Friday, December 30, 2011

Are You Drunk

The end of December is a festive time of year. Regardless of religious beliefs, most people in North America are swept up into the celebrations of the season, if only because of the legal holidays and the days off from work.

Included in the festivities are, of course, the parties, both social and the not-to-be-missed office holiday party. As we know from the abundant ads and warnings at this time of year, alcoholic drinks are often free-flowing.

Drinking is one of humankind’s oldest pleasures, or one of its oldest vices – depending on your perspective. Indeed, Noah had barely set foot on the newly dried earth after the flood when he planted a vineyard (a fact that the Torah does not consider to be to his credit). Yet, while drunkenness, which was Noah’s goal, is frowned upon, the consumption of wine is a basic fact of Jewish life. Almost every celebration or festival is sanctified by a blessing over a full cup of wine.

As in most things, moderation is the appropriate path. For those, however, who would like specific guidelines, it may surprise you to know that this, too, is a subject discussed in the Talmud (Eruvin 64b):

When are people considered slightly intoxicated and when are they considered drunk? They are considered slightly intoxicated if they are capable of speaking before a king [able to speak coherently to a person who is held in awe]. People are considered drunk if they are unable to speak before a king.

Of course, most of us have little contact with royalty. Nevertheless, we can understand it clearly from a more mundane perspective: How would a person behave in front of his/her boss?

This Treat was originally published on Friday, December 30, 2008.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

In Your Celebration

Keep in mind the importance of moderation when attending celebrations.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


“A person should never discriminate among his children even to the extent of a thread [garment] weighing only two weight-measures of silk, similar to that which Jacob gave to Joseph but not to the other brothers” (Shabbat 10b).

It may seem like common sense that one should not show favoritism to one child over another. But, most parents, aunts/uncles and even grandparents, will be unable to deny that there are times when they definitely feel a preference.

The story of Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 37 and 38) is a powerful cautionary tale against favoritism: Jacob made no effort to hide his special feelings for Joseph, and indeed he went out of his way to make him a special coat, declaring to the world that this was his favored child. This led to the animosity of his older brothers, who eventually plotted to kill him, but settled for selling him as a slave!

The sages propose several reasons that might have caused Joseph to be so favored by

1) Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife.

2) Joseph looked very much like Jacob.

3) Joseph was a particularly gifted scholar who exulted when learning about the ways of God from his father. He thus reminded Jacob of himself as a youth, since Jacob was known as a “man who sat in the tents” (meaning that he was a scholar).

The warning against favoritism goes well beyond parents. All those who are in the role of authority must ensure fairness by not favoring one side unfairly over the other. (There are a great number of halachot - Jewish laws - that stress this point.) In fact, the sages even censure Joseph for unfairly showering Benjamin with gifts: “To each man [brother] he gave changes of clothes; but to Benjamin he gave 300 shekels of silver, and five changes of clothes” (Genesis 45:22). The sages are concerned that the abundant gifts would stir up the jealousy of the other brothers. (They had, thankfully, already learned this lesson quite well.)

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

An Evenhand

Even if one does feel a sense of preference for one child (grandchild/niece/nephew/etc) over another, make certain to show even-handedness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Book(s) of Maccabees

Chanukah is neither directly ordained in the Torah (like Rosh Hashana, Passover, etc.) nor mentioned in any other biblical text (as Purim is in the Book of Esther). The Books of Maccabees are not included in the Biblical canon, because these events occurred after the sages had declared the Tanach (complete Hebrew bible) closed to further additions (around 250 B.C.E.). Writings, such as the Books of Maccabees, which have historical import but are not included in the Tanach, are often referred to as Sfarim Chitzonim (external books) or by the Greek term Apocrypha (hidden books).

While Maccabees I was originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek translation survives (although it has been re-translated from Greek into Hebrew). Maccabees I is a historical work that describes Antiochus Epiphanes’ assumption of the Selucid throne (175 B.C.E.), the actions of the Jewish Hellenizers, and in detail, the revolt of the Maccabees. The book concludes with the death of Simon the Hasmonean (Maccabee) and the appointment of his eldest son John Hyrcanus, as ruler (135 B.C.E.).

Maccabees II was written in Greek, and, in the style of Greek historians, is full of drama and rhetoric. Focusing mainly on the deeds of Judah Maccabee, the leader of the rebellion after the death of Mattitiyahu, Maccabees II also includes details of the actions of the Hellenizers (power-plays and bribery were a serious problem in the priesthood at the time) and acts of sacrifice and martyrdom by those dedicated to keeping the Jewish faith.

While Maccabees III and Maccabees IV are sometimes grouped together with the first and second books mentioned above, neither of them are accounts of the events of Chanukah, nor are they accorded the same historical veracity as Maccabees I and II.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Last Day

Chanukah ends at sunset tonight. Make the most of this last day by wishing your fellow Jews one last chag sameach, happy holiday.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Chanukah Heroine

Have you ever heard of Yehudit (Judith), the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, who saved her city, Bethulia, from destruction at the hands of the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes?

As the Jews in the town neared starvation due to the enemy siege, Yehudit told the elders that she had a plan to deliver the enemy into their hands, but they must not ask her about it. They must simply have faith in her. Knowing her reputation for wisdom and piety, they agreed.

Accompanied by one maidservant, Yehudit managed to gain an audience with Holofernes and told him that, for the sake of those suffering from the siege, she wanted the city to fall. She proposed to report to him, daily, on the town’s supplies and let him know when was best to strike.

After several days, Yehudit felt that she and her maidservant had gained the trust of the enemy. They came and went as they pleased.

When she told Holofernes that the city had no food left and that it would be good time to strike, he invited her to come alone to his tent to celebrate. She agreed, insisting that he partake of her ‘renowned’ goat-cheese. As he ate the salty cheese, Yehudit quenched his thirst with the heavy wine that she had brought with her. When Holofernes finally fell into a stupor from too much food and drink, Yehudit cut off his head with his own sword. The two women wrapped the head in a cloth and returned to Bethulia.

Yehudit instructed the Jewish elders to attack the Syrian-Greeks immediately.

The Syrian-Greeks soldiers awoke to find the Judeans attacking and their leader mysteriously dead. The Syrian-Greek army fled in confusion and panic.

*This Treat was originally published on December 25, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand Chanukah.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Dairy Delicious

Enjoy a dairy treat to commemorate Yehudit's victory.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Chanukah and Divine Order

Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh(the new month of) Tevet. (Today, 30 Kislev, and tomorrow, 1 Tevet, are both Rosh Chodesh.) This is significant, because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.

The very first commandment that the Jewish people received as a nation was, "This month shall be yours as the first of months" (Exodus 12:1-2), instructing the Jews to sanctify the beginning of each new month. The Syrian-Greeks felt threatened by the Jewish concept of Divinely ordained time, since the sanctification of the month was based on the sighting of the new moon, rather than by a humanly calculated number of days.

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world, negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.

That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat was previously posted on December 17, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Time For Festivities

Celebrate Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah by enjoying a special meal tonight.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Challenge of Fitting In

The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph the son of Jacob from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah.

The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him Tzaphenath Pa'nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him.

Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself, he declared: “. . .for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).

Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession.

Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks--their dress, their language, their names--they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle.

Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?

This Treat was originally posted on December 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Time Is Now

Use Chanukah as an opportunity to increase Jewish pride.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Giving Gifts

“One who is diligent in lighting Chanukah candles will have children who are scholars” (Talmud Shabbat 23b).

The desire for scholarly children was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). In modern times, money has been replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights, intelligent children and gelt?

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah is so important that even a pauper, who has no money at all, is required to borrow money in order to buy oil for lighting. People therefore began to give a little money (gelt) to the poor so that they would not be embarrassed or forced to ask for assistance. Because the idea of “being diligent in lighting the Chanukah lights” is primary in both giving to the poor and meriting wise children, it became the custom to give children gelt as a reward for studying. Children who were diligent in their studies were rewarded with a shiny coin.

While gifts are an offshoot of the holiday, they represent an important element of Chanukah--chinuch, Jewish education.

The Maccabees fought so that their children and their children's children would be able to study Torah freely and be knowledgeable about their Jewish heritage. Jewish children are taught about Judaism not only for today, but for posterity as well, as it says in Proverbs 22:6: "Educate a young person in his/her own way, when he/she grows old he/she will not turn from it."

Over time, the simple practice of giving gelt (coins or presents) became a Chanukah custom – and not just for children. In truth, however, it is not surprising that gift giving has moved beyond just children. In our own day and age, we, the adults, also need encouragement to learn about who we are and what our Jewish heritage means.

*This Treat was originally published on December 22, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand Chanukah.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

What To Give

Maintain the tradition of Chanukah being a time for study and give Jewish books as Chanukah presents.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's A Chanukiyah!

The menorah, the symbol of the holiday of Chanukah, is actually a misnomer! “Menorah” is the name of the great seven-branched candelabra that was built in the wilderness following explicit Divine directions. It was used first in the Tabernacle and later stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The Chanukah candelabra that we light is actually called a chanukiyah. It has nine branches - eight lights for Chanukah and a shamash, a "helper" candle to light the other candles.

In preparation for the holiday and to make Chanukah truly shine, Jewish Treats presents some “things to know” about the chanukiyah:

1) You really don’t need a chanukiyah (or a menorah)! That’s right, one could technically light a series of tea lights (for example) one next to the other and still properly fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah lights.

2) The lights should be in a straight line without any difference in height between any of the Chanukah lights. They may be in a semi-circle as long as all the lights are visible at the same time. The place for the shamash on the chanukiyah, however, should be differentiated from the other lights. Usually it is higher, lower or out of line with the others.

3) There should be enough space between lights so that the none of the flames merge with their neighbor. Also the candles must be far enough apart that one candle does not cause the candle next to it to melt.

4) It is preferable to use olive oil for the Chanukah lights since the miracle took place with olive oil. One may, nevertheless, use wax or paraffin candles or other types of oils as long as they produce a steady, clean light.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Let It Shine

If you don't have a proper chanukiyah/menorah, call your local Judaica store or synagogue gift shop.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Story of Chanukah

Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modiin sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who volunteered. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greeks forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, rebuilding the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure, consecrated oil, and finally found a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But it was only one flask of oil, good for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared and consecrated. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, proclaiming to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

*This Treat was originally published on December 23, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand Chanukah.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tell The Story

When you light the first Chanukah candle tonight, retell the story of Chanukah.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chanukah-What's The Mitzvah?

Here’s a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the only actual mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the lights in the Holy Temple burned for 8 days.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after sunset. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used.

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is also permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

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

For more information about Chanukah, visit NJOP's Chanukah webpage (click here).

This Treat was last posted on November 29, 2010.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Time To Shop?

If you haven't already done so, purchase your Chanukah supplies.
And don't forget Jewish Treat's Complete Guide to Chanukah (just click here for your free copy)!

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's All Good

One ancient and ongoing philosophical question is: If God is perfect, and God created the world, can anything that God created be inherently bad? We all know that there is evil in the world, that there are things that appear to be bad. But when one takes the world as a whole, we realize that while the bad is usually unpleasant, difficult to understand and, in truth, terrifying, it is also necessary as a contrast to the incredible good we are given.

The commandment of Shabbat is linked to the phrase “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day.” On Shabbat, one effect of refraining from m'la'chot, (the 39 acts of creative labor that are prohibited on Shabbat because they were used to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness) is that one is constantly reminded that God continually creates the world and that the world He creates is whole and perfect.

The actions restricted by the m’la’chot are all actions that create change. It is interesting to note the similarity of three of these m’la’chot: winnowing (zoreh), sorting (bo’rayr) and sifting (m’raked). Winnowing is the act of throwing grains in the air to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sorting refers to removing something one does not want from among things one does want (picking bones from a piece of salmon). Sifting is running food through a vessel in order to hold back the unwanted particles.

While each of these m’la’chot is, in fact, unique when examined in detail, it is fascinating to note the obvious emphasis the Torah places on refraining from sorting out the bad from the good on Shabbat. Perhaps this is because classifying an item as “bad” might imply a flaw in God’s handiwork, and on Shabbat we take extra measures to celebrate the fact that God completed His creation of the world.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

World View

Pay attention to how you judge objects of the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Maggid of Mezeritch

It is often noted by commentators on the Torah that whereas Abraham was a charismatic leader, his son, Isaac, was an introvert who spent much of his time studying. This same comparison could be made between the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (aka the Besht), and his successor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (c. 1704-1772).

The first time the Maggid of Mezeritch, as he came to be known, met the Besht, he nearly walked away. Having lived his life in poverty, the Maggid had many health problems and it was suggested that he visit the Besht, who was known as a healer. Although the Maggid was not a follower of the new Chassidic way of thinking, he went for Shabbat. During Shabbat, he was completely unimpressed with the divrei Torah (Torah statements) that the Besht offered. As he prepared to leave after Shabbat, the Besht called him in and privately revealed the very deep spiritual meaning of his earlier statements. Needless to say, the Maggid stayed.

Not long after the Besht’s passing, the Maggid became recognized as the leader of the growing Chassidic movement. Because he was disabled in one foot, he did not travel and his disciples gathered around him. His closest students were sequestered with him during the week, but on Shabbat he made himself available to all. Although he himself never published his Torah thoughts, his teachings were preserved in writing by his disciples and later published.

Perhaps the Maggid’s greatest contribution to the future of Chassidut was his dispersion of his students. As he approached his last days, he told each of his main disciples, based on each individual’s personality, where to settle to be the most effective. These students came to lead their own Chassidic courts and to advance the revolutionary development of the Chassidic movement that the Besht had begun.

The 19th of Kislev, today, is the yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Teacher, Teacher

If you find a teacher of Torah particularly inspiring, keep careful notes of his/her teaching.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don't Roll Your Eyes At Me

The plaintive cry of exasperation, “Don’t roll your eyes at me!” that parents often address to their children is one that each person should consider saying to him/herself, omitting, of course, the concluding words “at me.”

Rolling one’s eyes is often meant to demean others, to hold them in contempt for their inability to understand and to embarrass them. Jewish law, however, considers embarrassing another person as a form of murder! Rather extreme, wouldn’t you say? Actually, no. The sages of the Talmud teach that there is a physiological comparison to murder since when a person is embarrassed, blood rushes to his cheeks in a blush and then drains away, leaving a pale white face, not unlike the appearance of a murder victim.

More important, however, is the fact that one’s self-esteem is integral to one’s emotional welfare. Let’s face it, we all want to feel that others like us, respect us and want to be our friends. That’s human nature.

Rolling one’s eyes when someone else is speaking, or when speaking about someone else, can often say more than words. Body language is a unique and highly effective means of communication. Nodding or shaking one's head head during a speech reveals as much, if not more, than a person’s direct comments.

Such actions are included in what is known in Jewish legal literature as “avak lashon ha’rah,” the dust of evil speech. Even if one is not gossiping directly about someone or slandering them, one's body language, or other form of innuendo, can lead to lashon ha’rah and result in demeaning or embarrassing that person.

This Treat was originally posted on November 17, 2008.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Stand Tall

Remember your body language when talking with people with whom you are uncomfortable.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's In The Book: Jonah

The Book of Jonah is one of the best known stories in the Bible and is read on Yom Kippur because of its powerful message of repentance:

God instructs Jonah to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn them that Nineveh will be destroyed unless the people mend their ways.

Hoping to flee and avoid this mission, Jonah boards a ship.

God sends a great storm. The people on the ship, fearing for their lives, discern that Jonah is the cause of the storm and, at Jonah's suggestion, throw him overboard. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. (The Hebrew word is fish, but it is commonly translated as a whale.) Jonah lives inside the fish for three days, praying to God and accepting God’s command to go to Nineveh.

When Jonah is spit out and returned to dry land, he goes to Nineveh to bring them God’s message. The people repent and are saved. Jonah, however, leaves the city depressed and angry that this city of idol-worshipers heeded God’s warning and will be saved, while his fellow Jews often do not. He sits outside the city waiting to see what will happen.

Jonah falls asleep, and while he sleeps, God makes a gourd grow over him to shade him from the intense heat. Jonah awakens and rejoices over the gourd. On that very night, God sends a worm to destroy the gourd that provided him with protection from the harsh sun, causing Jonah to weep.

God then rebukes Jonah for having pity on a plant that appeared and disappeared in one night, but having no compassion for the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

In Situations

When things seem difficult, try to find the good in the situation.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gunpowder Purim

There are many ways to thank God for saving your life. Many people donate extra tzedakah (charity) as a means of demonstrating their gratitude. In situations that were particularly harrowing, some people host a seudat ho’da’ah, a feast of gratitude. There is even a special prayer that is recited in synagogue for people who survive life-threatening events; it is known as birkat ha’gomel.

If you were a rabbi who witnessed the miraculous survival of yourself and your family, you might just declare a personal Purim, as did Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820). Rabbi Danzig was born in what is known today as Gdansk (Poland), formerly known as Danzig. Most of his life, however, was spent in Vilna. Though Rabbi Danzig did not accept an official rabbinic position (he was a merchant), he was known as one of Vilna’s most venerable poskim (plural for Jewish legal decisor). Additionally, he wrote several highly regarded books on halacha (Jewish law). The Chayei Adam (and its companion the Nishmat Adam) and the Chochmat Adam (and its companion the Binat Adam) both present in-depth reviews and summaries of sections of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).

On the 15th of Kislev, 1804 (18 November), a terrible fire broke out in Vilna. As nearby buildings were collapsing and being consumed by the flames, Rabbi Danzig and his entire family gathered in one room in their home and prayed. That night, the Danzig home was engulfed in flames. Even the walls collapsed. Incredibly, Rabbi Danzig and his family were unharmed. Thereafter, each year, on the 16th of Kislev, his family (and eventually his descendants) lit candles, recited Psalms, had a feast of thanksgiving and gave charity in honor of their remarkable survival. Rabbi Danzig called this day the “Pulver Purim" (Purim of the Gunpowder).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Personal Gratitude

Mark times of personal gratitude to God by giving charity or partaking in a particular mitzvah.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How Does God Rest

On the first six days of creation, God created (Day 1) the heavens and earth, light as separated from darkness; (Day 2) the firmament to separate the water (Day 3) dry land, a bringing together of the waters of the earth, plant life (Day 4) the sun and moon, the motion of the luminaries in the heavens (Day 5) the creatures of the sea and the creatures of the air, (Day 6) animals of the land, and, finally, Adam and Eve. And then God rested.

According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), God created the world by contracting and limiting Himself. The world maintains itself by God continuing to limit Himself. It is therefore understood by the kabbalists that every moment of the world's existence is only because God so wills it in His continuing act of creation.

What, then, does it mean that God rested on the seventh day, since God is always in a continual state of creating the world? Obviously God didn’t simply put up His feet and take a nap.

The feat of creation is described by the commentators as “yesh may’ayin,” meaning something from nothing. Before God created the world, there was nothing. In every act of creation, God fashioned something that had never existed before. When the Torah states that on the seventh day God rested, it means that God ceased to create anything completely new. Henceforth, all things that came into the world were built upon something that had previously existed.

While humans can be quite ingenious, people are only able to create from matter that already exists. Refraining from m'la'chot, the creative work prohibited on Shabbat, is a gift from God for the Jewish people to let us relate, on some level, to what it means to “hold back” and let the world run its normal course.

This Treat was originally published on October 16, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Book It

Stop by the library or borrow a good book from a friend and sit back and truly relax this Shabbat.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Woman's Strength

Born in 1859 in Vienna, Bertha Pappenheim was acutely aware of the advantages given to boys. She wished that she could receive the same education that her younger brother received. Instead, she spent her late teenage years at home doing needlepoint and waiting to be married. The waiting was cut short when she suffered a strange illness with symptoms such as paralysis of the extremities, disturbances of vision, hearing, and speech, and hallucinations. She was treated by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud, who gave her “talk therapy” for what they termed to be hysteria.*

Pappenheim recovered, slowly, and by 1929, she was able to move with her widowed mother to Frankfurt am Main. In her new surroundings, Pappenheim was able to free herself from the constraints of the expectations of upper-middle class women. Pappenheim’s career began through acceptable social work channels--volunteering in a soup kitchen and working in an orphanage. Soon Pappenheim organized Women’s Welfare, a group that set up daycare centers, employment services and services to help the Jews in Eastern Europe. In 1904, she founded the League of Jewish Women (JFB). The goals of the JFB were definitely feminist--women’s rights and community involvement--but with a distinctive Jewish element. Pappenheim's famous women’s shelter was kosher and even had a Passover kitchen.

In addition to her JFB work, Pappenheim worked diligently to fight against human trafficking and was outspoken about the problem of prostitution in the Jewish world. In what spare time she had, Pappenheim was also a writer, a poet and a translator of texts she deemed important for Jewish women.

Although Pappenheim was initially opposed to Zionism and against the Youth Aliyah movement, she began to see the importance of the Holy Land after the legislation of the Nuremberg Laws (1935). On May 28, 1936, Pappenheim succumbed to cancer, never seeing the horrors that were to come.

*Pappenheim’s illness was chronicled under the pseudonym Anna O. and published by Josepf Breuer in Studies on Hysteria.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Own Strength

Use your own personal strengths to get involved in the community.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The concept of forgivable bankruptcy--declaring one’s self legally destitute and thereby being forgiven of one’s major debts, is a recent development in history. Until the mid-1800s (in the United States), those unable to repay their debts were sent to debtors’ prison.

Without question, falling into debt is frowned upon by the Torah. At the same time the Torah encourages lending to the needy. In fact, it’s a mitzvah. The Torah also has quite a few unique laws relating to lending and debts. Most importantly, “At the end of every seven years you shall institute a remission... every creditor shall remit his authority over that which he has lent his fellow; he shall not demand it from his fellow or his brother...” (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). Every seven years, the year of the shmitta (Sabbatical year), when the farmland lies fallow, all monetary debts that are currently due are forgiven.

Was shmitta the world’s first forgiving bankruptcy law? Perhaps.

Aware of human nature, the Torah also declares, “Beware that there be not a base thought in your heart, saying: 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand'; and your eye becomes evil against your needy fellow, and you give him nothing...” (Deuteronomy 15:9). After all, who would want to lend money just to have the debt erased by shmitta.*

There are many Torah prohibitions against forcing the repayment of debt. For example:
“When you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment....” (Exodus 22:24). “Do not take an upper or lower millstone as security for a loan, since that is like taking a life as security” (Deuteronomy 24:6).

The laws that seem to favor the negligent borrower are numerous because of the potentially overwhelming power of the lender. Underlying each of these laws, however, is the understanding that borrowers may not simply walk away from their debts but must make a good faith effort to fulfill their financial obligations.

*The sages also created ways in which creditors would be protected.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Put A Bit Away

If you need to repay a loan, create a plan of action (like putting $5 into an envelope whenever possible).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Jews of Finland

For most European countries, the history of its Jewish presence begins some time in or before the Dark Ages and is accented by varying periods of exile or oppression. Since Jews were not legally permitted to settle in Finland until 1825, and even then, permission was limited to retired Cantonists (Jewish soldiers forcibly conscripted to the Russian Army for 25 years of service - Russia took Finland from Sweden in 1809), the history of Jewish life in Finland is therefore relatively recent.

Although Finland functioned as an autonomous zone, it was still controlled by Russia until 1917. During this period of Russian control, the small Jewish community struggled to gain basic rights. Jews were restricted in work, forbidden from attending fairs and at constant personal risk of expulsion. This all changed in 1917, when, shortly after gaining its independence from Russia, the Finnish government allowed Jews already settled there to become Finnish nationals and foreign Jews to have the same rights as other foreigners.

The Jewish population in Finland was never large - several thousand at its peak. The Finnish Jewish community survived the devastation of World War II because Finland refused to identify them or turn them over, even though Finland had allied itself with Germany. In one of the strangest historical events that occurred with the Jews of Finland, Finnish Jews fought alongside the Germans to ensure that Russia did not try and reclaim its lost territory. It has even been noted that this battle was probably the only time a Jewish prayer tent was set up in the midst of a camp full of Nazi soldiers.

With the creation of the State of Israel, many of Finland’s Jews made aliyah. It is said that Finland represented the largest per capita aliyah to the new state. Today, only about 1,500 Jews reside in Finland.

Happy Independence Day Finland.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Out Of Town

When traveling, find out if there is a Jewish community at your destination city and visit (if you have time).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Joseph, Son of Jacob

The story of Jacob’s eleventh son is a tale of epic proportion. The firstborn of Rachel, Joseph was his father’s favorite child, and Jacob never hesitated to display his feelings of preference. Joseph is noted as having been an extremely handsome youth who was naive as to how his actions (and the favoritism of Jacob) affected his older brothers. Additionally, Joseph never hesitated to share with them his dreams, which his brothers interpreted as Joseph’s desire to rule over them.

Joseph was so unaware of the impact of his behavior that he was completely surprised when his brothers threw him in a pit and then sold him to passing merchants to be enslaved in Egypt.

In Egypt, Joseph worked hard, and rapidly rose through the ranks of his owner’s (Potipher’s) servants. But his handsome looks caught the attention of Potipher’s amoral wife. When the rest of the household went to celebrate a holiday, she tried to seduce him. Joseph refused to lie with another man’s wife, so she accused him of trying to rape her.

Joseph went to jail, where he correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker. Two years later, when Pharaoh had a dreadful nightmare, the butler told Pharaoh about the talented dream interpreter he’d met in prison. Freed from prison, Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream as a warning of famine and outlined a plan to stave off disaster.

Joseph became the Viceroy (Prime Minister) of Egypt. Anyone wishing to buy grain went to him. Thus, Joseph was able to intercept his brothers when they came to buy food. Hiding his identity, Joseph insisted that his brothers not return to buy food in Egypt again without their youngest brother, Benjamin. When they eventually returned with Benjamin, Joseph had his younger brother framed for theft in order to see the others’ reactions. When they defended Benjamin, Joseph revealed himself, offered his forgiveness and beseeched them to bring Jacob to Egypt.

When Jacob came to Egypt, he met Joseph’s wife, Osnat, and their two sons, Menashe and Ephraim.

Due to the space limitations of Jewish Treats, this is a mere outline of Joseph’s life. Click here to read previous treats related to Joseph’s fascinating life.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Take the time to call your sibling(s).

Friday, December 2, 2011

With What May We Light

The Friday night synagogue service is actually two separate services, Kabbalat Shabbat (Greeting the Shabbat) and Maariv (Evening Service). Those attending Friday night services in traditional Ashkenazi synagogues (but not Chassidic) will notice a brief interlude between the two that is filled with subdued mumbling. This is the recitation of Bah'meh Mahd'leekeen, the second chapter of the Mishnah in Tractate Shabbat.

Bah'meh Mahd'leekeen literally translates as “With what may we light?” This chapter deals, primarily, with the appropriate kindling material to be used for the Sabbath lights. While candles are commonly used today, in Talmudic times oil lamps were the norm. The Mishnaic discussion includes what type of wick (one made of a material that burns evenly) and oil (those that burn well and are not malodorous) may be used. There is also a discussion of when one may possibly extinguish a flame (e.g. fear of bandits) and when not (to save a few cents).

The seventh section of the chapter notes that “a person must say three things in his home on the eve of Shabbat just before dark: ‘Have you tithed? Have you prepared the eiruv? Kindle the [Shabbat] lights’...” Most congregations recite this section before the evening Maariv service, while others have the custom of reciting Bah'meh Mahd'leekeen after the evening service or during the meal itself so as to fulfill the mitzvah of studying the laws of Shabbat.

This Treat was originally posted on October 23, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Winter Shabbat

The earliest Shabbats of the year take place in December, so enjoy the long Friday evenings together with family and friends.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rachel's Curse

Reward and punishment are complicated concepts. Suffice it to say that Divine intervention in the world is often through seemingly mundane acts. For instance, the Torah describes the death of the matriarch Rachel immediately following the difficult birth of her second son, Benjamin, but her death cannot be discussed without mentioning “the curse.”

After Jacob and his family began their journey back to Canaan, Laban and his sons followed in hot pursuit. At first he accused Jacob of carrying away his daughters as if they were captives: “Why did you flee secretly...and did not allow me to kiss my [grand]sons and my daughters?” (Genesis 31:26-28). At the end of his great speech informing Jacob that God had warned him in a dream not to hurt Jacob, Laban suddenly asks, “Why have you stolen my gods?” (31:30).

Before leaving Aram Naharayim, Rachel had taken her father’s idols. While her motive is not recorded in the Torah, the Midrash explains that Rachel did not want her father to continue his idolatrous ways. When Laban demanded that his idols be returned to him, Jacob, not knowing of Rachel’s part in this matter, announced that “whoever you find has your idols, that person shall not live. In front of our kinsmen, identify for yourself what I have [that is yours] and take it.” (Genesis 31:32), When Laban came to search Rachel’s tent, she sat on the idols and told her father that she could not rise, “for the way of women was upon her.” Laban left without his idols.

Words have power, especially the words of a righteous man like Jacob. And while Rachel did not succumb to the curse immediately, several years later her life was, indeed, cut short.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Word Play

When you are angry, choose your words most carefully.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No Foretelling Death

The Talmud in Pesachim 54b lists the day of one’s death as the first of seven items that are hidden from humankind. As obvious a statement as this may seem, it is important to remember that, originally, humankind was not intended to die. Mortality was introduced only when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which God warned them “for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die- Genesis 2:17), thus introducing death.

Since that fateful day so many centuries ago, many have sought ways to predict the day of their own death. None have succeeded, although God did reveal to King David that he would die on a Shabbat. Many others have vainly sought the means to overcome death.

Mortality goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge of good and evil, since the fear of one’s own demise helps a person choose how to act. This idea is touched upon in the Talmud:

"Rabbi Eliezer would say: Repent one day before your death. Asked his disciples: Does a man know on which day he will die? Said he to them: So being the case, he should repent today, for perhaps tomorrow he will die; hence, all his days are passed in a state of repentance.” (Shabbat 153a).

Although sincere repentance can wipe one’s slate clean, a person can never really be certain that there may be additional time to amend his/her ways.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


While one cannot know the day of one’s death, it is important to think ahead for the sake of the surviving family. (Click here for an interesting perspective on civil wills in Jewish law.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mother of Alchemy

While we of the modern world scoff at the ancient alchemists who tried to turn lead into gold, many alchemical practices are at the root of today’s scientific experiments. Ironically, the fate and condition of alchemists in ancient and medieval society was often similar to that of the Jews--at the whim of the city rulers.

Quite often, alchemists did their work in secrecy, and frequently faced persecution. This may be the reason that so little biographical information is known about the woman known as the Mother of Alchemy, Maria Hebraica (aka Maria the Jewess, Maria Prophetisa, and Miriam the Prophetess). What is known about her comes, primarily, from the 4th century writings of Zosimos of Panopolis (the oldest existing alchemy text). Because Zosimos refers to her as an ancient, it is assumed that Maria lived around the 1st century in Alexandria, Egypt.

Chemists today no longer search for the magic formula that will turn base metal into precious metal. They do, however, use the balneum Mariae (Latin for “bath of Maria”), a water bath whose invention is credited to Maria Hebraica. She is also believed to have invented the kerotakis (a.k.a. Mary’s oven) and the tribikos, a three armed distillation chamber (still), as well as having discovered hydrochloric acid.

Zosimos also credits Maria Hebraica with a number of unique philosophies and sayings. For instance, on the union of opposites she taught: “Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought.” One such teaching: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth” is known as the Axiom of Maria.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Science Project

If you like science, take some time to research the history of Jewish scientists.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Professor Dr. Solomon Schechter

Born to a Chassidic family in Romania, Solomon Schechter (1847-1915) grew up to be a great scholar whose work had a deep and profound impact on Jewish life. After following the traditional Jewish path of study, Schechter studied at universities in both Vienna and Berlin, before eventually taking an academic post in the Judaic Studies department of Cambridge University. Through his academic work, Schechter was introduced to the “Historical Judaism” movement, which asserts that Jewish law was not static, but rather has always developed in response to changing conditions.

In 1896, Schechter received several manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza, and quickly realized their importance. Schechter traveled to Egypt and began sorting and examining the Geniza documents--more than 100,000 pages--and studying them. Many of these documents had previously been known only in translated form.

In 1902, Schechter came to the United States to head the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA). At the time, American Judaism was caught in a great schism between the traditionalists and reformists. JTSA was created when the traditionalists broke from the reformists after the “Pittsburgh Platform” (1885), which rejected kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws), pronounced circumcision barbaric, and, among other things, rejected the concept of Zionism and the idea of a return to Israel.

As the second president of JTSA, Schechter attracted a faculty of outstanding scholars, and the school flourished. Through JTSA, Schechter was able to develop his own beliefs in what he termed “Catholic Israel,”the idea that halacha (Jewish law) is formed and evolves based on the behavior of the people. These ideas are the foundation principles of the Conservative Movement, and the United Synagogue of America, which Schechter founded in 1913, and became the umbrella organization for Conservative Synagogues.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Being Proud

Do something today that expresses your pride in being Jewish.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Caveat Emptor...Let the Buyer Beware (And the Seller Too)

Today is “Black Friday,” the day on which retailers across America try to assure their profits for the year by offering outrageous sales. Each store tries to outsell its competitors, whether by offering the lowest price or by opening at the earliest hour. Under such pressured circumstances, as the crowds “stampede through,” one must certainly keep in mind the Roman warning of Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.

In honor of this mercantile tradition, Jewish Treats presents a few ideas of Jewish law applicable to a day of sales:

1) Honest Weights And Measures: “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure” (Leviticus 19:35). Although many products today are not sold by measurements, this important halacha can be understood as an injunction for retailer honesty - to sell exactly what has been advertised.

2) Intention To Buy: “A person may not oppress (or mislead) his friend” (Leviticus 25:17). In the Talmud, this verse is connected to the following statement: “One must not ask another, ‘What is the price of this article?’ if there is no intention to buy” (Baba Metzia 58b). Going into a store and asking the sales clerk about a product when you have no intention of making a purchase, or you intend to purchase the same item from another retailer, gives the clerk the false hope of a sale. Additionally, it steals the time of the sale’s clerk, and perhaps, that of other waiting customers. However, if one is even remotely contemplating purchasing the product from the store, the inquiry is permitted.

3) Pricing Power: Jewish law generally allows a retailer free rein when it comes to pricing. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) notes that pricing that varies by more than 1/6th of the going market price is considered unfair, and both the seller and the buyer have the right to annul the sale.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Shopping For

If you are out shopping, perhaps pick up something special for Shabbat.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feast of Gratitude

While the majority of the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah are related to atonement for sins or to celebrate feast days, the sh'lamim, peace offerings, were unique because they were not brought for either reason. And among the different peace offerings, the korban todah, the thanks offering, is set apart because it had to be eaten the same day on which it was offered. In this short span of time, a large portion of food had to be consumed: In addition to the meat of the offering, 30 loaves of unleavened bread and 10 loaves of leavened bread were offered and consumed by the kohanim, levi'im and those involved in the offering itself.

In his book The Call of the Torah*, Rabbi Elie Munk suggests that the quantity of food and the relatively brief amount of time in which it had to be consumed, required that the person who brought the offering invite guests to join in publicly giving thanks to God.

While only four types of people were required to bring a korban todah (a freed captive, one who traveled by sea; one who had crossed the desert, and one who recovered from an illness), in this day and age, when there is no Temple and thus no sacrifices, people who survive any life-threatening situation will often make a seudat hoda'ah, a feast of thanksgiving, after having survived a life-threatening incident or illness and on the anniversary of their survival.

There is no set ceremony for a seudat hoda'ah. To be considered a proper seudah (feast), however, bread should be served so that birkat hamazon may be recited. It is also customary to listen to words of Torah spoken either by the survivor or in the survivor's honor.

*Volume 3, page 59
This Treat was originally posted on November 25, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Don't Forget The Thanks

As you celebrate Thanksgiving today, don't forget to direct some of your thanks to God.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Animal Instincts

In their natural habitats, every creature on earth helps create a balance that allows the environment to flourish. This biological fact is part of the mechanics of Planet Earth. But the animal world offers humankind another benefit, for animals can be powerful examples of behavior.

In Ethics of the Fathers (5:20), Judah the son of Taima says: "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” Using animals as examples, Judah the son of Taima sought to encourage people to be strong in their devotion to the Torah even when it is difficult.

In the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (an abridged compendium of Jewish law, published in 1870) Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried defines these particular character traits:

1) Bold as a leopard refers to feeling proud about worshiping God. Too often we allow the opinions of friends and colleagues to get in our way when striving to do what we know is right.

2) Light as an eagle refers to what one sees. An eagle flies fast, taking in great expanses of land but only focuses on prey that will nourish its body. So too, a person must focus only on that which nourishes the soul.

3) Swift as a deer refers to hurrying to do good things. Don’t delay in performing a mitzvah; run to do it!

4) Strong as a lion refers to being strong of heart. It is easy to be diverted from the path of good deeds.

This Treat was originally posted on November 10, 2008

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Instincts

Use your instincts to do mitzvot.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gleaning Supermarket Aisles

It is nearly time for Thanksgiving, and throughout the United States communities are putting up posters for holiday food drives.

Giving food to the poor is certainly one of the oldest forms of charity, and the Torah regards the charity of sustenance as a fundamental imperative.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go retrieve it...When you beat your olive-tree, you shalt not go over the boughs again...When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow... (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

Similarly it is written:

"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger" (Leviticus 19:9-10).

In ancient times, after the farmer finished with his harvest, those in need (particularly orphans, widows and strangers) would come and gather anything that had been left behind. By gathering the food themselves from the deserted fields, those in need were relieved of any embarrassment in having to ask for food.

With no fields today, one might wonder what a modern-day Jew can glean from these agricultural statutes, after all most of us buy food that is already packaged. We cannot go to the fields, but almost everyone can search their cupboards and find one or two items that go above and beyond our basic needs. While we cannot leave behind the gleanings of our fields, we can certainly “winnow” out and donate the excess of our supermarket “harvests.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

An Extra Can

Purchase an extra can or two of vegetables to donate to a local food drive.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rabbi's Mountain

Few rabbis have been honored with having a mountain named for them. But, tucked away in the Laurentian range of Quebec, Canada, stands Mont le Rabbi-Stern (Mount Rabbi Stern). This 2,250 foot (above sea level) topographical feature was named in 1985 in honor of Rabbi Joshua Stern (1897-1984), the late Rabbi Emeritus of Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El.

One might think that the mountain was named to honor a native son of the province, but Rabbi Stern was born in Eragoly, Lithuania. When he was eleven, two years after a pogrom in his village, his family moved to Ohio. Steuberville, his new home, was a startling contrast to the shtetl where he had lived. After being schooled only in cheder, surrounded by the holy texts and Jewish tradition, the young Joshua found himself in an American public school. Nevertheless, he pursued his dream of becoming a rabbi (his hero in his youth was Moses). He attended Hebrew Union College (HUC), from which he was ordained in 1922. After five years at his first pulpit in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Rabbi Stern came to Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El in 1927.

Stern’s greatest achievements, and the work for which he received great acclaim and not-a-few rebukes, was in inter-faith relations. He himself remarked, “I tried to Christianize the Christians and Judaize the Jews.” Working on improving cross-clergy relationships, Rabbi Stern built relationships across the ecumenical spectrum. It was a lifetime of work in the predominantly Catholic province. In fact, it took 16 years from when he founded the Institute for Clergy and Religious Educators in 1942, for Catholics to officially attend. Additionally, Rabbi Stern was a vigorous social reformer (especially during the difficult days of the depression), a strong proponent of adult Jewish education and an active Zionist.

*Bibliographical Note: Joseph Graham, Naming the Laurentians: A History of Place Names 'up North'

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Build Bridges

Being nice to all people is the simplest way to build interfaith bridges.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Man Ray

The Dadist Cultural Movement created works so far from conventional art as to appear absurd, in order to create a new sense of reality for the audience. The movement incorporated all aspects of artistic life. Of the artists associated with Dadism, Man Ray (1890-1976) is one of the most famous.

The works of Man Ray were representative of the protest undercurrent of Dadaism, as well as the strange juxtapositions of Surrealism. Although he is best known for the intriguing images he created with photography (in addition to his paid work as a fashion and portrait photographer), Man Ray was also a painter and the “maker of objects and films” (according to

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, Man Ray followed the path of many American artists of the early 20th century and moved to Paris in 1921. He remained in Europe until fleeing from the approaching Nazi threat in 1940. Eleven years later, Man Ray returned to France and remained there for the rest of his life. He died on November 18, 1976.

As one may have already surmised from the inclusion of this profile on Jewish Treats, Man Ray was Jewish, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, he spent his life avoiding his Jewish identification. (His father initiated that sentiment by legally shortening the family name to avoid anti-Semitism.) And while only the artist himself knows his own motivation, one cannot help but wonder if his tendencies toward the surreal were rooted in his distancing himself from his identity. This hypothesis was noted by the curator of the Jewish Museum exhibit Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, who wrote: “The artist’s self-consciousness was an outgrowth of his time, a period that witnessed the rise of nation-state identity and xenophobia, and an unprecedented wave of immigration, class consciousness, and anti-Semitism. His life and work powerfully reflect his contradictory need to obscure and declare himself.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Walk

Enjoy the beauty of fall and appreciate God's artistry with a relaxing Shabbat walk tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Send Them On Their Way

Hachnassat Orchim, welcoming guests, is one of the better known mitzvot. For many, this is also one of the easiest. After all, who doesn’t enjoy having people over, acting as host and sharing a hearty meal.

There is, however, a lesser known part of the mitzvah of welcoming guests that requires the host(s) to escort guests part of the way out when they leave. According to the sages, a person should walk guests at least daled amot (approximately 8 feet) beyond the front door. By escorting someone out, the host accords the guests an extra measure of courtesy and expresses the host’s desire that the visit not end. Additionally, it shows the host’s wish to ensure the security of his/her guests.

The mitzvah of escorting a guest is derived from two separate narratives in the Torah. In Genesis 18, Abraham was visited by three men (angels according to the Midrash). After finishing the meal, the men rose to leave for the city of Sodom. Scripture informs us that “Abraham went with them to send them on their way." Thus, Abraham, the epitome of the perfect host, teaches us this important aspect of the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim.

Escorting guests and ensuring their safety is derived as well from Deuteronomy 21, which describes the repercussions of finding a dead body in an open area between two cities. The city to which the body is closest is held responsible for the murder since it is suspected that the city did not provide an escort for the safety of its guests, thus indirectly causing the murder.

In this way, as in so many others, Torah law demonstrates the importance of treating others with respect and dignity.

This treat was originally posted on November 13, 2008.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Lovely Lighting

Make certain that your outside lights work properly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What's In The Book: Obadiah

The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book of Tanach (Biblical canon), only one chapter long. It is directed at the nation of Edom, not at either of the Jewish kingdoms.

Obadiah spoke out against the great arrogance of Edom, descendants of Jacob's brother, Esau, a nation that believed no one could bring it down. Obadiah condemned Edom for its reaction to the destruction of Judah: “In the day that you stood aloof, in the day that strangers carried away his [Judah’s] substance, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed on your brother in the day of his disaster, neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction...”(1:11-12).

The Edomites not only watched the destruction of the Jewish kingdom, but gloated over it and even blocked the escape of those who fled.

According to Obadiah, however, the Edomites would, in the future, suffer a great reversal of fortune and all that occurred to Judah would happen to them. Additionally, he prophesied that the Israelites would eventually return and conquer all of the land that had been theirs and had been ruled by Edom. Ultimately, [says Obadiah] dominion will be the Lord’s (1:21).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Turkey Preparation

Get ready for Thanksgiving by ordering a kosher turkey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Filtered Wisdom

Consider the following statement from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Father): “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) ‘I have gained understanding from all my teachers.’”

Abraham's Other Sons

Quick quiz: Who were Abraham’s sons?
Most people probably answered Isaac, and, of course, they are correct. Others might have said Ishmael, and they are also right. Few people, however, are likely to have said, Zimran, Yakshan, Medan, Midian, Ishak or Shuah--but, if they had, they too would have been correct.

Abraham's oldest son was Ishmael, born to him when Sarah insisted that he take a second wife/concubine, Hagar, in order that he might have children. Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, Sarah had a son of her own, Isaac. Isaac followed in his parents' footsteps in dedicating his life to serving God.

Genesis 25, which follows the death and burial of Sarah, notes that “Abraham took another wife and her name was Keturah” (25:1). It then lists the names of their sons and their sons’ sons. Of these six sons, little in known. The Midrash only comments on the eldest two:

“[He was named] Zimran [from sing] because [in his time] the world sang. Our sages say: They sang hymns to idols. [The other was named] Yakshan [from beat] because [his people] beat the timbrel in honor of idols” (Genesis Rabbah 61:5).

This insinuation of idol worship might seem quite strange given that they were Abraham’s sons and brothers of Isaac, who followed in his father's ways. However, one must take into consideration that Isaac had the great advantage of having a special mother, Sarah, who was a woman of remarkable spiritual conviction, which undoubtably influenced him greatly.

The Torah states that before his death, “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country” (Genesis 25:5-6). This verse underscores that Abraham clearly recognized the difference between his sons and made Isaac his primary heir.

One fascinating Midrash associated with this verse defines the “gifts” that Abraham gave to the sons of Keturah as being gifts of spirituality. Although they did not absorb their father’s lessons in absolute monotheism, they apparently, were able to tap into and understand some basic and mystical concepts of spirituality.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 14, 2011

House of Devotion

It is often said that the foundation of Jewish life is the home. This statement acknowledges the vital role of the family in bringing Judaism to life. If a love and passion for Judaism is expressed in the home, most often these feelings will be transmitted to the next generation.

The synagogue and the Beit Midrash (house of learning), however, are also crucial institutions for Jewish continuity. The synagogue (the Greek translation of Beit K'nesset, which in English means a “house of assembly”) is the place where Jews gather for communal prayers. The Beit Midrash is the place where the Torah and Talmud (and other works of Jewish thought) are studied. The word midrash comes from the root D-R-SH,, the infinitive of which, lid'rosh means to expound or interpret. While a Beit Midrash today may be lined with sacred books, initially, these houses of learning were headed by exceptional scholars who presented their lessons orally and taught their students how to understand the intricacies of Torah.

Institutions of education are found in every society, but one can learn much about Jewish values from the importance placed on the Beit Midrash:

So said Abaye: At first I used to study in my house and pray in the synagogue. Since I heard the saying of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ammi in the name of 'Ulla: Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has nothing in His world but the four cubits of halacha alone, I pray only in the place where I study. Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi, though they had thirteen Synagogues in Tiberias, prayed only among the pillars where they used to study (Berachot 8a).

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Your Support

Help support your local Jewish learning institutions.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Behind The Scenes of The Great War

The great World Wars, both involved armies of nations from all across the globe. But, in both wars--historians would agree--the balance of power shifted when America joined the allies. And while historians may quarrel over whether America’s entry into World War I was good or bad, at the time of the war, that decision was in the hands of the politicians. For Jewish Treats, it is intriguing to note that, during the course of the war, the House Military Affairs Committee was chaired by Julius Kahn.

Kahn’s role on the Military Affairs Committee is most interesting given that he was a German Jew by birth, born in Kuppenheim, Baden in 1861. But Kahn’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was five, and he was raised in California. After a short theatrical career, he entered the legal profession and political life in his early 30s and, in 1899, was elected to the House of Representatives. With the exception of one term, he served until his death in 1924. He helped draft and secure the passage of the National Defense Act of 1915, the Selective Draft Act of 1917, and the National Defense Act of 1920.

Although Julius Kahn was not the first Jew to serve in Congress, his death shortly after being re-elected for a 13th term, led the way to the first Jewish Congresswoman. His wife, Florence Prag Kahn, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah (1866) and raised in San Francisco. Elected to fill her husband’s position in 1925, the former school teacher went on to serve five more terms and was the first woman to sit on the House Military Affairs Committee.

The Kahns were members of Congregation Emanu El of San Francisco, and Florence was a member of Hadassah and the Council of Jewish Women.

Veteran Honor

If you know a veteran in your community, invite him/her to celebrate Shabbat with you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Law Of The Land

For nearly 2,000 years, the Jewish people have been in exile. During this time, Jews have lived in nearly every country and under nearly every form of government, while, at the same time, maintaining their own laws as the basis for Jewish society. These Jewish laws (halacha) are based on the traditional understanding of the Torah by the great sages as set down in the Mishna and the Gemara (together called the Talmud) and later codified in the Shulchan Aruch.

The Talmud was organized and codified after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 C.E.), when the Jews were scattered across the Roman empire. Living under a foreign power, the sages recognized the importance of making clear the halacha regarding the “law of the land.”

“Dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the land is the law [and must be obeyed], is a phrase repeated numerous times in the Talmud and always attributed to the sage Samuel. According to Samuel, there is no question that a Jew must obey the laws of the land in which he/she resides... unless that law directly contradicts halacha (for instance a law ordering everyone to worship idols).

In certain cases, the rabbis determined that certain rulers and their unfair and harsh laws were dangerous to the Jewish people, and they therefore permitted the local Jews to "skirt the laws" or even to ignore them (such as the anti-Semitic decrees of the Russian Czars). In a country like the United States, however, there is no question that dina d’malchuta dina must be strictly observed.

What does this mean? This means that being a law-abiding citizen is more that just one’s civic duty, it is one’s religious obligation as well. Taxes, civil law, even the “rules of the road” are our responsibility to uphold.

This Treat was originally posted on August 6, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Law Abiding

Take pride in being a law abiding citizen in your community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Messiah - A Jewish Concept

Because the concept of a Messiah* (Moshiach in Hebrew) is not overtly mentioned in the five books of the Torah, it is often overlooked as one of the tenets of the Jewish faith. But the belief in the Messiah is actually one of the fundamental articles of Jewish faith. The Torah, in Deuteronomy 28, describes the future that will befall the Jewish people when (not if) they turn their hearts from the Torah: the land will be destroyed, the people ravaged by disease before being defeated by enemies and exiled. These events, sadly, have come to pass, repeatedly.

Two chapters later, however, Moses informs the people that after all of the curses have befallen the Children of Israel and they have returned to Him with all their heart and soul, then the curse will be undone. This chapter includes all the famous promises of the ultimate redemption: ingathering of the exiles, return to the land and the destruction of Israel’s enemies. While this process has started several times in the history of the Jewish people, it has never been completed. Jews have returned to Israel, but never in peace and never as an entire people.

Many of the details of the time of the redemption is encrypted in the books of the Prophets, particularly those known as the Later Prophets. Isaiah, in particular, contains a great number of references and is the primary source from which it is understood that the Messiah, the one destined to lead the Jewish people to their ultimate redemption, will come from the Davidic line. “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse (King David’s father), and a branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him...” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

*While the term Messiah is used for savior, it literally means “anointed one.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Incorporate The Dream

When current events make you world-weary, take a moment and ask God for peace in the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

As Old As...

Many people recognize the ancient adage “As old as Methuselah,” and can probably identify it as of Biblical origin. Other than being the oldest person in the Bible, who was Methuselah?

The purpose of the fifth chapter of Genesis appears to be to highlight the link through the ten generations between Adam and Noah. Despite his longevity (969 years!), Methuselah’s entire life is encapsulated in 5 verses.

“And Enoch lived 65 years, and begot Methuselah. And Enoch walked with God after he begot Methuselah for 300 years, and begot sons and daughters ... And Methuselah lived 187 years, and begot Lamech. And Methuselah lived after he begot Lamech for 782 years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Methuselah were 969 years; and he died “(Genesis 5: 21-22, 15-27).

Lamech then fathered Noah, whose family was chosen to be the only human survivors of the great-flood. Noah’s special connection to God (“He walked with God” - Genesis 6:9) was not an anomaly. The same was also said about his great-grandfather, Methuselah’s father, Enoch. So too, Methuselah is noted in the Midrash as being a person of such extraordinary righteousness that God actually delayed the flood on his behalf. When the people challenged Noah as to why God wasn’t yet punishing them as Noah continually warned, Noah responded that God had: “one dear one to draw out from you” (Sanhedrin 108a) This was Methuselah.

In a later chapter, the Bible states: “‘And it came to pass, after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth’ (Genesis 7:10). What was the nature of these seven days?--Rav said: These were the days of mourning for Methuselah, thus teaching that the lamenting for the righteous postpones retribution” (Sanhedrin 108b).

According to tradition, the flood began on the 17th of Cheshvan. This means that today, the 10th of Cheshvan is the anniversary of the death of the oldest man in the Bible.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Respect Your Elders

It is a specific mitzvah to show respect to those who have attained the age of wisdom (70).

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's Mine Is Whose

On September 17, 2011, Zuccotti Park, in downtown Manhattan, became the center of what would become an international protest movement. Occupy Wall Street was organized as a statement against economic inequality and political corruption fostered by economic systems throughout the world. Reports on the ongoing protest repeatedly refer to the 1% wealthiest citizens who control more wealth than the other 99% of the citizenry.

While the Torah addresses the question of economic equality in many different ways (giving charity, leaving a corner of one's fields for the poor, tithing, etc.) there is an interesting discussion about the proper attitude toward possessions in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Father), a tractate of the Mishna composed of ethically oriented statements of the great sages.

“There are four types of people:
The person who says, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’--this is the average type, though some say that this is the attitude of Sodom.

The person who says, ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine’--this is an ignorant person.

The person who says, ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is your own’--this is a saintly person.

And the person who says, ‘What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine’--this is a wicked person” (Pirkei Avot 5:13).

Read the list carefully. It is interesting to note that while the fourth person is listed as wicked, the first person, the average person who feels that “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours,” is compared by some to a person of Sodom. The city of Sodom, which was destroyed by God in the days of Abraham (Genesis 19), was known as an evil city. One might therefore believe that it was full of thieves. The above statement, however, provides the fascinating insight asserting that it is even wrong to take no interest in other people and to be uninvolved with the community at large.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Strive To Be Saintly

Take every opportunity to be generous and giving to others.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Page A Day

The 7th of Cheshvan (today) is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav, who passed away in 1933. Although he died at age 46, he had by then changed the face of European Jewry.

Born in Suczawa (Austria/Romania) in March 1887, Rabbi Shapiro published his first work, Imrai Daas (Statements of Knowledge) at age 23 and received his first rabbinic position in Gliniany (Ukraine) at 24. In Gliniany, and in every other city in which he lived during his life, Rabbi Shapiro reinvigorated the religious institutions and established a yeshiva with an organized curriculum and made certain that the teachers received a monthly salary, unique features for those times. The most famous of these yeshivot was Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, which he conceived as a yeshiva for the Chassidic world of Poland, but was based on the yeshivot under the Lithuanian (read non-Chassidic) sphere of influence.

In addition to his educational work, Rabbi Shapira was also involved in the leading Orthodox organizations of the time: Agudath Israel and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Additionally, from 1922 - 1928, Rabbi Shapiro was a parliamentarian in the Polish Sejm (parliament).

His greatest accomplishment, however, was the creation of the Daf Yomi, which means “a folio a day.” He proposed that the Talmud be studied by laymen and scholars, one folio (meaning both sides of one page) a day. Throughout the Jewish world, everyone would start on the same page at the same time and participate in Daf Yomi for 7 ½ years, at which time the entire Talmud will have been studied. In this fashion, it not only enabled Jews all over the world to study “together,” but provided a manageable schedule of study that allowed any Jew to feel successful. The last celebration of the completion (siyum) of the Daf Yomi cycle took place in Madison Square Garden and other large arenas in 2005. The next siyum is scheduled for August 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Join In

One can join a Daf Yomi study program at any time and there are many excellent Daf Yomi classes available online, as well.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Question of Theft

Most cases of theft are black and white but not all. For instance, is it a problem to use a neighbor’s wireless router (bandwidth) without permission?

Questions of contested ownership have always existed. While Alexander Graham Bell is famed as the inventor of the telephone, a man named Elisha Gray filed a similar patent on the very same day and there have always been questions as to whether Bell used Gray’s research.

Throughout history, Jews turn to one primary example when dealing with “murky” theft issues. In Genesis 13 (5-7), it is written that Abram traveled with his nephew Lot and leased/bought land from the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Abram and Lot had such a large camp and possessed such an enormous number of flocks and herds that “the land was not able to bear them.” This led to strife between the herdsmen of Abram and those of Lot.

The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 41:5) explains that Abram’s herdsmen questioned Lot’s herdsmen’s honesty for not muzzling their cattle (as Abram’s men did) when grazing on land not marked as their own. Lot’s herdsmen, however, quoted God’s promise to Abram to give all of the land to him. But, since Abram had no children, Lot was destined to be his only heir. Since they assumed that Lot would eventually inherit all of the land from Abram, grazing on it even before inheriting it was not theft. God, however, had also promised Abram that it would only be his actual decedents who would inherent the land and only after the removal of the seven nations from it.

Because Lot’s herdsmen refused to see the questionable ethics of their assumptions, Abram decided that he and Lot should best part ways, for Abram did not want there to be even the slightest question regarding his and his family's own honesty.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Avoiding Theft

There are many ways to take something away from another person. Consider how your actions and words effect other people.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why It's Called Hebrew

The word Hebrew, according to etymological sources, is a transliteration of the word Ivri, which is a descriptive term used for Abraham in Genesis 14:13: “And there came one [from the captives of Sodom] that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew...”

Some commentators suggest that Abraham is called Ivri because he was a descendant of Ever (Genesis 11:14), who, together with his own great-grandfather, Shem, was an early monotheist. (In Hebrew, Ivri and Ever share the same root letters.)

Others see the term Hebrew, or Ivri, as related to Abraham’s physical locale. Ivri technically means “one who has crossed over.” Abraham had been raised in Ur, which was the great city of the time. The Midrash suggests that Abraham interacted with Nimrod, the powerful despot of the era, and thus must have been in the center of the Mesopotamian civilization. However, Abraham left that land (at God’s behest) for the Land of Canaan, and, in so doing, he crossed the Jordan River.

More than reflecting his place of origin, however, the name Ivri signifies that he was a man who had “crossed over” in a metaphysical sense. He was the first person to transition from polytheism to monotheism and to then teach monotheism to others. Monotheism was the essence of the legacy that Abraham left to his descendants, but so was the title Ivri (Ivrim in plural). It appears again in the story of Joseph (who is referred to as an Ivri by the wife of Potifar) and, more importantly, in the story of the Exodus.

The name Ivrim, or Hebrews, was the name by which the Children of Israel were known for a long time. It’s usage is found in numerous Biblical books, such as Kings and Isaiah. In time, the Jewish people came to be known as Yehudim, Judeans, but the name of the language remained Hebrew (Ivrit).

This Treat was originally posted as part of Twebrew School ( to promote READ HEBREW AMERICA and CANADA, the annual Hebrew literacy campaign of the National Jewish Outreach Program,

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Learn Hebrew

Find out if there is a Hebrew Reading Crash Course available in your area.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grammatic Multiples

Whereas grammar in most languages is generally assumed to be important because it creates structure and order, Biblical grammar also has a powerful effect on the meaning of a text. For example, the “et” participle serves a unique function of creating a direct object. Although it technically has no translation, many of the commentators who are experts in Biblical grammar find that the “et” often has non-traditional uses, such as being a stand-in for “eem,” meaning with.

The non-traditional translations of “et” are often determined by the context of the sentence. One of the most interesting interpretations made with the “et” participle is to be found in the first two verses of Genesis 4: “And Adam knew (the Biblical ways of saying “had relations with”) Eve his wife, she conceived and bore (et) Cain...and she bore again (et) his brother (et) Abel...”

Rashi, the quintessential Biblical commentator, writes about these verses: “these three ets teach us that she [Eve] bore a twin sister with Cain, and with Abel were born two twin sisters, therefore it is written ‘And she bore again.’” Rashi refers his readers back to Genesis Rabbah, a book of Midrash compiled by the sages. There it states: “Rabbi Joshua ben Karhah said: Only two [Adam and Eve] entered the bed, and seven left it: Cain and his twin sister, Abel and his two twin sisters...”

Multiple births fascinate us, but, as one can see from the story of Eve bearing quintuplets (twins plus triplets), it is part of the natural workings of the world.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Want to learn more about Hebrew grammar? Find out if there’s a Level II Hebrew Reading Crash Course in your area by clicking here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

His Tricks Were Quite A Treat

It is commonly acknowledged that the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) set the standard for all performing magicians to come. Many people are also aware of the fact that he died on October 31st (on Halloween), 1926.

What many people do not know is that Houdini’s real name was really Ehrich Weisz, and he was the son of a Hungarian rabbi who brought his family to America when Ehrich was a baby. Ehrich became Harry, and he took the stage name Houdini to honor his idol, the French magician Robert Houdin.

Houdini’s interest and passion for magic began when he was in his early teens. By the time he was 20, he was performing throughout New York. One of the frequent ways in which Houdini gained fame was by escaping from police handcuffs and jails, encouraging the police in cities across America and in Europe to test his skill. Harry mastered every type of escape act, from straight jackets to water chambers, at the same time that he became the master of all illusion.

In addition to his magic, Houdini starred in several motion pictures (featuring excellent action and not-such-good acting), two of which he produced in his own studio. He was also fascinated by aviation and was the first person to fly over Australia. He was an avid book collector and authored a book of his own, “A Magician Among the Spirits,” which chronicled his investigation and debunking of “spiritualism” (mediums connecting to the world of spirits).

In October 1926, while on tour in Montreal, Houdini allowed a young man to punch him in the abdomen to prove his boast that he could withstand any blow to his body above the waist. Unfortunately, what Houdini did not know was that his appendix was infected. Due to the blow, his appendix burst, and Houdini died several days later of peritonitis.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Give Them A Real Treat

Share Jewish Treats with friends and family.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Have You Threshed Recently

Not too many people have the opportunity to thresh their own grain nowadays. Even the original physical method of threshing has been replaced by large, automated threshing machines. Indeed, city dwellers today might even have a hard time defining what threshing actually is.

Those who have studied the laws of Shabbat, however, will know that the act of threshing is the m’la’cha (creative labor prohibited on Shabbat) known as dosh and is the act of separating a natural product from its natural container. In the agricultural world, this refers to removing the wheat from the chaff when processing grain. Halachically, the m’la’cha of dosh is applied to a wider range of activities, such as squeezing the juice out of a fruit or picking peas out of their inedible pod.

One of the most interesting questions that this law raises is the removal of milk from its natural container. In other words, may one milk a cow on Shabbat? The answer is no. However, if refraining from milking the cow will cause the animal pain, the animal should be milked but the milk may not be used.

In the case of liquids squeezed from a fruit, the rules of dash come into play and is forbidden only if the liquid becomes “independent.” Thus, squeezing the juice of an orange into a container is forbidden, since one desires to drink the juice itself. However, if one wishes to flavor one’s food with lemon juice, one may squeeze the lemon directly onto the food shortly before eating, because the intent is to flavor the food, not to drink the juice itself.

For Shabbat observant nursing mothers, this m’la’cha is particularly important to understand. There is no issue with a baby nursing because the milk is swallowed directly and is therefore never independent. Milk pumped on Shabbat, however, is considered problematic and should not be used.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Time Is Now


READ HEBREW AMERICA and CANADA, the National Jewish Outreach Program's annual Hebrew literacy, is starting now. Click here to a Hebrew Reading Crash Course in your area!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Don’s Commentary

Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) was one of the greatest statesmen of his time (the second half of the 15th century). A financial genius who served in the royal courts of Portugal, Castile (until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492), Naples and Venice. (For more on this aspect of his life, please see last year’s Treat: ”The Great Don”.)

Don Isaac Abrabanel was also one of the greatest Jewish minds of his generation. In fact, he is most commonly referred to among scholars simply as “Abrabanel.” After his arrival in Toledo (Castile) at the age of 46, he dedicated himself to studying and writing commentaries on the Torah. In a six month period he wrote commentaries on the Books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel. Abrabanel’s commentaries, which include works on the Pentatuch and the Prophets, are unique in several ways: (1) before each chapter of commentary, the Abrabanel presented a list of questions/difficulties that would be answered, (2) he integrated socio-cultural and historical information into his commentaries, and (3) he wrote extensively about the concept of the Messiah.

Abrabanel also produced philosophical works, even though he opposed many of the common philosophical viewpoints of his times. For instance, whereas Maimonides attributed some aspects of prophecy to the imagination, Abrabanel believed that they were always complete Divine communications.

Being a wealthy and pious Jew, Abrabanel was dedicated to helping his brethren. When Arzilla, Morocco, was conquered by Arab raiders, Abrabanel raised the money (donating generously himself) to redeem the 250 Jews from slavery. He then resettled them in Portugal and helped support them while they adjusted to their new country. Alas, while he tried, numerous times, to use his wealth to prevent the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, he was unable to counter the influence that Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, had on King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

On this yarhtzeit of Don Isaac Abrabanel, Jewish Treats pays tribute to a man who rose to great power but never relinquished his greatest treasure, the Torah.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shem ben Noah

When the great flood that inundated the world began, eight people entered the ark: Noah and his wife, Na’ama, and their three sons and three daughters-in-law. Because Noah and Na’ama had no other children, Shem, Ham and Yaphet basically inherited the world. Based on the names of their children and grandchildren and the later nations that emerged with those same names, tradition is able to divide up the continents in which they settled.

Yaphet, the eldest, is the ancestor of the European nations. Among his descendants are Yavan, (Yavan is the Hebrew term for Greece) and Ashkenaz (the name the Talmud associates with the area now known as Germany).

Ham, the second son, is the ancestor of the Africans (this fact, along with “the curse of Ham” in Genesis 9:25 was put to much ill-use during the era of American slavery). Among his sons are Cush (Ethiopia) and Mitzrayim (Egypt).

Shem, the youngest son, is the ancestor of the Mesapotamians. His descendants include Ashur (Assyria) and Aram (Arameans). The Torah particularly notes that Shem was “the father of all the children of Ever,” and Ever was the great (x4)-grandfather of Abraham.

The midrash attributes to Shem a far more significant role in the world than being merely the ancestor of Abraham. Like all of those born before the flood, Shem lived many hundreds of years and maintained a relationship with God throughout his life. Numerous midrashim relate how the patriarchs traveled great lengths to study God’s teachings with Shem. His relationship with the Divine was similar to that of Noah--while Shem served God, and readily taught those who came to learn from him, he did not bring God to the people as Abraham did.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.