Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Biur - Burning

The night before the Passover seder, the home is thoroughly searched for any remaining chametz. The chametz found is then set aside to be burned in the morning. Biur Chametz, the burning of the chametz, is the final step of pre-Passover preparations.

Why is the chametz burned? Burning is considered the ideal means of disposing of one’s chametz. The Mishna cites Rabbi Judah, who said, “There is no removal of chametz save by burning.” The sages, however, maintain, “He [a person may] also crumble and throw it to the wind or cast it into the sea” (Pesachim 21a).

On the morning before the seder, chametz may be eaten until the fourth hour of the day.* Biur Chametz takes place before the fifth hour of the day.* In larger Jewish communities, there is frequently a designated location for Biur Chametz, often in conjunction with, and overseen by, the local fire department. 

All of the chametz thrown into the fire is burned so completely that even a dog would not eat it. While burning is the ideal way to destroy the chametz, if one is unable to do so due to timing or other limitations, one may pour a chemical disinfectant such as cleaning fluid on them so that the chametz become unfit to be consumed even by a dog. One may also flush the chametz down the toilet. 

After all of the chametz has been destroyed, a decree of renouncing ownership is recited, fulfilling the biblical mitzvah of ridding oneself of chametz: “Any chametz or leaven product that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered null and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

*An hour of the day is calculated by dividing the actual daylight hours from sunrise to sunset by 12.

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



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Searching for Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is conducted on the night before the seder. (*When the first Seder is Saturday night, Bedikat Chametz is performed on the previous Thursday night.)

Bedikat Chametz begins shortly after nightfall. When one is ready to begin the search, a blessing is recited (see below), after which no talking is permitted with the exception of conversation pertaining to the search itself. The search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (if the candle might cause danger, for instance when searching near draperies, one may use a flashlight). Among Ashkenazi Jews, it is also customary to use a feather to "sweep" any chametz crumbs into a paper bag.

Sometimes getting into the right frame of mind for the search may be difficult, especially if the house has already been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. In order to be in the right frame of mind and to make certain that the blessing over the search is not said in vain there is a custom, therefore, to have someone else carefully "hide" ten pieces of chametz (for instance 10 pieces of pretzel wrapped in foil) in the rooms which will be searched. The search will thus be more diligent, and will not conclude until all the rooms have been checked and the 10 pieces found.

When the search is over, one makes a general declaration stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless. The chametz in the bag is set aside to be burned the following morning. One may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast (and Shabbat meals when applicable), making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the chametz bag afterwards.

Please note that there are many situations (for example, someone who is renting a room in a house that is not being cleaned for Passover), where it would be best to consult with a rabbi to determine how to proceed.


The Prayers of “Bedikat Chametz

Blessing before the search:
Ba’ruch ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl Bee'oor chametz.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctifies us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz

Annulment of Ownership of Unknown Chametz (recited after the search is concluded):

Kol chameera va’chamee'ah, d’eeka veer’shootee, d’lah cha’zee’tay, ood’la vee’ar’tay, ood’lah y’dah’nah lay. lee’bah’tayl v’leh’heh’vay hef’ker k’aphra d’arah.

"Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth."



This Treat was published on April 10, 2014.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Bye Bye Chametz

Get rid of your extra chametz.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Broken Matzah

Whether one is in North America, Europe or Asia, the Passover seder is almost always familiar due to the universal text of the Haggadah. Through the course of time, however, different communities have developed customs that are unique and beautiful. In preparation for Passover, Jewish Treats presents a few interesting variations of one such custom.

The fourth step of the seder is the breaking of the middle matzah, which is known as yachatz. Among Jews of Syrian descent, the middle matzah is specifically broken into the shape of the Hebrew letters daled and vav. The origin of this custom is related to kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). The letter daled represents the number four, while vav is the number six. Together they represent the Ten Sephirot, the mystical powers that bind the structure of the world together. 

Among North African Jews, there is a similar custom of breaking the middle matzah into the shape of the letter hey. Hey not only represents God’s name, but it is also the first letter of the Aramaic passage in the Haggadah that begins Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah. (“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat...”) The matzah broken into the shape of the hey is passed around to be held over one’s head as each seder participant recites the Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah paragraph.

The custom of having each seder participant personally recite Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah is also found among Persian Jews. Instead of the broken matzah, however, the Persian Jews pass around the three matzot of the seder table wrapped in a white cloth. 



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Who Knows One?

How does one transmit basic theology in a fun manner to tired seder guests? The answer is--with song. Many see this as one of the purposes of the Nirtzah, the final section of the Haggadah. With the exception of “One Kid” (Chad Gad’ya), perhaps the best known song of Nirtzah is “Who Knows One?” (Echad Mee Yo’day’ah?)

The song begins with the question, “Who knows one?” and the response, “I know one, one is our God of the heavens and the earth.” This is followed by “Who knows two? Two are the tablets of the law, and one is our God of the heavens and the earth.” The song continues until verse thirteen, and with each additional number, the preceding responses are repeated. The final complete stanza is as follows:

Who knows thirteen?
I know thirteen. Thirteen are the attributes of God’s mercy. Twelve are the Tribes of Israel, Eleven are the stars in Joseph’s dream. Ten are the Commandments. Nine are the months until a baby is born. Eight are the days until the brit milah (circumcision). Seven are thedays of the week. Six are the tracts of the Mishnah. Five are the books of the Torah. Four are the mothers (matriarchs), and three are the fathers (patriarchs), and two are the tablets of the law. And one is our God of the heaven and the earth.

Although “Who Knows One” presents some basic Jewish facts (the holy books, the matriarchs and the patriarchs, etc.), its recurring verse, “One is our God of the heavens and the earth,” is a poetic rendition of Judaism’s most fundamental prayer: Sh'ma Yis'ra'el A'doh'nai Eh'lo'hay'nu A'doh'nai Echad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" Deuteronomy 6:4).

This Treat was published on March 18, 2013.



Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Traditions

Ask your older relatives what customs they remember from Passover seders when they were young.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Development of the Haggadah

On Passover night we are commanded "v'hee'ga'd'ta" and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee'ga'd'ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the entire lamb had to be eaten, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. Among that which was written down was the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana - the Four Questions).
The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chad Gad'ya ("One Kid"), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

This Treat was published on March 19, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

A Holiday for Kids

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Ask the kids! Or better yet, let the kids ask you.

It might surprise you to know that Passover, more than any other Jewish holiday, is focused on the children. The retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the next generation is actually a Biblical commandment. “And you shall tell it to your child on that day saying: ‘This is done because of that which God did for me when I went out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).

The essence of the commandment to retell the story of the Exodus is fulfilled by educating the children. The method for doing so is set out in the Talmud and is built into the framework of the Haggadah itself. (Thus the Four Questions about eating matzah and bitter herbs, dipping vegetables and reclining, as well as other special Passover seder rituals, are included in order to inspire the children’s curiosity.)

One of the best known and most interesting sections of the Haggadah is the section concerning the Four Children: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child and the child who does not even know how to ask. This section helps us understand that at the seder, we must all view what is going on as if through children’s eyes: with awe, wonder and, most importantly, with questions. The Haggadah thus provides four questions, the Mah Nishtanah, with which to begin!

This Treat was published on March 20, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

New for the Seder

Invest in a new Haggadah to gain further insights into the Passover seder.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Paschal Lamb - A Unique Commandment

While most Jews have attended a Passover seder, no Jew in the last 1,900 plus years has tasted a Paschal lamb ("Korban Pesach"), the animal offering associated with Passover that shares the holiday's name. The Paschal sacrifice was offered on the day before Passover and was eaten that evening at the seder - but only when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. And while no Jew today can offer and eat the Paschal lamb, it is interesting to note that in Temple times, a Jew who deliberately avoided partaking of the lamb was viewed as having denied an essential connection to the heart of Judaism.

One of the most unique aspects of the Paschal sacrifice is the prohibition against breaking any bones of the animal during its roasting or eating.

The anonymous author of Sefer Ha'chinuch suggests that the reason for this negative commandment is a lesson on the effects of manners. A person is supposed to eat food with dignity. As breaking and eating bones is the way a dog eats, humans are reminded to rise significantly above that level.

On a deeper level, however, Sefer Ha'chinuch stresses how all actions contribute to a person's character. One who regularly does good deeds will become a good person; conversely, one who allows himself to participate in dishonest actions, will eventually be overtaken by dishonesty. It may begin with how we eat, but it translates into how we live. Our actions, even the breaking of bones, mold us and define us. 

This Treat was published on March 22, 2013.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Kitniyot and Gebrachts

Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Hungarian, Yekke (German), Lithuanian?

At no other time on the Jewish calendar is it so important to know your ancestry as it is on Passover. What one does or does not eat on Passover (beyond obvious chametz) is strongly dictated by ancestral customs.* Here’s how it matters:

Kitniyot (Legumes) - During the holiday of Passover, Ashkenazim follow a rabbinic decree not to eat foods containing kitniyot, such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. This rule was established because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover. The decree only prohibits the eating; products containing kitniyot do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in most Sephardi communities. However, while Sephardim may eat rice, beans, etc., the food must be thoroughly checked to make certain that it is not mixed with chametz.

Gebrouchts (Wet Matzah) - Another custom followed by Ashkenazi Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchtsGebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided out of a concern that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined. Those who are stringent not to eat gebrouchts will therefore not eat matzah balls, matzah brie, matzah lasagna, etc.

This custom was broadly accepted in many Chassidic communities (Hungary, Galicia, Romania). In those communities where mitnagdim (non-Chassidic) were dominant (Lithuania, Germany), it was almost considered a mitzvah to eat gebrouchts food in order to make the point that it was permissible.

*Traditionally, one follows the customs of the paternal line. For example, if a Russian woman marries a German man, she follows his “Yekke” customs, as do the children. Those who cannot trace back their lineage to know their family customs should consult their rabbi.



This Treat was published on April 4, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Shankbone

Arrange to purchase a shankbone for the seder from you local kosher butcher.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Great Shabbat

The Shabbat immediately preceding Passover is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It is best known for being the Shabbat on which the rabbi of the community (or another leading scholar) gives a detailed sermon that is often a review of the laws of Passover. While it has been suggested that these sermons are the source of the title "HaGadol" (gadol means both great and large), there is an actual historical significance to this Shabbat.

In the year that the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, God commanded the Jewish people that on the 10th of Nisan, each Israelite household (or combination of households) must take a lamb to use for a sacrifice (Exodus 12:3). Choosing a lamb for a sacrifice might not seem like a big deal, but the Egyptians viewed sheep as holy animals. (Having lived among the Egyptians for so long, many Israelites had assumed the false belief that sheep have special spiritual significance.) By taking the sheep and preparing it for slaughter, the people displayed defiance of their Egyptian masters and rejected any religious significance for the sheep itself.

Shabbat HaGadol is marked in synagogue by the reading of a special haftarah from the book of Malachi (3:3-24). Some people connect the concluding line of this reading to the term Shabbat HaGadol: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great (hagadol) and awesome day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." (3:23-24).


Passover is the holiday on which Jews celebrate redemption, and Elijah the prophet will be the harbinger of the final redemption, the coming of the Messiah. The ultimate redemption cannot come, however, until the Jewish people do teshuva (repent). Some scholars, such as the Chatam Sofer, have commented that this is the true meaning of Shabbat HaGadol - that when the Israelites began their preparations for the exodus by taking a lamb into their house, they were doing teshuva for having followed the ways of their Egyptian neighbors.

This Treat was published on April 11, 2014.




Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Bread

Enjoy your challah this Shabbat. Next week it’s matzah!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

One Goat...and a Host of Other Things

Most American children know the play song There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. It’s a fun song that has a building pattern that helps develop children’s memory skills. There was an Old Lady was written by Alan Mills and Rose Bonne around 1950. While there is almost no biographical information on Rose Bonne, Alan Mills (born Alan Miller) was a well-known Jewish-Canadian folksinger, writer, and actor.

Knowing that one of the composers of this song was Jewish strengthens the case for the connection many note to the classic seder song, Chad Gad'ya (One Little Goat). The structure of both songs moves from a small or powerless creature to a larger or more powerful creature/being. Just as the final verse of There was an Old Lady, is a cumulation of all of the other verses, Jewish Treats presents only the final verse of Chad Gad'ya:

“One little goat. One little goat. That father bought for two zuzim. One little goat. One little goat.

And came The Holy One Blessed be He, and killed the angel of death, that killed the slaughterer, that killed the ox, that drank the water, that doused the fire, that hit the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, that father bought for two zuzim. One little goat. One little goat.”

The first known inclusion of Chad Gad'ya in the actual Haggadah can be traced back to 1590, in Prague.

Upon a close reading of the text, one might actually call it macabre. If nothing else, it is heavily laden with symbolism. One common understanding is that the little goat represents the Children of Israel, the father is God (who bought the little goat for two coins - two tablets of law) and the rest of the animals represent Israel’s historic enemies:

Cat - Assyria 
Dog - Babylon 
Stick - Persia 
Fire - Macedonia
Water - Rome 
Ox - Saracens 
Slaughterer - Crusaders 
Angel of Death - Ottomans

This Treat was published on March 18, 2013.




Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Bring It In

Begin purchasing matzah and other kosher-for-Passover foods.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Time for Freedom?

The sages refer to the holiday of Passover as Zman Chay’roo’tay’noo, the time of our freedom. This may seem obvious, since Passover celebrates the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. But did you know that on several occasions the Israelites demanded to return to Egypt, back to slavery?

Indeed, when they felt trapped at the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the Israelites cried out that it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt. While one might justify their actions by stating that they were certain that they faced imminent death, it is important to remember that these were the very same people who had witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues.

Some commentators explain that what the people truly feared, both at the Sea of Reeds and in the Wilderness, was not death, but freedom! Suddenly they were responsible for their own decisions and their own actions.

So what is the “freedom” that we celebrate on Passover?

In Ethics of The Fathers (6:2), Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says: "... And it says (Exodus 32:16): ‘And the tablets are the work of God, and the writing is God's writing, engraved on the tablets.’ Don't read the text as 'chah’rut' (engraved) but rather as 'chay’root' (liberty)--for there is no free individual, except for one who occupies himself with the study of Torah...”

How can Torah learning be equated to freedom--after all, don’t we speak of the “yoke” of Torah and describe Torah as a “burden”?

One certainly might view the mitzvot as restrictive, unless it is understood that without structure and order in the world, without rules and boundaries, there is anarchy and chaos. Only by living by the guidelines of the universe (the Torah), which God gave the Israelites when He gave them the Torah, can one attain true freedom.


This Treat was last posted on April 8, 2014.













Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Scheduled

Free your schedule to celebrate Passover next weekend.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Passover Story in Brief

On Passover, we commemorate the exodus from Egyptian slavery. The following is a brief summary:

Jacob's family came to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Joseph, Jacob's son and the Viceroy to Pharaoh, settled his family in the land of Goshen, apart from the Egyptians.

Joseph's contribution to Egyptian society was forgotten after his death, and the new Pharaoh, feeling threatened by the demographic success of the Israelites, enslaved them with cruel and bitter labor.
According to the Midrash, Pharaoh was alerted to a prophecy that the Israelites would be led to freedom by a boy yet to be born, so he ordered all newborn Jewish boys cast into the Nile. Yocheved set her newborn son (Moses) adrift in the Nile in a basket, where he was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who adopted him.


Years later, Moses came upon an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Outraged, Moses slew the Egyptian and then fled Egypt fearing that his action had been discovered. He took refuge in Midian with Jethro and married Jethro's daughter, Tziporah. While shepherding Jethro's sheep, Moses came upon a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire and from which he heard God's voice instructing him to go back and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses, joined by his older brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites. Pharaoh repeatedly said no--nine times. Each time he said no, another plague (blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness) struck Egypt. Finally, God struck all the Egyptian first born dead. After this tenth and final plague, Pharaoh finally said "yes," and the Jews left Egypt, matzah in hand.

Pharaoh changed his mind and chased the Israelites, who were eventually trapped between the Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds. But the Sea miraculously split and they crossed safely while the Egyptians drowned in the returning waters. According to the Midrash, only Pharaoh survived.

The Israelites then continued their journey to Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah.


This summary includes Midrash.


This Treat was published on April 7, 2014.













Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

For the Young Ones

Prepare fun activities as a way of teaching the Passover story to the young people in your life.

Monday, March 23, 2015

OMG! Passover Is Coming

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: "Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses..." (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one's possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating). To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to rid one's home, office and even one's car (any personal place where chametz may have been brought). It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be "turned over "--the kitchen converted from chametz status to "ready-for-Passover" use. "Turning over the kitchen" includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops, which come in direct contact with chametz.*

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or otherwise removed. Chametz may also be sold through a rabbi to a non-Jew. For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit NJOP's Passover Preparations page.


*Certain items, depending on the material, maybe kashered or may not need to be covered.

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



This Treat was published on March 31, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

Chametz Away

Begin preparing for Passover by separating out your chametz (leavened products) to be eaten.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Parasha of the Month

This Shabbat is Parashat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of “The Month.”

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional reading) after the conclusion of the reading of the regular weekly Torah portion, commands that the Jewish people declare Nissan to be the first month of the lunar calendar and instructs the Children of Israel to prepare for the Exodus (Exodus12:1-20). Parashat HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh itself.

The reading begins, “And God spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus12:2).

When God first commanded that the Israelites mark the new month, they were still in slavery. As slaves, time was something over which they had no control. This command, however, was God’s way of gradually empowering the people to take hold of their own fate.

The command also promises a future. At this point in time, nine out of the ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land was decimated, almost all the livestock had perished, and the Egyptian people themselves were scared and desperate. The Israelites, who had remained unharmed by the plagues, became increasingly concerned about the pent-up anger of the Egyptians. (Not to mention that Pharaoh was still refusing to let the Israelites leave.) Beginning a calendar process, however, underscored that they would have a future.

Having been reassured and empowered, the Israelites were able to obey Moses’ instructions to take a lamb on the 10th of the month of Nissan and mark their doorposts with the lamb’s blood on the eve of the 15th, when God would strike the Egyptian firstborn and the Children of Israel would finally leave Egypt.

This Treat was last posted on March 28, 2014.
Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Mother of Women's Basketball

Did you know that the mother of women’s basketball was Jewish? Senda Berenson revolutionized women’s athletics.

Ironically, Berenson,* who was born on March 19, 1868, in Vilna, was a sickly child. When she was 7 years old, she emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts. Berenson’s delicate constitution made school difficult for her. She left school before receiving her high school diploma.

Choosing to follow the art-focused career path of her older brother, Bernard, who had become a renowned art historian, Berenson enrolled at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Here again, her physical ailments proved to be an impediment. She was unable to dedicate herself to either music or art, because the long periods of practice caused her discomfort and exhaustion.

In 1890, even though she had not finished high school and was in poor physical health, Berenson was granted a place at the new Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, which taught a Swedish form of athletics. By the end of her first year, Berenson’s health was significantly improved. Before completing her second year, she was hired as a replacement gymnastics teacher at Smith College. 

Early in her tenure at Smith, Berenson learned of the new basketball game developed by Dr. James Naismith. She decided to teach it to her classes at Smith. The young ladies enjoyed it so much that Berenson arranged the first all-women’s basketball game. As popular as basketball was, Berenson realized that the men’s version of the game was a bit rough, so she modified the rules (e.g. no stealing the ball, a limit of three dribbles, etc.). Her rules for women’s basketball, which she honed over a number of years, remained in use until the 1960s.

Berenson remained active in Women’s basketball and general athletics even after she left Smith College in 1911. In 1985, Berenson was the first woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. She was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Berenson passed away on February 16, 1954.

*The family’s original name, Valvrojenski, was changed by her father, Alfred, when he came to America.

March is Women’s History Month. 

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fitness

Keeping one’s body fit helps one fulfill the mitzvah of taking care of one’s health.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Perhaps I Was Wrong

The third book of the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus, focusses on the sacrificial rites that were an integral part of Jewish life until the destruction of the Holy Temples. For many Jews of modernity, sacrifices are difficult to fathom. Within the sacrificial laws, however, there are many subtle lessons that are pertinent even today, when there is no Temple.

Leviticus 5:17 states: “If a person sins and commits one of the commandments of the Lord which may not be committed, but he does not know, he is guilty, and he shall bear his transgression.” The Talmud specifically states: “If there is a doubt whether he had committed the transgression, [he is liable to bring] a doubtful guilt-offering” (Keritot 2a).

The Talmud later gives the example of a person who finds out that some fat that he had earlier consumed might not have been kosher. Since he can no longer check the fat, he offers “a doubtful guilt offering.” (If he later finds out that he definitely consumed non-kosher fat, he brings a sin offering.)

Many people have trouble admitting being wrong. It is often much easier to see other’s faults or to presume someone else is to blame. From the laws of the “doubtful guilt offering,” one might appreciate the lesson of being willing and prepared to admit that in situations of dispute one might have been guilty of instigating or conflagrating the situation and, perhaps, be willing to take the first step of offering an apology.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Take the Step

If you know that you have hurt someone, call them or send them a note to apologize.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish Jews

The exile of the Jewish people has taken them to every corner of the earth. Jews have lived in and built communities in Europe, China, India, Central Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Australia, etc. Today, Jewish Treats presents highlights of the Jews of Ireland:

The first royal recognition of a Jewish presence in Ireland was in 1232, when King Henry III gave Peter de Rivall the office of Treasurer and Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, the king's ports and coast, and also "the custody of the King's Judaism in Ireland." However, in 1290, all Jews were expelled from the English kingdom, which included Ireland.

By the end of the 15th century “Anousim” (Jews forced to hide their Judaism because of the Spanish Inquisition) began to settle on the Emerald Isle. In 1555, William Annyas, a Jew, was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork.

One of the most famous Jews of Ireland was Robert Briscoe (1894-1969), who became the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956. Active in the IRA and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence, Briscoe was a nationalist who was adamant that being a "Hebrew" did not lessen his Irishness. Since 1993, the New York based Emerald Isle Immigration Center sponsors the annual Briscoe Awards, which honors Jewish leaders for their work in bettering the lives of Irish immigrants to the U.S.
An Irish Jew who became a leader to the Jewish people through his distinguished career in the Israel Defense Force (and previously in the British army) was Chaim Herzog (1918-1997). The sixth president of the State of Israel was born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, where his father, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, who later became the second Chief Rabbi of Israel, was Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

This Treat was last posted on March 17, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Each Day

Find a way each day to celebrate your Jewish heritage.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Surviving and Leading

Although born in Hungary in 1904, Rabbi Yehoshua (Joshua) Menachem Ehrenberg was living in Cracow when the Nazis began their systematic destruction of European Jewry.

The city of Cracow, which was brought under German control in September 1939, had a significant Jewish population that was inflated by an influx of Jews from the surrounding area. While the Nazis initially tried to force Jews out of the city, it was decided in late 1940 that a ghetto be established. By March of 1941, Rabbi Ehrenberg, already a well-respected scholar, along with the rest of the Jewish population, had been relocated into the ghetto.


Although it is not publicly recorded how Rabbi Ehrenberg survived, it is known that he was one of the approximately 1700 Jews included in the “Kastner Train” 
 in June 1944 This transport, which consisted of 35 cattle trucks, was arranged by Rudolph Kastner, who quite literally paid Adolph Eichmann for Jewish lives.

After arriving safely in Switzerland, Rabbi Ehrenberg decided to settle in Jerusalem. He was not there long, however, before he acceded to Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog’s request that he provide religious guidance to the Jews interned by the British on the Island of Cyprus. One can only imagine how difficult it was to return again to barbed-wire enclosures, but Rabbi Ehrenberg dedicated himself to his new role and returned to Israel on the last ship, only after the camp was dismantled in February 1949.


Settling in the city of Jaffa, Rabbi Ehrenberg continued to dedicate himself to his Torah studies and to serving his community. He was appointed Av Beit Din (head of the religious court) in Jaffa and was considered an expert on Jewish divorce. Rabbi Ehrenberg’s published responsa are known as Teshuvat D’var Yehoshua.


The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yehoshua Menachem Ehrenberg was yesterday, 24 Adar.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Community

Don't hesitate to make small sacrifices for the sake of the community.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kiddush Wine

Kiddush is the primary component of the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath Day” (Za'chor et Yom Ha'Shabbat- Exodus 20:8), which is often understood as the “umbrella” term for all of the positive mitzvot of Shabbat. Kiddush is recited over a glass or cup of wine,* as the Talmud (Pesachim 106a) states: “Remember the Sabbath day and sanctify it. ‘Remember' the day over wine.”

The “fruit of the vine,” as wine is poetically called, is a rare synthesis of nature and Judaism's philosophy of free will. Everything in a person's life can be used for good or for bad. For instance, wealth can be hoarded or used to help others. This is exactly the reason that wine is used for Kiddush. Through drunkenness, wine can easily lead one away from Godliness, so instead we bless it and use it to sanctify God's name. In moderate amounts, wine leads to pleasant happiness. In excess, however, wine can lead to anger, the total loss of inhibition, depression, etc.

From a less philosophical perspective, the mitzvot that fall into the category of Za'chor et yom Ha'Shabbat (Remember the Sabbath Day) are all meant to enable a person to fully enjoy Shabbat. Psalms 104:15 notes that “Wine gladdens a person's heart” and Talmud Pesachim 109a states that “There is no joy unless there is meat...there is no joy unless there is wine.”

*Wine is the ideal. However, if one does not like wine or may not drink wine, grape juice 
is often used as an alternative. For the daytime Kiddush, one may also use other beverages such as whiskey.

Try some kiddush wine or grape juice at your local Shabbat Across America and Canada location, TONIGHT!


If you can't attend tonight, here are ways to do Shabbat Across America and Canada At Home!

This Treat was last posted on March 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Enjoy

NJOP and Jewish Treats wishes you Shabbat Across America and Canada Shalom!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Zmirot (Songs of Shabbat)

Singing zmirot, songs of Shabbat, on Friday night not only expresses joy for the gift of Shabbat, but also offers praise to God. While many of the zmirot specifically speak of the beauty of Shabbat, others are focused on God, His relationship with the Children of Israel and the future coming of the Messiah.

For instance:

Yah Ribohn Olam is a very popular Shabbat song in Jewish communities around the world. Written in Aramaic by Rabbi Israel Najara (Syria, 16th century), Yah Ribohn Olam describes the wonders of God's creation and concludes with hope for the redemption of the Children of Israel and the restoration of Jerusalem. Its chorus is: Yah ribohn olam v’ahlma’ya, ahnt hoo malka melech malchaya - O Creator, Master of this world and all worlds, You are the King who reigns over Kings.

Tzur Mishelo, attributed by some to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (2nd century sage), parallels the contents of the Grace After Meals. It includes a reference to God sustaining mankind, the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The “Dover Shalom” suggests that the song’s theme is based on the Midrash Bereshit. When passersby would visit Abraham, they would extol his kindness after they ate and drank their fill. “Don’t thank me,” Abraham would say, “extol the virtues of the One Who really sustained you.”

Learning to sing the Shabbat zmirot can be a challenging, yet satisfying, accomplishment. Those lyrics not written in poetic Hebrew are written in Aramaic (a language similar to Hebrew that was common at the time of the Talmud). Additionally, most zmirot (songs) have a variety of melodies to which they are sung.

To read the complete text of Yah Ribohn Olam and to listen to a variety of tunes, click here.

To read the complete text of Tzur Mishelo and to listen to a variety of tunes, click here.

For further information on zmirot, click here.
For further information on zmirot, click here.



This is the power of Shabbat Across America and Canada - celebrated this year on Friday night March 13, 2015. Synagogues across the continent are readying themselves for this grand evening by inviting Jews from all backgrounds to come celebrate their identity, to join in with the community and to reconnect with their spirituality.

This Treat was last posted on September 4, 2009.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sing Out Loud

If you are making Shabbat Across America and Canada At Home, don't forget to sing about the beauty of Shabbat.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Games for Shabbat

Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, is a unique opportunity to spend “quality time” with one’s friends and family. One way of doing so, particularly on long Shabbat afternoons, is by playing games.* Since the day is structured by specific “dos and don’ts” designed to secure the holiness of the day, Jewish Treats presents some general guidelines to ensure Shabbat-friendly play. 

The first qualification for being Shabbat-friendly is that the game does not use or require the use of electricity. While this disqualifies many newer games, many of the great classics are still available in non-electronic form. (Think back to the fun of actually announcing, “You sunk my battleship!”) 

Another important factor in choosing a game for Shabbat is whether or not writing is required. Writing is one of the 39 melachot - “creative labors” prohibited on Shabbat.  Although this rules out games such as Pictionary™, many games one associates with writing can still be played with small adjustments. For instance, one can play Clue using one’s memory rather than by writing notes, which also makes for a more challenging game. The biggest issue of games and writing on Shabbat is the question of keeping score. Here too, the challenge is easily overcome with a little creative thinking. Some people use a book to bookmark the page number of their score. Others use playing cards to keep count of their points.

Playing cards is another excellent example of Shabbat-friendly activity. Most games are fine to play on Shabbat (but not for money!). The main caution in playing cards on Shabbat is the temptation to sort the deck to make certain that the deck is complete or to deliberately remove certain cards, such as the jokers, which could be a problem of bo’rayr (taking the bad from the good).

This Treat presents just a brief look at Shabbat-friendly game playing. Different games may present other questions about which one can (and should) ask one’s local rabbi. 

*Please note that this Treat refers only to board games, not ball games.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

New Friends

Attend a Shabbat Across America or a Shabbat Across Canada event this Friday night and meet new friends with whom to spend Shabbat. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Judaica Shop

The Shabbat table is customarily set for a grand feast and adorned with one’s most beautiful utensils. Beyond beautiful settings, however, there are certain “essentials” that are traditionally purchased to enhance the Shabbat table.

1. Candlesticks: The Shabbat candles are most often placed on or near the Shabbat table. While a minimum of two candles are lit, many have the custom of lighting one candle for each member of the household. Shining silver candlesticks are symbolic of Shabbat (although any candleholders will do.)

2. Kiddush Cup: Kiddush is the blessing of sanctification that declares the Sabbath day to be holy. The cup used for kiddush must contain at least 3 fluid ounces of wine or grape juice. Kiddush cups come in a range of sizes and styles and are most often crafted in silver (although some are glass). Some distribute small amounts of the kiddush wine to family members and guests in mini-kiddush cups.

3. Challah cover: It is customary to cover the challah (braided Shabbat bread) with a special cover during the recitation of kiddush. There is a remarkable range of beautiful challah covers available, with some people preferring a velvet cover, while others choose painted silk. There are even leather challah covers.

4. Challah board and knife: After the blessing of ha'mo'tzee, the challah is cut and distributed to all present. Challah boards are made from a variety of materials (wood, glass, marble, etc). It is also customary to have a special Challah knife with a decorative handle.

All of the above items can be found at your local or online Judaica store. While it is traditional to purchase silver candlesticks, kiddush cups and challah knives, there is no obligation to do so.

This week is Shabbat Across America and Canada! Find a location near you!
If you can't locate a program in your area, why not try to make Shabbat at home using NJOP's Shabbat Across America/Canada At Home Guide

This Treat was last posted on March 16, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

At Home



If you are unable to attend a Shabbat Across America and Canada location, try Shabbat Across America and Canada at Home.

Monday, March 9, 2015

More Than Shabbat

Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg, poet and Zionist ideologue: 1856-1927) is quoted as saying, "More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews."

This statement is part of the key to the great puzzle of our generation: how to keep Jews Jewish? We have survived exile and genocide, only to find that assimilation and a lack of Jewish knowledge have become an even greater threat.

The Talmud (Shabbat 10b) states that Shabbat was God’s precious and guarded treasure, which was given to the Jews as a gift. It was His day of rest, and He shared it with the Jewish people. Shabbat was the day to be dedicated to building a relationship with the Divine, and reconnecting with the spiritual after a week of toiling in the physical world.

One of the greatest benefits of Shabbat has always been family and community. On Shabbat people attend synagogue together, mingle with their neighbors, pray together and connect with each other.

As Jews began to assimilate and the world became more “savvy,” the idea of a day of rest fell out of favor. Either people were too busy with their work, too busy with their play or too worried about being different or missing something.

By abandoning Shabbat, people relinquished their precious connection to their community (and to the Divine). And without a connection to their community, Jews increasingly disappeared from the Jewish radar.

This is the power of Shabbat Across America and Canada - celebrated this year on Friday night March 13, 2015. Synagogues across the continent are readying themselves for this grand evening by inviting Jews from all backgrounds to come celebrate their identity, to join in with the community and to reconnect with their spirituality.

This Treat was last posted on March 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.