Friday, April 29, 2011

There's A Key In My Challah!

It's a fact that many people spend much time thinking and even worrying about par'nassah (livelihood).

Jewish tradition teaches that different seasons have different spiritual strengths. Certain times are regarded as propitious to pray for rain, while other times are considered appropriate to petition for forgiveness. (Of course, these things may also be prayed for at other times of the year!) So too, our spiritual leaders have noted that there are certain times on the Jewish calendar when it is propitious to focus on praying for par'nassah. One such time is the Shabbat that immediately follows Passover, when it is a custom in some Jewish communities to make what is known as shlissel (Yiddish for key) challah.

There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom. Due to space limitations, Jewish Treats will present only a few:

1) The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 2:2) states that on Passover the world is allocated its grain harvest for the coming year.

2) The Jews celebrated Passover just before entering the land of Canaan, at which point there was no more manna (the heavenly food of the wilderness). Henceforth, the Jewish nation needed to generate its own par'nassah.

3) A “key” serves as a symbol to remind us that our prayers have the power to open the Gates of Heaven.

There are different ways to perform this custom. Some people bake an actual key (scrubbed clean or wrapped in foil/parchment paper) into the challah, while others mold their challah into the shape of a key. One custom mentions using a key to knead the dough, and there are still other customs as well.

Whatever one’s custom, it is hoped that the symbolic message will reach its proper destination and have the desired beneficial effect on one’s livelihood.

*This Treat was originally published on April 17, 2009. It is being re-Treated as an interesting fact for this time of year.

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

Your Own Key

If you don't bake your own challah, buy some and heat in the oven before Shabbat together with a key.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Women Who Work

In 1993, Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women initiated the “Take Our Daughters To Work” program (in 2003, it became “Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work”) with the intention of boosting the self-esteem of girls by showing them that they too could do all types of work.

The question of working women was, in fact, not a question in the days of the Talmud. Marriage then was an economic arrangement, and it was assumed that a woman would work along with her husband, whether farming crops or shearing sheep. Without question, running a home in the days of the Talmud was a much more labor intensive task than it is in our age of microwaves and washing machines. The Mishnah actually lists some of the Jewish woman’s basic obligations for maintaining a home: grinding corn, baking bread, washing clothes, cooking, making the beds and working in wool (Ketubot 59b). A woman, however, could live a more leisurely life if, according to the Mishnah, she brought bondswomen with her into the marriage: “If she brought him one bondswoman she need not do any grinding or baking or washing. [if she brought] two bondswomen, she need not even cook...If four, she may lounge in an easy chair” (Ketubot 59b).

The Ketubah, Jewish marriage contract, stipulates that a husband must provide for his wife’s basic needs. But, Jewish law also allows a woman to be mochel (literally forgive or cancel) that obligation. “If, therefore, she said, ‘I do not wish either to be maintained by you or to work for you,’ she is entitled to do so” (Ketubot 58b).

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

Take Your Children To Synagogue

Be a positive Jewish role model and bring your children to synagogue this Shabbat.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mimouna

Jews rejoice on Passover to celebrate their redemption from slavery in Egypt. Because of Passover’s connection to redemption, there is much hope that the final redemption will soon be at hand (thus the inclusion of Elijah’s cup at the Seder). At the end of the week-long holiday, on the day after Passover, in order to prolong the rejoicing and, many say, as a means of asserting their faith in the final redemption, Jews of North African origin celebrate a unique holiday known as “Mimouna.”

While some have suggested that the name Mimouna derives from ma’amoun, the Arabic word for wealth and good fortune, others connect it to the Hebrew word emunah, faith. Taking the latter opinion one step further, the name may be an Arabic adaptation of the phrase, “Ani Ma’amin” (I believe).

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam, 1135-1204) set forth the Thirteen Principles of Faith, each of which begins with the phrase “Ani Ma’amin.” The twelfth statement of faith is: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.” The connection between the Thirteen Maimonidean Principles of Faith and Mimouna is further confirmed since Mimouna is celebrated on the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, the Rambam’s father (a great scholar in his own right).

The Mimouna holiday, which is most often associated with Moroccan Jews but is customary among many North African communities, has no specific halachot (laws). The customs, however, reflect the community’s exuberant, joyful nature. Tables are decorated, often with symbols of luck and fertility (golden rings hidden in bowls of flour, items set out in sets of five, and sometimes live fish in bowls). Sweet delicacies (made of chametz) are served, particularly mofletta, a special pancake served with honey.

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

It's Still Mimouna

Invite friends over this evening to celebrate Mimouna!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Song of Songs

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is ‘oil poured forth.’ Therefore, the maidens loved you. Draw me, we will run after you...” (Song of Songs 1:2-4).

And people say the Bible is boring...

Shir Hashirim, (The Song Of Songs), the Biblical love song attributed to King Solomon, is understood by the rabbis to be a prophetic allegory about the relationship of God and the Jewish people.

The poetic work describes a beautiful maiden who loves, and is loved by, a handsome youth. When he pursues her, however, she sends him away with various excuses, only to realize too late that he was her true love. Devastated at the thought that she has alienated and probably lost him, she wanders through the city streets looking for her lost lover and, in the process, suffers shame and embarrassment. Finally, the lovers are reunited and are joined by their sincere love.

Shir Hashirim is one of the five megillot (scrolls of canonical works) from the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible. On the Shabbat of Chol HaMoed* Passover, it is customary for Shir Hashirim to be read in the synagogue.

Shir Hashirim was chosen as the Passover reading because the story of the Exodus demonstrates God’s patience with His beloved--the Jewish people, as represented by the maiden. Despite having witnessed the many miracles that God performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, the Jews strayed from their commitment to God. Eventually, God withdrew His favor from the Jews (Hester Panim), and they have since wandered the world trying to make amends for the damage caused to the relationship. The reunion of the lovers is a prophecy for the Messianic era, yet to be fulfilled.

*Passover is an 8 day holiday. The first two days and last two days are Yamim Tovim - days that are observed like Sabbath (except that one may cook on an existing flame, and carry in public areas). In Israel, Passover is only 7 days, and only the 1st and 7th day are Yamim Tovim. The in-between days are known as Chol HaMoed - weekdays of the festival.

This Treat was originally posted on April 7, 2009.

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

Read It Yourself

If you can't get to synagogue this Shabbat, read Shir Hashirim on your own.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Poet and A Martyr

Hannah Senesh (Szenes) was born in Budapest, Hungary, to an assimilated, middle-class family. An avid diarist from the age of 13 until her death, Hannah maintained a personal journal that reflected the literary talent she had inherited from her father, Bela, a playwright who died when she was six.

While the Senesh family were not active participants in Jewish religious life, both Hannah and her brother George were ardent Zionists. In 1939, at age 18, Hannah gave up her dream of a university education, went to Palestine (now called Israel) and enrolled in an agricultural school. She later joined Kibbutz S'dot Yam (Fields of the Sea) in Caesarea.

Back in Hungary, the entire Jewish community (including Hannah's mother) was suffering terribly due to local anti-Semitism. Although the Germans did not officially occupy Hungary until 1944, the Hungarian government allied itself with the Axis powers. Worried about her mother and anxious to do something to stop the Nazis, Hannah joined the British Army, volunteering to be parachuted across enemy lines as a spy.

In June 1944, Hannah parachuted into Yugoslavia and, together with a band of underground Jewish partisans, crossed the border into Hungary. Unfortunately, they were quickly captured. The radio transmitter in their possession was evidence enough to have them imprisoned.

The Nazis held Hannah in prison for nearly five months, during which time she was able to communicate with her mother. She was tortured, repeatedly, but refused to give the Nazis any information. On November 7, 1944, the 23 year-old Hannah was executed by firing squad. She refused to be blind-folded.

Hannah's diaries and poems, which she sent to her mother, were later published. Several of her poems became popular Hebrew songs. The courage displayed by this young woman has been an inspiration to many generations of young people.

One of her most famous poems:
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.

Playing On Passover

It's still Passover! Enjoy Chol Hamoed (the interim days of the holiday - today through Sunday) by taking some time for an outing with friends or family.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Can You Count To 49?

There is a Biblical commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:

Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

*This Treat was originally published on April 13, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the time between Passover and Shavuot.

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

Chag Kasher V'Sameach

Jewish Treats and the National Jewish Outreach Program wish you all a happy and kosher Passover.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fast of the Firstborn

There has always been a lot of pressure on firstborn children, as they were often expected to care for the family property or business in order to ensure stability within the community. Even in modern society, the firstborn usually receives the most attention, the most responsibility and the most mistakes.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborn, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborn was also the first plague during which the Israelites needed to take an active role in order not to be affected (marking their doorposts with blood).

While Passover is a commemoration of the story of the Exodus, there is also a special Fast of the Firstborn, which is observed on the 14th of Nisan, the day before the first seder.* It is observed only by the firstborn. This includes minors--except that, halachically, minors (under the age of bar/bat mitzvah) are not supposed to fast. Therefore, it has become the accepted practice that the firstborn’s father fasts instead.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) infers that Egyptian women/girls also died during the Death of the Firstborn, and therefore there are different opinions as to whether firstborn women/girls should fast as well (one should follow the custom of the community).

The Fast of the Firstborn begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall (with the start of the seder). It is customary, however, for those obligated to fast to attend a seudat mitzvah (the feast of a mitzvah) such as a brit milah (circumcision) or, most often, a siyyum (celebration of the completion of learning a section of Torah or Talmud), which cancels the fast.

*unless it coincides with Shabbat

*This Treat was originally published on March 26, 2010. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

Firstborn

If you are a firstborn, call your local synagogue and find out if they are making a siyyum.

Friday, April 15, 2011

You Are Royalty

Passover is known as the festival of freedom. And who is more free than royalty? At the Seder, all Jews are supposed to consider themselves royalty. Some of the ways we demonstrate this are:

LEANING - As a sign of royalty, the Sages taught that one must lean to one’s left while drinking the wine and eating the matzah. In the time of the Mishnah, it was customary for royalty to eat in a lounging position. (Think of pictures of Roman nobles eating.) In many Jewish homes, people cover the pillows upon which they lean, with fancy, decorated pillowcases. In fact, decorating Passover pillowcases is a great way to involve the children in preparations for the holiday.

RED WINE - While wine connoisseurs around the world may argue over white versus red, sweet versus dry, etc., Jewish tradition strongly recommends that the wine at the Seder be red. Why red? In ancient times, wine merchants sometimes watered down the white wines, making it cheaper both in price and quality. Thus, since we Jews live as royalty for this evening, red wine is recommended. Additionally, red wine reminds us of the blood of the Jewish people slaughtered by Pharaoh. (However, if you strongly prefer white wine, by all means, drink it.)

POURING THE WINE - Would a king or queen pour their own wine? Not likely. It is therefore customary at the seder that one does not pour his/her own wine. However, since the wine cups must be refilled, and most of us do not have a wait staff at the seder, it is customary that each person fill the glass of the person next to him/her at the table.

Treat Originally Posted on March 27, 2009.

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

Dress For The Best

Treat yourself like royalty by wearing a special outfit or a particularly nice suit to the Seder.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Seek The Answers

The Four Questions (Mah Nishtana - What makes it different?) is one of the most famous features of the Passover Seder. In Ashkenazi homes, these four lines are recited by the youngest person present, or, quite often, by all the children at the Seder.

Before you start scanning your haggadah to discover four answers, wait. The haggadah doesn’t answer any of these questions directly! So why ask them?

The haggadah mimics the style of the Talmud, which is full of rhetorical questions and answers that appear not to match the questions asked. Students of the Talmud, however, learn to understand these type of strange dynamics.

The immediate answer presented in the haggadah is a paragraph known as Avad’im Ha’yee’nu, “We Were Slaves...”:

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord our God took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Had God not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, then we, our children and our grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if we all were wise and perceptive, experienced and well-versed in Torah, it would still be our duty to tell about the exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about the exodus, the more praise one deserves.

The Four Questions are left unanswered because they are meant to encourage children (and adults) to listen for the answers. In a way, the answers are there. We eat Matzah because this was the bread of affliction of our ancestors in Egypt. We eat maror, bitter herbs, to remember the pain of slavery. We dip our vegetables (first the karpas and then the maror) and we recline as we eat (except the maror), because these are the ways of free people. And the answer to all of the questions of the seder truly is...we were slaves and now we are free, all, thanks to God.

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

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice reciting the Mah Nishtana. If a child in your life will be reciting it, review the words with them for several days in advance so they feel less shy at the Seder.

Want to learn more about the Seder? Check out Rabbi Buchwald's 15 short Pesach Seder webisodes (2-3 minutes each).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover Seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the Seder is derived from the four stages through which God promised to redeem the Jews from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am God and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the Seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Hagaddah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus, as a way of praising God. The blessing on wine is made a second time, because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a single cup of wine or grape juice is blessed, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all present bless and drink their own cup of wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising God, and marks the conclusion of the food part of the seder.

This Treat was originally posted on April 3, 2009.

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

Choose Carefully

Pre-purchase your Seder wine. Remember, you will be drinking four cups, so choose one you enjoy but that's not too strong!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Afikomen

Those who have attended a Passover Seder, know that one of the most beloved Seder traditions is the hiding* of the afikomen, a specially designated half-piece of matzah. But what exactly is the afikomen?

The word afikomen is of Greek origin and, while its exact translation has been lost, seems to refer to after-dinner deserts, drinks and entertainment. In reference to Passover, the Mishnah states (Pesachim 119b-120a) that “One may not conclude the Paschal meal [by saying] ‘Now to the entertainment’...it was taught as Rabbi Johanan, ‘You must not conclude after the Paschal meal with dates, parched ears and nuts [desserts].”’ (Don’t eat anything more...)

Initially, the halacha was that the eating of the Paschal lamb marked the conclusion of the seder feast. After the destruction of the Temple (since the Paschal lamb can no longer be brought), the sages ordained that matzah must be the last taste one has at the seder. Since this matzah was eaten in lieu of the afikomen (meaning dessert, drinks and entertainment) it assumed the name “afikomen.”

While the afikomen is involved in several steps of the seder (Yachatz - when the middle matzah is broken in half and the larger piece is set aside for the afikomen, and Tzaphun, when the afikomen is eaten), it is only vaguely mentioned in the Haggadah.

There are many differences in customs involving the afikomen, depending on one’s background. Ashkenazim hide the afikomen (and find it) as a means of keeping the children interested. Iraqi Jews conduct a dialogue while holding it (“Where are you from?” “Egypt.” “Where are you going?” “Jerusalem.”). Many North African Jews wrap the afikomen in white and carry it around the room on their shoulders.

*an Ashkenazi tradition

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

That's So Interesting

Gather information on the customs of other communities to discuss at your seder. Here's a start: NJOP’s Passover Around the World.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Passover Story in Brief

On Passover, we commemorate the Exodus from Egyptian slavery. The following is a brief summary:

Jacob's family came to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Joseph, Viceroy to Pharoah, settled his family in the land of Goshen, apart from the Egyptians.

Joseph's contribution to Egyptian society was forgotten after his death, and the new Pharaoh, feeling threatened by the success of the Israelites, enslaved them with cruel and bitter labor.

Alerted to a prophecy that the Israelites would be led to freedom by a boy yet to be born, Pharaoh ordered all newborn Jewish boys cast into the Nile. Yocheved set her newborn son (Moses) adrift in the Nile in a basket, where he was found by
Pharaoh's daughter, who adopted him.

Years later, Moses came upon an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Outraged, Moses slew the Egyptian, but then fled Egypt fearing that his action had been discovered. He took refuge in Midian with Jethro and married Jethro's daughter, Tziporah. While shepherding Jethro's sheep, Moses came upon a burning bush which was not consumed, from which he heard God's voice instructing him to go back and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses, joined by his older brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites. Pharaoh repeatedly said no--nine times. Each time he said no, another plague (blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness) struck Egypt. Finally, God struck dead all the Egyptian first born. After this tenth and final plague, Pharaoh finally said "yes" and the Jews left Egypt, matzah in hand.

Pharaoh changed his mind and chased the Israelites, who were eventually trapped between the Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds. But the Sea miraculously split and they crossed safely while the Egyptians drowned in the returning waters. Only Pharaoh survived.

The Israelites then continued their journey to Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah.

*This Treat was originally published on March 26, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

Just One Week

Get ready for Passover with Jewish Treats Guide to Preparing A Passover Seder.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Beauty of the Book

Illuminated manuscripts inlaid with gold or silver leaf and spectacularly illustrated, are most often associated with the Medieval church (the Gospels, Psalters, etc), where texts were generally hand-copied until Western Europeans discovered the printing press.

The Jewish world, however, has often been influenced by its surrounding communities and it is, therefore, not at all surprising that Jewish illuminated manuscripts exist as well. Although many Jewish books and texts were destroyed in the course of Jewish history, whether by natural disintegration or, more often, in the flames of pogroms and book-burnings, many important manuscripts have been preserved. Of these, the two most famous are Haggadot.

While it is known that the Sarajevo Haggadah was created in the mid-1300s, it’s exact origins are unknown. The history of this Haggadah, however, is well established: it changed of hands in 1510, there is a note from 1609 stating that the Haggadah does not speak against the Church, and, in 1892, Josef Cohen tried to sell it. It was bought by the National Museum in Sarajevo and tucked away for safe keeping due to its delicate nature. The curators even managed to keep it from the Nazis and hid it during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Haggadah was displayed for the public during Passover in 1995.

The Birds’ Head Haggadah is named after the distinctive figures used in its illustrations. Creating humanoid figures with bird-like faces was one way Jewish artists avoided violating the practice of not creating images of humans. (The artist used other facial distortions as well). Discovered in 1946, the Birds Head Haggadah is among the oldest surviving Askenazi illuminated Haggadot (late 13th century). Its origin is placed in Southern Germany, where Jews were mandated to wear the conical “Jew’s Hat” shown on the adult male figures in the Haggadah.

View an image from the Sarajevo Haggadah here.

View an image from the Birds’ Head Haggadah here.

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

Treasure Our Heritage

Preserve Judaica and Jewish texts that have special significance to your family.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

She Was A Harlot

It sounds like a classic melodrama: A harlot endangers her life to protect two desperate spies, and, when the city falls, she ends up marrying the conquering leader.

The harlot’s name was Rachav (Rahab), and she plied her trade in her home that was built into the walls of Jericho. When Caleb and Pinchas, two Israelite spies, needed to flee the city, they went to Rachav. She hid them on her roof, burying them beneath some flax, and then misdirected the searchers. Afterward, Rachav let down a rope on the far side of the wall enabling the spies to escape. Before they left, however, Rachav told them that she was aware that God had given the land to the Israelites. She had heard of the splitting of the sea and of the battles of the Israelites in the Wilderness. Rachav acknowledged that the citizens of Jericho were terrified of the impending attack, and, therefore, requested that they swear to return kindness for kindness and spare her family (Joshua 2:9-13).

The promise made by the spies was kept. Rachav and her family were given free passage after the terrible battle and brought to the Israelite camp. According to tradition, Rachav converted, stating at that time: “Let me be forgiven in the merit of the rope, the window and the flax [with which she saved the spies]” (Zevachim 116b).

Once Rachav was Jewish, tradition has it that “Joshua married her” (Megillah 14b).

Although the Talmud (Megillah 15a) lists her as one of the four exceedingly beautiful women in the world (along with Sarah, Abigail and Esther), Rachav is also recognized for her spiritual greatness. In fact, in a rare note of matrilineal power, the Talmud states: “Eight prophets...were descended from Rachav the harlot: Neriah, Baruch, Seraiah, Mahseiah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel, and Shalum...and Huldah the prophetess” (Megillah 14b).

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

Best Seder In The USA



Don't miss the newest music video release on Jewish Treats' YouTube Channel: Best Seder In The USA!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

“In Every Generation” 1903

This Passover, Jews around the world will recite: “In every generation, our enemies rise up to destroy us.” Passover, Purim, Chanukah, the Inquisition, the Holocaust...we are well aware of the major attempts by our enemies throughout history to try to destroy us.

“In every generation” was all too real for the Jews of Bessarabia, in Imperial Russia, on Passover in 5663 (1903). They had just survived what came to be called the “Kishinev Pogrom,” a two-day riot that left 47 Jews dead, 92 wounded and hundreds of Jewish homes looted and destroyed.

A few months earlier, a young non-Jewish boy had been found beaten and stabbed to death (by, it was latter discovered, a relative). For the next two months, Pavel Krushevan, director of the Bessarabian newspaper Bessarabets, fermented hatred against the Jews, accusing them of murdering the boy for his blood to make matzah (the classic blood libel). Fuel was added to the fire by the suicide of a Christian girl in a Jewish mental institution.

The violent sentiments of the population came to a head on April 6, a day or two after the Russian Easter celebration. The Russian police stood by as the people attacked. According to most opinions, this inaction was deliberate (ordered by the Minister of Interior).

The appearance of state sponsorship for this pogrom resulted in an incredible backlash. Poems were written of the riot (see: Chaim Nachman Bialik’s “On the Slaughter”) and funds were collected for the victims. President Theodore Roosevelt and former President Grover Cleveland both expressed their anger over the incident. Some of the rioters were punished (following international pressure) but were given light sentences for their actions.

When discussing the Kishinev pogrom, history texts also include the riots of October 19-20, 1905, in the same region, in which 19 Jews were killed and 56 injured. These two pogroms had a major impact on Jewish life as it spurred many Russian Jews to leave Russia.

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

In Our Generation

Jews living in the United States or Canada (where Jews, thankfully, live in peace and tranquility), might question the Haggadah’s statement: “In every generation.” But this phrase, unfortunately, always applies to somewhere in the world. Less then a year ago, Jewish newspapers heralded the transport of the last 200 Jews out of Yemen (with only handful insisting on staying) who had to be relocated in fear of their lives.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Inauguration Time

Imagine...
Place: In the Wilderness
Who: The Children of Israel
When: Almost a year after leaving Egypt

For seven days they practice. Each morning the intricate pieces of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) are assembled by Moses. Each day Aaron and his sons rehearse the service an familiarize themselves with the correct words and actions. And each evening, Moses takes the Mishkan apart again, prepared to repeat these actions on the morrow.

For seven days the soon-to-be new priests, Aaron and his sons, do not leave the confines of the Tabernacle. On the eighth day, however...it’s showtime!


On the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (the first month of the Hebrew calendar), the Israelites inaugurated the Mishkan. The entire nation gathered and stood before the Tent of Meeting. Moses opened the ceremony by announcing “This is the thing the Lord has commanded; do [it], and the glory of the Lord will appear to you” (Leviticus 9:6). Thus began the first public sacrificial ceremony in the new Tabernacle.

Regardless of what 21st century people think of sacrificial rites, it must have been an awesome sight when “the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces” (Leviticus 9:23-24).

Time, according to Judaism, always maintains its sanctity. Today is Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the first day of the month of Nisan. The Jewish people do not now have a Mishkan or Temple, but we can each take a moment to imagine what it was like.

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

Greeting of the Month

Greet your fellow Jews with "chodesh tov," the customary greeting at the start of each month.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Oh My Gosh...Passover Is Coming

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: "Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses..." (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one's possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating). To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to clean one's home, office and even one's car. It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be "turned over "--the kitchen converted from chametz status to "ready-for-Passover" use. "Turning over the kitchen" includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops, which come in direct contact with chametz.

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or otherwise removed. In instances of significant monetary loss (e.g. economy size boxes of cereal or bottles of scotch), it is customary to sell chametz through a rabbi to a non-Jew. For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit
NJOP's Passover Preparations page.

*This Treat was originally published on March 26, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Nisan and Passover.

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

From The Past, To The Future

The Jewish Messenger (April 4, 1890) reported that “despite the undeniable tendency to change in every direction, the festival of Passover...survives with all its old time strength and picturesqueness. Our Passover “is over three thousand years old and likely to survive three thousand more.” Share Jewish Treats Passover points over the next two weeks with your friends and family to make this year’s Passover a true celebration of Jewish life.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jokes On Us

“Knock. Knock”
“Who’s There?”
“Jewish”
“Jewish Who?”
“Jewish Treats”....Ok, not so funny, but, when you get to the bottom of it, April Fools Day (or All Fools Day) is hardly a Jewish holiday. Wait, perhaps you are wondering how a day for jokes and laughter can not be a Jewish day, after all, so many stand-up comedians and comedy writers are Jewish?

Jews like to laugh, it’s true, and Jews like to make others laugh. Indeed, making people laugh is considered a great mitzvah. Once, the Talmud tells us, Rabbi Beroka was walking in the market with the Prophet Elijah. Rabbi Beroka wished to know who in the crowd had a share in the world to come. When Elijah pointed out two men, Rabbi Beroka asked them: “‘What is your occupation?’ They replied, ‘We are jesters, when we see men depressed, we cheer them up. Furthermore, when we see two people quarreling we strive hard to make peace between them’” (Taanit 22a).

Making others laugh is a wonderful thing, but not when it is at someone else’s expense. A good practical joke is one in which the teller, listener and subject all laugh together. Practical jokes are problematic on two accounts: they either embarrass someone or cause someone to be frightened. Embarrassing someone is equated by the rabbis to killing them: “He who publicly shames his fellow is as though he shed blood” (Baba Metzia 58b). So too, Choshen Mishpat, the section of the Code of Jewish Law that covers business law, notes that frightening another person is forbidden.

The purpose of a practical joke is almost always to frighten (even mildly) or embarrass another person. Therefore, practical jokes are best avoided. That does not, however, mean that comedy isn’t an acceptable Jewish art form...

Happy April Fools Day!

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

It Only Takes A Word

It only takes one word to interrupt a joke being made at another’s expense! (“Stop”).