Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Henry Ford’s Anti-Semitism

In 1919, Henry Ford, already a famous industrialist, purchased the Dearborn Independent (The Ford International Weekly) newspaper and used the paper as a vehicle to spread his anti-Semitic, anti-labor and anti-immigration rhetoric.

The anti-Semitism of the Independent was blatant. It published a series of anti-Semitic articles under the title “The International Jew,” which were later compiled and published as a book. (Not surprisingly, Hitler was a great fan of both the book and of Henry Ford.) The Independent also published sections of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a proven forgery. (The Protocols, published in Russia, were purported to be the plans of an international Jewish conspiracy for world domination.)

The Independent’s distribution was huge, as Ford established quotas of distribution for all Ford dealerships.

Ford also used his paper for personal attacks and was sued, unsuccessfully, for libel on several occasions. In 1924, however, the libel suit of Aaron Sapiro, a Jewish farm cooperative organizer, made it to trial. Through the “International Jew,” Ford had accused him of misleading the rural poor into cooperatives as a means of crushing their individualism, which was all part of an insidious Jewish conspiracy. It was a headline case that was not as easily dismissed as Ford had hoped, and when it appeared that he might not win, Ford (it is speculated) faked an automobile accident to avoid testifying. Ford also claimed (falsely) that his aide Ernest Liebold and the paper’s editor William Cameron wrote the anti-Semitic pieces without his knowledge. The trial ended in a mistrial and Ford decided to settle rather than go through a retrial.

The settlement was negotiated by Louis Marshall, chairman of the American Jewish Committee, and included an apology and a promise to print no more articles about Jews. Ford’s retraction was issued on June 30, 1927.

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


Pay attention to your local papers and support those journalists that support the Jewish community.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Tragedy of the Idol

Ever since Moses saw the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf and smashed the two tablets of the law, the 17th of Tammuz has been an inauspicious day for the Jewish people, a day on which numerous tragedies occurred. One of the famous tragic events of the 17th of Tammuz was the placing of an idol in the Temple.

There are different opinions about exactly when this incident occurred.

One view in the Talmud (Ta'anit 28b) says: “An idol was placed in the Temple. From where do we know this? -- It is written, ‘And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away and the abomination [idol] that causes desolation set up’(Daniel 12,11).” The daily sacrifice was abolished on the 17th of Tammuz and, therefore, the idol was placed in the Temple on that very same day (during the Babylonian siege).

Others believe that the incident refers to an act done by Apostamos, a Greek who was also responsible for burning the Torah (during the Second Temple period).

Rashi mentions yet another suggestion, based on the Jerusalem Talmud, that this is a reference to the actions of the wicked King Manasseh of Judah:

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign... And he set the graven image of Asherah, that he had made, in the house of which God said to David and to Solomon his son: "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put My name forever...'' (Kings II 21:1-7).

While a Greek placing an idol in the Temple was, indeed, terrible, a Jewish king was a much greater tragedy.

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

In Mourning

For the next three weeks, refrain from attending any live concerts as a sign of mourning the Temple (whose destruction is commemorated three weeks from today on Tisha B’Av).

Monday, June 28, 2010

First on the Court

Born in 1856, in Louisville, Kentucky, Louis Dembitz Brandeis was the child of European immigrants who maintained a minimal Jewish identity. However, his maternal uncle, Lewis Dembitz, lived a more Jewishly involved life-style and inspired Brandeis’ subsequent Zionist activities.

Brandeis graduated from Harvard Law School at 20 with the highest (at that time) grade point average in the history of Harvard. After a brief stint in Louisville, he set up a practice in Boston. Achieving financial success, Brandeis began representing causes he believed in, purely for the love of the law. Professionally, Brandeis was involved in breaking monopolies, creating the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Trade Commission. He is also noted for his development of the legal “right to privacy” concept.

Brandeis was nominated by President Woodrow Wilson to become a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916. He was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a Senate vote of 47 to 22. And while his Jewish identity was certainly the cause for some opposition, it was his reputation as a crusader for social justice that predominately energized his opponents.

Although Brandeis had a distant relationship with his Jewish heritage, he was an ardent Zionist. During World War I, he chaired the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs (predecessor to the Zionist Organization of America, ZOA). In 1919, however, he left ZOA after an administrative disagreement with Chaim Weizmann (later President of Israel). He remained active on a personal level, including using his political influence to benefit the Zionist movement.

Sadly, Brandeis never saw the independent State of Israel. He died of a heart attack in 1941, two years after resigning from the Supreme Court. Brandeis was survived by his wife Alice nee Goldmark, and two daughters, Susan Gilbert and Elizabeth Raushenbush.

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

17th of Tammuz

Tomorrow is the 17th of Tammuz, a minor fast day on which Jews refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise through nightfall.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Try These

One of the subcategories of the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (saving a person's life) is taking care of one's own health. In this vein, the National Jewish Outreach Program has been involved in a campaign encouraging people not to smoke on Shabbat. While intended for smokers, the recommendations apply to all:

12 Things To Do While Not Smoking On Shabbat.

1. Rest those weary bones – Catch up on your sleep.

2. Smother your family and friends with love. Have a nice long conversation with your spouse/children/parents/friends...whom you practically ignore all week.

3. Exhale the mundane cares and concerns of the workday week by saying a little prayer in synagogue for anything or everything.

4. Chill out with some wine (for Kiddush). Eat three gourmet Shabbat meals (and actually taste the food).

5. Wear your nicest clothes without worrying about ashes and smoke.

6. Clear your mind. Enjoy one day when even non-smokers love you.

7. Sing up a storm at the top of your lungs.

8. Savor a good - Jewish - book without interruption, or sneak a peek at the Torah portion of the week when nobody’s looking.

9. Get to know someone really important a whole lot better -- yourself.

10. Make your cardiologist happy. Air out your lungs -- go for a nice, long, leisurely walk.

11. Review the week’s Jewish news with family and friends.

12. Volunteer to visit patients in the hospital.

This Treat was originally published on November 7, 2008.

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

Shabbat Suggestions

Create your own list of Shabbat-friendly activities.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Ba’al Ha’turim

Spain in the Middle Ages was home to scholars of great renown such as Abraham ibn Ezra (1089 - c. 1164), Judah ha-Levi (1086-1145), Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam 1135-1204) and Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides/Ramban - 1194-1270). By the middle of the 13th century, however, the welcoming attitude of the Spanish kingdoms that had allowed Jewish life to thrive, had vanished.

Rabbi Jacob ben Asher was born in Germany in 1269 C.E. When he was still a child, however, his family was forced to leave Germany, and they settled in Toledo, Spain. Rabbi Jacob’s father, Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (aka the ROSH), was asked to become the Chief Rabbi, even though he followed Ashkenazi, not Sephardi, customs. This unique blend of Ashkenazi heritage and style of Talmud study in combination with living in a Sephardi community led to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s incredible contribution to Jewish scholarship, Arba'ah Turim (Four Rows).

The Arba'ah Turim, like the Rambam’s Mishna Torah*, was a codification of Jewish law intended to make it easier for Jews to fully observe the law. Rabbi Jacob divided all of Jewish law into four sections: Orach Chaim (Way of Life) covers basic Jewish life and ritual, Yoreh Deah (Teacher of Knowledge) deals with dietary laws, mourning and a number of other aspects of Jewish life, Even Ha’ezer (Stone of Help) contains laws relating to marriage and family, and Choshen Mishpat (Breastplate of Judgment) discusses civil and criminal law.

What was most unique about the Arbaah Turim was that Rabbi Jacob (who was also known as Ba’al Ha’turim - Master of the Rows) cited the legal traditions of both Sephardi and Askenazi rabbis. His work became the basis for the ultimate codification of Jewish law, the *Shulchan Arukh (Composed by Rabbi Joseph Caro in the 1560s).

Rabbi Jacob died on 12 Tammuz, 1340.

* See Jewish Treats: Primary Sources

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

It's Nice To Share

At dinner tonight, ask each person at the table to share something nice that happened today.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Catherine And The Jews

Catherine II (AKA Catherine the Great, 1729-1796) was born Sophia Augusta Frederica, a daughter of the ruling family of Anhalt (a German state). In 1744, she married her second cousin, who was to become Czar Peter III. Six months after Peter III ascended the throne, he was deposed and assassinated, and Catherine assumed the throne.

Catherine’s early reign reflected the enlightenment in which she had been raised. However, since she had achieved the throne with the support of the nobility and relied on the backing of the Orthodox church, she had to act cautiously. Therefore, instead of ratifying a Senate decree allowing Jews free access to the interior of Russia, Catherine allowed them in as “foreign” merchants.

This was fine during the first part of Catherine’s reign, when Russia had a relatively small Jewish population. When Russia later acquired a large chunk of Poland, however, the Empire also acquired a great number of Jews. In 1772, Jews in the new territory were recognized as Russian citizens, but through various administrative laws, were restricted from living in greater Russia.

In 1792, Catherine finally acquiesced to internal pressure and created the Pale of Settlement, largely composed of the former Polish/Lithuanian territory in which Jewish settlement was allowed. Jews were prohibited, however, from residing in the rest of Russia. Many of the large cities within the Pale were also allowed to bar Jews. In time, the Pale’s boundaries shifted. For instance, on June 23, 1794, Jewish settlement was expanded to the Ukraine and included Kiev, where there had been a Jewish presence on and off since the 8th century.

Catherine the Great died in 1796, but the ramifications of the creation of the Pale of Settlement lasted for generations. The Pale of Settlement is said to have been responsible for the increase in shtetl life (life in small villages) and the rise of the European yeshivot (learning academies).

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

Like A Village

If you don’t already know your neighbors, introduce yourself.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Why is a donkey called a donkey? For Jewish Treats, a more interesting question is why is a donkey called a chamor?

According to the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 17:4), God assigned Adam the task of naming all of the animals based on their true essence. The root of the Hebrew word chamor, chet-mem-reish, is shared with the word cho’mer, meaning clay or loam. Chamor is thus associated with materialism. Despite this, the donkey, a non-kosher beast of burden, is prominently featured in Torah life.

According to the Torah, firstborn kosher animals must be redeemed because they are sanctified to God. The firstborn donkey, which is not kosher, has no sanctity. However, the Torah commands: “Every firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck...” (Exodus 13:13). (This mitzvah is known as petter chamor.)

While many commentators have offered explanations for petter chamor, the Torah itself does not provide an answer. Perhaps it is because the Messiah will ride on a donkey, as the prophet Zacharia (9:9) said “... behold, your king comes to you...riding on a donkey, even upon a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This Messianic donkey, according to the Midrash (Yalkut, Devarim 86a), was created just before the sun set on the sixth day of creation and was owned by Abraham (who used it to bring supplies for the akeidah) and Moses (who used it to bring his wife and sons to Egypt from Midian).* The era of the Messiah is meant to be a time of the spiritual controlling the material. The symbol of the Messiah riding on a chamor is, therefore, a way of teaching us that by controlling our materialistic drive we can attain true spiritual freedom.

* Not to be confused with the she-donkey that spoke to the wicked Balaam (Numbers 22).

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

In Lieu Of

To celebrate the birthday of a loved one, make a donation to his/her favorite charity.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Avinu - Our Father

One of the most common ways of addressing God in the Jewish liturgy is Avinu, our Father. By addressing God as Avinu, one can not only learn about humanity’s relationship with God, but also about Judaism’s view of fatherhood.

From the perspective of a child: Obviously Judaism does not expect a child to make his/her father into a god...but the Torah commands a child to both honor and revere his/her parents. One can learn how to fulfill these commandments by reflecting on the way one is supposed to relate to God. For instance, just as one does not take God’s name in vain, a child is prohibited to refer to a parent by his/her first name.

When it comes to religious reflection, Jewish tradition notes that most people’s relationship with God is based on reverence (yee’rah) before love (a’hava). Ideally, each person is supposed to work on serving God out of love. Similarly, the sages notice that a father-child relationship often has more fear/reverence in it, while a mother-child relationship has more love (see Kiddushin 31a). A child must therefore seek to look beyond the father’s role as rule-maker/ disciplinarian to feel the same love for one’s father as for one’s mother.

From the perspective of a father: In relating to the Divine Avinu, a father must remember that in his own home he must temper strict justice with mercy, just as God does on earth. This is often difficult, but necessary. Nevertheless, a father must not be afraid to be firm, as it says in Proverbs 13:24: “He that spares his rod, hates his son; but he that loves him, sometimes chastises him.”

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

Dear Dad

Go somewhere private and talk to God as if you were talking to a loving parent.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thanks Again, Pop

The Torah teaches us that we should respect and be grateful to our parents every day.

The Importance of Dad

In honor of Father's Day, Jewish Treats presents this classic Treat on the importance of a father.

Where does a child learn to be a mentsch (a good person)? From his/her parents! Indeed, in the Talmud (Sukkot 56b) it even notes that a child repeats in the streets what he/she hears at home.

According to Dr. David Pelcovitz (author of Balanced Parenting), research studies have found that the active involvement of both parents in a child’s moral education is the strongest predictor of children's moral reasoning and empathy as they grow older.

In the traditional family model, in which mom tends to have the central role in parenting (i.e. spends a lot more time with the kids), it is important to note that these studies have found particular importance in dad’s involvement.

The father is often seen as the enforcer of the rules laid down by the mother. However, far more important than being involved in discipline is dad’s actual involvement in teaching his child(ren) how to live a Jewish life (i.e. being a mentsch), which has an incredibly positive influence on the child’s future. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (22:6), “Educate a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

According to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son), a father’s primary responsibilities are to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, and to teach the child a trade (Kiddushin 29a). At the bare minimum, his fatherly obligations mean making certain that the basic necessities of child-rearing are attended to (by a third party if necessary). But, the best child-rearing includes dad sharing his time, knowledge and wisdom, and truly leaving a lasting and meaningful impression on his children.

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Opening an Umbrella on Shabbat

In what way is an umbrella similar to the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which served as the dwelling place of the Shechina (Divine Presence) during the Israelite's 40 years of wandering in the wilderness?

First, a definition of an umbrella: a cloth canopy attached, in the center, to a large stick with spokes radiating out to the edge of the material, designed to protect against rain or sunlight. Umbrellas have been used around the world throughout history. Even thousands of years ago, most cultures had some sort of umbrella (recorded either in words or pictures).

Since an umbrella is mobile and usually only offers temporary protection, any rabbinic discourse on umbrellas involves the question of whether using an umbrella creates a temporary or permanent structure. This is precisely the connection of the umbrella to the Mishkan. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Yosi Bar Nun states that the Mishkan was a temporary structure, as it traveled with the people. Rabbi Yoseh maintains that the people viewed the Mishkan as a permanent structure because their encampments were considered permanent until God's next order to change locations.

But the question of using an umbrella on Shabbat is specifically a question of whether or not an umbrella is considered an ohel (tent), the construction of which would not be permitted. Since an umbrella's sole purpose is to protect a person from the elements, the vast majority of halachic authorities consider it to be an ohel, and its use on Shabbat is therefore prohibited. Thus one walking in Boro Park, NY (Brooklyn) on a rainy Saturday will notice many people hurrying through the rain and see nary an umbrella in sight.

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

In The Rain

When the weather forecaster calls for rain on Shabbat, make certain your raincoat is easily accessible.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Serpent and Staff

The Rod of Asclepius, a serpent wrapped around a staff that is associated with the Greek god of medicine, is commonly used as a symbol for medical centers.

Centuries before ancient Greece, however, this symbol is found in the Torah. Numbers 21 describes how the Children of Israel suffered from a plague of snakes after they complained about conditions in the wilderness. When the people repented, Moses followed God’s instructions and made “a serpent of brass, and set it high upon a pole. And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked up to the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9).

What was the significance of a brass serpent raised on a pole? Perhaps God wanted them to remember where the live serpents came from--where, indeed, everything comes from. The sages taught: “Did the [brass] serpent cause death or cause life? No; [what it indicated is that] when Israel turned their thoughts upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed, but otherwise they pined away” (Rosh Hashana 29a).

As for Asclepius...It is interesting to note that the original snake-rod made by Moses was kept by the Jewish people for generations. Unfortunately, under the influence of their neighbors, the people turned the snake into an idol. Eventually, King Josiah (who was righteous) “broke in pieces the brass serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel did offer to it; and it was called Nehushtan” (II Kings 18:4). One can certainly assume that many of those who did not care for Josiah’s reforms simply left the land of Israel and took their false gods with them...and perhaps this was how the snake and staff found its way to Greece.

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

On Schedule

Schedule your annual physical, since keeping healthy is also a mitzvah.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Will Not Eat Green Eggs and Ham?

Which is more “treif” (generic term used for non-kosher foods): a McDonalds’ burger or a ham sandwich from the corner deli?

The answer is neither. Non-kosher food is non-kosher food. A burger prepared with the meat of an improperly slaughtered cow is as much of a problem from the perspective of Jewish dietary law as is the meat of a pig. Why then does the world so strongly identify keeping kosher with abstaining from pork products?

On a sociological level, perhaps it is because pigs are a common and cheap source of meat, being adaptable to many climates and having an extremely versatile diet, and so, Jewish abstinence from pork was extremely noticeable.

Theologically, however, the pig also stands out. It is different from other non-kosher animals. Having forbidden the Israelites to eat any animal that does not have split hooves and does not chew its cud, the Torah lists the animals that might confuse a person because they chew their cud but do not have split hooves (camel, rabbit). Only one animal, however, is described as having split hooves but not chewing its cud--the pig (Leviticus 11:1-8). No other animal has such attributes. According to Rabbi Ishmael who taught in the Talmud (Chullin 59a) that "The Ruler of the universe knows that there is no other beast that splits the hoof and is unclean except the swine...”

Beyond being unique in its non-kosher status, however, the sages noted that the behavior of pigs was like one who wished to be deceptive. “...When the swine is lying down, it puts out its hooves, as if to say, ‘[See my split hooves,] I am clean’...” (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 65:1). This species is therefore psychologically identified with all those who wish to harm the Jewish people, while pretending to be its friends and supporters.

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

Jewish Bacon

Try kosher turkey or soy bacon.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The First Jewish Lawyer

The study of law appears to attract a disproportionate number of Jews, perhaps because expounding arguments, pro and con, is one of the great pleasures of Talmudic discourse. In fact, one finds the first prototypical Jewish lawyer, Geviha ben Pesisa, in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a).

According to the Talmud, Geviha lived during the reign of Alexander the Great (fourth century B.C.E.). Alexander’s vast empire extended from Greece down through Egypt and eastward through Persia.

As the ruler of such a diverse population, Alexander was often confronted with disputes between subject nations. For example, a party of Africans approached him claiming that the land of Canaan actually belonged to them, as they were the descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan. When news of this lawsuit reached Judea, Geviha offered his services: "Authorize me to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon: Should they defeat me, then say, 'You have defeated but an ignorant man of us.' If I defeat them, say to them: 'The Law of Moses has defeated you.'"

Geviha’s winning defense was based on the fact that Canaan was cursed by Noah to be a “servant of servants” (Genesis. 9:25) and, according to the law, "any property acquired by a servant belongs to his master...” The Africans withdrew their demand.

When the Egyptians argued before Alexander that the Jews stole Egyptian gold before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:36), Geviha argued that the Egyptians owed the Jewish people payment for the work of 600,000 men for 430 years of enslavement.

Additionally, the Ishmaelites and the Ketureans sued for possession of Canaan as the descendants of Abraham’s firstborn (Ishmael). Geviha blithely quoted Genesis 25:5-6: “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts and sent them eastward...”

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

It Relates

Read through the Book of Psalms and choose one or two that you feel particularly connect to you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Best Defense

The Mishna, as quoted in Sanhedrin 73a, says: “The following must be saved [from sinning] even at the cost of their lives: he who pursues his neighbor in order to slay him...” In other words, it is permitted to kill a person who is attempting to murder another person.

Halacha, Jewish law, is  more than legal statutes such as the law that allows a person to save his/her own life by killing a rodef (a pursuer, as one who seeks to commit murder is called). Nor is halacha simply a code of civil law. Halacha is intensely concerned with the over-all welfare of every human being, both physically and spiritually.

Therefore, according to the previously mentioned Talmudic text, one must do everything possible to stop a rodef, not just in order to prevent a murder, but to save the prospective murderer from sinning--i.e. protecting the rodef from him/her self. Of course, killing the rodef should only be considered if no other means of stopping the murder exists.

The case of the rodef is not limited to a situation of pursuit and self-defense. It also includes situations where one must step in to protect others. This is understood from the verse in Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor." Thus, if one sees Reuven attacking Simon, there is an obligation to get involved (even if only by calling the police) both for the physical welfare of Simon and the spiritual welfare of Reuven.

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

Peace Man

"Hillel (the sage) said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:12).

Friday, June 11, 2010

His Wife Saved His Life

Ohn the son of Pelet was a Reubenite who fell under the sway of a rebellious Levite named Korach. Korach felt that a great injustice had been perpetrated in Aaron’s appointment to the High Priesthood. Why, he challenged, was the leadership completely in the hands of Moses and Aaron?

Two known troublemakers (according to the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 167), Datan and Aviram quickly gave Korach their support. Ohn, who lived near Datan and Aviram, also joined Korach’s cause. Together, these four men enlisted more followers until Korach was able to approach Moses and Aaron accompanied by 250 men and state, “You take too much upon yourselves, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and God is among them; why then do you lift yourselves above the assembly of God?” (Numbers 16:1-3).

After trying to convince them of their folly, Moses challenged them to bring an incense offering the next morning, as would Aaron. God would then demonstrate the chosen leader. That night, Korach went through the Israelite camp and said, “Do you think I am endeavoring to acquire a high position for myself? I seek distinction for all of us” (Numbers Rabah 18:10).

Ohn’s wife was not convinced of Korach’s sincerity. She said to her husband: “What does it matter to you? Whether the one [Moses] remains master or the other [Korach] becomes master, you are only a disciple.” Ohn, however, feared that he was already far too involved and would be forced to join in burning the incense. To protect him, Ohn’s wife sat outside their tent looking like a disreputable woman while Ohn stayed inside. Korach’s saw her when they came to pick him up, and, fearful of being accused of immorality, they turned away. Ohn’s wife saved his life.

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

Discuss It

When searching for a life partner, look for someone who shares your values and life goals.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What's in the Book: Kings II (Part 2)

The last King of Israel, Hoshea, the son of Elah, did not send his annual tribute to Assyria and, instead, sent envoys to Shalmaneser, the king of Egypt, resulting in Sargon II of Assyria besieging the capital of Israel. Following Assyrian custom, the population of the conquered land was relocated to a different part of the empire. The Ten Tribes of Israel were exiled and lost.

Meanwhile, Hezekiah became King of Judah and returned the people to the worship of God, destroying the places of idol worship. He also rebelled against Assyria and was forced to pay huge tribute to Sennacherib. When Sennacherib and his army surrounded the walls of Jerusalem, Hezekiah received word from the prophet Isaiah that Jerusalem would not fall. That night, an angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and the rest of the army fled.

Hezekiah’s son, Menasseh, reverted to idolatry. However, his grandson, Josiah, returned the nation to the ways of the Torah. He was killed on his way to join Egypt and Assyria in battling Babylon.

Judea was attacked by the Babylonians and became a vassal state. When King Je'ho'yachin rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar attacked and arrested the king. Nebuchadnezzar’s hand picked successor to the throne, King Zedekiah, also rebelled, resulting in the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. He breached the walls of Jerusalem, and captured, blinded and deported Zedekiah to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also deported the influential people and skilled workers from Jerusalem.

Finally, Nebuchadnezzar sent Nebuzaradan to Jerusalem who burned the Temple, palaces, houses and walls. He then looted the treasures of the Temple and exiled most of the population to Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah to serve as governor over the remaining populace of Judah. Gedaliah, however, was assassinated by a fanatical scion of the royal house. Terrified of the reaction of Nebuchadnezzar, the populace fled to Egypt.

Click here to read about the first part of Kings II.
Click here to read about Kings I.

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


On your next visit to the library, take out a book with a Jewish theme.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Purim of Florence

The late 18th century was a time of great turmoil the world over. The founding of the United States was the first full expression of the desire for liberty and human rights that became an ever-stronger under-current around the world. And, while this popular movement exploded into the chaos of the French Revolution, different European rulers did implement reforms–often affecting the Jewish community.

Peter Leopold (1747-1792), the Grand Duke of Tuscany (and later, the Holy Roman Emperor), was in favor of limited reformation and even looked toward creating a constitution for his duchy. In 1778, Peter Leopold declared that Jews were permitted to participate in city councils. The following year he prevented the exclusion of Jews from literary and scientific academies.

Not all of Peter Leopold’s subjects supported his reforms, and when the Grand Duke returned to Austria to become emperor following the death of his older brother, riots broke out across Tuscany. As was quite often the case, when the populous seethed, they turned on the Jews. In the city of Florence, however, the angry mob was stopped before it reached the ghetto. The anger of the mob was subdued by their archbishop, Antonio Martini, perhaps because of his own friendship with Rabbi Daniel Terni (who assisted him in translating the Hebrew Bible).

Knowing the great danger from which they had been saved, the Jews of Florence declared the 27th day of Sivan as Purim Florence (borrowing the term from the holiday on which Jews around the world celebrate being saved from a massacre). It therefore became customary for Jews in Florence to fast on the 26th of Sivan and celebrate on the 27th.

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

Stand Up

Stand up for someone being treated unfairly.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Plenty of Honors

The birth of a baby boy is exciting and, at the same time, nerve-racking. In addition to adjusting to the baby, dad and mom must prepare for the brit milah, the circumcision ceremony, that takes place, if all is well with the baby, eight days after birth. Once the doctor announces “It’s a boy!” the calling priority becomes grandparents/close family and the mohel (the circumciser), before someone else hires him.

If the parents are lucky, family and friends take over the party planning aspects of the affair (bagels, lox, balloons...etc.). That leaves only the assignment of kibbudim, honors, which are customarily assigned to rabbis, respected teachers or associates and close friends/family. A kibbud is a way to involve others in the happy event. At a brit milah, there can be a number of extra kibbudim. Different people can be asked to say the blessings, to hold the baby during the blessings, etc. Two of the main kibbudim are:

Kvater and Kvaterin: The assignment to transfer the baby from mother to father before and after the brit, is usually bestowed upon a husband (kvater) and wife (kvaterin) (often a couple trying to have children). Kvater and Kvaterin, only practiced in Ashkenazic tradition, is a Yiddish word derived from the German for godparents. One opinion* maintains that the word kvater means like a father (k’vater), since the real father does not have the heart to circumcise his son and, therefore, appoints a surrogate.

Sandek: This title, borrowed from the Greek, means companion of the child. During the ceremony, the role of the sandek is to hold the baby on his lap during the actual circumcision. This is the highest honor at the brit and is often compared to a priest offering incense in the Holy Temple.

*The Minhagim by Abraham Chill

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

Mazal Tov

When attending a brit, wish the parents the customary benediction: "May he grow to Torah, chupah and maasim tovim." In other words, may he grow in Judaism, to a happy marriage and to do good deeds. (For those on Facebook, send your congratulations to Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, the founder of Jewish Treat's parent organization, National Jewish Outreach Program, on the brit milah of his newest grandson.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Shakespeare's Jew

From 1290 until the 1650s, Jews were not permitted to settle in England. However, marranos/anusim--Jews from Spain and Portugal who had converted to Christianity in name only in order to avoid death--were welcomed. Scholars have therefore speculated that William Shakespeare’s model for The Merchant of Venice’s Shylock was Dr. Roderigo Lopez, a marrano accused of the ultimate treachery. Here is his story:

Born in Crato, Portugal in 1525, Dr. Lopez settled in London in 1559. He practiced medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital and soon had many distinguished patients. In 1586, Dr. Lopez was appointed Physician-in-Chief to Queen Elizabeth I.

Court politics in the age of Elizabeth were complex and devious, and international affairs were a labyrinth of alliances. Protestant England and Catholic Spain were constantly trying to out-maneuver each other. As part of an expanded investigation into a plot to assassinate Dom António, the pretender to the Portugese throne (who lived in England), Dr. Lopez was accused by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, of conspiring with the Spanish to poison the Queen.

The evidence against Dr. Lopez was extremely circumstantial. However, Dr. Lopez confessed under torture in the Tower of London that he had been approached on the matter of poisoning the Queen, but only while befriending the Spanish Court at the behest of British espionage. Lopez was convicted. After four months of hesitation due to her own doubts of his guilt, the Queen signed the execution papers. On June 7, 1594, Dr. Lopez was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Questions about Dr. Lopez will always remain. No matter how loud his protestations of innocence, or of religious belief (he publicly declared himself a Christian), Dr. Roderigo Lopez was marked forever in history as the Jewish physician who sought to poison the queen.

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

Book Club

With some friends, read or watch The Merchant of Venice and discuss Shakespeare’s Jewish characters (Shylock and his daughter, Jessica).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Can You Be The Tenth?

That the Hebrew word “minyan” derives from the infinitive “lim’not,” to count or number, is not at all surprising. A minyan is a quorum of 10, the smallest number necessary to create a formal “congregation.” It is customary to have a minyan for certain life cycle events (such as a brit milah - circumcision). However, most people are familiar with the term minyan in reference to prayer, since, ideally, Jewish prayer takes place with a minyan, allowing the full service to be recited.

According to the Talmud (Megillah 23b), certain prayers of sanctity (such as Kaddish) can only be recited in the presence of a minyan. This is understood from the verse, “And I [God] shall be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel” (Leviticus 22:32). What determines being “in the midst”? Two people? Five people?

In the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 4:4), two verses are cited, in which a group of 10 is called the Children of Israel or “congregation.” In Genesis 42:5, the 10 sons of Jacob go to Egypt to buy food. The Torah there says: “And the Children of Israel came to buy among those that come.” In Numbers 14:27, 10 of the 12 scouts sent into the Land of Israel return bearing negative reports, to which an angered God responds: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmurs against me?”

We see, especially from the verse concerning the scouts, whose lack of faith leads to the punishment of the entire nation, how powerful a group of 10 can be, impacting on the very destiny of Israel. On the other hand, when Abraham prays to God to spare the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:32), he stops negotiating when he reaches 10 righteous people, indicating that a group of 10 virtuous people (but not less) can bring salvation to an entire city.

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

Lucky Tenth

When asked, don’t hesitate to be the tenth person in the minyan--they need you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What’s in the Book: Kings II (Part 1)

The Second Book of Kings continues the history of a divided nation: the Kingdom of Israel in the north (10 tribes) and the Kingdom of Judea (Judah and Benjamin) in the south.

After following Elijah across the Jordan River (on dry land), Elijah’s disciple, Elisha, witnessed Elijah being swept up in a whirlwind that took him to heaven, never to be seen again.

Elisha’s years as the prophet of Israel were filled with wondrous miracles. For instance, Elisha blessed a barren Shunemite woman that she would have a son. Some years after the birth of her son, the child stopped breathing and Elisha brought the boy back to life.

Kings II continues through the wars and alliances of the successive kings. The two kingdoms were at times allies and at times enemies. Sadly, many of these kings led their subjects astray with idolatry.

The kings of Israel were: Ahaziah • Jehoram • Jehu • Jehoahaz • Jehoash • Jeroboam II • Zechariah • Shallum • Menahem • Pekahiah • Pekah • Hoshea

The kings of Judah were: Jehoram • Ahaziah • Athaliah • J(eh)oash • Amaziah • Uzziah • Jotham • Ahaz • Hezekiah • Manasseh • Amon • Josiah • Jehoahaz • Jehoyakim • Jeconiah/Jehoyachin • Zedekiah

The Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom during the reign of Menahem, but left after receiving an exorbitant tribute.

Shortly thereafter, Judea also became a vassal state of Assyria. Ahaz, King of Judea, already an idol-worshiper, made alterations to the Temple to mimic the Assyrian ways of worship.

( be continued)

Click here
to read about Kings I.

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

Night Manners

When leaving the office at the end of the day, don't forget to wish the building staff "Good night."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Original Prenuptial Agreement

Did you know that it is a custom among some Jewish households to display their “prenuptial” agreements on the wall? It’s called a ketubah (marriage contract), presented by the husband to his spouse. The ketubah attests to his promise to support her--even if he dies or divorces her.

Here’s a simplified summary of what’s in the ketubah.

Date and Place: The ketubah begins with basic factual information of when and where the marriage is taking place.

Names: The names of the groom and the bride are listed along with their fathers’ names.

Proposal: The groom promises to serve, honor, provide for and support his bride if she will be his wife. He also offers her mohar, money set aside for the bride in case of the husband’s death or divorce. Remember, until the modern era, women were dependent upon their husbands for financial support.

Acceptance: It notes that the bride has consented to the marriage. It is against Jewish law for a man to marry a woman without her consent.

“Dowry” and Groom’s Gift: The “dowry” (that which is brought into the marriage by the bride) has come to be generally estimated at a value of 100 silver pieces. If a divorce follows, this money is returned to the bride. The groom adds an equal portion to the household.

Surety: The groom states that he takes upon himself the surety of the ketubah, offering a guarantee that it will be upheld even if the marriage fails.

Act of Acquisition: The legal validation of the agreement (kinyan).

The ketubah concludes with a summary of the contents, a statement that “everything is valid and established” and the signature of two witnesses.

If a woman loses her ketubah, a new one (known as a Ketubah D’Irkata) must be written.

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

Safe Keeping

If you are a married woman, make certain you know where your ketubah is located.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Iraqi Pogrom

Pogroms, the most violent expression of anti-Semitism, are often fueled by the political events of the day. Such was the case of the Farhud, a violent pogrom that took place on June 1-2, 1941, in Baghdad.

As World War II progressed, Germany sought to expand its sphere of influence. The Nazi propaganda, both anti-British and anti-Semitic, stirred up the nascent discontent in Iraq at colonial rule. In April 1941, a military coup was carried out by Rashid Ali al-Kailani (known as the Golden Square Coup). Britain backed the ousted regent, Abd al-Ilah. War broke out at the beginning of May, the usurpers were overcome and an armistice was signed on May 31, 1941.
The next day, on June 1 (6 Sivan, the first day of Shavuot that year), just before Regent Abd al-Ilah returned to Baghdad, violent riots broke out against the Jewish community.

While the Jewish community’s support of the pro-British government is often given as the cause of the riots, one must not overlook the Nazi influence on the region. The Nazis had long been broadcasting anti-Jewish propaganda in Arabic via Radio Berlin. Additionally, the populace was influenced by the presence of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, a notorious anti-Semite and friend of Hitler.

After two days of rioting, the British (who had only returned to Baghdad on May 31st) quelled the riots and imposed a curfew. There has been some speculation that the British administration deliberately delayed sending troops. When the riots finally ended, 180 Jews were dead and many more had been injured or left without homes or businesses.

After over 2,500 years in the region, the Jews of Iraq realized that they were no longer welcome. By 2003, there were less than 100 Jews remaining in Iraq (Babylon in ancient times).

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

Never To Forget

Support efforts to include the Farhud as part of Holocaust history.