewish Treats steps back to a dark time and place in history in Stalinist Russia, and presents a brief overview of the Night of the Murdered Poets.

The arrests of the “poets” began in 1948. The arrested were all members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC). Although they were not all writers, they were all loyal members of the communist party. In fact, JAC had been established to promote pro-Soviet sentiment among Jews around the world. After the Holocaust, JAC took upon itself to also try and rebuild the Jewish cultural life in Europe that the Nazis had destroyed. However, as the Cold War heated up and the State of Israel aligned with the West, the JAC caught Joseph Stalin’s particular attention.

While the arrests took place in 1948-1949, the trial of the JAC defendants did not occur until 1952. The years in-between were filled with torture and interrogation. The accused were charged with “counter-revolutionary crimes” and with trying to undermine the Soviet Union. The evidence, which was presented before three military judges, was largely exaggerated. Of the 15 defendants, 13 (names listed below) were found guilty and sentenced to death. Defendant Solomon Bregman had fallen into a coma at the time of the trial and never regained consciousness. Defendant Lina Stern was found guilty but given a commuted sentence because her scientific research was deemed important. Of the 13 who were executed, five of them were well-known Yiddish poets - hence the name of this terrible event.

Three years after their execution, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR determined that the evidence against the JAC defendants had not been substantial enough to warrant execution. Obviously, it was too late.

Defendants:
Peretz Markish, David Hofstein, Itzik Feffer, Leib Kvitko, David Bergelson, Solomon Lozovsky, Boris Shimeliovich, Benjamin Zuskin, Joseph Yuzefovich, Leon Talmy, Ilya Vatenberg, Chaika Vatenburg-Ostrovskaya, Emilia Teumin

Leib Kvitko’s last poem: Prison Romance, 1952
No, my dear friend,
We are not destined to meet -
The cold has gripped my door’s corners
And it is difficult to break free, believe me, believe me...
And you -- do not appear today, my friend!
Silence and oblivion visit me,
And in my heart, bitter premonitions frighten me.
We will meet tomorrow...or perhaps later,
When the dew sparkles on the leaves,
When the tranquil day shines in the window,
And the sun peeks in the eye.
You will come and dispel heavy thoughts,
And the door will burst open into an awakened garden
And my voice will be joyous and young,
And my glance will radiate tenderness.
No, my dear friend,
Do not appear right now -
A fierce cold has chained the door...

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Words Up

Treat the words of others with respect.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Value Of

It is easy to be judgmental. Some might say that being judgmental is a necessary survival skill because it allows people to evaluate if they are being threatened. Those who study Mussar, the Jewish guide to self-improvement, understand that the “judgmental nature” of a person is one that must be both listened to and tuned out. At the heart of Jewish wisdom, however, is the firm belief that no person can truly judge another, because only God sees the complete picture. 

First impressions are often wrong. This is true not just about people, but about things and experiences as well. Almost everyone can recall situations that they expected to be terrible, but actually were quite enjoyable. 

Ben Azzai, who contributed to Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, provided the following sage advice: “Despise no man and deem nothing impossible; for there is no man who does not have his day and there is no thing that does not have its place” (Pirkei Avot 4:3)

At the heart of Ben Azzai’s advice is optimism. Many people judge the world pessimistically; they assume things are unfair or that success is unattainable. But really, without access to the larger picture, it is impossible to have an accurate perspective. Despising a person is often based on an assumption that the person has something he/she doesn’t deserve. Believing something is impossible is often a reflection of one’s preconceived notions of how the world should be. But God created the world; God knows what each person’s role in the world is meant to be, and God determines what is or is not possible. 


This Treat was last posted on May 27, 2014.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

With Thought

Think before you speak. Think before you post.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Late Acknowledged Hero

In honor of Veterans Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Tibor “Ted” Rubin, a true hero whose story is one of courage, honor and patience.

Born in Paszto, Hungary in 1929, Rubin was the son of a shoemaker. He was a young teenager when the Nazis came, and his parents sent him along with a group of other young people to try and reach safety in Switzerland. Unfortunately, they did not make it, and Rubin was arrested and sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp. (His parents and 2 of his 5 siblings were murdered by the Nazis.) Fourteen hard months later, the U.S. Army liberated Mauthausen. In gratitude, Rubin vowed to become a “G.I. Joe.”

Arriving in New York in 1948, Rubin enlisted in 1950 - a year after being rejected on his first attempt for failing the English test. He was sent to Korea. The fighting was intense, and  Rubin displayed incredible bravery on numerous instances. For instance, Rubin once single-handedly held off enemy troops for 24 hours while his company retreated.

Rubin’s immediate superiors wished him to be commended, but they were tragically killed in action. The company’s sergeant, a noted anti-Semite, refused to acknowledge any honor for the Jewish soldier. Fellow soldiers later stated that they believed the sergeant deliberately sent Rubin into danger.

In late 1950, Rubin’s battalion was destroyed. Severely wounded in battle, he was taken prisoner. Having survived Mauthausen, however, Rubin was better able to adjust to the POW camp than the others. He tried to help as many other POWs as possible and often snuck out of the camp at night to steal food. He is credited with saving scores of lives over the 30 months of imprisonment. He also refused an offer to be released and repatriated to Hungary, which was then a communist ally of China.

After the war, Rubin moved to California and lived a quiet life. Fifty years later, however, in 2005, he received a surprising call. President George W. Bush wished to honor him with the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor. Rubin’s file had been reopened as part of the Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act that reopened military recommendations to screen them for discrimination.

A true war hero, Tibor Rubin passed away on December 5, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

The Clock Says

Don't forget that Shabbat begins an hour earlier this week!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Name Change

It is not a coincidence that cultures around the world share a belief in the power of given names. In Judaism, it is believed that parents are granted a flash of ruach hakodesh, Divine spirit, when choosing a name for their child.

If names are so important, why do some people change theirs? The most common reason that people change their names is to add blessing, most often in times of challenge. When someone faces a life-threatening illness, they may be advised to add an additional name. Traditionally, the new name reflects blessing for healing such as the masculine Refael (God has healed) or Chaim (life) or the feminine Chaya (Giver of life). This change is usually done with the consultation and guidance of a rabbi.

The concept of changing a name in order to alter one’s fate is noted in the Talmud, where it says: “Rav Isaac said, ‘Four things tear up the [evil] decree against a person, and these are them: charity, crying out (prayers), changing one’s name, and changing one’s deeds, and some say even changing one’s place of residence’” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 16b).

The act of changing names is even recorded in the Torah. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Only once their names were changed were they able to conceive the son for whom they had waited so long (Genesis 17).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Names for Prayers

If someone you know is ill, ask them for their Hebrew name (and their mother's Hebrew name) so that you can pray for them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Fall of the Wall

Today, November 9, is marked on some calendars as World Freedom Day in tribute to the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the iron curtain changed the world and had a tremendous impact on many communities.

The Berlin Wall, which was erected in August 1961, was intended to stop the flow of East Germans choosing democracy over communism. When Berlin was divided, most of the Jews who were still in Germany lived in the West. Many of these Jews were Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe or refugees who fled Stalinism. The several hundred Jews who remained in East Germany were, generally, those who wished to remain in the east for ideological reasons.

While there was freedom of religion in the west, there was also freedom of movement. Jews continued to leave West Germany and the population declined. In East Germany, where the population was even smaller, many Jews were swallowed into the larger population, choosing complete assimilation over the discomfort of a religious affiliation in a Communist state.

When the wall came down, the two populations reconnected. Shortly thereafter, the new united community was reinvigorated by the flood of Russian Jews who were finally able to leave Soviet Union. There is now a flourishing Jewish community in Berlin, and there is even a great deal of Jewish activity located in East Berlin, on what used to be communist land.

It is fascinating to note that November 9th is a day of great significance in German history. In 1918, the November Revolution ended the German monarchy and established the Weimer Republic. The “Beer Hall Putsch,” which was one of Hitler’s first strong political acts, occurred on November 8-9, 1923. November 9th is also the date of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when anti-Semitic demonstrations destroyed massive amounts of Jewish property and thousands of Jews were attacked, marking the beginning of the end for most German Jews.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
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Bridge Building

Make an effort to do something nice for a person with whom you disagree.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Barry Commoner for President

In 1980, Barry Commoner, a prominent biologist, environmentalist and author of Jewish parentage, ran as a candidate for the President of the United States. As the third party candidate for the Citizens Party (which he founded), Commoner garnered .25% of the vote. While a few hundred thousand votes may seem like nothing among the millions of potential votes, his true goal was to raise the nation’s consciousness to the need for societal reform to benefit the environment. 

Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1917, Commoner held degrees from Columbia and Harvard. He served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II and began his professional academic career at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. 

By the late 1950s, Commoner was a known activist in the anti-nuclear movement and was part of the scientific team that demonstrated the pernicious effects of nuclear fallout by highlighting the presence of Strontium 90 in children’s teeth. 

By 1970, Commoner’s focus had shifted to the larger environmental movement, about which he authored several highly regarded books. Unique among the environmentalists of his time, Commoner believed that a restructuring of the country’s capitalist economy was the key to solving ecological issues (as opposed to controlling “over population”). Commoner’s philosophy is commonly summarized with his “Four Laws of Ecology:” Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. And there is no such thing as a free lunch (nothing comes without paying an environmental price).

After Commoner’s run for president, he moved his Center for the Biology of Natural Systems from St. Louis to Queens College in New York. He remained its director until 2000, when, at the age of 82, he chose to focus on new projects. 

On September 30, 2012, Barry Commoner passed away at age 95.

This Treat was last posted on November 6, 2012.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

All People`

Remember to always respect your fellow people (even if their political views are different than yours). 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Proverbial Path

In the Book of Proverbs it is written: “A person’s heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (ibid. 16:9). This is, perhaps, the origin of the common phrase, “Man plans, God laughs.” However, it is an excellent insight into the concept of free will, which is critical to understanding Judaism and how one should dedicate themselves to serving God in a Jewish fashion. While a person chooses the direction in which they would like their life to go, and in so doing makes countless smaller choices each day how to precede–it is God, however, Who creates those choices along the path.

Several verses earlier, King Solomon, the author of Proverbs, wrote: “Commit your works to the Lord and your thoughts shall be established” (Proverbs 16:3). This seemingly simple statement encapsulates an important aspect of Jewish ideology and provides an excellent means for understanding verse 16:9.

“Commit your works to the Lord” -- by dedicating yourself to serving God. Terminology such as this may make one think of sequestered nuns or missionaries knocking on doors. But, in Judaism, dedication to serving God is more about bringing the Divine into the mundane. For instance, by making a blessing before eating, a person adds an element of the Divine to the very physical act of eating.

Committing one’s work to God is often as simple as focusing one’s intent. Instead of just exercising to feel good and look fit, one can also have the intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of taking care of one’s body. When one does business, one can not only make certain to do so in an honorable and honest manner, but also to use some of the proceeds for charity.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

An Hour's Focus

For one hour of the day, specifically try to think of how your actions can be given a Divine spark.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Barbie's Jewish Mother

One might easily wonder what Ruth Handler's reaction would have been to the recently released Barbies of various size. Having finally responded in 1997 to criticism about the original Barbie's impossible hourglass figure by resizing her proportions, Mattel (tr) has now broken the model altogether and  created a range of Barbie bodies.

While the revamped image of Barbie is certainly a good thing, Handler was never troubled by the original Barbie's critics. Having designed the doll after watching her daughter play-acting her pre-teen aspirations with paper dolls, Handler felt that she was giving each girl access to dream of her grown-up future. And, while Barbie has been accused of damaging feminism, the woman who made her was a business woman of stunning success.

The 10th and youngest child of Polish Jews who had settled in Denver, Colorado, Handler married her childhood sweetheart (Izzy Elliot Handler) and, shortly thereafter, moved to Los Angeles. There she helped her husband create a company that manufactured plastic and lucite novelties.  Going into partnership with Harold "Matt" Matsen, the Handlers formed Mattel, and the company had its first success, the "Uke-a-doodle" toy ukulele, in 1947.

Handler stayed involved in her husband's business while raising their two children, Barbara and Ken. At first the company resisted her idea for a grown-up doll, but she finally convinced them to give it a shot. The initially slow sales were shockingly reversed when Mattel advertised Barbie heavily during the new Disney Mickey Mouse Club television show. The Handlers guided Mattel until 1975, when a financial scandal caused them to resign from the company.

Ruth Handler may be best known for the creation of the Barbie doll, but she had a second significant career following her battle with breast cancer. Handler created Ruthton Corporation, which manufactured "Nearly Me," a more realistic breast implant for women who had had a mastectomy.

Ruth Handler passed away from colon cancer on April 27, 2002. She was born 100 years ago today (November 3rd).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Appreciation Course

Take a moment during the Shabbat meal tonight to express appreciation for each person at the table.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Bit About Fiddler

On November 3, 1971, the film version of Fiddler on the Roof was released in theaters across the U.S. The wide distribution of the movie allowed the musical, which had already touched the lived of thousands of people, to be viewed by millions. For many American Jews, such a clearly Jewish story that was loved by the media was the source of tremendous Jewish pride.

Fiddler on the Roof revolves around a poor milkman (Tevya) living in a shtetl who must deal with the turbulent changes in Russian life in 1905. He has five daughters (three of marriageable age) a tough wife and a humorous relationship with God. Russia in 1905 was on the verge of revolution, but Jews were still facing persecution (pogroms) from Czarist forces and subject to sudden expulsion.

Tevya, the lead character, was created by the Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich 1859-1916) in a collection of short stories published in 1894. The creators of the play - Joseph Stein (book), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music) - were enthralled by Sholom Aleichem’s wit, but they made several noted modifications: The original Tevya had seven daughters, Sholom Aleichem’s Russian constable was hard and cruel (whereas he and Tevya are friendly in the play), and by the end of the stories, Tevya is a widower and his daughters have all left him, as opposed to the play/film manuscript that had them moving as a large extended family to America.

During its original Broadway run in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof was performed over 3,000 times. It has had 5 Broadway revivals, most recently opening on November 20, 2015, and many stagings around the world. Oddly, it is noted as being particularly popular in Japan. Additionally, the play is one of the most popular choices for school shows.

The songs ("Sunrise-Sunset," "If I Were A Rich Man," etc.) are now an integral part of American Jewish culture, and the movie is considered a classic.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Let's Talk About

View Fiddler on the Roof with a member of a younger generation and use it as a starting point for a discussion about tradition and modernity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

From Deadwood to Rapid City

Images of the Wild West are filled with swinging saloon doors, dusty main streets, and small, fenced-in cemeteries. One would not then expect to find a place called Hebrew Hill in Deadwood South Dakota. However, in 1876, when people flocked to the Black Hills of the Dakotas hoping to find gold, Jewish entrepreneurs played a critical role in setting up Deadwood’s mercantile infrastructure.

Deadwood’s main strip started off as a row of sturdy tents, including Jacob Goldberg’s Big Horn Grocery (which became Goldberg’s Casino in the 1980s). Harris Franklin (originally Finkelstein) became a powerful business man whose mark on the town remains notable at the Historic Franklin Hotel. In the heyday of Deadwood, Jews like Solomon “Sol” Star also made a definitive impact on the town. Star was the postmaster, served twice as the town’s mayor (1884-1893, 1896-1899), and joined the legislative branch both before and after statehood (November 2, 1889).

While a formal congregation was never established in Deadwood, the local Jewish residents did acquire a Torah in 1886. Transported from Koenigsburg, Germany, by a young bride coming to wed a Deadwood resident, the scroll came to be known as the Deadwood Torah. They also created a Hebrew cemetery association in 1896 and purchased what is now the Hebrew Hill section of Deadwood’s Mount Moriah.

By the mid-twentieth century, the Jewish population of Deadwood had decreased significantly. In Rapid City, South Dakota, however, a Jewish community was growing. By the mid 1950s, the Synagogue of the Hills congregation was established, although they did not have a proper synagogue building for many decades. Services were held at a chapel at the nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base until 1995, when the Synagogue of the Hills congregation purchased a location in Rapid City proper.

Although the Jewish population of South Dakota is incredibly small (less than 500), there is no question regarding the impact Jews have made and will continue to make on the state.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography