Friday, February 26, 2010

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering.

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked our elderly, tired and weak shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Therefore, there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

The Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscored the evil character of the Amalekites. God had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek "happened" upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is an explanation of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of "fate" and "destiny," which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek's philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind because the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.

To understand Haman's motives and the commandment of Zachor , learn the history of Amalek--a summary of which can be found at http://njop.org/html/PurimHanging.html

*This Treat was originally published on March 6, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand this special Torah reading and the holiday of Purim.

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

In Hearing

Try to attend synagogue the Shabbat to hear this section of the Torah.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

Purim is celebrated on Sunday, February 28th (beginning after Shabbat on February 27th). Four mitzvot are associated with the holiday:

Megillah Reading - Book of Esther - The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. In order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not talk to each other during the Megillah reading.

Mishloach Manot/Shalach Manos - Sending Gifts - Every Jew is obligated to give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat food items.

Matanot La'evyonim - Gifts to the Poor - Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is in addition to the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). To properly fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim one must give to two poor individuals. Although one may fulfill this mitzvah by giving a minimal amount of money to each person, the sages noted that the highest form of fulfilling this mitzvah is by giving enough money for a meal, or the equivalent in food. This mitzvah may be fulfilled by donating beforehand to an organization that will distribute the money or food on Purim day.

Seudah - Festive Meal - One is obligated to partake in a festive meal on Purim day. The minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one ritually wash (netillat yadayim), eat bread and then recite the Birkat Hamazon , the Grace after Meals.

Drinking at the Purim Meal - "A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between ' Blessed is Mordechai' and ' Cursed is Haman.'" (Talmud Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch --Code of Jewish Law). On Purim, one is commanded to drink wine to a point of inebriation* - generally, this is interpreted as drinking more than one usually would or enough to make one sleepy.

*While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
1-Do not drink and drive.
2-
Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.

This Treat was originally published on March 5, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Purim.
Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Community Check

Find out what the Purim schedule is in your community. For Megillah reading, check with the synagogue. For Matanot La'evyonim, check with local rabbis or community organizations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her uncle Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

In commemoration of that fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim.

If the 13th of Adar occurs on Shabbat, (as happens this year) the fast is observed on the Thursday prior. Thus Ta'anit Esther will be observed this year on Thursday, February 25, 2010.

The fast begins at dawn* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions are exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi).

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited.

2. At the afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of G-d's mercy. The Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days.

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying afternoon service.

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

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

Fast Breaker

Prepare a special meal for breaking your fast.

Ah'nay'noo / Answer Us

On public fast days, the following prayer asking for communal forgiveness is added by the prayer leader to the repetition of the Amidah during morning and afternoon services. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo when saying the silent Amidah at the afternoon service.

Ah'nay'noo, Ah'doh,nai, Ah'nay'noo, b'yom tzohm ta'anee'taynu, kee v'tza'rah g'dolah ah'nach'noo. Ahl tayfen el reeshay'noo, v'ahl tastair pa'necha mee'meh'noo, v'ahl teet'ah'lahm mee't'chee'na'taynoo. Heh'yay na karov l'shav'ah'taynu, y'hee na chas'd'cha l'na'cha'maynu, terem nick'ra aylecha ah'naynoo ka'da'var sheh'ne'eh'mar: 'V'ha'yah terem yeek'ra'oo va'ah'nee eh'eh'neh, oad haim m'da'b'reem va'ah'nee eh'shma.' Kee Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai ha'ohneh b'ayt tzara, podeh oo'ma'tzeel b'chol ayt tzara v'tzooka. Ba'ruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai ha'oneh b'ayt tzara.

Answer us, Lord, answer us on our Fast Day for we are in great distress. Look not at our wickedness. Do not hide Your face from us and do not ignore our plea. Be near to our cry; please let Your loving-kindness comfort us. Even before we call to You, answer us, as is said, 'Before they call, I will answer. While they are still speaking, I will hear.' For You, Lord are the One who answers in time of distress, redeems and rescues in all times of trouble and anguish. Blessed are You, Lord, who answers in time of distress.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shabbat Heroics

Question: What does a Sabbath-observant doctor do when a friend or neighbor needs emergency medical assistance on Shabbat? The answer: Everything necessary. Call an ambulance, cut a bandage, use a defibrillator...

Jewish law is quite clear that when it comes to saving a life, there is no question that one may overlook the prohibitions of Shabbat. In fact, the rabbis declare: "The Sabbath is superseded when life is threatened; and the more alacrity with which this is done, the greater is the praise" (Yoma 84b).

This ruling applies not only to doctors, but to all people. And the very same passage in the Talmud cited above goes on to offer numerous examples of life saving actions, such as a child falling into the sea or into a pit or extinguishing a fire. Cases such as these (drowning, fire) are most often clear-cut situations when a person must think and act fast in order to save the victim.

But what of those cases that are difficult to determine whether they are life threatening or not?
This, as in many instances of Jewish law, requires one to be an honest judge of the situation. The operative rule always is: one must always err on the side of caution and do whatever is necessary to save a life.

And while one is permitted to override the rules of Shabbat in order to save a life, one has to keep those laws at the forefront of one's thoughts and not violate Shabbat unnecessarily. For instance, if one does go to a hospital and has a choice of an automatic door or a manual door, one should use the manual door to avoid completing the circuit that activates the electric door (as long as it does not delay treatment).

This special Jewish Treat about Shabbat is brought to you by Shabbat Across America and Canada, this Friday, March 5, 2010. Click here to find a location near you!

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

Life Savers

If you live in a city with a large Jewish population that has Hatzalah (Jewish EMS service, often faster than 911), make certain to post Hatzalah's phone number near your telephone.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Under Oath

Taking an oath of office or swearing* to tell the truth in court may not seem like a historic victory to Jews who were raised in the 21st century. However, for hundreds of years Jews were denied their legal rights/political voice because almost all valid oaths included a profession of Christianity or were recited over a Christian Bible.

Changing these laws was an extremely slow and arduous process. Today is the anniversary of two important legal victories.

Barbados: By 1654, theJewish community of British Barbados was large enough Jewish community that a synagogue was established in Bridgetown. Unfortunately, the community's success in business resulted in legal restrictions, and the Jews had no legal recourse because they could not take the oath in court (which was administered on a Christian Bible). It was not until February 14 (8 Adar), 1674, that a law was passed allowing Jews to take an oath on the Five Books of Moses. This law only applied to cases involving trade disputes, but was, nevertheless, a significant first step.

Maryland: The colony of Maryland, established in 1632, was, initially, a haven for Catholics. However, as many of its later settlers were Protestant, a Toleration Act was passed in 1649 allowing for religious tolerance--for anyone believing in the Christian Trinity. Until the American revolution, few Jews lived openly in Maryland. Even after 1776, when freedom of religion became law, the Maryland Constitution required an oath of office including a declaration of belief in the Christian religion for anyone assuming a government office. It was only on February 26 (8 Adar), 1825, that the government finally passed an act "for the relief of the Jews of Maryland" allowing Jews to be appointed to office with an altered oath proclaiming a belief in Divine reward and punishment.

*Swearing and oath taking are separate and important issues to be dealt with in a future Jewish Treat.

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

A Friendly Face

Visit a local senior residence, talk to those who live there and spend some quality time listening to what your elders have to say about the world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Adding Candles

Lighting Shabbat candles is an essential element of Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states that two candles are used to fulfill the mitzvah in order to recall the dual Shabbat mitzvot: shamor (guard) and zachor (remember). The Mishna Berura (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan's 20th century elucidation on the Shulchan Aruch) notes that one candle is sufficient (although not ideal). At the same time, however, Rabbi Kagan writes that since bringing light to the house is part of the mitzvah, one can and should create as much light as possible.

Friday afternoon can be hectic. There's work to complere, meals have to be prepared and, in the hustle and bustle leading up to Shabbat, it is possible that the candles may be forgotten. Once the sun has actually set, lighting a flame (and even transferring a flame) is prohibited. For this reason, the rabbis (as quoted in the Shulchan Aruch) declared that one who forgot to light candles one Friday night becomes obligated to add an additional candle each week thereafter.

It is interesting to note that this law might be the source for the custom to add a candle for every child born into a family. Until recently (mid-twentieth century), many women did not light candles on the Friday night after childbirth. They relied on their husbands to do so. And while the new fathers were halachically responsible for ensuring that Shabbat candles were lit that week, many added a candle as if they had missed lighting candles. Today, most women are able to either return home before Shabbat or light candles in the hospital. However, the custom of adding a candle after each delivery has taken hold and serves as a reminder that each child is a blessing.

Lighting candles may be part of the program at your local Shabbat Across America and Canada on March 5, 2010. Find a location near you and ask what time their program begins.

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

In Training

Invite your children (or grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc.) to join you in candle lighting--it's a tradition that builds memories that last forever.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Purim's Villainess

Anyone familiar with the basic Purim story knows that the primary enemy of the Jewish people was Haman. What most people do not realize is that there are several other "lesser" villains who played pivotal roles.

One of the most interesting of these "minor" characters is Zeresh, Haman's wife. According to the Midrash (Targum Esther 5:10), her father was Tattenai, mentioned in the Book of Ezra (2:3) as the Minister of Trans-Jordan who actively tried to halt the rebuilding of the Temple. Thus, these two embittered souls, enemies of the Jewish nation, were truly a match made in...you know where.

The Megillah describes an astounding relationship between Haman and Zeresh. Their relationship is one of the few instances in the Bible where one sees a wife actively being sought out for her advice. Not once, but twice, the text specifically states that Haman called for his friends and his wife to tell them of the things that had transpired (Esther 5:10 and 6:13). Indeed, one commentary on the book, Targum Esther (5:14), implies that it was Zeresh's idea to build a gallows for Mordechai since it was the one type of execution that had yet to be used against the Jewish nation. When Haman agreed, "His wife Zeresh played musical instruments, rejoiced, and declared, 'I will pay these workers well.'"

There's an old saying: Behind every great man is a greater woman. In this case, behind an evil man was an even more evil woman. Since Zeresh remained behind the scenes (only an advisor), no great fanfare is made over her role. However, her wickedness cannot be forgotten and, in some communities, it is even customary to softly hiss when her name is read from the Megillah.

Learn all about Purim by reading our previous Purim Jewish Treats or visiting njop.org's Purim pages.

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

Opinion Withheld

Do not involve yourself in other people's affairs, office politics or neighborhood disputes (unless you have something definitively constructive to add).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Second Temple

When the Babylonians exiled the Jews and destroyed the First Temple, Jeremiah the Prophet promised that the exile would only last 70 years. The return of the Jews, however, was not a miraculous, overnight occurrence, but proceeded more like a slow trickle that began during the reign of Cyrus in Persia and is chronicled in the Books of Ezra and Nechemia.

Once back in Jerusalem, the Jewish people wished to resume the sacrificial service of the Temple. Without the financial resources to rebuild the grand structure of King Solomon's Temple, they chose to complete one section at a time.

That first Tishrei (the month of Rosh Hashana), the Jews built just the altar, in order to be able to offer the many sacrifices of Sukkot, which include offerings to honor the other nations of the world. But it took another seven months (until the month of Iyar) until they were able to pour the foundation of the Temple (Ezra 3).

With only a basic foundation, an altar, and the devotion of the Kohanim (priests) and Levites who served in the Temple, the Jews lived for 15 years with on-and-off construction (more off than on), which was frequently interrupted for political reasons, both internal and external.

Finally, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius, the Second Temple was completed "on the third day of the month Adar... And the children of the exile kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month" (Ezra 6:15, 19).

This Temple was actually a modest building built by a people struggling to revive themselves. More than three hundred years later, Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple to the grandeur we see in most Temple replicas today.

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

Unfinished Business

Leave a small piece of your home unfinished as a reminder that the Jewish people today are bereft of their spiritual home, the Temple.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Aishet Chayil and Esther

On Friday nights it is customary to sing a selection of verses from the final chapter of the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31) known as Aishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor. At this time of year [pre-Purim], one particular Jewish heroine stands out: Queen Esther.

Which verse of Aishet Chayil best defines Esther? Here are a few selections:

1) Proverbs 31:17
She girds herself with strength / and invigorates her arms.

Even after hearing of Haman's plan to kill the Jews, Esther was hesitant to appear unbidden before the king (an action punishable by death) and beg for mercy. But Esther girded herself with strength...the strength of both the Jewish people (whom she asked to fast and pray) and the strength of her own prayers.

2) Proverbs 31:11
His heart trusts in her / and lacks no treasure.
Achashverosh, however, is pleased to see Esther and offers her anything that she wishes, "even half his kingdom." But all she requests is that the King and Haman join her for a feast.

3) Proverbs 31:12
She does him good, never bad / all the days of her life.

When Esther reveals Haman's plan, she puts all of the blame on Haman. In truth, Achashverosh also had evil intentions like Haman. But since Achashverosh was both the king and her husband, Esther allowed him to the decision to overrule the plan, rather than embarrass him.

4) Proverbs 31:30
Grace is false, beauty is fleeting / it is for her fear of God that a woman is to be praised.

Had Esther only been a beautiful Jewess chosen to be queen by Achashverosh, an entire book of Scripture would not be named for her. Esther's true glory was that she overcame her circumstances, remained devout to her faith, and risked her life to save her people.

For the complete story of the Book of Esther, click here.
To learn more about Aishet Chayil, click here.
To find an SAA location to celebrate this and other Friday night traditions, click here.

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

More Precious Than Pearls

Show appreciation for the important women in your life: wife, girlfriend, mother, sister, etc.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hester Panim

One might think that the Book of Esther is a heroic tale about Mordechai and Esther saving the Jewish people through diplomatic skill. Looking deeper, however, one is struck by the overwhelming number of "coincidences" of the right people being at the right places at the right times. To follow one such line of "coincidences":

1. Esther was the niece of one of the leaders of the Jewish people.

2. While women throughout the kingdom hoped to be chosen queen at the beauty pageant, Esther's beauty was noticed and she "was taken to the king's palace" (Esther 2:8). Ultimately, she was chosen as queen.

3. Esther's presence in the palace allowed Mordechai to get word to the king about an assassination plot.

4. Esther was a necessary "insider" to foil Haman's plot. As Mordechai pointed out: "Who knows if not just for a time like this you reached this royal position?!" (Esther 4:14).

These coincidences are the ultimate display of Divine Providence, acting behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved.

Known as Hester Panim, God hiding His face from the world is actually a Divine gift that allows humanity free will. If a child is told not to eat a cookie, as long as the mother remains in the kitchen the child will not take the cookie. However, once the mother leaves the room, it is the child's free choice that determines what happens to the cookie. Nevertheless, even when the mother leaves the room, she is aware of her child's behavior, listens for danger and is ready to jump to the rescue.

God gives His creations space, allowing humankind to make their own choices, but He is always watching from the periphery.

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

Enter Adar

The Talmud (Ta'anith 29a) states: "Me'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased. Today is the first day of Adar, bring joy into your day!

For more on Adar, please read Jewish Treats: When Adar Begins

Friday, February 12, 2010

What's With The Salt

At every Shabbat meal, the blessing of Ha'mo'tzee (the blessing over bread) is recited over two complete loaves of bread. This 'bread' is usually the braided loaves known as challot, but any type of bread is acceptable as long as it is uncut and unbroken.

There are actually several steps involved in this formal 'breaking of bread.' The challah is covered by a cloth until everyone is ready (see
JewishTreats:Covering The Challah
). The person making the blessing over the challah then makes a gentle knife mark on the challah that will be cut first, raises both challot and recites the blessing. The marked challah is then cut, dipped in or sprinkled with salt (just a pinch) and distributed to everyone at the table.

The challah is dipped into salt to commemorate the sacrifices offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, which always contained salt. Although the Temple no longer stands, the salt reminds us that our table is like the altar of old, as the sages attest in Berachot 55a: '...as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man's table atones for him.' With every offering brought to Temple, a salt offering was also prepared (Leviticus 2:13: And you will season every meal-offering with salt; neither shall you suffer the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meal-offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.) to commemorate the eternal covenant with God, which, like salt, never spoils.

While many people know and are familiar with the rules of dipping one's bread in salt on Shabbat, the law actually applies to any time one has a meal with bread.

Break bread and share the salt with your friends and neighbors at Shabbat Across America and Shabbat Across Canada - March 5, 2010. Find out more!

Salt Cellar

Designate a fancy salt shaker or salt cellar to adorn your Shabbat table.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just A Half A Shekel

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the Sabbath of Shekels. The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to G-d's commandment that when a census of the Jewish people is taken, it must be done by giving a half-shekel, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less..."

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (Adar 14-this year, February 27/28). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

* The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.

This Treat was originally published on February 19, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand this special Torah reading.

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

Half Shekels For Purim

It is customary to give three half-shekels (or half-dollars in the U.S) at the synagogue before the evening Megillah reading on Purim (2/27/2010). Three half-shekels are given because the offering is mentioned three times in that section of the Torah. The money is then distributed to the poor.

Just A Half A Shekel

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the Sabbath of Shekels. The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to G-d's commandment that when a census of the Jewish people is taken, it must be done by giving a half-shekel, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: 'The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less...'

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (Adar 14-this year, February 27/28). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

* The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.


This Treat was originally published on February 19, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand this special Torah reading.

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

Half Shekels For Purim

It is customary to give three half-shekels (or half-dollars in the U.S.) at the synagogue before the evening Megillah reading on Purim (2/27/2010). Three half-shekels are given because the offering is mentioned three times in that section of the Torah. The money is then distributed to the poor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The House of Assembly

Did you know that the Greek word 'synagogue' is actually a translation of the Hebrew term Beit K'nesset (English = House of Assembly). The 'assembly' referred to is the minyan (quorum of 10) necessary for a full prayer service.

By the time of the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud, the beit k'nesset was an essential part of Jewish communal life. Aware of the importance of maintaining the dignity of a place set aside for worship, the sages recorded numerous rules and discussions on worshipers' attitudes and comportment in a beit k'nesset. For instance (Talmud Megillah 28a-28b): '...in a synagogue one may not conduct oneself with levity, one may not eat in them, nor may one drink in them, nor may one adorn oneself in them, nor may one stroll in them...' In other words, the beit k'nesset is a place to be respected and revered.

One is, however, permitted to study Torah and halacha (Jewish law) in a beit k'nesset. It is, therefore, not uncommon for many batei k'nesset to double as study halls. In fact, this is most probably the source for the Yiddish term shul (which also means school), which is the expression used by many traditional Ashkenazim to refer to their local synagogue(s).

Other terms for a beit k'nesset are:
Temple--This term is used most often by Reform worshipers to signify that Jews can create a holy space in lieu of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.
Esnoga--This term is used by Spanish and Portuguese Jews.
Knis--This term is used by many Arabic-speaking Jews.

In order to address the need for both a place to pray and a place for socializing, during the past century most synagogues began to include social halls in their buildings. As these rooms are designated for non-worship/study purposes, it is permitted to eat, drink and be merry there.

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

Local Assembly

Find out if a 'House of Assembly' in your area will be hosting
Shabbat Across America and Canada
.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement

The Mussar movement, the formal study and program of ethical improvement, was developed in the mid-nineteenth century by Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883, his family name was Lipkin but he is known as Salanter in honor of the many years he studied in Salant, Lithuania).

Throughout his years of study, Rabbi Salanter felt that there was far too much cold intellectualism in the Jewish community and too little emphasis on ethics and self-improvement. While some Mussar texts already existed, such as the writings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Rabbi Salanter developed the study and practice of ethics into a true school of thought. The focus of the Mussar movement was the communal study of these existing texts, incorporated with constant self-examination of one's actions.

After serving as the head of the Vilna Yeshiva, Rabbi Lipkin moved to Kovno in the 1840s in order to open his own yeshiva. At the same time he also ran a special center dedicated to the study of ethical works and a kollel (an advanced study institute) for married men. After leaving Kovno in 1856, Rabbi Salanter took positions in several towns of Germany and France.

The most renowned work of Rabbi Salanter is Iggeret ha-Mussar (The Ethical Letter), which was first published in 1858.

While the Mussar movement was successful within the world of the scholars, it was not generally a popular movement. (After all, how popular could it be to sit for an hour each day and criticize yourself?!) Following Rabbi Salanter's death on 25 Shevat in 1883, his disciples worked diligently to integrate Mussar into mainstream traditional education. Eventually it became part of the curriculum in most Lithuanian schools, where students would not only study Mussar, but would regularly hear Mussar Shmoozin (Mussar talks) from the school's mashgiach ruchani (moral supervisor).

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

Mussar Move

Write a list of 8 things you thing you can improve about yourself. (And at the same time, write a short list of things that you appreciate about yourself.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Twilight (Sorry No Vampires)

In Judaism, the day begins and ends at sunset. But defining sunset can be complicated. However, for many aspects of Jewish life, such as the observance of Shabbat/holidays, prayer times and even the day on which a baby boy has his brit milah (circumcision), knowing the exact moment when one day turns into the next is essential. There is, therefore, much discussion among the sages as to when day becomes twilight and twilight becomes night.

This time period is known in Hebrew as bein ha'shma'shoat, between the suns. As long as there is any trace of sunlight left, it is still twilight. According to the Talmud (Shabbat 34b): "From sunset on, as long as the eastern sky has a reddish glow, then, when the lower horizon is dark, but not the upper horizon, it is twilight; but when the upper horizon is as dark as the lower, it is night, so says Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Nechemiah says: [Twilight begins at sunset and lasts] as long as it takes a person to walk half a mil (.35 miles). Rabbi Yose said: Twilight is like the blink of an eye--the night comes and the day goes, and it is impossible to fix the exact time."

Bein ha'shma'shoat is an interesting time in Jewish law and Jewish lore. For example, certain leniencies in Shabbat observance are allowed during bein ha'shma'shoat on Friday (e.g. one may directly ask a non-Jew to perform an act prohibited for Jews on Shabbat or one may separate certain tithes). In Jewish lore, according to Ethics of our Fathers (5:8), a number of mystical symbols such as the rainbow, manna from heaven and Moses' miraculous staff, were created during bein ha'shma'shoat before the first Shabbat.

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

Good Giving

Donate your gently used books or toys to the local hospital.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Haftarah

Every week, on Shabbat, a portion of the Five Books of Moses is read in synagogue. This portion is known as the parasha. In addition to the parasha, a section from the Prophets (Neviim) is also read each Shabbat, immediately after the conclusion of the Torah Reading Service. This reading is known as the Haftarah.

While there is no definitive source that confirms when this custom actually began, it is speculated that it commenced during the Syrian-Greek occupation of Judea ( the Chanukah story). King Antiochus prohibited the study of the Torah. Because the prohibition was specific to the five Books of Moses, the Jewish people chose to read aloud a section from the prophets that somehow related to the weekly portion. After the victory over Antiochus, although the regular Torah reading was renewed, the custom remained.

Haftarot are read on Shabbat and festival mornings and during the afternoon service on fast days. (On Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, a haftarah is read during both the morning and the afternoon service.) The final person called to make the blessing over the Torah (the aliyah) is known as the baal maftir, the extra. In addition to making the blessing over the final Torah verse recited, the baal maftir also recites the blessings over the haftarah.

On the whole, the basic content of the haftarah is the same throughout the Jewish world. There are, however, some differences in the choice of readings between Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, and even between other smaller communities within this divide (for instance, the community of Frankfurt-on-Main, Germany).
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Unlike the reading of the Torah, the reading of the haftarah does not need to be chanted from a scroll, although it often is. The haftarot also have a separate and distinct trope (tune) from the Torah reading.

Did you know: The haftarah for Shabbat Across America and Shabbat Across Canada, which will be celebrated on March 5, 2010, is Ezekiel 36:16-36.

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

Say Something Different

Prepare a dvar Torah (words of Torah) relating to the Haftarah to share with your family at the Shabbat Table.

Mizmor Shir L'Yom Ha'Shabbat / A Song for the Sabbath Day

While much of the Kabbalat Shabbat service (service to greet the Sabbath) was implemented by the Kabbalists in Tzefat in the 16th century, Psalm 92 has been recited on Friday nights since ancient times. This Psalm focuses on how the world that God created can bring much joy to one who truly seeks righteousness.

Mizmor shir l'yom ha'Shabbat. Tov l'hodot la'Ah'doh'nai ul'zamayr l'shim'cha ehl'yon. L'ha'geed ba'boker chas'deh'cha veh'eh-munateh'cha ba'laylot. Ah'lay ah'sohr va'ah'lay na'vel ah'lay hee'ga'yon b'chee'nor. Kee see'mach'tanee Ah'doh'nai b'fa'ah'lecha b'ma'a'say ya'decha a'ra'nayn. Mah gad'loo ma'a'secha Ah'doh'nai m'od amkoo mach'sh'vo'techa. Eesh ba'ar lo yay'da u'ch'seel lo yah'veen et zoat. Bif'roach r'sha'eem k'mo ay'sev va'yah'tzi'tzu kol po'ahlay a'ven l'hee'sham'dahm ahday ad. V'Ahtah ma'rom l'olam Ah'doh'nai. Kee heenay oy'veh'cha Ah'doh'nai kee heenay oy'veh'cha yo'vaydu yit'pardu kol po'a'lay aven. Va'tarem kir'aym kar'nee ba'loh'tee b'shemen ra'a'nan. Va'ta'bayt aynee b'shoorai ba'ka'meem a'lai m'rayeem tish'ma'na ohznai. Tzah'deek ka'ta'mar yif'rach k'erez bal'vanon yis'geh. Sh'tooleem b'vayt Ah'doh'nai b'chatzrot Eh'lo'hay'nu yaf'reechoo. Ohd y'noovoon b'sayva d'shayneem v'ra'a'na'neem yee'yu. L'hagid kee yashar Ah'doh'nai tzooree v'lo av'la'ta bo.

A psalm. A song for the Sabbath day. It is good to thank the Lord and sing psalms to Your name, Most High - to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For You have made me rejoice by Your work, O Lord; I sing for joy at the deeds of Your hands. How great are Your deeds, Lord, and how very deep Your thoughts. A boor cannot know, nor can a fool understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, it is only that they may be destroyed forever. But You, Lord, are eternally exalted. For behold Your enemies, Lord, behold Your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. You have raised my pride like that of a wild ox; I am anointed with fresh oil. My eyes shall look in triumph on my adversaries, my ears shall hear the downfall of the wicked who rise against me. The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow tall like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the Lord's House, blossoming in our Gods courtyards, they will still bear fruit in old age, and stay vigorous and fresh, proclaiming that the Lord is upright: He is my Rock, in whom there is no wrong.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Asher, Son of Jacob

Asher was the second son born to Zilpah, Jacob's wife, the former handmaid of Leah. The ninth son in the household (after Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Dan, Naphtali and Gad), he was named Asher, which means 'fortunate' after Leah declared upon his birth: 'Good fortune for me, for women have called me fortunate!'

Almost nothing is known of the life of Asher other than his name, which means both fortune and wealth. Both of these elements seemed to have defined his essence. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 71:10) teaches that Asher was so prosperous in his business undertakings that he never needed to stay in an inn (i.e. that he did not have to travel to find financial success).

Before his death, Jacob gathered his sons and gave them each a blessing that specifically reflected their personalities and predicted their futures. To Asher, he said: 'His bread will have richness, and he will provide kingly delicacies (49:20),' inferring that Asher was, and would continue to be, a wealthy man.

While the Torah lists Asher's four sons (Yimnah, Yishvah, Yishvi and Briah) in Genesis 46:17, it is interesting to note that his daughter, Serach, is also mentioned--the only granddaughter of Jacob to be mentioned. Serach bat Asher is credited with using her beautiful voice to ease her grandfather's shock when Jacob's sons informed him, upon their returning from Egypt, that Joseph was still alive.

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

Fortune For All

Recognize that financial fortune is a blessing and a gift from God by giving to charity.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Shalom

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The theme of the final blessing is peace. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is related to the Hebrew word for complete, sha'laym ' peace is the ultimate means to make the world whole.

Sim shalom tovah oov'rah'cha, chayn vah'chesed v'rah'cha'mim ah'lay'nu v'ahl kol Yisrael ah'meh'cha. Bar'chay'nu ah'veenu koo'lah'nu k'eh'chad b'ohr pah'neh'cha, kee v'ohr pah'neh'cha na'ta'ta lanu Ah'doh'nai Ehl'lo'hay'nu torat chayim vah'ah'vat chesed, ootz'dah'kah oov'rah'cha v'rah'cha'mim v'cha'yim v'shalom. V'tov b'ay'neh'cha l'va'raych et am'cha Yisrael b'chol ayt oov'chol sha'ah bish'loh'meh'cha. Ba'ruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai hahm'vah'raych et amo Yisrael ba'shalom.


Grant peace, goodness and blessing, grace, loving-kindness and compassion to us and all Israel Your people. Bless us, our Father, all as one, with the light of Your face, for by the light of Your face You have given us, Lord our God, the Torah of life and love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace. May it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel at every time, in every hour, with Your peace. Blessed are You, Lord, who blesses His people Israel with peace.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Salute to Rabbi Alexander Goode

Today, Jewish Treats brings you the sad but heroic story of Rabbi Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode.

Ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1937, Rabbi Goode took his first position in Marion, Indiana, and then served as the rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue in York, Pennsylvania (while earning a Ph.D. in Oriental Languages from John Hopkins University). In 1942, he was accepted as a military chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In January 1943, Rabbi Goode began his first, and only, naval voyage aboard the USAT Dorchester, which was transporting over 900 soldiers to Britain via Greenland. He was one of four chaplains on board (along with Methodist Reverend George L. Fox, Roman Catholic Priest John P. Washington and Reformed Church in America Reverend Clark V. Poling).

Just after midnight on February 3, 1943, a German U-boat torpedoed the Dorchester. Tragically, not only was the ship sinking fast, but there weren't enough lifeboats or life jackets. Within half an hour of being hit, the Dorchester sank with 672 men still aboard. And while survivors had a horrid tale to tell (of bodies freezing in the icy water), they also spoke with awe and respect for the four chaplains.

In all the chaos, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Fox, Father Washington and Reverend Poling remained calm as they comforted and organized the soldiers and gave away their own life jackets and gloves. Numerous survivors reported that the last thing they saw before the ship sank was the four chaplains standing on deck, arm in arm, praying.

Rabbi Goode was 32 years old and was survived by his wife, Teresa (a niece of Al Jolson) and his daughter Rosalie.

In 1948, an act of Congress designated February 3rd as Four Chaplains Day.

Carpool

If you see a friend or neighbor waiting for a bus as you drive by, pull over and offer them a ride.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

It is an unfortunate fact that a large portion of the Jews who came to North America in the early 20th century were unable to live full Jewish lives. There was little Jewish education (indeed, almost none at all for girls) and, until the late 1960s, a constant (but, thank God, non-violent) anti-Semitism that drove Jews to assimilate.

In the late 1960s, however, perhaps due to the general societal upheaval, the Jewish community started noticing that a significant number of young Jews were moving toward a more traditional life style, a trend that came to be known as the Baal Teshuva movement.
The movement of Jewish return has continued until today, and there are many organizations dedicated to helping Jews return to their traditions (Chabad, Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach, and, of course,
National Jewish Outreach Program--to name just a few). The goal of these organizations is, in truth, to foster an ingathering of "spiritual exiles." Jewish outreach organizations strive to help Jews discover the beauty of their own heritage.

And yet, it is a goal that is often elusive. More and more Jews are leaving Jewish life only because they lack basic knowledge about Judaism. Once upon a time, a Jew raised with little knowledge of his/her heritage was the exception. In fact, the sages refer to such a Jew as a tinok sheh'nishbah. "Rav Pappa said to Abaye...Is there any [case of a Jew] who does not have a basic awareness [of Jewish law]?...Yes, you find it in a child taken captive [and raised] among non-Jews (Talmud Shavuot 5a)."

One raised without knowledge of Jewish law cannot be held responsible for Jewish law. But, sadly, one raised without this knowledge can also never know of the depth, ethics, intricacies and beauty of Jewish life.

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

Give It Over

As you learn new aspects of Jewish life, whether from Jewish Treats or from other sources, find ways to share it with your Jewish friends and family.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Answering The Appeals

There they sit, the pile of unopened solicitations and appeals. Direct marketing charity drives are the modern replacement for the communal tzedakah (charity) appeals of the past.

Food for the poor, tuition assistance for children in need of a Jewish education, support services for single moms, outreach work, hospitals, medical research...take a deep breath, because there are thousands of organizations struggling to make the world a better place. And they are all good causes.

In order to make sense out of this barrage of requests, it may help to know that within Jewish thought there is a recommended hierarchy to one's order of giving.

The Torah states that top priority in giving should be to those nearest and dearest to you--your family. Within this category itself, there is a hierarchy that depends upon the closeness of the relationship (siblings before cousins, one's family before a relative's family, etc.).

Giving to those to whom one is not related has a different hierachy. A friend or acquaintance has priority over a stranger, and a stranger in one's own community has priority over a stranger from another community.

These rules apply when giving to individuals, but similar rules apply to the mass fundraising appeals mentioned earlier. One has a priority to give to organizations that work within one's own town, before giving to out of town organizations. (The land of Israel is considered as your own town.)

While every Jew has an obligation to give to charity (see Jewish Treats: Tithe Means Tenth), how one chooses to give is left to one's own discretion. While one may certainly give all of one's tzedakah to one individual or one organization, it is considered praiseworthy to support a variety of individuals and organizations.

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

At This Time of Year

If you are in New York, consider a last minute change of plans to support the National Jewish Outreach Program, the creator and sponsor of Jewish Treats, at their Annual Dinner on February 2, 2010, at The New York Hilton. For reservations and more information, click here.