Friday, July 29, 2011

This Day Is Honored

Shabbat meals, like many aspects of Jewish life, are a beautiful synthesis of our physical and spiritual selves. Physically, we enjoy delightful feasts at which our most beautiful tableware is used and delicious foods are presented. Spiritually, we elevate ourselves through the sanctification of the day (Kiddush) and the divrei Torah (words of Torah) shared at the Shabbat table.

Singing zmirot, special Shabbat songs, is also an excellent means of physically and spiritually elevating the Shabbat meal, especially as song brings joy to both body and soul. Although many of the traditional Shabbat zmirot are somewhat abstract in their exact meaning, one of the most popular songs for Shabbat day, Yom Zeh Mechubad, is a true paean to the day of rest.

Yom Zeh Mechubad: The chorus of this song (Yom zeh mechubad mee’kohl yameem, kee vo shavat Tzoor oh’lameem) means “This day is honored above all days, for on it He Who fashioned the universe, rested.”

The five verses that follow serve to glorify the precept that “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said until Israel: ‘My children, borrow [money for your Shabbat needs] on my account and celebrate the holiness of the day, trust in Me, and I will repay” (Beitzah 15b). The first verse reiterates the basic commandment of Shabbat, that six days one may work, but the seventh day belongs to God. The concluding verses describe the ways in which one honors Shabbat and reiterates the Divine assurance that “You will lack nothing on it, you will eat, be satisfied, and bless God...” (Stanza 4).

The author of this simple but beautiful zemer is unknown, although, based on the first letter acrostic of each verse, it appears that his first name was Israel.

Listen to one version of the song by clicking here

Lunch Songs

Beautify and prolong your Shabbat meal with joyful zmirot.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried and the Abridged Code of Law

When rabbinic authorities make halachic (Jewish legal) rulings, they generally consult the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), a compendium of halacha written in 1563 by Rabbi Joseph Caro. When Jews who are not scholars wish to learn practicalhalacha, they often go to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law), written by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried.

Born in 1804 and raised in Ungvar (formerly part of Hungary, now in the Ukraine), Rabbi Ganzfried was a child prodigy raised by Ungvar’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Heller. (Rabbi Ganzfried lost his father when he was eight.) After trying his hand as a wine-merchant, Rabbi Ganzfried entered the rabbinate when he accepted the position of rabbi in Brezevitz. In 1849, after serving in Brezevitz for 19 years, Rabbi Ganzfried returned to his native city as a dayan (a judge in the religious court). He continued in this position until his death on 26 Tammuz (July 30), 1886.

As a dayan in the mid 19th century, Rabbi Ganzfried became aware that the lack of knowledge of practical halacha within the Jewish community was undermining the Jewish community. He therefore prepared the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which he described as being "written for God-fearing Jews who are not in a position to study and comprehend the [original, full] Shulchan Aruch and all its commentaries... composed in a Hebrew that can be easily understood."

Just as Rabbi Caro had based his halachic conclusions on the opinions of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (the Rif), Maimonides (Rambam), and Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (the Rosh), Rabbi Ganzfried based his decisions on the work of Rabbi Jacob Lorberbaum; Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi; and Rabbi Abraham Danzig. In cases of disagreement he adopted the majority view.

Today, 26 Tammuz, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried.

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

Your Very Own

Pick up a copy of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch for your own reference. There are numerous English translations.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Five Wise Sisters

Few women are mentioned by name in the Torah, and those who are, are generally the major players (i.e. Sarah, Rachel, Miriam). Yet twice in the Torah, Mach’lah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah--the five daughters of Zelophchad--are listed. In Numbers 27, they approach Moses and ask to inherit their father’s property in the Promised Land, since he died without sons. Because of their request, the law was established that “If a man dies with no sons, then his inheritance goes to his daughter(s)” (Numbers 27:8).

As the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan, the heads of the tribe of Menashe (Zelophchad’s tribe) approached Moses with a concern about Zelophchad’s daughters: “If they marry sons of the other tribes...their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our fathers’ tribe (Menashe), and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they shall belong [since the children will be reckoned as part of their father’s tribe] (Number 36:3).” To ensure that this would not be the case, Moses ruled that Zelophchad’s daughters could marry whomever they wished, but only from among the tribe of their father (Menashe) so that the land would not be lost to the tribe.

Nothing more about these remarkable women is mentioned in the Torah, but the sages of the Talmud relate:

[They] were wise women, they were interpreters of scripture, they were virtuous. They [must] have been wise, since they spoke at an opportune moment...They [must] have been interpreters of scripture, for they said: 'If he had a son we would not have spoken' (Numbers 27:8)... [The explanation is that they said]: 'Even if a son [of his] had a daughter, we would not have spoken'. They were virtuous, since they married only such men worthy of them (Baba Batra 119b).

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

Child Rearing

Don't forget to praise the accomplishments of the children in your life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Medical mystery thrillers--novels in which the mystery is often solved through autopsy--are very popular these days. But most autopsies do not set off thrilling adventures of sleuthing. They do, however, allow doctors to understand the many mysteries of the body and the fascinating world of diseases.

But what about respect for the dead, which is a fundamental concept in Judaism? The Jewish laws of death and burial are vast and intricate. With regard to autopsies, it is important to be aware that Jewish law requires that the deceased be buried as close to the time of death as possible and that the entire body (or as much as possible), including internal organs and blood, be buried together.

While the Talmud covers an incredible spectrum of information, only one actual autopsy is mentioned, and then only as a report that: “when he [Titus] died, they split open his skull and found something there like a sparrow, two selas (measures) in weight” (Gittin 56b). The reason for this is that autopsy was not a common procedure in the ancient world (although not unheard of either). The question of the halachic permissibility of autopsy only appears in printed responsa (question and answer correspondence) in the late Middle Ages.

Of the early responses to this question, the one most frequently cited even to this day is by Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Poland 1713 - 1793). It was his opinion that an autopsy was allowed only if there was another person who could immediately benefit from the information gained. Saving the life of another may refer to a medical need or, in far less common cases, identifying the cause of a mysterious death.

If an autopsy must be performed, it is important to request that guidelines respecting Jewish law be followed (please consult a rabbinic authority in such cases).

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


Find out more about the issue of respecting the body and medical need at the Halachic Organ Donation Society.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Strange Tale of Jose Diaz Pimienta

Today’s Jewish Treat brings you the strange tale of Jose Diaz Pimienta (1688-1720) who was burned at the stake in an auto-de-fete in Cadiz (Spain) on July 25, 1720. Although born to Catholic parents and killed while professing the Catholic faith, he was, nevertheless, a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, because he had undergone a Jewish conversion during his lifetime.

Born in Cuba, Pimienta chose to become a monk--but ran away from the monastery while still a novice. Shortly thereafter, he presented the local Bishop with a forged baptismal certificate (he was underage) in order to become an ordained priest. He was assigned to Vera Cruz and then recalled to Havana when his lie was discovered. Pimienta’s life story continued in and out of various religious positions and running minor con jobs (even pirating).

Pimienta first made contact with the Curacao Jewish community, according to his confession to the Inquisition, when he claimed to be a descendant of Marranos after hearing that the Jews were financially generous to marranos who returned to Judaism. He soon found out that the reward story was not true. Nevertheless, Pimienta converted to Judaism and married. Alas, it was not long before the restless Pimienta once again took to sea.

Captured by pirates, Pimienta was released in Jamaica, where he revealed his lack of any real religious conviction--he baptized two of the local Jewish children. He fled Jamaica in duress but eventually turned himself in to the Inquisition.

Pimienta then escaped from his Inquisitors, but was caught, shortly thereafter, trying to arrange a meeting with Jews. He told the Inquisition that he was trying to contact Jews in order to take vengence on the Jews of Caracao who, he claimed, had forcibly circumcised him. Eventually, however, he admitted to converting to Judaism and refused to recant. It was only on July 24, 1720, that Pimienta called for a priest and voluntarily returned to Catholicism. As a reward for his repentance, he was garroted before being burned.

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

Good Neighbor

If you have an elderly or housebound neighbor, make an effort to befriend them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

We’re Not Taking Care of Business

On Shabbat, the Jewish people are commanded: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8). The Oral Law states that the word “work” refers to m’la’cha, creative work, such as planting or starting a fire, not to general labor such as setting up a room for a kiddush or moving one’s furniture (within one’s domicile). And, yet, even talking about work (one’s job or business) is prohibited. While one can easily understand that acquiring property, collecting payments and signing contracts are transgressions of the Sabbath, few can fathom what the problem might be talking about a plot of land that one would like to purchase or a potential deal that could be made later in the week.

The Talmud cites two verses from Isaiah and interprets them:

If you restrain your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking thereof; Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Says the Talmud:
And you shall honor it, not doing thine own affairs: ‘and you shall honor it’... your affairs are forbidden, the affairs of Heaven [religious matters] are permitted...your speech [conversation] on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays. Speaking [about mundane matters] is forbidden, but thinking [about mundane matters] is permitted (Shabbat 113a-b).

By refraining from creative work on Shabbat, a person testifies to God’s creation of the world and His continued involvement in the work of creation. Talking about business not only focuses a person on him/her self, but turns one’s thoughts away from the greater spiritual nature of the day.

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

Relax To The Max

Take a break from business this Shabbat.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Immersing The Vessels

When shopping for common kitchen items, one typically does not ask the sales clerk who manufactured them, but this information determines whether or not one must fulfill the mitzvah known as t’vee’laht kay’leem, immersing the vessels.

When a Jewish person acquires utensils or a vessel from a non-Jew (including items made by a non-Jew but sold by a Jewish merchant) that will be used for food or drink (pots, plates, cups, cutlery, etc.), the items must be completely submerged in water (naturally flowing body of water or a mikveh).

This law applies to items made of metal and glass, but not those made of wood, stone or rubber. Earthenware vessels do not require immersion unless they are glazed.* (Most authorities do not require the immersion of plastic.)

The act of immersion is quite simple. The item(s) are taken to an acceptable body of water, the blessing--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 ahl t’vee’laht kay’lee(m) (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to dip our vessel/s)--is recited and the vessel(s) are then completely submerged, meaning that all parts must be simultaneously touched by the water. To accomplish this properly, one must remove any labels, stickers, glue or dirt. The item must be released in the water (or held very loosely).

The source of the mitzvah of t’vee’laht kay’leem is found in Numbers 31 (21-23): “Gold, and silver, brass, iron, tin, and lead, every thing that may abide the fire, you shall make to go through the fire, and it shall be clean; nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of sprinkling; and all that cannot survive the fire you shall pass through water.” Although this command was stated with regard to items taken in the Israelites war with Midian, the law applies to all items acquired from a non-Jew.

*Items about which there is a question should be immersed without a blessing or, better still, immersed following an item for which a blessing was made.

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

Dippee Da'Doo

Take your pots and pans to your local mikveh to fulfill this mitzvah.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

In truth, however, his period of "sadness" begins on the 17th of Tammuz (yesterday) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

From the first day of the month of Av onward (August 1, 2011), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, the following activities are prohibited (along with all of the above):

1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

This Treat was originally posted on Friday, July 10, 2009.

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

Subdued Summer

Arrange your summer plans to reflect the somber events in Jewish history.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Smashing The Tablets

The sages declare that five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz, which is why the day is observed as a fast day. Days of what we might now call “bad karma” (on which bad things consistently occur) were, according to Jewish tradition, set early in Jewish history, and the seventeenth of Tammuz was fated to become one of the most painful days in Jewish history. It all began when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, discovered the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf, and smashed the Ten Commandments on the seventeenth of Tammuz.

Since the Torah does not mention dates, the Talmud, asks how it is known that the Tablets were shattered on the seventeenth of Tammuz:

It is written (Exodus 24:16-18), "On the seventh day [of Sivan] He called to Moses...and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up onto the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." The [remaining] twenty-four days of Sivan and the sixteen days of Tammuz altogether make forty. On the seventeenth of Tammuz he came down [from the mountain] and shattered the Tablets (Ta’anit 28b).

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was ready to destroy the Israelites and create a new nation descended from Moses. Due to Moses’ fervent prayers, however, God forgave the Children of Israel. God’s anger at the Israelites for their easy fall into apparent idolatry is understandable, but what right had Moses to smash the tablets of law given to him by God? However, according to the Talmud, Shabbat 87a, Moses’ actions were driven by more than anger. He sought to protect the people. By destroying the Tablets, Moses created a situation in which the people had never fully received the Torah, so they could not be charged with having transgressed its laws.

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

The Consequence of the Smashed Tablets

The Seventeenth of Tammuz is the beginning of the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temple. Read tomorrow’s Treat to learn about the Three Weeks.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days in the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known. On Tuesday (July 19), the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed.

As mentioned in the Talmud, five events are commemorated on this solemn day:

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the first Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the first and second Temples.
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the first Temple era.
5. Apustamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

Based on the biblical verses found in Zachariah Chapters 7 and 8, it is our practice to fast on the 17th of Tammuz from dawn to nightfall.

This Treat was originally posted on July 18, 2008.

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

Bright and Early

Tomorrow, Tuesday morning, get up before dawn and enjoy a hearty pre-fast breakfast.

Friday, July 15, 2011


“Summertime, And the livin' is easy...” especially if you are heading for a cruise vacation. Ahh, the fresh sea air, the beautiful sights and the glorious gastronomic feasts that will certainly be served. While some cruise-lines offer short three or four day sailings, a real vacation cruise generally lasts a week. If a cruise lasts seven days, it always includes Shabbat.

The question of traveling on a ship on Shabbat is not a new one. However, whereas in the past people traveled on ships out of necessity (business, immigration), the question today is most often associated with pleasure.

When booking a cruise, it is best to determine which day of the week the cruise begins. Departing less than three days before Shabbat raises the concern that seasickness (and the inability to get truly settled in) will impede a person’s Oneg Shabbat (enjoyment of Shabbat). Therefore, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are considered the best days for departing, although some authorities include Wednesday.

Once a person has taken (temporary) ownership of their cabin, thus making it their “home” and the ship has left port, the same rules of Shabbat apply as if one is staying in a hotel (i.e. electronic keys would be a problem). If a ship comes to port and docks before Shabbat, then one may continue to consider it no different than a hotel and may come and go as one wishes. However, if a ship docks on Shabbat, passengers must remain on board until Saturday night.

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

Book It

If you are looking to take a cruise, research “kosher cruise” options.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Alone At Last - Yichud Room

According to Jewish law, a man and a woman who are not married to each other may not be secluded alone in a room or other private space. To comply with this law, couples who are dating, spend a great deal of time in public places or in the company of other people. This law includes an engaged couple and, in fact, applies up until the moment the groom places the ring upon the bride’s finger under the chuppah.

In Hebrew, words often have a positive and a negative meaning. Yichud is the term used to describe this law prohibiting “unchaperoned time alone,” but it is also the Yichud Room to which the new bride and groom are escorted immediately after the chuppah (at Ashkenazi weddings*).

Although there have been times and communities in which the post-chuppah yichud was meant to be a time during which the couple actually consumated the marriage, that is no longer the custom today. In the Yichud Room today, it is customary that the bride and groom enjoy a light meal (in many cases they have been fasting during the day until the conclusion of the ceremony) and exchange small gifts. By the very act of being secluded in a room, the bride and groom are making a public declaration of their married status.

As a significant part of the wedding, there is ceremony and fanfare surrounding the Yichud Room ritual. The couple is escorted to the room directly from the chuppah with dancing and music, and the room is checked by the couples’ two “witnesses” to ensure that no one else is in the room. Once the door is closed, it is guarded so that no one disturbs the bride and groom. They remain sequestered for approximately 8-10 minutes (thus giving them private time together during a very public event).

*While the Yichud Room is primarily an Ashkenazi customs, some Sephardi couples also enter the Yichud Room after the wedding feast.

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

Family Wedding Planning

If you are currently planning a wedding, research the minhagim (customs) of your family.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Algerian Purims

Previously, Jewish Treats has presented the history of “Minor Purims,” days on which particular communities commemorate being saved from tragedy. (See Purim of Florence and Purim of The Curtains*). Algiers has two such dates:

The small, ancient Algerian Jewish community flourished in the 14th century, when Jews fled the Christian “reconquista” of the Iberian peninsula. It is noted as home to two scholars of great renown: Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (aka Rivash, 1326 – 1408), and Rabbi Solomon ben Simon Duran (aka Rashbash, c. 1400 – 1467).

In the 16th century, the Algerian Jewish community, despite living within the Ottoman empire, was not beyond the reach of Christian Spain and its Inquisition. Continually looking to expand Spain’s potential international empire, in 1541, King Charles I of Spain (also known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) led a Spanish fleet against Algiers. Bad weather plagued the expedition, and the day the troops began to disembark an exceptional storm sunk at least 30 ships, wrecked 15 or so more, and dispersed the remainder. The Spanish Fleet retreated. The Jewish community credited their salvation to the prayers of Rabbi Solomon Duran, the grandson of the Rashbash, and, in commemoration, celebrated the 4th of Cheshvan as Purim Edom (“Edom” being a euphamism for the belligerent Christianity of Spain).

Two hundred years later, the Spanish Fleet once again threatened Algeria. This time they were under the command of an Irish expatriate, General Alexander (Alejandro) O’Reilly. While history attributes the victory to the courageous defense led by Dey Mohammed Ibn Uman, the legend of the Jewish community has it that flames shot out of the graves of the Ribash and the Rashbash defeating the invaders. In celebration of having once again escaped Spanish rule (which was still supporting the Inquisition), a second Purim, Purim Tammuz, was declared for 11 Tammuz.

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


Support your country’s military. Their protection is of unquestionable value to the Jewish community as well as the community at large.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What’s in the Book: the Twelve Prophets - Joel

The Book of Joel is a mere four chapters long. The prophet Joel lived in the Kingdom of Judea and prophesied during the reign of the wicked King Manasseh (c. 600 B.C.E.).

Joel’s prophecy compares the coming destruction of Judea to the destruction caused by a great swarm of locust. (“For a people has come up upon my land, mighty, and without pity ... He has laid waste to my vine and blasted my fig-tree...” - 1:6-7).

Joel called upon the Israelites to repent, and promised that God is willing to receive their repentance. He told of the day when the priests will weep and say: “Spare, O Lord, Your people, and give not Your heritage to shame, for nations to rule over them! Why should they say among the people. 'Where is their G-d?’" (2:17).

The Book of Joel also foretells the coming of the Messiah. The Messianic era will be a time of great wonders, as well as a time when all of Israel will know God (“... your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” - 3:1.)

The Messianic era will also be a time of great terror for the nations that oppressed Israel in the name of God, pretending that they were committing their heinous acts as part of God's will. (“If you render retribution on My behalf, swiftly and speedily will I return your retribution upon your own head. .... You have sold the children of Judah and Jerusalem to the sons of Yevanim, that you might remove them far from their border; behold, I will stir them up out of the place where you have sold them, and will return your retribution upon your own head” - 4:4-7).

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

Walk With A Smile

Present the world with a panim yafot, a pleasant face.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hide The Knives

Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the legal compendium the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, relates the disturbing story of a man who became so emotional while reciting the third blessing of Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), which asks God to restore Jerusalem (meaning the Holy Temple), that he stabbed himself in the gut with his own knife. The story is recorded as a way of explaining the custom of covering or removing all knives from the table before reciting Birkat Hamazon. Apparently this custom was common enough that it merited mention in the Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 180:5).

A second explanation, mentioned in the Mishna Berura, is that the table upon which one eats is likened to a miz'bay'ach, an altar. The actual altar in the Holy Temple was made without the use of any iron implements: “It shall be a stone altar, and you shall not lift up any iron to it” (Deuteronomy 27:5). Iron, which is a general reference to any hard metal, is used for making weapons, which enable a person to easily take the life of another. Therefore, iron is viewed as unfit for the making of the Holy altar.

While eating, of course, a knife may be on the table because it is useful. Once the meal is over, however, knives serve no purpose and should be either covered or removed. Seems strange...imagine, whereas today we most often use table knives that are, on the whole, somewhat dull (unless using steak knives), for much of history it was common for people to have one (sharp) knife that was used both during meals and for a variety of other uses.

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

Sharp As A Knife

Keeping safe is a mitzvah, so make sure the knives you use to prepare food are properly sharpened (one is more likely to cut one's self with a dull knife).

Friday, July 8, 2011

What Are We Reading?

Those familiar with synagogue ritual know that there is a weekly Torah reading cycle. In the Fall, there are the inspiring stories of creation and the history of the origins of the Jewish people (Genesis). With winter comes the enslavement, freedom, and the journey in the wilderness (Exodus). Winter thawing into spring brings the laws of the Temple (Leviticus), followed by additional Temple laws and more of the wilderness history (Numbers). Finally, as summer fades into fall, there is a summation of the entire history of Israel as seen through the eyes of our great leader Moses (Deuteronomy).

But this was not always the Torah reading cycle shared by all Jews. In some Jewish communities, the reading of the Torah was spread out over a three year period, rather than one year.

Both reading cycles have historical roots. While the reading of the Torah on a weekly basis was mandated by the Torah, the exact amount to be read was not originally specified, and two different traditions emerged.

In the cities of ancient Israel, the custom was to divide the Torah into 155 parts, which spread the reading over a three year period.

In the cities dominated by the Jewish leaders of Babylon (post-Roman exile), it became the custom to divide the Torah into 54 portions (parshioht). Depending on whether the year was a leap year or not, certain parshioht were combined. The divisions in this annual cycle ensured the fulfilment of the instructions of Ezra the Scribe: that the section of rebuke in Leviticus (parashat B’chukotai) be read just before Shavuot and that the great rebuke in Deuteronomy (parashat Kee Tavo) be read just before Rosh Hashana.

This Treat was originally published on Friday, December 12, 2008.

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

Weekly Message

Subscribe today to receive a message on the weekly parasha from Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Goodly Tents

Much of Jewish life is built around community. Jews often live close to each other, often with a synagogue or synagogues at the center of their neighborhoods. As important as living in a community is, Judaism has always put a premium on maintaining individual privacy.

In the era of the Talmud, those living in towns and cities often built their homes around communal courtyards--comparable, perhaps, to today’s townhouse communities. Because people lived so close to each other, the Talmud contains detailed discussions about insuring privacy. For instance, it is written: “In a courtyard that one shares with others, a man should not make a door facing another person's door nor a window facing another person's window...On the side of the street, however, he may make a door facing another person's door and a window facing another person's window” (Baba Batra 60b).

Protecting individual privacy by not placing doors and windows that invade other’s privacy is more than good manners. The sages understood that respecting the privacy, and thus the modesty, of every Jewish family, is critical to maintaining the Jewish people’s mission to be a holy nation. Thus the Talmud continues:

Whence are these rules derived?--Rabbi Johanan said: From the verse of the Scripture, “And Balaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes” (Numbers 24:2). This indicates that he saw that the doors of their tents did not face one another, whereupon he exclaimed: “Worthy are these that the Divine presence should rest upon them!”

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

Window Treatments

To protect your privacy, install curtains over your windows.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rabbeinu Tam

While Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak 1040-1105) is considered the premier commentator on the Torah and the Talmud, he is also noted as the grandfather of Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir (1100-1171). Also known as Rabbeinu Tam (our teacher, the complete*), Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir was one of the most important of the Talmudic scholars known as the Tosafists and a leader of his generation.

A successful wine merchant and financier, Rabbeinu Tam dedicated his life to Torah study. He received questions on halacha (Jewish law) from all over the world and scholars traveled great distances to hear his Talmudic discourses at his yeshiva in Ramerupt, France. He was also a noted authority on Hebrew grammar and a poet whose work drew the attention of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra.

Alas, 12th century France was not the easiest place for Jews to live. In 1147, Rabbeinu Tam survived being stabbed five times in a pogrom during the Second Crusade. He then moved to Troyes.

In addition to his scholarship, Rabbeinu Tam is known for his rabbinic disagreements with his grandfather, Rashi--most famously about mezuzah and tefillin. Rashi stated that a mezuzah should be affixed vertically on the doorpost, Rabbeinu Tam said horizontally. While Sephardim follow Rashi and affix the mezuzah straight up and down, Ashkenazim place it at an angle as a compromise between the two opinions. Rabbeinu Tam also believed that the verses in the tefillin boxes should be written and placed in a different order than that stated by Rashi. Although all standard tefillin are made according to Rashi’s opinion, many who are concerned for Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, also put on an additional pair of tefillin that contain scrolls that are written according to his viewpoint. These are known, not surprisingly, as Rabbeinu Tam Tefilllin.

Today, 4 Tammuz, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbeinu Tam.

*Tam, complete, is used to describe our forefather Jacob in Genesis 15.

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


Take a moment from your busy summer schedule to call your grandparents.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


For 400 years prior to World War I, Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Although the Turks generally allowed Jews to live in peace, by the late 19th century, the government of Palestine had grown inefficient and corrupt. And while they permitted the sale of land to Jews, these lands had been controlled by absentee landlords who had generally stripped their properties of their natural resources. Taxation was exorbitant. Local officials and Arab marauders often harassed Jewish settlers.

Since Great Britain had previously expressed support for Jewish settlement, the Jews of Palestine hoped for an allied victory. In Zichron Ya'akov, a small northern town, a few Jews did more than hope. Aaron Aaronson and his two sisters, Sarah and Rebecca, used Aaron’s position as a world-renown agronomist as a cover to run a spying operation known as NILI (Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker, the Eternal One of Israel will not lie--I Samuel 15:29). Along with Avshalom Feinberg and Joseph Lishansky, and others, the Aaronsons traversed the country, supposedly gathering information on locust infestation.

At first, the British were not interested in the information supplied by NILI. By 1917, however, NILI was communicating with a British frigate anchored off shore using light signals. They later switched to homing pigeons, and this was their undoing.

In the Fall of 1917, one such pigeon took a rest stop on the roof of an Ottoman official’s home. The message's code was broken, NILI headquarters in Zichron Ya'akov were raided, and the spies caught and tortured. Sarah Aaronson committed suicide in Turkish captivity. Only Aaron Aaronson escaped capture.

Their work, however, gave General Edmund Allenby the information he needed to strike from the south, through the desert, at Be’er Sheva, leading directly to British victory. The victory occurred just one month after the capture of the NILI operatives.

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

Vacation Reading

Going on vacation? Take a Jewish book along.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Guilty By Association? - A July 4th Treat

Historic references to David Salisbury Franks (c. 1740-1793) do not mention anti-Semitism. Franks had a far more serious cloud hanging over him--the unfortunate honor of serving as an Aide-de-Camp to General Benedict Arnold.

A native of Philadelphia, Franks spent his early adulthood in Montreal, where he was a successful merchant and the parnas (president) of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. His sympathetic feelings for the rebelling colonies led Franks to join the Colonial Army, becoming the army’s paymaster (sometimes using his own funds to pay the troops).

Quickly rising in rank, Franks had attained the rank of major when he was assigned as an aide-de camp to the military governor of Philadelphia and later commander of West Point, Benedict Arnold. When General Arnold attempted to supply the British with the plans for West Point, suspicion inevitably fell onto his two aides-de-camp, Franks and Richard Varick. And while even George Washington believed in their innocence, Franks and Varick demanded a full court-martial to clear their names.

Exonerated, Franks continued his military/political career as a courier of important dispatches to John Jay in Spain and Benjamin Franklin in France, including a copy of the signed peace treaty. He then served as a U.S. diplomat in England, France, Spain and Morocco. But his political opponents used old suspicions to end his career. In 1789, Franks left the diplomatic service and received 400 acres in honor of his Revolutionary War service. His final years were spent working for the Bank of the United States.

In 1793, Franks died during a Yellow Fever outbreak that ravaged Philadelphia. A neighbor, after rescuing Franks' body from the burial cart and a pauper’s grave, had his body interred in the Christ Church Burial Yard rather than the Jewish cemetery.

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

Extra Water

If you are spending time outside this holiday, bring extra water for your own health or to share with others.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Harts of Quebec

The first Jewish settlers in the area now known as Quebec (but which was referred to as “Lower Canada” by the British) arrived with the British soldiers during the “French and Indian War” (1754-1763). (Jews and other non-Catholics had not been permitted in New France.)

One of four Jewish officers in the British Army, Lieutenant Aaron Hart (born 1724, London, England) had been living in New York. After the war, however, Hart settled in the Canadian town of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers). This scion of a mercantile family, it was not long before Hart achieved success as a businessman and a landholder. As the Jewish population in Lower Canada grew, Hart became active in the community and was a founding member of Montreal’s Shearith Israel synagogue. Hart was equally blessed in his family life; after his death at age 76, he was survived by his wife, Catherine, four sons and four daughters.

Three of his sons were also fascinating historical figures:

Moses Hart was a successful businessman whose political aspirations continually ended in failure. Although his Jewishness may have kept him from office, his failure at politics may also have been the result of his personal life--his wife left him due to his infidelity, he was excessively fascinated by steam ships, and he published philosophical tracts on Judaism and Deism.

Ezekiel Hart, on the other hand, was very successful in politics. He was elected to the Parliament of Lower Canada in 1807, but, after taking the oath of office on a Hebrew Bible, was made to stand down. When he was elected a second (and third) time, and recited the traditional oath of office, the legislature still pushed him out of office.

Benjamin Hart suffered similar discrimination. The local militia commander felt that Christians could not serve with or under a Jew. During the War of 1812, however, Benjamin served first as a private and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, a position of which he was stripped when he signed the Annexation Manifesto calling for political union with the United States.

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

Shabbat Toasts

This Shabbat, say an extra l'chaim in honor of the National holiday (July 1 - Canada Day, July 4 - Independence Day)!