Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No Foretelling Death

The Talmud in Pesachim 54b lists the day of one’s death as the first of seven items that are hidden from humankind. As obvious a statement as this may seem, it is important to remember that, originally, humankind was not intended to die. Mortality was introduced only when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which God warned them “for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die- Genesis 2:17), thus introducing death.

Since that fateful day so many centuries ago, many have sought ways to predict the day of their own death. None have succeeded, although God did reveal to King David that he would die on a Shabbat. Many others have vainly sought the means to overcome death.

Mortality goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge of good and evil, since the fear of one’s own demise helps a person choose how to act. This idea is touched upon in the Talmud:

"Rabbi Eliezer would say: Repent one day before your death. Asked his disciples: Does a man know on which day he will die? Said he to them: So being the case, he should repent today, for perhaps tomorrow he will die; hence, all his days are passed in a state of repentance.” (Shabbat 153a).

Although sincere repentance can wipe one’s slate clean, a person can never really be certain that there may be additional time to amend his/her ways.

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


While one cannot know the day of one’s death, it is important to think ahead for the sake of the surviving family. (Click here for an interesting perspective on civil wills in Jewish law.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mother of Alchemy

While we of the modern world scoff at the ancient alchemists who tried to turn lead into gold, many alchemical practices are at the root of today’s scientific experiments. Ironically, the fate and condition of alchemists in ancient and medieval society was often similar to that of the Jews--at the whim of the city rulers.

Quite often, alchemists did their work in secrecy, and frequently faced persecution. This may be the reason that so little biographical information is known about the woman known as the Mother of Alchemy, Maria Hebraica (aka Maria the Jewess, Maria Prophetisa, and Miriam the Prophetess). What is known about her comes, primarily, from the 4th century writings of Zosimos of Panopolis (the oldest existing alchemy text). Because Zosimos refers to her as an ancient, it is assumed that Maria lived around the 1st century in Alexandria, Egypt.

Chemists today no longer search for the magic formula that will turn base metal into precious metal. They do, however, use the balneum Mariae (Latin for “bath of Maria”), a water bath whose invention is credited to Maria Hebraica. She is also believed to have invented the kerotakis (a.k.a. Mary’s oven) and the tribikos, a three armed distillation chamber (still), as well as having discovered hydrochloric acid.

Zosimos also credits Maria Hebraica with a number of unique philosophies and sayings. For instance, on the union of opposites she taught: “Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought.” One such teaching: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth” is known as the Axiom of Maria.

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

Science Project

If you like science, take some time to research the history of Jewish scientists.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Professor Dr. Solomon Schechter

Born to a Chassidic family in Romania, Solomon Schechter (1847-1915) grew up to be a great scholar whose work had a deep and profound impact on Jewish life. After following the traditional Jewish path of study, Schechter studied at universities in both Vienna and Berlin, before eventually taking an academic post in the Judaic Studies department of Cambridge University. Through his academic work, Schechter was introduced to the “Historical Judaism” movement, which asserts that Jewish law was not static, but rather has always developed in response to changing conditions.

In 1896, Schechter received several manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza, and quickly realized their importance. Schechter traveled to Egypt and began sorting and examining the Geniza documents--more than 100,000 pages--and studying them. Many of these documents had previously been known only in translated form.

In 1902, Schechter came to the United States to head the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA). At the time, American Judaism was caught in a great schism between the traditionalists and reformists. JTSA was created when the traditionalists broke from the reformists after the “Pittsburgh Platform” (1885), which rejected kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws), pronounced circumcision barbaric, and, among other things, rejected the concept of Zionism and the idea of a return to Israel.

As the second president of JTSA, Schechter attracted a faculty of outstanding scholars, and the school flourished. Through JTSA, Schechter was able to develop his own beliefs in what he termed “Catholic Israel,”the idea that halacha (Jewish law) is formed and evolves based on the behavior of the people. These ideas are the foundation principles of the Conservative Movement, and the United Synagogue of America, which Schechter founded in 1913, and became the umbrella organization for Conservative Synagogues.

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

Being Proud

Do something today that expresses your pride in being Jewish.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Caveat Emptor...Let the Buyer Beware (And the Seller Too)

Today is “Black Friday,” the day on which retailers across America try to assure their profits for the year by offering outrageous sales. Each store tries to outsell its competitors, whether by offering the lowest price or by opening at the earliest hour. Under such pressured circumstances, as the crowds “stampede through,” one must certainly keep in mind the Roman warning of Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.

In honor of this mercantile tradition, Jewish Treats presents a few ideas of Jewish law applicable to a day of sales:

1) Honest Weights And Measures: “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure” (Leviticus 19:35). Although many products today are not sold by measurements, this important halacha can be understood as an injunction for retailer honesty - to sell exactly what has been advertised.

2) Intention To Buy: “A person may not oppress (or mislead) his friend” (Leviticus 25:17). In the Talmud, this verse is connected to the following statement: “One must not ask another, ‘What is the price of this article?’ if there is no intention to buy” (Baba Metzia 58b). Going into a store and asking the sales clerk about a product when you have no intention of making a purchase, or you intend to purchase the same item from another retailer, gives the clerk the false hope of a sale. Additionally, it steals the time of the sale’s clerk, and perhaps, that of other waiting customers. However, if one is even remotely contemplating purchasing the product from the store, the inquiry is permitted.

3) Pricing Power: Jewish law generally allows a retailer free rein when it comes to pricing. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) notes that pricing that varies by more than 1/6th of the going market price is considered unfair, and both the seller and the buyer have the right to annul the sale.

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

Shopping For

If you are out shopping, perhaps pick up something special for Shabbat.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feast of Gratitude

While the majority of the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah are related to atonement for sins or to celebrate feast days, the sh'lamim, peace offerings, were unique because they were not brought for either reason. And among the different peace offerings, the korban todah, the thanks offering, is set apart because it had to be eaten the same day on which it was offered. In this short span of time, a large portion of food had to be consumed: In addition to the meat of the offering, 30 loaves of unleavened bread and 10 loaves of leavened bread were offered and consumed by the kohanim, levi'im and those involved in the offering itself.

In his book The Call of the Torah*, Rabbi Elie Munk suggests that the quantity of food and the relatively brief amount of time in which it had to be consumed, required that the person who brought the offering invite guests to join in publicly giving thanks to God.

While only four types of people were required to bring a korban todah (a freed captive, one who traveled by sea; one who had crossed the desert, and one who recovered from an illness), in this day and age, when there is no Temple and thus no sacrifices, people who survive any life-threatening situation will often make a seudat hoda'ah, a feast of thanksgiving, after having survived a life-threatening incident or illness and on the anniversary of their survival.

There is no set ceremony for a seudat hoda'ah. To be considered a proper seudah (feast), however, bread should be served so that birkat hamazon may be recited. It is also customary to listen to words of Torah spoken either by the survivor or in the survivor's honor.

*Volume 3, page 59
This Treat was originally posted on November 25, 2009.

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

Don't Forget The Thanks

As you celebrate Thanksgiving today, don't forget to direct some of your thanks to God.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Animal Instincts

In their natural habitats, every creature on earth helps create a balance that allows the environment to flourish. This biological fact is part of the mechanics of Planet Earth. But the animal world offers humankind another benefit, for animals can be powerful examples of behavior.

In Ethics of the Fathers (5:20), Judah the son of Taima says: "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” Using animals as examples, Judah the son of Taima sought to encourage people to be strong in their devotion to the Torah even when it is difficult.

In the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (an abridged compendium of Jewish law, published in 1870) Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried defines these particular character traits:

1) Bold as a leopard refers to feeling proud about worshiping God. Too often we allow the opinions of friends and colleagues to get in our way when striving to do what we know is right.

2) Light as an eagle refers to what one sees. An eagle flies fast, taking in great expanses of land but only focuses on prey that will nourish its body. So too, a person must focus only on that which nourishes the soul.

3) Swift as a deer refers to hurrying to do good things. Don’t delay in performing a mitzvah; run to do it!

4) Strong as a lion refers to being strong of heart. It is easy to be diverted from the path of good deeds.

This Treat was originally posted on November 10, 2008

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

Your Instincts

Use your instincts to do mitzvot.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gleaning Supermarket Aisles

It is nearly time for Thanksgiving, and throughout the United States communities are putting up posters for holiday food drives.

Giving food to the poor is certainly one of the oldest forms of charity, and the Torah regards the charity of sustenance as a fundamental imperative.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go retrieve it...When you beat your olive-tree, you shalt not go over the boughs again...When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow... (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

Similarly it is written:

"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger" (Leviticus 19:9-10).

In ancient times, after the farmer finished with his harvest, those in need (particularly orphans, widows and strangers) would come and gather anything that had been left behind. By gathering the food themselves from the deserted fields, those in need were relieved of any embarrassment in having to ask for food.

With no fields today, one might wonder what a modern-day Jew can glean from these agricultural statutes, after all most of us buy food that is already packaged. We cannot go to the fields, but almost everyone can search their cupboards and find one or two items that go above and beyond our basic needs. While we cannot leave behind the gleanings of our fields, we can certainly “winnow” out and donate the excess of our supermarket “harvests.”

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

An Extra Can

Purchase an extra can or two of vegetables to donate to a local food drive.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rabbi's Mountain

Few rabbis have been honored with having a mountain named for them. But, tucked away in the Laurentian range of Quebec, Canada, stands Mont le Rabbi-Stern (Mount Rabbi Stern). This 2,250 foot (above sea level) topographical feature was named in 1985 in honor of Rabbi Joshua Stern (1897-1984), the late Rabbi Emeritus of Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El.

One might think that the mountain was named to honor a native son of the province, but Rabbi Stern was born in Eragoly, Lithuania. When he was eleven, two years after a pogrom in his village, his family moved to Ohio. Steuberville, his new home, was a startling contrast to the shtetl where he had lived. After being schooled only in cheder, surrounded by the holy texts and Jewish tradition, the young Joshua found himself in an American public school. Nevertheless, he pursued his dream of becoming a rabbi (his hero in his youth was Moses). He attended Hebrew Union College (HUC), from which he was ordained in 1922. After five years at his first pulpit in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Rabbi Stern came to Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El in 1927.

Stern’s greatest achievements, and the work for which he received great acclaim and not-a-few rebukes, was in inter-faith relations. He himself remarked, “I tried to Christianize the Christians and Judaize the Jews.” Working on improving cross-clergy relationships, Rabbi Stern built relationships across the ecumenical spectrum. It was a lifetime of work in the predominantly Catholic province. In fact, it took 16 years from when he founded the Institute for Clergy and Religious Educators in 1942, for Catholics to officially attend. Additionally, Rabbi Stern was a vigorous social reformer (especially during the difficult days of the depression), a strong proponent of adult Jewish education and an active Zionist.

*Bibliographical Note: Joseph Graham, Naming the Laurentians: A History of Place Names 'up North'

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

Build Bridges

Being nice to all people is the simplest way to build interfaith bridges.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Man Ray

The Dadist Cultural Movement created works so far from conventional art as to appear absurd, in order to create a new sense of reality for the audience. The movement incorporated all aspects of artistic life. Of the artists associated with Dadism, Man Ray (1890-1976) is one of the most famous.

The works of Man Ray were representative of the protest undercurrent of Dadaism, as well as the strange juxtapositions of Surrealism. Although he is best known for the intriguing images he created with photography (in addition to his paid work as a fashion and portrait photographer), Man Ray was also a painter and the “maker of objects and films” (according to

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, Man Ray followed the path of many American artists of the early 20th century and moved to Paris in 1921. He remained in Europe until fleeing from the approaching Nazi threat in 1940. Eleven years later, Man Ray returned to France and remained there for the rest of his life. He died on November 18, 1976.

As one may have already surmised from the inclusion of this profile on Jewish Treats, Man Ray was Jewish, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, he spent his life avoiding his Jewish identification. (His father initiated that sentiment by legally shortening the family name to avoid anti-Semitism.) And while only the artist himself knows his own motivation, one cannot help but wonder if his tendencies toward the surreal were rooted in his distancing himself from his identity. This hypothesis was noted by the curator of the Jewish Museum exhibit Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, who wrote: “The artist’s self-consciousness was an outgrowth of his time, a period that witnessed the rise of nation-state identity and xenophobia, and an unprecedented wave of immigration, class consciousness, and anti-Semitism. His life and work powerfully reflect his contradictory need to obscure and declare himself.”

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

Shabbat Walk

Enjoy the beauty of fall and appreciate God's artistry with a relaxing Shabbat walk tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Send Them On Their Way

Hachnassat Orchim, welcoming guests, is one of the better known mitzvot. For many, this is also one of the easiest. After all, who doesn’t enjoy having people over, acting as host and sharing a hearty meal.

There is, however, a lesser known part of the mitzvah of welcoming guests that requires the host(s) to escort guests part of the way out when they leave. According to the sages, a person should walk guests at least daled amot (approximately 8 feet) beyond the front door. By escorting someone out, the host accords the guests an extra measure of courtesy and expresses the host’s desire that the visit not end. Additionally, it shows the host’s wish to ensure the security of his/her guests.

The mitzvah of escorting a guest is derived from two separate narratives in the Torah. In Genesis 18, Abraham was visited by three men (angels according to the Midrash). After finishing the meal, the men rose to leave for the city of Sodom. Scripture informs us that “Abraham went with them to send them on their way." Thus, Abraham, the epitome of the perfect host, teaches us this important aspect of the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim.

Escorting guests and ensuring their safety is derived as well from Deuteronomy 21, which describes the repercussions of finding a dead body in an open area between two cities. The city to which the body is closest is held responsible for the murder since it is suspected that the city did not provide an escort for the safety of its guests, thus indirectly causing the murder.

In this way, as in so many others, Torah law demonstrates the importance of treating others with respect and dignity.

This treat was originally posted on November 13, 2008.

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

Lovely Lighting

Make certain that your outside lights work properly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What's In The Book: Obadiah

The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book of Tanach (Biblical canon), only one chapter long. It is directed at the nation of Edom, not at either of the Jewish kingdoms.

Obadiah spoke out against the great arrogance of Edom, descendants of Jacob's brother, Esau, a nation that believed no one could bring it down. Obadiah condemned Edom for its reaction to the destruction of Judah: “In the day that you stood aloof, in the day that strangers carried away his [Judah’s] substance, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed on your brother in the day of his disaster, neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction...”(1:11-12).

The Edomites not only watched the destruction of the Jewish kingdom, but gloated over it and even blocked the escape of those who fled.

According to Obadiah, however, the Edomites would, in the future, suffer a great reversal of fortune and all that occurred to Judah would happen to them. Additionally, he prophesied that the Israelites would eventually return and conquer all of the land that had been theirs and had been ruled by Edom. Ultimately, [says Obadiah] dominion will be the Lord’s (1:21).

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

Turkey Preparation

Get ready for Thanksgiving by ordering a kosher turkey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Filtered Wisdom

Consider the following statement from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Father): “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) ‘I have gained understanding from all my teachers.’”

Abraham's Other Sons

Quick quiz: Who were Abraham’s sons?
Most people probably answered Isaac, and, of course, they are correct. Others might have said Ishmael, and they are also right. Few people, however, are likely to have said, Zimran, Yakshan, Medan, Midian, Ishak or Shuah--but, if they had, they too would have been correct.

Abraham's oldest son was Ishmael, born to him when Sarah insisted that he take a second wife/concubine, Hagar, in order that he might have children. Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, Sarah had a son of her own, Isaac. Isaac followed in his parents' footsteps in dedicating his life to serving God.

Genesis 25, which follows the death and burial of Sarah, notes that “Abraham took another wife and her name was Keturah” (25:1). It then lists the names of their sons and their sons’ sons. Of these six sons, little in known. The Midrash only comments on the eldest two:

“[He was named] Zimran [from sing] because [in his time] the world sang. Our sages say: They sang hymns to idols. [The other was named] Yakshan [from beat] because [his people] beat the timbrel in honor of idols” (Genesis Rabbah 61:5).

This insinuation of idol worship might seem quite strange given that they were Abraham’s sons and brothers of Isaac, who followed in his father's ways. However, one must take into consideration that Isaac had the great advantage of having a special mother, Sarah, who was a woman of remarkable spiritual conviction, which undoubtably influenced him greatly.

The Torah states that before his death, “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country” (Genesis 25:5-6). This verse underscores that Abraham clearly recognized the difference between his sons and made Isaac his primary heir.

One fascinating Midrash associated with this verse defines the “gifts” that Abraham gave to the sons of Keturah as being gifts of spirituality. Although they did not absorb their father’s lessons in absolute monotheism, they apparently, were able to tap into and understand some basic and mystical concepts of spirituality.

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

House of Devotion

It is often said that the foundation of Jewish life is the home. This statement acknowledges the vital role of the family in bringing Judaism to life. If a love and passion for Judaism is expressed in the home, most often these feelings will be transmitted to the next generation.

The synagogue and the Beit Midrash (house of learning), however, are also crucial institutions for Jewish continuity. The synagogue (the Greek translation of Beit K'nesset, which in English means a “house of assembly”) is the place where Jews gather for communal prayers. The Beit Midrash is the place where the Torah and Talmud (and other works of Jewish thought) are studied. The word midrash comes from the root D-R-SH,, the infinitive of which, lid'rosh means to expound or interpret. While a Beit Midrash today may be lined with sacred books, initially, these houses of learning were headed by exceptional scholars who presented their lessons orally and taught their students how to understand the intricacies of Torah.

Institutions of education are found in every society, but one can learn much about Jewish values from the importance placed on the Beit Midrash:

So said Abaye: At first I used to study in my house and pray in the synagogue. Since I heard the saying of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ammi in the name of 'Ulla: Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has nothing in His world but the four cubits of halacha alone, I pray only in the place where I study. Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi, though they had thirteen Synagogues in Tiberias, prayed only among the pillars where they used to study (Berachot 8a).

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

Your Support

Help support your local Jewish learning institutions.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Behind The Scenes of The Great War

The great World Wars, both involved armies of nations from all across the globe. But, in both wars--historians would agree--the balance of power shifted when America joined the allies. And while historians may quarrel over whether America’s entry into World War I was good or bad, at the time of the war, that decision was in the hands of the politicians. For Jewish Treats, it is intriguing to note that, during the course of the war, the House Military Affairs Committee was chaired by Julius Kahn.

Kahn’s role on the Military Affairs Committee is most interesting given that he was a German Jew by birth, born in Kuppenheim, Baden in 1861. But Kahn’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was five, and he was raised in California. After a short theatrical career, he entered the legal profession and political life in his early 30s and, in 1899, was elected to the House of Representatives. With the exception of one term, he served until his death in 1924. He helped draft and secure the passage of the National Defense Act of 1915, the Selective Draft Act of 1917, and the National Defense Act of 1920.

Although Julius Kahn was not the first Jew to serve in Congress, his death shortly after being re-elected for a 13th term, led the way to the first Jewish Congresswoman. His wife, Florence Prag Kahn, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah (1866) and raised in San Francisco. Elected to fill her husband’s position in 1925, the former school teacher went on to serve five more terms and was the first woman to sit on the House Military Affairs Committee.

The Kahns were members of Congregation Emanu El of San Francisco, and Florence was a member of Hadassah and the Council of Jewish Women.

Veteran Honor

If you know a veteran in your community, invite him/her to celebrate Shabbat with you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Law Of The Land

For nearly 2,000 years, the Jewish people have been in exile. During this time, Jews have lived in nearly every country and under nearly every form of government, while, at the same time, maintaining their own laws as the basis for Jewish society. These Jewish laws (halacha) are based on the traditional understanding of the Torah by the great sages as set down in the Mishna and the Gemara (together called the Talmud) and later codified in the Shulchan Aruch.

The Talmud was organized and codified after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 C.E.), when the Jews were scattered across the Roman empire. Living under a foreign power, the sages recognized the importance of making clear the halacha regarding the “law of the land.”

“Dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the land is the law [and must be obeyed], is a phrase repeated numerous times in the Talmud and always attributed to the sage Samuel. According to Samuel, there is no question that a Jew must obey the laws of the land in which he/she resides... unless that law directly contradicts halacha (for instance a law ordering everyone to worship idols).

In certain cases, the rabbis determined that certain rulers and their unfair and harsh laws were dangerous to the Jewish people, and they therefore permitted the local Jews to "skirt the laws" or even to ignore them (such as the anti-Semitic decrees of the Russian Czars). In a country like the United States, however, there is no question that dina d’malchuta dina must be strictly observed.

What does this mean? This means that being a law-abiding citizen is more that just one’s civic duty, it is one’s religious obligation as well. Taxes, civil law, even the “rules of the road” are our responsibility to uphold.

This Treat was originally posted on August 6, 2009.

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

Law Abiding

Take pride in being a law abiding citizen in your community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Messiah - A Jewish Concept

Because the concept of a Messiah* (Moshiach in Hebrew) is not overtly mentioned in the five books of the Torah, it is often overlooked as one of the tenets of the Jewish faith. But the belief in the Messiah is actually one of the fundamental articles of Jewish faith. The Torah, in Deuteronomy 28, describes the future that will befall the Jewish people when (not if) they turn their hearts from the Torah: the land will be destroyed, the people ravaged by disease before being defeated by enemies and exiled. These events, sadly, have come to pass, repeatedly.

Two chapters later, however, Moses informs the people that after all of the curses have befallen the Children of Israel and they have returned to Him with all their heart and soul, then the curse will be undone. This chapter includes all the famous promises of the ultimate redemption: ingathering of the exiles, return to the land and the destruction of Israel’s enemies. While this process has started several times in the history of the Jewish people, it has never been completed. Jews have returned to Israel, but never in peace and never as an entire people.

Many of the details of the time of the redemption is encrypted in the books of the Prophets, particularly those known as the Later Prophets. Isaiah, in particular, contains a great number of references and is the primary source from which it is understood that the Messiah, the one destined to lead the Jewish people to their ultimate redemption, will come from the Davidic line. “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse (King David’s father), and a branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him...” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

*While the term Messiah is used for savior, it literally means “anointed one.”

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

Incorporate The Dream

When current events make you world-weary, take a moment and ask God for peace in the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

As Old As...

Many people recognize the ancient adage “As old as Methuselah,” and can probably identify it as of Biblical origin. Other than being the oldest person in the Bible, who was Methuselah?

The purpose of the fifth chapter of Genesis appears to be to highlight the link through the ten generations between Adam and Noah. Despite his longevity (969 years!), Methuselah’s entire life is encapsulated in 5 verses.

“And Enoch lived 65 years, and begot Methuselah. And Enoch walked with God after he begot Methuselah for 300 years, and begot sons and daughters ... And Methuselah lived 187 years, and begot Lamech. And Methuselah lived after he begot Lamech for 782 years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Methuselah were 969 years; and he died “(Genesis 5: 21-22, 15-27).

Lamech then fathered Noah, whose family was chosen to be the only human survivors of the great-flood. Noah’s special connection to God (“He walked with God” - Genesis 6:9) was not an anomaly. The same was also said about his great-grandfather, Methuselah’s father, Enoch. So too, Methuselah is noted in the Midrash as being a person of such extraordinary righteousness that God actually delayed the flood on his behalf. When the people challenged Noah as to why God wasn’t yet punishing them as Noah continually warned, Noah responded that God had: “one dear one to draw out from you” (Sanhedrin 108a) This was Methuselah.

In a later chapter, the Bible states: “‘And it came to pass, after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth’ (Genesis 7:10). What was the nature of these seven days?--Rav said: These were the days of mourning for Methuselah, thus teaching that the lamenting for the righteous postpones retribution” (Sanhedrin 108b).

According to tradition, the flood began on the 17th of Cheshvan. This means that today, the 10th of Cheshvan is the anniversary of the death of the oldest man in the Bible.

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

Respect Your Elders

It is a specific mitzvah to show respect to those who have attained the age of wisdom (70).

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's Mine Is Whose

On September 17, 2011, Zuccotti Park, in downtown Manhattan, became the center of what would become an international protest movement. Occupy Wall Street was organized as a statement against economic inequality and political corruption fostered by economic systems throughout the world. Reports on the ongoing protest repeatedly refer to the 1% wealthiest citizens who control more wealth than the other 99% of the citizenry.

While the Torah addresses the question of economic equality in many different ways (giving charity, leaving a corner of one's fields for the poor, tithing, etc.) there is an interesting discussion about the proper attitude toward possessions in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Father), a tractate of the Mishna composed of ethically oriented statements of the great sages.

“There are four types of people:
The person who says, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’--this is the average type, though some say that this is the attitude of Sodom.

The person who says, ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine’--this is an ignorant person.

The person who says, ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is your own’--this is a saintly person.

And the person who says, ‘What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine’--this is a wicked person” (Pirkei Avot 5:13).

Read the list carefully. It is interesting to note that while the fourth person is listed as wicked, the first person, the average person who feels that “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours,” is compared by some to a person of Sodom. The city of Sodom, which was destroyed by God in the days of Abraham (Genesis 19), was known as an evil city. One might therefore believe that it was full of thieves. The above statement, however, provides the fascinating insight asserting that it is even wrong to take no interest in other people and to be uninvolved with the community at large.

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

Strive To Be Saintly

Take every opportunity to be generous and giving to others.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Page A Day

The 7th of Cheshvan (today) is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav, who passed away in 1933. Although he died at age 46, he had by then changed the face of European Jewry.

Born in Suczawa (Austria/Romania) in March 1887, Rabbi Shapiro published his first work, Imrai Daas (Statements of Knowledge) at age 23 and received his first rabbinic position in Gliniany (Ukraine) at 24. In Gliniany, and in every other city in which he lived during his life, Rabbi Shapiro reinvigorated the religious institutions and established a yeshiva with an organized curriculum and made certain that the teachers received a monthly salary, unique features for those times. The most famous of these yeshivot was Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, which he conceived as a yeshiva for the Chassidic world of Poland, but was based on the yeshivot under the Lithuanian (read non-Chassidic) sphere of influence.

In addition to his educational work, Rabbi Shapira was also involved in the leading Orthodox organizations of the time: Agudath Israel and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Additionally, from 1922 - 1928, Rabbi Shapiro was a parliamentarian in the Polish Sejm (parliament).

His greatest accomplishment, however, was the creation of the Daf Yomi, which means “a folio a day.” He proposed that the Talmud be studied by laymen and scholars, one folio (meaning both sides of one page) a day. Throughout the Jewish world, everyone would start on the same page at the same time and participate in Daf Yomi for 7 ½ years, at which time the entire Talmud will have been studied. In this fashion, it not only enabled Jews all over the world to study “together,” but provided a manageable schedule of study that allowed any Jew to feel successful. The last celebration of the completion (siyum) of the Daf Yomi cycle took place in Madison Square Garden and other large arenas in 2005. The next siyum is scheduled for August 2, 2012.

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

Join In

One can join a Daf Yomi study program at any time and there are many excellent Daf Yomi classes available online, as well.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Question of Theft

Most cases of theft are black and white but not all. For instance, is it a problem to use a neighbor’s wireless router (bandwidth) without permission?

Questions of contested ownership have always existed. While Alexander Graham Bell is famed as the inventor of the telephone, a man named Elisha Gray filed a similar patent on the very same day and there have always been questions as to whether Bell used Gray’s research.

Throughout history, Jews turn to one primary example when dealing with “murky” theft issues. In Genesis 13 (5-7), it is written that Abram traveled with his nephew Lot and leased/bought land from the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Abram and Lot had such a large camp and possessed such an enormous number of flocks and herds that “the land was not able to bear them.” This led to strife between the herdsmen of Abram and those of Lot.

The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 41:5) explains that Abram’s herdsmen questioned Lot’s herdsmen’s honesty for not muzzling their cattle (as Abram’s men did) when grazing on land not marked as their own. Lot’s herdsmen, however, quoted God’s promise to Abram to give all of the land to him. But, since Abram had no children, Lot was destined to be his only heir. Since they assumed that Lot would eventually inherit all of the land from Abram, grazing on it even before inheriting it was not theft. God, however, had also promised Abram that it would only be his actual decedents who would inherent the land and only after the removal of the seven nations from it.

Because Lot’s herdsmen refused to see the questionable ethics of their assumptions, Abram decided that he and Lot should best part ways, for Abram did not want there to be even the slightest question regarding his and his family's own honesty.

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

Avoiding Theft

There are many ways to take something away from another person. Consider how your actions and words effect other people.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why It's Called Hebrew

The word Hebrew, according to etymological sources, is a transliteration of the word Ivri, which is a descriptive term used for Abraham in Genesis 14:13: “And there came one [from the captives of Sodom] that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew...”

Some commentators suggest that Abraham is called Ivri because he was a descendant of Ever (Genesis 11:14), who, together with his own great-grandfather, Shem, was an early monotheist. (In Hebrew, Ivri and Ever share the same root letters.)

Others see the term Hebrew, or Ivri, as related to Abraham’s physical locale. Ivri technically means “one who has crossed over.” Abraham had been raised in Ur, which was the great city of the time. The Midrash suggests that Abraham interacted with Nimrod, the powerful despot of the era, and thus must have been in the center of the Mesopotamian civilization. However, Abraham left that land (at God’s behest) for the Land of Canaan, and, in so doing, he crossed the Jordan River.

More than reflecting his place of origin, however, the name Ivri signifies that he was a man who had “crossed over” in a metaphysical sense. He was the first person to transition from polytheism to monotheism and to then teach monotheism to others. Monotheism was the essence of the legacy that Abraham left to his descendants, but so was the title Ivri (Ivrim in plural). It appears again in the story of Joseph (who is referred to as an Ivri by the wife of Potifar) and, more importantly, in the story of the Exodus.

The name Ivrim, or Hebrews, was the name by which the Children of Israel were known for a long time. It’s usage is found in numerous Biblical books, such as Kings and Isaiah. In time, the Jewish people came to be known as Yehudim, Judeans, but the name of the language remained Hebrew (Ivrit).

This Treat was originally posted as part of Twebrew School ( to promote READ HEBREW AMERICA and CANADA, the annual Hebrew literacy campaign of the National Jewish Outreach Program,

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

Learn Hebrew

Find out if there is a Hebrew Reading Crash Course available in your area.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grammatic Multiples

Whereas grammar in most languages is generally assumed to be important because it creates structure and order, Biblical grammar also has a powerful effect on the meaning of a text. For example, the “et” participle serves a unique function of creating a direct object. Although it technically has no translation, many of the commentators who are experts in Biblical grammar find that the “et” often has non-traditional uses, such as being a stand-in for “eem,” meaning with.

The non-traditional translations of “et” are often determined by the context of the sentence. One of the most interesting interpretations made with the “et” participle is to be found in the first two verses of Genesis 4: “And Adam knew (the Biblical ways of saying “had relations with”) Eve his wife, she conceived and bore (et) Cain...and she bore again (et) his brother (et) Abel...”

Rashi, the quintessential Biblical commentator, writes about these verses: “these three ets teach us that she [Eve] bore a twin sister with Cain, and with Abel were born two twin sisters, therefore it is written ‘And she bore again.’” Rashi refers his readers back to Genesis Rabbah, a book of Midrash compiled by the sages. There it states: “Rabbi Joshua ben Karhah said: Only two [Adam and Eve] entered the bed, and seven left it: Cain and his twin sister, Abel and his two twin sisters...”

Multiple births fascinate us, but, as one can see from the story of Eve bearing quintuplets (twins plus triplets), it is part of the natural workings of the world.

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


Want to learn more about Hebrew grammar? Find out if there’s a Level II Hebrew Reading Crash Course in your area by clicking here.