Friday, July 31, 2009

Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Av) is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, referring to the opening words of the haftarah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. It is the first of seven haftarot noted for their theme of consolation.

Having just emerged from the time of deepest mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, our despair is tempered by God’s constant optimistic promise--while our people may be laid low at times by our enemies, we shall be redeemed by God and our Temple will be rebuilt.

The haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu begins with the words: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eh’lo’hey’chem.” Be comforted, be comforted My people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1).

Isaiah lived and prophesied at the time when Israelite kingdoms were threatened by the Assyrians. This was more than 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple.

Through his prophecy, however, Isaiah was able to see that these great tragedies would be only temporary and that God would not only bring back the Jews from exile, but would also rebuild the Holy Temple. It is commonly understood that the double language of “Nachamu, nachamu” is an allusion to the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples and the redemptions to that would follow.

A Shabbat Discussion

This Shabbat, talk about the incredible history of the Jewish people - how we've lived through cycles of exile and redemption.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Book of Lamentations

On Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, one of the ways that the Jewish people demonstrate their mourning over the loss of both Holy Temples is by refraining from Torah study that might bring pleasure to those who study. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to read only the more somber texts, specifically: 1) Talmudic sections dealing with the destruction of the Temples, and the laws of mourning and excommunication (such as found in the Talmudic Tractate Moed Katan), 2) the Book of Job, 3) the admonitions and rebukes of the Book of Jeremiah, and 4) the Book of Lamentations.

Eicha, as Lamentations is called in Hebrew, is actually read publicly during the evening service on the night of Tisha B'Av. The five chapters of Eicha are chanted aloud in a mournful and dolorous tone...so that even those who do not understand the exact words of the text comprehend the devastation and despair expressed by the prophet.

Attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah (although his name is not found in the book to confirm his authorship), Eicha contains five poetic laments focusing on the destruction of the First Holy Temple. However, upon reading Eicha one will also discover allusions to the destruction of the Second Temple as well. The chapters (except for the last) are written using Hebrew alphabet acrostics (each verse starting with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence.)

Tisha B'Av, the fast of the ninth of Av, begins at sundown tonight. Click here, for more details on Tisha B'Av

Envision

Read the poetry of the Book of Lamentations and try to envision the depth of the suffering of the people of Jerusalem during that time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Giving Of The Get

Just as a Jewish marriage requires a ketubah (marriage contract), so too a Jewish divorce requires a get (bill of divorce). The ketubah is a contractual agreement in which the groom pronounces his responsibilities to his future wife, and the financial arrangements in case of divorce or his death. The get is a document releasing the wife from her contracted role as spouse, declaring that she can now freely remarry without violating the prohibition of adultery.

Legally (according to Jewish law), a get must be written by a scribe at the behest of the husband specifically for this couple, stating both their names/nicknames and location. The get must then be given into the hands of the wife. Both the signing of the get and the receiving of the get by the wife must be witnessed by two proper witnesses. A husband may appoint an emissary to deliver the get. The wife may do the same, but ultimately the wife must receive the get into her hands (it may not simply be left in the mailbox).

While the get is a document that a husband gives his wife at his own initiation, a woman may initiate a divorce under certain circumstances by asking a rabbinical court to order her husband to give her a get. A husband who refuses to give his wife a get (or a wife who refuses to receive her get) will often be faced with punitive actions (fines, communal shunning, and even, in some places, physical “encouragement”).

The procedures for the get are derived from Deuteronomy 24:1 - “When a man takes a wife, and marries her... and she will not find favor in his eyes ... he will write her a bill of divorce and give it in her hand and send her out of his house.”

Total Closure

If you are divorced from a Jewish spouse, make certain a proper get was issued.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sitting Shiva

Sitting shiva is the Jewish method of mourning the dead.

A person has an obligation to mourn for his/her seven closest relations: spouse, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter. Shiva (the first seven days of mourning) begins immediately after the funeral and burial. When the mourner(s) return to the shiva house(s), they are served a special meal, the Seudat Havra'ah, which generally consists of bagels and hard boiled eggs (symbolic of the cycle of life).

During shiva, the mourner(s) are tended to by their extended family or the community, reminding them that they are not alone.

There are various restrictions on the mourner--designed to both honor the dead and focus the mourner on beginning the healing process.

Generally, customs for mourning are the same in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Mourners do not: 1) work, 2) wear leather shoes, 3) wear freshly laundered clothes*, 4) have marital relations, 5) sit on regular chairs--rather, they sit on the floor, cushions or (in Ashkenazic communities) on stools that are less than 30 cm high, 6) greet others with salutations such as “Hello,” “How are you?” 7) leave the shiva house,** or 8) shave, cut their hair or cut their nails.

Mourners are also restricted regarding Torah study. In some communities, mourners only study the rules of mourning, and recite psalms. In some Sephardic communities, it is customary to study the Zohar.

On the seventh day of Shiva (except in special cases when a festival occurs and shiva is shortened), the mourner(s) “gets up” from shiva and returns to his/her daily routine.

*One may wear clean clothes and leather shoes on Shabbat during shiva.
**There are exceptions to this rule.

In Memory Of

Give tzedakah (charity) in memory of a loved one.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftorah on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftorah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21) . “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).

This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. D’varim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

Don't Give Up

When dealing with difficult people, take a deep breath and be patient.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Words Are The Things

In Hebrew, the Book of Deuteronomy is known as Sefer D’varim. Its name is derived from the fact that the Hebrew word d’varim is the first noun that appears in the book, which begins with the words: “Eleh ha’d’varim...” These are the words...

The word d’varim, however, is an interesting word. Derived from the Hebrew word l’dabair, to speak, it is usually translated as “words.” However, d’varim may also be translated as “things.” This makes perfect sense when one recalls that the Al-mighty created the world through speech (“And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” Genesis 1:3).

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” goes the old childhood song. According to Jewish thought, however, words are as powerful and substantive as physical things. Given that words in Judaism are considered to be actual things, one can see why our faith puts so strong an emphasis on guarding one’s tongue, reciting one’s blessings aloud and staying faithful to one’s vows.

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, contains the transmission of Moses’ final teachings to the Israelites. The sages refer to D'varim as the Mishneh Torah, the Repetition of the Torah, because it appears to relay, in Moses' own words, much of what has already been recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: “These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:1).

The Book of D’varim is about the things that occurred to the Children of Israel, about their good times and bad, their battles and triumphs, and the way the words that God related through Moses, helped form the Israelites into the great nation that was on the cusp of entering the Promised Land.

Opinion Point

Be careful not to diminish another's joy in an achievement or new item by inadvertently making comparisons such as: "Oh, I did that last year!" or "I got the same thing for $20 less."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Miracles of the Temple

The Jewish liturgy is filled with reminders of how we should mourn the loss of the Holy Temple, with prayers asking God to return the Holy Temple to us. While it is common knowledge, from written descriptions and recreated models, that the Holy Temples were both magnificent edifices, what is truly being mourned and yearned for is the Temple’s innate holiness. The Temple was built as a place where the Divine Presence could "dwell" – as a focal point for worship of the Divine. In the Talmud (Ethics of the Fathers 5:7), the sages recorded ten miracles that occurred regularly in the Temple:

1) No woman ever miscarried from the pungent odors of the sacrifices.
2) The sacrificial meats never rotted.
3) There were no flies where the meat was butchered.
4) The High Priest never suffered an impurity on Yom Kippur (which would have rendered him ineligible to perform the service).
5) Rain did not extinguish the fire on the altar.
6) The column of smoke rising to heaven from the altar was never swayed by the wind.
7) No defects were ever found in the Barley Offering, the Two Loaves or the Showbread.
8) The people stood crowded together, yet had enough room to prostrate themselves during worship.
9) Neither serpent nor scorpion ever caused harm in Jerusalem.
10) No person ever said, "There isn't enough space for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem."

Good neighbors

The Torah says it best: Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fear Your Mother?

"Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12) is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. It is at the very heart of Judaism and is a mitzvah that straddles the twin aspects of Judaism: “bein adam la’makom” (between human and God) and "bein adam l’chavero” (between human and human). Honoring parents recognizes the process of creation and enables us to appreciate God’s role in the creation of life.

A lesser known mitzvah, however, is "Every person shall revere/fear his/her mother and his/her father" (Leviticus 19:3). To honor one’s parents requires providing for their personal needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). To revere/fear one’s parents is to make certain never to undermine their dignity (not contradicting one’s parents, not sitting in their specific seats, etc.)

Note that when the Torah speaks of reverence/fear of one’s parents, “mother” precedes the word “father,” yet "father" precedes "mother" when the Torah commands us to honor our parents. The word sequence reveals a strikingly accurate understanding of family dynamics. In many homes, the nurturing role of the mother makes her more beloved to her children than the father. It is easy to want to honor her, to take care of her. But, the Torah places the word “father” first, with respect to honor, as a reminder that the father deserves an equal measure of honor. So too, it is often the father, who may be more distant from child-rearing (and who is often the disciplinarian), who is naturally revered/feared by the child. The Torah, therefore, uses the word “mother” first, in order to uphold their equality with respect to fear/reverence. Hence, children must revere/fear and honor both their mother and father equally.

Dinner For Three?

Show your appreciation, take your parents out to dinner.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great Disputation

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban/Nachmanides c. 1194-1270) was one of the great personages of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. He authored commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud and was known as a great mystic. He was also a renowned physician.

In 1263, King James I of Aragon ordered Nachmanides to debate Pablo Christiani, a Jew who had converted to Christianity and had become a Dominican monk. Nachmanides agreed on one condition – absolute freedom of speech (as opposed to the usual rule that nothing seemingly insulting to Christianity be said).

The “Great Disputation,” as it is called, began on July 20th and lasted for 4 days. The critical issue of the disputation was the Jewish belief in the Messiah and whether it had been fulfilled by Jesus. While both debaters cited the Talmud, Nachmanides thoroughly outclassed his opponent. King James I declared him the winner, awarded him a monetary prize and declared: “I’ve never heard anyone defend so brilliantly something so wrong.”

While King James had declared Nachmanides the winner, the Dominicans asserted that they had won. They were a powerful force, and when Nachmanides published a transcript of the Disputation, the Dominicans saw to it that the great scholar was exiled from Spain.

Nachmanides went to Israel, where he was instrumental in reestablishing the Jewish community in Jerusalem. In one of the abandoned houses he built a synagogue that became known as the Beit Knesset HaRamban, the Nachmanides Synagogue. This synagogue existed from that time (c. the 13th century) until it was destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanian Arab Legion during Israel’s War of Independence. It has since been rebuilt.

Point Them In The Right Direction

If you see tourists who appear to be lost, offer to give them directions.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Carrying On Shabbat

The last of the 39 melachot (creative works prohibited on Shabbat) is that of carrying between a private and a public space. How is carrying a creative work?

The 39 melachot are all based on the activities that were needed to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Carrying objects from place to place was one such activity. Carrying a heavy wooden beam certainly is laborious, but equally prohibited is carrying a book from one house to the next, which might not feel like labor at all.

The Biblical prohibition of carrying is only from a private domain into a public domain (and vice versa) or carrying 4 cubits in a public domain (about 6 feet). Within a private house, a person may carry objects in any part of the house. In fact, as long as one’s property is completely fenced, one may also carry things outdoors (within the fence) because the fence firmly proclaims the extent and boundaries of private property.

What one may not do is to carry an object from a private domain into the public domain - the sidewalk, an unfenced yard, etc - even if one’s goal is to bring the object to another private domain.

This law applies to all things. And carrying does not only mean having something in one’s hands, but also in one’s pockets or over one’s shoulders, as well as pushing an object (such as a stroller).

Why then, do we see so many people wheeling small children and carrying diaper bags on Shabbat? Those who live within an eiruv, a rabbinically constructed boundary that creates a private domain out of a large public area, do not have to worry about the prohibition of carrying. What the specifications of an eiruv are and how it is created -- will have to wait for a future Treat.

Empty Your Pockets

Before you go out for a Shabbat walk, empty your pockets.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Your Jewish Life Coach

Do you have a life coach? For those unfamiliar with the term, life coaches work to help clients determine and achieve personal goals.

While life coaching as a profession in western society is a recent development, Judaism has always encouraged, in fact expected, people to have a guide in their life - a rabbi. The importance of having a rabbi involved in one's life was expressed by Rabbi Joshua ben Perachia, a leader of the Sanhedrin in the first century of the Common Era, who said: “Make for yourself a rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person favorably" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6).

Rabbi Joshua didn't say that you should “have” a rabbi, but that you should “make for yourself” a rabbi, implying that making a rabbi must be a proactive activity. A rabbi is meant to be more than the person who leads synagogue services and officiates at religious ceremonies. A rabbi is meant to be a “life coach,” a person to whom one can turn to get advice and guidance.

In more traditional circles, individuals ask their rabbis questions of halacha (Jewish law), and also seek their aitza (advice) when major decisions need to be made. In the Chassidic community, the chassidim will go to the rebbe for advice on major and even many minor life choices.

Rabbi Joshua's words bear two important messages: 1) that a person should find him/herself a teacher because no person knows everything. Even a rav (rabbi) needs a rav, and 2) that having a rabbi is not a passive activity. One must “make a rabbi for him/herself,” meaning that he/she must seek a rabbi with whom they are comfortable and then must work to build the relationship.

Got A Question

When you have a question about Judaism or Jewish life, call your personal rabbi or the rabbi of a local synagogue.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It Was An Accident

A man loses control of his car when his tire is punctured by a nail and blows out. Trying to regain control, he swerves and hits a pedestrian, who dies instantly. Is the driver of the car guilty of murder?

When a person dies under unusual circumstances, it is only natural for family and friends to feel both grief for their loss and anger at the person whom they perceive as having taken their loved one away. In fact, the survivors may be so upset that they feel a need to seek vengeance. For this reason, the Torah instructed the Children of Israel that when they are settled in the promised land they are to create six arei miklat, cities of refuge, cities to which a person who accidentally kills another might flee.

As soon as the accidental death occurs, the person responsible flees to the city of refuge. Once there, a trial is held to see if the perpetrator is truly innocent of negligence. A person who is found innocent of murder, but guilty of involuntary manslaughter, must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, at which time the person may return home.

For a more detailed understanding of the arei miklat by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, please click here.

Oh, Sorry!

If you accidentally knock into someone or step on a person's toe, make a sincere apology.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue"

The directive to create a judicial system is set out in Deuteronomy 16:18-20. God commands the Israelites to appoint judges and law enforcement officials in all their cities and towns. These judges are instructed to judge the people with “righteous judgment,” an idea that is defined in the following verse:

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.”

The true goal behind a righteous justice system is not just that the laws be enforced, but that justice be upheld. This heavy responsibility devolves upon the judges. Therefore a judge, ideally, must have enough self-knowledge to ensure impartiality.

Monetary bribery is an obvious perversion of justice. But a person may be swayed by a vast array of other factors: flattery, class status, etc. Indeed, even the personal appearance or comeliness of a litigant can affect a judge's sentiment if the judge is not careful.

For this reason, the Torah demands, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). A judge must make decisions with extreme care. Once the case is heard, the judge must evaluate if any external factors have affected the judgment and if a truly just decision is being rendered.

So numerous are the pitfalls of being a judge that Rabbi Ishmael declared, “He who shuns the office of judge rids himself of enmity, theft, and false swearing. He who presumptuously rules in Torah matters is foolish, wicked, and arrogant” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:9).

Judge Not

Do not judge others on their appearances. Give them a chance to speak for themselves.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reuben, Son of Jacob

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

Reuben's history is marked by his impetuosity.

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

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

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

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

Give A Seat

When riding on public transportation, actively look for opportunities to give your seat to the elderly, pregnant or disabled.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

In truth, however, his period of "sadness" begins on the 17th of Tammuz (yesterday) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

From the first day of the month of Av onward (July 22, 2009), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, the following activities are prohibited (along with all of the above):

1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some, however, do take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

If I Forget Thee...

During the Three Weeks, place a picture of Jerusalem somewhere visible to remind yourself of why Jews mourn during the Three Weeks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Seventeenth of Tammuz: End of the Tamid Offering

In the year that the Israelites left Egypt, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Moses descended from Mount Sinai to find the Jewish people dancing around the Golden Calf. In exasperation, Moses threw down the two tablets of law given to him by God, smashing them.

During the centuries that followed, the 17th of Tammuz continued to be an inauspicious day for the Jewish people, a day on which great tragedies occurred. It therefore became a day of fasting and repentance from sunrise to sunset.

One such tragedy that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz was the cancellation of the daily offerings in the First Temple. This offering, known as the tamid (constant), is first mentioned in Numbers (28:3-4,6): “This is the fire offering that you will bring for God: unblemished he-lambs in their first year, two each day, for a continual burnt-offering. One lamb you will offer in the morning, and the other lamb you will offer at dusk ... It is a constant burnt-offering, which was offered on Mount Sinai, for a sweet savor, an offering made by fire for God.”

When the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem, the Jews still had enough livestock within the walls to maintain the tamid offering. As the siege continued, however, the priests of the Temple struggled to maintain the Temple service. They even sent baskets of silver and gold over the wall to buy sheep for the offerings from the Babylonians. On the 17th of Tammuz, however, the basket was returned to them empty – there were no more sheep to be purchased, and so the daily offerings came to an end. Needless to say, the cessation of the daily offering was a significant blow to the morale of the people of Jerusalem and the entire nation.

Fasting

If you were unable to fast or unaware that today was a fast day, take a few minutes and make a taanit dibur, a fast of words, during which one refrains from speaking any lashon harah (gossip/slanderous speech).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Laws of Inheritance

The Torah’s listing of the laws of the inheritance are quite brief, a mere four lines (Numbers 27:8-11): “If a man dies with no sons, then his inheritance goes to his daughter(s). If he has no daughter(s), then the inheritance goes to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then the inheritance goes to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, then the inheritance goes to the closest kin of the family, and he will possess it.”

Judaism as a religion is passed down through the matrilineal line (traditionally, one is Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish), however, one’s tribal identity is patrilineal. Upon marriage, the woman’s tribal alliance transfers to her husband’s tribe. For this reason, it was not in the best interest of the tribes for women to inherit land.

Before any inheritance could be distributed to the heirs, the wife of the deceased was apportioned an allowance for her own upkeep or given a lump sum distribution as pledged in her marriage contract. A portion was also set aside for living expenses and dowry for any unwed daughters.

As the agricultural/land based society disappeared, it was common to create a more equitable* distribution between sons and daughters through “debts” -- a father would leave a statement indicating that he owed his surviving daughter(s) a specific amount of money to be paid from the estate before the sons divided it.

In our times, the issue of inheritance is complex because one must fulfill both the halachic laws of inheritance and the legal laws of one’s country of residence. It is therefore of great importance to not only prepare a will, but to do so with the assistance of a person knowledgeable in both civil and Torah law.

*The distribution of a double portion to the eldest son is a separate issue.

Tomorrow is the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz. For more information on this fast, please see the National Jewish Outreach Program's 17th of Tammuz webpage.

Preparations

Purchase a plot in a Jewish cemetery. While it may feel morbid and depressing, those who prepare for the eventual future (after 120 years), are doing a kindness for their surviving relatives.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Man and Woman

G-d created the Adam in His own image, in the image of G-d He created him, male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).

A critical word in most discussions of gender in the Torah is the word Adam, generally translated as man. However, the Hebrew word for man is eesh. Adam is a more general term that applies to a member of the human race. If one looks carefully at Genesis, one will find that Adam is almost always accompanied by the definitive article ha, the. In the Hebrew language, words are either masculine or feminine, there are no gender-neutral words. The Hebrew word “ha’adam” therefore, took on masculine endings and pronouns, but, as stated in the above verse, “male and female He created them.” Many biblical commentators conclude, therefore, that Adam was actually an androgynous creature, both male and female.

In those primordial times there were roosters and hens, bucks and does, and pigs and sows, but there was only one Adam. Only one creature possessed a neshama, a soul, and the power of intelligent speech. While Adam was a complete creature, it saw that all the other creatures had mates. God recognized Adam’s desire for a partner, noting: “It is not good for Adam to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Therefore, “God took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place, and of the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man, God built a woman" (Genesis 2:21-22).

Thus there was man and woman. The age old “idea” of man’s superiority over woman because she was created from his rib is as invalid as is the retort that woman was an improved version of man. At least according to this interpretation, Judaism sees man and woman as two halves of the same whole. Separated, neither is superior. Together, they represent the great potential of God's creations.

Take Up A Cause

Choose a charity to support and put a tzedakah (charity) box somewhere prominent - like your mantle or on your desk - to collect for it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Torah And The Stars

The Torah is considered to be the blueprint of the entire creation. It is therefore not surprising that the great sages took an interest in the movement of the heavens, both from an astronomical and an astrological point of view.

The Talmudic sage Mar Shmuel (Nehardea, Babylon, c. 165 - 257 C.E.) was well versed in halacha (Jewish religious law), civil law (Persian) and medicine, but was especially known for his love of astronomy. He is quoted as saying: “Although I am as familiar with the courses of the stars as with the streets of Nehardea, I can not explain the nature or the movements of the comets” (Talmud Berachot 58b).

All that Mar Shmuel knew of the stars and the planets he discerned with his naked eye, for this was centuries before the first telescope was created (c. 1608 C.E.). In Talmud Shabbat 75a, Mar Shmuel quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying: “From where do we know that it is a person's duty to calculate the cycles of the seasons and the constellations? Because it says, ‘Since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations’” (Deuteronomy 4:6). And so he applied himself to study how the celestial bodies affected the calendar. For instance, by observing the revolutions of the moon he was able to predict the beginning of the new moon in Palestine, even though he was in the diaspora. Practically, this could have been used to remove the necessity of celebrating double festival days outside of Israel* (Rosh Hashana 20b). Because of his affinity for applying astronomy to set the calendar, Mar Shmuel was given the affectionate appellation Yarchinai (related to yareach, which means moon).

*For an explanation of double festival days, please click here.

Try and Count

Stand outside on a clear night and observe the stars and the planets. This is an excellent exercise in feeling awe for the acts of creation.

Jews and the American Revolution

In 1776, there were approximately 2,000 Jews in America. This rather small part of the population took an active role in the American Revolution. One company of soldiers in South Carolina had so many Jewish soldiers that it was called the “Jews' Company.”

One of the Jewish heros of the American Revolution was Haym Salomon. Arriving in New York from Poland in 1772, Salomon became a financial success as a merchant and dealer in foreign securities. Through the influence of the patriotic New York Sons of Liberty, Salomon obtained a contract to supply American troops in central New York. When the British took New York, Salomon covertly encouraged the Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British to desert. He was arrested, his property was confiscated and he was sentenced to be hanged. Salomon escaped and fled penniless to Philadelphia. Starting in 1781, Salomon used his financial acumen to help the Superintendent of Finance, William Morris, save the new nation from fiscal ruin. Unfortunately, his personal finances took a turn for the worse and he died in debt in 1785.

Another Jewish patriot was Francis Salvador. Arriving in South Carolina from London in 1773, Salvador involved himself in politics and was elected to the General Assembly of Carolina. He also served as a delegate to South Carolina's revolutionary Provincial Congress, which prepared the colony's complaint against the British Crown. When war broke out, the British made an alliance with the nearby Cherokees, who attacked frontier settlements. According to legend, Salvador galloped nearly thirty miles to warn the settlers of an impending attack and then returned to the front lines. During one such Cherokee attack, Salvador was hit by a bullet and fell from his horse. Discovered by a Cherokee warrior, he was scalped -- becoming the first Jew to die fighting in the American Revolution.

It's the law

Obey the laws of the country in which you live...it's a mitzvah!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Curses Turned To Blessings

“How glorious are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel. As valleys stretched out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes planted by God, as cedars beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5-6).

These words of praise came from one of history’s most notorious enemies of the Jewish people: Balaam son of Beor.

Balaam was known throughout the ancient world for his great spiritual powers. Able to “tap into” the supernatural forces of the world, he knew the most auspicious times to make Divine requests. Anyone cursed by Balaam was firmly cursed.

Balaam was approached by Balak, King of Moab, to curse the Israelites who were camped at his border. Balaam hesitated, knowing that God favored the Israelites. But when asked a third time, he agreed.

On his way to Balak’s palace, an angel of God tried to block Balaam and dissuade him from his task, but Balaam’s mind was set. On a cliff overlooking the camp of Israel, Balaam warned Balak that, try as he might, he could speak only the words that God put in his mouth.

Balaam tried three times to curse the Jews, moving from one place to another and failing each time. Each curse that he tried to utter turned into a blessing.

One might think that Balaam’s failure to curse the Jews indicates that he was not so wicked. However, after failing in his attempted curses, Balaam recommended to Balak that he send out beautiful Moabite women to seduce the Jewish men, for only when the Jews degraded themselves morally could they be defeated on the battlefield. This time, Balaam’s wicked strategy resulted in many Jewish casualties.

Compliments

Find words of praise for people to whom you have trouble being friendly.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Anniversary Jewish Treats

Jewish Treats has just celebrated our 1 year anniversary. In the course of this past year, we've covered a wide range of topics...and that's only the tip of the iceberg as we explore our exciting and interesting heritage.

In light of this exciting milestone, we ask you, our readers, to offer us questions and topic suggestions. Remember someone else might have the same question as you but be too timid to ask! So you ask it for them.

(Please click comment to post your question/suggestion.)

Thank you all for your wonderful support. Keep on reading!

The First Jewish Senator

David Croll was the First Jewish Senator -- of Canada.

Having served as the Mayor of Windsor (Ontario), as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and as Ontario’s Minister of Public Welfare, David Croll was an accomplished politician before the beginning of World War II.

During the war, Croll joined the Essex Scottish Regiment. While he had been denied an officer’s commission due to his Jewishness, he nevertheless rose through the ranks to become a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Croll entered Federal politics when he won a seat in Parliament (1945-1953). As an MP, he fought to garner support for the fledgling state of Israel and to increase the quotas for refugee immigrants (“None Is Too Many” was the policy of Canada’s wartime cabinet).

Highly regarded by his fellow MPs, extremely popular with his constituents, and, for at least 5 years out of 8, the only Liberal MP from Toronto during a Liberal government, it was assumed by all that Croll would be appointed to the Canadian Cabinet.

When Prime Minister Louis Saint Laurent, summoned him, however, it was to inform him that appointing a Jew to the cabinet would be unacceptable. George Bain, a journalist for the Globe and Mail, noted in a 1953 article: “The theory follows these lines: No Jew has ever been appointed to the Federal Cabinet. There remains considerable anti-Semitism, notably in rural Quebec.”

Croll was offered, instead, an appointment to the Senate, and the chance to be the first Jewish senator.

Disappointed though he was, Croll accepted the position and used it to introduce many important social reforms. In 1990, one year before his death, David Croll was sworn into the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, an honor usually reserved only for cabinet members.

Yard Work

Keep your yard or hedge trimmed so that you don't create a hazard for people walking past.