Friday, December 19, 2014

The Challenge of Fitting In

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

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

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

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

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


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

This Treat was last posted on November 29, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah and Divine Order

Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Tevet. (Rosh Chodesh is celebrated today, 30 Kislev, and tomorrow, 1 Tevet.) This is significant because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.

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

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. The commandment of Shabbat states: "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.

That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat was last posted on December 3, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Before Shabbat

Light your menorah before Shabbat.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pure Olive Oil

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

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

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

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

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

“If the candlestick, which does not need [the oil] for eating [but as fuel], requires pure olive oil, how much more do meal-offerings, which [need the oil] for eating, require pure olive oil! But the text states, pure olive oil beaten for the light, but not ‘pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings’” (Menachot 56b).*It is interesting to note that the words shemen zayit zach, when written in Hebrew, are composed of eight letters, one of the many interesting allusions to Chanukah that are hidden in the Torah  (as found on inner.org).

This Treat was last posted on November 27, 2013. 



Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Yum

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

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

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

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

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




Happy Chanukah. Now get out the griddle and enjoy!



This Treat was last posted on December 1, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Treats

Choose special treats such as doughnuts is honor of Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the 25th of Kislev

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

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

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


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

This Treat was last posted on November 28, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Al Hanisim, For The Miracles

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen to a musical rendition of Al Hanisim.

This Treat was last posted on December 2, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Miracles

As you celebrate Chanukah and celebrate the miracle of the menorah, discuss the miracles in your own life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

These Lights We Kindle

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

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

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

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


This Treat was last posted on November 28, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Blessings

On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/light is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.


Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה י־י אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה

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

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


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה י־י אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה

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

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

The third blessing is recited on the first night only.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה י־י אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

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

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




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

Together

Invite friends over to light the menorah tonight.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chanukah - What's the Mitzvah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



This Treat was last posted on November 25, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Gifts

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

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

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

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

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


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

This Treat was last posted on December 1, 2013. 



Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Create a Space

In preparation for the first night of Chanukah (tomorrow evening), set up an menorah lighting area that is visible to the street.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Chanukiyah

The term menorah is used for both the classic symbol of the holiday of Chanukah and the great seven-branched candelabra that was built in the wilderness following explicit Divine directions and used first in the Tabernacle and later stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In order to make a distinction between these two menorot, the term chanukiyah is sometimes used in reference to the Chanukah menorah. It has nine branches - eight lights for Chanukah and a shamash, a "helper" candle to light the other candles.

In preparation for the holiday and to make Chanukah truly shine, Jewish Treats presents some “things to know” about the chanukiyah:

1) You really don’t need a chanukiyah (or a menorah)! That’s right, one could technically light a series of tea lights (for example) one next to the other and still properly fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah lights.

2) The lights should be in a straight line without any difference in height between any of the Chanukah lights. They may be in a semi-circle as long as all the lights are visible at the same time. The place for the shamash on the chanukiyah, however, should be differentiated from the other lights. Usually it is higher, lower or out of line with the others.

3) There should be enough space between lights so that the none of the flames merge with their neighbor. Also the candles must be far enough apart that one candle does not cause the candle next to it to melt.

4) It is preferable to use olive oil for the Chanukah lights since the miracle took place with olive oil. One may, nevertheless, use wax or paraffin candles or other types of oils as long as they produce a steady, clean light.





This Treat was last posted on November 27, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Story of Chanukah

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

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

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

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


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

This Treat was last posted on November 26, 2013. 




Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Can We Build A Snowman?

With terms like Nor’easter (Northeaster) and Polar Vortex peppering the local weather reports, there is little doubt that winter has arrived. Individuals and families can now look forward to long Shabbat evenings inside a warm home, enjoying the soft glow of the Shabbat candles and the delightful smell of chicken soup. When the snow starts falling, however, not everyone wishes to stay tucked up inside their home. Today’s Jewish Treat is dedicated to those who love the snow.

A snowy Saturday seems the perfect opportunity for building forts, snowmen and snowballs. Building and shaping objects out of snow, however, raises numerous questions concerning Shabbat observance that neither the Torah nor the Talmud dealt with specifically. Since the Middle East only experiences occasional snowfall, later rabbinic scholars were left to grapple with the issue. Whether these scholars classified these activities as m’la’chot (creative labor prohibited on Shabbat) under the category of building, gathering, grinding or squeezing (a subcategory of threshing), the most common opinion is that one should not build forts, snowmen or make snowballs on Shabbat. One may, however, technically, use snowballs that were formed before Shabbat. (Keeping in mind, of course, that many people would not appreciate being hit by a snowball!)

One of the primary questions that rabbis consider when deciding questions related to snow on Shabbat is whether the snow fell on or before Shabbat. Some rabbinic opinions judge snow that fell on Shabbat to be muktzeh (something one should not move on Shabbat). Others disagree.

This difference of opinion is one major factor in the different rulings on whether one may or may not shovel one’s walkway.* If one is concerned about the dangers of a slippery walkway, almost all opinions allow the use of salt to melt the ice.

*Please consult your local rabbi if you have a question.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Joy

Whatever the weather, enjoy the warmth of Shabbat.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Tune

Can you read Jewish music? No, not the sheet music to Fiddler on the Roof or Havah Nagillah.

Trope, the musical cantillation used by Torah readers to sing-chant the holy words, is a notation system made up of dots, straight lines and squiggles that are found either above or below the letters. Like vowels, however, trope marks are not actually written on a sefer Torah (Torah scroll) but are memorized by the Torah reader.

The appearance of the trope marks (notes) are the same everywhere. How those notes are sung, however, varies. For instance, a Yemenite reading of the Torah would sound significantly different than a reading by someone from Germany.

Like the Oral Law, the trope was not written down but was transmitted orally from teacher to student for many generations. With the Roman exile and the scattering of the Jewish people, however, it became almost impossible to maintain the oral tradition, and therefore necessary to transcribe the trope (just as the Oral Law had been written down in the Mishna and then the Gemorah).

Why is the trope important? Firstly, trope is really punctuation; it lets the reader know where phrases and sentences begin and end. Additionally, trope adds another layer of meaning to the text. Certain words are elongated while others are read quickly, and this helps us ato understand unstated messages of the narrative. For instance, when the wife of Potiphar tries to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39:8), the word “And he refused” is read in a very elongated chant. The trope helps us understand that Joseph hesitated, more than briefly, thought about it and only then refused. Why doesn’t the Torah tell us this outright? Because the important thing is that he refused, but the trope alerts us to the fact that there is much to learn beneath the surface.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listen

Attend synagogue this Shabbat and listen to the intricate tune of the Torah Reading.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In honor of Human Rights Day, December 10, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of René Samuel Cassin (October 5, 1887 - February 20, 1976), the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Nobel Peace Prize winner (1968) René Cassin was a native of Bayonne, France. After studying literature and law, Cassin was called to the bar in 1909. He continued his studies while practising law and, in 1914, received a doctorate in juridical, economic and political sciences. Then came World War I. Cassin joined the French infantry and was severely wounded by shrapnel in 1916.

Shortly after returning to his law career, Cassin accepted a teaching position at the University of Paris. He lectured around the world, published dozens of articles and organized/administered several organizations related to disabled war veterans. Cassin was also a delegate for France to the League of Nations. 

As a French Jew during World War II, Cassin was all too aware of the horrors of nationalism and abuses of human rights. He was one of the first civilians to respond to General Charles de Gaulle’s call for resistence and, in response, made his way to London. 

When the Alliance Israelite Universelle’s central committee fell under Vichy control, General de Gaulle asked Cassin to take charge of it. From 1943 until his death, Cassin was the president of this renowned Jewish organization.

The first official meeting of the United Nations was in January 1946. Cassin was one of the first members of the UN’s Commission of Human Rights. The commission was responsible for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was accepted by a vote of 48 to 0 (8 abstentions) on December 10, 1948. It is the basis for the laws of human rights used in international law today.

*In our brief biography, Jewish Treats cannot list the multiple organizations with which Cassin was involved.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Respectful

Always treat other people with respect.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Island Community

As the chill of winter settles in, Jewish Treats brings you warm thoughts of the Caribbean - of Barbados to be exact.

The first known Jews to arrive on Barbados were refugees from the formerly Dutch region of Recife, Brazil, which had recently been conquered by the Portuguese who enforced the laws of the Inquisition. Because it was under British control, Barbados became a haven for Jews, and a place where many could practice Judaism openly for the first time. By the year 1654, these former conversos (Jews who hid their identity under insincere conversions to Catholicism) had established Kehilat Kadosh Nidchei Israel (Holy Congregation of the Dispersed Ones of Israel) in Bridgetown.  A second synagogue, Kehilat Kadosh Samech David (Offspring of David), opened in Speighstown. Sadly, this synagogue was destroyed in a riot in 1739.

Under British rule, Jews lived in relative peace. There were, however, some discriminatory laws put into place in 1668 (as a result of the fear of Jewish mercantile expertise). These laws included residential restriction, trade rules and a limitation in the ownership of slaves.

In 1831, a massive hurricane destroyed Bridgetown and much of the rest of the island. The Jewish community never recovered, and many left to try their luck elsewhere rather than rebuild. By 1925, there was no real community of which to speak. 

During World War II, several dozen Jewish refugee families arrived in Barbados. They began to  build the community anew. The Bridgetown Jewish cemetery was restored and the Nidchei Israel synagogue, after being moved to a new location, was rededicated. (The old building is now a museum.) In 2008, archeaologists uncovered the synagogue's 17th century mikveh (ritual pool).

Today is the anniversary of Barbados’ entry into the United Nations. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit It

If you vacation in a town with an historic synagogue, add it to your sightseeing list.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One Hundred Blessings

Brachot, blessings, that start with the phrase Baruch Ah’tah...(Blessed are You...), are recited over many aspects of Jewish life. There are brachot before one eats, and brachot after eating. There are brachot recited when performing a mitzvah (lighting Shabbat candles), and those recited over natural occurrences (such as a thunderstorm). There are also brachot built into the structure of daily Jewish prayer.

Many people are not aware that, ideally, a person should strive to follow the teaching of Rabbi Meir, who said: “A man is bound to say one hundred blessings daily, as it is written (Deuteronomy 10:12), ‘And now, Israel, what (mah) does the Lord your God require of you? [Reading mah as meah, which means 100]” (Talmud Menachot 43b).

One hundred brachot a day may sound like a lot until one realizes how many blessings one recites during daily prayer, how often one eats, that there is a vast array of daily blessings for a healthy body, such as the one recited after one relieves oneself. (On Shabbat and holidays, when there are fewer blessings in the prayer service, “Rabbi Hiya the son of Rabbi Awia endeavored to make up this number by using spices and delicacies - ibid.)

The idea of reciting 100 brachot during the day reflects a need to create a constant awareness of the Divine in this world. By doing so, one allows more Divine blessings to enter one’s life. According to the medieval commentator Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (the Tur), this ordinance was prescribed in the days of King David, when a terrible plague was striking down 100 people a day. When the king and the sages realized that the plague was a spiritual ailment, they called on the Jewish people to recite 100 brachot a day. The plague stopped.

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Bless It

Try to recite blessings during your day.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Shabbat

Shabbat ends when three stars appear in the sky, a little more than an hour after candle lighting time. Maariv, the evening service, is recited in the synagogue and, upon returning home, havdalah is chanted. Havdalah, which means separation, is a set of four blessings.

1) The blessing over wine (or grape juice): While the blessing over wine is the first blessing recited, the wine is not drunk until after the fourth and final blessing. If wine or grape juice is not available, other liquids such as beer or whiskey may be used.

2) The blessing over spices: A container of spices, often cloves, is taken in hand and the appropriate blessing is recited. The spices are passed around for all present to smell. The smelling of spices is done in order to revive the soul, which otherwise might be depressed over the departure of Shabbat.

3) The blessing over fire: This blessing is recited over a special, multi-wick havdalah candle. By making the blessing over fire, one is establishing the distinction between Shabbat, when one may not light a fire, and the remainder of the week, when one may. Additionally, according to tradition, Adam was given fire at the conclusion of the first Shabbat.

4) The blessing over distinctions: The final blessing praises God for distinguishing between holy and secular, light and dark, Israel and other nations, and Shabbat and weekdays.

After the four blessings have been recited, the person reciting them drinks the wine or grape juice. Many people have the custom of then extinguishing the havdalah candle in the wine or grape juice.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Delights for Shabbat

Serve your favorite foods to enhance your Shabbat.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

In A Challenging Situation

There’s a famous pithy saying that “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This American proverb is understood as a tribute to those who step forward and take charge when faced with a trying situation. Insightful words such as this proverb attributed to Joseph Kennedy (1888-1969), reflect the wisdom of the sages: “He [Hillel] used to say...In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man*” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 2:6).

The Mishna of Avot does not go further to define what is meant by this statement, though many commentators offer suggestions regarding exactly which types of situations are intended. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki, 1040 - 1105) understood the Mishna to refer to communal life. A person has an obligation to assume a leadership position in a place where there is no communal leadership.

Although it reflects the wisdom of antiquity, Pirkei Avot has as much impact on our lives today as it did in the era when these statements were formally collected and edited.

It is never easy to rise to challenging situations. In some cases, this may mean assuming the leadership of the community, accepting a chairing role on an organizational committee or volunteering one’s time. In other situations, it may mean standing up against a bully, when no one else is willing to get involved.

*Because Hebrew grammar uses both male and female forms, the default gender is male. The meaning of the verse applies equally to men and women.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Individual Challenges

 In all situations, remember to stand up for what you believe in.
 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Dotted Kiss

Jacob left the land of Canaan to avoid the murderous rage of his brother Esau. According to the Midrash, he remained away for 22 years. Although he left alone, he returned with a procession of great wealth and a large family. 

From the text of the Torah, it is apparent that Jacob was greatly concerned about meeting his brother again. Upon hearing that Esau was coming to greet him with 400 men, Jacob divided his camp into two. As a means of preparing for the encounter, Jacob readied himself for battle, he prayed and sent lavish gifts to Esau ahead of the caravan. 

The actual reunion described in the Torah, however, seems highly amicable: “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4). On first read, this seems like a sincere attempt at reconciliation. However the Hebrew word “and he kissed him,”  in the Torah, is adorned with dots above the letters. 

The most commonly cited understanding of these strange dots is that of Rabbi Jannai, who states that Esau wished to bite Jacob. The Midrash continues to explain that Esau did not succeed, because Jacob’s neck had miraculously hardened. This is contrary to the opinion of Rabbi Simon ben Elazar, who believed that the dots indicate that Esau kissed Jacob sincerely with all his heart (Genesis Rabbah 78:9).

Those who interpret Esau as continually hostile, perceive Esau’s subsequent activities as threatening as well. They see the false face of Esau continue in subtlety when he suggested that he and Jacob travel on together. But, when Jacob politely declines, stating that his young family and his large flocks require him to travel slowly, Esau tries to press his soldiers upon Jacob (Genesis 33:15). After Jacob refused again, Esau could push no further without revealing his true feelings of hostility.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A True Face

Be open and honest in your interactions with other people.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Answering The Appeals

There they sit, the pile of unopened solicitations and appeals. Direct marketing charity drives are the modern replacement for the communal tzedakah (charity) appeals of the past.

Food for the poor, tuition assistance for children in need of a Jewish education, support services for single moms, outreach work, hospitals, medical research...take a deep breath, because there are thousands of organizations struggling to make the world a better place. And they are all good causes.

In order to make sense out of this barrage of requests, it may help to know that within Jewish thought there is a recommended hierarchy to one's order of giving. 

The Torah states that top priority in giving should be to those nearest and dearest to you--your family. Within this category itself, there is a hierarchy that depends upon the closeness of the relationship (siblings before cousins, one's family before a relative's family, etc.).

Giving to those to whom one is not related has a different hierarchy. A friend or acquaintance has priority over a stranger, and a stranger in one's own community has priority over a stranger from another community.

These rules apply when giving to individuals, but similar rules apply to the mass fundraising appeals mentioned earlier. One has a priority to give to organizations that work within one's own town, before giving to out of town organizations. (The land of Israel is considered as your own town.)

While every Jew has an obligation to give to charity (see Jewish Treats: Tithe Means Tenth), how one chooses to give is left to one's own discretion. While one may certainly give all of one's tzedakah to one individual or one organization, it is considered praiseworthy to support a variety of individuals and organizations.

This Treat was originally published on February 1, 2010.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Tuesday

On #GivingTuesday, today, help support your juicy bits of Judaism, daily. Click here to donate.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Comedic Original

“I once wanted to be an atheist, but I gave it up. They don't have any holidays.”

Henry “Henny” Youngman (originally Yungman) was the king of the one-liners and was one of the first comedians to make a name for himself without costumes or jokes padded with an elaborate story. The oddest fact, however, is that Youngman did not start out his career with the intention of becoming a comedian, but rather entered the Borscht Belt circuit as a musician (thus his famous violin). His backstage quips caught the attention of the manager, who asked him to fill in for an absent performer...and the rest is history. 

Youngman, whose Russian-Jewish parents immigrated to America but were in England when he was born in 1906, grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Noticing his attraction to vaudeville, his father tried to channel his interests toward becoming a concert violinist. Instead, Youngman headed to the Catskills (“The Borscht Belt”).

In the mid-1930s, Youngman landed a spot on the Kate Smith radio show. His six minutes turned into ten, and he became a regular on the show. For the next 60 plus years, until his death in 1998, Youngman worked almost nonstop. He performed on stage, on television, on records, in a few movies and even at wedding receptions and Bar Mitzvahs.

Youngman’s most famous line, “Take my wife, please,” actually derived from a serious request Youngman once made to an usher to escort his wife, Sadie, to a seat. The usher thought he was joking, and Youngman integrated the line into his routine.

In 1980, at age 73, Youngman celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. It was a star-studded event. Youngman’s actual Bar Mitzvah, when he was 13, was cancelled due to the death of a cousin on the day of the ceremony. 

Youngman passed away from pneumonia on 24 February 1998.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Share Laughter

Making others happy is an easy way to fulfill the mitzvah to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

Friday, November 28, 2014

Caveat Emptor...Let the Buyer Beware (And the Seller Too)

Today is "Black Friday," the day on which retailers across America try to assure their profits for the year by offering outrageous sales. Each store tries to outsell its competitors, whether by offering the lowest price or by opening at the earliest hour. Under such pressured circumstances, as the crowds "stampede through," one must certainly keep in mind the Roman warning of Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.

In honor of this mercantile tradition, Jewish Treats presents a few ideas of Jewish law applicable to a day of sales:

1) Honest Weights And Measures: "You shall do no injustice in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure" (Leviticus 19:35). Although many products today are not sold by measurements, this important halacha can be understood as an injunction for retailer honesty - to sell exactly what has been advertised.

2) Intention To Buy: "A person may not oppress (or mislead) his friend" (Leviticus 25:17). In the Talmud, this verse is connected to the following statement: "One must not ask another, 'What is the price of this article?' if there is no intention to buy" (Baba Metzia 58b). Going into a store and asking the sales clerk about a product when you have no intention of making a purchase, or you intend to purchase the same item from another retailer, gives the clerk the false hope of a sale. Additionally, it steals the time of the sale's clerk, and perhaps, that of other waiting customers. However, if one is even remotely contemplating purchasing the product from the store, the inquiry is permitted.

3) Pricing Power: Jewish law generally allows a retailer free rein when it comes to pricing. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) notes that pricing that varies by more than 1/6th of the going market price is considered unfair, and both the seller and the buyer have the right to annul the sale. 


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Something Special

If you take advantage of Black Friday sales, buy something special for Shabbat.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks For The Day

The harsh piercing whine of the alarm clock startles you from sleep, and you push your nose into the pillow to block out any hints of sunlight in the room.

Sleep...as Shakespeare said “to sleep perchance to dream...,” but as any good Shakespearean scholar will tell you, Hamlet’s monologue was a poetic discussion of suicide, and sleep was used as a metaphor for death. The Talmudic sages refer to sleep as a one-sixtieth part of death (Talmud Berachot 57b), for during sleep the neshama (soul) ascends to heaven to give an accounting to the Heavenly court of that day’s experiences. According to Jewish tradition, in recognition that the return of the neshama is the gift of another opportunity to better one’s self, the very first words uttered in the morning are:

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ, מֶלֶך חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה ־ רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.


Modeh ani li’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam, sheh’heh’cheh’zarta bi ni’shmati b’chemlah rabah emunatecha.

I give thanks before You, living and eternal King, that You have returned my soul in me with compassion - great is Your faithfulness. 

By waking up with thanks on one’s lips, one not only thanks God for returning one’s neshama in the morning, but sets a tone for the day to come.  Throughout the day, one should utilize every opportunity to acknowledge and thank God, thus re-focusing oneself on the purpose of life. This is accomplished by making various blessings (over food, for the healthy acts of one’s body, etc.). This is also one of the purposes of the morning, afternoon and evening prayer services - saying thank you to God all day long.  Thank you in the morning, thank you in the afternoon, thank you in the evening.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

On This Day

On this day for giving thanks, Jewish Treats thanks you for your support.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Bird of Thanks

On Thanksgiving day, it is customary in the United States to eat a turkey dinner. The Hebrew word for turkey is “tar'negol hodu,” literally, an “Indian Rooster.” It came by this name because turkeys are indigenous to North America, which the first explorers thought was actually part of India. The country of India is called Hodu in Hebrew, most commonly recognized from the opening lines of Megillat Esther (Book of Esther, Purim), when King Achashverosh is depicted as ruling a kingdom that stretched “me’hodu v’ad kush” from India to Ethiopia. 

“So what?” you might ask. Actually, this really might be one of life’s weird coincidences, since there is another way to translate tar'negol hodu. Using the other meaning of the word hodu--thanks, a turkey in Hebrew actually means a “rooster of thanks.”

The phrase from Tehillim (Psalms) 118, Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov, is generally translated as, “Give thanks to God because He is good.” However, the phrase may also be translated as, “Give thanks to God because it is good.” Giving thanks to God is good for us!

Almost every child is trained by his/her parents to say, “Thank You” when given something. But, when one is constantly receiving, it is easy to let those manners slide. Human beings are constantly receiving, or to put it another way, we are all totally dependent upon the Divine forces of nature (to make bread you need wheat, wheat you need rain, etc.). From the first moments of life, we are all takers - and that is okay. That is what was intended. What is not, okay, however, is ingratitude. 


Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov! Every act of thanking God has a positive effect on a person! So go ahead and carve that tar'negol hodu, but don't forget to take a moment to thank God for the bounty before you.

This Treat was last posted on November 25, 2010. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Saying Thanks

Incorporate Jewish thanks (prayers or Psalms) into your Thanksgiving feast.