Friday, July 30, 2010

A Midsummer Night’s Shabbat

“Making early Shabbat,” means beginning Shabbat well before sunset. This is an especially important accommodation for residents of cities where the summer sun may not set until 9 or 10 at night. (In Trondheim, Norway, where there is a small Jewish community, the sunset may be as late as 11:20 pm!) By bringing in Shabbat early, the meal that is eaten after synagogue services can be enjoyed at a more normal hour. Also, small children can participate.

And yet, in the Talmud (Shabbat 23b) Rabbi Joseph’s wife is told that Friday night candles cannot be lit too late (because it is already Shabbat) nor too early. How early is too early, and how is one permitted to alter the status of the day? (Shabbat becomes a 26 or 27 hour day.)

It is from the laws of Yom Kippur, when one is required to add a few minutes to the beginning and end of the day, that the sages understood the permissibility of expanding Shabbat. Since Yom Kippur is “Shabbat Shabbaton” a Sabbath type day, adding time may also be applied to Shabbat.

There are, of course, rules that govern making an early Shabbat (and early Yom Kippur). For instance, one may not begin Shabbat at 2 pm in July. The determining factor, “plag hamincha” (one and a quarter “Jewish” hours before sunset), is the latest time that one may recite Mincha (the afternoon service) according to Rabbi Judah. Following his opinion, Maariv (the evening service) may be recited any time after plag hamincha--thus enabling one to start Shabbat at this time. Other sages, who disagreed with Rabbi Judah, maintained that the afternoon service may be recited until sunset, and Maariv only after sunset. Although Rabbi Judah’s opinion was not definitive, it is sufficient to allow a person to recite the Friday night prayers immediately following plag hamincha,* thus transforming late Friday afternoon into early Shabbat.

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


Make early Shabbat and take a sunset stroll before dinner.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

After A Snack

After eating a meal with bread, Birkat Hamazon/Bentching/Grace After Meals is recited as a way to thank and acknowledge God’s gift of sustenance. But what does one recite after eating a meal or a snack that does not include bread?

There are two alternate after-blessings, depending on what one has just eaten. Following any “grainy” food (made with any of the 5 species of Israel: wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats), wine/grape juice or one of the 5 fruits for which God praises the Land of Israel (grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates), one is required to recite the bracha may’ayin shalosh (three-faceted blessing). The opening of the blessing and the concluding blessing are slightly altered to correspond to the type of food one has eaten.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, for
(choose appropriate:)

---grain product) the nourishment and the sustenance
---wine) the vine and the fruit of the vine
---fruits) the tree and the fruit of the tree

and for the produce of the field; for the desirable, good and spacious land that You were pleased to give our ancestors as a heritage, to eat of its fruit and to be satisfied with its goodness. Have mercy, Lord our God, on Israel, Your people; on Jerusalem, Your city; and on Zion, the resting place of Your glory; upon Your altar, and upon Your Temple. Rebuild Jerusalem, the city of holiness, speedily in our days. Bring us up into it and gladden us in its rebuilding and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness and bless You upon it in holiness and purity.

For You, God, are good and do good to all and we thank You for the land and for the

choose appropriate: grain/fruit of the vine/fruit

Blessed are You, God, for the land and for the

choose appropriate: grain/fruit of the vine/fruit.

Following all other foods such as vegetables, other fruit (not included in the above list), meat, dairy, fish, drinks or foods made by man (i.e. candy), the Boray Nefashoat is recited.

Translation from The Complete Artscroll Siddur, Mesorah Publications

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

Quick Bite

Learn about the different blessings recited on food at

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Bruriah, the daughter of Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion and wife of Rabbi Meir, is one of the more intriguing personalities of the Talmud.

The best known story involving Bruriah tells of the way in which she sensitively prepared her husband for the heartbreaking news that their two young sons had passed away suddenly. Deciding not to tell her husband of the childrens’ death on Shabbat, Bruriah asked her husband after Shabbat whether or not she needed to return an object that had been lent to her some years ago. When Rabbi Meir replied that she certainly must, Bruriah brought him to the room where the lifeless bodies of their two sons lay. Gently, Bruriah reminded Rabbi Meir that he had just told her that borrowed items had to be returned to their rightful owner. The rabbi replied, "The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed the name of the Lord."

Bruriah was well known for her wisdom. She is praised for intervening in a debate of the sages, with Rabbi Joshua announcing: "Bruriah has spoken correctly" (Tosefta Keilim Bava Metzia 1:3). Her wisdom and breadth of knowledge is so praised that she is said to have learned 300 laws from the rabbis on a single cloudy day (Pesachim 62b).

Unfortunately, Bruriah and Rabbi Meir lived in a time when dedication to Torah was dangerous. In fact, her father, Rabbi Hanina, was one of the ten martyrs brutally murdered by the Romans. Rabbi Hanina was burned at the stake, wrapped in the Torah scroll from which he had been teaching. Rabbi Hanina’s wife was also murdered and his other daughter was condemned to life in a Roman brothel (ultimately saved by Rabbi Meir). According to some opinions, immediately after her father’s execution, Bruriah and her husband fled to Babylon.

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


Know your own strengths and use them to help others.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art for Art's Sake

If there were a Cliff Notes version of the Ten Commandments, Commandment #2 would simply read: “You shall have no other Gods before me.” But, in truth, the commandment itself is more detailed:

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, even any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, and showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-9).

This seems pretty straight forward--worshiping other gods and making idols is strictly forbidden! However, a frequently asked question about this commandment is whether the prohibition of making graven images includes images made exclusively as art (i.e. not for worship).

The Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon/Maimonides) in Mishneh Torah Avodah Zarah (3:10), rules that creating decorative items is included in the prohibition, particularly any images of the human form alone. However, the prohibition is only for images that are three-dimensional. In fact, Maimonides specifically states that images that are engraved, painted or part of a tapestry are not prohibited.

Even 3-D sculptures are not entirely prohibited. In addition to abstract art or sculptures of animals and inanimate objects, many opinions on this subject follow the
Ba’al Ha’Turim’s
understanding that one may make a statue of a human form as long as it is incomplete (missing a finger, bust of a head, etc).

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

Art Appreciation

Enjoy the work of Jewish artists such as Marc Chagall.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Burial at Betar

In war, a common means of humiliating the enemy is to refuse them burial of their dead (which is also forbidden by the Geneva Convention). Certainly, demoralization was the goal of the Romans when they forbade the Jews from burying the dead after the fall of Betar on 9 Av, 133 C.E. And there were many dead--enough for the sages to pronounce that, “For seven years the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

The intensity of this statement underscores the extent of the massacre that accompanied the capture of Betar. There were, of course, other rebellions against Rome in other parts of their Empire. But the people of Judea seemed to especially enrage the Romans. Perhaps it was the fact that the Jews rebelled numerous times. Perhaps it was their strange, stubborn insistence on monotheism (in a world where the emperor was a diety). Whatever the reason, the Romans were particularly fierce in their repression of Bar Kochba’s rebellion.

An odd thing happened after the massacre at Betar. The Romans left the bodies out to rot in the sun–and yet they did not rot. When, years later, on the 15th of Av, permission was granted for burial to take place, the bodies had not decomposed. Rabbi Matnah explains: “It [15 Av] is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried...On the day when the slain of Betar were allowed burial, the benediction ‘Who is good and does good’ was instituted (as the 4th blessing of Birkat Hamazon: Ha’tov v’hameitiv) - ‘Who is good,’ because the bodies did not putrefy, and ‘does good,’ because they were allowed burial” (Ta’anit 31a).

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

Proper Burial

When making arrangements for a loved one, bear in mind that according to Jewish tradition the funeral should take place as close to the time of death as possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What's In The Book: Isaiah

The Book of Isaiah is famous for its rich, metaphorical language.

Isaiah ben Amoz was a prophet during the reigns of the Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The inhabitants of Judah, unlike those of the Northern Kingdom, had generally maintained the religion of their forefathers. However, they too had their share of idolatrous kings, such as Ahaz, who was considered to be so wicked that he was not permitted to be buried in the royal sepulcher.

Following the literal letter of the law is not enough, declared Isaiah. The wealthy of Judah had become indolent and cruel, and therefore social injustice was rampant throughout the kingdom. Lashing out at these injustices, Isaiah said: “What need have I of all your sacrifices? ... Put your evil doings away from my sight ... Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow” - 1:11-17. Idol worship was practiced alongside Judaism, and the nation depended on foreign kingdoms for protection rather than placing their faith in God.

Isaiah was also an advisor to King Hezekiah and told him that God would protect him from Sennacherib (the Assyrian King), whose army had surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. The Assyrians were subsequently struck by an overnight plague and those that did not die, fled. (The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron)

Isaiah foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and begged the people to repent. He also saw that the people would eventually be redeemed. “Be comforted, Be comforted, my People” (40:1), begins Isaiah’s prophecy of the people’s eventual deliverance from the oppression of Babylon and the restoration of the People of Israel to the Promised Land.

Isaiah also contains extensive prophecies concerning the Messiah and the Messianic kingdom, an era of true peace, when “They shall beat their swords into plowshares ... nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:4) and “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” (11:6). This period of peace will also be a time when Israel will be ascendant and will be seen as “a light unto the nations” (42:6).

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

Be Comforted

Attend synagogue tomorrow morning to hear Isaiah's famous speech of comfort being read during the haftarah.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Burying The Books

What happens when a Torah scroll is so worn it can no longer be used, or a prayer book is torn beyond repair? Should objects such as these, which not only include the name of God but have an intrinsic holiness themselves and are also essential elements of mitzvah fulfillment, be thrown into the trash?

Absolutely not! In fact, Jewish law forbids the destruction of such items and gives specific instructions regarding their proper disposal. “Rava said: Covers of single books of the Torah and cases of Torah scrolls, are accessories of sacred items [that are no longer usable] and must be hidden” (Megillah 26b). If covers of holy books may not be indiscriminately disposed of, how much more does this apply to the scrolls themselves.

The Hebrew word used for “and must be hidden” is v’nig’nah'zeen, which is related to the word genizah, the room in which shaimot (unusable books or papers with God’s name) are stored.

Probably the most famous location for shaimot was the Cairo Genizah. While the ancient storage room was known to locals in Fostat (old Cairo), it was rumored that there was curse on anyone who explored it. It is, however, mentioned in passing in scholarly works as early as 1773 (The Israelites on Mount Horeb, Simon von Geldern). When the contents of the Cairo Genizah were finally opened and studied by Solomon Schechter in 1896, a treasure trove was unveiled.

The Ezra Synagogue, in which the genizah is housed, was built in 882 C.E. The dark, dry conditions kept the parchment and papers in excellent condition and revealed to scholars not only ancient versions of religious texts, but also legal and social documents of the era, which revealed much about the life of the Egyptian Jewish community in many different eras.

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

Shaimot Box

Designate a box in which you can collect non-disposable books or papers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Issachar, Son of Jacob

Before his death, Jacob gathered his sons to him and gave them each a blessing that specifically reflected their personalities and their futures. To Issachar, Leah’s fifth son, Jacob said: “Issachar is a strong-boned donkey, crouching between the saddlebags. When he saw how good security was, how pleasant the country was, he bent his shoulder to the burden."

The sages have interpreted this verse to be an allusion to the tribe of Issachar’s future scholarly role. The “security” alluded to in the verse was the partnership that the tribe of Issachar had with the tribe of Zevulun, who supported the tribe of Issachar and shared in the spiritual reward of their Torah study.

Although we don’t find any descriptive elements about Issachar’s life in the Torah, the story of his conception is well-known.

One fine day during harvesting season, Reuben brought his mother a bouquet of dudaim (mandrake) a flower reputed to aid fertility. When Rachel. who was childless, saw the dudaim, she immediately requested some from Leah, her sister.

“Was your taking my husband insignificant? Now you want my son’s dudaim as well?” Leah responded, underscoring how much more Jacob loved Rachel than Leah, and that Jacob maintained his bed in Rachel’s tent even though Leah had borne him children.

Rachel hated to see her sister so unhappy. “In return for your son’s dudaim, he [Jacob] shall lie with you tonight,” she offered. That evening, Leah heard the braying of Jacob’s donkey (Genesis Rabbah 99:10) and went out to meet Jacob and told him that he was to come to her tent that night.

Leah’s zealousness to be with Jacob was rewarded, and she found herself pregnant once again. Leah called her fifth son Issachar, saying “God has granted me my reward because I gave my maidservant (Zilpah) to my husband.”

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

Leave A Note

If you "ding" an unattended car, leave a note.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mourning Jerusalem

Today, Jews all over the world observe the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,600 years ago and the Second Temple 1,938 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, G-d told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple.”

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

*This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand Tisha B’Av.

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

Second Temple

Read about the Second Temple: Mourning Jerusalem II

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tisha B'Av

Tonight, at sunset, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar begins. Known as the Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period from sundown Monday to nightfall on Tuesday, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate through the suppression of our physical needs our anticipated absolution from sin. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).

Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

2. The destruction of the First Temple.

3. The destruction of the Second Temple.

4. The end of the Bar Kokhba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar.

5. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.

See here for a brief overview of the day
See here for explanations of the observances
See here for later events on this date
See here for a more elaborate overview of the day

*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand Tisha B’Av.


Avoid salty foods and drink a lot of water in preparation for the fast of Tisha B’Av.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's Electric

In the early 1900s, rabbinic authorities had to determine exactly what electricity was from an halachic (Jewish legal) perspective. The first uses of electricity were, of course, for light and heat. And just as one is permitted to have a fire lit before Shabbat remain lit throughout Shabbat, it was determined that one may leave electric lights on throughout Shabbat. As scientists and inventors began to find other ways of using electricity, such as fans and radios which produce neither light nor heat, the question of electricity’s permissibility on Shabbat resurfaced.

The halachic ramifications of electricity and electric appliances will, perhaps, be a debate that continues until a completely different source of energy has been discovered. Until that time, however, there are several m’lachot which may be being violated by the use of electric devices on Shabbat:

1) Nolad (lit. birthing): The rabbinic prohibition against creating something new on Shabbat.

2) Boneh (building): The m’la’cha of building would include the act of completing the circuit, of building an electrical bridge when one turns on an appliance or light.

3) Makeh B’patish (final hammer blow): Similar to boneh, this m’la’cha is violated when a circuit is completed, thus finishing the "job."
One wishing to guard Shabbat by avoiding the 39 m'lach'ot would, therefore, need to refrain from turning on, turning off or altering (such as changing the volume) any electrical item.

There are many ways that technology has altered how electricity can be used on Shabbat. Many households use preset timers to control household lights. This is permitted because the action was set in motion before Shabbat began. In recent years, Shabbat observant engineers have worked with large appliance manufacturers to create "Shabbat friendly" ovens, refrigerators and even dishwashers.

Night Light

Place night lights (not motion-sensitive ones) in your bathroom(s) for Shabbat.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Ban on Philosophy

Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (a.k.a. the Rashba 1235-1310) was born in an age of controversy. The Jewish world was still unsettled over the first blend of “philosophy and Torah” produced by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam - 1135-1204) in the late 12th century. While some scholars saw Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah and Guide For The Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim) as brilliant, others felt they were close to heretical. The controversy persisted long after the Rambam had passed away.

The Rashba lived his entire life in Barcelona and was a student of both Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Nachmanides/Ramban) and Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona. He was greatly acclaimed for his scholarship and wrote thousands of responsa (halachic decisions to specific questions). Additionally, the Rashba wrote numerous other works, including a commentary on the Talmud and a book on kashrut. He was known as El Rab d'EspaƱa, the Rabbi of Spain.

The Rashba is often associated with his reaction to the Maimonidean controversy. In 1305, on the 25th of Tammuz, the Rashba proposed a compromise and ruled that Jews could study the sciences of medicine and astronomy at will, but the study of physics and philosophy could only be undertaken by those over the age of 25. Additionally, the study of the Rambam’s Guide For The Perplexed was reserved for mature scholars.

In order to truly understand this ban, one must also know that the Rashba was well educated in Torah, philosophy and science. Nevertheless, he was as concerned about, and actively opposed, the intense spiritualism of those who promoted kabala and messianism.

In declaring his limited ban on the study of philosophy, the Rashba was seeking to make certain that Jews first had a firm grasp on Torah and halacha, before delving into the confusing study of philosophy.

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

In Order To Learn

When studying Judaism, prioritize the basics over the subjects that sound tantalizing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Judge Fairly

The Sixth Amendment in the United States’ Bill of Rights (requiring a speedy trial, impartial jury, confrontation of witnesses, council, etc) is, perhaps, one of the most difficult to properly observe. After all, a judge is a human being with set opinions and subconscious biases. While the sixth Amendment addresses the practical logistics of a fair trial, Torah law addresses the behavior of the judges themselves.

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, the Torah commands: “Hear [disputes] between your brothers and judge justly between a man and his brother, and between his litigant. You shall not favor persons in judgment; [rather] you shall hear the small just as the great; you shall not fear any man...”(Deut. 1:16-17).

According to Rabbi Hanina, a Talmudic sage, this verse serves as “a warning to the court not to listen to the claims of one litigant in the absence of his opponent; and to the litigant not to explain his case to the judge before his adversary appears” (Sanhedrin 7a).

And while Rabbi Hanina includes the litigants’ responsibility to refrain from taking advantage of being alone with the judge, the sages place a much greater focus on reminding the judges of the level of impartiality necessary to judge fairly. For instance, Reish Lakish reads the admonition “You shall judge righteously” (Deuteronomy 1:16) to mean, “Consider rightly all the aspects of the case before rendering the decision” (Sanhedrin 7a).

How far-reaching is the judge’s responsibility? The Talmud cites the case of Rav who was approached by a man at whose house he had once stayed. Upon hearing that the man had a lawsuit he needed adjudicated, Rav immediately disqualified himself and turned the case over to Rabbi Kahana (Sanhedrin 7a-7b).

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

Judge Yourself

When in a dispute with another person, try to see the argument from all sides.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nu, Don’t Eat

A popular joke: Most Jewish holidays can be subsumed under the pithy phrase: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” For a nation obsessed with food, what’s with all the fasting?

While there are 5 main fast days on the Jewish calendar, only Yom Kippur is of Biblical origin, with the Jewish people commanded to “afflict your souls” (Leviticus 16:29). While some Jewish scholars have opined that fasting makes one more like the angels, it seems certain to all that fasting on Yom Kippur, is primarily a tool of repentance. And this sets the tone for all the other fast days.

But the 10th of Tevet,17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av are observed as fast days in mourning and remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples--how is that atonement? Judaism recognizes that different days have different “karma.” The day of Yom Kippur is holy in and of itself. We merely piggy-back the theme of repentance on the holiness of the day. So too, Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, is not a good day for the Jews. It wasn’t only the date of the destruction of both Temples, but a number of other calamities as well. On such an inauspicious day, Jews go to great lengths to demonstrate a desire to mend their ways.

Even the historic fasts, such as the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s request that all of the Jews of Persia/Medea fast for her as she approaches King Achashverosh, are focused on t’shuva, repentance. Only when the Jews did t’shuva did God nullify Haman’s evil plan.

One connection between fasting and t’shuva is that it encourages people to focus on their spiritual self rather than their physical self, and thus to give their soul an opportunity to strengthen its connection with the Divine.

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

On The Calendar

One week from today is Tisha B’Av, the fast of the ninth of Av. (It begins at sunset on Monday night.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Magen David Adom

The opportunity to save a life (hatzalat nefashot) is one of those unique events that may never occurs in a person’s lifetime. Today, Jewish Treats salutes those who often risk life and limb to perform the mitzvah of hatzalat nefashot by paying tribute to Magen David Adom.

Magen David Adom (MDA, translation: Red Shield/Star of David) was founded in 1930 in Tel Aviv as a volunteer medical organization in response to the Arab riots of 1929. By 1935, with branches in Haifa and Jerusalem, a national organization was formed. In addition to providing medical services to the public, MDA was considered a branch of the Haganah (the underground Jewish defense force) and provided first aid training to its members.

On July 12, 1950, two years after the founding of the State of Israel, the Knesset passed a law recognizing MDA as Israel’s Red Cross, making it responsible for providing auxiliary medical services to the army during war, providing emergency first aid and shelter in emergency situations and maintaining a civilian blood bank. MDA also acquired a fleet of ambulances (often donated by Jews living in the diaspora).

While the MDA requested membership in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC) in 1931, it was not accepted until 2006. The ICRC claimed that no new symbols were allowed subsequent to their 1929 conference. Compromise was finally reached when MDA agreed to use the six-pointed red star only within Israel and to use the Red Crystal symbol when working internationally.

MDA also uses this combination of its Red Star with the Red Crystal:

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

Medic Man

Take a first aid or CPR course.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Third Meal

“Eat [the manna] today, for today is Shabbat to God, today you will not find it in the field” (Exodus 16:25). The language Moses used to instruct the Israelites to collect enough manna for Shabbat appears, and indeed is, repetitive.

The repetition three times of the Hebrew word “Hayom” (today) is seen as an allusion to the three meals of Shabbat. Friday dinner and Shabbat lunch are the well-known feasts of the weekly holiday. But what is the third meal?

Seudah Shlishit and Shalosh Seudot are the two Hebrew names given to the third meal of Shabbat. Seudah Shlishit should be started before sunset on Saturday afternoon. There is no formal kiddush recited at Seudah Shlishit, and there are varying opinions whether two complete loaves of bread are absolutely necessary for this meal. The actual fare of Seudah Shlishit varies depending on custom and personal taste, but often it is a simpler meal than the other two Shabbat meals.

It is customary to continue this meal into Saturday night as a means of extending Shabbat, and it is often eaten in the synagogue between the afternoon and evening service.

Seudah Shlishit is followed by the evening service (Maariv) and by Havdallah (concluding Shabbat ceremony). Zemirot (songs) sung at Seudah Shlishit are usually slow tunes that demonstrate a longing for a continued communion with holiness. Two of the best known songs are:

1) Mizmor L’David - Psalm 23, Mizmor L’David, is traditionally repeated 3 times during Seudah Shlishit. This psalm expresses our love for God as the Shepherd of the Jewish people.

2) Yedid Nefesh - This song was written by Rabbi Eliezer Azikri (16th century). The first letters of each paragraph form an acrostic spelling out the Hebrew name for God. This zemer underscores the Jew’s intense yearning to attain a spiritual relationship with God.

Retreat from May 17, 2009
Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Look up recipes for easy salads to serve for a light summer Seudah Shlishit.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Priorities: The Lessons of Reuben and Gad

From early in our lives, we are drilled about “priorities.” It usually begins, in earnest, during the high school years, as teenagers are pushed to think about the future, to get their priorities “straight.” But what is straight? How can one know the difference between the right priorities and those priorities pushed upon us by our family and/or society.

An interesting lesson about priorities can be learned from Chapter 32 in the Book of Numbers. The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moses to ask permission to settle on land east of the Jordan River (land conquered by the Israelites but not within the borders of Canaan) as it is perfect for grazing. When Moses is angered that these tribes appeared to be abandoning the other 10 tribes just before the war to conquer Canaan, the men of Reuven and Gad immediately clarify that they still have every intention to fight. They tell Moses: “We will build enclosures for our livestock here and cities for our children. We will then arm ourselves quickly [and go] before the Children of Israel until we have brought them to their place: (32:16-17).

Rashi highlights the subtle rebuke Moses gives to Reuben and Gad in verse 24: “So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep, and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do.” Notice how Moses switched the order of the phrases "cities for your children" and "enclosures for your sheep." In this way, Moses reminded them not to put the safety and comfort of their livestock before that of their own families.

Judaism is not an ascetic religion, nor does it view wealth as a negative, but rather as a gift from God. But the greatest treasure, and first priority, is always one’s family.

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


When possible, reschedule business meetings so as not to miss the school/camp shows, recitals or big games of the children in your life.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In Memory Of

Grieving over the loss of a beloved is natural and healthy. So is moving forward with one’s life after the loss. Therefore, Jewish law mandates a schedule of mourning that lasts for a year after a parent’s death.

While the grief for losing someone usually diminishes with time, it never fully disappears. The yahrtzeit (Yiddish for anniversary) or nachala (as it is referred to in the Sephardi/Eydot Mizrach communities - also called hilula) is the anniversary of the death and the annual date set aside for remembering the departed loved one.

The yahrtzeit/nachala begins, as all Jewish days do, at sunset, when a yahrtzeit candle or a ner neshama (“soul candle”) is lit in honor of the departed. This tradition stems from Proverbs 20:27: “The candle of God is the soul of man.”

The yahrtzeit/nachala is not meant to be a day of grief--rather it is a day of reflection, both about the deceased and about life and death. On the day of the yahrtzeit/nachala, mourners observing a yahrtzeit/nachala recite the mourners’ kaddish in the synagogue and often lead the synagogue service that day.

There are different customs for observing a yahrtzeit/nachala depending on one’s community. In many communities, the bereaved either fasts or celebrates a siyyum (a party marking the completion of a predetermined amount of Torah study) or both. Many will study Mishnah (first compilation of the oral law) in memory of the departed because the word mishna is an anagram of neshama, the Hebrew word for soul.

In honor of the departed, it is customary to go out of one’s way to do mitzvot, give tzedakah (charity) and study Torah, which serve as a merit for the soul of the departed. While these customs are most often done for the yahrtzeit/nachala of close relatives, many will observe them in honor of the yahrtzeit/nachala of a religious leader whom they admire.

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

Find The Date

If you’ve lost a loved one, use the English date of death to find out the Hebrew yahrtzeit. Here’s one site that makes date conversion easy:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chief Rabbi of New York

The position of Chief Rabbi is to be found in almost every major Jewish community except in the United States. Perhaps this is due to America’s separation of church and state, as the position of Chief Rabbi in most countries is a recognized government office. In the late 1800s, when the great Eastern European Jewish migration began, eighteen Eastern European congregations in New York formed the Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and sent letters of solicitation to many of the great rabbis in Europe to find a Chief Rabbi of New York.

America had already gained a reputation as the “treifena medina,” the non-kosher country, a place where most people cast off the “yoke of Torah.” The large salary offered by the New York Jews, however, attracted Rabbi Jacob Joseph, who needed to support his family. Rabbi Joseph was a renowned scholar and speaker in Vilna.

Arriving in 1888, the new Chief Rabbi was, along with his other rabbinical duties, to supervise kosher slaughter, strengthen Jewish education and curtail assimilation. Almost immediately, Rabbi Joseph came under attack by those who wished to break away from the Old World. Later, he was faced with everything from slanderous articles to organized demonstrations of Shabbat desecration. When he tried to improve the standards of the kosher slaughterhouses (many were following less than kosher standards), he was thwarted at nearly every turn--although he did manage to replace many of the not-so-kosher butchers and to introduce the “plumba” (irremovable seal) system to certify kashrut.

America was heart-breaking for him. In 1895, the Association stopped paying him. Fortunately the slaughterhouses took responsibility for his salary. In 1897, he suffered an incapacitating stroke. When he died in 1902, tens of thousands of Jews attended his funeral, recognizing his value only when it was too late.`

*Today is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York.

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

Oh Rabbi

When you have questions about Jewish observance, ask your rabbi.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Jews of St. Estatius: A Story of the American Revolution

The story of St. Estatius, a small Caribbean Island, brings together a remote location, the American Revolution and Jewish history. It is one of those strange tales Jewish Treats loves to share.

St. Estatius (a Dutch holding) was a free port (no customs duty) and major shipping hub, as well as a notorious point for contraband. It was also the source for munitions-trading for the colonists. As a mercantile center, St. Estatius also had a significant Jewish population of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Their synagogue, Honen Dalim (“The One Who Is Charitable To The Poor”), was completed in 1739.

Both the British and the Americans recognized that the St. Estatius supply line was critical, In 1781, after Britain declared war on the Dutch, Britain ordered Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney and Major-General Sir John Vaughan to attack St. Estatius and St. Martin. When Admiral Rodney appeared with 15 heavily armed ships, the island surrendered and the looting began.

Immediately, Rodney confiscated all the merchandise stored in the island’s warehouses. He also ordered all foreign merchants to return to their native lands. All male Jews, however, were deported back to England with one day's notice and without their families. Rodney even had each man’s jacket torn open to make certain that no gold had been hidden in the lining. Additionally, Rodney burned down Honen Dalim, the synagogue--the walls of which remain standing to this day.

Rodney remained on St. Estatius until the end of 1781. It has been suggested that he was so busy looting the island that he neglected to prevent the French Fleet from attacking the British Navy, which hindered General Cornwallis from receiving the support he needed at Yorktown...and thus we have a piece of history about a Caribbean island, the American Revolution and the Jews.

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


Say a prayer of thanks that you live in a country that allows you to live as a Jew without persecution.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tear It Open

The Jewish people observe the commandment to “guard” the Sabbath by refraining from any of the 39 m’la’chot, the 39 acts of creative labor that were employed in building the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

If the 39 m’la’chot refer to an act of creating something new, such as construction, then it makes sense for sewing to be a m’la’cha. But what about tearing? The sages of the Talmud (Shabbat 74b-75a) ask: “Was there any tearing in the Tabernacle? -- Rabbah and Rabbi Zera both say: ‘A curtain that had been attacked by a moth was torn [around the moth hole] and resewn.’” Without tearing the cloth, they could not properly repair the cloth, and thus, tearing became a m’la’cha.

Tearing, or ko’ray’ah in Hebrew, has many applications in regular life. Think about how challenging it would be to function in a modern kitchen without tearing: left over food--just tear off a piece of aluminum foil; spill on the counter--rip off a paper towel. But even if the paper towel has been prepared to be ripped (perforations), tearing it creates a new and independent object - a usable paper towel - and is thus deemed a m’la’cha. (This is why many Sabbath observant Jews use pre-cut toilet paper. Others use tissues.**)

Wishing to prevent any accidental transgression, the sages also prohibited destructive tearing. This rabbinic prohibition has one important exception, which is the unwrapping of food. The Talmud states: “One may break open a cask in order to eat raisins thereof, provided that he does not intend to make a utensil ...” (Shabbat 146a). A vessel or package containing food may* be torn open to retrieve the food inside (as long as one does not deliberately create a new vessel in the process or tear through any written letters).

*Tearing on Shabbat is not a straight-forward issue and should be discussed with a rabbi to insure that one is following the halacha correctly.

**Please note, using tissues may be hazardous to your house's plumbing.

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


Prepare for Shabbat by pre-tearing all essential paper goods.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beyond Jericho

While the Torah goes into considerable detail about the birth and early years of Moses, nothing is written about his successor, Joshua (Ye’hoshua) bin Nun. The only real information given about him in the Torah is that he was from the tribe of Ephraim and was originally named Hoshayah. According to the Midrash, a yud was added to the beginning of his name by Moses before he went to scout out the land of Israel in order to given him Divine protection from the plans of the 10 rebellious spies (Numbers 13:16).

One can deduce from the text that Joshua was around 42 years old when the Israelites left Egypt. (He led the Israelites for 28 years after they left the wilderness and was 110 when his died).

Why was Joshua chosen as Moses’ successor? One could assume it was because he had proven himself as a military leader. It was Joshua whom Moses chose to lead the Israelites in the victorious battle when they were attacked by Amalek (Exodus 17:8-14) and could thus be relied upon to successfully lead the conquest of Canaan.

He was also Moses’ most dedicated disciple. He learned the entire Torah from Moses and, more importantly, he learned how to understand the laws in the same way his teacher did. “Even in matters that he had not heard from Moses, his own reasoning corresponded with what had been told to Moses at Sinai” (Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah 1:1).

According to the Midrash, however, Joshua was more than a scholar and a military leader. Numbers Rabbah (21:14) reports that God said to Moses: “Joshua constantly served you and accorded you much honor. He came early to your house of assembly to arrange the benches and spread the mats. Since he served you with all his might, he is worthy of serving Israel.”

Read more about Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.

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

Taking Action

Translate your respect for a leader into physical action (join a campaign, send a letter).