Friday, March 30, 2012

Development of the Haggadah

On Passover night we are commanded "v'hee'ga'd'ta" and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee'ga'd'ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the entire lamb had to be eaten before midnight, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early Seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the Seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. By the year 200 C.E., the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah had been set, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana - the Four Questions).

The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chahd Gad'ya ("One Kid"), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

*This Treat was published on March 22, 2010. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

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 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.

*This Treat was published on April 08, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

View an image from the Sarajevo Haggadah here.

View an image from the Birds’ Head Haggadah here.

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


Visit your local Jewish bookstore, or any online Jewish bookstore, to purchase a new Haggadah for this year’s seder. (Fans of Jewish Treats' might enjoy the Haggadah produced by NJOP, Jewish Treats parent organization. Click here for more information

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Rosenberg Trial

In the early 1950s, the cold war brought to the limelight what appeared to be the vilest case of national espionage. At the center of this whirlwind was a middle-age Jewish couple, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Both Ethel and Julius were the children of Jewish immigrants who were born and raised in New York City. Julius, an early believer in Communism, became a leader in the Young Communist League while studying electrical engineering at City College. Ethel, an aspiring actress and singer, joined the same organization while working in a secretarial position in a shipping company. They married in 1939.

Julius’ unlawful support of the Soviet Union began while he was still an employee of the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories (a position he lost in 1945 when his Communist ties were discovered by the U.S. Army). In 1942, Julius was recruited as a spy for the Soviet Union. Eventually, he became the head of his cell.

In 1950, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were arrested by the F.B.I. for engaging in espionage and charged with revealing classified information about the US nuclear program to the Soviet Union. Although admittedly involved in passing information, many observers (in hindsight) do not believe that his information was significant. Nevertheless, they were charged with conspiracy to transmit classified military information to the Soviet Union. Most of the evidence used to convict the Rosenbergs came from Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, and his wife Ruth, who received a lighter sentence in return for helping the government.

While many contended that the trial was biased by the political climate, there is strong evidence (subsequently made public, long after the trial) that supports the governments case. American Jews watched the trial with baited breath, fearful that the fact that all those involved were Jews would be turned into accusations of general disloyalty among the American-Jewish community.

The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and executed by electric chair in June 1953.

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

A Guide For You

Jewish Treats is proud to present the Jewish Treats Complete Guide to Shabbat eBook. Click here to download your free copy!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Traditional Jewish Views on Birth Control

Judith, the wife of Rabbi Chiya, having suffered in consequence [of pregnancy] agonizing pains of childbirth, changed her clothes [in disguise, in order to get an unbiased answer] and appeared before [her husband] Rabbi Chiya. ‘Is a woman,’ she asked, ‘commanded to propagate the race [fulfill the mitzvah of ‘Be fruitful and multiply’]?’--‘No’, he replied. Relying on this decision, she drank a sterilizing potion (Yevamot 65b).

The first mitzvah of the Torah, and a central tenet of Jewish family life, is the commandment of p’ru u’rvu - be fruitful and multiply. Upon noticing the large families common in many traditional communities, one might assume that proper observance of this mitzvah would render birth control taboo. However, as may be understood from the above passage, this would be an incorrect conclusion...

When discussing the permissibility of birth control in Jewish law, there are several important facts of which to be aware:

1) P’ru u’rvu is considered an obligation on men and not women (one reason being that one cannot impose upon a woman a mitzvah that entails the medical dangers of pregnancy and childbirth).

2) The sages quantify the mitzvah of p’ru u’rvu as producing one son and one daughter (the minimal opinion*) and note that “A man shall not abstain from the act of propagation unless he already has children” (Yevamot 61b).

3) There is a prohibition against a man “spilling his seed.”

4) Pikuach Nefesh, saving a life, is considered of foremost importance over all but 3 mitzvot.

While birth control is not forbidden under Jewish law, it is a decision that is not to be made lightly. (Many traditional Jews will consult a rabbi to discuss their particular situation.) Quite often, the critical factor in the discussion is the well-being (both physical and mental) of the mother. Additionally, not all methods of contraception are permitted. Condoms and other methods that prevent the flow of a man’s seed are problematic, whereas hormonal contraceptives are not.

*In some opinions, one who is unable to have children is able to partake in this mitzvah by providing support and a Jewish education to an orphan or a needy child. To learn more about the Torah's view on adoption, click here

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

Passover Pages

Jewish Treats' parent organization, the National Jewish Outreach Program, has an excellent resource page to learn all about the upcoming holiday. Click here to find out more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Nathan Sisters

The Suffragist Movement of the early twentieth century was a political cause about which many people felt strongly, either one way or the other. Maud Nathan and her sister Annie Nathan Meyer are excellent examples of this divide. Both exemplary women and activists, Maud was a leading suffragette, while Annie was known as an outspoken opponent.

The Nathan sisters were proud members of a Sephardic family whose American roots went back to 1730. Their brother was the acclaimed American poet Robert Nathan, and they were cousins of both Emma Lazarus (poet) and Benjamin Cardozo (Supreme Court Justice).

Maud Nathan’s (1862-1946) activist life began after the death of her only child, 8-year-old Annette. Josephine Shaw Lowell, a friend, encouraged her to involve herself with women’s labor rights. Together, they helped form the Consumer League of New York (1890). Through her work for women’s labor rights, she realized that nothing would change as long as women could not vote. Joining the Equal Suffrage League of New York, she became one of their most prominent speakers. Her husband, Fredrick Nathan, was an active supporter of suffragist rights.

Annie Nathan Meyer (1867-1951) was also a powerful activist for women’s rights whose course in life was influenced by the lack of stimulation she found when attending the Columbia College Collegiate Course for Women. Shortly after her marriage to Dr. Alfred Meyer in 1887, Annie began her campaign to create a women’s affiliate to Columbia. In October of 1889, Barnard College welcomed its first class. Annie was also a prolific writer who used her pen to fight against sexism and racism. She sponsored the enrollment and education of Zora Neal Hurston at Barnard in order to break the color barrier. Her opposition to the suffragist movement stemmed from her opposition to the idealized projected end results - that women voting would be the panacea to all the country’s ills.

March is Women's History Month.

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

Jewish Women Rule!

In honor of Women's History Month, borrow a biography of a Jewish woman from your local library.

Monday, March 26, 2012

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 (any personal place where chametz may have been brought). 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 published on April 04, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Nisan and Passover.

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

Preparation Begins

Start your preparations for Passover by visiting's Passover webpage.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Parasha of the Month

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of “The Month.”

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional reading) after the conclusion of the reading of the regular weekly Torah portion, commands that the Jewish people declare Nissan to be the first month of the lunar calendar and instructs the Children of Israel to prepare for the Exodus (Exodus12:1-20). Parashat HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh itself (as it is this year).

The reading begins, “And God spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Expdus12:2).

When God first commanded that the Israelites count the new month, they were still in slavery. As slaves, time was something over which they had no control. This command, however, was God’s way of gradually empowering the people to take hold of their own fate.

The command also promises a future. At this point in time, nine out of the ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land was decimated, almost all the livestock had perished, and the people themselves were scared and desperate. The Israelites, who had remained unharmed by the plagues, became increasingly concerned about the pent-up anger of the Egyptians. (Not to mention that Pharaoh was still refusing to let the Israelites leave.) Beginning a calendar process, however, underscored that they would have a future.

Having been reassured and empowered, the Israelites were able to obey Moses’ instructions to take a lamb on the 10th of the month and mark their doorposts with the lamb’s blood on the eve of the 15th, when God would strike the Egyptian firstborn and the Children of Israel would finally leave Egypt.

This Treat was originally treated on March 19, 2009.

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

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

Enjoy an extra-special feast in honor of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cooked Wine

Among the discussions of the many details of Jewish life recorded in the Mishna, the first written compilation of the oral law, is the following: “If a Jewish laborer is hired by a heathen to work with wine for [idolatrous] libation, the wages are prohibited...” (Avodah Zarah 5:1).

One only has to think back to high school history class lessons on the feasts of Bacchus to realize the connection between wine and idolatry. The Greeks were not unique in using wine for religious ceremonies. For this exact reason--because many religions consecrate religious activities through wine--Jewish law prohibits the consumption of wine prepared by non-Jews out of concern that the wine might have been consecrated to worshiping other gods.

Because of the unique and complex fermentation process necessary to create wine, the process of kosher wine supervision is also a bit more complex than regular non-wine kosher supervision. The chemical reactions that take place during the natural fermentation can be affected by even the slightest agitation of the crushed grapes. Therefore, the entire wine-making process must be supervised and handled by Jews. (Even after the wine is bottled, there are rules on how the wine should be handled.) Thus wine, which technically contains no non-kosher ingredients, must have kosher certification (as do drinks that include wine or grape juice).

In Jewish law, there are two types of kosher wine: mevushal and non-mevushal. The Hebrew term mevushal means cooked/boiled (significantly increasing its temperature, if even for only one minute).

Mevushal: "Boiling" the wine destroys the natural yeasts that create fermentation and creates an inferior beverage--so inferior, in fact, that boiled wine was not permitted to be used in the sacrificial ceremonies in the Temple that require a wine offering. However, since the wine has now lost its use in consecration, it may now be handled by anyone.

Non-Mevushal: Wines that do not go through the "boiling" process maintain the ability to be rendered un-kosher if improperly handled.*

Wine connoisseurs should not panic at the thought of kosher wine. In the last twenty years, new processes of making mevushal wine have been implemented, resulting in vastly improved quality and varieties of kosher wines.

*The complex laws of handling non-mevushel wine should be discussed with one's own rabbi or Jewish authority.

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

Explore Your Choices

Try a new kosher wine this Shabbat.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

After Nebuchadnezzar

Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty King of Babylon, reigned for forty years. He was so commanding a figure that, according to the Midrash, his own son, Evil-Merodach, was afraid to assume his father’s throne:

“During the seven years [of madness] that passed over Nebuchadnezzar, they took Evil-Merodach and made him king in the former's place. When Nebuchadnezzar returned, he took Evil-Merodach and confined him to prison...When Nebuchadnezzar died, they again approached Evil-Merodach to appoint him king. He said to them, 'I shall not heed you; the first time, after I listened to you, he took me and imprisoned me, this time he will slay me.’ And he did not believe them until they dragged Nebuchadnezzar[’s dead body] forth and cast him before him” (Leviticus Rabbah 18:2).

The ancient Greek historian Berossus appears to view Evil-Merodach’s reign as impure, which some suggest means that he went against the priests and the laws set in place by Nebuchadnezzar. One such act to which this might be referring are the closing verses of II Kings, the only Biblical reference to Evil-Merodach:

“And it came to pass in the 37th year of the captivity of Yeho'yachin king of Judea, in the twelfth month, on the 27th day of the month (27 Adar, today’s Hebrew date) that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, did lift the head of Yeho'yachin king of Judea out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon. And he changed his prison garments, and [Yeho'yachin] ate bread before him [Evil-Merdoch] continually all the days of his life. And there was a continual daily allowance given to him by the king, all the days of his life” (II Kings 25:27-30).

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

Family Ties

Take a moment and connect with a family member with whom you haven't spoken in awhile.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rebecca Gratz

Raise your hand if you attended Hebrew school, whether after school or on Sunday mornings. Did you know that you have a Jewish Pennsylvania native, Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869) to thank for that education.

Rebecca Gratz’s first attempt to organize Jewish religious education took place in her home in 1818. However, it was not until 1838 that she was able to create the Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia (HSSS). This first school, of which Gratz was the superintendent, had 60 students. By the turn of the century, over 4,000 students had received a Jewish education through HSSS. In addition to providing a basic Jewish education to the community’s youth, HSSS provided the first opportunity for Jewish women to teach Jewish subjects.

Gratz’s life-long commitment to community activism actually began in 1801, when she, together with others, co-founded Philadelphia’s Female Association for the Relief of Woman and Children in Reduced Circumstances. In 1815, Gratz was instrumental in the creation of the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum. She then brought her skills to the Jewish community and created the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society (1819), as well as the Jewish Foster Home (1855). She acted as Secretary for all of these organizations.

Gratz’s personal life was no less fascinating. One of 12 children born into a prominent Jewish family, she was connected to important literary and intellectual circles. Additionally, when her sister Rachel passed away in 1823, Gratz assumed responsibility for her children (at least 6 of whom were still minors).

Although Gratz never married, she was not without suitors. One popular legend is that she was in love with a man who was not Jewish and therefore would not marry him. It is also rumored that Rebecca Gratz was the model for Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe character Rebecca, a Jewess who refuses to renounce her faith.

March is Women's History Month.

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

When You See A Need

If you see a need for community activism, take the initiative.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Inanity of the Blood Libel

Of all the unfounded accusations leveled at the Jewish people by anti-Semites throughout the ages, the most ludicrous is that of the blood libel, that of Jews murdering non-Jewish children in order to drink their blood or bake matzot with the blood. Anyone with even a modest knowledge of Judaism would be familiar with the Torah’s prohibition against consuming blood. In fact, this prohibition is included in a caveat to the initial permission to eat meat that God gave to humankind in the days of Noah: “Every moving thing that lives will be food for you; just as I have given you the green herb. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, you shall not eat” (Genesis 9:3-4).

But to the Jewish people, this command is repeated over and over. In fact, the consequence of eating blood is the ultimate spiritual punishment, kareit--being cut off.

“And any man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eats any manner of blood, I will set My face against that soul that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood...[Anyone who hunts] any beast or fowl that may be eaten, he must pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust... whosoever eats it shall be cut off” (Leviticus 17:10-14).

As part of the practice followed in the koshering process, after meat and fowl are slaughtered by a professional kosher butcher (shochet), the blood is drained. Additionally, the meat is soaked and salted in order to draw out any remaining blood, which is why many people find kosher meat salty.

Because the commandments in the Torah specifically prohibit only the blood of beast or fowl, the Oral Law clarifies that human blood is also prohibited. They specify further that this refers to blood that has become separated from the body. But, if for instance, one’s gums are bleeding, one need not worry about swallowing that blood.

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

Blood Free

To ensure your meat is blood free, purchase it from a kosher butcher who has soaked and salted the meat.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How Now, Red Cow

Every year, on the first or second Shabbat following Purim, a special reading from Numbers 19, is added to the regular Shabbat Torah reading. Known as Parashat Parah, the Torah reading concerns the special purification ceremony of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) one of the most intricate and mysterious laws found in the Torah.

The process of purification via the Parah Adumah is complex and difficult even for those who have spent years studying the Torah. A simple explanation is that a pure red heifer (cow) is sacrificed, and its ashes mixed with holy water, the mixture of which was then sprinkled on those who seek spiritual purification. Most famously, the ashes of the Parah Adumah “cleanse” a person from the ritual impurity of coming in contact with a dead body. The precise process is described in Numbers 19 and in Mishnah Parah.

For the Parah Adumah, however, any-old red cow just won’t do. The animal must be a cow that is preferably three or four years old (but older than two years) and has never been mounted by a bull. Additionally, it should never have been yoked or have been engaged in any physical labor like most other domestic animals normally do.

Physically, like all sacrifices, the red heifer must be blemish free, both internally and externally. The most critical factor, however, is the definition of “red.” In order to be considered an actual Red Heifer, the animal may not have more than two hairs of a different color on its entire body!

Finding the exact specimen was so difficult that the sages recorded only eight red heifers from the time of Moses to the end of the Second Temple: “Moses prepared the first, Ezra prepared the second,... Simon the Just and Yochanan the High Priest each prepared two, and El'y'ho'aynai ben Hakkoph and Cha'nam'ayl the Egyptian each prepared one” (Mishna Parah 3:5).

This Treat was originally published on March 25, 2011.

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

A Nice Steak

In honor of Parashat Parah, enjoy a nice roast for Shabbat dinner.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Purim Narbonne

During the holiday of Purim, celebrated just last week, Jews around the world commemorated the salvation of the Jewish people from physical decimation. Because Haman had such great influence over Achashverosh, the Emperor of Persia-Medea (an empire that encompassed the vast majority of the then “known world”), this celebration was written into law for all Jews, for all time. However, throughout history, there have been other averted massacres - none on the grand scale of Purim - resulting in the implementation of various local Purim celebrations.

For the Jews of Narbonne, France, the 21st of Adar (1236) probably began as any other day. Then one Jew, unnamed in the annals of history, argued with a Christian customer in the course of his normal business dealings. In the midst of angry words, violence ensued, and the Jew fatally struck his adversary.

Fights and accidents happen. But, in Medieval France, a Christian death at the hands of a Jew had dire consequences. Thus, the Jews of Narbonne, who had started the day so normally, were soon confronted by an angry mob.

By the time the governor of the city, Don Aymeric, arrived, the riotous crowd had pillaged the property of the Jews of Narbonne. Before any physical violence ensued, however, Don Aymeric and his troops restored order to the city. Not only did he prevent a massacre, he even instructed that the Jewish property be restored to their rightful owners.

Thus, was one of the oldest local Purims, known now as Purim Narbonne, established.

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

Is This Yours?

If you find a watch or a bracelet on the ground, ask those around if it is theirs. Returning a lost object is an important mitzvah.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What’s in the Book - The Twelve Prophets - Habakuk

The Book of Habakuk has only three chapters.

Habakuk cried out to God to witness the perversions of justice. “How long, O God, shall I cry out, and You will not hear? Shall I shout to you, “Violence!” and You do not save? Why do You show me iniquity ...?” (1:2-3).

God responded by telling Habakuk of the impending conquest by the Chaldeans (Babylon), “For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and impetuous nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling-places that are not theirs” (1:6).

When Habakuk questioned whether the punishment is too great, too harsh, destroying all, even those not wicked enough to deserve punishment, God answered, "The righteous man is rewarded with life for his fidelity" (2:4), but destruction would come upon the Babylonians. God’s vengeance would be eternal, “Because you have plundered many nations, all surviving peoples shall plunder you; because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all that dwell therein” (2:8).

The Book of Habakuk concludes with a “prayer” of Habakuk describing both the awe and faith with which the prophet viewed God.

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

Call Out

Don't hesitate to call out to God whenever you feel the need.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Take This Medical Advice?

Everyone, at some point in their lives, gets sick, even if it is with just a mild “bug.” Interestingly, the Talmud notes: “Until the time of Jacob, nobody became sick before he died. Then Jacob prayed [for a warning before death so that last wishes may be conveyed], and sickness came into being...Until the time of Elisha [the prophet] no sick person ever recovered, but Elisha prayed and he did recover...” (Baba Metzia 87a). Alas, this is really no consolation to humankind today which is afflicted by a wide range of illnesses and diseases.

The Talmud is filled with what we today might consider odd folk remedies. For instance, In Gittin (68b) it is written: “For migraine, one should take a woodcock and cut its throat with a white zuz [silver coin] over the side of the head on which he has pain, taking care that the blood does not blind him, and he should hang the bird on his doorpost so that he should rub against it when he goes in and out.”

While many people today are proponents of going back to more nature-based medicines, this Talmudic remedy would certainly be beyond consideration for most.

However, not all of the Talmudic medical advice is out of step with modern medical thought. For instance, in Brachot (40a), “The Rabbis taught: Whoever drinks a large amount of water after his meal will not suffer any intestinal illness.” It is a well-known fact that drinking a lot of water is essential for a healthy diet. Another example: “Elijah once said to Rabbi Nathan: Eat a third and drink a third and leave a third for when you get angry, and then you will have had your fill” (Gittin 70a).

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

To Your Help

Taking care of yourself is a mitzvah, so follow the medical advice of your doctor.

Monday, March 12, 2012


The Jewish nation is a people of faith and, as part of our unique combination of peoplehood and religion, must grapple with defining heresy. Jewish life has a basic, structured framework, but, within that, lies a great deal of latitude for individuality. So what makes one a “heretic”?

Maimonides (Rambam, 12th century, Mishneh Torah: Laws of Repentance 3:7-8) categorizes three types of heretics:

(1) Minim - those who deny God and the Torah, those who believe there is more than one Divine law (like the Torah), those who believe God has a physical body, those who believe God did not create the world alone and those who worship stars/constellations as intermediaries to the Divine.

(2) Kofrim ba’Torah - those who say that the Torah is not from God, those who deny the authority of the rabbis and those who say that God gave a new set of laws to supplant the old.

(3) Apikorsim - those who deny that prophecy ever existed, those who deny Moses’ status as a prophet and those who say that God has no knowledge of or involvement in human activities.

In an age where questioning faith is a common public activity, this definition of heresy might be quite unsettling. However, an important caveat must be added. These determining definitions of a heretic ONLY apply to a person who has studied Torah and Jewish law extensively, someone who understands Jewish law (halacha) and philosophy but, nevertheless, rejects it. (The example being Elisha ben Abuya, a.k.a. Acher.)

The average Jewish man or woman who struggles with faith is encouraged to continue their quest for the truth. In fact, the Hebrew word “Israel” can be translated to mean “he who wrestles with God,” perhaps alluding to the fact that Jews, as individuals and as a nation, are not the type to follow along blindly, but are those who struggle to fully understand their relationship with the Divine.

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


If you have questions, send them to Jewish Treats!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Purim! Again?

Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on location.

The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (yesterday). However, Jews living in the city of Shushan (now the city of Shush, Iran), Jerusalem and all the cities that had walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar (today).

The delay in the Purim celebration is based on Esther 9:16-17.

And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies...on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy. But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy.

The majority of the Jews were able to stop defending themselves on the 13th, and so rested on the 14th. In the capital city, however, where Haman's evil plot had aroused greater hatred, the Jews were forced to defend themselves through the 14th as well, and rested on the 15th.

Mordechai and the great sages of the time felt that it was important to separate Shushan's celebration from that of the rest of the people. Because they were still in exile, however, the sages wanted to make certain that the people remembered the holy city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It was therefore declared that, in addition to Shushan, any city that was surrounded by a wall at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan would celebrate Purim on the 15th.

This Treat was originally published on March 1, 2010. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Purim.

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

L'Chaim Shabbat

If you have left over liquor from Purim, make a l'chaim at your Shabbat meal.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Purim Drinking

"A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman'” (Megilla 7a).

What does the Talmud mean by the phrase that one "cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman?'"

On a simple level, it is just a description of a level of intoxication, a point at which one has trouble making clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad. On a more philosophical level, when ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman’ become indistinguishable, one has grasped a higher concept that even negative things that happen are good, that they come from God and, in the end, make us better people.

Why do we drink on Purim?

When reading the Purim story, one sees that wine plays an important role in events that unfold:

* King Achashverosh is drunk when he calls for Vashti and when he orders her banished/killed (there are differing opinions as to her fate).

* Esther invites the King and Haman to a banquet, which the Megillah refers to as a wine-banquet.

* The Megillah describes the 14th and 15h of Adar as days of "feasting and joy," inferring that the Jews celebrated with feasts of wine.

While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
2-Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.

This Treat was originally published on March 10, 2009.

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

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Enjoy Purim with good food and drink!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Purim Story in Under 300 Words

At the end of a 180-day feast, the King of Persia-Medea, Achashverosh, banished (some say executed) his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. He then staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.

Esther lived with her uncle, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful, and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.

Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.

Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.

After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.

That night, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai for revealing an assassination plot by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.

At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.

The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Esther and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

This Treat was posted on March 9, 2009.

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

Find A Reading

Call your local synagogue to find out when they are reading the Megillah.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I and my maidens will also fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her uncle Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

In commemoration of that fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim.

The fast begins at dawn (aloht hashachar)* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi).

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning service.

2. At the morning and afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of God's mercy. At the afternoon service only, the Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days.

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying the afternoon service.

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

This Treat was originally posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010.


Raid your closet and get creative with a costume for Purim.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

Purim is celebrated on Thursday, March 8th (beginning Wednesday evening, March 7th, after sunset). Four mitzvot are associated with the holiday:

Megillah Reading - Book of Esther - The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. In order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not speak during the Megillah reading.

Mishloach Manot/Shalach Manos - Sending Gifts - On Purim day, every Jew is obligated to give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat food items.

Matanot La'evyonim - Gifts to the Poor - Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is in addition to the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). To properly fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim one must give to two poor individuals. Although one may fulfill this mitzvah by giving a minimal amount of money to each person, the sages noted that the highest form of fulfilling this mitzvah is by giving enough money for a meal, or the equivalent in food. This mitzvah may be fulfilled by donating beforehand to an organization that will distribute the money or food on Purim day.

Seudah - Festive Meal - One is obligated to partake in a festive meal on Purim day. The minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one ritually wash one's hands (netillat yadayim), eat bread and then recite the Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals.

Part of the Mitzvah of Seudat Purim is drinking. "A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between 'Blessed is Mordechai' and 'Cursed is Haman.'" (Talmud Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch--Code of Jewish Law). On Purim, one is commanded to drink wine to a point of inebriation* - generally, this is interpreted as drinking more than one usually does or enough to make one sleepy.

*While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
1-Do not drink and drive.
Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.

This Treat was originally published on March 5, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Purim.

Beautiful Basket

Take a trip to your local dollar-store for a great deal on baskets for Mishloach Manot.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Counting Shabbat

“And the maiden [Esther] pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily provided her with her ointments, along with her appointed rations, and with the seven maids, which were designated to be given to her out of the king's house...” (Esther 2:9).

About this passage, the Talmudic sage Raba notes that Esther employed seven different maidens rather than one, so that “she could count the days of the week through them” (Megilla 13a).

Living in the palace, away from her home and community, Esther privately kept track of her own calendar, in order to maintain the secrecy of her heritage. In addition to using an alternating staff of maids to help her maintain her schedule, she assigned a specific maid to each particular day of the week, so that the Shabbat maid only served on Shabbat and therefore noticed no difference in Esther’s behavior on Shabbat compared to the rest of the days of the week.

This interesting Midrash about Esther underscores the importance of Shabbat in Jewish life. In fact, so important is Shabbat that in the Jewish calendar, the names of the days of the week are identified by their proximity to, or distance from, Shabbat: Day One, Day Two....Day Six, Shabbat.

Tonight, the Jews of North America celebrate Shabbat Across America and Canada, and in less than seven “maidens,” the entire Jewish world will celebrate the holiday of Purim.

Get ready to celebrate Shabbat Across America and Canada TONIGHT!. 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.

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering.

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked our weak, tired and elderly shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Therefore, there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Parashat Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

The Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscored the evil character of the Amalekites. God had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek "happened" upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is a description of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of "fate," which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek's philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind because the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.

*This Treat was originally published on March 6, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand this special Torah reading and the holiday of Purim.

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

PrePurim Dessert

Serve hamantashen, a traditional Purim treat, for dessert this Shabbat.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jewish Penicillin

There is an unusual statement in the Talmud (Berachot 44b) about the therapeutic value of particular foods: “Six things provide a permanent cure for illness: cabbage, beets, an extract of sisin, the stomach of an animal, the womb of an animal and the large lobe of the liver of an animal.”

This seems to be a rather limited list of therapeutic foods, especially when today we know about the phenomenal healing powers of the many vitamins and minerals that are found in foods. Blueberries have antioxidants, carrots are packed with beta-carotene and so on.

But perhaps the most surprising therapeutic food missing from the list is chicken soup. After all, isn’t chicken soup regarded as “Jewish penicillin”?

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam), who was both a leading 12th century Torah scholar and a renowned physician, mentioned in several of his treatises on health that chicken soup has the therapeutic virtue of balancing humors. He also recommended chicken soup to convalescents. Modern scientific studies have shown that chicken soup’s curative power is not a legend -- people really do feel better after a bowl or two.

Chicken soup’s place in Jewish life, however, is rooted in Shabbat. Ashkenazi Jews in the shtetls of Europe were often impoverished, and a chicken (or part of a chicken) boiled together with vegetables or noodles and made into soup was a special delight that could be shared with the entire family. While chicken soup does not enjoy the same status in Sephardic culture as it does in Ashkenazic homes, Sephardic cuisine also has many delicious chicken soup recipes.

Regardless of how effective chicken soup is as a cure, or exactly when chicken soup became “Jewish,” it is now a traditional food that links us to our mothers, our “bubbies” (grandmothers) and the generations of Jewish mothers who came before them, sweetly whispering “Ess, ess myn kind!” (Eat, eat my child!).

This Treat was originally published on February 2, 2009.

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

Hester Panim

One might think that the Book of Esther is a heroic tale about Mordechai and Esther saving the Jewish people through diplomatic skill, after all God is not mentioned once in the entire text. Looking deeper, however, one is struck by the overwhelming number of "coincidences" of the right people being in the right places at the right times. To follow one such line of "coincidences":

1. Esther was the niece of one of the leaders of the Jewish people.

2. While women throughout the kingdom hoped to be chosen queen at the beauty pageant, Esther's beauty was noticed and she "was taken to the king's palace" (Esther 2:8). Ultimately, she was chosen as queen.

3. Esther's presence in the palace allowed Mordechai to get word to the king about an assassination plot.

4. Esther was the necessary "insider" to foil Haman's plot. As Mordechai pointed out: "Who knows if not just for a time like this you reached this royal position?!" (Esther 4:14).

These coincidences are the ultimate display of Divine Providence, acting behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved.

Known as Hester Panim, God hiding His face from the world is actually a Divine gift that allows humanity free will. If a child is told not to eat a cookie, as long as the mother remains in the kitchen the child will not take the cookie. However, once the mother leaves the room, it is the child's free choice that determines what happens to the cookie. Nevertheless, even when the mother leaves the room, she is aware of her child's behavior, listens for danger and is ready to jump to the rescue.

God gives His creations space, allowing humankind to make their own choices, but He is always watching from the periphery.

This Treat was originally posted on February 15, 2010.

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

At The Store

Pick up your chicken soup basics: chicken, carrots, onions and spices.