Monday, February 28, 2011

The Prophet's Speech

Last night's big Oscar winner was The King's Speech, the true tale of how King George VI learned to overcome his stutter before ascending the throne after his older brother's abdication. Most great leaders are gifted with the power of eloquence and the ability to enthral the populace with their inspiring words. It is therefore all the more surprising that the great Moses had a speech impediment.

"But my Lord, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence, either before or since you have spoken to your servant. I am a slow speaker and not able to speak well" (Exodus 4:10). This was Moses' reply to God, emphasizing how unqualified he was, when God spoke to him at the burning bush and informed him that he would be the one to take the Israelites out of Egypt. According to Rashi, the term "slow speaker," which, in Hebrew, literally means "heavy of mouth," implies that Moses had a stutter.

The Midrash expands this fact to describe why Moses had a stutter. According to Exodus Rabbah 1:26, the toddler Moses caught the attention of one of Pharaoh`s advisors who believed Moses to be the destroyer of Egypt that the astrologers had foreseen. But Pharaoh refused to believe ill of his adopted grandson, so his advisors devised a test. The baby was seated before two bowls, one filled with gold and the other filled with hot coals. Grabbing the gold would conclusively identify Moses as the destroyer. If he reached for the hot coals, he was innocent. Like any young child, Moses was fascinated by the shiny gold. As he reached for it, however, the angel Gabriel pushed his hand and caused him to grab a glowing coal, which the baby then placed in his mouth. The burn he received on his tongue caused the child to stutter from then on, but saved his life.

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

Bite Your Tongue

Always choose your words carefully, for the tongue is a powerful weapon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Guard and Remember

The observance of Shabbat is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, listed in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. One would expect to find no difference in the wording of the Ten Commandments from one Biblical Book to the next. However, the wording of the Fourth Commandment differs in two major ways.

In Exodus, the Jews are commanded: “Remember (zachor) the Sabbath day” because “in six days God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested.” In Deuteronomy, they are instructed to “Guard (shamor) the Sabbath day” because “you were a slave in Egypt, and God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”

On the whole, however, the two commandments are the same--whether remembered or guarded, Shabbat is to be made holy and no creative work (m’la’cha) is to be done on it. Indeed, according to Jewish tradition, when God told the Jewish people the Ten Commandments, He spoke the words zachor and shamor at the same instant (Rosh Hashanah 27a), illustrating the fact that there are two important aspects to the observance of Shabbat.

Guard the Sabbath, shamor, refers to the prohibited acts which serve to ensure that the day remains holy. These are "creative labors" known as m'la'chot, which includes such acts as cooking, planting, and writing.

Zachor (Remember) refers to the positive commandments: reciting Kiddush (the blessing over the wine), having three meals, lighting the candles, etc. Remembering Shabbat also refers to the constant focus on Shabbat--represented in the fact that the Hebrew names of the days of the week are the First Day to Shabbat, the Second Day to Shabbat, the Third Day to Shabbat....Shabbat. The days count up to Shabbat, just as Jews spend their week looking forward to and preparing for Shabbat.

By wearing nice clothing, drinking wine, eating a full sit-down meal, inviting guests, etc., Jews around the world transform the seventh day into Shabbat on a weekly basis.

One Week From Now

Shabbat Across America and Canada will take place on March 4, 2011. Check here to find a participating location near you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jewish Treats- Complete Guide to Shabbat

Jewish Treats and our parent organization, National Jewish Outreach Program, are excited to introduce our brand new eBook – Jewish Treats Complete Guide to Shabbat- your online resource to the Day of Rest. This eBook includes a little bit of everything: From how to light the Shabbat candles, the secrets of braided challah, the songs of the Sabbath and much more. Everything you need to know and have been wondering about Shabbat is now right at your fingertips!

To download Jewish Treats Complete Guide to Shabbat, your online resource for the Day of Rest, click here!

The Lemba Connection

The Assyrian conquerors who claimed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. made it their policy to resettle vanquished nations. By transferring one population to another’s land, they sought to crush any sense of nationalism. On the whole, their plan succeeded and the Ten Tribes were "lost" in the vortex of history.

Yet in recent times in the strangest of places, small groups of people have been found who maintain unique Judaic practices. Take, for instance, the Lemba, an ethnic group in South Africa and Zimbabwe who believe that they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. The Lemba believe in one God, have a weekly holiday, refrain from pork, practice male circumcision and mourn their dead for seven days. The connection of the Lemba to the Jewish people has been further affirmed by genetic studies that found strong DNA resemblance in the Y chromosome, and that some males even share the unique Y chromosome of the Kohanim (priests).

The Lemba, however, are not Jews. Their situation has been assessed more than once, and their link has been found tenuous.

It is interesting to note that the question of ancient heritage was addressed even in the Talmud. In Yevamot 16b, the sages discuss a potential betrothal of a Jew with a non-Jewish family who might have been part of the ten lost tribes. The sages agreed that since the majority of the world’s population is not Jewish, we must assume that a person of unverified status is most likely from the majority, and therefore not Jewish.

This question has been raised in the past on a number of occasions for several communities with the solution being that those who believe themselves to be Jewish undergo conversion in order to quell any doubts--a process that several communities have undergone (e.g. B'nai Menashe who have moved to Israel).

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

A Visit

If you know someone recuperating from illness or surgery, find out if they would enjoy a visit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just This Once?

Children notoriously like to test the limits. “If I try to take a cookie, will mom really punish me?” “If I draw on this wall, will dad really be upset?” The job of the parent is to stay consistent and to teach the child that rules are rules. This type of education is both necessary for the parents’ sanity and to help mold an upstanding individual who will fit in with society.

But let’s face it, most of us never truly lose that little voice that wants to push the envelope. Judaism refers to that voice as the yetzer harah, the evil inclination. It is interesting to note that, according to commentaries, the yetzer harah was an external element of humankind until Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Thus, in the Garden of Eden, the yetzer harah was personified by the serpent, who verbally seduced Eve into taking that first bite of the forbidden fruit. One might think that one little bite couldn’t do much harm, and yet it transformed the world!

Because of human nature and our need to test limits, it is important for every person to not only show self-discipline, but also to be honest with themselves. People often transgress laws thinking to themselves, “Well, it’s just this once.” But then the next time they face the same situation, they think back to that first time and realize that they had not been caught, no harm had been done, so what was the big deal. Suddenly, it becomes a slippery slope. And, as the rabbis warned in Yoma 86b: “If a person repeats an act which he/she knows is a sin, it soon begins to be regarded as permissible.”

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

Plan Now

Shabbat Across America and Canada will take place on March 4, 2011. Check here to find a participating location near you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Humble Bee

February 22nd has been declared “Be Humble Day,” a “holiday” that most likely originated from the online greeting card industry. Nevertheless, a day dedicated to the importance of the being humble is an excellent excuse to discuss humility in Jewish thought.

Throughout the Torah and Talmud, humility is a praised behavior. In fact, the sages go so far as to even heap praise upon a non-animate object for its humility, a geographic location: Mount Sinai. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:3) relates that all of the mountains wanted to be the place where the Almighty would deliver the Torah to the Jewish people. They each promoted their height, their size, and their beauty. Mount Sinai, a small and dusty mountain, did not bother to enter a claim... so God declared that He desired Mount Sinai, because it was more humble than all the other mountains.

Being humble, according to Jewish wisdom, does not come from negating one’s own worth. To the contrary, in order to be truly humble one must be well aware of one’s own strengths. If one truly has the ability to be a leader, then he/she should not hang back passively, thinking that they are being humble in doing so. This fact is clearly demonstrated by the Torah’s statement that declares: “The man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any other man on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

Moses stood before God! Moses instructed the Jewish people daily! Moses rebuked the Israelites! But Moses did all these things because God told him that it was his job, not out of a need to put himself above all others.

Being humble is about knowing just how great you are, and not needing to flaunt it. More importantly, however, being humble is remembering that not only you, but everyone else around you, shares the Divine spark.

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

Personal Assessment

Don't hesitate to acknowledge that someone else may be able to do a job better. Likewise, don't hesitate to speak up for yourself.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mr. Adams' Attitude

In honor of President’s Day, Jewish Treats presents an overview of the interesting viewpoint on Jews held by the second President of the United States, John Adams.

In 1808, after his retirement from office (1797-1801), President Adams corresponded with Fran├žois Adriaan Van der Kemp, an acclaimed scholar. In refuting the viewpoints of prominent philosophers Bolingbroke and Voltaire, Adams wrote:

“I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordained by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a Supreme, Intelligent, Wise, Almighty Sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.”

Knowing that President Adams had a favorable viewpoint on Jewish civilization in general, Mordechai Manuel Noah, a Jewish activist and journalist, decided to send Adams the “Discourse” that Noah had delivered at the consecration of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. This “Discourse” advocated for a Jewish Homeland.

A year later, in a separate correspondence, President Adams responded that he wished Noah could be “at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites . . . and restoring your nation to the dominion of it. For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation."

Unfortunately, Adams’ ultimate goal, as stated in the same letter, was that once independent and free of persecution, the Jews would eventually assimilate their national characteristics and become “liberal Unitarian Christians...”

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

A Bit of Patriotism

If you live in a country that allows true freedom of religion, take a moment and express your thanks.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On The Ice

As a Semitic nation, the Jewish people emerged as a nation in the warm, dry region of the Middle east. And while snow may occasionally fall in Jerusalem, winter activities are not frequently discussed in the Torah and the Talmud.

Due to the long years of exile in wintery climates, however, Jews have left their mark on a host of varied winter activities. Take, for example, Louis Rubenstein (1861-1931), who is known as the “Father of Canadian Figure Skating.” Rubenstein trained with Jackson Haines, whose innovations of the sport transformed it from “fancy skating,” when skaters traced fancy images on ice, to “figure skating,” which incorporates dance movements. At age 17, Rubenstein won the Montreal championship and, five years later, the Canadian championship. From 1888-1891, he also held the U.S. title.

Rubenstein was born and raised in Montreal, but his parents were Polish Jews who fled Russian rule. Their fears of Russian anti-Semitism turned into reality in 1890, when their son competed in St. Petersburg at the first international figure skating championship. During the competition, he faced harassment from all segments of Russian society, including the police. In fact, only the intervention of the British ambassador made it possible for him to participate in the competition. Despite terrible outside pressures, Rubenstein won two of the three components of the competition.

Although he retired from competition shortly after he returned from St. Petersburg, Rubenstein remained active in the world of figure skating. In fact, Rubenstein was involved in many sports, and was even president of both the Canadian Bowling Association and the Canadian Wheelmans Association (Cycling). Beyond sports, it should be noted, Rubenstein was also a communal leader who held the position of alderman for 17 years.

Click here for a list of Jewish figure skaters.

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

Ahhh Shabbat

Enjoy the winter with a brisk Shabbat walk.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Purim Katan

In a Jewish leap year, two months of Adar are celebrated: Adar I and Adar II. The question that arises is, in which Adar does one celebrate the important events that occur in that month? On a communal level, this question refers to the holiday of Purim. On a personal level, this affects the observance of yahrtzeits and bar/bat mitzvahs.

The holiday of Purim marks the anniversary of God’s overturning the wicked plot of Haman ( read the full story) on the 14th of Adar. According to tractate Megillah 6b, during a leap year Purim is observed in Adar II. However, during Adar I, the importance of the 14th of Adar must also be acknowledged. Purim Katan, “Little Purim,” as 14 Adar I is called, is therefore observed as a (very) minor holiday. On Purim Katan certain aspects of the prayer service are omitted, fasting is forbidden and eulogies are generally prohibited. Additionally, it is considered praiseworthy to mark the day with a small festive meal (perhaps ordering a nicer lunch).

Aside from Purim, individual celebrations may also be affected by the extra month of Adar. A child born in Adar during a regular year celebrates his/her bar or bat mitzvah in Adar II, if it occurs during a leap year. A bar or bat mitzvah celebration is only celebrated in Adar I if the child was born in Adar I (This leads to the possible interesting anomaly that a child born on the first day of Adar II is Bar Mitzvahed one month before a child born on the 30th day of Adar I, if the Bar Mitzvah year is not a leap year).

With respect to yahrtzeit observances, however, there is a difference of opinion. The Ashkenzi custom, which follows the Rema, is to observe the yahrtzeit during Adar I (but there are those who observe in Adar II, and even those who observe both Adars). According to Sephardi custom, which follows Rabbi Joseph Karo, the nachala is observed during Adar II. However, the yahrtzeit of one who passes away in either Adar of a leap year is observed only in the Adar in which they passed.

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

Plan For Purim Katan

Make a special lunch in honor of Purim Katan tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paying For Gold

The most infamous sin of the Jewish people was the sin of the Golden Calf: When God presented the People of Israel with the Ten Commandments, the people were overwhelmed at hearing the Divine voice. They asked Moses to interact with God in their place. Moses then went up to Mount Sinai for 40 days to receive the complete Torah. The Jewish people miscalculated how long Moses had been gone. Thinking it was already the 41st day, they panicked. Assuming that Moses was dead, they demanded that Aaron, Moses’ brother, create an idol for them that would become their new leader. Aaron, under threat of death, created the Golden Calf.

This, of course is the general overview of the story. But a full and careful reading tells a slightly different story. Not all of the Jewish people worshiped the Calf. In fact, it is understood from Exodus 32:26-28, where Moses instructs the Levites to slay every man involved in the idol worship, that only 3,000 men (out of 600,000) were involved.

So what’s the big fuss? If only a small portion of the Jewish people worshiped the Golden Calf, and the few rebels were killed by the Levites, why did God strike the people with a plague because they had "made the Calf that Aaron had made" (Exodus 32:35)? Moreover, why does God note in Exodus 32:34 that whenever the Jewish people would sin in the future, they would receive some element of the punishment they deserved but were not given at the time of the Golden Calf?

Not all of the Jewish people worshiped the Golden Calf, but they also did not try to stop the sinners. Looking the other way may be a passive, but it is an action nonetheless. Not standing up to proclaim their faith in God and Moses is the great sin that marked the Jewish nation forever.

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

True Strength

Don't let peer pressure keep you from doing the right thing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

An entire generation of North Americans hear the words “random acts of kindness” and immediately think of Oprah Winfrey. Without question, the queen of afternoon television has done amazing things and, in the process, reminded millions of her fans and followers of an extremely important ethic in society. Acts of kindness, known in Hebrew as gm’eelut chasadim or simply chesed, are so important, in fact, that the Talmudic sage Shimon the Righteous considered it one of the three things that sustain the world (along with Torah and service to God–Pirkei Avot 1:2).

Often, when a discussion turns to “good acts,” people pull out their checkbooks to make a charitable donation. Donating one’s money as charity is a beautiful and important mitzvah, that is known in Hebrew as tzedakah, which comes from the word for righteousness. However, the sages make a distinction between tzedakah and chesed:

“Our Rabbis taught: In three respects are acts of kindness superior to charity: Charity can be done only with one's money, but acts of kindness can be done with one's body and one's money. Charity can be given only to the poor, acts of kindness both to the rich and the poor. Charity can be given to the living only, acts of kindness can be done both to the living and to the dead” (Sukkah 49b).

Anyone can perform acts of kindness. More importantly, acts of kindness can be small, seemingly insignificant gestures (holding the door for someone, passing along a resume, or preparing a meal for a new mother and her family) or large (letting someone live in your house while they look for a new home, chauffeuring someone to multiple doctor visits). And no matter how simple the act may seem, to the recipient, that kindness is priceless.

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

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Celebrate “Random Acts of Kindness Week,” February 14-20! Make a random act of kindness a habit for the rest of your life!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Gift For Life

Did you know that Jewish law frowns upon elective surgery? After all, as any doctor will tell you (or all those release forms will make you realize), there is no surgery that is totally risk-free.

However, the mitzvah of saving a life (pikuach nefesh) is so great that it precedes most other mitzvot. So what should one do if asked to donate a kidney or part of a liver -- both forms of transplant surgery that can save a life without necessarily threatening the donor’s life?

As organ transplant procedures only began to meet with regular success in the middle of the 20th century, this is a fairly recent question for Jewish law. After ascertaining that transplant surgeries have a low rate of danger to the donor, most Jewish legal authorities determined that such procedures, while voluntary, are permissible.

Since a transplant is only done in dire circumstances, usually to save a person’s life, would one then be obligated to donate one’s organs if found compatible? The answer to this question is "No." While the medical statistics have shown that transplant procedures usually present low risk to donors, they are not risk free and Jewish law does not, and will not, require it.

This Treat was originally posted on February 17, 2009.

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

Get Informed

Today is National Organ Donor Day. Find out more about Jewish law and organ donation at the Halachic Organ Donor Society Website.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Birthday to Moses

To write a biography of Moses in under 300 words would be impossible. From the moment he was born, his life was filled with incredible events. But today is the seventh of Adar, and the Talmud (Megilla 13b) teaches that Moses “died on the seventh of Adar and was born on the seventh of Adar.” Therefore, Jewish Treats shares with you a glimpse into the beginning of the life of the great Moses.

Birth: Moses’ parents were Amram and Yocheved, the leading family of the tribe of Levi. His siblings were Miriam and Aaron. Moses was apparently a preemie, born, according to Rashi, at six months and one day. His early birth made it possible for Yocheved to keep the baby Moses with her until he was three months old.

Moses was born after Pharaoh had already issued a decree that all Jewish male babies were to be drowned in the river. As Moses grew, it became impossible for his parents to hide him from Pharaoh’s soldiers, and thus came to be the famous story of Moses being placed in a basket in the Nile and found (and raised) by Pharaoh’s daughter, Bithia.

While many births are recorded in the Torah, Moses’ birth is unique in that the Torah notes: “and she [Moses’ mother, Yocheved] saw that he was good” (Exodus 2:2). In explanation of which the sages noted: “He was born circumcised...and at the time when Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light” (Sotah 12a).

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

Honoring Moses

Celebrate the birthday of the greatest leader of the Jewish people by talking about his life at the Shabbat table tonight.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Emperor’s Nephew

“A man should always complete the Torah portion together [at the same time] with the congregation, [reading] twice the Hebrew text and once the [Aramaic] Targum... [if he does so,] his days and years are prolonged” (Rabbi Huna ben Judah in the name of Rabbi Ammi, Berachot 8a).

This sage advice from Rabbi Huna is an excellent introduction to an unexpected Torah scholar named Onkelos, as it is the commonly accepted understanding of this advice that the Aramaic translation one should read is Targum Onkelos.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, Onkelos the convert was the nephew of the Roman Emperor. And while it is debated whether his uncle was Hadrian or Titus, neither was a friend of the Jews. Thus, when the Emperor discovered his nephew’s conversion, he sent soldiers to bring his nephew back to Rome. In fact, he sent three contingents of soldiers, all of whom were persuaded to convert to Judaism by Onkelos--even after the Emperor ordered them not to talk to, or even listen to him. (For the full story, see Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 11a.)

But Onkelos did not make his decision to convert lightly. The Talmud (Gittin 56b-57a) tells a fascinating story in which Onkelos, through the use of necromancy, called upon the departed souls of Titus, Balaam and “the sinners of Israel” and asked each, “Who is in repute in the other world?” Titus and Balaam, both renowned enemies of the Jews, both encouraged Onkelos to fight the Jews even as they themselves were being punished for their actions. The sinners of Israel, however, told Onkelos to “Seek their welfare, seek not their harm...”

Onkelos’ contribution to Jewish scholarship goes far beyond seeking the welfare of the Jewish people. His Aramaic translation of the Five Books of Moses incorporated the teachings he received from his own teachers, thus providing a vital translation and commentary in one.

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

Take The First Step

Read the weekly Torah portion in which ever language you are most comfortable.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Chicken Doesn't Moo

Poultry has an interesting status in the world of Jewish law. It is the paradigm of rabbinic jurisdiction, underscoring the fact that the sages of the Talmud have the authority to transform halacha (Jewish law).

The prohibition of eating milk and meat stems from the Biblical statement that “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” This verse, repeated three times (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21), refers to mammals, since only mammals have “mother’s milk.” The additional restriction prohibiting Jews from mixing poultry with milk is a rabbinic law known as a gezayrah. It was established by the sages because of the fear that people would be confused by the similarities between the flesh of cattle and chicken, which might result in their cooking meat and milk together.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Who’d mix up steak and chicken”? While beef or lamb may not taste like chicken or duck, both foods are cooked in a similar manner. But the similarities are actually that both domesticated animals and fowl must be ritually slaughtered (not die a natural death), must prove to be blemish free (no defective organs or limbs) and must be properly drained of blood. Because so much of the preparation process is identical, the sages ruled that fowl should also be separated from milk (Chullin 113a).

Fish, on the other hand, is pareve (the kosher term for neutral, neither meat nor milk). Fish is pareve because fish does not have to be either ritually slaughtered or salted (for blood removal), thus distinguishing it from both meat and fowl.

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

Italian Craving

If you’re craving chicken-parmesan, try some eggplant parmesan!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"No More Pharaohs and No More Slaves"

By the mid-1800s, Jews were settled throughout the United States, and many had absorbed the local culture in which they were living. Among the Jews of the south, there were, therefore, Jewish slave-holders. And in the north, there were many Jews involved in the abolitionist movement.

August (Anshl) Bondi (1833-1907) was a Jewish abolitionist who lived neither in the North or the South, but in the disputed territory of Kansas. Actually, he was born and raised in Vienna. He and his family came to America after the failed revolution of 1848, in which he, as a student, took part. While his parents settled in St. Louis, August tried his hands at many jobs along the Missouri River.

Bondi came to Kansas from Missouri as part of a movement of anti-slavery settlers, hoping to out-populate the pro-slavery settlers. Along with two other Jews, Theodore Weiner and Jacob Benjamin, he opened a trading post in Osawatomie. Like other abolitionists, they were harassed by the pro-slavery Border Ruffians. Bondi’s house was burned, his livestock stolen and the trading post trashed.

As an abolitionist, Bondi was drawn to the call of John Brown, the famous abolitionist. Along with Weiner and Benjamin, he signed on as part of John Brown’s “Kansas Regulars” and took part in the Battle of Black Jack. Two years later, the Kansas legislature adopted a constitution as a Free State (no slavery).

After Bondi married and settled down, his home was a station on the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War he fought for the Union in the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. While Bondi and his family did not live within a Jewish community, he remained loyal to his faith, making certain that a rabbi officiated at his daughters’ weddings.

*Title: From the diary of August Bondi, comment on the Emancipation Proclamation

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

No Bullies

If you see someone being mistreated, don't hesitate to stand up for him or her.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Leap Year

The Gregorian solar calendar used by the Western world, is based on the cycle of the sun. The tropical (solar) year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds. Thus every four years an extra day is added to the year at the end of February in order to compensate for the loss of 5 3/4 hours each year.

Unlike Western society, Jews, Muslims and the Chinese all follow a lunar calendar. Like the solar calendar, the lunar calendar has 12 months, with each month measured by the waxing and waning of the moon.

Because the lunar calendar is only 354 days long and does not correspond to the solar cycle, the lunar calendar will not relate to the seasons unless the extra days on the solar calendar are accounted for. If not, a lunar month might occur in spring one year and in winter the next. The lack of coordination between the lunar months and the seasons would not be such a problem for the Jewish calendar, except that it results in a direct contradiction to a Biblical command: “Observe the month of Aviv (Spring), and keep the Passover for the Lord your God; for in the month of Aviv, the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night” (Deuteronomy 16:1).

Consequently, the holiday of Passover must be observed in the Spring. To accomplish this, the month of Adar is doubled during a leap year (Adar I and Adar II). Why Adar? Before the Jewish calendar was fixed by mathematical calculation in 350 C.E. (approximately), the new month was determined by the Sanhedrin based on the testimony of witnesses who had seen the new moon. Likewise, the Sanhedrin declared the leap year based on their observations of the season. Adar, the last month before Nisan (the month of Passover) was the deadline for the declaration of a leap year.

According to the current calendar, a Jewish leap year occurs seven times within every 19 years. This year, 5771, is a leap year (today’s date is 3 Adar I).

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

An Extra Month of Joy

The Talmud (Ta'anith 29a) states: "Me'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased Have a great extra month of Adar!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Challah Is Taken

The Hebrew word "challah" does not actually mean bread, but rather refers to the tithe of the bread that was given as a gift to the priests in ancient times (Numbers 15:20). Exactly when the term challah began to be applied to the bread eaten on Shabbat is unclear.

In the absence of the Temple, the complete mitzvah of Challah cannot be fulfilled (as the kohain cannot eat the separated piece unless ritually pure). However, the mitzvah is still maintained in part by separating a portion of dough during the baking process. Today, therefore, if one is baking a large amount of dough (generally 3 lbs 10 oz.* of flour or more), one is obligated to "take challah" with a blessing before baking the dough.

To "take challah," a small ball of dough is taken and wrapped in foil, for once the blessing is said, the small piece of separated challah has a sanctified status. The following blessing is recited:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu l’haph’reesh challah min ha’eesah

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us in His commandments and commanded us to separate the challah from the dough.

If one made dough using less then the amount required for the blessing, but more than 2 lbs 10 oz., one should separate the challah but not make a blessing. (Since there are different opinions regarding the exact amount of flour, please check with your local rabbi.)

The separated challah must now be either burned in an empty oven or buried. Once the challah has been burned, it should be disposed of in a respectful manner.

*There are varying opinions on the exact amount of flour.

This Treat was originally posted on June 26, 2009.

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

Make An Extra

If you're making challah, make an extra one for a friend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Supply List

What do gold, silver and copper; aqua, purple and red-dyed wool; linen, goat hair, animal skins, acacia wood, olive oil, spices and gems have in common? These were the primary items that the Israelites needed to gather and donate in order to build God a sanctuary in the wilderness. This sanctuary, the Mishkan (Tabernacle), was to be the dwelling place of the Shechina (Divine Presence) until the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

All of these items, except for the silver, were donated by the Israelites after God told Moses to tell the Israelites to bring an offering each according to their hearts desire (Exodus 25:2) -- a voluntary offering. The silver that was used in the Mishkan came solely from the half-shekel census collection.

Where did a nation of run-away slaves acquire all these precious metals, fancy linens and gems? Actually, they came from the Egyptians, as payment for the Israelites’ years of slave-labor (“And the Children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment" - Exodus 12:35).

The other items requested were also not so mundane. For instance, the aqua (blue-green) dye (techelet) for the wool was from a creature called the chilazon, which “resembles the sea in its color, and in shape it resembles a fish; it appears once in seventy years, and with its blood one dyes the thread blue; and therefore it is so expensive” (Menachot 44a).

On a practical level, the list of items above was a shopping list. But as valuable as each of these pieces was, they were made priceless by the fact that they were given, truly, from the heart.

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

Donation From Self

Many Jewish organizations love to receive donations of people's volunteer time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Ship's Tale

Well sit right back and I’ll tell a tale...Alas, this ship’s tale is no three-hour tour, but the story of the birth of Jewish life in North America.

It is well-known that the first Jewish settlers in New Amsterdam (the Dutch Colony that would later be called New York) were met with deep animosity by the Governor, Peter Stuyvesant. While many settlers did come to the new world searching for religious freedom, these 23 men, women and children came to North America by accident!

These Sephardi Jews were fleeing the Portuguese conquest of Recife (Brazil), a South American city that had been under the control of the Dutch (who allowed the Jews to live openly as Jews). One can only imagine their horror when Portugal captured the territory! Fearing the Inquisition, the Jews boarded one of the 16 boats the Portuguese provided to all those who wished to leave their new territory. Unfortunately, the ship never made it to its destination, the Netherlands. After their ship was attacked at sea, the 23 Jews were brought to New Amsterdam aboard a French vessel.

The intentions of the French captain were far from altruistic. Captain Jacques de la Motte immediately sued the refugees for their passage (knowing they had lost most of their possessions). Two members of the community were taken into custody until the money could be raised (by appeal to their co-religionists in Amsterdam).

Peter Stuvyesant had no love of Jews (as governor of Curacao, he sought to restrict Jewish immigration and prohibited Jews from owning slaves), and he used the desperate state of these refugees to appeal to the owners of the colony (Dutch East India Company) to bar the Jews lest they become a burden on the government. His petition was denied, the Jews were allowed to settle, and thus began the Jewish community of New York.

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


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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Don't Shame The Name

The concept of “Chilul Hashem,” desecration of God’s name, is first mentioned in the Torah in Leviticus (22:32), when the Jewish people are commanded: “You shall not shame My Holy Name; and I will be sanctified amongst the people of Israel, I am God.”

Based on the grammatical structure of this sentence, it seems quite obvious that the only way not to shame God’s name is to sanctify God among the people of Israel. These words are much akin to a mother saying: “Don’t do anything to embarrass the family.” Which, of course, really means, “Go out and make us proud, honey.”

This commandment reminds us that all of our actions are a reflection not just on ourselves, but on the Jewish People and, most importantly, on God.

Technically, the term Chilul Hashem refers to an act that is deliberately and willfully committed against the Torah. And a true Chilul Hashem is one in which an unseemly action takes place in front of other Jews (a quorum of 10).

However, colloquially, the term Chilul Hashem refers to all inappropriate actions that make Jews in general, and therefore God, look bad. When the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, they, in effect, accepted “ethical monotheism”--a full understanding that there were rules by which they would lead their lives.

Examples of Chilul Hashem can be as obvious as a Jew committing a crime, to the far more subtle acts of bad public manners, such as when a Jew cuts in front of another person in line or is rude to a store clerk. Alas, the Jewish Nation is made up of people, and people are, above all else, fallible. Therefore, living our lives to sanctify God’s name is a goal toward which each of us must strive, even if not all of us achieve it.

Do The Opposite

The opposite of Chilul Hashem is Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying the name). Positive actions such as returning lost money, offering help to strangers and fair business practices are all ways to create a Kiddush Hashem