Monday, January 31, 2011

Bishop Bodo

Some of the most interesting figures of history may be discovered in obscure historical references. For instance, few have heard of Bishop Bodo (c. 814 - 876), but his fascinating story exposes a short but unique time period in medieval history.

While scholars have referred to the era between the late 700s and the late 1400s as La Convivencia, “the co-existence,” it was more a time during which there were intervals of kind rulers, inter-community dialogues and brief periods of peace.

Louis the Pious, Emperor and King of the Franks, was one of the rare Christian kings who not only permitted the Jews to live in his kingdom, but protected them. According to Michael Rudkinson’s History of the Talmud: “in the reign of Louis the Saint--who, as well as his wife, Judith, honored the Jews, so much so as to change for their sake the fair-day from Saturday to Sunday--many Christians came to the synagogues to hear the Rabbis, and the scholars among them, read with pleasure the writings of Philo and Flavius instead of the Gospel...” Not surprisingly, there were many disputations at this time.

In this era of apparent openness, Bishop Bodo, the King’s own deacon, set out on a pilgrimage to Rome and ended up as a Jewish convert (renamed Eli'ezer) in the Muslim city of Saragossa (Spain). Other than his marriage to a Jewess, little is known about Bodo-Eli'ezer’s personal life. It is said that he instigated the Moorish government against the Spanish Christians, but there were many political factors at play. Bodo-Eli'ezer is known to us today primarily because of his famous correspondence with Pablo Alvaro of Cordova, a Jew who had converted to Christianity. In their letters, the two converts each tried to convince the other to revert back to their old faith.

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

Religious Questions

When confronted with a question about Judaism from a co-worker or an acquaintance, don’t hesitate to admit the need for more information and inform yourself by asking Jewish Treats!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Instrumental Shabbat

The first time a musical instrument was played to enhance a Shabbat Service was well before the Common Era. In days of yore, it was customary that the Levites would both sing and play instruments to enhance the Shabbat service in the Temple. Why, then, did the Jewish community react so strongly when Isaac Jacobson installed an organ in a German synagogue in 1810?

The primary objection to the organ was that, since the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the playing of instruments on Shabbat was universally prohibited as a shevut, a rabbinic prohibition of an activity that is permitted by the Torah but incongruous with the spirit of Shabbat. The problem with playing an instrument on Shabbat, according to the sages, was the concern that, should the instrument break, the musician might immediately try to repair the instrument (which would be a creative labor forbidden on Shabbat).

If that is so, how is it that the Levites played instruments in the Temple on Shabbat? The rabbis also declared: Ein Shevut ba’Mikdash, the rules of shevut do not apply in the Temple. One of the numerous examples of Ein Shevut ba’Mikdash cited in the Talmud is: “A string (to an instrument) may be tied up [re-tied] in the Temple, but not in the country [outside the Temple]”(Eiruvin 102b).

There is also a secondary consideration concerning musical accompaniment during prayer: Both the Shulchan Aruch (OH 560:3) and Mishnah Torah (Shabbat 23:4), discuss the prohibition of musical instruments, and limiting music in general (not only on Shabbat), as a means of demonstrating mourning for the destruction of the Temple. While this restriction has been observed less stringently with the passage of time, the placing of an instrument in a synagogue negates this underlying principle, which is to always feel that the loss of the Temple affects the world even to this day.

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

Learn the Songs of Shabbat

Learn about the classic Shabbat songs

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Explain Ourselves

While Judaism may appear to be a religion with many holidays and an interesting history, those who explore the religion more deeply soon realize that it is a lifestyle based on a complex set of laws. It is then that they discover that the incredible energy of Jewish life is drawn from the fact that questioning, and answering the questions, is the driving force of Jewish learning.

Looking through the Talmud, which is a written discussion of the law (known as the Oral Law), one would notice that quite a large portion of the text is in a question and answer format that analyzes the many different aspects of the law.

An excellent example of this parry and thrust format is the very section of the Talmud that discusses the importance of explaining the law:

Rabbi Akiva asked: From where is it understood that a man must continue teaching his pupil until he [the student] has mastered the subject? [This is derived] from...(Exodus 31:19): "And teach it to the children of Israel." And from where is it understood that it must be taught until the students are well versed in it? From ...(Exodus 31:19): "Put it in their mouths." And from where is it understood that it is also one’s duty to explain to him [the student] the reasons? It has been said (Exodus 21:1): "Now these are the ordinances which you shall put before them"(Eiruvin 54b).

As important as it is to explain the reasons behind the law, it must be remembered that, when all is said and done, the laws of Judaism are observed because they are God’s commandments.

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

Have Questions?

Ask your questions!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jews Down Under

Jewish Treats pop quiz: Name the country whose first Jews arrived as convicts.

The history of the Jews of Australia is one of the most peaceful narratives in the annals of the Jewish diaspora. Organized anti-Semitism was almost unheard of "down under" until the second World War (after which, sadly, anti-Semitism became part of the country’s anti-refugee rhetoric, which has yet to be completely eliminated.)

Some have suggested that the lack of early anti-Semitism was due to the fact that the first Jews arrived on the initial transport of British convicts. It has been estimated that between 8 and 15 Jews were on board that first ship.

Initially, immigration was slow. The journey to Australia from any large Jewish population center was both long and dangerous. However, the discovery of gold in Australia in the 1850s brought an increase in immigration in general, including a surge in the Jewish population.

The gold rush created communities where none had been before, but many of them collapsed when the gold rush ended. For example, in 1896, a synagogue was built in the remote township of Coolgardie but was sold soon after in 1899, due to the decline of Jewish population. Most Jews ended up in the major cities.

After the gold rush, the Australian Jewish population remained relatively stable, although with a fairly high rate of assimilation, until after World War II. While tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were eventually allowed to settle in Australia, a new Australian nationalist movement (typical of the era) tried to block the waves of refugees.

Further Jewish immigration occurred in the 1980s and 90s, as Jews from both South Africa and the former Soviet Union sought refuge from the difficult living conditions in their native countries.

January 26 is Australia Day.

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

Traveler Greetings

If you travel to Australia, visit the Jewish community

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sorcerers Beware

In Sanhedrin 67b, Rabbi Ashi states that he saw “Karna’s father blow his nose violently and streamers of silk issued from his nostrils.”

Some magic tricks really do stem from ancient times. Of course, pulling streamers out of one’s nose is child’s play to the great magicians of the modern world, of which quite a few are/were Jewish (the late Harry Houdini, Uri Geller, David Copperfield, David Blaine, etc.).

Today, magic is simply a form of entertainment. However, there were many generations for whom the power of magic was quite real. In order to be appointed a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court, one had to be a man of “stature, wisdom, good appearance, mature age, with a knowledge of sorcery” (Sanhedrin 17b). It was felt that knowledge of sorcery was important for them, so that the sages would be able to condemn or stop those who involved themselves in these unacceptable practices.

Without question, Jewish law deems sorcery forbidden. Exodus 22:17 states quite clearly: “You shall not suffer a sorceress to live.” We today do not know what sorcery is exactly. The Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) relates that “ten measures of witchcraft descended to the world.” Deuteronomy 18:10-11 defines witchcraft as, “one that makes his son or daughter to pass through the fire, one that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer.”

But what of the magician of today? The Talmud states (Sanhedrin 67b): “If one actually performs magic, he is stoned; if he merely creates an illusion, he is exempt...” Perhaps this is why the great David Copperfield refers to himself as an illusionist, rather then a magician.

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

Real Magic

Take time to watch the wonders of nature and recognize God's magic.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Art of The Compliment

“You look very nice.” “That was an excellent presentation.” “Your house is so lovely.”

Most people are quick to compliment others. It is often done out of a desire to make someone else happy, or to express our opinion, or even to make someone appreciate us more. Surely there can be nothing wrong with paying someone a compliment?

Unless, of course, the compliment is insincere. Honesty is important. In fact, the Biblical commentator Rashi, interprets Genesis 37:4, “They (the sons of Jacob) could not speak to him (Joseph) peaceably” as praise of the brothers: “For they did not speak one thing with their mouth and another thing in their heart.”

A compliment stated solely for the purpose of ingratiating one’s self to another person is not a compliment at all. It is flattery. This is exactly what is implied in the expression “pay a compliment”--using words to pay for the good will of the other person. Telling your boss that the presentation was excellent when it wasn’t, is sheker (falsehood), nothing less.

Unfortunately, many situations require that compliments, even false ones, be made. What can one do? To avoid such pitfalls, focus on compliments that are both detailed and true. For instance: “I like the style of your shoes.” “You presented the response quite clearly.” “What an excellent choice of colors for this room.”

Say It True

Today, January 24, is Compliments Day. Find ways to compliment truthfully those around you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Saturday Night Delight

The Talmud (Shabbat 119a) describes how the sages would greet Shabbat: “Rabbi Chaninah would wrap himself in his cloak and say: ‘Come, let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen.’” Since Shabbat is regarded as a Queen, we must ask: What occurs at the end of a royal visit? The Queen is bid farewell with great fanfare. So too, there is a tradition of escorting the Shabbat Queen on her departure each Saturday night/Motza’ay Shabbat (literally “going out of Shabbat”). It is known as the Melave Malka (literally “escorting the queen”).

Melave Malka is generally celebrated with a simple meal.* This tradition is based on Shabbat 119b: “While Rabbi Chanina said: One should always set his table at the end of Shabbat, even if he merely needs [desires to eat] only a k’zayit [a small amount of food the size of an olive].” Even if one is not really hungry, one should try to eat something in honor of the Melave Malka. Some authorities maintain that one can honor the Melave Malka with just a cup of fresh coffee or hot tea, based on the statement in the Talmud: “Hot water after the termination of the Sabbath is soothing; fresh. [warm] bread after the termination of Shabbat is soothing.”

The Saturday night meal is also referred to as Seudat David Ha’Melech, the Meal of King David. This tradition is traced back to David’s foreknowledge that his death would occur on a Shabbat (Shabbat 30a). Tradition has it that every Motza’ay Shabbat, King David and his family would eat a special meal to celebrate that he was still alive.

While there is no set ritual for Melave Malka, there is a common custom to light a pair of candles. There are numerous songs that are customarily sung. The best known is Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet, see prayer section below), which is sung in the hope that this will be the week when the coming of the Messiah is announced.

*It need not be simple, of course.

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

Fun Feast

This Saturday night, enjoy a melave malka.

Eliyahu Ha’Navi

The song Eliyahu Ha’Navi, Elijah the Prophet, is customarily sung on Motza’ay Shabbat because ultimately, Elijah will be the harbinger of the Messianic age. As the Messiah will not come on Shabbat, each Motza’ay Shabbat this song is sung as a prayer that the week to come will bring about the final redemption.

Eliyahu Ha’Navi, Eliyahu Ha’Tishbi, Eliyahu Ha’Giladi
Bim’hayrah Yavo Ay’laynu Im Mashiach Ben David.

Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah the Giladite
May he soon come to us, with the Messiah, the son of David.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Terrific Trees

In honor of the New Year of Trees (Tu B'Shevat), Jewish Treats presents some thoughts on trees and nature as found in the Bible.

1) In the second chapter of Genesis, humankind is instructed to not only "work" the land, but to carefully "guard" it. "And God put the human being in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to protect it"(Genesis 2:15).

2) The Bible sets as a foremost priority caring for the land by properly seeding and planting it. "When you will come into the land, and you will plant any tree for food..." (Leviticus 19:23). Planting trees is regarded as the first step in building an ecologically sound environment.

3) The Bible insists that newly planted trees must be properly protected so they may thrive--"For three years [the fruit] shall be restricted to you, it shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 19:23). In Hebrew, this mitzvah is known as orlah.

4) Even in times of war, when human lives are at stake, the Bible forbids wanton ecological destruction. Jewish armies were strictly enjoined from destroying the fruit-bearing trees of cities under siege: "When you lay siege to a city for many days to wage war against it and to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them" (Deuteronomy 20:19). The rabbis warned that when a tree is cut down for no purpose its cry extends from one end of the world to another! (Me’am Loez)

Find more information on Tu B'Shevat and an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, click here

This Treat was originally posted on Monday, February 9, 2009.

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


Take care of the trees where you live.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Modern Sage

Medieval scholars such as Maimonides and Gersonides were famous for both their Torah scholarship as well as their scientific knowledge. While not as famous, there are also modern examples of those who excelled in both areas. For instance Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, z”l (1934 - 1983), had a scientific background (he held a graduate degree in physics) that enabled him to channel the special energies that he possessed to re-invigorate the Jewish people.

Rabbi Kaplan was born into a family steeped in Jewish tradition. His ancestors hailed from the Sephardi Jewish community of Salonika (Greece), but he was educated in the Ashkenazi yeshivot in New York. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, most of his life was focused on making Torah Judaism accessible to all Jews.

Rabbi Kaplan is probably best known for The Living Torah (1981), his contemporary translation of the Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) and the Haftarot, considered one of the most user-friendly English translations of the Torah. However, he was a very prolific author, touching on a remarkable range of topics in the many books and articles that he authored. His titles include: "Tefillin: God, Man and Tefillin"; "Love Means Reaching Out"; "Maimonides' Principles"; "The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith,” and "The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries." In addition to his original writings, Rabbi Kaplan translated the Me’am Lo’ez into the 45-volume Torah Anthology.

Additionally, Rabbi Kaplan delved into the world of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). He translated important mystical works and presented (in writing) the kabbalistic point of view on concepts such as the purpose of Creation and free will.

Another area about which Rabbi Kaplan wrote was Jewish meditation, an art which he himself practiced regularly.

His life was cut short when, on 14 Shevat, 5743, Rabbi Kaplan passed away at age 48.

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

Library Trip

Find out if your local library carries any of Rabbi Kaplan’s work. If they do, check it out. If they don’t, recommend it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Than Just Trees

Thousands of blue boxes and a dream that encompassed a nation...that was the foundation of the Jewish National Fund (JNF or Keren Kayemet L'Israel). Today, JNF is best known for its commitment to environmentalism and its dogged campaign to reforest the land of Israel (you know, plant a tree in honor/memory of a loved one).

One might say, however, that JNF was founded as a giant real estate conglomerate whose sole client was the Jewish people. At the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1901, the assembled delegates discussed (as they had at previous congresses) the establishment of a national fund to purchase land in Palestine. When the Congress tabled the motion, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, stepped forward and called upon his colleagues to reconsider their hesitations. After his passionate speech, a new vote was held and the Fund was established.

The Zionist Congress resolved to raise 200,000 pounds sterling...and so it began, donation by donation, much of it collected in little blue charity boxes from around the world. In fact, these blue charity boxes (or pushkahs) became a symbol of the Zionist movement.

When JNF acquired its first parcel of land in Hadera, it immediately began planting trees, an act vital to the development of the land. Much of what had once been arable land had been overworked or neglected. The topsoil had been eroded. The trees helped revitalize the land.

In time, after the creation of the State of Israel, JNF was transformed into an organization that dealt with a wide variety of Israel’s needs, from environmental to employment for new immigrants. JNF has focused on the Negev desert, investing in new and innovative ways to bring life to the harsh desert climate, and dealing with Israel’s critical water resource issues. This year, however, in light of the terrible and tragic fires that swept across the Carmel Mountains just outside of Haifa this past December, JNF is taking an active role in the reforestation effort.

This Treat was originally posted on December 29, 2009.

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

Tree Time

Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees is only two days away! If you would like to plant a tree in Israel, contact the JNF. If you would like to plant a tree in your home town, contact a local nursery and mark your calendars for the best date to do so.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which is famous for its month-long resistance struggle in April/May of 1943, actually began with an initial uprising on 12 Shevat 5703 (1943).

When the Germans began the process of liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto, one of the largest concentrations of Jews in Poland, hundreds of thousands of Jews were herded off to Treblinka or to concentration camps. There were small pockets of resistance within the ghetto, but the ability to fight back successfully was not feasible.

As the Jews realized the astonishing rates of deportation, averaging 5,000 per day, their despair turned into rage, a rage that enabled them to fight, even though there was no hope of winning. The primary organization responsible for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was the Jewish Fighting Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa; ZOB). The initial resistance on January 18, 1943 (12 Shevat) interfered with deportations for three days, after which deportations were put on hold until April. This was, after all, the first time the Germans had ever encountered serious organized resistance.

By January of 1943, there were fewer than 60,000 Jews left in the ghetto. The ZOB used the time after the initial attack to prepare. They trained with whatever weapons were available and built an extensive system of underground bunkers in which the Jews could hide.

On April 19, 1943, the Nazis resumed the liquidation of the ghetto, and met with stiff resistance. It took the vaunted S.S. and the Wehrmacht nearly a month to destroy the ragtag, starving army of Jews who had almost no military experience and fought with a hodgepodge of weapons. Some 300 German soldiers were killed.

Not until almost an entire month later, May 16, 1943, did the Germans finally declare the fighting over, blowing up the Great Synagogue as a symbol of their “victory.”

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

Our Own Strength

Taking pride in your Jewish heritage is one way to honor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Challenge of a Cup of Tea

How do you make a cup of tea?

Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Tea is easy. Simply take a mug, fill it with hot water, and then just add a tea bag. Let the tea steep and remove the tea bag. Then, season to taste by adding your fixings (sugar, honey, milk, etc).

Ok, now what happens when the hot water and the tea leaves in the bag come in contact? The hot water brews and draws the flavor from the leaves--in this way cooking the leaves.

This is all fine and dandy. But what about on Shabbat? For many Jewish households around the world, a cup of tea is a must to accompany dessert on Shabbat, when cooking is not permitted.

There are 2 acceptable ways to prepare a cup of tea on Shabbat according to Jewish law.

1) Think ahead and make tea essence. Tea essence is basically pre-brewed, concentrated tea allowed to steep for a good number of hours. A small amount of this liquid concentrate tea is then added to a cup of hot water, and presto, you have your conventional tea.

2) Use the method of the third cup (kli shlishi). According to halacha (Jewish law), the process of cooking only happens when the hot water is either in the pot (or urn) in which it was boiled or in the first cup into which it was poured. The pot/urn is known as kli rishon, the first vessel, and the cup into which it was poured is known as kli sheni, the second vessel. However, if you then pour the water into yet another cup, kli shlishi, a third cup, the hot water is no longer considered halachically capable of cooking. Into this third cup one may then place a tea bag and proceed as one normally would.

This Treat was originally posted on Friday, January 9, 2009. It has been re-Treated in honor of “Hot Tea Month” (January – really!)

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

Shabbat Delight

If enjoying a cup of tea, remember that the blessing over a cup of tea is Sheh’ha’kohl .

Forget The Top Forties

Thousands of years ago, the sages created a top ten song list of the important songs recited in the Tanach (Bible). Straight from the Midrashic collection of the Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael Shirata 1:5, here is the Rabbis’ top ten:

1: “Passover Rock*” - According to the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 30:29) the Israelites sang a song on the night of the first Passover in Egypt.

2: “Song of the Sea” (Shirat Ha'yam) - The song of Moses and the Children of Israel after experiencing the miracle of the splitting of the sea (Exodus 15).

3: “Spring Up, Oh Well”- The song of the Israelites at the well in the Wilderness (Numbers 21:17).

4: “The Deuteronomy Review*” - The words of Moses to the Israelites recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy are referred to as a song in Deuteronomy 31:30.

5: “Stop Oh Sun and Moon*” - The sages considered Joshua’s words to God after conquering the Amorites as a song (Joshua 10:12).

6: “The Duet of Deborah and Barak*” - Judges 5:1 reports that upon their victory over the Canaanite General Sisera, the prophetess and the general sang in praise of God.

7: “David’s Song*” - While King David came to be known for a great many songs (most of the Book of Psalms), his song in Samuel II 22:1, which praises God for delivering him from the hands of his enemies, is singled out.

8: “A song at the Dedication of the House of David” - Printed in the Book of Psalms (Chapter 30), King Solomon recited this song upon the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem.

9: “Give Thanks to the Lord, for His Mercy Endures for Ever” - King Jehoshaphat commanded the people of Judah to sing this song as preparation for battle against the army of Ammon and Moab (Chronicles II 20:21).

10: “A New Song*” - This is the unsung song that the Jews will recite in the time of the final redemption as predicted in both Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 149:1.

*Names created by Jewish Treats.

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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sing A Song

While the Book of Psalms is filled with beautiful poems that are often transformed into song, feel free to use your own words to sing praises to God.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Letter Abbreviations

Everyone is familiar with standard letter form: the return address here, the date there, salutation and signature each have a place, etc. When looking at letters, or documents, written by observant Jews, many people notice some strange markings created by specific Hebrew abbreviations that often appear on the page.

The most prominent of these Hebrew abbreviations usually appear in the upper right-hand corner and consist of either Beit-Hey or Beit-Samech-Daled (some people write these in English as B"H or BS"D). Beit-Hey generally stands for B’ezrat Hashem, with the help of God (or, alternately, Baruch Hashem, blessed is God). Beit-Samech-Daled is an abbreviation of the Aramaic B’siyata Dish’maya,* which means "with the help of Heaven." These words are added to documents as a reminder to both the writer and the reader that God observes all of our activities and one should therefore be careful with the words he/she chooses to write. The hope is that “with God’s help” the letter will serve for the betterment of both the writer and the reader.

Another interesting abbreviation that people add to correspondence is “amu"sh” (Ayin-Mem-Vav-Shin), which means Ahd May’ah V’esrim Shahna “until 120 years.” Amu"sh is added after the salutation, as a blessing of long life to the person being addressed.

The third abbreviation one may find added to the salutations of letters is shlit"a, which is also often written after the name of the addressee or a third party mentioned in the document. Shlit"a (Shin-Lamed-Yod-Tet-Aleph) is the abbreviation of She’yichyeh L’yamim Tovim Aruchim, May he/she live pleasant and long days (life).

*While B"H and BS"D have the same basic meaning, there is an opinion that one should avoid writing even a single, original letter of the name of God (hey), and therefore, it is preferable to use Beit-Samech-Daled or not to mark the paper at all.

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

The Written Word

Being careful with what you write is as important as being careful with what you say.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Eyes Have It

January is Eye Care Month!

Close to 2,000 years ago, the importance of treating even basic eye disease was recorded in the Talmud (Shabbat 108b), where the rabbis debate what one may do to care for one’s eye on Shabbat:

“[To put] wine into one's eye is forbidden [on Shabbat]; on the eye, however, is permitted, for Samuel said: One may soak bread in wine and place it on his eye on the Sabbath...Mar Ukba said in Samuel's name: One may steep collyrium [an eye salve] on the eve of the Sabbath and place it upon his eyes on the Sabbath without fear [of transgressing Shabbat].”

While wine is no longer a recommended medication, one finds that saline solutions are also recommended in the Talmud in their most natural form--tears. The Talmud, in Shabbat 152a, notes that beneficial tears are those brought on by laughter. If one can’t laugh that hard, the sages also noted that tears brought on by plants (such as onions) or medicines may also be beneficial.

While the eye medicines of the Talmud are not specified, Baba Metzia 85b demonstrates that the ancient medicines were no more pleasant than today’s eye drops or ointments:

“When Rebbi contracted an eye disease, Samuel [his physician] wanted to inject a certain medicine into his eyes. But Rebbi objected, ‘I cannot bear it.’ ‘Then I will apply an ointment to it,’ Shmuel suggested. But Rebbi said, ‘I cannot bear that either.’ So Samuel poured some medication into a tube and placed it under his pillow. Thereupon he was healed [by the vapors].”

The sages, however, were all for prevention: “Rabbi Muna said in Rabbi Judah's name: A drop of cold water in the morning and bathing the hands and feet [in hot water] in the evening is better than all the eye-salves in the world” (Shabbat 108b).

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

Eye Time

Don’t forget your annual eye exam!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Knock, Knock, Who's There

It is basic courtesy to knock on a closed door and wait to be admitted by those inside. Did you know that this simple matter of etiquette was discussed by the sages and has far greater ramifications than merely being polite?

“Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai observed:...the Holy One, blessed be He, hates...the man who enters his (own) house suddenly and much more so [if he so enters] his friend's house...”(Niddah 16b).

Entering someone’s home without knocking or announcing one’s presence, is considered ill-mannered in almost all societies, but few people consider it necessary to do so in their own homes. And yet, entering unannounced is considered loathesome to God, even in one’s own home!

The commentators suggest that two different verses from the Torah provide examples of how God Himself upholds this level of decorous behavior. “God called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 1:1). Before speaking to Moses in the Tent of Meeting, which, it should be noted was not even a private home, God called out to Moses first.

In the previous example, at least, God was approaching Moses in the middle of the camp of the Israelites. But even in the closest thing to God’s own home, the Garden of Eden, God “stood at the gate of the garden, and called to Adam [Gen. 3:9]: ‘And the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, Where are you?’”(Tractate Derech Eretz 5).

Knocking is far more than just being polite. Knocking, or announcing one’s presence prevents embarrassing situations, and allows others time to compose themselves and thus be prepared to properly greet you.

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

Knock On

Put the politeness of knocking into practice even at work. Make it a habit to knock on people's office or cubicle door before addressing them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Kugel Konnection

A traditional Ashkenazi Shabbat table will often be graced with at least one kugel. Whether that kugel is noodle, potato or a more modern vegetable version will depend on the chef.

Often translated as “Shabbat pudding,” kugels are not only delicious, they also represent a taste of tradition, the origin of which is based on the specific needs of the Jewish community. At its most basic, a kugel is a baked combination of a carbohydrate (potato or noodles) with fat (oil or shmaltz) and eggs. Historically, kugels needed to be able to withstand a long and slow heating process, as they were often placed in the local baker’s oven before Shabbat and remained there until the afternoon meal the next day. In this way, Jews avoided any prohibited cooking on Shabbat.

The word “kugel” is actually German in origin. It means “ball” and is an allusion to the types of round pans that were commonly used to make kugel. Sometimes the small kugel pan was placed inside a larger pot containing cholent. Many kugels today are square.

Before the appearance of more modern variations such as broccoli kugel, cauliflower kugel and even onion kugel, which are all more like souffles, traditionally, most kugels were made with either potatoes or noodles (lukshen in Yiddish). Lukshen kugels were often sweetened with cinnamon, raisins and apples. A separate type of kugel is made with sweet cheese. These are served after Yom Kippur, when a dairy meal is often eaten.

Any discussion of kugel would be incomplete without mentioning Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) kugel. This kugel, which is still made in its original round shape, is unique in both taste and appearance. Made with thin lukshen, the secret of Yerushalmi kugel’s sweet and savory taste (as well as its color) is the combination of caramelized sugar and pepper--the essential ingredients.

There are those that say that the origin of kugel goes back to the days of the Israelites in the wilderness. When the manna came down, there was always a layer of dew below and above the manna. Similarly, a kugel is made with crust on top and bottom with filling in between.

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

Shabbat Delight

Enjoy kugel as part of your Shabbat meal tonight. Click here for an easy sweet noodle kugel recipe.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In Flows Shevat

Despite what one might expect, Jewish tradition does not dismiss the signs of the zodiac (Click here for a Treat on Jewish Months and the Zodiac). In fact, it is quite interesting to see how the astrological symbols relate to the actual months to which they are assigned.

The month of Shevat is represented by the water-bearer (known generally as Aquarius). Water is life, and indeed, it makes sense that the water-bearer represents the month of Shevat. The one Jewish holiday that is celebrated this month is Tu Bish’vat, the 15th of Shevat, which is traditionally the New Year of the trees. This usually strikes people as odd, since Tu Bish’vat generally occurs during the coldest days of winter. But, deep beneath the surface, the root system has been drawing water from the earth, and the sap begins to move upward into the trees. Life begins again its process of renewal.

Water, one of the four elements of nature, is often seen as a symbol of Jewish learning. The Torah itself is referred to as “mayim chaim,” living waters. The reference is that, similar to flowing (living) waters, the Torah constantly brings new life to people. The Torah tells us (Deuteronomy 1:5), that on the first of Shevat, "on the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this Torah... "

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

Torah Flow

Prepare for the first Shabbat of Shevat 5711 by studying the parasha, the weekly Torah portion. Click here to read Rabbi Buchwald’s thoughts on parashat Bo.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The Exorcist, one of the most famous horror films ever created, is based on the terrifying concept of someone being possessed by the devil. And while the deeply evil devil of Christian lore is certainly not a Jewish concept, the idea of spiritual possession is not unheard of in mystical Judaism.

The best-known reference on “possession” is probably the Yiddish play The Dybbuk, written by S. Ansky in 1916. The storyline is simple: a student falls in love with a girl who is engaged to another. He dies and his soul takes possession of her body until it is finally exorcised by a rabbi. Unfortunately, this being a tragedy, the girl also dies.

The word dybbuk is a derivative of the Hebrew word lid'bok, to cling. The word itself, however, is not found in Jewish writing until 17th century kabbalistic writing. Tales of dybbukim, and of contrasting ibburim (possession by a righteous soul purely for the fulfillment of certain mitzvot) became more common with the growth of the Chassidic movement because the Chassidim opened the study of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) to less learned Jews. However, without mentioning the word dybbuk, the concept of spiritual possession is mentioned in the Talmud:

“There are three things that can force a person to act against his better judgment and against the will of God: Idol worshipers, an evil spirit [a demon taking possession of a person’s body] and the pressure of extreme poverty. What practical difference does it make? So that people should pray [for the sinner] to be freed from these scourges” (Eruvin 41b).

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

Give A Little More

Help alleviate the “pressure of extreme poverty” by being generous in your charitable giving.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Leader Is

Torah and civil law are the two legal codes that shape the lives of the Jewish people. While the Jews have often been accused of living “outside” civil law (of maintaining a separate communal legal system) this accusation directly contradicts the numerous ways in which Jewish law requires Jews to respect and obey civil law.

The most famous of these imperatives is the Talmudic statement: Dina d’malchuta dina,, which basically states that the law of the land is the law and must be followed. Obeying civil law is a mitzvah, except in cases where civil law might require one to transgress the Torah. In addition, obeying civil law means demonstrating respect for the country’s leadership (not liking them, just showing them respect). As Rabbi Yanni noted: “The fear of the dominant power should ever be before you, as it is written, ‘And all these your servants shall come down unto me, and bow down unto me saying...’ but he [Moses] did not say so of [the king] himself” (Menachot 98a).

Even as Moses stood before Pharaoh and foretold the destruction of his kingdom, he accorded Pharaoh respect by not including him among those who would be brought low. As wicked as Pharaoh had been, he was still Pharaoh, still the king of Egypt, and there was a proper way to address him. His royal status did not exempt him from punishment, nor did it mean that the slaves should not hate him, but it did require that he be treated with the respect owed a king.

Positions of hierarchy are natural in society. Someone has to be in charge. And, of course, the ultimate one in charge is God. Showing respect to the human ruler actually reflects the respect that one must accord to the ultimate King of kings.

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

Democratic Thanks

If you live in a democratic society that allows equality to Jews, take a moment and be grateful.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Root of the Meaning

"Our sacred literature does not use obscure language, but describes most things in words clearly indicating their meaning. Therefore it is necessary at all times to delve into the literal meaning of words to achieve complete understanding of what is actually meant."
--Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch made many important and interesting contributions to Jewish life and learning (for a Jewish Treats biography, click here ). In addition to being a pillar of strength during a time of great change in German Jewry and the primary force in the integration of Torah and modern life, Rabbi Hirsch is known for his popular Biblical commentary. One of the most unique aspects of Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary is its intense analysis of the words of the Torah. Rabbi Hirsch took the understanding of the interconnectedness of Hebrew roots to a new level. Almost all Hebrew words are built on a root of 3 letters. With the addition of other letters, the meaning of the word changes. For instance, bet/vet - nun - hey is the root of the word livnote, to build. But l’hee’banote means to be built.

Rabbi Hirsch noticed that certain letters were related and, when used similarly within a root, created words that were related in meaning. For instance: “Bara means bringing something into reality that heretofore had existed only in the mind. The cognate roots barach, bara, para, parach, all have the meaning of striving to get out, or getting out of a state of being constrained or bound” (Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew: Based on the Commentaries of Samson Raphael Hirsch).

With this understanding of how words were connected, and therefore how different Biblical verses are also related, Hirsch discovered hundreds of new insights into the Torah.

--Please note that Rabbi Hirsch’s etymological conclusions are often not accepted by mainstream Biblical grammarians.

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


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