Friday, January 29, 2010

The Shabbat of Song

Music speaks to the heart, and, not surprisingly, the heart often speaks through music. Thus, when the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds (aka the Red Sea) and witnessed the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army, they burst into spontaneous song (led by Moses).

Az Yashir Moshe U’v’nei Yisrael... Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel...(Exodus 15:1). The song, which is recorded in Exodus 15:1-19, is known as the Shirah (the song). The Shabbat on which this Shirah is chanted in the synagogue (Parashat B'shalach) is known as Shabbat Shirah.

The lyrics of the Shirah constitute exalted praises of God, Who saves the Jewish people. Recounting the miraculous event, the Shirah calls out: “For the horses of Pharaoh went into the sea with his chariots and his horsemen, and God brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” (15:19).

Why is a special name given to this Shabbat? Because the Shirah inspires us to remember the heights that our people can reach.

Those who have read Bible cannot help but notice that such spontaneous praise and gratitude from the Israelites was rare. The Israelites spent much time complaining. They wanted meat (Exodus 16), worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32), sinned with the Moabite women (Numbers 25), etc. But when the Israelites reached the far side of the Sea of Reeds, their faith in God and in their own significance was at an all time high. There was no restraint in their praise of God.

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

Music Maker

On Shabbat, rejoice over the good things in your life, whether with Shabbat zemirot (songs) or with songs you know (Broadway, rock, opera, etc.) that fit the theme.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tu B'Shevat

Tu B'Shevat, the new year of the trees, is often celebrated with the 7 species for which the Torah praises the land of Israel: “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (from dates)” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Wheat (chitah): The Sages noted the importance of wheat in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21): “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no Torah, there is no flour.”

Barley (seh’o’rah): At Passover time, the omer offering (a measure of barley from the new harvest) was brought to the Temple, symbolic of the start of the spring harvest.

Grape (gefen - literally grape-vines): The transformation of grapes into wine reflects humankind’s ability to choose to uplift itself or debase itself depending upon how they use the grape.

Fig (t’aynah): “... All the figs on one tree do not ripen at once, rather a few each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs one finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds" (Eruvin 54a).

Pomegranate (rimon): According to the Midrash, the pomegranate has 613 seeds equivalent to the number of commandments in the Torah.

Olive (zayit): “...Just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter, so too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off--neither in this world, or in the World to Come” (Menachot 53b).

Date (tamar): While the Torah uses the word d’vash, honey, it is understood as referring to date-honey because the date is frequently boiled to make a type of honey. “The righteous shall flourish like a date-palm tree” (Psalms 92:13), for those who act holy are sweet in God’s eyes.

See also: Jewish Treats: Tu B’Shevat is Coming and Jewish Treats: Terrific Trees

In Honor Of The Trees

Include the seven species at your Shabbat Meal.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Gratitude

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The eighteenth blessing is an outright statement of gratitude. It is the longest of the nineteen blessings. When reciting this blessing, bow at the waist during the first five words but return to upright before saying God’s name (Ah’doh’nai).

Moh’deem ah’nachnu lach sheh’ah’tah hoo Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu vey’lo’hay avoh’taynu l’olam va’ed, tzur cha’yay’nu, magen yish’aynu Ah’tah hoo l’dor va’dor. Nodeh l’cha oon’sah’payr t’hee’lah’techa ahl cha’yay’nu hahm’soo’rim b’yah’deh’cha, v’ahl nish’mo’taynu hop’koo’dot lach, v’ahl nee’seh’cha sheb’chol yom ee’manu, v’ahl nif’l’oh’techa v’to’vo’techa shehb’chol ayt, erev va’vo’ker v’tza’ha’ra’yeem. Hatov kee lo cha’lu rah’chah’mecha, v’hahm’rah’chaym kee lo tamu cha’sa’deh’cha, may’olam kee’vee’nu lach.

V’ahl koolam yit’ba’rach v’yit’ro’mam shim’cha mal’kay’nu tamid l’o’lam va’ed. V’chol ha’cha’yim yoh’doo’cha selah, vee’ha’l’loo et shim’cha beh’eh’m’et, ha’ayl y’shoo’a’taynu v’ez’ra’taynu selah. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai ha'tov shim’cha ool’cha na’eh l’hodot.

We give thanks to You, for You are the Lord our God and God of our ancestors for ever and all time. You are the Rock of our lives, Shield of our salvation from generation to generation. We will thank You and declare Your praise for our lives, which are entrusted into Your hand; for our souls, which are placed in Your charge; for Your miracles that are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors at all times, evening, morning and midday. You are good--for Your compassion never fails. and You are compassionate--for Your loving-kindnesses never cease. We have always placed our hope in You.

For all these things may Your name be blessed and exalted, our King, continually, for ever and all time. Let all that lives thank You, Selah! and praise Your name in truth, God, our Savior and Help, Selah! Blessed are You, Lord, whose name is “the Good” and to whom thanks are due.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Judaism subscribes to the belief in an after-life and reward and punishment, but is there a concept of Hell in Judaism?

Hell as commonly depicted--fire, brimstone, devils with pitchforks--is not so different from the Jewish concept of Gehinnom, minus the devils. Like Hell, Gehinnom is hot, very hot. The sages write that “Fire is one sixtieth of Gehinnom” (Talmud Berachot 57b) meaning that Gehinnom is sixty times as hot as a regular fire.

Gehinnom, however, is more akin to the Christian “purgatory,” a cleansing process before one goes to “heaven.” Upon leaving the human body, many souls go to Gehinnom before being elevated to olam habah, the world to come. Excepting the few truly evil, most souls remain in Gehinnom no longer than 11 months.

The existence of Gehinnom is an assumed fact by the sages. In Talmud Nedarim 39b, it is stated that Raba expounded that “... seven things were created before the world: the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah.”

The sages also discuss specific actions that result in a person being placed in Gehinnom. For example:

“Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: Whoever scoffs will fall into Gehinnom. Rabbi Oshaia said: He who is arrogant will fall into Gehinnom” (Avoda Zarah 18b).

“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Whoever makes derogatory remarks about Torah scholars after their death, will end up in Gehinnom” (Berachot 19a).

The actual word Gehinnom is not mentioned in the Torah but is derived from an actual place, the Valley of Ben Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem. The bible recount that, in this valley, the worshipers of the idol Molech lit fires upon altars and sacrificed their children. The Talmud (Succah 32b) records an opinion that this valley serves as the gateway to hell.

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

Honor The Dead

Give charity in honor of someone who passed away in order to bring reward to their souls.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Holy Ari: Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria

When Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria arrived in Safed, in 1569, the town had already become a center of Jewish learning, with a particular emphasis on the kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). By the time Rabbi Luria died in 1572 (less than three years later), his name had been irrevocably tied to the city of Safed.

A child prodigy raised in his uncle's house in Egypt, Rabbi Luria was considered an expert in the Talmud by age 15, and, shortly after marrying his cousin, he began to explore the wisdom of the Zohar ("The Book of Splendor," the quintessential book of Jewish mysticism). After dedicating himself to the study of the Zohar for fifteen years, he isolated himself in a hut near the Nile for several years and spoke to no one except for his wife when he returned home each Friday for Shabbat.

Stating that he had been commanded to do so by Elijah the Prophet, Rabbi Luria moved to Safed, where he assumed leadership of the kabbalistic scholars after the death of Rabbi Moses Cordovero in 1570.

The kabbalists soon began referring to Rabbi Luria as Ha’Ari, which means “the lion,” but was actually an acronym for Eh’lohi Rabbi Yitzhak - the Godly Rabbi Isaac. (He is frequently referred to as the “Arizal,” the extra "zal" standing for zichrono liv’racha, may his memory be a blessing.)

While the Ari never published any books, all of his teachings were written down and compiled by his disciples. One of the most well-known concepts of Lurianic Kabbalah is Tikkun Olam, the idea that humanity’s job is to perfect the world. Another important idea that comes from Lurianic Kabbalah is tsimtsum, the idea that, in order to create the world, God contracted Himself, allowing humankind freewill.

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

Thank You So Much

When you receive good service over the phone, request to speak to the supervisor to complement the service representative who assisted you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Women and War

The role played by female soldiers on the front lines during the last decade reflects the incredible shift in attitude regarding women and war. It is therefore of great interest to examine the Jewish view of women and war.

There is no question that the Torah perceives war as a masculine activity. The census commanded by God in the Torah requires “a head count of every male ... From twenty years old and upwards, all who are fit to go out to the army in Israel” (Numbers 1:2-3). The sages even state that “It is the way of a man to make war and not the way of a woman” (Talmud Kiddushin 2b). they also say, “How do we know that a woman should not go to war bearing arms? Scripture (Deuteronomy 22:5) says, ‘A woman shall not wear that [garment, meaning weapons] which is worn by men’” (Talmud Nazir 59a).

At the same time, the Mishna is quoted stating that when it comes to an obligatory war (a war commanded by the Torah, as opposed to an optional war) even “...the bride from her bridal canopy” must go to war (Talmud Sotah 44b). This might be a reference to active combat, but it could also be interpreted as referring to a supporting role, as women in the Torah are often the power behind the scene.

And yet, before one categorically proclaims that the Torah does not encourage women in the military, it should be remembered that the Torah celebrates the lives and achievements of women such as Deborah and Yael, whose combined efforts on the front lines led to the defeat of the Canaanite general Sisera.

Jewish Treats salutes all the women and men who serve in the armed forces of their countries.

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

Safety First

Jewish law asserts that you should always act to preserve life. Make certain you and everyone else in your car is wearing a seatbelt (and that you follow child car safety rules).

Friday, January 22, 2010


Because carrying an object on Shabbat in a public domain a distance of 4 cubits (approximately 6-8 feet) or more is one of the 39 melachot (creative actions prohibited on Shabbat), it is common for communities to erect an eiruv in order to transform the public domain into one large private domain.

Creating an eiruv is a complex task. In simple terms, an eiruv is created by enclosing a public area with walls at least ten tefachim high (approximately 40 inches). Practically, most eiruvim today consist of a series of symbolic “doorframes” constructed of wire/string connected to utility poles or strung between buildings, that “wall in” the entire area to be enclosed.

Because an eiruv will often use utility poles and will almost always cross actual public areas, it is necessary to have the permission of the local authorities to create an eiruv.

The eiruv makes it possible for all of the enclosed public property to be considered a single private property. However, one’s own private property is still more private, and therefore an eiruv chatzairot must also be created in order to connect actual private property to the newly-formed “public/private property.” This is done by collecting food (or money for food) that is regarded as a “common meal” for those wishing to participate in the eiruv chatzairot. This “common meal” enables all the participants’ homes (and the connecting streets) to be considered as one communal private property. The “common meal” is often a box of matzah kept in the synagogue.

Please note, that an eiruv must be checked every week, usually on Friday. If even a single wire is disconnected (or the “communal meal” is missing) carrying in the public domain is not permitted.

These are just a few of the many complicated laws that apply to the creation of an eiruv.

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

Eiruv Check

If you live in a community with an eiruv, program a weekly reminder in your Blackberry or PDA to determine that the eiruv is intact.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Her Name Was Sarai

The Midrash states that Sarai (later called Sarah), the mother of the Jewish people, was known in her youth as Yiska (Jessica), because all who saw her wished to gaze at her beauty. But the beauty of Sarai was far more than skin deep. Sarai was kind, modest, intelligent, practical and believed deeply in the Creator of the world. Sarai was the perfect mate for Abram and worked hand-in-hand with him to spread monotheism (she taught the women).

Sarai’s life was not easy. She trekked across difficult terrain to the land of Canaan, only to encounter famine. When they sought food in Egypt, she was taken by Pharaoh, who wanted her for a wife; and the same thing occurred in the land of the Philistines.

Sarai’s greatest challenge, however, was her infertility in an era when a woman’s value was greatly dependent on the progeny that she produced. She knew that God had promised Abram that his children would inherit the land of Canaan, but there seemed no chance of that child being hers. Following the custom of the times, Sarai instructed Abram to take her handmaid, Hagar, as a concubine, so that any children Hagar bore would be considered Sarai’s. Once pregnant, Hagar became haughty, saying that God obviously preferred her over Sarai, since she was carrying Abram’s child. Hurt and angry, Sarai drove Hagar from their home, but Hagar returned at the command of an angel and bore Abram a son, Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, shortly after God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah (and Abram to Abraham), they were informed that in a year’s time Sarah would bear a child. And while Sarah laughed to herself in disbelief, for she and Abraham were both well advanced in age, Isaac was born one year later.

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

Come On Over

This week, invite acquaintances or co-workers (rather than close friends) over for Shabbat.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Accept Our Prayers

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The seventeenth blessing begins the final section of the Amidah, the section in which we express our gratitude to God. This blessing, which may appear similar to the preceding blessing requesting that God hear our prayers, is actually a request that God see our prayers as a replacement for the Divine sacrificial service that we are no longer able to perform.

R’tzay Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu b’amcha Yisrael oo'vit'fee'latam, v’hah’shayv et ha’avodah lid’veer baytecha, v’eeshay Yisrael oot’fee’latam b’ahavah t’kabel b’rah’tzon, oot’hee l’rah’tzon tah’mid avodat Yisrael ah’meh’cha. V’teh’cheh’zeh’na ay’nay’nu b’shoov’cha l’tzion b’rah’cha’mim. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ahdoh’nai ha’ma’cha’zeer sh’chee’nato l’tzion.

Find favor, Lord our God, in Your people Israel and their prayer. Restore the service to Your most holy House, and accept in love and favor the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer. May the service of Your people Israel always find favor with You.

And may our eyes witness Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are You, Lord, who restores His Presence to Zion.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

They Make Us Laugh

When the recent hit comedy Funny People was released in movie theaters, it was frequently noted in the Jewish press that almost all of the comic actors in the film, including the writer/director, were Jewish. And, indeed, if one looks at the history of American comedy, one may feel that this is a profession where Jews truly thrive.

Today’s Jewish Treat is dedicated to Jewish comedy, in honor of the birthday of one of the great American comedians, George Burns (January 20, 1896 – March 9, 1996, whose real name was Nathan Birnbaum).

American comedy and theater owes a great debt to the rich traditions of vaudeville--when the traveling showmen of the beginning of the twentieth century were in their heyday. Jack Benny, originally Benjamin Kubelsky, started off as a violinist, but his sardonic, dry wit led him to radio and movie fame. "Uncle Miltie," as Milton Berle came to be called, was a celebrity whose fame knew no bounds--stage, radio and television were all venues tools for his comedy.

Originally, the entertainment world enabled Jews to use their ethnicity, or lose their ethnicity (by altering their names, e.g. Kirk Douglas was born Isidore Demsky), or just have a level of acceptance that they could not find in any other business. By the time a person’s Jewish heritage was no longer an obstacle to career success, Jewish humor had already become an integral part of the culture of American entertainment.

It is frequently said that “laughter is the best medicine,” a thought similar to the idea presented by the sages in the Talmud that tears of laughter are beneficial (Talmud Shabbat 152a).

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

Laughter As Medicine

Visit the children's ward in a local hospital. Come with a smile, some jokes, and maybe even balloons.

The Morning Blessings-Blessing #15: Strength To The Weary

Every morning, a set of 15 blessings is recited to express our thanks to God for all the things that we, as healthy human beings, are capable of doing.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam ha’notayn la’ya’ef koach.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who gives strength to the weary.

Like many of the Morning blessings, this blessing can be read in different ways. Giving strength to the weary can most certainly allude to the challenge many people face getting up and getting the day going. Let’s face it, most of our lives are so busy that we are often operating on minimal sleep! However, the blessing can also be read to mean that God gives emotional strength to those facing challenges. Life may be hard, but God can and does give us the strength to face its challenges.

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

For The Dogs

The domestication of dogs is as old as...well, actually, there are varying scientific opinions. The remains of what seem to be domesticated dogs appear among the fossilized remains of the earliest hunter/gatherers. Interestingly enough, this follows the view of Rav, who, in Genesis Rabbah 22:12, suggests that the “mark” that God placed on Cain the son of Adam (after he slew his brother Abel and was exiled from the Garden of Eden) was actually a dog that traveled with him and protected him.

In the era of the Talmud, dogs were frequently kept as guard dogs. The sages ruled (Baba Kamma 83b) that “One should not keep a dog unless it is kept on a chain. Those who live in a city that is near the border may keep a dog if it is restrained on a chain during the day, but the dog may be let loose at night.”

However, it seems apparent that, in those times, stray, ownerless dogs were much more the norm than actual household pets. Rabbi Yonah, Talmud Shabbat 155b, noted that since God knows that a dog's food is meager, He ordained that a dog's food remain in its stomach for three days. The implication being that dogs were known to be scavengers. Yet the Jews were commanded that the meat of an animal that died in the field (rendering it non-kosher) should be fed to the dogs (Exodus 22:30).

According to the Mechilta as quoted by Rashi, giving the meat to the dogs is a way of rewarding the descendants of the dogs of Egypt, who maintained absolute silence during the plague of the firstborn in Egypt, fulfilling Moses prediction (Exodus 11:6-7).

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

Dog Test

Support your local animal center.

Monday, January 18, 2010


“To always be happy is a great mitzvah.” These famous words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov have inspired the followers of his teachings to strive to achieve true simcha (happiness) in their lives.

The Breslover Chassidim are a unique subset of the Chassidic world. Rabbi Nachman, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, had his own following of chassidim by the time he was 30.

The Breslover Rebbe, the aforementioned Rabbi Nachman, died in 1810 at the age of 38 (from tuberculosis), eight years after arriving in the town of Breslov (Bratslav), Ukraine. No successor was ever named.

Breslov Chassidut is focused on serving God with sincerity and joy. Their prayer includes singing and dancing, as well as clapping, to express their joyful desire to connect to the Divine. Breslov chassidim also try to fulfill Rebbe Nachman’s advice to engage in hitbodedut (literally, self-seclusion), a term used to describe a daily, private conversation with God. To achieve a more meditative state, some Breslovers will use a mantra, chanted over and over, such as Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe).*

Another unique facet of the Breslov chassidic movement is the annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to Uman, the Ukrainian city in which Rabbi Nachman was buried. These pilgrimages, which began in 1811, ended with World War I and did not have a true resurgence until after the 1989 fall of Communism. Today, tens of thousands of men and boys go each year.

*One group associated with Breslov chants Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman Meuman, a mantra based on the Rebbe’s name. This group is a break-away from Breslov, and the mantra is not approved by mainstream Breslovers. This group is known for their work in outreach, and members are identifiable by their large, white knitted skull caps.

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

Mitzvah Gedolah

Try to be happy throughout the day.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Isaiah 66 and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

Inevitably, the holidays, weekly celebrations (Shabbat) and monthly celebrations (Rosh Chodesh) of the Jewish calendar sometimes overlap. In some instances, the holiday overrides the regular celebration (e.g. on Rosh Hashana, the first day of Tishrei, Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is not mentioned). In other cases, the regular celebration takes precedence (e.g. if Tisha B’Av occurs on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday).

Two or three times a year, however, Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat overlap. Such is the case this week, when the month of Shevat begins on Shabbat (tomorrow).

Because Rosh Chodesh is marked largely through the addition of special prayers (such as Hallel), the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh service is significantly longer than the normal Shabbat service. (There are special additions to Birkat Hamazon as well). One of the most interesting of these changes is the haftarah (reading from the Prophets) designated to be read on every Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: the final chapter (66:1-24) of the Book of Isaiah.

It has been suggested that this chapter was chosen because of its penultimate verse, which mentions both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat: (66:23) “And it shall be that, from New Moon to New Moon, and from Shabbat to Shabbat, all flesh shall come to prostrate themselves before Me, said God.” The chapter itself, however, can be read as both a consolation and inspiration for those who have remained faithful to God. In this final chapter of Isaiah, God promises that the wicked shall receive retribution and the faithful shall live and endure. The moon, with its waxing and waning, is a potent and ever-present symbol of such a promise and is thus integral to the celebration of Rosh Chodesh.

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


Prepare or purchase some delightful desserts in honor of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sadducees

Even after the miraculous victory of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees), the lure of Hellenization, with its grandeur and style, continued to subtly influence the Jewish people. This trend even affected the descendants of the Hasmoneans, the leaders of the great Chanukah revolt. Within only a few generations, the heirs of the Hasmoneans, who improperly assumed the roles of both High Priest and monarch, even had Hellenist names (John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus, etc.).

It was in this environment that the great division of the Jewish people between Pharisees (forerunners of rabbinic Judaism) and Sadducees occurred.

Unfortunately, no Sadducee writings have been discovered and, therefore, what is known of them is mostly based on Pharisee writings. The Sadducees were known to be strict literalists of the Torah and were opposed to the Rabbinic process of interpreting the law based on the oral tradition. One example was their literal understanding of “an eye for an eye.” (The Pharisees understood this to mean monetary compensation).

The Sadducees rejected the belief in an afterlife, angels and reward and punishment. The rejection of such precepts as well as their specific interpretations of the Temple rites was, perhaps, related to the fact that the Sadducees were mostly of the priestly and aristocrat class (those most influenced by Hellenization). For nearly 250 years, the Sadducees had great influence on royal policy, were often in control of the priesthood and dominated the Sanhedrin. (They were actually driven from the Sanhedrin on 28 Tevet in 81 B.C.E. by Shimon ben Shetach, but returned to power after the death of Queen Shlomit Alexandra in 67 B.C.E.)

Because the power of the Sadducees was so closely connected to their role in the Temple, they lost all power when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

For a historical perspective on the Maccabees, click here.

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

You Assistance

For ways to assist with relief efforts in Haiti, click here.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Requests

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The sixteenth blessing is the final blessing in the section of the Amidah that focuses on requests. It is an all encompassing blessing asking that God hear our voices and have mercy on us and our requests.

Sh’ma koh’laynu Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu. Chus v’rah’chaym ah’laynu, v’kabel b’rah’chamim oov’rah’tzon et t’fee’lah’taynu, kee Ehl sho’may’ah t’fee’lot v’ta’cha’noo’nim Ah’tah. Oo’meel’fah’neh’cha mal’kaynu ray’kahm al t’shee’vay’nu, kee Ah’tah sho’may’ah t’fee’lat am’cha Yisrael b’rah’cha’mim. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai sho’may’ah t’fee’lah.

Listen to our voice, Lord our God. Spare us and have compassion on us, and in compassion and favor accept our prayer, for You, God, listen to prayers and pleas. Do not turn us away, O our King, empty-handed from Your presence, for You listen with compassion to the prayer of Your people Israel. Blessed are You, Lord, who listens to prayer.

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

In early 19th century Germany, many communities found themselves in conflict between traditional Judaism and the new Reform movement. Finding the balance between living a Torah life and a German life thus became the great challenge of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s life.

Born in 1808, in Hamburg, Germany, Rabbi Hirsch attended public school and received a full Jewish education at home. When he completed his studies, Hirsch decided to train for the rabbinate under Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger. After six years with Rabbi Ettlinger, he began studying languages, history and philosophy at the University of Bonn.

Rabbi Hirsch served as rabbi in several communities. His greatest impact was made when he served as the rabbi of Frankfurt-on-Main (from 1851 until his death in 1888). The Frankfurt community had been ravaged by the bitter division between traditional Jews and the new Reform movement. Rabbi Hirsch quickly created Jewish schools, ritual baths and kosher slaughter houses, while at the same time meeting modernity’s challenge by wearing clerical robes, delivering sermons in German and encouraging Bible study alongside Talmud.

Rabbi Hirsch is best known for his conceptualization of Judaism as Torah im Derech Eretz, which is understood to mean “Torah with Modern Life.” Rabbi Hirsch believed that one could, and should, be part of the world while maintaining one’s strict adherence to Torah law.

Rabbi Hirsch’s great impact on the Jewish world came from both his actions and his writings. The Nineteen Letters on Judaism (published under the pseudonym Ben Uziel, 1836) was an intellectual presentation of Orthodox Judaism in classic German. In 1838, he published Horeb, a textbook on Judaism and a rational explanation of the 613 commandments. Rabbi Hirsch is also renowned for his extensive commentary on the Torah.

The anniversary of Rabbi Hirsch’s death is 27 Tevet, today.


Take a glance at The Nineteen Letters to get a better understanding of Rabbi Hirsch's philosophy and the times in which he lived.

The Morning Blessings-Blessing #14: Israel's Glory

Every morning, a set of 15 blessings is recited to express our thanks to God for all the things that we, as healthy human beings, are capable of doing.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam oh’tayr Yisrael b’tif’arah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who crowns Israel with glory.

This blessing addresses the unique situation of the Children of Israel. From a religious perspective, the Children of Israel are crowned by the Torah, by our choice to accept the yoke of Heaven and to try and live up to this higher ideal, which brings us glory. From a more down-to-earth perspective, one might note the great achievements of many Jews in the areas of science, literature, art and more, as symbolized by the out-of-proportion numbers of Jewish Nobel Prize winners.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nap Time

The world is moving at a hectic pace. People seem to always be busy--running from meeting to social engagement until they finally fall thoroughly exhausted into their beds at night. Indeed, modern sociologists look with considerable displeasure at the “busy-ness” of our society. Many people, undoubtably, crave a nap on a regular basis.

While napping on Shabbat is most certainly encouraged as a form of oneg Shabbat (enjoyment of Shabbat), the ancient sages felt differently about to napping during a weekday. In Talmud Sukkah 26b, it is written:

"Rav said: It is forbidden for a person to sleep by day longer than a horse’s sleep. And how long is a horse’s sleep? Sixty respirations....Abaye would doze off for as long as it takes to travel from Pumbedita to Bei Kuvei. Rav Yosef said in reference to him (Proverbs 6:9): ‘How long will you recline, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?’”

Rather than sleeping through the night, as humans and many other mammals do, a horse rests for short intervals throughout the day. Thus, “How long is a horse’s sleep? Sixty respirations.” The commentators debate exactly how long is sixty respirations...and whether the respirations referred to are those of a human (about 3 1/3 minutes) or those of a horse (about ½ hour). The accepted opinion is ½ hour. For if one sleeps/dozes for longer than ½ hour, one must ritually wash one’s hands upon waking.

While the idea of a “power-nap” has become quite common in modern health manuals, the sages real worry was about wasting time. Since the most important activity in Jewish life is studying Torah, the extra time spent sleeping is regarded as time wasted from learning Torah.

Scheduled Rest

Schedule in 10 minutes of quiet time in the late morning and in the late afternoon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Into The Fire

It is written in the Book of Daniel (Chapter 3) that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and a committed idolater, had a statue that was 60 cubits (90-120 feet) high and six cubits (9-12 feet) wide. Those who failed to prostrate themselves before this idol when the royal orchestra played were to be cast into a fiery furnace.

As you can imagine, when that orchestra played, everyone present bowed. However, it was reported to Nebuchadnezzar that there were several Jewish advisors/ministers who refused to bow. Their behavior was regarded as a sign of the Jews’ disrespect for the king.

Nebuchadnezzar demanded an explanation from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Hebrew names: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), challenging them to bow down to the idol or be thrown into the furnace. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused.

Infuriated, Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be thrown in the furnace, and for the heat to be increased sevenfold. It was so hot that those who cast the three men into the furnace were themselves incinerated. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, however, remained unharmed.

When Nebuchadnezzar saw the 3 men walking in the flames of the great fire (accompanied by an angel), he was in utter shock. He called them forth from the furnace and had all those present witness that they were truly unharmed. Nebuchadnezzar publicly declared the greatness of the God of the Judeans and forbade any of his subjects to speak against the powerful Hebrew deity.

An interesting side comment in Talmud Pesachim 53b, cites Todos of Rome, who taught that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah chose to risk death in the furnace when they realized that they could do no less than the frogs (2nd of ten plagues in Egypt), who jumped into the ovens of the Egyptians in order to fulfill God’s words.

Funds For...

Fundraise quietly for a friend in need. (Someone who has been laid off, someone who cannot afford the expenses of a simple wedding, etc.) Remember to be discreet.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Purim of the Curtains

In just about two months, Purim, the holiday that marks the defeat of Haman, will be celebrated. The name “Purim,” however, has been borrowed throughout Jewish history by smaller Jewish communities to celebrate their own escape from catastrophe.

One interesting example of a local Purim is known as "Purim of the Curtains" (Purim F├╝rhang):

In the winter of 1623, it was discovered that the heavy, gold-brocaded curtains in the governor’s palace, which were both expensive and cherished by the crown, had been stolen from their storage chest.

In the ghetto of Prague, word of the crime spread quickly. Enoch Altschul was the sexton of the Meisel Synagogue, where the missing curtains were found. While it was never suspected that Altschul himself committed the robbery, he was taken into custody after refusing to disclose who had brought the curtains to the synagogue. (Congregational statutes forbade identifying the receivers of stolen goods who voluntarily had given them up.)

Threatened with death, Altschul received permission from the congregation to reveal the name of the man who had given him the curtains, Joseph Thein, who was sentenced to death. All efforts to free him by the most influential Jews of Prague were useless. Surprisingly, when all hope seemed lost, Thein was released and the community was fined 10,000 florins, which were delivered to city hall in fine linen bags carried by ten prominent Jews escorted by soldiers (as ordered by the governor).

Grateful for his own life and the avoidance of a pogrom, Altschul recorded the event in Megillat Poore Ha’Ke'lah'im ("The Scroll of the Purim of the Curtains"). He enjoined all of his descendants to read the scroll and to make a feast of thanksgiving each year on the 22nd of Tevet. The entire community joined in the celebration.

Write It Down

For those who feel as if they have had a personal miracle (saved from an accident, job offer came through at the very last moment from out of nowhere, etc.) write down what happened and how you felt. Preserve this record for your children.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


“‘Happy are they that keep justice, that do righteousness at all times’ (Psalms 106:3). Our sages ask: Is it possible to do righteousness at all times? ... Rabbi Samuel ben Nahmani said: This refers to a man who brings up an orphan boy or girl in his house and enables them to marry” (Talmud Ketubot 50a).

While there is a specific mitzvah/commandment given to all men to be fruitful and multiply (p’ru u’rvu), the sages noted in Talmud Megillah 13a that “whoever raises an orphan boy or girl in his house, Scripture considers it as if she/he gave birth to him/her.” Adoption or foster care, therefore, is certainly encouraged by Jewish law.

When adopting a Jewish child, it is particularly important to have as much information about the biological parents as possible because, according to Jewish law, a person is only halachically Jewish if his/her mother is Jewish or if one formally converts. This information is usually requested when the child seeks to marry or for other life-cycle events.

Adopting a child born of Jewish parents, however, is often not possible (due to lack of availability), and halacha (Jewish law) fully allows for the adoption of a non-Jewish child. When such an adoption occurs, the child undergoes conversion as a minor, which includes circumcision (for boys) and a visit to the mikveh (for both boys and girls) before a Beit Din (Jewish court). The child is then raised as a Jew. However, because a small child cannot really comprehend the conversion process, at the age of halachic adulthood (bar or bat mitzvah), the child must reaffirm his/her desire to be Jewish in front of a Beit Din.

They Are The World

Always remember that all children need love, support and positive role models to grow into the best people they can be.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Redemption of the Jewish People

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The fifteenth blessing continues to focus on the future redemption as it beseeches God to send the Messiah, the descendant of King David, who will lead the world into a new era.

Et tzeh’mach David av’d’cha m’hay’ra tatz’mee’ach, v’karno tah’room biy’shoo’ateh’cha, kee lee’shoo’aht’cha kee’vee’nu kol ha’yom. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai mahtz’mee’ach keren y’shoo’ah.

May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower, and may his pride be raised high by Your salvation, for we wait for Your salvation all day. Blessed are You, Lord, who makes the glory of salvation flourish.

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

With Moveable Type

The first known book to be printed in Europe with moveable type was the Gutenberg Bible, printed in Germany in 1445. And while the German printing guild had strict rules against apprenticing any non-Christians, it did not take long (about 2 decades) for the technology to spread. When two Germans set up shop in Subiaco, near Rome, they attracted a large following of people interested in learning this new form of printing, including a large number of Jews.

Among the known Hebrew incunabula (books printed before 1500) is the famous volume of Talmud Berachot printed by Joshua Soncino on 20 Tevet 5244 (1483). It also contained the commentaries of Rashi, Tosafot, Maimonides and others. It was printed on the 279th yahrzeit of Maimonides.(The first complete Talmud was printed by Daniel Bomberg around 1520.)

While this was not the first book printed by the Soncinos, it is the most famous of the early publications. Soncino also printed the first Hebrew Bible with vowels.

Joshua ben Israel Nathan Soncino, the scion of a distinguished Sephardi family, had great success as a printer. When he passed away, the business was inherited by his nephew, Gershon. In addition to his printing business, Gershon was active in assisting the exiled Jews of Spain and gathering Jewish manuscripts from various parts of France. His son, Eleazar, who worked in Constantinople from 1534 to 1547, was the last of the Soncino printers.

In early 20th century, a Jewish publication company opened under the Soncino name. The modern Soncino Press is known for its excellent English translations of and commentaries on the Talmud and Torah that were, for many years, the standard and most popular translations.


Curious about the Talmud? See if your library has a translated copy.

The Morning Blessings-Blessing #13: ISrael's Strength

Every morning, a set of 15 blessings is recited to express our thanks to God for all the things that we, as healthy human beings, are capable of doing.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam oh’zayr Yisrael big’vu’rah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who girds Israel with strength.

The Children of Israel have played a unique role in history, which is perhaps best seen in Mark Twain’s famous quote noting the "immprtality" of the Jewish people. Many nations have sought to destroy the Children of Israel, and most of them no longer exist (Babylonians, Syrian-Greeks, Romans, etc.) It takes great strength and fortitude to maintain a unique identity against the onslaught of other popular civilizations and cultures--a strength that is a gift from God.

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Everything Except

A man is attacked by a gang of anti-semites. Totally drunk, they demand that the man eat a ham sandwich or else they will kill him. What should the victim do?

According to Jewish law, he should eat the sandwich. In fact, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) asserts that there are only three laws that one must not transgress even at the cost of one’s life: "Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Jehozadak every law of the Torah, if a person is commanded: 'Transgress and suffer not death' he may transgress and not suffer death, excepting idolatry, adultery/incest and murder."

Under threat of death one may eat non-kosher food, violate Shabbat and even steal, but one may not worship idols, take part in forbidden sexual acts or commit murder. What are the reasons for these three exceptions?

MURDER: Murdering another person in order to save one’s own life (not in self-defense), is, in effect, an attempt to do “Divine math.” Who can say whose life is more valuable? (Raba ... answered him, 'Let him rather slay you, rather than that you should commit murder; how do you know that your blood is redder than his [the intended victim]? Perhaps his blood is redder.' - Sanhedrin 74a).

ADULTERY/INCEST: Sexual immorality undermines society’s entire social structure. The repercussions of such an act can effect not just the man and the woman involved, but also a child who may come from such an act...for hundreds of years. (A child born of incest or adultery is known as a mamzer, a status that lasts forever.)

IDOLATRY: Any act of idolatry, no matter how minor, denies the omnipotence of God. Since serving God is the primary purpose of every Jew, and since God is the creator of all life, denying God by worshiping an idol is, in effect, denying life itself.

Thou Shalt Not Embarrass

Be careful with your words never to embarrass another person. The sages compare embarrassing someone to murder.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Baal Shem Tov

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov (literally Master of the Good Name, often referred to as the BESHT), was born in 1698, in Okop (Ukraine). While there is little record of his early life, it is known that he was orphaned at a young age and raised by the community.

In his teens, Israel ben Eliezer was given a job as a teacher’s assistant. This was followed by a position as the caretaker of a synagogue, which offered him the opportunity to further his Torah studies and to delve into kabbalistic studies as well.

While anyone who studied Torah with him realized his greatness, Rabbi Israel maintained the outward appearance of a simple Jew. The renowned scholar Rabbi Ephraim of Brody was so impressed with the young man’s incredible spirituality and depth of knowledge that he offered him his daughter Chana’s hand in marriage.

By the time he settled in Medzeboz (c. 1740), his fame had spread, and he acquired many disciples. The Baal Shem Tov emphasized spontaneity in worship, particularly though song and joy, and love of one’s fellow Jews. He maintained that even if one was not a great intellectual, one could come close to a righteous person (a “Rebbe”) and, through the rebbe, connect to God. (Until the time of the Besht, only the best students had the opportunity to draw close to the great rabbis. Those who were not outstanding students, were often kept away. The Besht introduced the idea that anyone could be close to and emulate a righteous person.) He also popularized many mystical and Kabbalistic ideas.

The Besht passed away in 1760, on Shavuot. He left behind a son and daughter and a movement that came to be known as Chassidut.


Investigate if your family has any Chassidic roots.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The Torah prohibits "work" on Shabbat, but what does that mean? After all, serving a meal to your family could be seen as work.

The Torah hints at the definition of Shabbat work by using the word m'la'cha rather then the common word avodah. M'la'cha has a specific definition: creative work, and is only used in one other place in the Torah, in reference to the building of the Tabernacle. The Rabbis understood from the linkage that the type of work prohibited on Shabbat is any type of labor which was used to build the Tabernacle. Called the 39 m'la'chot, these “creative works” are actually categories for determining whether an activity is allowed on Shabbat or not. The 39 m'la'chot are:

(1) Ploughing (2) Sowing (3) Reaping (4) Gathering (5) Threshing

(6) Winnowing (7) Selecting (8) Sifting (9) Grinding (10) Kneading

(11) Baking (12) Sheep-shearing (13) Bleaching

(14) Combing raw materials (15) Dyeing (16) Spinning

(17, 18, 19) Weaving operations (20) Separating into threads

(21) Tying a knot (22) Untying a knot (23) Sewing (24) Tearing

(25) Trapping/Hunting (26) Slaughtering (27) Skinning (28) Tanning

(29) Scraping pelts (30) Marking out (31) Cutting to shape

(32) Writing (33) Erasing (34) Building (35) Demolishing

(36) Kindling a fire (37) Extinguishing a fire (38) Finishing an object

(39) Carrying in public areas and between private and public areas

*This Treat was originally published on Friday, September 5, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the intricacies of Shabbat.

Just One Shabbat

For those not accustomed to observing Shabbat, choose one activity to refrain from this Shabbat.

Sabbath Prayers: Ein Keh’lo’hay’nu/There Is None Like Our God

There is no one (or thing) like God, and, when all is said and done, this is the essence of everything that a Jew says and does. Only God can create the world. Only God can be master of the world. Only God can rule and judge the world. And only God can bring salvation to the world.

This is the essence of Ein Keh’lo’hay’nu one of the most popular prayers recited on Shabbat. (Sephardim include this prayer in their daily service as well).

Ein keh’lo’hay’nu, ein kah’doh’nay’nu, ein k’mal’kay’nu, ein k’mo’shee’aynu.
Mee keh’lo’hay’nu, mee kah’doh’nay’nu, mee k’mal’kay’nu, mee k’mo’shee’aynu.
Nodeh leh’lo’hay’nu, nodeh lah’doh’nay’nu, nodeh le’mal’kay’nu, nodeh l’mo’shee’aynu.
Baruch Eh’lo’hay’nu, baruch Ah’doh’nay’nu, baruch Mal’kay’nu, baruch Mo’shee’aynu.
Atah Hoo Eh’lo’hay’nu, Atah Hoo Ah’doh’nay’nu, Atah Hoo Mal’kay’nu, Atah Hoo Mo’shee’aynu.
Atah Hoo sheh’hik’teeru avotaynu, lifanecha et ketoret hasamim.

There is none like our God, there is none like our Lord, there is none like our King, there is none like our Saviour.
Who is like our God, who is like our Lord, who is like our King, who is like our Saviour.
Let us thank our God, let us thank our Lord, let us thank our King, let us thank our Saviour.
Blessed be our God, blessed be our Lord, blessed be our King, blessed be our Saviour.
You are our God, You are our Lord, You are our King, You are our Saviour.
You are the one before whom our fathers offered the spice offering.