Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What’s in the Book- the Twelve Prophets - Micah

The Book of Micah contains prophecy directed at both Samaria (Israel) and Jerusalem (Judah) by the prophet Micah, who lived in Judah during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Micah’s first prophecy predicted the destruction of both Samaria (the Northern kingdom of Israel) and Jerusalem (the Southern kingdom of Judah) due to the idolatrous ways of the people. He was irate over their cruel business ethics: “And they covet fields and seize them, houses and take them away” (2:2). Micah was a powerful advocate for the people, and he opposed the corrupt courts and the “professional prophets.”

But in the end of days it shall come to pass that the mountain of God’s House shall stand firm above the mountains ... And many nations shall go and say ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of God, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths. Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of God from Jerusalem (4:1-2). So begins Micah’s messianic prophecy, foretelling of the gathering of the exiles and the destruction of our enemies. Micah focused much of his redemption prophecy on a great king who will come out of Judah.

Returning to words of condemnation, God demands to know: “O My people, what have I done to you? What hardship have I caused you? Testify against me” (6:3).

The Book of Micah concludes with a lament on the destruction that is to come, how people will be unable to trust even their closest relatives and how desolate the land will be until God calls back His people and they return to Him with true faith and awe.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Extra Fare

If you see someone scrounging for bus fare, help out with a spare quarter or two.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Nice Invitations

“Rabbi Meir used to say: A man should not urge his friend to dine with him when he knows that his friend will not do so. And he should not offer him many gifts when he knows that his friend will not accept them” (Chullin 94a).

This statement brings to mind a particular ethical situation regarding invitations to weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and other family celebrations. May one invite “Uncle Jack” who lives on a kibbutz in Israel to a Bar Mitzvah in California, knowing that it is too far for him to come?

The question comes down to intent. The cases stated by Rabbi Meir in the Talmud refers to an invitation that is proffered merely to make a good impression. If the last thing one wants to do is to actually eat dinner with the invited guest, then the invitation becomes problematic. At the very heart of the invitation is a deception--a desire for the invited guest to believe in the good will of the one who offered the invitation.

Rabbi Meir adds an interesting caveat: “If, however, the purpose is to show the guest great respect, it is permitted” (ibid). The difference between flattery (which can be a form of bribery) and giving respect can be a fine line and, in truth, is highly subjective. Does one want the person to feel good, or does one want the person to think well of the person extending the invitation?

This same idea can be applied to celebrations. When inviting “Uncle Jack,” does one want him to know that he was being thought of, or does one merely hope that he will send a nice gift?

*Note to those planning a celebration in conjunction with their parents (e.g. a wedding): Honoring one’s parents and inviting “their people” over-rules the subjective question of whether you want those guests at the event.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Returns on Sincerity

If you wish to impress, take the time to get to know the person whom you wish to impress.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Destructive M’lachot?

The laws of guarding Shabbat guarantee that the Jewish people will maintain the Shabbat as a day sacred and distinct from the six work days of the week. The prohibited acts are known as m’lachot, which is best translated as acts of “creative labor,” and the 39 specific categories from which all m’lachot are derived are based on the specific acts involved in the creation of the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle) in the wilderness.

Within the 39 m’lachot, it is interesting to note that there are four distinct pairs of what could be called opposites: sewing and tearing, writing and erasing, igniting and extinguishing fire, and tying and untying knots. How can the destructive sides of these pairs be seen as creative acts?

A careful assessment of these acts, however, reveals that even in acts of destruction, there can be elements of creation.

Tearing is the most obvious of the ways in which one uses a destructive force to create. This m’lacha includes ripping out a piece of paper from a notebook, thus creating an independent piece of paper. Another example might be tearing a long scarf in two, thus creating two separate and useful scarves. Some tearing is permitted on Shabbat when it is truly destructive, such as opening a bag of food in such a way that the bag cannot be re-used. (For more on tearing, click here.)

Erasing also lends itself to the obvious. Erase markings from a piece of paper and one creates a clean paper on which one can write.

Extinguishing and untying are less obvious acts of destructive creation. In the work done to create the Mishkan, fires were deliberately extinguished in order to produce charcoal (which would then be used for writing). Similarly, the prohibition of untying originated from methods used to harvest the chilazon, a shellfish that was the source of techelet (a special blue dye) used in the Mishkan. The fishermen would often untie their old nets in order to have new material with which to create new nets.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Positive Shabbat

Spend Shabbat connecting with your friends and family.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Where To Wear Tefillin

While Jewish Treats has previously discussed the requirements for kosher tefillin (Click here for a full description of tefillin, including the difference between the box worn on the head and the box worn on the arm), it should be noted that the ways in which the tefillin are worn have profoundly symbolic. The actual method for “laying tefillin,” as it is called, is intricate and should be reviewed with a rabbi or one experienced in putting on tefillin.

The tefillin shel yad (of the arm) is always placed on the “weaker” arm. Thus righties place them on their left arms and lefties on their right arms. The placement of the tefillin on one’s less dominant hand demonstrates the desire to use one’s entire body to fulfill the commandments. The box of the tefillin shel yad is placed on the inner arm above the elbow, on top of the muscle, and is lined up to aim at one’s heart, the center of one’s emotions and desires. Speaking of heart, many find meaning in the fact that the strap of the tefillin shel yad is wrapped around the lower arm seven times, just as a bride circles a groom seven times beneath the wedding canopy, alluding to the concept that the Jewish people are married to God. Finally, the strap of the tefillin shel yad is wrapped around one’s hand so that the different criss-crossings create the letters shin, daled and yud, Sha’dai, a name of God representing "He Who sets boundaries on the world."

The box of the tefillin shel rosh (of the head) is placed centrally just above the forehead, while the knot that ties the two ends of the strap of the tefillin rests just above the nape of the neck. Just as the tefillin shel yad symbolically represents dedicating one’s emotions to serving God, the tefillin shel rosh represents the dedication of one’s intellect to serving the Almighty.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Lending Friend

If a friend is without a pair of tefillin, allow him to put yours on.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thoughts on Shevat

Although the Torah implies that Abraham and his descendants are removed from the fate of the stars (based on Genesis 15:5, Nedarim 32a) - meaning that their personal destinies are not determined through astrology - Judaism does acknowledge the basic astrological map of the sky, but not its efficacy. (For Rabbi Buchwald’s insights into this topic, click here.) The Talmud even includes a list of the Zodiacal signs that correspond to the twelve months of the Hebrew year. Like its corresponding zodiac sign Aquarius, the Hebrew month of Shevat is represented by the water-bearer.

Water is a physical necessity for the existence of life. Typically, the month of Shevat is the heart of the rainy season in the land of Israel, and Israel is the location on which all of the Torah’s seasonal guidelines are based. Water brings life, and the mid-point of the month of Shevat is the celebration of Tu (15th) Bi'Shevat, the day, according to the sages, on which sap in the trees begins to flow.

Just as water is essential for physical life, so too is Torah a spiritual necessity. And as the sages often compare Torah to water, it is not surprising that “in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, Moses spoke to the Children of Israel, accounting all that God had commanded him to them” (Deuteronomy 1:3). Thus it was, that on the eleventh month, Shevat, and on the first day of the month of Shevat, Moses began his final presentation of God’s commandments.

What significance does this connection have over 3,000 years later? In the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the world’s Jewish population resides, the beginning of Shevat is not just the rainiest time of year, but the coldest as well. Shevat, however, is meant to be a season of hope. When life sometimes seems hardest, the seeds of inspiration begin to grow.

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers a happy Rosh Chodesh (celebration of the new month) Shevat.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Essential Sharing

Sharing Jewish Treats is a great way to help others discover Jewish inspiration.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Two Jews and the 501 Blues

Most people own at least one pair of jeans, if not several. The original, and most widely known, brand of jeans are the Levi 501 Blues, named after the company founded by Levi Strauss.

Most people, however, also believe that Strauss was the inventor of jeans. Actually, they were the creation of Jacob Davis (1831 - 1908), another Jewish pioneer. Davis, who was born Jacob Youphes in Riga, Latvia, arrived in the United States five years after the start of the California Gold Rush. And while his now famous invention would always be associated with those heady days of gold fever, the original pair of what would become Levi’s jeans was not created until 1870. In the interim, Jacob Davis tried his hand at various enterprises (cigar store, brewery). When each effort failed, he returned to his original profession-- tailoring. In addition to changing professions, he also changed locations.

In 1870, Davis was once again working as a tailor in Reno, Nevada, and was approached by the woman of a well-proportioned husband who was continually destroying his pants. She asked Davis, who also made wagon covers and tents, to make an extra-strong pair of pants. Davis used copper rivets (just like the ones on the wagon covers) to strengthen the pockets, and within weeks others began ordering these extra-strong pants. When Davis noticed that other tailors were imitating his pants, he decided to file for a patent. As patents cost money, Davis approached the man from whom he had been buying duck cloth and denim - Levi Strauss of San Francisco. While they filed for the patent together, only Strauss’ name appeared on the new company, and so Strauss often has been incorrectly credited with inventing blue jeans.

Strauss, a savvy business man, created Levi Strauss & Co. to manufacture the new riveted jeans. It was Davis, however, who ran the factory, and when Strauss died, Davis’ son Simon took over the company.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Clothing Choices

The clothes you wear represent who you are. Take pride in how you dress.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blood Is Life

January has been labeled National Blood Donor Month, making it an ideal time for Jewish Treats to reflect upon Judaism’s special attitude toward blood.

God called the very first human being Adam (aleph-daled-mem). While the most obvious connection is to the Hebrew word adama (ground - aleph-daled-mem-hey), it cannot be ignored that Adam is also connected to dam (blood - daled-mem). When the Torah states (Deuteronomy 12:23) that “Blood is life,” one cannot help but reflect on how clearly this is implied in the very name of humankind.

The technology of blood transfusions was not available at the time of the Talmud. However, the sages did live in the era when bloodletting was considered an effective treatment, both as a cure and for prevention. In fact, a large portion of page 129 of tractate Shabbat is dedicated to the care one must take when being bled. In these dictums, one can already find many of the practices that are commonly used by blood donors today. For instance:

“Rav and Samuel both say: ‘One who has been bled should wait awhile and then rise’...Samuel said: ‘The correct interval for bloodletting is every 30 days.’”

Jewish thought makes very clear that blood is life and that people must recognize the life-affirming power of blood. For instance, one is not allowed to consume blood as food or drink, and if one deliberately sheds the blood of wild animals or fowl when slaughtering food, the blood must be covered as a sign of respect.

Since human blood cannot be consumed, one might ask whether blood transfusions are permitted. The answer, simply, is yes. One may both give and receive blood transfusions because Judaism puts the utmost importance on preserving life. For those who need it, Ezekiel’s words: “By your blood shall you live” (Ezekiel 16:6) has some very literal implications.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Blood Drive

Next time you hear about a blood drive, don’t hesitate - participate.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hardened Hearts of a Leader

Upon the recent death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, the press rehashed what is known about the repressive regime, certainly causing many to wonder how any leader could cause such harm to his own people without even a pang of conscience. Reading about modern tyrants, those who cause some or all of their nation’s people to suffer, provides a unique perspective on the actions of Pharaoh of Exodus.

It is often said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Certainly the Egyptian Pharoah in the time of the Israelites had absolute power. He even had himself made into a god. Dictators such as Kim Jong-Il or Libya’s late Moammar Gaddafi tell their people that they are more than human, and go to great lengths to appear so. The Midrash notes that Pharaoh would get up early in the morning to go down to the Nile, where he would not be seen relieving himself for the day, since he had deified himself and claimed that he did not need to attend to his bodily needs (Exodus Rabbah 9:8).

To the average person, it seems quite obvious that such tyrants lose touch with reality. They seem to really believe they are doing good for the people. Even after Pharaoh’s advisors (and magicians) told him that the plagues destroying the land were beyond their magical powers, Pharaoh still refused to recognize the true Divine power. “Who is this God?” Pharaoh asked of Moses (Exodus 5:2).

The story of the Exodus reveals yet another insight into how a tyrant’s break from reality occurs. At first, tyrants usually believe they are doing the right thing. Since, as the leader of their people it is their obligation to protect the people, they believe that by protecting themselves they are protecting the people. After each of the first five plagues, the Bible notes that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. He lied to himself in order to maintain his power. But, in time, he lost the ability to do anything else. So after the fifth plague, God helped Pharaoh achieve his chosen path by hardening his heart for him.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Looking For A Snack

When you head for the vending machine, take an extra moment to make certain your snack choice is kosher.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Letter of Eliyahu

The collected, and posthumously published, works of renowned rabbis often provide deep insights into the rabbis personal philosophies. An excellent example of one such work is Michtav May'Eliyahu,* (A Letter from Eliyahu), one of the most popular “Mussar” volumes today, expounding on Jewish thought and ethical conduct.

So who was Eliyahu?

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler was born in Lithuania in 1892. At 13, he was sent to study at the Yeshiva of Kelm, and, with the exception of World War I, he remained in Kelm until it became necessary to escape from the Bolsheviks. Four years later, he accepted a rabbinic pulpit at the "Ein Yaakov Shul" in the East End of London.

During World War II, while Rabbi Dessler was safe in London, his immediate family was far away. His wife and daughter were trapped in Poland where they had gone to visit his son, who was studying at a Lithuanian Yeshiva. Throughout the entire period of the war, Rabbi Dessler did not know the fate of his family. Luckily, his wife and daughter had been able to escape to Australia. His son made it safely to America (via Shanghai).

In 1941, Rabbi Dessler was invited to help establish a new kollel (an educational institute with paid Torah scholars) in the Gateshead Jewish community, just outside of Newcastle, England. The new kollel was created to absorb the scholars who had escaped the European conflagration. They were to be trained to serve as Jewish leaders for the future. It remains a renowned institute of Torah study to this day.

By the time Rabbi Dessler was reunited with his wife, the Gateshead Kollel was on solid ground and the Desslers felt free to accept a new position at the Ponevezh Yeshiva in B'nei Brak, Israel. And while Rabbi Dessler remained connected to Gateshead, traveling back to England frequently, his health slowly began to deteriorate. He passed away from heart disease on 24 Tevet, 1953.

*In English, this publication is known as Strive For Truth.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Look Inside

Pick up a copy of Strive For Truth, for a nice Shabbat read.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Mushroom

“Rabbi Gamaliel sat and expounded, ‘The Land of Israel is destined to bring forth [whole] cakes and wool robes [straight from the ground]... But a certain disciple scoffed at him, quoting, ‘there is no new thing under the sun!’ ‘Come, and I will show you their equal in this world,’ replied he. He went and showed him morels and truffles [mushrooms which appear complete overnight]; and for silk robes [he showed him] the bark of a young palm-shoot [which has a downy, silk-like texture inside]" (Shabbat 30b).

This passage from the Talmud presents an interesting perspective on this unique food category. Although mushrooms are generally sold with the fruits and vegetables, they fit in with neither category, Similar to other produce, they are the reproductive appendage of a larger organism, but that organism is fungal rather than plant, and the mushroom contains spores rather than seeds.

More importantly, at least from a halachic (Jewish legal) perspective, a fungus feeds on the nutrients created by decomposition, whereas plants draw nutrients from the ground and through photosynthesis. Halchically, this difference defines the type of blessing required. Unlike the blessing over fruit (bo’ray p’ree ha’etz - fruit of the tree) and vegetables (bo’ray p’ree ha’ah’dama - fruit of the ground), before eating a mushroom one recites the blessing sheh’ha’kohl nee’yeh bid’varo, Who created all things with His word.

An interesting Talmudic passage goes on to explain: “If one vows to abstain from fruit of the ground, he is forbidden to eat of fruit of the ground but is allowed to eat morels and truffles [mushrooms]. If he said ‘I vow abstention from all that grows from the ground, he is forbidden to eat morels and truffles also” (Berachot 40b). This passage highlights the fact that while mushrooms grow from the ground, they are not considered to be the fruit of the ground.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Food We Eat

Reciting blessings over food provides us with an opportunity to think about the foods we eat and to be thankful that we have it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

If You Thought the Spanish Expulsion Was Bad...

Those familiar with Jewish history are well aware of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain that occurred concurrently with Columbus’ sailing for the new world. A great number of these exiles fled to Portugal, where the already sad tale only grew sadder.

King Joao II of Portugal was happy to welcome wealthy Jews or those Jews trained in science or weaponry. The vast majority of other Jews were given permission to enter Portugal for only eight months. Those who did not leave at that time, or who did not pay to remain, were declared slaves. In another tragic act, many hundreds (some say up to 2,000) of Jewish children (some as young as 2) were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to the newly discovered West African island of Sao Tome (some sources connect this cruel act to King Joao’s successor), where many of these children died.

After King Joao II’s death in 1494, King Manuel I assumed the throne. Recognizing the many benefits (economic, scientific, etc.) that the Jewish community could provide, he restored freedom to those who had been enslaved by King Joao II.

This freedom was short-lived. Needing to secure his throne and expand his sphere of influence, King Manuel arranged to marry Princess Maria, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Part of the marriage contract, however, was an agreement that all the Jews of Portugal had to be converted or expelled. On December 4, 1496, the edict was issued: the Jews had until October 1497 to leave.

King Manuel I did not want to lose the talents of the Portugese Jews, so he made leaving extremely difficult. He also used extreme measures to force conversions--in March 1497, Jewish children were taken and forcibly baptized. When October 1497 finally arrived and nearly 20,000 Jews came to Lisbon for the official transports, a far different fate awaited them. They were herded together into one large courtyard where priests sprinkled the crowd with baptismal waters and declared them all “New Christians.”

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Beyond The Basic Word

"Don't steal" seems like an easy commandment, but it includes not stealing other people's time, sleep or ideas.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rabbi Dr. Joachim Prinz

Can you name the speaker who preceded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington? It was Rabbi (Dr.) Joachim Prinz, a German Jew who had been expelled by the Nazis in 1937. A passionate player in the fight for civil rights, Rabbi Prinz consistently spoke out against the great crime of silence.

Born in 1902 in Burkhardsdorf, Silesia, and ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau in 1925 (two years after earning his PhD in philosophy with a minor in Art History at the University of Giessen), Rabbi Prinz began his oratorical career at the Friedenstempil (Peace Synagogue) in Berlin. From early on, Rabbi Prinz was recognized as a brilliant and popular speaker who drew crowds, but he also upset many by his early warnings about National Socialism and by encouraging Jews to emigrate. When he himself arrived in the United States under the sponsorship of Rabbi Stephen Wise, his message portraying the dire circumstances in Germany, was met by charges of exaggeration and pessimism.

In 1939, Rabbi Prinz assumed the position of rabbi at Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, New Jersey. Once again, his oratorical ability drew large crowds. Thereby, revitalizing a synagogue that was faltering under great debt and failing membership. He served Temple B’nai Abraham until his retirement in 1977. Additionally, he was active in many Zionist and national Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, the World Zionist Organization, the American Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Basic Values

Treating every person with respect is a basic Jewish value.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bread of the Sabbath

Challah, known to some as "Jewish bread," is one of the essential elements of the Shabbat table. Each of the three Shabbat meals begins with the blessing over two loaves of Challah, which are then cut and shared with all present.

Bread has special significance in Judaism. It represents the great potential that God put in the world. Bread begins as a seed, grows into wheat (which is still inedible), is winnowed and ground before it is transformed into flour and dough, which is then baked into bread. All this from a small kernel of wheat! Because of its stature as the “staple” food, the blessing over bread is recited at the beginning of the meal and "covers" all further foods eaten during the meal*.

There is, however, special significance to the blessing of ha’mo’tzee (the bread blessing) when recited over two loaves at the Shabbat table. The two loaves serve as a reminder that in the wilderness God provided manna (the heavenly bread) every day except on Shabbat. Throughout the week, the Israelites collected only enough manna for a single day, but on Fridays they collected a double portion to last through Shabbat. The requirement to have two complete loaves is known as lechem mishneh (double bread).

While the word challah brings to mind distinctive braided loaves, the shape is not a requirement. As long as the two loaves of bread are whole (they could even be two uncut rolls or two pieces of matzah), then the mitzvah of lechem mishneh is fulfilled. The braiding of the challah, however, has taken on symbolic significance. For instance, making the ha’mo’tzee blessing on two loaves of six-strand challah is a beautiful symbol of the unity of the Jewish people. Each challah strand is representative of one of the tribes of Israel. When the two loaves are held together, all twelve tribes are represented at the Shabbat table.

*At a meal without kiddush at which one has eaten bread, a separate blessing is made on wine consumed during the meal. If one does not eat bread, separate blessings are recited on each of the items eaten, such as fruit, vegetables, grains etc.

This Treat was originally posted on June 12, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Holy Whole Wheat?

Add a healthy element to your Shabbat table by using whole wheat challah.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

About The In-Laws

An often stated comment by parents of newly married children is that they have “gained a son or a daughter.” And while much has been written about the commandment to honor one’s mother and father, a newly married individual might wonder exactly how they are supposed to treat their new in-laws.

Although the Torah does not specifically state honor your father-in-law and mother-in-law, there are several biblical narratives from which we can learn that imperative. The relationship of Ruth and Naomi is perhaps the best known example. Even after her husband dies, Ruth stays with her mother-in-law and accompanies her back to Judah, Naomi's homeland. After they cross into the Land of Israel (and Ruth’s conversion to Judaism), Ruth goes out into the fields to collect the pauper’s leftovers in order to support herself and Naomi (Book of Ruth).

Another excellent demonstration of respectful in-law relations is Exodus 4. Just after God speaks to Moses at the burning bush, instructing him to go to Egypt and lead the Jewish people to freedom, the Torah notes that “Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him: ‘Let me go, please, to my brothers that are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive.’ Jethro then said to Moses: ‘Go in peace’” (Exodus 4:18). Although God had just instructed Moses to go on an important mission, Moses first went to ask his father-in-law’s permission.

In the oral law, the subtle cues of the Torah are formulated as outright law. Thus, we find that the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law - Yoreh Deah 240:24) clearly states that the obligation to honor one’s parents extends to one’s in-laws as well. However, when one is in a room with both one’s parents and one’s in-laws, honoring one’s own parents takes priority, since it is a clearly stated Torah commandment.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Just A Phone Call

Call your mother-in-law and father-in-law just to ask how they are.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Slavery In The Modern World

Say the word slave and the immediate image that comes to mind is a man or woman bound in shackles, possibly cowering under a whip. Modern day slavery is often far more subtle--the chains are perhaps death threats (to the enslaved or their family) or withheld documentation in a foreign country. Jewish Treats presents some Jewish thoughts on this issue that are appropriate for Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2012.

Although the Torah discusses slavery as a socio-economic norm, the rule that Jews must always obey the law of the land if it does not conflict with Torah law (Dina d’malchuta dina) has rendered slavery an academic discussion, at least in Western society. Human trafficking, however, is nothing like the slavery described in the Torah. First and foremost, human trafficking violates the specific Torah law that views kidnaping as a capital crime (Deuteronomy 21:16): “He that steals a man and sells him, or if he is found in hand, he shall surely be put to death.”

The details of the two types of slaves that exist within Jewish law, the eved iv’ree - Hebrew slave - and the eved k'na'anee - Canaanite (non-Jewish) slave, are complex enough to each deserve their own future Jewish Treat. The critical information about slavery from a Torah perspective, however, is that there is always an inherent respect for all human life. A person must make certain that his/her slave has all of the basic comforts and needs, of no lesser quality than that of the master.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Vote

Use your vote to let the government know that human trafficking is a crime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Blessed Is He Who Makes Strange Creatures

One might not think that Jewish Treats would have much to say about “Peculiar People Day,” as January 10th has been dubbed by those who create new holidays. However, the sages were so aware of a person’s natural reaction to those who are different, that special blessings were designated for just such occasions: Blessed is He who makes strange creatures (for those who are so from birth) and Blessed be the true Judge (for those whose appearance was altered after birth). These blessings remind us that all creatures are God's handiwork and deserve honor and respect.

The list of types of people who were considered strange in the Talmud would, perhaps, be considered offensive to a modern audience. However, an important story about how one should view all people is related in the Talmud, Taanit 20a-b:

Once Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Shimon was...riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah. There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him, ‘Peace be upon you, Sir.’ He [Rabbi Eleazar], however, did not return his salutation but instead said to him, ‘Empty one! How ugly you are. Are all your fellow citizens as ugly as you are?’ The man replied: ‘I do not know, but go and tell the Craftsman who made me: How ugly is the vessel which You have made.’ When Rabbi Eleazar realized that he had done wrong, he dismounted from the donkey and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, ‘I submit myself to you, forgive me.’

When the man refused to forgive him, Rabbi Eleazar followed him home, where his friends greeted Rabbi Eleazar with honor, only to be told by the man of the sage’s unseemly behavior. Upon his friends’ urging, he finally forgave Rabbi Eleazer, but only after he promised never to act in such an uncaring manner again.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

An Apology

If you hurt another person’s feelings, make certain your apology is sincere.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hebron Purim

Jewish Treats presents to you another local Purim, a day on which one small community commemorates a particularly life-saving event. Purim Hebron, also known as "Window Purim." Sadly, the community that initially experienced the events of Hebron Purim no longer exists, as the Jews of Hebron suffered so greatly from a pogrom in 1929 that the city was, for many years, virtually bereft of any Jewish population.

The post-biblical Jewish community of Hebron had a history going back to the expulsion from Spain (1492). In 1848, the new Ottoman Pasha of Hebron demanded from the Jews a tax of 50,000 piastres or he would execute some and sell the rest into slavery. According to the legend (and, unfortunately, the historical records of this event are meager), the rabbis declared a community fast for three days - just as in the time of Queen Esther. Additionally, they attempted to tap into the special holiness of the Cave of Machpela, the burial site of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. To deliver the petition that they had composed, the rabbis had to bribe an Arab guard to drop it through a window overlooking the burial site, as the Moslems prohibited Jews from entering the cave.

Legend then describes how, on the night before the ultimatum was due, the Pasha dreamed of three men who demanded from him, on pain of immediate death, the exact sum due. The Pasha, frightened, handed over his gold. The next morning, the Jews found the bag of gold in the synagogue. When the Pasha came to the Jews seeking the tax he had demanded, he was astounded to find the exact bag he had handed over in his dream. Legend then states that the Pasha publicly praised God, declaring that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were surely watching over them, and that he would not attempt to harm the Jews again. Indeed, the Pasha let the Jews keep the money, and promised to never harm the Jews again.

While many mark this event on the 14th of Tevet, others place it on the 5th of Kislev.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Bundle Up Others

Buy some extra hats or gloves to donate to a local shelter.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Resurrection of the Dead

It is required by Jewish law that the body of one who has passed away be buried as quickly and as completely as possible, meaning that the entire body (or as much of the remains as possible), including internal organs and blood, be buried together. The most basic understanding of this rule is that in this way one shows respect for the dead, which is an absolute priority in Jewish law. However, the more esoteric reason for this law is the resurrection of the dead.

The very last principle of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith (considered the foundations of Jewish belief) states: “I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when God wills it to happen.” In Hebrew, the resurrection of the dead is known as t’chi’yat ha’may’tim.

Maimonides’ principle states: “when God wills it to happen,” which is generally understood to mean that the resurrection of the dead is an event that will happen in Olam Habah, the World to Come, after the Messianic age. The centrality of this concept in Jewish faith is highlighted by the fact that it is included in the daily Amidah (central prayer recited three times a day), as part of the second blessing, which concludes: “Faithful are You to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Lord, who revives the dead.”

The idea and meaning of t’chi’yat ha’may’tim is hotly debated by the sages. The two differing opinions are most definitively spelled out by Maimonides* and Nachmanides*... Maimonides believed that the World to Come would be completely spiritual, and so only the spiritual essence of each person would be brought into that world. Nachmanides, on the other hand, taught that to complete the world in Olam Habah, it was necessary to have a pure merger of the physical and spiritual, and therefore t’chi’yat ha’may’tim refers to an actual physical resurrection.

Maimonides - Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, also known as Rambam, (1135-1204).
Nachmanides - Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, also known as Ramban (1194-1279).

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Responsiblity

Take care of both your body and your soul.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Tenth of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Av] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached. (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4)

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in (587 B.C.E.), siege was also the beginning of the end.

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as it had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah.

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon.

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance).

This Treat was last posted on January 5, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

For The Fast

If you are unable to fast today, take a moment and mark the occasion in your own way.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Septuagint

The Talmud (Megillah 9a-b) relates that King Ptolemy II, the Greek king who ruled Egypt, placed 72 Jewish elders into 72 separate rooms and instructed each of them (individually) to translate the Torah into Greek. Translating any text from one language to another is challenging, as every tongue has its own grammatical rules and subtle nuances. The Torah, with its often esoteric language and multiple meanings, is particularly challenging to translate. Hence it is considered a most significant miracle then that each scholar was Divinely inspired to employ the exact same wording and phraseology in the translation, especially with difficult to translate terms such as B’reishit bara Eh’loh’kim - “In the beginning God created.”

The creation of what came to be known as the Septuagint, around the 3rd century B.C.E., finally made the Torah available to Jews not educated in their heritage (yes, even then--it is said that most of the Jews of Alexandria did not know Hebrew). Like many things in history, this translation was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it made the Torah available to the non-Hebrew speaker looking to learn about his/her heritage. However, it also made the holy text available to non-Jews who were eager to mock and revile the Jewish people, as well as to those who wanted to use the newly translated Torah to lead Jews to a new faith.

While a miracle occurred during the act of translation, the 8th of Tevet (yesterday), which is the anniversary of this event, is considered a sad day in Jewish history and is, in fact, listed as a fast day for the righteous.

NOTE: Tomorrow is a public fast day, the Tenth of Tevet. The fast begins at sunrise and ends after nightfall.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Today, with the approval of all Jewish authorities, the Torah has been translated into nearly every language. If you want to familiarize yourself with the text, pick up a copy in your native tongue (but make sure it is a Jewish translation, not a copy of the “Old Testament”).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Humiliation Day

Surf the web and you will find that most days on the calendar have been designated as “holidays.” Many of these holidays are intended to be cute. Others seek to acknowledge different groups of people (e.g. step-mothers day). Some of these nouveau-holidays, however, were created to help make the world a nicer, better place. One such holiday is January 3rd, which has been designated as “Humiliation Day.” This holiday, far from how it sounds, is intended to be a day that “should be viewed as a time to recognize the negativity of humiliating someone or a group of people” (http://www.holidayinsights.com).

One might wonder about a society that has to set aside a specific day to highlight that which seems to be such a basic human moral value. Judaism, however, has always emphasized the importance of being aware of how one’s actions affect others.

Humiliating/embarrassing another person is considered a particularly cruel and inconsiderate act. In fact, the act of causing another to go pale (or to blush, since one usually pales as part of the blushing process) is equated with murder: “A Tanna (teacher cited in the Mishna) recited before Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac: He who publicly shames his neighbor is as though he had shed blood. Whereupon he remarked to him: ‘You say well, because I have seen it, the ruddiness departing and paleness supervening’” (Baba Metzia 58b).

The Talmud goes on to quote Rabbi Hanina. “All who descend into Gehenna (purgatory) re-ascend, excepting three, who descend but do not re-ascend: He who commits adultery with a married woman, publicly shames his neighbor, or gives an evil nickname to his neighbor” (ibid).

And so, while having a “humiliation day” provides an interesting life lesson, it is a lesson Judaism espouses every day.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Power

You have the power to spare others humiliation just by being careful of the words you use.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No Such Thing As A Human Herd

The recent social media discussions about the meaning of the Jewish reggae star Matisyahu’s shaving his beard has raised many issues: the significance of a beard in general, Chassidic verses non-Chassidic lifestyles, and being a religious public celebrity are just a few of the topics bandied about. But one cannot help noting how much of the criticisms leveled against him are influenced by the visual expectations we have of other people.

An outsider looking in at the Chassidic world sees men and women striving to be as much like other Chassidic men and women as possible. In almost every Chassidic sect there is a “dress code.” For the men, they all wear the same hats, beards and long jackets...and the women too, seem to blend together with similarly muted colors and specific ways of covering their heads.

It is human nature that when one sees a group of people dressed the same and following a unique set of rules, one assumes that they are all simply followers who have lost their human individuality.

The next time you see such a group of people, hundred or thousands of people who seem homogeneous (perhaps a large group of black hatted men in front of Jerusalem's Western Wall), remember the following insightful blessing that the sages mandated to be recited if one sees a very large group of Jews: “Blessed is He who understands secrets, for the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other” (Berachot 58a).

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Without Judgement

Look upon everyone without pre-judgement, no matter how they are dressed.