Monday, October 31, 2011

His Tricks Were Quite A Treat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Them A Real Treat

Share Jewish Treats with friends and family.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Have You Threshed Recently

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 Even the original physical method of threshing has been replaced by large, automated threshing machines.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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time Is Now


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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Don’s Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be an example to your community by living up to your potential.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shem ben Noah

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

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

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

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

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

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

From One House

Remember that all people are linked, so give everyone respect.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Yom Kippur War

It would be impossible in this format to provide a full history of the events that led to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. However, in honor of the cease-fire that ended the fighting (the second cease-fire) on October 25, 1973, Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the war.

In the fall of 1973, despite a noted increase in movements of Egyptian and Syrian troops, the majority of Israeli soldiers were allowed to return home from their military bases to spend Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with their families.

When the Syrians and Egyptians attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish year (October 6, 1973), the Israelis were taken by surprise, nearly costing them the war. Israeli soldiers went to the battlefield directly from synagogue.

The Egyptians and Syrians were supported by troops from other Arab nations as well and had received extensive training and arms from the Soviet Union. What had been a regional Mid-East conflict, became a battle ground for Cold War issues, as the Soviet Union backed Egypt and Syria, supplying them with frequent airlifts of weapons and advisors. In response, at the very last moment, the United States sent Israel the military replacement parts it needed to recover from its initial significant losses. Israel eventually struck back and recovered, but only after suffering extraordinarily heavy losses.

Technically, the war ended with a cease-fire on October 22, 1973, but fighting continued on the Egyptian-Israeli front. When the second cease-fire went into effect, Israel had captured an additional 165 square miles of territory from Syria, and had encircled the Egyptian Third Army on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Egyptian forces held two areas of Israeli territory along the east bank of the canal. After months of diplomacy, Israel withdrew from the area it seized from Syria during the 1973 war, in addition to some area gained in 1967, as well as from parts of the Sinai.

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

History Check

Study history before trying to understand the Middle East in the media.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Daniel In The Lion’s Den

When one hears the general premise of the story, that the king of Medea locked Daniel in a cage full of lions, it is natural to assume that the king’s goal in throwing him to the lions was his death. This, however, was not the case.

When King Darius the Mede took over the Babylonian empire (upon the death of Balshazzar), he found Daniel to be an excellent adviser and administrator. When Daniel proved himself successful in governing one of the three provinces created by Darius, the king even considered elevating him to Prime Minister.

In a plot to bring down Daniel the Jew, the other governors and ministers convinced Darius to declare a month of nationalism and command that “whosoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, except for you, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:8).

When Daniel heard of this new law, he went home and prayed to God as usual. When the conspirators reported on Daniel, the king had no choice but to uphold his own law.

The king “was sore displeased, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him...[When Daniel was brought to the Lion’s den, the king said to him:] ‘Your God whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.’” (6:15, 17). In fact, the king was so worried about Daniel that he spent the night fasting and pacing.

In the morning, when they took away the stone blocking the opening, Daniel was still very much alive. According to Daniel, an angel came and closed the mouths of the lions so that he was not hurt.

Since this miracle was a sign that Daniel was innocent of any traitorous activity, his accusers were given his intended punishment. They, however, did not survive.

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

Have Faith

In trying times, don't hesitate to ask God for help.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 bulls were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests offered sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never-ending.

On the night of Simchat Torah, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.

During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark, and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.

*This Treat was originally published on Monday, October 20, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

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


Sit back, relax and enjoy this final festival.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (III:31b): “This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King.”

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot. (Which is why some perform the tashlich ceremony until Hoshana Rabbah.) What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor. Because Hoshana Rabbah is considered a day of judgment, selichot (penitential prayers) are added to the morning service, in addition to the special prayers of Sukkot.

This Treat was originally published on October 6, 2009.

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

Extra Helping

Take any opportunity today to do a little more for others.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the water libation ceremony, during which water was poured over the altar after the morning offering. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hashoevah, the Celebration of the House of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of the how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the Gichon Spring and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah celebration, which generally takes place in the sukkah.

This Treat was originally published October 17, 2008.

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

Praying For Proper Rain

Now is an auspicious time to pray that this year rain should fall at the right times and in amounts that are a blessing for all.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the last day in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed--weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Many people refrain from mundane chores such as laundry. Some people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read and Hallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz (leaven), but it is not a requirement to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Treat was originally published on October 5, 2009.

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

Plan Something Special

Celebrate Chol Hamoed with a special trip or a evening out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ushpeezin (oo’shpee’zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our second home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Divine Presence (Shechina) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..."and so on throughout the week.

*According to some traditions, Joseph comes before Moses, Aaron and David.

This Treat was originally published on September 22, 2010.

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

Meant To Be Shared

If you have a sukkah, invite guests to enjoy the holiday with you. If you have been invited to a sukkah, do not hesitate to accept the invitation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Everyone Does The Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity, as one body, that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we reach our full potential once again.

For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot, click here.

This Treat was originally posted on Monday, October 13, 2008.

Make New Friends

Reach out and befriend all kinds of Jews.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Perfect Species

At this time of the year, Jews around the globe head out in search of the perfect Lulav and Etrog (Lulav refers to the grouping of lulav, hadassim and aravot, which, together with the etrog are referred to as the four species.) Since the lulav and etrog are used for the mitzvah of waving the four species, it’s important to find a set that is as perfect as can be.

So what makes a lulav and etrog “perfect”?

Lulav/Branch of a Palm Tree: A lulav is actually the closed frond of a date palm tree. A nice lulav is green, with no signs of dryness. It should be straight, without any bends or twists near the top. The tip and top leaves of the lulav must be whole, and not split.

Hadassim/Three Myrtle Branches: The hadassim, which are bound on the right side of the lulav, should have moist, green leaves grouped in level rows of three. There should be no large, uncovered section of stem. The stem and the leaves should be whole, without any nips at the top and the leaves should cover the entire branch to the top. There should not be more berries than leaves and there should be no large twigs.

Aravot/Two Willow Branches: The aravot, which are bound to the left side of the lulav (slightly lower than the hadassim) should have reddish stems with green, moist leaves. The leaves should be long, narrow and smooth-edged, with no nips or tears.

Etrog/Citron: The Torah describes the etrog as “the fruit of a beautiful tree” (Leviticus 23:40). Ideally, the skin of this yellow (or green when not ripe) citrus fruit must be clean of spots and discolorations. It should be bumpy, not smooth like a lemon, and should be broad at the bottom and narrow toward the top. (Please note that the etrog is very delicate and should be handled with care. If dropped, the etrog can be damaged and rendered unfit for use!)

This Treat was originally posted on September 21, 2010.

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

Purchase Power

Find out from your synagogue where you can purchase a lulav and etrog.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

But Wait...There's More

Now that the Jewish people have repented on Yom Kippur and, hopefully, received Divine forgiveness, it is time to sit back and relax...

Just kidding!

It is time to celebrate! Just four days after Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot begins. On this most festive of holidays (it is known as “z’man simchataynu,” the time of our rejoicing), Jews live in temporary dwellings called sukkot (singular - sukkah) with a roof of branches or wooden boards. This temporary “hut” becomes the Jew’s home for seven days, and, therefore (weather permitting), everything that we would do in our homes, such as eat, sleep or study, is done in the sukkah.

The sukkot are a reminder of our origins, of our wandering in the wilderness after being redeemed from slavery. In fact, this reminder is both of the physical state in which we lived and the spiritual environment in which we sojourned. Symbolically, the sukkah represents the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, in which God enveloped and protected the wandering nation after the Exodus from Egypt.

A strange holiday? Perhaps, but by moving out of our permanent domiciles, especially at the beginning of the rainy/cold season, we demonstrate our faith in God as the provider and sustainer of all life.

So if you thought you had nothing to do next week, take a look around and find the nearest sukkah in which to dwell. Or, of course, you can always build your own! (Perhaps there is a Sukkot Across America location near you!)

This Treat was originally posted on October 10, 2008.

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

Almost Here

Sukkot begins on Wednesday night at sundown. Read Jewish Treats throughout the week to learn more about the holiday.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Food Of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

“One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth” (Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32 (“... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ...”), even though only 5 verses earlier the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is yet daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and “break fast.” Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.

Jewish Treats and the National Jewish Outreach Program wish you and yours a meaningful and easy fast. The Fast of Yom Kippur begins at sunset tonight and ends after nightfall on Saturday.

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

Remember The Sabbath

For those who need to eat on Yom Kippur (due to medical considerations) or those preparing food for children, prepare all cooked foods ahead of time to honor the Sabbath.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Anoint?

The observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, calls for abstention from five activities: eating, drinking, anointing/washing oneself, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

When the sages speak of anointing the body, they refer to putting oils and perfumes on ones skin. This is basic anointing.

That refraining from anointing is considered an “affliction” is derived from a passage in the Talmud Yoma 76b:“For it is written, ‘I ate no desirable bread, and meat and wine did not enter my mouth, and I did not anoint myself with an anointing’ (Daniel 10:3). From where do we know that [the abstention from anointing] was considered an affliction? Because it is written: ‘Then he said to me: Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to afflict yourself before God, your words have been heard; and I have come because of your words’ (Daniel 10:12).”

Further, in the Talmud (Shabbat 86b) it is written: “How do we know that anointing is the same as drinking on the day of atonement? Though there is no proof of this, yet there is an allusion to it, for it is said, ‘and it came into his inward parts like water, and like oil into his bones’ (Psalms 109:18).”

This same verse, Psalms 109:18, is cited in Yoma (76b) as the source from which it is learned that the prohibition of anointing includes washing. Says Rabbi Zutra the son of Rabbi Tobiah: “Just as the oil is applied externally, so also the water [is such as is applied] externally.”

The Talmud contains an in-depth discussion regarding the specific washing/anointing acts that are prohibited on Yom Kippur. Without question, washing for pleasure in order to feel refreshed, is not permitted on Yom Kippur. Therefore, if one is actually dirty (for example, one’s hands are soiled after cleaning off a child), one is permitted to wash.

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

Drink Now

To prepare for the fast, begin drinking plenty of water today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Modern Scholar

Respected Biblical commentators are rarely university professors or radio personalities. Even less common is for them to be female. And while her credentials were certainly not the norm, Nehama Leibowitz was unique beyond even that.

Born in 1905, in Riga (Latvia), Leibowitz received a full and comprehensive education alongside her older brother, Yeshayahu (who became a professor of chemistry and a well-known philosopher). In Berlin, where her family relocated in 1919, Leibowitz continued her education and eventually received her doctorate from the University of Marburg. In 1930, with her new husband, Lipmann Leibowitz, she moved to Israel and began her brilliant career as a teacher.

As her career progressed from the Mizrachi Women’s Teachers Seminary to Tel Aviv University, hundreds of students were impacted by her courses on the Bible and its commentators. Since so many alumnae of her classes wished to continue studying with her, Leibowitz created gilyoh'noht (stenciled pages of questions) on the weekly Torah portion that she began distributing in 1942. Over time, thousands of men and women were receiving her “pages.” Many of them were in direct contact with her, answering the Biblical questions and receiving her responses to their answers.

Leibowitz utilized an incredibly wide range of Biblical commentaries, both ancient and modern, even referring to recent Biblical literary critics. Her work not only inspired thousands to study the sacred texts, but also re-established the importance of Biblical scholarship to many who had previously focused only on Talmud.

Even after she retired from the university, she continued teaching in her home. By the time Leibowitz died in 1997, much of her work had been published. Ever humble, she always insisted that her students refer to her merely as Nehama, and on her tombstone it is written, simply: Nehama Leibowitz-Teacher.

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

Personal Potential

Never doubt your own potential when it comes to learning Jewish subjects.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Four Steps of Repentance

In order to fully understand Yom Kippur, it is important to look deeper at the Jewish concept of teshuva, “repentance.”

Teshuva is actually a process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The Rambam enumerates four primary steps to the teshuva process:

1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.

2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.

3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or on others.

4. Determine never to repeat the action. Picture a better way to handle it. There are two different types of transgressions: those between a person and God and those between one person and another.

Teshuva for a sin between a person and God: When one has transgressed a mitzvah that does not affect another person, the teshuva is purely between the person and God; and the four steps listed above are all that are necessary for the repentance process.

Teshuva for a sin between one person and another: When one has caused harm to others, whether by stealing from them, embarrassing them or anything else, then teshuva requires that restitution and reconciliation be arranged between the parties involved. The damaged party must forgive the perpetrator before Divine forgiveness is granted.

However, a person is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for that action, as he/she has proven their true regret. The person who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness, however, is guilty of bearing a grudge.

*This Treat was originally published on Tuesday, October 7, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the High Holidays.

Reach Out

Reach out and make amends with people in your workplace as well as with friends and family.

Monday, October 3, 2011

From Holy God to Holy King

On Rosh Hashana, God judges the world (and all the people therein), but their fates are not sealed until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days during that we must present a compelling case of our worthiness to the heavenly court.

These ten days that start on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom Kippur, are known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, people go out of their way to make amends both with their fellow humans and with God. In addition to the acts of teshuva, the sages of the Talmud altered the words of the Amidah in order to create the mind-set necessary for this time of year:

“Raba ben Chin’neh’na the Elder also said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year one says in the prayer [Amidah], ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who loves righteousness and judgment,’ except during the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’” (Berachot 12a).

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).

These changes are discussed at length in the codes of practical halacha. The consensus rules that if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

This Treat was originally published on September 13, 2010.

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

The Week Ahead

Make the most of this week leading up to Yom Kippur.