Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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

Amos was a herdsman of Tekoa, who prophesied during the reign of Kings Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judea.

Amos’ initial prophecies declared that the neighboring city-states (Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab) would be destroyed for their various sins, that Judea would be destroyed because they rejected God’s law and did not keep His statutes(2:4), and, finally, that the Kingdom of Israel would also come to an inglorious end for its improper treatment of the poor and righteous, for offenses against the code of sexual conduct and inappropriate behavior at a shrine.

Through Amos, God warned the people, and reminded them of God’s greatness (sending rain to one town but not its neighbor, instead sending pestilence), but the warnings went unheeded. He warned the leaders of Israel, the so-called “great” people, that those who feel most secure will be the first to suffer.

Amos’ visions often take on a pattern in which God appears unwilling to allow for repentance, suggesting that the Israelites are too far gone to change their way. However, the Book of Amos concludes with memorable words of consolation: "I will turn the captivity of My people Israel... they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall make gardens, and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them..." (9:14-15)

The Book of Amos also contains the narrative of Amaziah the priest of Beth-el who notified Jeroboam II that Amos was conspiring against him (predicting Jeroboam II’s death). Amaziah ordered Amos to stop prophesying. In response, Amos stated that God had chosen him as a prophet, and that he could not withhold God’s message.

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

School Uniform

If your child has outgrown last year’s school uniform, pass it on to another family.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Appointing Justice

According to Jewish tradition, God created the world employing the attributes of both rachamim (mercy) and din (justice). Since God is constantly renewing the act of creation, it is with these two attributes that He views the world.

All of humankind is expected to strive for creating a just world. The judicial system is discussed numerous times in the Torah, and setting up a system of courts is expected not only of Jews, but is one of the Seven Noahide laws as well. And although humankind cannot realize absolutely perfect justice as can God (He being omniscient), it is expected that we try.

In order for proper justice to prevail, the judge cannot be bribed, may not be swayed by the personal status of the litigants, and, of course, must be fully and competently versed in the law.

In fact, it is written in the Talmud that “Resh Lakish said: He who appoints an incompetent judge over the Community is as though he had planted an asherah (a tree “sacred” to idolators) in Israel, for it is written (Deuteronomy 16:18), ‘You shall appoint judges and officers over you,’ and immediately after it is written (Deuteronomy 16:19): ‘You will not plant for yourself an asherah of any kind of idolatrous tree’” (Sanhedrin 7b).

It seems odd to compare appointing an unqualified judge to setting up an idol! But both injustice and idolatry pervert the world as God expects it to be. And while it would be easy to blame such an appointment on carelessness or ignorance, one who can’t be bothered to properly vet the appointee, demonstrates a total disregard for truth and justice.

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

In Your Own Place

Every person faces moments when he/she must act as a “judge.” Do so with as much merciful justice as possible.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stop and Smell the Roses

There is no common word for people with an impaired olfactory system (anosmia, for those who wish to know) such as there is for one with impaired vision or impaired hearing. Smell, however, is just as important and pleasurable a sense as sight or sound.

Rabbi Zutra ben Tobiah said in the name of Rav: Whence do we learn that a blessing should be said over sweet odors? Because it says, ‘Let every soul praise the Lord’ (Psalms 150:6). What is that which gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body?--You must say that this is a fragrant smell (Brachot 43b).

Just as various categories of food require different blessings (bread, cake, fruit, etc), there are different blessings for fragrances, which are determined by the source of the smell. Here is a basic overview:

(Note: Each blessing begins with Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam/ Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe.)

1) Asher natan ray’ach tov b’payrot/ Who gave a fragrant scent to fruit is recited when smelling any fruit, whether on or off the tree. This blessing is only recited if one intends just to smell the fruit. If one happens to smell it while eating it, cooking or just handling it, the blessing is not necessary.

2) Boray ah'tzay v’sameem/ Who created fragrant woods is recited on fragrances from a tree or tree-like plant. Tree-like is defined as a perennial with a hard stem and includes plants such as myrtle and roses.

3) Boray eesvay v’sameem/Who created fragrant herbs is recited over scents from soft plants.

4) Boray meenay v’sameem/ Who created various kinds of fragrances is recited over non-plant fragances. Boray meenay v’sameem is the most familiar of these blessings since it is included in the Havdallah ceremony after Shabbat. Like the Sheh’hah’kohl blessing over food, Boray meenay v’sameem is used when one does not know the proper blessing over the scent.

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

Smell Appreciation

Take a walk in your garden with a new appreciation for the multitude of different plants and the pleasure each one brings us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Friday Night Feast

With candles burning brightly and fine wine for kiddush, Friday night dinner is a meal that is designed for “atmosphere.” However, the actual fare of Shabbat dinner varies, depending on custom and personal taste. Many people simply serve their favorite foods, while others stick to the traditional Shabbat cuisine. A typical, traditional Shabbat menu includes:

Fish: Considered both a reminder of the creation of life (since fish were the first animals created) and of the Messianic Age (when it is said that the righteous will feast upon the Leviathan, a giant fish), fish has almost always held a special place of honor at the Shabbat table. In the Talmud (Shabbat 118b), fish is specifically mentioned as a way in which one can demonstrate delight in Shabbat, even if it is simply a bit of chopped up (gefilte) fish. Generally served as an appetizer, fish, which is never eaten together with meat, is served on separate plates and eaten with separate “fish forks” in accordance with the prescription of Maimonides.

Soup: While there is no specific source for serving chicken soup on Shabbat, it is a Friday night staple in many traditional homes.

Meat/Chicken: It is a mitzvah to enjoy Shabbat. The sages often relate the feeling of oneg (enjoyment and pleasure) to eating meat. Since meat was often financially prohibitive, chicken became a frequent substitute.

Rice/Kugel: In Sephardic homes, it is customary to have a dish that is made with rice. In Ashkenazic homes, one is often served kugel, traditionally lokshin (noodle) or potato. Kugel, similar to “pudding,” is a dish that varies greatly in its ingredients, depending upon family preferences.

This Treat was originally posted on February 20, 2009

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


Tonight is Shabbat, enjoy a traditional feast or some of your favorite foods.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kiss and Make Up

Today, August 25th, is the anonymously anointed “Kiss and Make Up Day.” Perhaps it is related to August 27th --“Global Forgiveness Day.” These modern “holidays” have little historic meaning, but Jewish Treats would be remiss in not noting that, in most years, the end of August is within the Hebrew month of Elul. (This year, Elul begins on August 31st.)

As Elul begins, so begins the 30 day countdown to Rosh Hashana, the New Year. Rosh Hashana is also Yom Ha’din, the Day of Judgment. On the first of Tishrei, God judges the world as a whole, each nation and each individual, and determines what will be their fate in the year to come.

As a preparation for the Day of Judgment, Elul is a time of teshuva, repentance--an opportune time for self-reflection and making amends. In fact, it is more important that a person put things right between him/herself and his/her fellow human than asking God for forgiveness for any particular sin against Heaven.

For this reason, the month of Elul is a time when many Jews make extra efforts to repair damaged relationships. This may be as simple an act as paying back the $5 a friend lent back in March. It may also entail the far more difficult task of seeking out a family member or an acquaintance and confessing/apologizing for hurtful behavior (blaming them for something, gossip, etc.)

While “kiss and make up” is a cute way of expressing this very important process of creating peace between people, teshuva is a serious and meaningful process. One should not seek forgiveness unless one really is sorry for what was done. The correlation to “Global Forgiveness Day” is an excellent reminder as well that, according to Jewish law, those who refuse (after 3 requests) to accept a sincere apology, may themselves be committing a transgression.

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

First Step

Begin the process of teshuva by making an honest assessment of whom you might have hurt or offended this past year. (And check out Project Forgiveness.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is It Kosher?

All natural produce in its original form is kosher -- including fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Once anything is processed -- such as frozen foods, canned goods, repackaged goods, juices, etc., supervision is required. Processing raises many questions, such as: Are the processing machines ever used for non-kosher foodstuffs (e.g. lard on machines to keep things running smoothly is a common problem)?

Milk must come from a kosher animal, and eggs must come from a kosher bird. (Any egg with a blood-spot on the yolk is not allowed.) Kosher cheese, grape juice and wine must all be made under kosher supervision. The presence of uncertified grape juice is what makes many seemingly-kosher products (especially fruit drinks and soft drinks) not kosher. The presence of non-kosher gelatin (an animal by-product) also renders many products not kosher.

Dairy products and meat products (including poultry) may not be mixed. Various Jewish communities are also careful about not mixing dairy and fish.

Lists of kosher animals appear in Leviticus 11 and in Deuteronomy 14. Kosher animals have completely split hooves and chew their cud (cows, sheep, goats, deer, bison, etc). Those that have only one sign (only chew their cud - camel, hare, hyrax; only have a split hoof - pig) are not kosher. Animals of prey are not kosher.

Birds of prey are not kosher. Kosher birds are known based on tradition (most commonly chicken, duck, turkey, etc).

Kosher fish have fins and scales, ruling out crustaceans, sharks and tentacled creatures.

Birds and animals must be slaughtered according to a very precise procedure in order to be kosher. A botched slaughtering renders the animal unkosher. All blood must be removed from kosher-slaughtered animals prior to cooking because eating/drinking blood is forbidden. No ritual slaughter is required for fish.

Further Information:
No certification required on these products
Kosher supervision symbols

This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

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

Buy Kosher

Alter your shopping list to include kosher brands.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Hebron Massacre of 1929

One of the most ancient cities in the land of Israel, Hebron is mentioned in the Bible as the location of the Cave of the Patriarchs (Me'arat Ha'mach'pelah), which Abraham purchased as Sarah’s burial site. Furthermore, at the time of the conquest of the Promised Land, Hebron is specifically singled out: “They gave Hebron to Caleb”(Joshua 1:20).

Because of Me'arat Ha'mach'pelah, Hebron has always been considered a holy city and, for most of its existence, Hebron was a city of Arabs and Middle Eastern Jews (Sephardim, Iranian, Iraqi, etc), who shared a culture and language with their neighbors.

Following World War I, the British assumed control of the territory of Palestine. The Arabs resented the influx of European Jews that followed. In Hebron, the creation of the Yeshiva of Hebron, a branch of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Russia, significantly increased these tensions.

In the summer of 1929, the underlying tensions in the land of Palestine were ignited by the fiery words of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem (chief religious authority for Muslims). Al-Husseini was passionately nationalistic and fiercely anti-Jewish. (He would later become an ally of Adolph Hitler.) On August 22, when 3 Jews and 3 Arabs were killed in a fight in Jerusalem, al-Husseini promoted the spread of rumors that the Jews were calling for a general massacre of the Arabs. Sadly, the opposite occurred.

The Hebron Massacre began on Friday evening (August 23) and lasted through the weekend. When rioters appeared with knives and sticks, many Jews took refuge in the town’s small police station. Others were hidden by Arab neighbors. The rest of the Jews were offered little protection by the British police, and by the end of the weekend 67 Jews were dead and many others wounded. Afterward, the entire Jewish community was forced to leave the city.

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

A Bit of Research

When you find a Jewish Treat interesting, take some time to research the topic further.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who Has Kept Us Alive

The Book of Ecclesiastes frequently repeats the theme of, “There is nothing new under the sun.” For King Solomon, the composer of Ecclesiastes, this focus was intended to inspire people to do good and to stop looking for new experiences. There is nothing new under the sun because God created the universe and nothing is new to Him.

That does not, however, mean that we should not appreciate new opportunities and exciting events. To the Jew, the best means of demonstrating appreciation when these things occur is by praising God. The blessing Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu was specifically composed by the sages for such moments.

The words of the blessing are:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

New events, as defined by the sages, can be once in a lifetime, once per year or even once in a season. Therefore, the Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing is recited on each of the major Jewish holidays and at the first performance of annual mitzvot such as the Purim megillah reading, lighting Chanukah candles, or blowing the shofar. Additionally, it is recited when eating a ripe, seasonal fruit one has not eaten in the new season, upon buying an expensive new article of clothing, seeing a friend one has not seen in thirty days, and at other life-event ceremonies.

The focus of the blessing is not on the activity in which one is about to partake, but on the joy one should feel at being alive and able to partake in this experience. For example, it is not just being alive when one lights the Chanukah candles, but a recognition the we are being sustained God at every single moment of our lives.

A Call To Appreciate

While not all situations call for the recitation of Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu, many present excellent opportunities for appreciation and gratitude to God.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shabbat Medicine

Twenty-first century medical technology has a pill for nearly every illness and ache. Even those who prefer alternative medicines often purchase their cures in liquid or pill form. Most people today have no familiarity with the potential medicinal cures found in their local gardens.

Prior to pharmaceuticals, it was common for people to possess the skill of preparing their own remedies. Most homes even had a mortar and pestle, the tools for grinding ingredients. Grinding (tochein), however, is one of the forbidden agricultural acts included in the 39 melachot (creative works forbidden on Shabbat).

Since the sanctity of Shabbat is a principal component of Jewish life, the sages enacted numerous laws known as g’zeirot, fences, in order to protect the Shabbat. One such g’zeirah prohibits the use of medications, even prepared pills, on Shabbat, lest it lead to grinding or other forbidden labors.

At the same time, care of one who is ill (not merely a person in discomfort) takes priority over Shabbat in Jewish life (thus, in case of danger to life, one must violate Shabbat if necessary, e.g. drive, call an ambulance, etc.). Throughout the ages, Jewish authorities have taken each medical advance into consideration in defining this prohibition. For instance, doctors often prescribe multi-day regimens of anti-biotics or other medicines. If one has started taking this regimen prior to Shabbat, then one may continue it on Shabbat. However, if possible, one should hold off beginning anti-biotics on Shabbat.

What about mundane medicines such as aspirin/ibuprofen/acetaminophen, or other pain management drugs? The accepted position of today’s halachic authorities is that one may take medicine if one will be forced to lie down due to discomfort. In fact, even if one has a pain that they believe will increase to the point that they will be forced to lie down later, they may take the medicine immediately.

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

Don't Be A Martyr

If you are questioning whether to take medicine on Shabbat or not, remember that the Torah does not want anyone to suffer. Be honest with yourself in judging what is best to do, and, if possible, ask your rabbi.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bread and Clothing

Until recently, the repercussions of converting to Judaism meant more than just renouncing one’s previous religious beliefs. More often than not, a person who converted to Judaism also cut off ties with his/her family (and in many cases the family sought his/her arrest and punishment). Additionally, converts were often forced to forfeit any personal wealth that they might possess. This was a challenge for which the Torah was well prepared. Scripture, in Deuteronomy 10:18, states that God “loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.” Throughout the Torah, the Jewish people are reminded of the importance of being kind to converts (and widows and orphans). Throughout history, communities often took it upon themselves to help converts support themselves.

In Genesis Rabbah (78:5), there is an interesting exchange about the broader meaning of the phrase “food and clothing.” The Midrash presents Akilas, a convert, who asks both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua about the meaning of the verse in Deuteronomy.

Rabbi Eliezer responded to Akilas by pointing to Genesis 28:20, where Jacob vows to dedicate Beth-El as a place of God “If God will be with me...and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear.” Jacob had to ask God for the basic necessities, however, for the convert, God promises in Deuteronomy to give them bread and clothing freely, without their asking.

Rabbi Joshua, on the other hand, taught that "bread" refers to the Torah (a common analogy), while "clothing" means a tallit (prayer shawl). Rabbi Joshua explained that the promise of “bread and clothing” means that even though converts are not raised with the Torah, they too will be able to attain a high level of Jewish spirituality.

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

Providing The Dough

If your community has a conversion program, and you are able to, give a donation to help this important community organization.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Terrible Case of Leo Frank

The case of Leo Frank is incredibly disturbing.

Born in Texas, but raised in Brooklyn, NY, Frank moved to Atlanta in 1908. Although he married the daughter of a prominent southern Jewish family, Lucille Selig, the southern culture made little sense to Frank. Many of his neighbors were still pining for the glory of the Confederacy and cursing Northern industrialists.

The corpse of Mary Phagan, a 13 year old white factory worker at the National Pencil Company, where Frank was the manager, was found in the factory’s basement near the “negro bathroom” on April 26, 1913. From the outset, the police investigation was mishandled, evidence ignored or misplaced.

Eventually, suspicion fell on Frank (who had been working off hours). Most of the police’s case rested on circumstantial evidence and the accessory confession of Jim Conley, the janitor and an ex-con. Conley’s testimony was highly suspect (his story changed frequently) and most historians believe he was the true culprit (a sentiment later expressed by Conley’s lawyer).

Convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Frank would probably have received an acquittal were it not for sensationalist journalism that influenced and enraged the populace at the murder of a white girl, supposedly at the hands of a Northern Jew. The defense even asked for a mistrial due to jury intimidation by the mob.

On June 21, 1915, Frank’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the outgoing governor of Georgia (since he was no longer under political threat).

The “public” was outraged. A group of prominent citizens, dubbing themselves the “Knights of Mary Phagan” decided to take the law into their own hands. On August 1, after being abducted from jail, Frank was strung from a tree and hanged.

In 1982, Frank’s office boy came forward and testified that he had seen Conley at the murder scene but had been threatened with his life if he spoke up. Frank received an official, if ambiguous pardon, in 1986.

In the aftermath of the lynching, hundreds of Jews left Georgia. The events of the Leo Frank case led both to a revival of the Ku Klux Klan as well as the creation of the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League.

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


Make an effort to befriend newcomers to your community.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Case of Gout

The Jewish view on healing is that while all healing is in God’s power, the Almighty works His will through human hands. This being the case, it is interesting to note the tone of rebuke in the case recorded in II Chronicles 16:12: “In the 39th year of his reign, Asa was diseased in his feet; his disease was exceeding great; yet in his disease he did not seek God, but [went] to the physicians.” Asa, the third monarch of the Kingdom of Judah, was a righteous king who waged war against idolatry. As a known righteous man, why did he not pray for healing?

What was wrong with King Asa’s feet? According to Sotah 10a: Rav Judah said in the name of Rav, Podagra [gout] attacked him [Asa].” In a similar statement in Sanhedrin 48b, Gout is further defined “He was afflicted with gout. Mar Zutra the son of Rabbi Nahman asked Rabbi Nahman; What is it [gout] like?--He answered: Like a needle in the raw flesh.”

Gout is actually a form of recurrent inflammatory arthritis that most often strikes the big toe. A too rich diet is considered to be a major trigger for gout. Thus, for much of history, it was known as “the disease of kings” or "a rich man’s disease.”

At the end of his days, King Asa was stricken with what must have been perceived by him as a disease common to one in his position (an old, rich king). And while neither the Tanach nor the Midrash delve into his reasoning, one could imagine that he turned to the physicians rather than to prayer because he was only seeking pain management. But the Jewish view on healing means that one should both visit the physician and pray to God.

August is national foot health month.

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

Even For The Little Things

Remember that one can, and should, pray to God for all ailments (even just a pain in the foot).

Monday, August 15, 2011

No Holiday As Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, in Talmudic times it was said: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av...” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised...’” (Proverbs 31:30).

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu B’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Today is Tu B’Av.

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

Date Night

Have a nice dinner out with your special someone.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thank You For Having Me

Giving an appropriate gift to a host or hostess is the topic of many an etiquette column. But when one is invited to a Shabbat meal, not just any gift will do.

Although “Miss Manners” might recommend that one bring flowers to a dinner host, gift bouquets can be somewhat awkward for a Shabbat observant host(ess), as placing the flowers in water falls into the category of planting, which is one of the 39 melachot (creative labors prohibited on Shabbat).(Click here to read more about flowers and Shabbat.)

Bringing house-ware type gifts (a pretty serving plate or a wine pitcher) leads to another quandary. Transferring possessions from one person to another constitutes a transaction, and thus may be performed only on weekdays.

With these limitations in mind, most people choose to bring a bottle of kosher wine or an edible treat.* Since these items can be consumed at the Shabbat meal, the guest is only adding to the feast rather than transferring ownership of the item. Given this consideration, however, one should not bring food that cannot be eaten at the Shabbat meal (such as a dairy desert to a meat meal or food that needs to be cooked). While candy, nuts or cookies are excellent ways of saying “thank you,” one should still keep "Miss Manners" in mind and check with the host or hostess before bringing an actual food dish.

If one has a particular gift in mind that is not food, Jewish Treats recommends delivering the gift before Shabbat.

*Any gifts can only be brought on Shabbat if both the guest and the host are within the eiruv.

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

Gift Suggestions

Ask the clerk at you local Kosher store for Shabbat gift suggestions.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Land of Milk and Honey

A land flowing with milk and honey–Eretz zavat chalav u’dvash--is one of the most famous descriptions of the Promised Land. While the rabbis expound that the milk is only that which flows from kosher animals (most prominently goats) and that honey refers not to the product of bees but to the sticky honey of figs and dates--it is a strange description. Has anyone ever seen a land literally flowing with either milk or honey?

However, from the perspective of the sages, this was a literal description of the Land of Israel:

Rami ben Ezekiel once...saw goats grazing under fig-trees while honey was flowing from the figs, and milk ran from them [the goats], and these mingled with each other. “This is indeed,” he remarked, “flowing with milk and honey”... Rabbi Jacob ben Dostai related:...Once I rose up early in the morning and waded up to my ankles in honey from the figs (Ketubot 111b–112a).

Descriptions such as these are difficult to fathom, so it is important to try to understand the meaning of their words.

“Milk and honey” is clearly a poetic metaphor for the physical wealth of the land. In order for there to be an abundance of milk, rich pastures are necessary on which herds can graze. Additionally, for there to be flowing honey from dates and figs, the trees must be laden with fruit and grown in great numbers, since each fruit is itself quite small. Even if one were to interpret dvash as bee’s honey, this too would be a sign of the fertility of the land, since bees need the nectar of many flowers to make their honey.

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

Land of Discovery

Discover more about your Jewish heritage by learning about the history of Israel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Simple Shroud

Death is the great equalizer, and once people have passed away it is irrelevant how wealthy, popular or influential they were or were not. Jewish burial customs are particularly sensitive to this issue, as testified to by the burial custom of the modest shroud.

A Jewish burial shroud is known as tachrichim, a plural word since the shroud is actually made of several garments. Tachrichim means to bind or wrap, since the body of the deceased is wrapped in these shrouds. The universal use of tachrichim stems from the era of the sages.

In ancient times, the expense involved in burying the dead was often harder (financially) on the relatives than the death itself, so they would abandon the body and run away--"until Rabban Gamliel came and adopted a [simple style] burial. Per his instructions, when he died he was carried out in simple garments of linen, and [then] all the people followed his example and carried [the dead] in garments of linen. Said Rabbi Papa: And now it is the general practice [to carry out the dead] even in coarse cloth worth [only one] zuz" (Ketubot 8b).
Since that time, it has been the accepted custom throughout the world for Jews to be buried in a simple, white linen or muslin shroud. There are no buttons, zippers or fasteners and no pockets, since nothing goes with the deceased into the next world. The shroud consists of a shirt (kutonet), pants (mich'na'sa'yim), belt (avnet) and head covering (mitz'nephet). For some, a long jacket (kittel, such as the one worn at the Passover seder or on Yom Kippur) and/or prayer shawl (tallit) are included as well. These garments reflect the dress clothing of the High Priest, and are symbolic of the honor that is paid to the deceased.

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

A Gift After Life

Donate to your local chevra kadisha, Jewish burial society.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Book of Lamentations

On Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, one of the ways that the Jewish people demonstrate their mourning over the loss of both Holy Temples is by refraining from Torah study that brings pleasure to those who study it. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to read only the more somber texts, specifically: 1) Talmudic sections dealing with the destruction of the Temples, and the laws of mourning and excommunication (such as those found in the Talmudic Tractate Moed Katan), 2) the Book of Job, 3) the admonitions and rebukes of the Book of Jeremiah, and 4) the Book of Lamentations.

Eicha, as Lamentations is called in Hebrew, is actually read publicly during the evening service on the night of Tisha B'Av. The five chapters of Eicha are chanted aloud in a mournful and dolorous that even those who do not understand the exact words of the text sense devastation and despair expressed by the prophet.

Attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah (although his name is not found in the book to confirm his authorship), Eicha contains five poetic laments focusing on the destruction of the First Holy Temple. However, upon reading Eicha one will also discover hints to the destruction of the Second Temple. The chapters (except for the last) are written using Hebrew alphabet acrostics (each verse starting with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence).

Tisha B'Av, the fast of the ninth of Av, began at sundown last night. Click here, for more details on Tisha B'Av.

This Treat was originally published on July 29, 2009.

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

Time For Reflection

Take the first step in removing any feeling of ill-will toward others by specifically finding something good in them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tisha B'Av

Tonight, at sunset, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar begins. Known as the Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period from sundown Monday to nightfall on Tuesday, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).

Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

2. The destruction of the First Temple.

3. The destruction of the Second Temple.

4. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar.

5. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.

See here for a brief overview of the day
See here for explanations of the observances
See here for later events on this date

*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand Tisha B’Av.

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


Drink water to prepare for the fast.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).

This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

This Treat was originally published on Friday, July 24, 2009.

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

Shabbat Joy

Even in this time of mourning, remember that Shabbat is a day for joy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Biblical Twins

Today is “Twins Day.” Twins have long been a source of great fascination for many, as demonstrated by the vast number of studies and stories that have used twins as their subject. Twins, however, do not seem to be a subject that fascinates the Torah, but more of a parenthetical note when they occur. In fact, only two sets of Biblical twins are mentioned by name.

Esau and Jacob, the famous fraternal twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, were different from the moment of conception (according to the Midrash, they even struggled with one another in utero). At the moment of birth, when Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as if trying to prevent Esau from being the firstborn, their differences were already palpable: Esau was red and hairy, Jacob was smooth. Their different personalities were marked from the start. It was no surprise that Jacob grew to be a scholar while Esau became a hunter.

The story of Jacob and Esau is one of the best known Biblical stories. Esau sold his firstborn birthright to Jacob. Isaac wished to bless Esau, but Rebecca arranged that Jacob would receive the blessing (most appropriately, since Esau had sold him that right). Thus their enmity was set for eternity.

The other twins mentioned in the Torah are Peretz and Zerah, the sons of Tamar and Judah. Similar to Jacob and Esau, these twins also struggled to be born first. The Torah relates that as Zerah’s hand was the first to emerge from Tamar’s womb, the midwife quickly marked it with a red string. But the arm was drawn back and the other baby, Peretz, emerged first. Nothing more is known about Peretz and Zerah themselves. However, Peretz is mentioned as the forefather of Boaz, the great grandfather of King David.

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

School Is Coming

The school year will begin soon, don’t forget to enroll your children in the local Hebrew/Jewish school.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Time Without

Death is part of life, and Jewish law provides guidelines both for dealing with death and for avoiding the spiritual diminution associated with death. When a person mourns another's death, that person’s soul is deeply affected. During the 22 years that Jacob mourned the death of Joseph (who was not actually dead), it is said that he had no ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration.

The departure of ruach hakodesh during a time of mourning is not unique to Jacob. Most of the Biblical narrative of the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness occurs either during the first or the last few years. The truth is that the Children of Israel spent most of their time in the wilderness waiting for the generation that came out of Egypt to pass away. Rather than believing that God would fulfill His promise and bring them to the Promised Land, the first generation was convinced that they could not conquer the inhabitants of the land.

During the episode of the scouts, when the generation that left Israel refused to go into the promised land (Numbers 13), God declared that all males over the age of 20 (with a few individual exceptions) would not enter the promised land. In this way, God ensured that the Israelites who would conquer the Promise Land would be those who had been born in freedom and who had spent their entire lives (or at least the vast majority of their lives) respecting the Torah’s laws.

As the leader of the Israelites, Moses was emotionally affected by the fact that the first generation out of Egypt rebelled against God. Because he was their leader, he mourned the deaths that followed, and so the sages note that “as long as the generation of the wilderness continued to die, there was no [direct] Divine communication to Moses, as it is said (Deuteronomy 2:16-17), ‘So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead ... that the Lord spake unto me.’ [Only then] came the Divine communication ‘unto me’ (Ta’anit 30b).

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

Lead On

If you are involved in politics, at any level, remember to respect those who asked you to lead.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Coming of Age

The assumption that every Jewish adult has had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is presumptuous. The assumption that every Jewish adult (other than a convert) has become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is logical. After all, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah means only that a man or woman has passed the age of 13 or 12 (respectively), and is therefore recognized as having reached the age of personal religious responsibility.

It is unclear when in recent history the Bar Mitzvah became a fancy celebration. By the 20th century, however, the Bar Mitzvah party was a staple in Jewish society. The development of the Bat Mitzvah celebration, on the other hand, is well documented. The first official Bat Mitzvah was held in March 1922 at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, which was the synagogue of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. The girl celebrating her Bat Mitzvah was his 12 year old daughter, Judith. The ceremony replicated that of a Bar Mitzvah, with the Bat Mitzvah girl being called to the Torah for an aliyah and reading the parasha (Torah portion).

By the 1970s, making an elaborate Bat Mitzvah celebration had became the norm in American Jewish life. In more traditional circles, however, the celebration is more “low-key,” is not part of the synagogue service and does not involve reading from the Torah. Even without the service, however, a girl’s transition into adulthood is still celebrated.

As making large Bar/Bat Mitzvah “coming of age” parties became normative, many articles, and even a few books have been written that focus on re-infusing the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with “meaning.” Perhaps it is a basic question of perspective: Does one have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or does one become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah--a Jewish adult ready to take responsibility for his/her actions?

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

The Gift of Knowledge

Include a Jewish book when you give a Bar or Bat Mitzvah present.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Month of Av

The months of the Jewish year are called in the Torah by number only (the first month, second month, etc.) Over time, during the exile, the months assumed the names given to them by host cultures and thus “Jewish” months as we know them today are actually Babylonian in origin. These names were so common, that 8 out of 12 are mentioned in the later books of the prophets.

Even though the name Av is Babylonian in origin, one cannot help but take note of the subtle nuance of the name. Av means father, and in the fifth month of the Hebrew year, God’s persona of Father is truly demonstrated.

It is stated in the Book of Proverbs (13:24): “One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.” God warned the Jewish people that their misguided behavior would result in disaster, but they ignored His warnings. Thus the beginning of the month of Av was the time of the destruction of both Holy Temples, disasters which the Jewish community commemorate with an annual day of mourning on the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av). When He allowed the Babylonians (and then the Romans) to conquer Jerusalem, destroy the Holy Temple(s) and drive the Jewish people into exile, God had one fatherly goal in mind--that the Jewish people should see the error of their ways and correct themselves.

A parent who punishes a child still loves the child and still wishes to share in the child’s happiness. Rejoicing is also an important facet of the month of Av. Tu B’Av (literally 15th of Av) is a day of tremendous rejoicing in Israel when, traditionally, unmarried maidens would go out to the field to find a husband. Thus in Av, after God completes the role of disciplinarian, He comes forward to watch, and enjoy, as His children rejoice.

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

Av Begins

Today is the first day of the Nine Days. Learn about them here.