Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Try These

In honor of the upcoming Shabbat Across America and Canada (This Friday!) Jewish Treats presents some of our original Treats about Shabbat.

Pikuach Nefesh is the mitzvah of saving a person's life. Needless to say, it is one of the most important mitzvot one can perform. In fact, one is obligated to ignore the laws of Shabbat in order to save a life.

One of the subcategories of the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh is saving one's own life, which requires that a person takes care of him/herself. In this vein, the National Jewish Outreach Program has been involved in a campaign encouraging people not to smoke on Shabbat. While intended for smokers, the recommendations apply to all:

12 Things To Do While Not Smoking On Shabbat.

1. Rest those weary bones – Catch up on your sleep.

2. Smother your family and friends with love. Have a nice long conversation with your spouse/children/parents/friends...whom you practically ignore all week.

3. Exhale the mundane cares and concerns of the workday week by saying a little prayer in synagogue for anything or everything.

4. Chill out with some wine (for Kiddush). Eat three gourmet Shabbat meals (and actually taste the food).

5. Wear your nicest clothes without worrying about ashes and smoke.

6. Clear your mind. Enjoy one day when even non-smokers love you.

7. Sing up a storm at the top of your lungs.

8. Savor a good - Jewish - book without interruption, or sneak a peek at the Torah portion of the week when nobody’s looking.

9. Get to know someone really important a whole lot better -- yourself.

10. Make your cardiologist happy. Air out your lungs -- go for a nice, long, leisurely walk.

11. Review the week’s Jewish news with family and friends.

12. Volunteer to visit patients in the hospital.

This Treat was originally published on November 7, 2008.

Get ready to celebrate Shabbat Across America and Canada on Friday night, March 2nd. Share your Shabbat Project on our interactive map and see how America lights up with everyone's Shabbat Projects!

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

Haman’s History

Purim will be celebrated on March 7/8.

According to the narrative in the Book of Esther, Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people appears to have been instigated by the fact that Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman. Talk about an extreme reaction! What was it about Mordechai that so angered Haman?

The sages asked a similar question and noted that “the explanation is in the dictum of Rabbi Hisda, for Rabbi Hisda said: The one came [to the court] as a counselor and the other as an envoy. Rabbi Papa said: They also called him [Haman], ‘The slave who was sold for loaves of bread.’” (Megillah 14b/15a).

To understand the statement of Rabbi Hisda, it is necessary to review the story as recorded in Aggadat Esther 5:9. Mordechai was among the Jews who joined Ezra to begin rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Unhappy with the idea that the rightful owners of the land might return, the neighboring nations sought to stop them by claiming that the Jews did not have royal permission to rebuild. (They did, from King Cyrus.) It was determined that representatives from each side would be sent to King Cyrus. The Jews sent Mordechai, while the neighbors sent Haman, who “was the barber in the village of Kartzum for 22 years” (Megillah 16).

As they were traveling together to the king, Mordechai ate his food conservatively, whereas Haman gluttonously consumed his entire supply at the outset of his journey. Virtually famished, Haman asked Mordechai to lend him a loaf of bread. Mordechai agreed to provide the food if Haman would agree to enslave himself. When Haman agreed, the “bill of sale” was written on the sole of Mordechai’s shoe. “Subsequently, when Mordechai was sitting at the gate of the king and Haman passed, [Mordechai] extended his foot with the shoe on which the deed of sale was inscribed. Thereupon ‘Haman was filled with rage’ (Esther 3:5)” (Aggadat Esther 5:9).

Haman’s history with Mordechai only added to Haman’s deep animosity against the Jews that he had acquired from his own family, since he was a descendent of Agag, the last king of the Amalekites. (Click here for the story of the Amalekites.)

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

Plan Ahead

Make your plans for Shabbat Across America today.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Covered Eyes

In honor of the upcoming Shabbat Across America and Canada (This Friday!) Jewish Treats presents some of our original Treats about Shabbat.

It is customary that after the Shabbat candles are lit, both hands are waved towards the face (symbolically drawing in the light of the candles and the sanctity of Shabbat) and the eyes are covered. The blessing is recited with the eyes still covered. Why?

The sages taught that a blessing should always precede the action, meaning that the blessing for a mitzvah is recited before performing the mitzvah. For instance, one says a blessing over an apple and only then eats the apple; one says the blessing over the Chanukah candles and only then lights the candles.

The laws of Shabbat, however, prohibit the creation of a flame. Since Shabbat is accepted as soon as the blessing is recited, one must light the candles (do the action) before making the blessing. By covering the eyes before reciting the blessing, one is unable to benefit from the light of the candles until after the blessing is said. When the person making the blessing uncovers her/his eyes, it is as if she/he is seeing the light of the Shabbat candles for the very first time. In this way, it is as if the blessing has been recited before the action of the mitzvah is performed.

This Treat was originally published on September 19, 2008.

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


If you own a pair of silver candlesticks, polish them as a means of beautifying Shabbat.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Taking Time Off

In honor of the upcoming Shabbat Across America and Canada (This Friday!) Jewish Treats presents some of our original Treats about Shabbat.

In the day-to-day hubbub of our 21st century world, we are wired and wireless. With free wi-fi at Starbucks we can transport our offices to the coffee shop and save on rental space. ($100 per month on coffee versus a few thousand dollars to rent office-space should be a no-brainer. How come it hasn’t caught on?) Through our cellphones and Blackberrys we are now available 24/7. Bluetooth wearers have one ear dedicated to their cellphone and the other to the rest of the world. Even on vacation, we are likely to be accessible. It seems like there is no break.

Shabbat!. (25 hours, starting a little before sunset on Friday) Ah! The sheer simplicity of the idea. All electrical devices are preset or turned off. No phones or email. We actually sit down with our families and friends and enjoy each other’s company. We relax. We talk. We visit. It’s a relief not to be bound to others, to actually have a day, once a week, when we answer to no person.

Shabbat as a break from everything, from the hectic nature of life as we know it, is the first step toward achieving true freedom and genuine spiritual bliss.

Start small. Think big. Experience “heaven” on earth.

This Treat was originally published on July 24, 2008.

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

Invite Early

Invite some friends to celebrate Shabbat Across America and Canada with you this Friday.

Friday, February 24, 2012

When Adar Begins

The month of Adar begins today. About Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar year, the Talmud (Ta’anith 29a) states: “Mee'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased.

One might think that this increase in joy is because Adar is the first month of spring. While winter is not completely gone, it is certainly on its way out. That may be enough reason for others to rejoice, but the Jews have the wonderful holiday of Purim to make our spirits joyful.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar,* Purim is the holiday that commemorates good overcoming evil. In a nutshell, the story of Purim revolves around the plot, launched in the year 518 BCE by Haman (the wicked viceroy of the Persian-Median King Achashverosh), to kill all the Jews in Achashverosh’s kingdom. Haman’s hatred of the Jews reached a psychotic level when Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community, refused to bow to him. Haman requested and was granted permission by Achashverosh to issue a decree calling for the death of all the Jews. Haman, however, was unaware that Achashverosh’s new queen, Esther, was actually Jewish and was Mordechai’s niece. With significant courage (and tremendous faith in God), Esther revealed Haman’s wicked plot to the king, thus saving the Jewish people.

In celebration of their salvation, the Jews feasted, gave charity and exchanged gift baskets with each other. They celebrated being alive with tremendous joy and rejoiced at being part of a wonderful nation. It is the energy of their joy that permeates the entire month of Adar so that even now, 2,500 years later, when Adar begins, rejoicing is increased.

* Some ancient walled cities, such as Jerusalem, celebrate on the 15th of Adar.

This Treat was originally posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2009.

Your Shabbat

Get ready to celebrate Shabbat Across America on Friday night, March 2nd. Share your Shabbat Project on our interactive map and see how America lights up with everyone's Shabbat Projects!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

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

The prophet Nahum’s prophecy focuses on the fate of the great Assyrian city of Nineveh.

God’s anger, as described by Nahum, was at the point of erupting. The fury of God, predicts Nahum, would be far worse than any natural disaster, for it would be vast. This ire would be directed at Nineveh and no show of strength or might would be able to save them.

“Thus says God: Though they be in full strength, and likewise many, even so shall they be cut down, and he shall pass away; and though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now will I break his yoke from off you, and will burst your bonds asunder.” (1:12-13).

Having declared God’s judgment, Nahum gave a poetic and vivid description of the destruction of the city. According to his vision, Nineveh’s downfall was a boon to all other nations as Assyria had become like a lion’s den, out of which the great hunter (Assyria) came and preyed upon all that surrounded him. The Assyrians conquered, plundered, and banished whole populations.

Just as the Assyrians were obsessed with conquest and bloodshed elsewhere, so too would they witness it in their own home city. "Woe to the bloody city! ... and it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon you shall flee from you and say, 'Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?' ... All that hear the report of you will clap hands over you; for who has not suffered from your constant malice?” (3:19).

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

Two Coins

When reaching into your pocket to give a coin to the tzedakah box, take two instead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dinah, The Daughter of Jacob

Dinah, the seventh and youngest child of Leah and Jacob, was born the same year as her half-brother Joseph. In fact, the Talmud (Brachot 60a) notes that Leah specifically prayed that the child would be a girl so as not to cause her sister (and co-wife) Rachel anguish over her lack of sons.

Jacob was very protective of Dinah. As he returned to the land of Israel and prepared to meet his vengeful brother Esau, Jacob worried that Esau would see his young daughter and wish to marry her, thus establishing an (unwanted) alliance. Therefore, the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 76:9) explains, based on the fact that Genesis 32:23 only mentions his eleven sons (and no daughters), that Jacob hid Dinah in a box throughout the encounter.

Sadly, Jacob could not protect his daughter from all villains. Genesis 34 describes how, when the family settled in Shechem, Dinah was kidnapped and raped by the prince of the city. When the family protested, the king offered a treaty and even agreed that all males in the city would be circumcised, if the prince could have Dinah as a wife. On the third day after the circumcision, however, Simon and Levi determined to avenge their sister’s attack and slaughtered the men of the city as they had all been complicit in the kidnapping.

Because the Book of Genesis focuses on the development of the Nation of Israel, nothing more is written of Dinah. However, the Midrash offers some insights into her fate. One opinion in Genesis Rabbah 80:11, suggests that she lived afterward as the "wife" of Simon (meaning that she lived under his protection). Baba Batra 15b, Genesis Rabbah 80:4 and Targum Iyov 2:9-10 place her as the unnamed wife of the ill-fated Job.

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

Safety Talk

Find out if your child's school (or that of your grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc.) has a safety education program. If it does not, find out how one can be implemented.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No Stumbling Blocks, Please

The prohibition “Do not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14) seems like an odd commandment. After all, who but a truly mischievous, mean-spirited prankster would put something in the way of the blind to cause them to trip and fall? Surely, common human decency requires that one not do this (and it certainly must be forbidden by the Americans with Disabilities Act).

Since the Torah does not waste words on the obvious, what is the purpose of this prohibition? Metaphorically, blindness also refers to someone lacking knowledge, whether general information or a specific fact. Do not put a stumbling block before the blind is also understood to be a prohibition against deliberately giving bad advice--like telling someone to invest in a business that you know, through personal knowledge, is likely to fail.

The sages took this commandment one step further and understood that this biblical statement required people to go out of their way to help others not violate the Torah. For instance, offering non-kosher food to another Jew, even if they don’t observe the laws of kashrut, would be considered a stumbling block.

Through this prohibition against misleading others, the sages emphasize the importance of carefully considering each of our actions. Where we put things (like allowing a trash can to roll into the street), how we say things (that might be misconstrued as advice) and the impression that our actions make on others (leading them to do things improperly) should always be at the forefront of our thoughts.

This Treat was originally posted on October 23, 2008.

Your Acts

Consider the impact of your behavior on those around you, especially the impression made upon your children.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidents' Day: The Jews and Martin Van Buren

In 1840, the news of the terrible fate of the Jewish community of Damascus (Syria) reached the shores of America and brought the disparate Jewish communities of the young American nation together. The Damascus Affair, as the incident became known, occurred when the French Consul in Damascus accused the Jews of murdering a monk named Brother Thomas. Several Jews were arrested until a confession was finally extracted by torturing one of the detainees. In their quest for a confession, the Syrian authorities had seized more than 60 Jewish children and held them under dire conditions. With the false confession in hand, the French went to Sultan Mohammed Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, Syria and Arabia, to seek a death penalty for the other detainees.

Jewish leaders around the world protested and took action. The efforts of the Jewish communities of the United States were led by the New York and Philadelphia communities (led by the Jewish leader of Philadelphia, Reverend [Rabbi] Isaac Leeser). The communities held rallies and sent petitions to President Martin Van Buren.

Subsequently, they were informed that the Secretary of State had already written the following to the American Minister to Turkey:

“The President has directed me to instruct you to do everything in your power with ... the Sultan ... to prevent and mitigate these horrors.... The President is of the opinion that from no one can such generous endeavors proceed with so much propriety and effect, as from the Representative of a friendly power, whose institutions, political and civil, place on the same footing, the worshipers of God, of every faith and form, acknowledging no distinction between the Mahomedan, the Jew and the Christian.”

American pressure probably had less of an impact on Sultan Ali than the diplomatic pressure that came from the Jewish communities of England and France. On August 28th, the nine (out of 13) prisoners who had survived the ordeal were released and declared innocent. Additionally, it was acknowledged that there was no truth to the initial blood libel.

While there are no other indications of President Van Buren having important interactions with the Jewish community, his actions in 1840 will always be appreciated by the Jewish community.

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

Group Voice

Group activism can be powerful. Learn more about the different Jewish lobby groups in your country.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Just A Half A Shekel

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the Sabbath of Shekels. The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to God's commandment that when a census of the Jewish people is taken, it must be done by giving a half-shekel, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less..."

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (Adar 14-this year, March 7/8). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

*The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.

This Treat was originally published on February 19, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand this special Torah reading.

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

Early Preparation

This weekend, begin preparing for Purim by reading the Book of Esther.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Question of the Van

Philosophically, one might debate whether the mitzvah of helping unload the overburdened donkey of one’s enemy is applicable to a more modern day situation of assisting one’s enemy with a broken down van. The Torah states:

“If you see the donkey of him that you hate lying under its burden, you shall forbear to pass by him; you shall surely release it with him” (Exodus 23:5).

Perhaps to better understand the philosophical dilemma one must dissect this verse carefully and determine whom this mitzvah is intended to benefit. Many read this line as an example of the Torah’s concern for the well being of animals. The rules against tza'ar ba'alei chaim, causing undue pain to an animal, are fairly comprehensive. One needs to be sensitive to the needs of animals, so much so, that one must make certain that one’s animals are fed before one is permitted to eat. If this is the purpose of the mitzvah, then it would not apply to a modern day van.

On the other hand, this commandment may be an example of a mitzvah bein adam l’chavero, between a person and his/her fellow. Becoming a better person means overlooking one’s personal feelings when it comes to helping another person. Walking past the broken-down van of a person one dislikes and not helping, goes against the basic positive character traits that the laws of the Torah try to develop.

And finally, this mitzvah may be seen as a way to underscore the need for personal development. It is said that through the act of giving to an enemy, one may come to love the enemy. In this case, there is no question that this mitzvah is very applicable today, even to those who don’t own a donkey.

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

Your Good Life

Take an honest assessment of the good things you have, and appreciate your life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gluckel of Hamelin

Twenty years after Samuel Pepys stopped writing his famous diary of life in London, Gluckel of Hamelin (1646-1724), the widow of a Jewish gem and metal dealer in Hamburg, took up her pen. Her diary, written in Yiddish, was intended to be a chronicle of her life and a guide to proper living for her children. When it was formally published in 1892, based on heirloom copies, it was quickly recognized as a document of great value for its insights into Jewish-German life of that era. The fact that it was a literary work written by a woman is another extraordinary fact, considering its time.

Gluckel, the daughter of a Hamburg merchant, received a basic education before being betrothed, at the age of 12, to Chaim, a young merchant from Hamelin. Two years later they were married and, eventually, settled in Hamburg. In addition to raising their children, 12 of whom survived to adulthood, Gluckel helped with the family business. While Chaim traveled across Europe, Gluckel managed the accounts and contracts. When Chaim passed away in 1689, Gluckel was able to take over the business and make it thrive.

That same year, Gluckel began her diary. Over the next decade, while running the business and arranging marriages for her children, Gluckel continued to write. In the finished diary, these years are set into five small books.

In 1699, Gluckel moved to Metz, where one of her daughters was living, and married her second husband, Cerf Levy, a wealthy banker. Two years later, he went bankrupt, losing both his and Gluckel’s wealth. During the next ten years he unsuccessfully attempted to recover his loss. After he died in 1712, Gluckel continued on her own for three years before moving in with her daughter. During her second widowhood, she completed two more diary books.

Gluckel of Hamelin passed away in 1724.

Trivia: Among Gluckel’s descendants are Heinrich Heine, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Bertha Pappenheim.

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

Write It Down

In the era of electronic communications, the art of diary writing is being lost. Take the time to record the highlights of your life for posterity.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

With All Your Heart

Have you ever wondered about the connection between love and the heart? Love is a complex emotion. The heart is the organ in the body that is responsible for blood circulation. The two don’t really have any connection other than, perhaps, the fact that feelings of love often release adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster.

While the origin of the heart-love connection is lost to all, amateur researchers cite the ancient Egyptian myth of Ab, in which the heart of the deceased is weighed on a scale against a feather to determine his/her afterlife destination. After the Egyptians, they next cite Greek/Roman mythology and the culture of the Middle Ages.

Although the Torah contains references to interpersonal love (Isaac loved Rebecca - Genesis 24:67, Jacob loved Rachel - 29:18, etc.), these emotions are generally stated outright. There is, however, one very important scriptural reference in which the heart and love are connected, and this might very well be the root of all such heart-love metaphors.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). While this verse defines how one is to connect to God, it can also be seen as a rudimentary description of how love develops. “With all your heart” describes a love based purely on emotion, which is the first level of love...the one that leads people to date and to marry. “With all your soul” describes the development of a deeper spiritual connection between two people. “With all your might” is a description of true love, when one wants nothing more than to give one’s all to make the other happy.

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

A Relationship Begins

One of the elements of establishing a relationship with the Divine is developing a love for God.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Appeal

“One who studies the Torah and teaches it in a place where there is no wise man is like the myrtle in the wilderness, which is precious” (Rosh Hashanah 23a).

Since the 1990s, the internet has drastically transformed the world of communication/information. Many religious leaders of all faiths were (and some still are) wary of this new form of information. And while there are, indeed, great hazards to be found on the internet, many have found it a “wilderness” in which they can make Judaism flourish.

For three and a half years, Jewish Treats has been striving to bring inspiration to Jews worldwide by highlighting Jewish law, history, legends and a miscellany of Jewish facts. Through the incredible power of the internet, Jews who have no personal community, as well as Jews who are very active in their own communities, feel more connected to their heritage.

Jewish Treats is published by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), whose non-denominational mission it is to bring positive, joyous Jewish experiences to Jews everywhere. Tonight, NJOP will be hosting its 18th Annual Dinner in order to raise the funds that are needed to continue to produce the excellent programming that it provides, free of charge, to synagogues and individuals across the denominational spectrum throughout North America and the world.

If you enjoy Jewish Treats and wish to support our program, please click here. If you enjoy Jewish Treats, but are unable to answer our appeal...know that we benefit every time you read, respond, post a question or share the information that we present to you.

As the Talmudic sage Ravina noted: “Whoever delights in teaching a multitude has an increase [in knowledge], which is to the same effect as what Rabbi [Judah the Prince] said: Much Torah have I learnt from my Masters, more from my fellow students and from my disciples most of all!” (Makkot 10a).

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

Your Help Here

To donate to the National Jewish Outreach Program (and thus support Jewish Treats), click here. If you cannot make a donation, support Jewish Treats by sharing it with friends and family.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shabbat Clothes

In historical fiction, there are often references to wearing one’s “Sunday best.” Jews don’t have “Sunday best,” but do have special clothing for Shabbat. Given the status of Shabbat as the holiest day of the week and, indeed, as the focal point of the week, it would seem obvious that one would dress well in its honor.

The importance of honoring Shabbat through one’s choice of clothing is highlighted in Tractate Shabbat of the Talmud, where it states:

“‘And you shall honor it by not doing your own ways’ (Isaiah 58:13). ‘And you shall honor it,’ [meaning] that your Shabbat garments should not be like your weekday garments, even as Rabbi Yochanan called his garments ‘My honorers.’” (Shabbat 113a).

“‘Therefore, wash yourself, anoint yourself and put on your raiment’ (Ruth 3:3). Rabbi Eleazar said: ‘This refers to Shabbat garments’” (Shabbat 113b).

“Whence do we learn change of garments [for Shabbat] in the Torah? Because it is said [about the High Priest on Yom Kippur] (Leviticus 6:4), ‘And he shall put off his garments, and put on other garments’” (Shabbat 114a).

While most people today are fortunate enough to have many different changes of clothing for daily wear and an assortment of modes of dress for different occasions, this is, for the most part, a development of recent vintage. Go back 200 years, however, and for most people, even “Shabbat clothing” was a luxury. Not surprisingly, the sages discussed how one who could not afford special Shabbat clothing could still honor Shabbat:

“Rabbi Huna said: If one has a change [of garments], he should change [them], but if he has nothing to change into, he should lower his garments [ to add length and make them appear more dignified]. Rabbi Safra demurred: But this looks like ostentation! Since he does not do this every day... it does not look like ostentation [and people understand that it is being done in honor of Shabbat]” (Shabbat 113a).

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

Your Best

Put on your best for Shabbat dinner tonight.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


“Covet” is a strange word that is rarely used today except to cite the last of the Ten Commandments, “Lo Tachmod, Do not covet” (Exodus 20:14).

The desire for things that others have is an apparent outgrowth of the original human survival instinct. A person who is cold will want the warm coat that someone else is wearing. A person who is traveling a long way by foot will desire someone else’s comfortable car. These desires are natural and make us work harder to acquire what we need and what we want.

Contrary to what most people would think, “Do not covet” is not a prohibition against thoughts of desire. It is okay to notice what someone else has and to wish for something similar for oneself. The problem starts when one begins to scheme how to obtain it from the present owner.

It is important to note that this prohibition is quite contrary to most of the contemporary images and philosophy that permeate modern culture, especially TV and movies. Coveting has many names. Take, for instance, the specific prohibition of not coveting another’s wife. While adultery is an obvious transgression, what about encouraging a couple to separate and then becoming romantically involved with the newly-divorced person. The prohibition of Lo Tachmod applies to any effort to separate a couple if one covets the spouse.

Of course, it is best to be happy with what one possesses and not to look at the possessions of others. Torah law, we see, deals with the true nature of human beings. Wanting something similar to what another has is fine, but even thinking about taking that which belongs to another...well, let’s just not go there.

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

Your Good Life

Take an honest assessment of the good thing you have and appreciate your life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tu BiSh'vat is Coming

While it has been a difficult winter for many of us, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu BiSh'vat is the New Year for trees.

Tu BiSh'vat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu BiSh'vat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu BiSh'vat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu BiSh'vat Seder. For more information on Tu BiSh'vat or for an outline of a Tu BiSh'vat Seder, please visit

This Treat was originally posted on February 6, 2009.

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

Potted Plants

Stop by a nursery and purchase a small plant to celebrate Tu BiSh'vat.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Jews of Charles Dickens

As has been frequently reported, anti-Semitism is on the rise.

Beyond strengthening our own Jewish identities, what can we do? There are often simple, non-threatening actions that can make a difference. The following is the tale of how one woman’s letter-writing had a positive affect on a celebrity author.

In Victorian England, there was no more popular author than Charles Dickens. While Dickens was known as a great social reformer, his 1838-39 newspaper serial publication of Oliver Twist demonstrated the deep societal anti-Semitism of Dickens' time. Fagin, a major character in the story, is an underworld criminal who trains small children to be pickpockets. He is a very unseemly character and, more often than not, he is referred to derisively as “the Jew.”

In 1863, Dickens received a letter from Eliza Davis, a Jewish woman whose husband had purchased Dickens’ home in 1860. Davis wrote to Dickens that his negative portrayal of Jews "encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew." Dickens immediate reaction was defensive, but the letter had an obvious affect on him. The episodes of Oliver Twist were in the process of being printed in book form. Dickens halted the publication to make changes. Unfortunately, 38 chapters had already been printed and in these the reference to “the Jew” remain. In the final 15 chapters, however, Dickens altered approximately 180 such negative references.

Additionally, his next major book, Our Mutual Friend, included a favorable character named Mr. Riah, who is the manager (but not the evil owner) of a money-lending establishment. While it is widely assumed that Mr. Riah was created as an apology, he is, unfortunately, so good, kind and humble that he becomes two dimensional.

Despite the enormous celebrity of Charles Dickens, Eliza Davis reached out and expressed her concern, and made a difference.

(Today is Dickens' birthday.)

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

As You Can

If you overhear someone make a degrading remark about another person, or group of people, stand up for what is right.

Monday, February 6, 2012

One for the Queen (Or Really Three)

During the 45 year reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the Jewish people were still under a ban of settlement that had been in effect since their expulsion from England in 1290. In stark contrast, during the current reign of her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates the 60th anniversary of her reign today, the Jews of England are blessed with freedom and equality, and three chief rabbis have been knighted. Two of them were even raised into the peerage.

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952, the United Kingdom had a substantial Jewish population. Not only were there long established Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities (Jews had been permitted in England since 1655), but England had absorbed many Holocaust refugees.

In 1969, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the honor of becoming a Knight Bachelor on Rabbi Israel Brodie, who had been the Chief Rabbi of England from 1948 until 1965. As a member of the Imperial Society of the Knights Bachelor, Rabbi Brodie was addressed as Sir Israel Brodie and was under the Queen’s patronage. In 1981, this same honor was given to the next Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovitz, and in 2005, to the current Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The Queen bestows knighthood to honor those who have done great service for the Kingdom.

Rabbi Jakobovitz and Rabbi Sacks each received the further honor of being elected a “Peer for Life” (a non-hereditary title). In 1988, Lord Rabbi Jakobovitz received the title Baron Jakobovitz of Regent’s Park in Greater London. In 2005, Lord Rabbi Sacks received the title Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London. As Lords, both rabbis were entitled to sit in the House of Lords.

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, the world Jewish community praises the great strides that have been made for English Jewry, thanks to the generous and enlightened treatment of the British government.

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

Queen's Prayer

If you are a citizen of the British commonwealth, add an extra prayer for the Queen into your day.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts for the Heart

February has been designated American Heart Month. For many years, heart disease was considered to be a mostly male affliction. In order to compensate for, and correct that misconception, the first Friday in the month has become National Wear Red Day, to bring awareness of the fact that heart disease has, unfortunately, become a major killer of women as well.

In honor of American Heart Month, and because caring for one’s health is part of the mitzvot of u’sh'martem me’od l’naf’sho’tay'chem and hatzalat n'fashoat (guarding and saving a life), Jewish Treats presents some interesting homeopathic remedies for the heart recommended in the Talmud:

“Rabbi Hisda said: A beet broth (i.e. borscht) is beneficial for the heart and good for the eyes, and needless to say for the bowels. Said Abaye: This is only if it is left on the stove till it goes tuk, tuk (boils)” (Brachot 39a).

“Our Rabbis taught: Asparagus brew is good for the heart and good for the eyes, and, needless to say, for the bowels...But, if one gets drunk on it, is bad for the entire body. Since it is stated that it is good for the heart, we infer that we are dealing with a brew of [asparagus] wine” (Brachot 51a).

“Abaye further stated: My nurse told me: If a man suffers from weakness of the heart...let him fetch some willow twigs, and let him roast them, eat them and, after that, drink some diluted wine” (Eiruvin 29b).

It is most intriguing that some contemporary research supports the use of beets and asparagus in cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment. Additionally, those who study natural remedies believe that willow bark acts in a similar manner to aspirin, often recommended for cardiovascular patients.

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

Doctor Time

Schedule your annual physical.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rabbi Eliezer Silver

Historians have noted the seemingly underwhelming response of the American Jewish community to the Holocaust as it unfolded in Europe. Among the few who were prominent activists was Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968).

Born in Lithuania, Rabbi Silver came to the United States in 1907, shortly after receiving rabbinic ordination. After a brief period in New York, the Silvers moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Rabbi Silver accepted a rabbinical position.

An early political activist, Rabbi Silver helped circulate a petition against a U.S. treaty with Russia (as a protest against persecution of the Jews) and was active in World War I relief efforts. Between the two World Wars, Rabbi Silver first took a position in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the 1930s, Rabbi Silver started the first American branch of the Agudath Israel, a non-Zionist, Orthodox political organization founded in 1912 in Europe. Agudath Israel became the organization through which Rabbi Silver attempted to organize rescue efforts for European Jewry. In 1939, he formed the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee). The Vaad Hatzalah raised over $5 million for rescue efforts and organized synagogues to secure 2,000 contracts for rabbinic positions, resulting in numerous emergency visas being issued. The Vaad Hatzalah used all means (preferably legal but if necessary, illegal) to rescue Jews.

One poignant story frequently repeated about Rabbi Silver describes how he and Dayan Grunfeld of England came to a Christian orphanage in Europe after the war looking for hidden Jewish children. The head priest denied knowing whether any of the children were actually Jewish. The rabbis decided to return at bedtime, and, when all the children were gathered together to recite their bedtime prayers, the rabbis loudly recited the Shema in front of the children. Remembering the prayer that had once been part of their bedtime ritual, many children in the room started crying and calling out for their mothers.

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

Lullaby and Goodnight

Adding the bedtime Shema to your children’s bedtime routine is a beautiful way to teach them the importance of their Jewish heritage.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Diplomacy, Prayer, Action

As every diplomat knows, there is a time to talk, a time to pray and a time to take action. This very lesson is recorded in the Torah when Jacob encounters his murderous brother Esau after many years of separation. Jacob sends messengers with gifts (diplomacy), he prays to God, and takes action by splitting his camp into two (Genesis 33).

When faced with a challenging situation, deciding what is the most propitious action to take is difficult, to say the least. Months, even years, can go by while a proper course of action is debated (e.g. Iran today). Sometimes, however, leaders act purely on intuition. Such was the case when Moses found himself and the Israelites trapped between an army of angry Egyptians and the Sea of Reeds. Moses viewed it as a time for prayer, telling the Israelites that “God will do battle for you, and you will be silent” (Exodus 14:14). God, however, viewed it more as a time for action and responded, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the Children of Israel and they should travel. And you, lift your staff and stretch your arm over the sea and it will split” (14:15-26).

Forty years later, however, Moses erred by taking action rather than offering words. When the Israelites complained about a lack of water, God instructed Moses and Aaron to gather the people before a certain rock and to speak to the rock so that it yield its water. Moses, instead, hit the rock after declaring, “Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?” (Numbers 20) The water came, but God rebuked Moses. This was a time for diplomacy, not brute force.

Today, the decision whether to engage in diplomacy or action might be in the hands of politicians, but the rest of us can certainly pray that, when faced with such challenges, we make the correct decision.

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

Your Actions

Think through the consequences of your every action.