Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Father of Political Zionism

Theodor Herzl (Vienna, Austria 1860-1904) was 35 years old when he realized that European society would never see Jews as anything other than foreigners. An assimilated journalist, Herzl came to this conclusion based on the hatred he witnessed during the trial of Cpt. Alfred Dreyfus, who was falsely convicted of spying for Germany. During the trial, citizens took to the streets of Paris shouting, “Death to the Jews!”

Since the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., Jews have been praying facing the direction of Israel. Every day they pleaded in their prayers for a return to the Holy Land. Herzl therefore suggested creating an Alt-Neustadt, an old-new state. Thus, the political-Zionist movement began.

Herzl’s Zionism was unique because it demanded that political and physical action be taken to create a Jewish state. Until this time, Zionism had been expressed primarily through prayer, mourning, hoping and sending money, but not through political lobbying or endeavoring to create a fighting force.

The First Zionist Congress took place in 1897, in Basel, Switzerland, with 200 delegates from 19 countries. The World Zionist Organization was formed, and Herzl elected its president. Addressing the Congress, Herzl said: “At this Congress, I founded the Jewish State. It may not happen now, it may be 50 years, it may be 100 years, but it will happen.”

Until his death in 1904, Herzl worked tirelessly promoting an autonomous Jewish settlement. He convened six Zionist Congresses between 1897 and 1902, and set in motion many of the organizations that would be critical to the formation of the state.

In 1904, Herzl passed away in Vienna. In 1949, Herzl’s remains were brought to Israel and re-interred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.


Plant a garden. Even a small window garden makes the world more beautiful, while also helping clean the air!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Hope

In November 2004, the Israeli Knesset formally adopted Hatikva as the national anthem of the State of Israel. The preceding 56 years since the founding Israel, Hatikva had only been the unofficial national anthem.

In the 1878, a young Galician Jew named Naphtali Herz Imber, wrote a poem about the land of Israel. He was inspired by the founding, that year, of the first modern Jewish agricultural settlement, Petach Tikvah. Imber’s poem, entitled Tikvateinu (Our Hope), was nine stanzas long. The poem was quite popular, and, in the early 1880s, it was set to music (a variation of “The Moldau” by Bedrich Smetana) by Samuel Cohen, an immigrant from Moldavia.

The song was renamed Hatikva (The Hope) and was sung at the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, the last congress attended by Theodor Herzl. The anthem was sung at all subsequent Zionist Congresses, and, in 1933 it was declared the official Zionist anthem.

Nine stanzas being a lot for a national anthem, only the first verse and the refrain are generally sung:

As long as in the heart, within/A Jewish soul still yearns/And onward, towards the ends of the east/An eye still gazes toward Zion;
Our hope is not yet lost/The hope of two thousand years/To be a free people in our land/ The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Kol ‘od ba’lay’vav peh’neemah/Nefesh yehudi hoh’meeyah/Ul’fa’atei mizrach kadimah/‘Ah’yin l’tziyon tzofiyah;

‘Od lo avdah tikvateinu/Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim/Lee’yot ‘am chofshi b’artzeinu/Eretz-tziyon vee’rushalayim.

DID YOU KNOW: The last line was actually changed after the establishment of the State of Israel. Originally it read: “To return to the land of our ancestors/to the city where David encamped (Jerusalem).” (Lashuv l’eretz ahvo'teinu/La’eer bah David chanah.)

In honor of Israel’s 61st birthday, communities around the world will join together to sing Hatikva in the second annual Live Hatikva. Last year, Live Hatikva made the Guinness Book of Records for the number of people singing a national anthem in unison. Live Hatikva 2009 will take place at 10:50 pm Israel time (3:50 pm DST-NY). Live Hatikva

Celebrate Israeli Style

Invite some friends for a falafel and hummus dinner (or just a barbeque) in honor of Yom Ha’atzma’ut.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Israel Independence Day

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. On that day, the British Mandate was terminated and David Ben-Gurion declared:

“...This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly, we, members of the people's council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Within minutes, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish state. The Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel.

Within hours, five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) declared war and launched an attack. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence. Israel had no established army, no central command, no air force of which to speak and not enough weapons to arm its fighting force, which was composed of both sabras (native born Israelis) and refugees.

Miraculously, the Israelis gained the upper-hand in battle and, in 1949, the attacking nations signed armistice agreements with Israel.

The celebration of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, begins at sunset immediately following Yom Ha’zikaron (Memorial Day). Yom Ha’atzma’ut is marked in Israel by a special ceremony on Mount Herzl, a general atmosphere of celebration, and the bestowal of the Israel Prize upon Israeli citizens or organizations that have demonstrated excellence in their field(s) or have made vital contributions to Israeli culture.

A Sign of Support

Place an Israeli flag on your desk, or as your screensaver, for the day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Israel's Memorial Day

The State of Israel's independence*, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. (There have been over 24,293 fallen soldiers since the State of Israel was founded.) Therefore, before Israel celebrates its independence, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar, Yom Ha'zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country for one minute, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

On Your Schedule

Tomorrow, schedule your own minute of silence in honor of those who perished defending the Jewish state.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Truth About Gefilte Fish

There is a little known secret that, hidden in what was once the Russian Pale of Settlement (basically Belarus and Eastern Poland), there is a deep, fresh water lake stocked with the unique fish called gefilte... Just kidding. But it is true that gefilte fish is a uniquely Ashkenazi Jewish food...So where did it come from?

Gefilte fish is generally made of filleted, ground fish, usually carp, pike and/or whitefish. The ground fish is then combined with ingredients such as matzah meal, egg and seasonings, after which it is either boiled or baked . Originally, the ground fish was then stuffed back into the skin of the whole fish--thus the origin of the name gefilte (derived from the German word for stuffed). Today, most people purchase gefilte fish in jars, fully prepared, or in frozen loaves that can be easily seasoned and prepared.

It is commonly thought that Jews began eating gefilte fish as a means of avoiding the melacha (creative work forbidden on Shabbat) of bo'rayr (sorting the bad out of the good). Fish served whole often left a person with the difficult challenge of dealing with the small bones on Shabbat. Filleted gefilte fish, however, has no bones.

A practical reason for the popularity of gefilte fish, however, was probably budgetary. Ground fish can serve more people, and the extra ingredients also add taste to less expensive species of fish.

Gefilte fish is most often served with ground horseradish, either with or without beets, known as chrain (Yiddish). The origin of this custom, however, is shrouded in the annals of Jewish cooking history. Any PhD students interested?

For a delicious gefilte fish recipe, click here.

Ahhh, Shabbat

Plan a Shabbat walk with a friend or loved one.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pure Water

When God created the world, it was all water. As stated in Genesis 1:2 - “Now the earth was unformed and void...and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters.” On the second day, God divided the waters, setting the “upper waters” as the firmament that formed the heavens. On the third day, God brought forth the dry land and gathered the “lower waters” into what became oceans.

The waters remain bound to each other, however, through the perpetual cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Water thus maintains the connection of the upper and lower realms, and this intimate connection with both heaven and earth give water the power of “purification.” This is reflected in the power of the mikveh, the ritual bath, to cleanse.

A mikveh is not simply a pool of water. In order to be “kosher,” a mikvah must contain 40 se'ah (which in common practice is generally assumed to be not less than 264 gallons) of rainwater gathered naturally in accordance with Jewish law. This rainwater must be stored in a natural container, that is, in essence, part of the ground. In other words, the rainwater from above must mingle with the earth below!

In Temple times, ritual purity, achieved by immersion in the mikveh, was necessary to participate in most Temple rituals. Today, Jewish women use the mikveh to fulfill the laws of family purity, and Jewish men avail themselves of the mikveh voluntarily as a symbol of purity.

Immersing one’s self in the mikveh is not about cleanliness. Before immersing, one must make certain to remove all chatzitzot, barriers between the water and one’s body, such as dirt, band-aids or jewelry (as examples). When completely immersed, a person is enveloped in water that is part of both heaven and earth, which serves as a means to be spiritually reborn.

Life Saving

Learn CPR so that in, God forbid, an emergency, you can save a life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Land Is Our Land

“Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai said: ‘Three things are weighed equally, and they are earth, humans and rain.’ Rabbi Levi bar Hiyyata said: ‘... to teach you that without earth there would be no rain, and without rain there would be no earth, and without the two of them there would be no humans’” (Genesis Rabbah 13:3)

When the newly created Adam awoke, he found a barren world. According to the Talmud (Chullin 60b), there were seeds of trees and plants, but nothing had yet begun to grow because God was waiting for Adam to request rain.

During most of human history, people were always “in touch” with the land. The Torah is replete with laws that are rooted in agriculture. The land must lie fallow every seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-6). Fruit trees may not be destroyed, even during a siege (Deuteronomy 20:19–20). It is forbidden to live in a city without greenery (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12). You may not build anything generating foul odors, such as tanneries or cemeteries, upwind from or inside a city (based on Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 25a).

In the industrialized age, it is much more difficult, and therefore much more important, to be aware of humankind’s responsibility to nature. When God placed Adam into the Garden of Eden, Adam’s purpose was “to till the land and to tend it” (Genesis 2:15). The Midrash (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) gives a more detailed version of God’s instructions: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

And while much of humankind has left the farm for city skyscrapers and pavement, this earliest command from God remains unchanged and as vital as ever.

Jewish Treats strongly endorses Earth Day.

See Green

Look for opportunities to conserve the world's resource: walk to work, turn off a dripping tap, etc.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The Jewish nation has a long historical memory. Jewish history is replete with accounts of those who attacked Jews and Jewish communities, and the records of countless victims. On the other hand, the Jewish calendar also records dates commemorating the defeat of those who sought to destroy the Jewish nation. There is even a Biblical commandment to remember how the nation of Amalek tried to destroy the Jews by attacking the weak and the stragglers as they marched in the wilderness. The mitzvah is known as Zachor, which means remember!

A generation of Jews is now coming of age that is, in truth, the first generation who will need to be educated and, in effect, commanded, to remember the Holocaust. Those who survived the Nazi horrors are all too quickly becoming part of history themselves...and those who wish to distort history have gained strength as the number of eyewitnesses rapidly diminishes.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hashoah, literally “The Day of the Conflagration.” Around the world, people are recalling those who perished and the world that was lost. It is vitally important that time be set aside for each and every Jew (indeed, each and every person) to stop and ponder...What if I had been there? What if it had been me?

Just two weeks ago, at the Passover seder, Jews read the following statement from the Haggadah: “In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us. But, the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”

Zachor, Remember! Each and every Jew must remember the uniqueness of the Jewish nation. Our remembrance of Jewish tragedies affirms our survival and victory. Hitler may have wanted to eradicate the Jews, but instead, the Jews stand tall and continue to REMEMBER.

Learn Now

In honor of Yom Hashoah, listen to the testimony of Holocaust survivors who were interviewed for the Shoah Foundation Institute.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Tragedy of Jealousy

The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) relates that “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students...and all of them died in one period of time because they did not act with respect toward each other...they all died between Passover and Shavuot...and they all died a terrible death.” The Talmud then goes on to explain that, according to Rabbi Nachman, the deaths were caused by a croup-like illness that resulted in the victim’s suffocation.

Think of it: 24,000 students! And all but 5 of them (as stated elsewhere in the Talmud) succumbed to this horrible plague.

Unfortunately, love of God and love of God’s Torah, does not always translate into proper moral comportment. Instead of encouraging each other’s pursuits in learning, the students busied themselves with showing off their own Torah knowledge in order to “one-up” their fellows. As punishment for this great failing, the students were struck by the plague.

As the Talmud notes, this great tragedy occurred during the time period between Passover and Shavuot and lasted until Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. For this reason, 33 days of Sefirat Ha’omer (the Counting of the Omer) are considered days of mourning.

Communal mourning in Jewish tradition is expressed by the Jewish people by refraining from certain activities. During the 33 days of Sefirah, the precluded activities include: 1) cutting hair, 2) going to live performances of musical entertainment and 3) getting married.

High Praise

Take the time to praise the work of your co-workers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

There's A Key In My Challah!

It's a fact that many people spend much time thinking about, or even worrying about, par'nassah (livelihood).

Jewish tradition teaches that different seasons have different spiritual strengths. Certain times are regarded as propitious to pray for rain, while other times are considered appropriate to petition for forgiveness. (Of course, these things may also be prayed for at other times of the year!) So too, our spiritual leaders have noted that there are certain times on the Jewish calendar when it is propitious to focus on praying for par'nassah. One such time is the Shabbat that immediately follows Passover, when it is a custom in some Jewish communities to make what is known as shlissel (Yiddish for key) challah.

There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom. Due to space limitations, Jewish Treats will present only a few:

1) The Mishna (Rosh Hashanah 2:2) states that on Passover the world is allocated its grain harvest for the coming year.

2) The Jews celebrated Passover just before entering the land of Canaan and that was the last time that they received manna (the heavenly food of the wilderness). From that point on, the Jewish nation needed to care for its own par'nassah.

3) A “key” serves as a symbol to remind us that our prayers have the power to open the Gates of Heaven.

There are different ways to perform this custom. Some people bake an actual key (scrubbed clean or wrapped in foil/parchment paper) into the challah, while others mold their challah into the shape of a key. One custom mentions kneading the dough with a key. And there are still other customs as well.

Whatever one’s custom, it is hoped that the symbolic message will reach its proper destination and have the desired beneficial effect on one’s livelihood.

Bread Basket

Enhance your Friday night meal with two whole loaves of challah in honor of Shabbat.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just Do It!

Without question, the Biblical spokesman for Nike® would have been Nachshon the son of Aminadav. Nachshon, the Prince of the Tribe of Judah, showed the Children of Israel what faith was really about.

Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, Pharaoh sent his chariots racing after his former slaves, to return them to slavery. While the Israelites had a three day lead, they were traveling with young and old, slowing their progress. When the Egyptians caught up, the Israelites panicked. Ahead of them stood the vast Sea of Reeds (often translated as the Red Sea) and behind them, the Egyptians.

The Israelites turned on Moses and said that it would have been better had they stayed in Egypt, slaves but still alive (Exodus 14:11-12). Moses assured the people that God would fight for them. God then instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to go forward, and to stretch his staff over the sea so that it would split.

The Midrash, however, explains that the Israelites were not at all keen on following Moses’ directions. The Talmud (Sotah 37a) states, “Each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then Nachshon the son of Aminadav sprang forward and descended first into the sea.”

Letting the water come up to his knees, his waist, his shoulders... Nachshon did not pause. Nachshon was confident that God would fulfill his promise. And so, when Nachshon was up to his nose in water, the sea burst apart and the entire nation was able to cross on dry land.

Nachshon didn’t hesitate. He knew that a show of faith was necessary in order to bring redemption, so he jumped in and earned himself an eternal place in Jewish history.

TODAY is the fifth day of the Omer

Festival Part II

In honor of the final festival days* of Passover tonight, light candles just before sunset and recite kiddush (blessing over the wine) before dinner.

*Passover is an 8 day holiday. The first two days and last two days are Yamim Tovimand are observed like Shabbat (except that one may cook on an existing flame, and carry in public areas). In Israel, Passover is only 7 days, and only the 1st and 7th day are Yamim Tovim.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Can You Count To 49?

There is a Biblical commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha’omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha’omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:

Baruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al s'feerat ha'omer.

Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day, of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

TODAY is the fourth day of the Omer.

Count Out Loud

Set your computer or blackberry to remind you to count the Omer each evening.

Here's a fun way to keep track of the Omer: Homer Counts The Omer!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Time Off

During the week-long holiday of Passover, ignore your usual household chores (such as laundry) and enjoy the elevated time of holiness.

The Song of Songs

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is 'oil poured forth.' Therefore, the maidens loved you. Draw me, we will run after you...” (Song of Songs 1:2-4).

And people say the Bible is boring...

Shir Hashirim, (The Song Of Songs), the Biblical love song attributed to King Solomon, is understood by the rabbis to be a prophetic allegory about the relationship of God and the Jewish people.

The poetic work describes a beautiful maiden who loves, and is loved by, a handsome youth. When he pursues her, however, she sends him away with various excuses, only to realize too late that he was her true love. Devastated at the thought that she has alienated and probably lost him, she wanders through the city streets looking for her lost lover and, in the process, suffers shame and embarrassment. Finally, the lovers are reunited and are joined by their sincere love.

Shir Hashirim is one of the five megillot (scrolls of canonical works) from the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible. On the Shabbat of Chol HaMoed* Passover, it is customary for Shir Hashirim to be read in the synagogue.

Shir Hashirim was chosen as the Passover reading because the story of the Exodus demonstrates God’s patience with His beloved--the Jewish people, as represented by the maiden. Despite having witnessed the many miracles that God performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, the Jews strayed from their commitment to God. Eventually, God withdrew His favor from the Jews (Hester Panim), and they have since wandered the world trying to make amends for the damage caused to the relationship. The reunion of the lovers is a prophecy for the Messianic era, yet to be fulfilled.

*Passover is an 8 day holiday. The first two days and last two days are Yamim Tovim - days that are observed like Sabbath (except that one may cook on an existing flame, and carry in public areas). In Israel, Passover is only 7 days, and only the 1st and 7th day are Yamim Tovim. The in-between days are known as Chol HaMoed - weekdays of the festival.

Early To Rise

Set your alarm clock so you can say Birkat Hachama at sunrise...then enjoy a nice cup of coffee and a final danish before Passover.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Blessing of the Sun

Wednesday morning (April 8, 2009/14th of Nisan 5769), a unique, once in 28 years blessing will be recited -- Birkat Hachama, the blessing of the sun.

The event that is being observed is calculated by Jewish tradition to be the anniversary of the creation of the sun on the fourth day of creation. (And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day – Genesis 1:16-19.)

Since the sun was created on the fourth day of creation, we mark this event on the fourth day of the Hebrew week, which begins at sunset on Tuesday and ends at sunset on Wednesday.

The sages taught that God set the starting point of the earth's relationship to the newly created sun at the Spring equinox. Only once every 28 years does the Spring equinox (according to the Jewish calendar) occur on a Tuesday evening. The next morning, when the sun is visible, Birkat Hachama is recited.

Birkat Hachama initially consisted of the blessing alone. It has been expanded to include several Biblical and Talmudic verses related to the sun, as well as selected Psalms. The mitzvah itself, however, is fulfilled by simply pronouncing the standard blessing that is usually recited when viewing natural wonders: “oseh ma'aseh b'rei'sheet.” Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, Who effects the work of creation. This blessing should be recited before noon, and preferably before 3 hours of the day have elapsed (about 9:30 am depending on your location).

For a more detailed explanation of Birkat Hachama, along with the seasonal calculations, click here.

Practicing Perfection

If you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews spend some time practicing the Four Questions with them. (For a quick review, click here)

Passover, 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!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover Seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the Seder is derived from the four stages through which G-d promises to redeem the Jews from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am G-d and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the Seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Hagaddah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus, as a way of praising G-d. The blessing on wine is made a second time, because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a cup of wine or grape juice is blessed, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all those present bless and drink the wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising G-d, and marks the conclusion of the food part of the seder.

Leading Label

Before buying wine for the seder, make sure the bottle you want is labeled Kosher For Passover.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Elijah - Our Passover and Brit Milah Guest

At the Passover seder, those children who are still awake after the meal watch eagerly to see if the prophet Elijah comes to drink from his special cup...(and adults often shake the table to make it seem that Elijah is drinking).

At both a brit milah (circumcision, which is a covenant between God and the Jewish people - Genesis 17) and the seder, there is a special spot for Elijah. What is the connection between Passover and brit milah?

The seder commemorates the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:3-14, 43-50), whose blood was used as a sign to God to "pass over" the Jewish homes during the plague of the first born. Similarly, the covenant between God and Abraham was sealed with the blood of circumcision. The Paschal sacrifice is the only sacrifice that may not be eaten by a man who has not had a brit milah (Exodus 12:48).

Elijah “appears” at these two ceremonies because, ultimately, he will be the harbinger of the Messianic age. But in order to bring the Messiah, the Jews must be true to their faith...and no rituals are more definitive of Jewish life than the brit milah and the seder (when the miracles God performed for the Jewish people are remembered).

Elijah’s role is that of the loving rebuker. He loved the Jews so much that he could not abide their misdeeds. He railed at their idol worship and their abandonment of the covenant of circumcision. He wanted nothing to do with them until they repented (Kings I 19:10). Therefore, Elijah now appears at each brit milah to honor those who are maintaining the covenant, and at each seder, to remind us of the promise of redemption.

Elijah Who

Find out more about Elijah the Prophet in the First Book of Kings, and impress your friends and relatives at the seder by sharing your knowledge with them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kitniyot and Gerbrouchts...Oh You Ashkenazim!

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 to not 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 of products containing kitniyot. They do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in Sephardic 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 Ashkenazic Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchts. Gebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided for fear 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 follow the customs of the community in which they live and/or consult their rabbi.

Discover Customs

Ask an older relative what he/she remembers about Passover when he/she was young.