Friday, December 31, 2010


Fiddler on the Roof made the Jewish drinking toast “L’Chaim” - To Life! - famous. Where does the phrase come from? Why do Jews say “To life!” when drinking?

Many concepts in Judaism can best be understood through exploring where they are first mentioned in the Bible. The first person to drink wine was Noah, shortly after he emerged from the Ark. He got drunk and humiliated himself in front of his sons, before two of them covered him with a blanket.

The next to get drunk was Abraham’s nephew, Lot, whose daughters took advantage of his inebriated state to become pregnant from him.

We wish “L’chaim” to others when we drink in the hope that the alcohol we consume will not do any physical or spiritual damage to us. It has been scientifically suggested that those who drink wine in moderation actually receive health benefits from it. Health benefits = good life! We’ll drink to that! L’Chaim!

This Treat was originally posted on September 9, 2008

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Choose Winely

Kosher wine offerings have been expanding by leaps and bounds. Ask your local wine seller to see their kosher products.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” This question is posed by the classic New Year’s Eve song Auld Lang Syne. The song originated in Scotland and is sung at times of farewell (to the old year, with an uncertain new year ahead).

The Talmud (Berachot 58b) cites an interesting rule about old friends and how, indeed, they are never truly forgotten. “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: One who sees a friend after a lapse of thirty days says: Blessed is He who has kept us alive and preserved us and brought us to this season. If [it is] after a lapse of twelve months he says: Blessed is He who revives the dead. Rav said: The dead are not forgotten till after twelve months, as it says (Psalms 31:13): ‘I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind; I am like a lost vessel.’”

Jewish life, however, is long on memory. The first year after a person passes away, there are numerous commemorative markers (shiva - the first seven days; shloshim - the thirty day mark; yahrtzeit - the one year mark). Afterward, the annual celebration of the anniversary of death (yahrtzeit) generally keeps a person’s memory alive for many more years.

In some cases, a person who has passed away only comes to mind at the time of their yahrtzeit, just as the return of an old friend into one’s life brings back memories of times past.

The custom of greeting an old friend with a blessing is no longer in general practice. Of course, in this day of telephones, internet and the various social media platforms, it is far less common to completely lose touch with good friends.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Get in touch with an old friend and share some memories.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It’s At the Lost and Found

Many a comic strip cartoon has tried to gain a laugh by focusing on the strange objects returned to the “lost and found” department of large stores or buildings. Anyone who has ever misplaced a package, lost a watch or forgotten their umbrella on the bus is certainly grateful when they can reclaim their possession.

Returning a lost item is a specific mitzvah in the Torah. This mitzvah is known as Hashavat Aveidah, and there are strict halachic (legal) parameters as to what one must do upon finding a lost item or seeking to claim an item. For instance, a claimant must be able to present an identifying mark (such as a design or a blemish).

According to Wikipedia (“Lost and Found”), “The first lost and found office was organized in Paris in 1805" by Napoleon. But, in truth, there was a lost and found in ancient Jerusalem: “There was a Stone of Claims in Jerusalem: whoever lost an article went there, and whoever found an article did likewise. The latter stood and proclaimed, and the former submitted his identification marks and received it back” (Baba Metzia 110a).

The mitzvah of Hashavat Aveidah was considered so important that, in the times of the First Temple, “whoever found a lost article used to proclaim it during the three Festivals and an additional seven days after the last Festival (three days for going home, another three for returning, and one for announcing). After the destruction of the Temple--may it be speedily rebuilt in our own days!–the place of proclamation was moved to the synagogues and schoolhouses” (Baba Metzia 110a).

Whether at synagogue, through posted signs, ads in the classifieds, word of mouth or on the internet, it’s a relatively easy mitzvah to perform.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Even A Pen

Don’t underestimate the value of a lost item to its owner.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Your Mother's Brother

There’s an old wives’ tale that a man’s hair pattern (i.e. baldness) can be predicted by the hair of his mother’s brother. The genetic veracity of this claim is debatable, but, according to the opinion of the Talmudic sage Raba, “most [male] children [do] resemble their mother’s brothers” (Baba Batra 110a).

This seems to be an odd assertion. Modern psychology/sociology, and general life experience, would certainly disagree with such a general statement. Raba’s remark was based on his interpretation of Exodus 6:23, “Aaron [married] Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon.” Since the mention of Nachshon appears superfluous, Raba opined that the Torah was teaching that “He who [wishes] to take a wife should inquire into her brothers.”

Is this just an old superstition? There are many statements in the Talmud that seem to be random, but at their heart there is true wisdom. The lesson Raba is presenting is that most people are a reflection of their family. People who are dating usually put on their best faces. A person’s siblings, however, often reflect a more honest image of the family’s underlying values and ethics.
And remember, the statement in the Talmud is advice only.

The story of Jacob and Esau both validates and invalidates Raba’s statement. Jacob and Esau were twins whose lives and personalities were polar opposites. Whereas Jacob is known as a tzadik (righteous person), Esau is known as a rasha (wicked person). Who was their mother’s brother? Laban, a notorious con-man and crook.

Laban’s bad character is a possible explanation for how two righteous people, Isaac and Rebecca, could produce a son like Esau. Certainly, Esau's oppositional personality is an interesting study for the modern day conversation regarding “nurture” verses “nature.”

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Early Enrollment

Find out about local Jewish day schools or after-school programs in which to enroll your children next year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Man of Torah, A Man of Science

Perhaps you’ve heard of Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Rambam) and Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Ramban), two medieval scholars whose works are quoted frequently even today. You may not, however, have heard of Gersonides.

To Jewish scholars, Rabbi Levi ben Gershon is best known as the Ralbag, the author of Biblical and Talmudic commentaries, Jewish philosophy and Hebrew poetry. However, he is better-known to philosophers, scientists and mathematicians as Gersonides.

In the medieval era, science and philosophy were often categorized together. Thus Sefer Milhamot Hashem (The Wars of the Lord), Gersonides’ philosophical tractate (similar to Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed), also contains the author’s exploration into the scientific world.

While not all of Gersonides’ scientific works have been upheld by the test of time, many of his findings were far ahead of his times. For instance, Gersonides estimated stellar distances and refuted Ptolemy’s model of the solar system. He also worked with and refined scientific instruments such as the camera obscura and is credited with inventing the Jacob's staff, a navigational instrument designed to measure the angular distance between celestial objects. Rabbi Levi’s Craters, a lunar geographical formation, honors Gersonides’ astronomical work.

Gersonides is also noted for his work in mathematics. His treatise Ma'aseh Choshev dealt with square roots, binomial coefficients and algebraic identities (and more).

Gersonides’ rational thought process, which is reflected in his scientific works, also shaped his philosophic ideas, which was shaped by Aristotelian philosophy. Like the philosophy of Maimonides (also an Aristotelian), Gersonides’ philosophy was criticized and rejected by many leaders in the Jewish community. However much they disagreed with his philosophy, his brilliance could not be denied and his commentaries remain popular to this day.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Try to re-use leftovers...Judaism is opposed to wasting food.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Preacher Man

One does not often associate preachers with Judaism. There are, however, certain distinct personalities in Jewish history who are known for their ability to inspire through their oratory. The maggid (literally “teller”), as such a person is called, is known for bringing Torah and Jewish law to life through stories. This unique skill was epitomized by Rabbi Yaakov ben Wolf Kranz, better known as the Dubner Maggid (Maggid of Dubno, c. 1740 – 1804).

Born in Zetil, near Vilna, in Lithuania, Rabbi Kranz first began speaking in public in Mezeritch, Poland, where he was a student of the yeshiva there. He so impressed the town elders that they offered him a position as a preacher. After working in Mezeritch and Zolkov, he accepted a position in Dubno, where he remained for 18 years.

What made the Dubner Maggid such a powerful speaker was his use of parables, stories that illustrate moral points. When asked how he produced such accurate parables, he replied with a story of a man who found an archer at an archery range who had only perfectly accurate shots. When the man asked the archer how he had such consistent accuracy, the archer responded that first he shot the arrow and then he painted the target. The Dubner Maggid felt that this was very similar to his own method of preaching. First he understood the point he wished to make, and then he created the parable.

To help his listeners understand the words of the Torah, the Dubno Maggid created parables concerning kings, princes, parents, children, in-laws, and a wealth of other characters to whom the common person could relate. He was also recognized as a great scholar of Jewish law and his company was sought out by one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history, the Vilna Gaon.

The Dubno Maggid passed away on the 17th of Tevet in 1804.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Story Time

Use stories to teach the children in your life about Jewish values.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Separation of Church and State

Recently @JewishTweets mentioned, in passing, a website created specifically to give cheers or jeers to those who would or would not say “Merry Christmas.” Many of the jeers were given to local municipalities--once again raising the issue of separation of church and state.

Traditionally, the ideal Jewish nation is one with a pious king (as the standard set by King David), but with a clear separation between the civil leadership and the religious leadership. The king is the head of state; the High Priest is the religious leader.

This system worked well when the two leaders did not interfere with each other’s direct succession. Sadly though, one finds much civil discord throughout Jewish history brought on by kings’ appointing High Priests or taking the priesthood for themselves. After the Maccabees ousted the Syrian-Greeks (Chanukah), they assumed both the civil leadership and the religious leadership, which led to highly corrupt governments and, finally, to the heavy-handed rule of Rome. While the dual leadership of king and High Priest was never meant as a means of “checks and balances,” in practice it worked.

Far worse than an abused system, however, is when the civil leader bans traditional religious worship completely. For instance, Jereboam ben Nevat, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, banned his subjects from traveling to Jerusalem on pilgrimages for fear of losing his sovereignty. He even blocked the roads and put up idols to try and convince the people that he could create a new home for the Divine Presence. For this the Talmud says: “of Jeroboam and his companions... ‘the name of the wicked shall rot’” (Taanit 28a).

This does not answer today’s conundrum of how to best separate church and state (too little vs. too much), but it does provide an interesting insight into the Torah’s perspective on government.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved


At this time of year, do something to show your Jewish pride: wear a Jewish star pendant, hang a new mezuzah, put on a yarmulka/kippa in public, etc.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Is being frugal a Jewish trait? After all, being “tight-fisted” is one of the most common slurs against Jews.

One might think there is some truth to this statement when reading in Sotah 12a: “She [Yocheved] took for him [Moses] an ark of bulrushes -- why just bulrushes? Rabbi Eleazar said: Hence [it is learned] that to the righteous, their money is dearer than their person...” Instead of assuming that Yocheved chose bulrushes because they were available and would not attract attention, Rabbi Eleazar understands that this was a conscious decision not to spend money on hardwood (which might have made a better boat).

This is only shocking until one reads Rabbi Eleazar’s explanation: “... and why so?--That they should not stretch out their hand to robbery” (Sotah 12a). The inferred meaning is that the righteous do not spend unnecessarily on physical comforts lest they start to excessively desire them and are led to take liberties with other people’s property.

This frugality within the Jewish community stems from a desire that one’s money should always be put to good use. This means that one should spend less on luxuries in order to ensure that there is more to use for mitzvot and tzedaka (charity).

What does it mean to spend money on mitzvot? Jewish law encourages hiddur mitzvah, beautifying a mitzvah–for instance, purchasing beautiful candlesticks for Shabbat.
Yet, even while the sages encouraged hiddur mitzvah, they were concerned that this should not lead to excessive spending. Pointing out that “On fast days they used curved shofars of rams’ horns the mouths of which were overlaid with silver,” the Talmud ponders “Why in the other case [on Rosh Hashana] should gold have been used and here silver?” the response is that “... the Torah wished to spare Israel unnecessary expense” (Rosh Hashana 27a).

Perhaps it is true that Jews are frugal...but not when it counts.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved

Tzedakah Plus

Make sure not to be stingy when it comes to giving charity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Eclipse

Last night/early this morning, North Americans were able to view a complete lunar eclipse. While this is not a rare occurrence, it is always a fascinating event.

One might expect the sages to record eclipses as moments of awe, but instead the Talmud (Sukkah 29a) ascribes what seems to be a strange meaning to them:

“Our Rabbis taught, When the sun is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for the whole world...when the moon is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel, since Israel reckons by the moon and [others] by the sun...But when Israel fulfills the will of the Omnipresent, they need have no fear of all these [omens]”

Although there are numerous places in the Talmud where it discusses the sages’ knowledge of both astronomy and astronomers, this statement seems like a superstitious view of eclipses. However, the fact that it concludes by reminding the Children of Israel that if they follow the “will of the Omnipresent” they need not fear, provides an insight into the minds of the sages.

Humankind came to worship the heavenly bodies, according to Maimonides, because “they believed that it would be pleasing to God if they were to venerate the forces of nature which serve Him...Soon they were...offering sacrifices and hymns of praise to them..." Knowing humankind’s fascination with the heavenly bodies, the rabbis most probably described eclipses as bad omens in order to inspire prayer and repentance.

Why did the rabbis differentiate between eclipses? A solar eclipse, when daylight is blocked, is noticeable to almost everyone. A lunar eclipse, however, is less noticeable because people are used to the waxing and waning of the moon and may not notice unusual darkness. But watching the moon is an integral part of the calculation of the Hebrew calendar, and therefore the opportunity for repentance at the time of a lunar eclipse is particularly potent for the Children of Israel.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved

Astronomical Awe

Observe the incredible workings of the heavens and be inspired by the wonders of creation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What’s in the Book: Ezekiel

The 48 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel are filled with wondrous visions. Ezekiel’s first vision is of a fiery chariot drawn by creatures with four faces (of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle) and four sets of wings.

God instructed Ezekiel to withdraw into his home and to remain mute from all but that which God tells him to speak. During this time, he physically acted out his prophecies (sort of like performance art): “You also, son of man, take a tile, and lay it before you, and trace upon it a city, even Jerusalem; and lay siege against it, and build forts against it...” (4:1)

The Book of Ezekiel also contains several potent parables, such as the wife who turned to harlotry (Israel as God’s unfaithful bride) and the young vine that withers (the fall of the House of David). At God’s command, he sets aside the ritual mourning for his departed wife as a warning to the people that when Jerusalem falls they too will be unable to mourn.

However, Ezekiel also spoke of a new leadership emerging, the return to Israel and a truly eternal covenant being affirmed.

The “Dry Bones” is the most famous of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Ezekiel was transported to a valley full of bones that then return to life (“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off...Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel” - 37:11-12).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Gift of Warmth

Donate winter clothes or heaters to those in need.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fasting on Friday

The general rule of Jewish fast days is that they cannot occur on Friday. This rule is meant to protect the joy and happiness of Shabbat, for the sages felt that entering Shabbat hungry after a full day of fasting might diminish the joy and happiness of the holy day.

The Tenth of Tevet, however, is the exception to this rule. The “Fast of the Tenth” as it is referred to in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 18b) marks the date when the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem. It is one of the four annual fasts that relate to the Temples’ destruction. The 17th of Tammuz marks the date on which the walls of the city were breeched. The Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av) is the day of mourning for the destruction of both Temples. The Third of Tishrei commemorates the murder of Gedaliah, the governor of Judea after the destruction of the first Temple, which led to the final expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem.

What is so significant about the beginning of the siege that commemorating it merits affecting Shabbat?

It could be cogently argued that the beginning of the Babylonian siege, the Tenth of Tevet, was actually the most tragic day of all. As the Babylonians grew in power far to the east, the Jews were warned that the time to mend their ways was at hand. As the Babylonians marched toward Judea, Jeremiah, the great prophet, tried desperately to get the Jews to heed his call. Even as the Babylonians encamped outside the gates, Jeremiah cried out for the people to repent.

Without question the ultimate tragedy was the destruction of the Temple. That destruction, however, was the culmination of a history of missed opportunities that began when the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem on the Tenth of Tevet.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Conversation

At your Shabbat dinner, discuss why today's fast was meaningful.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Source of Leadership

Great leaders can move mountains...or at least, masses of people. Ezra the Scribe was just such a leader, and it was his charisma and wisdom that inspired the Jews to leave their Babylonian exile and return to the land of Israel.

Many of the Jews living in Babylon had grown complacent in their exile. Ezra, however, was the student of Baruch ben Neriah, the man who had been the scribe and assistant to the Prophet Jeremiah in Jerusalem. As a living witness to history and a great scholar (and some say a prophet) in his own right, Baruch was an inspiring teacher. In fact, the Talmud (Megilla 16b) relates that “As long as Baruch ben Neriah was alive, Ezra did not leave him to go up [to Israel].”

The relationship of Ezra to Baruch and Baruch to Jeremiah is an important one for the Jews of every generation. Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers (1:6), encourages each Jew to “make for yourself a teacher/rabbi.” Ezra’s personal history demonstrates the significant impact that a teacher can have. Had Ezra learned with anyone other than the personal scribe of Jeremiah, perhaps he would not have had the strength to inspire so many people.

Ezra did far more than lead the Jews from one city to another. He oversaw the construction of the Second Temple. He also reinstated laws that had been forgotten in the exile, and created new customs (such as calling three people to read the Torah on Mondays and Thursdays). He was such a great leader that it was said of him “Ezra was worthy of [bringing] the Torah to Israel, had Moses not preceded him” (Sanhedrin 21b).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Fast Tomorrow

The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet is tomorrow. Refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise tomorrow until nightfall (when you make
kiddush to sanctify Shabbat).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

To Dust You Will Return

Death is a big business, and the business of the funeral industry is geared toward comforting the mourner and helping them accept the passing of their loved ones. Therefore, most funeral homes offer an array of funeral and burial options. But, many of these options are actually contrary to Jewish law.

One common option is embalming, the process by which a corpse is “preserved” with chemicals. This practice is best known for its use by the ancient Egyptians (think mummies). In fact, the Torah mentions two Biblical personalities who were embalmed, due to the honor that the Egyptians wished to bestow on them: Jacob and Joseph. Embalming, however, prevents the fulfillment of the Torah precept of “for dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Additionally, the embalming process requires the removal of the body’s blood--and Jewish law requires a body be buried in as complete a state as possible.

Mausoleums, where bodies are placed in a vault, have also become common. This is often promoted to those who are uncomfortable with the thought of the body being buried in the ground. This method also prevents the return of the body to its original state of “dust.”

If the Torah prescribes that “to dust you will return,” it would seem that cremation should be the ideal form of Jewish burial. But, in truth, Jewish law also prohibits cremation because it destroys the body.

According to Jewish law, a body should be buried in a simple shroud and in a plain wooden box, enabling it to decompose naturally. In stating “to dust you shall return,” the Torah discretely underscores the importance of the cycle of life and death. Decomposition brings new life to the soil, which then brings forth vegetation to promote further life.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Make It Known

Let those close to you (next of kin) know your burial preferences.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Naphtali, Son of Jacob

After four years of marriage and desperate to have a child, Rachel gave her handmaid, Bilhah, to her husband Jacob to be an additional wife and to bear children in her name. Any children resulting from the union of Jacob and Bilhah would be raised as if they were Rachel’s children. Rachel was overjoyed when Bilhah bore her first son, Dan.

Shortly thereafter, Bilhah conceived again. Her second son, who, like the first, was to be reared by Rachel, was named Naphtali. When he was born, Rachel rejoiced and said: “I have attempted every means to influence God to grant me children as He did my sister, and I have succeeded”(Genesis 30:8).

Naphtali was the sixth of the 12 sons of Jacob. While one might suspect that the sons of a maidservant would be treated as second class children, Dan and Naphtali (and Zilpah’s sons Asher and Gad) received an equal inheritance with their brothers.

Little is written in the Bible about Naphtali as an individual. When Jacob, on his deathbed, blesses each of his sons, he says of Naphtali: “Naphtali is a deer let loose, he gives beautiful words” (Genesis 49:21). While Jacob’s description of his son is short, it is informative. Tradition notes that Naphtali was fast (a “deer let loose,” connotes swiftness) and therefore often acted the role of messenger. The Talmud (Sotah 13a) relates that Naphtali actually ran back to Egypt from Hebron when Esau demanded to see the legal deed proving Jacob’s right to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Naphtali was the father of four sons: Yach'tzee'ayl, Gooni, Yay'tzer and Shillem.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Snow Run

Get involved in indoor exercise for the winter. Remember, taking care of your body is a mitzvah!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Always A Jew

There are certain renowned figures in history whose relationship with their Jewish heritage was so tenuous that they had no hesitation in accepting Christianity, but was strong enough that it shaped their lives. One such example is the renowned German poet, Heinrich Heine.

Born in Dusseldorf in 1797, Heine received a minimal Hebrew education with little Jewish involvement at home. After a brief employment experience at his uncle’s bank, Heine began to study law (studying in several universities).

It was during Heine’s student days that he first became known for his poetry. His ventures into literary life led him to associate with a wide range of notable personalities and to form strong political opinions, which were very much on the radical left.

The completion of Heine’s studies, and his decision to seek an academic career, coincided with the re-introduction of many discriminatory laws in Prussia, including one barring Jews from academic posts. Therefore, in 1825, Heine converted to Protestantism and justified this move by stating that conversion was “the ticket of admission into European culture.”

Oddly enough, the years just prior to his conversion seemed to have been his years of greatest Jewish interest. In Berlin, where he was studying, he joined the Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden, a society which attempted to achieve a balance between the Jewish faith and modernity. He also developed a keen interest in Jewish history and began to write a historical novel, Der Rabbi von Bacherach (completed in 1840).

Ironically, Heine never held an academic position, nor was his Jewish heritage ever forgotten by those around him. And although he came to be considered one of Germany’s greatest poets, riots broke out when Dusseldorf commissioned a sculpture to honor the centennial of his birth. The stature, known as The Lauriel, eventually found a home in The Bronx, New York.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Translated Heritage

Read a translation of Heine’s works that reflect his Jewish heritage (The Rabbi of Bacherach, Shylock, and Hebrew Melodies).

Friday, December 10, 2010

The World To Come

This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and Olam Habah (the World to Come) is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat (Avodah Zara 3a)

Olam Habah is a reference to the afterlife. What is the possible connection between Shabbat and “the World to Come”? Just as all cooking for Shabbat must be concluded before Shabbat begins (since cooking is a melacha, a creative work prohibited on Shabbat), so too, in order to enjoy the world to come, one must prepare in advance, in the world of the living.

The ability to do mitzvot is limited to the world of the living (Olam Hazeh) as is noted in Psalms 115:17 “The dead do not praise the Lord.” Whatever “rewards” one receives in ”Heaven” are determined by one’s actions in this world. While there is no definitive description of Olam Habah and the rewards of the afterlife, it is generally understood to be an existence of pure holiness. The more meritorious a person, the closer that soul is placed to the ultimate source of holiness.

According to the Sages, every person has a share in Olam Habah. That share, however, grows or shrinks (or even, God forbid, disappears) based on a person’s behavior during one’s lifetime. It is important to note that each person is judged on how well he/she lives up to his/her potential. Thus, non-Jews who abide by the
seven laws of Noah
attain their Olam Habah just as Jews who observe the mitzvot of the Torah attain their Olam Habah as well.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Advanced Preparation

This world is like a lobby before Olam Habah (Ethics of the Fathers 4:16) prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Father, Our Father

Many well-known Jewish songs are based on words from the Bible. While a vast majority of them are based on Tehillim (Psalms) one of the most famous is almost a direct quote from Genesis: Od Avinu Chai, “Our Father Still Lives.” In this song, however, an inferred meaning of the words is utilized, rather than the actual meaning in the Torah.

“Ha’od avi chai?” “Is my father yet alive?” (Genesis 45:3) is the question asked by Joseph to his brothers after he reveals his identity. In fact, other than saying"I am Joseph," these were the first words that Joseph spoke to his brothers after revealing his identity. Twenty-two years earlier, he had been separated from his father when his brothers sold him into slavery.

When the singer/composer Shlomo Carlebach attached a modified version of this verse to the phrase: Am Yisrael Chai, “The Nation of Israel Lives,” the understanding of “avi,” my father, changed from a reference to Jacob to a reference to God: “The nation of Israel lives! Our Father still lives!” The use of Avinu to refer to God as the Father of the Children of Israel is well-known from the prayer Avinu Malkeinu (“Our Father, Our God”).

The combined phrases create a powerful image of the essence of the Jewish nation. The Torah refers to the Jewish people as “kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) whose role it is to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Nations have come and gone, negating the "power" of their gods (Babylon, Greece, Rome) but the Jewish people’s belief in God has remained steadfast. Today, rather than being challenged by people who believe in different gods, the Jewish people struggle against a lack of belief in God. Yet the very existence of the nation of Israel for over 3,300 years is, in truth, testimony to God's might. And so: Am Yisrael Chai, Od Avinu Chai!

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Sung To Inspire

Enjoy the music. Be inspired by the message.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Putting Chanukah In Perspective

Tonight we will light the final Chanukah candles. Let us take just a few more moments to make Chanukah real in our minds by placing it in its historical context:

The events of Chanukah took place about 150 years after the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE), whose death brought 40 years of civil war to his empire. Eventually, the empire was divided into 3 smaller empires: the Antigonid Empire in Greece, the Selucid Empire in Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Judea and Cyrenaica (Libya). By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes assumed the throne of the Selucid empire in 175 BCE, Judea was under Selucid control. He began his oppression of the Jewish people in 167 BCE, after his attempt to conquer Egypt was thwarted by threats from Rome. Antiochus’s initial anger at the Judeans was for the ousting of Menelaus from the office of High Priest, to which Antiochus had appointed him.

The Maccabees redeemed Jerusalem and re-dedicated the Holy Temple in 165 BCE. While they won religious freedom, the Jews never completely regained their political independence. Jewish kings reigned, but were often vassals to greater political empires. Sadly, the era following the great Maccabean uprising is one known for corruption and treachery.

The Maccabeans began their reign just as a powerful new empire was emerging: Rome. Julius Caeser was born in the year 100 BCE. Just 100 years after the Maccabean victory, Pompey brought the Roman army into Judea at the invitation of Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, the two Hasmonean brothers who were vying for the throne. It was the beginning of a very sad ending to an inspiring victory!

This Treat was originally posted on December 29, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Eighth Night

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah. Discuss with your friends or family how the message of Chanukah can be carried into the rest of the year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Maccabee Who’s Who

Mattityahu (Mattathias): A High Priest descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and then slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.

Yochanan (John) Gaddi: The oldest son of Mattityahu fought alongside his brothers. His death at the hands of the sons of Jambri from Medeba (in Moab, now Jordan) is recorded in the first Book of Maccabees.

Shimon (Simon) Thassi: The second son of Mattityahu, Shimon fought alongside his brothers. He was the first ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty, who came to power around 142 B.C.E, and also served as the High Priest.

Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee: The third son of Mattityahu, Yehuda was the recognized leader of the revolt after his father’s death (about a year into the revolt). He is considered one of the greatest Jewish warriors in history. After the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple, Judah continued to lead the battle against the still occupying Syrian-Greeks. The battles continued even after Yehuda’s death in battle in 160 B.C.E.

Elazar Avaran: The fourth son of Mattityahu was killed during the initial rebellion. The Syrian-Greeks had a cavalry of elephants. Elazar ran under one elephant and cut open its belly, but was unable to escape from under the animal before it collapsed on top of him.

Yahonatan (Jonathan) Apphus: The youngest son of Mattityahu, Yahonatan led the Jewish army after Yehuda’s death in 160 B.C.E. and also served as the High Priest. He was taken captive and killed by the Seleucid King Diodotus Tryphon in 143 B.C.E. (According to the historian Josephus, who claimed descent from Yahonatan’s daughter.)

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Gift To Give

When giving Chanukah presents, add a touch of Jewish education by attaching a fascinating Jewish fact. You can find many such facts in Jewish Treats' Complete Guide To Chanukah eBook. (Click Here to download your free copy today!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

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
which are best defined as a type of fritter.

According to
, 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 make 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!

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Fry Together

Invite some friends over for a latke party.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Spin The Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!

The Dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the Dreidel. When it falls, depending on which Hebrew letter is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday?

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 BCE), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the word Poh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt.

To learn more about Chanukah in general, please visit

This Treat was originally posted on December 24, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Dreidel Dance

See who among your family or friends can spin the dreidel longest.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beauty and The Greeks

What does Noah’s son Yaphet have to do with the story of Chanukah and the mitzvah of circumcision?

When the Syrian-Greeks sought to force Hellenization on the Judeans, one of the first mitzvot they outlawed was brit milah, circumcision. In fact, performing a brit milah on one’s child became a capital crime. The Syrian-Greeks found circumcision particularly offensive because of their own culture’s devotion to the beauty and perfection of the human body. The ancient Greeks are renowned for their sculptures and naked athletics. From the perspective of Hellenistic culture, the male body represented perfection. It was therefore unconscionable that the Jews should alter it, or maim it, especially by Divine decree.

The Greeks are known in the Bible as “Y’vanim,” the people of Yavan. They are, according to the sages, the direct descendants of Yavan, the son of Yaphet, the son of Noah.

Noah had three sons: Yaphet, Ham and Shem. Very little is written about Yaphet other than the fact that, following Shem’s lead, Yaphet covered his father’s nakedness, which had been exposed by Ham. For this noble act, Yaphet is praised. (See Genesis 5).

There is, however, much one can learn about a Biblical personality through his/her name. The name Yaphet derives from the Hebrew root (y-ph-h), which is the base of the word Yafeh, beautiful. Thus, beauty, and the admiration of beauty, are part of Yaphet’s nature. Consequently, Noah blessed him: “May God grant beauty to Yaphet, and may it dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).

Yaphet is associated with beauty and adoration of the human body, the two cultural traits that came to define Yavan-Greece. Perhaps, then, it is not so surprising that they abhorred the dedication of the Jews to the mitzvah of brit milah.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

It's Chanukah

Today is the first day of Chanukah (the first candle was lit last night). Discover the deeper meaning of this holiday (as well as fun games and delicious recipes) with Jewish Treats' new Complete Guide To Chanukah eBook.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rock Of Ages

“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower....” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as translated, loosely from the original Hebrew, by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s. And while tzur may mean rock, the rest of the verse actually means:

Refuge, Rock of my salvation/ to You is a delight to give praise
Restore my House of prayer/so that there I may offer You thanksgiving
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe/
Then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar's dedication.

Maoz Tzur is one of the best known Hebrew piyyutim (religious songs/poems). Most people, however, are only familiar with this first verse (there are 5 more verses--click here to read the entire song). Thought to have been written in the 13th century, it has become a near universal custom to sing Maoz Tzur after lighting the Chanukah candles.

Maoz Tzur is a song of redemption. Its paragraphs refer to the many different exiles the Jews have endured, but also reflect the fact that God is always present in Jewish history as our Savior. The exiles are treated in chronological order:

Verse 2 - “...when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule”
Verse 3 - “...Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved”
Verse 4 - “The Agagite, son of Hammedatha (Haman)...”
Verse 5 - “Then the Greeks gathered against me...”
Verse 6 - “...Thrust the enemy into the darkness...(word admon refers to Roman exile)”

The author of Maoz Tzur, a man known only as Mordechai (the letters of his name serve as an acrostic of the first letters of the first five stanzas), focused on each exile in order to acknowledge the redemption that God has brought the Jewish people in the past and to pray for a speedy redemption in our own day.

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

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

First Night

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, so celebrate the lighting of the menorah with friends and family.

Special For Chanukah: The 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:

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Bond of Brothers

Caring for the psychological well-being of children (and adults) is of great concern to modern society. Of course, parents have always wanted to shield their children from pain, but, for most of human history, it was often not possible to do this.

While the Torah never directly talks about children’s psychology, many such topics are indirectly referred to in the biblical narratives. For instance, Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel, was 9 years old when Joseph was sold into slavery. (Joseph was 17 at the time.) The mysterious disappearance of his older brother affected Benjamin deeply. The impact of his brother’s disappearance may be seen from an interesting Midrash (Sotah 36b) referring to the names of Benjamin’s 10 sons (Genesis 46:21), each of whom was given a name that specifically reminded their father of Joseph.

1 - Bela, because [Joseph] was swallowed up (nivla’) among the peoples.

2 - Becher, because [Joseph] was the firstborn (bechor) of his mother.

3 - Ashbel, because God sent [Joseph] into captivity (sheva'o el).

4 - Gera, because [Joseph] dwelt (gar) in [strangers'] lodgings.

5 - Naaman, because he was especially beloved (na'im).

6, 7 - Ehi and Rosh, because [Joseph] is my brother (ahi) and chief (rosh).

8,9 - Muppim* and Huppim, because [Benjamin said: ‘Joseph] did not see my marriage-canopy (huppah) and I did not see his.’

10 - Ard, because [Joseph] descended (yarad) among the nations. Others [say] because [Joseph's] face was like a rose (vered).

* According to Midrash Tanchuma, Muppim derives from “his mouth (pi) was like that of our father [in Torah learning].”

Benjamin spent 22 years enduring the after-affects of his brother’s disappearance. Benjamin didn’t become wild or angry. In fact, the Midrash implies that he was a complete tzadik (righteous man)--and, perhaps, this too, is a reflection of the impact of Joseph’s disappearance.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Meaning Of

If you can, ask your parents the reason they chose your name.

Monday, November 29, 2010

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 only actual mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle of the lights in the Holy Temple burning for 8 days.

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 in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice 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 sunset. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.)

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 also 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.

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

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Chanukah is two days away. Prepare for Chanukah by setting up your menorah early. (And don’t forget to download Jewish Treats’s Guide To Chanukah eBook!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

A-Hunting We Won't Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

JewishTreats leaves you with this question: Would hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation be prohibited as tza’ar ba’alei chayim or would it be permitted in order to make certain that fewer animals starve to death? Let us know your opinion by either commenting on the Jewish Treats Blog or emailing us at

This Treat was originally published on November 24, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


If you live in a city with a significant Jewish population, find a kosher butcher or supermarket with a kosher section for all your meat purchases.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

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.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

If you’ll be eating a full meal, you can say the
blessing for bread at the beginning of the meal. If you’re just having turkey, say the She'ha'kohl blessing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Truth Is Often Sadder

The Torah is filled with stories of people’s lives. Some of these stories are uplifting and inspirational, others are depressing and tragic. Of all the Biblical biographies, that of King David is certainly one of the most riveting. His life is full of adventure, danger and romance. His family life, however, was filled with pain and tragedy, none greater than the tragedy of Amnon and Tamar.

Amnon was David’s eldest son. David was known as a very lenient father, and it could therefore be assumed that Amnon was used to getting his way. As a young man, Amnon became infatuated with his half-sister Tamar (David’s daughter from a different wife). This being young love, Amnon “was so distressed that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar” (II Samuel 13:2).

At the advice of his cousin Yonadav, Amnon feigned illness and begged of his father that Tamar come and nurse him. David, sympathetic to his son, agreed, and instructed Tamar to go to Amnon’s quarters to care for him and prepare food for him. When Tamar finished preparing a meal for him, Amnon ordered his servants to leave, attacked Tamar and raped her. “Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred; for the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her” (13:15).

Tamar, raped and then cast aside, was taken into the household of her brother Absalom. All that is said of David’s reaction is that: “when King David heard of all these things, he was very wroth” (13:21). Torn between two children, he refrained from action. Two years later, however, Absalom avenged his sister by killing Amnon.

It is a very sad story indeed, but the Torah does not shy away from presenting harsh the hope that people will learn from these stories and be kinder to one another.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Reach Out

Support, either financially or through volunteering, a local women's shelter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Forget Custer

Hungarian immigrant and apprentice cigar maker, Sigmund Shlesinger (1848-1928) probably never expected to become a frontiersman. After he ended up in Kansas and had several business ventures fail, Shlesinger applied for a position under General George Forsyth, who was seeking 50 new frontiersmen to fight the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians (who were attacking white settlers). Shlesinger, who had almost no experience with either horses or guns, was hired only because there were not enough applicants.

After several minor engagements, Forsyth’s Scouts, as his troop was known, were set upon by the Cheyenne warrior Roman (Hook) Nose. For nine days the Scouts were trapped at the Arikaree Fork of the Republican River. They ran out of food and clean water, and 19 scouts were killed before the Scouts were finally able to vanquish their enemy. And while he received several bullet wounds, Shlesinger survived the “Battle of Beecher Island,” which would be known only because of the death of the famed Indian warrior, Roman Nose.

Shlesinger left frontier life shortly after Beecher Island, settling eventually in Cleveland, Ohio, where he opened a successful cigar store and was an active member of the Jewish community.

In response to an inquiry by Rabbi Henry Cohen of Galveston, Texas (the reason for the inquiry is no longer known), Shlesinger’s general recalled his valiant deeds and wrote:

“He had never been in action prior to our fight with the Indians and throughout the whole engagement which was one of the hardest...he behaved with great courage, cool persistence and a dogged determination that won my unstinted admiration as well as that of his comrades... I especially mention the pluck and endurance of this young man of Israel and speak of him as a worthy descendant of King David."

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Drive On Up

Use your car to help others.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Judah The Prince

Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, begins:
“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly...” (1:1)

The Men of the Great Assembly were succeeded by great scholars, the leader of whom came to be called Nasi. While literally translated as “prince,” this office is best understood as Patriarch or President. After Hillel was appointed to this position around 30 B.C.E., it became hereditary.

Only one man in history, however, bore the title “Nasi” as an extension of his name: Rabbi Judah Hanasi. He was born 65 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, during the Bar Kochba rebellion, the failure of which led to the exile of the Jews from Palestine by the Romans. In fact, Judah’s family lived in exile throughout the persecutions of the Jews by the Emperor Hadrian. When Jews were finally permitted to return to Judea, Judah’s family settled in the new center of learning, Usha, in the Western Galilee. Judah grew up surrounded by the greatest scholars of the generation (his father being one of the leaders).

Having seen life in exile and life after exile, Rabbi Judah Hanasi feared that the great body of knowledge that had been transmitted orally for about 1500 years from one generation to the next was being diluted and would be forgotten. He therefore authorized, on the basis of an emergency ruling (ayt la’asot l’hashem) to transcribe the Oral Law (Mishnah), which had already been catagorized by Rabbi Akiva into six major sections.

Throughout the Talmud, Rabbi Judah Hanasi is referred to as “Rebbe” or “Rabbenu Hakodesh” (Our Holy Rabbi), in recognition of the incredible efforts he invested to ensure the integrity of the Oral Law.

The 15th of Kislev is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Judah Hanasi.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Support Study

Institutions of Jewish learning are always in need of financial support.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Adopting Moses

In honor of National Adoption Day (November 20, 2010), Jewish Treats pays tribute to Bithia, the daughter of Pharaoh, whose adoption of a baby in a basket changed the course of human history.

While Moses’ tale is best known from the perspective of Yocheved (his mother, who set him in the Nile to save him) and Miriam (his sister, who watched over his floating cradle), little is said about the brave woman who raised him. Bithia (as she is called in the Midrash) knew that the babe in the basket was an Israelite, but, despite his pedigree, from the moment she spied him in the basket, a bond was formed.

Certainly there were challenges, Pharaoh’s advisors did not trust the foreign child (see Rabbi Buchwald’s comments on Shemot 2002). But “Pharaoh’s daughter hugged and kissed him and loved him as if he were her own son” (Exodus Rabbah 1:26).

This love and devotion brought her the ultimate reward: “Said the Holy One to Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh: ‘Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You, too, are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter. Thus it is written (I Chronicles 4:18) ‘These are the sons of Bithia’ (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3) who is Bat (daughter) Yah (of God). This is why she is commonly referred to as Batya."

While Moses was raised by Bithia, he did eventually come to know his biological family. While they also had a great impact on his life, the Midrash notes that, “Although Moses had many names, the only name by which the Torah refers to him is the one given him by Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh” (Exodus Rabbah 1:26).

Jewish Treats salutes all the adoptive/fostering families out there for the tremendous love that they provide to God’s children.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Express appreciation to all the people you know who have taken on the difficult task of raising children.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


As the world changes, the modern day sages must often reevaluate the application of Jewish law in order to correlate it with the findings of contemporary medicine. One of the best examples of this challenge is cigarette smoking. Originally, smoking was assumed to have many health benefits. After all, smokers seemed to feel refreshed and relaxed, a beneficial physical side effect. From a Torah perspective, the only apparent problem with smoking was lighting a cigarette on Shabbat (prohibited).

Toward the middle of the 20th century, however, scientists and doctors came to better understand the true effects of the cigarette. It is now common knowledge that smoking has many negative effects on the body. By the time this information became common knowledge, however, smoking was a common vice, and rabbinic authorities understood that an outright ban on smoking would be too difficult to enforce (especially given the addictive nature of nicotine).

When the issue of cigarette smoking was raised with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, regarded as one of the greatest Jewish legal minds of the 20th century, he strongly discouraged the habit but did not outlaw it outright.* His primary source against prohibiting smoking totally was from Yebamot 72a: “Since many people are in the habit of disregarding these precautions, ‘The Lord preserves the simple’ (Psalms 116:6). This statement has always been understood that there are some dangerous practices that are not prohibited because it is already the custom of too many people, but that those who are wise should certainly abstain from this behavior. Today, however, there are many strong calls to ban smoking entirely.

*This ruling was given in 1981. He included in his ruling a prohibition against starting to smoke.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Encourage yourself to stop smoking, perhaps donate a quarter every time you smoke a cigarette.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spiraling From Adam

“The Chosen People,” as the Jews are sometimes known, has been misunderstood by some as an indication that Judaism disdains those who are not Jewish. This, of course, is not true. Adam, the first human, was not Jewish...nor was Noah. In fact, there were twenty generations, many thousands of people, who lived before the birth of Abraham. Abraham, who is the forefather of the Jewish nation, is considered to be the first Jew. But even after Abraham and Sarah had their son Isaac, it was still several generations until their descendants were numerous enough to be considered a “people.”

Humankind was banished from the Garden of Eden, symbolic of a perfect world, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Humanity has been trying to return to that perfect world ever since. This process is known as tikkun olam, repairing the world.

Just as the process of rebuilding a home takes many specialists (carpenters, electricians, plumbers, decorators...), tikkun olam takes many types of people. Accordingly, every nation has its own special mission.

One interesting kabbalistic concept (based on the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria as written down by Rabbi Chaim Vital in Shaar Hagilgulim) describes Adam as having a neshama klalit, a universal soul, that shattered when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Every human being after Adam was born with a shard of Adam’s soul, which each person helps return to its state of pre-banishment perfection through his/her individual actions and accomplishments. Different pieces of the broken soul require different actions in order to be perfected. When a person does not achieve a tikkun for the soul within them, that shard is further shattered and returns in yet another generation.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Chez Kosher

If possible, choose a kosher restaurant when going out to eat.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cleaning The Water

This year, National Geography Awareness Week (this week) has chosen the theme of “freshwater.”

The Torah is laden with prohibitions against harming the environment. Soldiers may not cut down fruit trees that surround enemy cities. The soldiers of Israel must designate a separate place, outside of camp, for their bodily wastes.

Sadly, people have not done as good a job at maintaining the health of the world as one might hope. Freshwater, which is so critical to a healthy environment, is becoming very scarce in many parts of the world. Indeed, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the largest freshwater body in Israel, is shrinking at an alarming rate.

As we of the twenty-first century fret and fuss over whether we can reverse the trend, perhaps we can take heart at the words of the prophet Ezekiel. In chapter 47 (1-9) of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet is lead by a guide to a trickle of water. They walk together and the water becomes increasingly the ankles, knees, loins..until it is unpassable. The guide then passes Ezekiel through the water and says:

“These waters...shall enter into the sea, into the sea of the putrid waters, [and] the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every living creature with which it swarms, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish...”

This mysterious passage can, of course, be interpreted in many ways. However, it may also be read as a prophetic teaching that humankind has the responsibility and ability to repair our rivers and streams and, in so doing, rehabilitate the oceans, so they may team with life.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Just You

Volunteer and involve yourself with a neighborhood clean-up committee.

Monday, November 15, 2010

All I Need Is A Miracle

Are you an adrenaline junkie? Know someone who is? An adrenaline junkie, for those who are not in the know, are those people who love the rush of danger, who seek out thrilling, often life-endangering adventures. Many such people take up extreme sports such as cliff-diving and bungee jumping.

Judaism considers life a most sacred gift, and regards harming one’s self deliberately as a serious crime. In fact, Rabbi Yannai states in the Talmud (Shabbat 32a) that “One must never stand in a place of danger and expect a miracle to occur, lest it not occur.” This seems like sound and obvious advice. However, Rabbi Yannai goes on to further explain that “if a miracle does occur, it is deducted from that person’s merits.”

It is a well known concept that one’s merits and transgressions are weighed against each other on Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment. This statement of Rabbi Yannai implies, however, that the equation may not be as simple as good versus evil, but rather that one’s good deeds can actually be reduced “on account.”

Rabbi Hanin explains that Rabbi Yannai deduced this fact from Jacob’s statement to God: “I have become small from (unworthy of) all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant” (Genesis 32:11). Jacob, in Genesis 32, is preparing to meet Esau, who wants to kill him. Jacob’s statement alludes to the purpose of this “system of accountability,” which is to underscore that no person may sit around resting on their laurels--there are always more good deeds that one can perform.

Just as one must not deliberately place one’s self in danger, one must also not depend on a miracle in his/her daily life. “Hishtadlut,” one’s personal effort and input, is the Jewish equivalent of “God helps those who help themselves.” By doing one’s hishtadlut, a person is no longer relying on a miracle.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Auto Check

If you are a car owner, make certain to maintain your car to ensure its safety standards.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Great Maharsha

How is it that one of the greatest Talmudic commentators in Jewish history, the Maharsha, has a name that sounds like the name of an Indian yoga master? Maharsha is actually an acronym for the words Moraynu Harav Shmuel...” our teacher, the Rabbi Samuel Eidels (Poland 1555 - 1631).

Recognized early in life for his brilliance, Rabbi Samuel chose to dedicate his life to Torah study. After his marriage, he moved to the town of Posen to oversee the yeshiva there, established and maintained through the incredible financial generosity of his widowed mother-in-law, Eidel Lifschitz. In her honor, Rabbi Samuel became known as Rabbi Samuel Eidels. After the death of Eidel Lifschitz, when the yeshiva no longer had sufficient funds, the Maharsha served as the rabbi of Chelm, Lublin, Ticktin and Ostrog.

That the Maharsha was a brilliant scholar is best attested to by the fact that his commentary on the Talmud, called Chiddushei Halachot, is included in almost every printing of the Talmud. The initial writings were printed anonymously, but their overwhelmingly positive reception encouraged the Maharsha to continue. He also published Chiddushei Aggadot, which is a commentary on the non-legal portions of the Talmud.

The Maharsha was intimately involved in the politics of his time and was an active member of the Council of the Four Lands (link). It is interesting to note that he refrained from writing commentaries on those sections of the Talmud that his yeshiva studied while he was away at Council meetings.

Known for his humilty and generosity, it is reputed that the door of Rabbi Samuel Eidel’s home was inscribed with a quote from the Book of Job (31:32): “No sojourner spent the night outside, my door was always open to the guest.”

The Maharsha passed away on the 5th of Kislev, 5392 (1631).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Blowing Cold

As the cold weather starts, donate any spare coats or sweaters to those in need.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flying Aces

On November 11, 1918, at 11:11 AM, the death and destruction of World War I came to an end. It was the conclusion of an immense catastrophe that left a death toll on both sides that was staggering.

World War I was the first major war in which airplanes were used as weapons, and the flying ace, a pilot who downed enemy aircraft, was the epitome of the World War I hero among both the Allied and the Axis nations. A fact not well-known in history, however, is that there were a number of German Flying Aces who were Jews. The most famous were:

Willy Rosenstein (1892 - 1949), who received the Iron Cross, shot down nine enemy aircraft. He briefly served under Goering before transferring to another unit. Wisely, he left Germany in the late 1930s, after the Nazis came to power.

Fritz Beckhardt (1889 - 1962) shot down 17 enemy aircraft. During the Nazi regime he was arrested for impropriety with an Aryan woman. Upon his release after 1½ years in prison, he and his family escaped to England. Beckhardt and his son returned to Germany in 1950.

Berthold Guthmann (1893 - c.1943) received the Iron Cross for his service in the German Air Force. Despite his medals, he was sent to Auschwitz in 1943 and murdered.

The heroism of these Jewish pilots might have been forgotten were it not for the efforts of Dr. Felix A. Theilhaber, a doctor in the German army. He began researching the Jewish airman as a means of disproving the anti-Semetic media reports that Jews were not participating in the war efforts and that Jewish cowardice was the reason. Theilhaber’s book Jüdische Flieger im Weltkrieg (Jewish Flyers in the World War), catalogued over 100 airmen who put their lives on the line for their country.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


If you had a relative who fought in World War I, find out more about their involvement and record it for future generations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rachel The Great Romance

The story of Jacob and Rachel is as close to true romance as one finds in Biblical literature.

Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, went to the home of Laban (Rebecca’s brother) to find a bride. (In those days, marrying first cousins was not uncommon.) Jacob arrived at a well that was covered by a large stone. When Jacob asked the gathered shepherds if they knew his uncle, they pointed to a young shepherdess approaching the well and announced that this was Laban’s daughter Rachel. They also explained to him that they were waiting until all of the local shepherds arrived at the well to roll back the rock and distribute the water. Jacob immediately rolled the rock away himself and gave water to Rachel’s sheep. Laban agreed to let the smitten Jacob marry Rachel, if Jacob first worked for him for seven years.

When the wedding day finally arrived, however, Laban decided that it would be very embarrassing if his younger daughter, Rachel, were to marry before her older sister, Leah. Therefore, without any warning, he ordered Leah to don her sister’s wedding veil secretly and be wed to Jacob without his knowledge.

Rachel now faced a great dilemma. She could fight for her right to wed Jacob as promised, or she could expose the plot, humiliate her sister in public and bring great shame to the entire family. Putting her sister’s honor before her own, Rachel gave Leah the secret signs that she and Jacob had prepared in case of just such a likelihood, so that Leah could marry the man Rachel loved. When the festivities of Jacob and Leah’s wedding were completed a week later, Rachel and Jacob were wed and Rachel became his second, but more beloved, wife.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Make A Match

Don't be afraid to make blind date suggestions.

Simple Safety

Don’t take unnecessary risks with your life or other peoples' lives.


The Bible commands the owner of a home with a flat roof to put up a ma’akeh - a fence - around the roof, so that blood will not be on the owner’s hands (Deuteronomy 22:8). Sefer Hachinukh, an anonymously written book detailing the 613 commandments (13th century), explains the underlying principle of the command to build a ma'akeh(Commandment 546): In our lives, it is imperative that we take nothing for granted as far as safety goes. Some people are blessed with "nine lives" like the proverbial cat. Nevertheless, relying on miracles is not the Jewish way, so we must do our part to secure our lives by putting up safety barriers and not taking any unnecessary risks.

To cite two examples, the Chinukh warns against drinking directly from a lake or river without a utensil because of the danger of swallowing a leech. People are also cautioned against putting money into one's mouth, simply because one never knows who or what has come in contact with the money. 

While many people today no longer have flat roofs or homes with roof access that would require a ma’akeh (except for apartment houses), the modern day equivalent of this mitzvah for most people might be putting bars or safety locks on upper story windows, a railing around a deck, and erecting fences with locked gates around swimming pools. The spirit of this law warns against damaging and doing harm to our bodies and to others.

This Treat was originally posted on July 30, 2008.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Memorial Prayer

According to Jewish belief, when people pass away, they move on to sojourn in the “next world,” to hopefully enjoy the spiritual rewards they have earned from their good acts in “this world.”

In the “next world” a soul cannot grow spiritually, perform mitzvot or earn a better place. Basically, in the “next world” the soul reaps what it had sown in “this world.” However, a soul may gain merit through the deeds of its descendants.* During the festivals, the gates of heaven are already open to accept prayer, thus making it a perfect opportunity to add a special prayer for one’s deceased parent(s) or other family members. This service, known as Yizkor (“He shall remember”), is recited on Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret.

The Yizkor service is more than a prayer. On a personal level, it is an opportunity to reflect upon and remember the wonderful things that made the deceased person special. It is also a promise to act properly and give charity in the name of the deceased. (This is also why there are often synagogue fund-raising forms to be found attached to the Yizkor prayer--if people are pledging money, it is only proper for them to pledge support for the synagogue that provides for their religious needs.)

Yizkor may also be recited for other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.). In many communities it is also customary to recite a special prayer during Yizkor in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. In fact, many speculate that the memorial service originated as a result of the Crusades, when tens of thousands of Jews were murdered.

It is the custom among most Ashkenazi Jews that those whose parents are both still living leave the sanctuary during the service so as not to disturb the reflections and prayers of those who are reciting Yizkor.

*Descendants can also be non-biological--those one has taught or influenced in a significant manner.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Make a charitable donation in memory of a loved one anytime, not just at Yizkor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Intentions Matter

Halacha (Jewish Law) can be defined, literally, as “the way of walking” or “the path.” This single word defines Judaism’s unique legal system. Some paths are straight, others bend. So too, most aspects of Jewish law are defined by strictly objective reasoning, while others are determined by employing elements of subjectivity in their implementation.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines subjectivity as “Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world.” One way in which this is reflected in halacha is in the importance of intention. For instance, if one has recited the blessing for an apple (fruit - boray p’ri ha’etz), it is a question of intent whether the blessing must be repeated if a pear is eaten five minutes later. If the person intended to eat both fruits when the blessing was recited, then it is not repeated. If, however, the person intended only to eat the apple, but found that he/she was still hungry, a second boray p’ri ha’etz is recited.

With intent, comes the more challenging question of being honest with one’s self. Thus, if one eats pizza intending it only to be a snack (and eats a limited amount), a m’zo’note blessing for grains may be recited. But, if it is intended as a meal, ha’mo’tzee (for bread or a meal) is said.

One’s sense of honesty comes into play in many contexts. On a minor fast day, the fast may be broken if one feels ill. But what does that mean? Who can measure another person’s discomfort? One has to be honest that they aren't feeliing ill just because they do not wish to fast. (In that same vein, an ill person needs to accept the fact that he/she is not fulfilling a mitzvah by fasting if his/her health is at risk.)

Jewish law is not just a civil legal code for managing society, but a way of life to allow each person’s soul to truly flourish.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Evaluation Within

Try to always be honest with yourself so that your actions reflect your true intentions.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

B’Sha’a Tova

“Mazal Tov!” This Jewish expression has, without question, crossed the societal divide and is a well-known phrase throughout the western world. And while many popular entertainers and media figures may mispronounce it, it is no longer considered a foreign phrase to Americans.

While “Mazal Tov” is used in lieu of congratulations, it is most accurately translated as “good fortune.” But the Jewish faith does not believe that fickle fortune, otherwise known as “fate” or “destiny,” rules the lives of Jews, and so this too is an inaccurate translation. Rather, Mazal Tov is a means of declaring that God has brought good fortune upon a person. (For more see Rabbi Buchwald's comments on parashat Balak 5768)

Mazal Tov has come to be used as a means of congratulations for virtually every event--from getting married to getting a raise. For some situations, however, there is a far more appropriate term: “B’sha’a Tova,” which figuratively means “in a propitious time.”

What is the true meaning of the term “B’sha’a Tova”? In actuality, it is a blessing calling for the good tidings to come to a fortuitous conclusion. Most often it is said to an expectant mother, although it can be applied to any good news that has not yet come to a full conclusion, such as an engagement.

While B’sha’a Tova could be seen simply as a blessing that the unborn child will be born healthy or that a couple will have a happy marriage, it is also an indirect reminder of the Talmudic phrase: “gam zoo l’tova,” this too is for the good. A broken engagement, for example, can be an emotionally crushing event...but it is also one of the challenges that those involved must overcome in order to properly fulfill their purpose in this world.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

For Now And The Future

Go out of your way to wish someone well when you hear of their “good fortune.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heightened Senses

It has always been noted that the Torah is unique by virtue of the very human terms with which it describes its great heroes. Even the patriarchs and matriarchs are not presented as models of perfection. This is not only true of their actions, but also of them physically. The most prominent example is that of Isaac, of whom it says: “His eyes were too dim to see” (Genesis 27:1).

Beyond the obvious fact that if Isaac weren’t blind,* he would never have blessed Jacob instead of Esau, what can be learned from this description of Isaac?

It is a well-known fact that many people who are impaired in one sense compensate for it with their other senses. In the very same chapter in which Isaac’s blindness is described, sound, touch and smell are each used by Isaac for identification. When he doubts his hearing ("The voice is the voice of Jacob..."), Isaac relies on touch ("but the hands are the hands of Esau."). After eating the meal presented to him by Jacob, Isaac tests his son one last time by smelling him. Jacob, however, was wearing Esau’s clothes, so Isaac "smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him."

The Jewish understanding that blindness is not a reason to consider someone inferior (something which lesser people often do) can be seen in the tale of the blind Rabbi Sheshet, who was able to tell when the king was approaching by the sound (or lack thereof) of the crowd. When asked how he knew, he responded by saying that earthly royalty is like heavenly royalty, and God, the King of kings, is found" in the still small voice" (I Kings 19:11). And though Rabbi Sheshet could not see him with his eyes, he nevertheless said the blessing recited when seeing a king.

*While Isaac’s blindness is the primary reason that he was fooled, his “blindness” can also be read as a metaphor for the fact that he was “blinded” by Esau’s false pretenses of righteousness.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Accentuate the Positive

Thank God for the wonder of your senses.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The First In The Senate

As U.S. citizens vote in the midterm elections, Jewish Treats introduces David Levy Yulee, the first Jewish man to be elected to the United States Senate.

Like his more famous contemporary, Judah P. Benjamin (who was the second Jewish senator), Yulee hailed from the south. Born on the Island of St. Thomas (in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands), Yulee was raised in Florida. His first Federal position was serving as the delegate to Congress for the Florida Territory. When Florida was granted statehood in 1845, Yulee was elected to the Senate. He lost his seat in 1850 and founded the Yulee Sugar Mill, the ruins of which are now a state historic site. He also began building the Yulee Railroad, which was the first railroad to cross the state of Florida.

Yulee was re-elected to the Senate in 1855, only to resign when Florida seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy. After the war, he spent nine months imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for his support for the Confederacy. Following his time in prison, Yulee continued his involvement with Florida railroads. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1880, and died in 1886.

Born David Levy, he legally adopted the name Yulee in honor of his Moroccan ancestors. Sadly, this seems to be the only part of his Jewish heritage that he honored. He married Nannie C. Wickliffe and raised his children as Christians.

This was in sharp contrast to his father, Moses Elias Levy, an observant Jew from Morocco who made a fortune in Caribbean timber. He then purchased a large parcel of land in Florida (near Jacksonville) and established Pilgrimage Plantation, a Jewish utopian settlement for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. The Plantation was destroyed during the Second Seminole War in 1835.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


To express your appreciation (hakarat hatov) of the United States, go out and vote today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hail The Holy Pomegranate

The Pomegranate is a funny sort of fruit. Rather than eating the flesh and throwing away the seed, as one does when eating an apple or orange, pomegranate seeds are eaten and the flesh discarded. It is, therefore, interesting that God commanded that this fruit be reproduced on the High Priest’s garb: “You shall make on its [the coat’s] hem, pomegranate ... and gold bells between them all around. A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the robe all around ... the sound thereof shall be heard when he [the High Priest] goes in to the holy place before God, and when he comes out. (Exodus 28:33-35). After all, what is so special about a pomegranate?

The pomegranate is a very symbolic fruit. Judaism views it as a representation of the righteousness within each Jew: “Even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate, as the verse states (Song of Songs 4:3), ‘Like the separating of a Pomegranate are ra'kataych.’ Don’t read the word ‘ra'kataych’ but rather ‘rey'kataych,’ [empty ones] even the empty ones [the sinners] among you are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate” (Eiruvin 19a). Traditionally, pomegranates are reputed to contain 613 seeds representing the 613 mitzvot, which is why it has become customary to eat pomegranate as one of the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana and pray, “That our merits shall increase like a pomegranate.” (Before you ask, pomegranates do not have a set number of seeds!)

Pomegranates are one of the seven species identified with the Land of Israel. (Deuteronomy 8:8), and many Jewish artisans found the fruit an alluring subject for reproduction. They were used as decor in Solomon’s Temple (I Kings 7), on ancient Judean coins and, even today, are often part of the silver ornaments found on many Torah scrolls.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Make sure to say the proper blessing over your National Pomegranate Month (November) treats: Ha'etz
for the fruit, She'ha'kol for pomegranate drinks.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Leads The Prayers

A congregational rabbi’s job is to teach and guide a community, officiate at life-cycle events, answer appropriate questions and be the representative of the community. A rabbi must therefore have intelligence, scholarship and interpersonal skills...but a nice singing voice is not one of the requirements. So whose job is it to lead the prayer service?

In many small congregations, the leader of the prayer service can be anyone who steps forward to volunteer. This person is known as the Shaliach Tzibur, the messenger for the congregation. Some congregations will designate one specific lay person to lead services, particularly on Shabbat and festivals. This person is known as the Baal Tefillah, the master of prayer. Many congregations, however, take the more professional route and hire a chazzan, a cantor.

The chazzan is a trained vocal professional and is a recognized member of the congregational clergy. In addition to leading services, the chazzan is often responsible for teaching the youth and preparing them for Bar/Bat Mitzvah while sharing some of the pastoral duties with the rabbi.

While the term chazzan is found in the Mishna (Sotah 7:7-8), this refers to a general synagogue-helper type of position. It was not until the Geonic era (c. 600 - 1000 C.E.) that the community’s prayer leader assumed the formal title of chazzan. The great rabbinic leaders of the generations that followed the Geonim included the chazzan in their discussion of synagogue professionals and required chazzanim to be especially upright people, acceptable to the congregation and well-versed in Torah.

Different styles of chazzanut (cantorial performance) developed in different regions. In some area of Eastern Europe, the chazzan sounded more like an opera star. The “Golden Age of Chazzanut” was in the 20th century between the two world wars, when chazzanim would even offer concerts to packed concert houses.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Listen to some samples of different styles of chazzanut:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A King, a Ghost and a Witch

Across the Western world, children are reveling in the realm of the un-dead, an off-shoot of a distinctly non-Jewish holiday (Halloween). Yet the underlying interest in ghosts, goblins and witches has valid Jewish sources. Take, for instance, the story of King Saul and Samuel’s ghost (I Samuel 28:4-20):

At the end of his reign, surrounded by the Philistine army, King Saul tried, unsuccessfully, to communicate with God. Terrified of defeat, Saul ordered his servants to find him “a woman who speaks by ghosts,” and they brought him to the witch of Endor. Reluctantly, the woman agreed to call forth the ghost of the prophet Samuel. The ghost immediately asked Saul, “Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” and then reiterated what Saul already knew, that he had lost God’s favor. The ghost then told Saul that he was doomed to perish the next day.

This is a simple summary from which there is much to learn. King Saul is a conflicted personality who had, prior to this incident, commanded the people to “put away those that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit out of the land” (28:3) (accounting for the witch’s reluctance to practice her witchcraft.) This was in accordance with Deuteronomy 18:10-11: “There shall not be found among you ... a soothsayer or a sorcerer ... or one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer.” But Saul’s desperation drove him to violate the law. The story does, however, teach us not to immediately assume that all talk of witches and spirits is mere foolishness.

And what of Samuel’s ghost? Rabbi Abahu explained (Shabbat 152b) that the witch was able to call Samuel’s spirit forth because “it was within twelve months of his death...For it was taught: For full [twelve months] the body is in existence and the soul ascends and descends...” --affirming as well that ghosts are not necessarily a figment of the imagination.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.