Monday, April 30, 2012

Jiri Mordecai

In celebration of National Poetry Month:
One could easily say that the life of  Jiri Mordecai Langer (1894-1943) was lived between the two World Wars. Born in Prague to an assimilated Jewish family, Jiri set off to discover his Jewish roots when he was 19. He immersed himself in the chassidic court of the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeah. He stayed for several months before returning home to the non-Chassidic world of cosmopolitan Prague. Drafted into the Austrian Army, Langer spent much of the first World War in military prison for refusing to follow orders that interfered with his religious practice. Although Langer did not remain a chassid, the influence of his time with the Belzer Rebbe can be felt in the topics on which he wrote.

Between the wars, Prague had a flourishing literary society. Langer was close with both Franz Kafka and Max Brod. Langer began his writing career in 1919, publishing articles in Czech and German on a wide range of topics, from Talmud and Kabbalah to psychoanalysis and world literature. Langer’s first Hebrew poem was published in 1923, in a Warsaw monthly called Kolot. Six years later he published Piyutim V’shirei Yedidut (Odes and Poems of Friendship), a compilation of his poetry. It has been noted that his Hebrew poetic works share the flavor of the medieval liturgical poems of Spanish Jewry.

Langer remained fascinated by the chassidic world, and in 1937, he published an anthology of vignettes, recollections and chassidic tales titled Nine Gates. When the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, the book was confiscated and further publication of it was banned.

Fleeing the Nazis, Langer made his way to Palestine. Sick and impoverished, he managed to arrange for the publication of a second book of poetry, Me’at Tzori (A Little Balm), which appeared shortly after his death in 1943.

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

A Mitzvah For Spring

Volunteer to help clean up a local park.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jewish Genetics

The fact that one’s genetic code is a combination of the DNA one inherits from both mother and  father is a basic lesson of high school biology. According to traditional Jewish thought, one’s spiritual DNA is also derived from one’s biological background.

In Deuteronomy, the Torah strongly warns that one should not “give your daughter to his [a gentile’s]  son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your child to turn away from Me, and they will worship the gods of others" (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). The use of the ambiguous pronouns in this verse are clarified in the Talmud: “Rabbi Yochanan said on the authority of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, because Scripture says, ‘For he will turn away your son from following me:’ your son by an Israelite woman is called your son, but your son by a heathen is not called your son. Rabina said: This proves that your daughter's son by a gentile is called your son” (Kiddushin 68b).

The Biblical passage cited above is regarded as the source for matrilineal descent, the Jewish legal principle that one is Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish (or if one converts). Thus it is written in the Book of Ezra (regarding the people who are preparing to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple): “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women of the peoples of the land...” (Ezra 10:2-3).

The father’s “spiritual genetic” contribution is equally important, although it’s importance was more tangible before the exile of the ten “lost” tribes. From one’s father, one inherits tribal affiliation. However, since the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the significance of this tribal designation is much more limited and is primarily used in determining whether one is a Kohain (priest), Levite or Israelite.

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

Your Heritage

Find simple ways to celebrate your heritage: wear a Star of David, listen to Jewish music or eat kosher food.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chaim Weizmann

Many of the greatest names in Israeli history belong to leaders of military battles and to eloquent spokespersons who rallied the Jewish people to fight for a modern homeland. Chaim Weizmann’s field of “battle” was the game of diplomacy. His great skill in this most delicate realm made it all the more appropriate that his final title was that of the first President of the State of Israel.

Born in Russia in 1874, the third of fifteen children, Weizmann followed his Jewish cheder education with gymnasium and multiple universities. A scientist by training, he received degrees from universities in Germany and Switzerland and taught at the University of Geneva before accepting a position as senior lecturer at University of Manchester in 1904.

Weizmann became a British citizen. During the first World War, he gained national attention when he developed a process for producing acetone, a critical explosive component that greatly benefited the British war effort. His national security work enabled him to make many influential and important contacts.

An ardent Zionist, Weizmann attended every Zionist conference in Basil except the first. Weizmann’s belief was that the Zionists could only succeed if there were people settling the land while diplomatic maneuvers were put in place. Weizmann played a critical role in the creation of both the Weizmann Institute for Science and Hebrew University.

Weizmann’s diplomatic victories were of great significance. It was his efforts that resulted in the Balfour Declaration. He was the diplomat who sat with the Hashemite Prince Feisal and reached a (short-lived) agreement with the Arabs. And it was known that Weizmann influenced the United States to support both the Partition Plan and Statehood.

In 1952, after serving four years as President, Weizmann died at his home in Rehovot.

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


In honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut, become familiar with the accomplishments of the State of Israel. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Palmach

The IDF (Israeli Defense Force), was born in the heat of the Israeli War of Independence. As the brand new state was declared and the country came under attack, the Israeli government created its official fighting force from three separate, pre-state para-military units (each with its own political ideology), the Haganah, Irgun and Lechi.

The history of each of these organizations is fascinating in its own right. In honor of this year’s Yom Ha'zikaron (Day of Remembrance), however, Jewish Treats presents the history of the Palmach, the specialized fighting force within the Haganah.

In 1941, the British worried that the Germans would attack their Middle Eastern holdings. Since the first line of defense was the British Mandate in Palestine, the British therefore agreed to support a Jewish military unit, which was organized by the (then underground) Haganah military organization. The Palmach, which is an acronym for Plugat Mahatz, “Strike Force,” was given the ulterior mission of protecting the Jewish settlements from Arab attack if the British were to retreat from the territory.

When the British determined that the Palmach was no longer necessary, they ordered it disbanded. Instead, the Palmach went underground. Without British support, however, it was impossible to pay the soldiers of the Palmach. The units were therefore stationed on different kibbutzim. In addition to their training, the Palmachnicks spent 14 days of each month earning their keep working the farms.

After 1945, as the British mandate became unfriendly to the Jewish settlement, the Palmach assisted in bringing Jewish refugees from the Holocaust on illegal transports and attacking British installations that were impeding Jewish settlement.

Although the Palmach was integrated into the greater IDF in 1948, it was a noted crack force during the 1948 war. In the course of the war, over 1,100 members of the Palmach were killed in action.

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

Wave The Flag

Make the Israeli flag your screen saver for the rest of this week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Religious Recycling

Organized recycling is a development of the modern world, and from the current understanding of the concept, is not discussed in the Talmud. After all, in the era when the sages were compiling the Oral Law, most people lived in an agrarian society that naturally reused many of its own byproducts.

Upon further exploration, however, the Talmud reveals a religious version of recycling.

When Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi happened to get hold of a loaf of bread that had been used for an eiruv (perimeter creating a private area in which one would be allowed to carry on Shabbat), they used to say over it the blessing, ‘who brings forth bread from the earth,’ saying, since one religious duty has been performed with it, let us perform with it still another (Berachot 39b).

To this end, many customs have developed in which items that have been used for a holy purpose are reused for other “elevated” purposes. For instance:

1) The etrog (citron), one of the four species of Sukkot, is used by many to produce post-holiday delicacies such as etrog jam. Others use the citron fruit for besamim (spices for havdallah after Shabbat), often sticking cloves into the rind to enhance the scent.

2) The lulav (the palm branch of the four species of Sukkot) is set aside to dry. The dried lulav is then used as tinder to start the fire in which chametz (leaven) is burned before Passover.

3) After Passover, when no one has any desire to eat more matzah, the left over matzah is set aside to be eaten on Pesach Shaynee.

4) Every Shabbat, the mot’zee blessing over the challahs serves as a means of sanctifying the day. Left over challah is often used to feed the birds or to make bread crumbs.

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

Handle With Care

Treat your religious possessions with the deepest respect.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Controlling Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl is one of the prominent contemporary environmental concerns. It is, understandably, a modern issue that started at the time of the industrial revolution. Oddly enough, however, it is a dilemma that the Torah appears to have considered, even in the days when many cities were growth-limited due to surrounding walls.

Command the children of Israel to give the Levites cities in which to dwell from among their (the Israelites’) inheritance. They shall live in these cities, and the open land shall be for their cattle, and for their substance, and for all their beasts...from the wall of the city until 1,000 cubits round, And you shall measure without the city 2,000 cubits eastward, 2,000 cubits southward, 2,000 cubits westward and 2,000 cubits northward, the city being in the middle. This shall be to them the open land about the cities (Numbers 35:2-5).

Once the Israelites inhabited the land of Israel, they were to give the Levites (the only tribe that did not receive a portion of land) cities in which to live. The above law ordaining that green space be established around the city was put into effect for all cities, not just those given to the Levites.

Although this law enforces a perimeter of green space, it does not prohibit urban sprawl since the green space can simply be moved outward. However, there is an interesting related Mishna:

One may not turn a field into a city's outskirts, nor a city's outskirts into a field, nor a city's outskirts into a city, nor a city into a city's outskirts. Rabbi Eleazar said: this applies only to the cities of the Levites, but in the cities of the Israelites one may turn a field into a city's outskirts, but not a city's outskirts into a field (Arachin 33b).

Written in honor of Earth Day, April 22, 2012.

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

Lawn Care

If you have a lawn, maintain it properly for the benefit of yourself and your neighbors.

Friday, April 20, 2012

There's A Key In My Challah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Own Key

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beneath the Warsaw Ghetto

On January 18, 1943, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto arose in violent rebellion against further deportations. The struggle lasted an incredible three months. On April 19th, the Nazis began their final assault. Four days later, with their weapons depleted and the Nazis progressively blowing up blocks of the ghetto, the Jewish resistance was overcome. By mid-May, the Warsaw Ghetto was no more, its tens of thousands of residents mercilessly murdered. Beneath the rubble, however, remained profound exhibits of the courage, faith and strength of the Jewish people.

The greatest cache of documents from the ghetto were collected and preserved by Emanuel Ringelbaum (1900-1944), a Polish-Jewish historian born in Buchach (then in Austia-Hungary, now in Ukraine) who did not survive the war. When Ringelbaum and his family were “relocated” to the Warsaw Ghetto, he initiated Operation Oneg Shabbat (“Sabbath Delight”), organizing members of the ghetto to collect diaries, newspapers, posters, documents, etc. His goal was to preserve a record of life in the ghetto for the future. Realistic about their slim chances of survival, these documents were stored in metal canisters and three large milk cans, which were buried throughout the ghetto.

Ringelbaum and his family escaped the ghetto but were found by the Gestapo and executed in March 1944. Ten of the metal canisters were uncovered in 1946, and two of the milk cans in December 1950.

Like Ringelbaum, the Piasetzener Rebbe, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889-1943), buried his work, the now famous Aish Kodesh (Holy Flame, so titled when published posthumously in 1960) - a compilation of his sermons, many of which deal with questions in faith faced by the Jews in the ghetto. Although he survived the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, Rabbi Shapira was shot to death at the Trawniki work camp in November 1943.

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

History Books

Whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, use your library to learn Jewish history.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day

Tomorrow, the 27th of Nisan, Jews around the world will mark Yom Ha’shoah (Officially Yom Ha’zikaron La’shoah V’ha’g'vurah, which translates to The Day of Memorial for the Holocaust and the Heroism, generally shortened to Yom Ha’shoah). In Israel, the day is marked by official ceremonies, flags at half mast and, most famously, by a siren marking a moment of silence during which traffic comes to a standstill.

When World War II ended and the world was finally clearly aware of the incredible devastation wrought in Europe, there were no words. While mourning for their own nation’s soldiers, the world was faced with accepting the fact that the Nazis had purposefully and systematically murdered six million Jewish men, women and children as well as several million others whom they classified as lesser human beings.

The term “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin used to describe massacres. As it came to be applied to the events in Europe in the 1940s, the term emerged as the name for this highly specific genocide. This was strengthened by the release of the 1978 NBC mini-series of the same title.

In Hebrew, the Holocaust is referred to as Ha’shoah. Shoah means calamity. Similar to the term Holocaust, the term shoah gained further usage after the release of the 1985 French documentary entitled “Shoah.” The film condensed over 300 hours worth of interviews into 9.5 hours and brought the hard-hitting facts of the Holocaust into reality.
In traditional communities, the events of the Holocaust are referred to as "Churban Europe" or "the Churban," a term which parallels the destruction of the Torah learning centers in Europe with the destruction of the Holy Temple. Many traditional communities also mark a day of mourning for the victims of the Holocaust on an already established day of universal mourning, either the Tenth of Tevet or the Ninth of Av.

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

For Tomorrow

Plan a personal moment of memorial that has meaning to you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The First American Jewish Poetess

In celebration of National Poetry Month:

When asked to name early American Jewish poets, the first name that comes to most people’s mind is Emma Lazarus. It may therefore be surprising that the first published American Jewish poetess was a woman named Penina Moise.

Like Lazarus, and many other prominent Jews in early American history, Moise was of Sephardi origin. Her father, Abraham, moved from Alsace (France) to the Carribean island of St. Eustace, where he married and began a family. In 1791, however, fleeing a slave uprising, the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina (then the largest Jewish community in the United States). Penina, the sixth of their nine children, was born in 1797.

Penina Moise’s childhood and formal education came to an abrupt end when her father passed away. At the age of 12, she took over the care of her family, including her sick mother. Nevertheless, Moise continued to read vociferously.

Moise's first poem was published in a local newspaper in 1819. While many of her poems were religious in nature, Moise also wrote on political themes, such as Southern secession and states’ rights (she was a Confederate supporter). This was all the more unique because she published her works under her own name rather than using a male pseudonym. She published a well-received book of verse, Fancy's Sketch-Book, in 1833, and her Hymns Written for the Use of Hebrew Congregations (1856) is still in use today.

Although Moise never married, she was not without progeny. The Talmud states “He who teaches the child of his friend the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him” (Sanhedrin 19b). An active member of Congregation K.K.Beth Elohim, Moise taught in their religious school and eventually became its superintendent. In her later years, when she was almost completely blind, she taught privately in the home she shared with her sister and niece.

She was 84 when she passed away.

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

Write It Out

Have inspiring thoughts...write them out and share them. You never know who you might inspire.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Although the site of the mountain fortress of Masada, the history of which was recorded by the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus, was "discovered" in 1842, the site was not excavated until the 1960s. The dig was led by Israeli Archeologist Yigael Yadin, who was joined by thousands of volunteers. Today, this incredible archeological site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Israel.

According to Josephus, Masada was built around 35 BCE by Herod the Great, the Roman appointed king of Judea (of questionable Jewish heritage). Unpopular with the Jews (and extremely paranoid), Herod built the fortresses for his own protection--as a refuge in case of a popular uprising against him. When Herod died, a Roman garrison was established there.

In 66 CE, Jewish zealots in Jerusalem began the popular uprising that would ultimately result in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. During the initial revolt, a group of Jewish fighters overthrew the Roman garrison on Masada and occupied the fortress. When Jerusalem fell, four years later, they were joined by other Jewish refugees.

Fortified as Masada was, their store houses and supplies were limited and the rebels of Masada took to raiding other communities. They also used their stronghold as a base for guerilla attacks on the Romans. Within two years of the fall of Jerusalem, the Romans had had enough and laid siege to Masada.

Less than a year later, according to Josephus (who received his information from two women who hid during the slaughter), the Jews of Masada committed mass suicide by sword. Josephus' account, in which his disagreement with the rebels’ choice of suicide is palpable,* occurred on the 15th of Nisan (the first day of Passover). Modern historians calculate this date as April 16.

*Indeed, Jewish law states that one may only sacrifice his/her life to avoid murder, idolatry or sexual immorality.

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


If you have the possibility of visiting Israel, take it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Song of Songs

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

And people say the Bible is boring...

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

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

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

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

*Passover is an 8 day holiday. The first two days and last two days are Yamim Tovim - days that are observed like Sabbath (except that one may cook on an existing flame, and carry in public areas). In Israel, Passover is only 7 days, and only the 1st and 7th day are Yamim Tovim. The in-between days are known as Chol Ha'moed - weekdays of the festival. If there is no Shabbat Chol Ha'moed, Shir Ha'shirim is read on the 7th day of Passover.

*This Treat was published on April 22, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

Second Set

The second days of Yom Tov begin tonight at sunset. Find out more on’s Passover page.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kitniyot and Gerbrouchts...Oh You Ashkenazim

Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Hungarian, Yekke (German), Lithuanian?

At no other time on the Jewish calendar is it so important to know your ancestry as it is on Passover. What one does or does not eat on Passover (beyond obvious chametz) is strongly dictated by ancestral customs.* Here’s how it matters:

Kitniyot (Legumes) - During the holiday of Passover, Ashkenazim follow a rabbinic decree not to eat foods containing kitniyot, such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. This rule was established because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover. The decree only prohibits the eating of products containing kitniyot. They do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in most Sephardi communities. However, while Sephardim may eat rice, beans, etc., the food must be thoroughly checked to make certain that it is not mixed with chametz.

Gebrouchts (Wet Matzah) - Another custom followed by Ashkenazi Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchts. Gebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided out of a concern that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined. Those who are stringent not to eat gebrouchts will therefore not eat matzah balls, matzah brie, matzah lasagna, etc.

This custom was broadly accepted in many Chassidic communities (Hungary, Galicia, Romania). In those communities where mitnagdim (non-Chassidic) were dominant (Lithuania, Germany), it was almost considered a mitzvah to eat gebrouchts food in order to make the point that it was permissible.

*Traditionally, one follows the customs of the paternal line. For example, if a Russian woman marries a German man, she follows his “Yekke” customs, as do the children. Those who cannot trace back their lineage to know their family customs should follow the customs of the community in which they live and/or consult their rabbi.

*This Treat was published on April 1, 2009.

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


If you are uncertain of your family’s customs, ask your parents or grandparents. If they are uncertain, find out the custom of your paternal country of origin.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their Redemption” (Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the Psalms are actually much older. These Psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these Psalms that pre-dated King David are those Psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?”(Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel. is recited.

This Treat was originally published on Monday, September 27, 2010.

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

Pretty Prayers

If you take public transportation, try using this time to recite Hallel if you do not have time earlier.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chag Ha’matzot

The name of the holiday “Passover,” is an allusion to God’s passing over the Israelite households during the plague of the firstborn, a critical element in the events of the Exodus. The name "Passover," however, may be derived from an English convolution of the Hebrew Pesach, the Torah’s term for the Pascal lamb sacrificed on the holiday.

The Torah refers to Chag Ha’pesach, the Holiday of the Pascal Lamb, only as the actual seder feast. In almost all other cases,* the Torah refers to this springtime holiday as Chag Ha’matzot, the Holiday of the Unleavened Bread: "The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread" (Exodus 34:18).

In honor of Chag Ha’matzot, Jewish Treats presents a little bit of information on matzah:

To guarantee that matzah is Kosher for Passover, no more than 18 minutes may pass from the moment the water and flour come in contact with each other, until it is removed, fully baked, from the oven. The entire working area (and the workers’ hands) is scrubbed between each 18 minute process.

Special Matzot
Many Jews will only eat shmura matzah (especially during the Seder). Literally "guarded matzah," shmura matzah has been carefully supervised from the time the wheat was cut until it was baked so that it remained perfectly dry until being deliberately mixed with water (lest it become chametz). This practice is based on the verse in Exodus 12:17, "And you shall guard the matzot..."

Egg matzah is "enriched matzah." Since it is more extravagant, it fails to fulfill the requirement of "lechem oh’nee," bread of affliction (poverty). According to Jewish law, egg matzah may only be eaten on Passover by someone who is physically infirm, very young or very old, and has difficulty digesting regular matzah.

Depending on how they are prepared, flavored matzot (such as garlic and onion or grape) may or may not be Kosher for Passover. Please check the box for proper Kosher for Passover supervision.

*It is also referred to as Chag Ha’aviv, the Holiday of the Spring.

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

Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the last day in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed--weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Many people refrain from mundane chores such as laundry. Some people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read and Hallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz (leaven), but it is not a requirement to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Treat was previously published on October 16, 2011.

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

What's For Lunch

Packing lunch during Passover can be a challenge. If you don’t want to bring a matzah sandwich, try packing a grilled chicken breast, salad or even soup.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Setting The Seder Table

Before beginning the Seder, it is important to make certain that everything necessary is available. No Seder table is complete without the following:

1) Three Unbroken Matzot (Kosher for Passover) -- One should try to use shmura (specially supervised) matzah for the Seders.

2) Wine/Grape Juice (Kosher for Passover) and Wine Glasses -- All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required four cups of Wine/Grape Juice.

3) The Seder Plate -- It is traditional to place the following items on a special Seder plate:

--Bay'tza / Roasted (hardboiled) Egg, symbolic of the cycle of life because of its round shape and representative of the Jewish character - the more you boil them, the harder they get. The egg also represents the missing chagiga sacrifice that was offered on Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.

--Z'roa / Shank Bone (of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl), representing the Passover lamb offering that we cannot bring today because of the absence of the Temple.

--Maror / Bitter Herbs, reminding participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery.

--Karpas / Vegetable (usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato), which is dipped in salt water as part of the Seder ritual.

--Charoset, a tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples, representing the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh's cities (recipes may vary by community).

--Chazeret / Bitter Vegetable (like romaine lettuce or celery), which is sometimes placed on the Seder Plate to remind us of the bitter lives of the Israelites as slaves.

4) Salt Water -- The karpas (vegetable) is dipped in salt water as a reminder of the tears of the Jewish slaves. Usually, the salt water is not placed on the Seder Plate, but near it.

5) Elijah's Cup -- This cup, filled with wine, is used to invite Elijah the Prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, to come to the Seder, and hopefully, begin our final redemption.

*This Treat was published on March 23, 2010. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

Can You Count To 49?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This Treat was published on April 18, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the time between Passover and Shavuot.

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

Check It Off

Check your supplies. Use the above checklist to make certain you have everything you need for your seder.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Are Royalty

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

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

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

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

*This Treat was originally published on April 15, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

Fast of the Firstborn

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

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

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

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

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

*unless it coincides with Shabbat

*This Treat was originally published on April 17, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

What To Wear

Prepare your finest clothing to wear to the seder. (Hint for husbands/fathers: Based on the Talmudic statement that “A man is in duty bound to make his children and his household rejoice on a Festival” and that women rejoice “in Babylonia, with colored garments; in the Land of Israel, with ironed linen garments” (Pesachim 109a), it is customary to buy the women of one’s household something pretty and new before a holiday. Please note that it does not have to be something expensive.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One Goat...and a Host of Other Things

Most American children know the play song, There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. It’s a fun song that has a building pattern that helps develop children’s memory skills. There was an Old Lady was written by Alan Mills and Rose Bonne around 1950. While there is almost no biographical information on Rose Bonne, Alan Mills (born Alan Miller) was a well-known Jewish Canadian folksinger, writer, and actor.

Knowing that one of the composers of this song was Jewish strengthens the case for the connection many note to the classic seder song, Chad Gad'ya (One Little Goat). The structure of both songs moves from a small or powerless creature to a larger or more powerful creature/being. Just as the final verse of There was an Old Lady, is a cumulation of all of the other verses, Jewish Treats presents only the final verse of Chad Gad'ya:

“One little goat. One little goat. That father bought for two zuzim. One little goat. One little goat.

And came The Holy One Blessed be He, and killed the angel of death, that killed the slaughterer, that killed the ox, that drank the water, that doused the fire, that hit the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the kid, that father bought for two zuzim. One little kid. One little goat.”

The first known inclusion of Chad Gad'ya in the actual Haggadah can be traced back to 1590, in Prague.

Upon a close reading of the text, one might actually call it macabre. If nothing else, it is heavily laden with symbolism. One common understanding is that the little goat represents the Children of Israel, the father is God (who bought the little goat for two coins - two tablets of law) and the rest of the animals represent Israel’s historic enemies:

Cat - Assyria
Dog - Babylon
Stick - Persia
Fire - Macedonia
Water - Rome
Ox - Saracens
Slaughterer - Crusaders
Angel of Death - Ottomans

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

Paschal Lamb - A Unique Commandment

While most Jews have attended a Passover Seder, no Jew in the last 1,900 plus years has tasted a Paschal lamb (“Korban Pesach”), the animal offering associated with Passover that shares the holiday’s name. The Paschal sacrifice was offered on the day before Passover and was eaten that evening at the seder - but only when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. And while no Jew today can offer and eat the Paschal lamb, it is interesting to note that in Temple times, a Jew who deliberately avoided partaking of the lamb was viewed as having denied an essential connection to the heart of Judaism.

One of the most unique aspects of the Paschal sacrifice is the prohibition against breaking any bones of the animal during its roasting or eating.

The anonymous author of the Sefer Ha'chinuch suggests that the reason for this negative commandment is a lesson on the effects of manners. A person is supposed to eat food with dignity. As breaking and eating bones is the way a dog eats, humans are reminded to rise significantly above that level.

On a deeper level, however, the Sefer Ha'chinuch stresses how all actions contribute to a person's character. One who regularly does good deeds will become a good person; conversely, one who allows himself to participate in dishonest actions, will eventually be overtaken by dishonesty. It may begin with how we eat, but it translates into how we live. Our actions, even the breaking of bones, mold us and define us.

*This Treat was published on March 31, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

More Matzah

Two days until Pesach...make certain you have enough matzah for the entire week of the holiday!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why Laban is in the Haggadah

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Passover, it is time to review the important narrative featured in the Haggadah...the story of Laban. Many Jewish Treats readers are, perhaps, scratching their heads and wondering not only what Laban has to do with Passover, but just exactly who he was.

The longest section of the Passover Haggadah is maggid, the retelling of the Exodus, and the largest section of maggid, begins with the words:

“Go and learn what Laban the Aramean tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh decreed death only for the newborn males, Laban tried to uproot all of Israel...”

Laban was Jacob’s father-in-law, the father of both Rachel and Leah. When Jacob left his parents’ household, he went to his Uncle Laban, in Padan-Aram, where he remained for over 20 years -- thus Laban is called an Aramean. Laban was a cheater and a thief - - accumulating wealth was his obsession. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban indentured him for seven years, and then at the wedding switched Rachel for Leah. When Jacob discovered the treachery, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well, but at the price of another 7 years of labor. Twenty years later, when Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan-Aram, his father-in-law was greatly angered, yet feigned being hurt by Jacob’s desire to take away his grandchildren (when all he really wanted was Jacob’s wealth).

The Haggadah mentions Laban before describing the Jewish enslavement and redemption in order to underscore the cycle of history. Laban sought to use Jacob for his own purposes, to keep him in Padan-Aram for his own benefit, with false words. So too, Jacob’s descendants were lulled by kind words into a false sense of security and ultimately, into slavery in Egypt.

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

Passover, A Holiday For "Kids"

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Ask the kids! Or better yet, let the kids ask you.

It might surprise you to know that Passover, more than any other Jewish holiday, is focused on the children. The retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the next generation is actually a Biblical commandment. “And you shall tell it to your child on that day saying: ‘This is done because of that which God did for me when I went out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).

The essence of the commandment to retell the story of the Exodus is fulfilled by educating the children. The method for doing so is set out in the Talmud and is built into the framework of the Haggadah itself. (Thus the Four Questions about eating matzah and bitter herbs, dipping vegetables and reclining, as well as other special Passover seder rituals, are included in order to inspire the children’s curiosity.)

One of the best known and most interesting sections of the Haggadah is the section concerning the Four Children: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child and the child who does not even know how to ask. This section helps us understand that at the seder, we must all view what is going on as if through children’s eyes: with awe, wonder and, most importantly, with questions. The Haggadah thus provides four questions, the Mah Nishtanah, with which to begin!

*This Treat was published on April 6, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

All Across America

If you do not yet have a plan for seder, perhaps you live in a community hosting a Passover Across America seder (click here for a complete list), or call your local synagogue and ask if they are hosting a seder.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Passover Story in Brief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This Treat was published on April 11, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

How Pharaoh Enslaved The Israelites

While reading the Book of Exodus, one might wonder at the swift descent of the Jewish nation from being the privileged family of the Viceroy, Joseph, to becoming downtrodden and abused slaves. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historical phenomenon. But, one would think that transforming a nation into slaves would take generations or result in rebellion.

The sages, however, explain in the Midrash that the Egyptians were cunning and enslaved the Jews through artifice. This is understood from Pharaoh, whose name can be broken up to mean peh rah, which means evil mouth, and can be understood as well to relate to peh rach, soft mouth.

Language is a powerful tool, and even Pharaoh understood this. When he decided to enslave the Jews, he declared a national week of labor during which all good citizens of the realm were to come and help in the building of the great store cities of Pithom and Ramses, with Pharaoh himself in the lead. The Jews, wanting to show their great loyalty to their host country, joined in enthusiastically. Within a few days, however, when the Jews arrived at the building sites, the Egyptians did not join them. Shortly thereafter, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they perform the same amount of work that they had done on their own volition the day before. It was through soft and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jewish nation into slavery.

Not only is this Midrash itself interesting, but it is reflective of the importance that Jewish thought and Jewish law places on the use of words. Obviously, what Pharaoh did was wrong. In fact, Jewish law even forbids the use of words to manipulate another person into paying for lunch (let alone to enslave them).

*This Treat was published on March 18, 2010. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

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

Your Questions

Reread the story of the Exodus and prepare interesting discussion points to bring up at your seder.