Friday, June 29, 2012

Coming of Age

The assumption that every Jewish adult has had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is presumptuous. The assumption that every Jewish adult (other than a convert) has become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is logical. After all, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah means only that a man or woman has passed the age of 13 or 12 (respectively), and is therefore recognized as having reached the age of personal religious responsibility.

It is unclear when in recent history the Bar Mitzvah became a fancy celebration. By the 20th century, however, the Bar Mitzvah party was a staple in Jewish society. The development of the Bat Mitzvah celebration, on the other hand, is well documented. The first official Bat Mitzvah was held in March 1922 at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, which was the synagogue of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. The girl celebrating her Bat Mitzvah was his 12 year old daughter, Judith. The ceremony replicated that of a Bar Mitzvah, with the Bat Mitzvah girl being called to the Torah for an aliyah and reading the parasha (Torah portion).

By the 1970s, making an elaborate Bat Mitzvah celebration had become the norm in American Jewish life. In more traditional circles, however, the celebration is “low-key,” is not part of the synagogue service and does not involve reading from the Torah.

As making large Bar/Bat Mitzvah “coming of age” parties became normative, many articles, and even a few books have been written that focus on re-infusing the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with “meaning.” Perhaps it is a basic question of perspective: Does one have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or does one become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah--a Jewish adult ready to take responsibility for his/her actions?

This Treat was originally posted on August 2, 2011.

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

Gift of Torah

Honor the importance of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah with the gift of a book about Torah and Judaism.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Snakes, Why Did it Have to Be Snakes?”

Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. This is one of the most common phobias, and, in fact, it is so common and apparently instinctual that scientists have even taken to studying why this fear appears to be an almost natural part of human psychology (“Scared of Snakes...”, “Fear of Snakes”).

While not addressing the origin of ophidiophobia, the Torah established humanity’s antagonistic relationship with snakes from the earliest days of creation. In the Garden of Eden, after the serpent lured Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God punished the snake by saying: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

The Talmud is filled with discussions on poisonous snakes: where they might lurk, what one should do with a snake on Shabbat, remedies for snake bites, etc. God even used poisonous serpents as a punishment for the Israelites in the wilderness when they rebelled (Numbers 21:6).
But the scriptural references to the snake also hint at the possibility of redemption for the snake. In Numbers 21, God instructs Moses to make “a serpent of brass, and set it high upon a pole” (21:9). Anyone who looked at it was cured. It is a strange incident that is perhaps clarified by the following Talmudic statement: “Come and see how the way of God is not like the way of man. The way of man is that when he is angry with someone, he tries to ruin his life. But the way of God is not so. He cursed the snake; yet when it ascends to the roof, its food is near it, and when it descends to the ground, its food is near it [as the snake eats small animals that crawl on all surfaces]” (Yoma 75a).

The snake provides a profound lesson that even when a situation seems bad, God provides a cure, and that quite often there are blessings to be found amidst what seems like a curse.

Title note: Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark - 1981)

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


When things look difficult, re-evaluate the situation and try to find the hidden blessings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It’s Not About The Status

In many, if not most, Jewish parables, the righteous and scholarly are often presented as living in a state of poverty. Indeed, it might often seem as if poverty is an attribute of righteousness. As Tevye the Milkman (Fiddler on the Roof) says: “It's no shame to be poor... but it's no great honor either!”

It is not a mitzvah to be poor. However, the effect of wealth (and the power that comes with it) has always been a challenge for humanity. That does not mean that having money is considered a bad thing. Judaism does not subscribe to an ethic of poverty. In fact, the Torah very specifically describes the fact that Abraham was very wealthy.

An interesting perspective on the Jewish view of wealth may be seen in the following Mishna from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Yonatan said: He who fulfills the Torah in poverty shall in the end fulfill it in wealth. He who disregards the Torah in wealth shall in the end disregard it in poverty” (4:11).

Rich or poor, what matters is one’s attitude. The primary goals of a person’s life should be spiritual rather than material.  If a person of meager means is able see God’s goodness even while struggling to make his/her way in the world, then that person will have the inner strength to remain attached to Torah even if life becomes more comfortable. Those who have all of the comforts of life and disregard the Torah are often lacking in a basic respect for spiritual life.

This Mishna is in the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot, and it is interesting to note that the very first Mishna of this chapter gives us an extremely insightful view of the Jewish perspective on wealth: "Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written (Psalms 128:2) 'You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you'" (4:1).

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


Keep Torah close to your heart by studying Pirkei Avot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Written for Their Sons

Imagine traveling forward 500 years in time and discovering multitudes of people studying something you had written for your child. Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding multiple editions of that work, many of them with commentaries. In the world of Jewish scholarship, there are two such works that have gained this status.

The Sefer Hachinuch, the Book of Education, was written by an unknown author believed to have lived in Barcelona in the 13th century.  Based on Maimonides’ enumeration of the 613 mitzvot as recorded in Sefer Hamitzvot, the author (who is generally referred to as the Sefer Hachinuch) wrote in-depth explanations and rationales for each mitzvah. He included a review of the practical halacha (Jewish law), along with each mitzvah’s Biblical source and philosophical background. The book itself was written specifically for his son.
While little is known about the author or the intended recipient of the Sefer Hachinuch, in contrast, a great deal is known about the Iggeret Haramban, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman’s letter to his eldest son, Nachman. The Ramban (a.k.a. Nachmanides) also lived in 13th century Spain. The Iggeret Haramban is not simply a father’s advice to his son on how to live a good life, but an original mussar treatise (except that the Mussar Movement, which focused on character development, only became popular in the mid 1800s). In his masterful letter, which he suggested that his son review once a week, the Ramban advised on the importance of avoiding anger, focusing on humility before others and God, and being diligent in both prayer and Torah study.

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


Write down what Judaism means to you and put it in your safety deposit box for posterity.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Opening England

Menashe ben Israel (Manoel Dias Soeiro, 1604 -1657), whose family fled Portugal after the Lisbon auto-de-fe of 1603, was raised in Amsterdam where he received a full Jewish education and was recognized for his great abilities early in his life. (He accepted a rabbinic post before he was 20.) In addition to his rabbinic duties, Menashe ben Israel established the first Hebrew press in Amsterdam, which served the needs of a community that continued to grow as more conversos  sought to escape the Inquisition.

Menashe ben Israel is probably best remembered as an activist for the thousands of Jewish refugees seeking a home. It is believed that Queen Christina of Sweden, had she not abdicated her throne, would have allowed Jews to settle in Scandinavia. After her abdication, Menashe ben Israel turned his attention to England.

When Menashe ben Israel first began to petition for the admission of Jews into England, the ban on Jewish settlement had been in place since 1290. His petitions began in 1650, after the British Civil War established the (short lived) Commonwealth. Menashe ben Israel was granted permission to visit England, but, shortly thereafter, war broke out between England and Holland. In 1655, Menashe ben Israel finally came to London where he met with Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector.

Cromwell was open to Jewish settlement (essentially for its financial benefits), but he could not muster enough support to get permission for Jews to settle. However, the standing of the ban itself was brought to question, and, as a result, many individual Jews were granted the right to live in London, and the community that had lived in England in secret, now openly revealed themselves.

Sadly, Menashe ben Israel passed away on his journey back to Amsterdam.

An Extra Piece of Trivia: Menashe ben Israel was a teacher of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

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


When you meet a new Jewish friend or family, invite them to participate in the local Jewish community.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Out of the Narrows

The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the observance of Shabbat. In Exodus, the Jews are commanded: “Remember (zachor) the Sabbath day” because “in six days God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested.” In Deuteronomy, on the other hand, Jews are instructed to “Guard (shamor) the Sabbath day” because “you were a slave in Egypt, and God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”

In a society of near-absolute freedom, such as ours, where most people that one meets seem not to care about your heritage or how you choose to observe your religion, one might feel conflicted with the Torah. How then can Jews today relate to the understanding of Shabbat as a release from bondage and as a celebration of freedom?

Most people expect a conversation about Jews and freedom to be tied to Passover, but the fact that this is an essential element of the Shabbat experience every week clarifies that the release from Egypt is meant to be part of one’s essential Jewish consciousness.

In Hebrew, the name of Egypt is Mitzrayim, which can be translated as “from the narrows.” Each generation’s narrow place is different. In the earliest generations, it was the actual physical slavery, but for later generations the connection to a narrow place from which they were redeemed by God might simply have meant surviving a time of great persecution.

The current generations who live in a free and "enlightened" society, have a new and unique understanding of the concept of Mitzrayim. God took the Jewish people out of the confining restrictions of what was, until recently, almost always an anti-Semitic society. Now, more than ever, as we find ourselves in a wide-open society, the Jewish people must guard Shabbat. Society is no longer forcing Jews to be it is up to the Jews to demonstrate their own desire to remain a part of this unique people. And as the great Hebrew philosopher Achad Ha’am once wrote, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.1

Shabbat Pride

Make Shabbat part of your life and share it with your Jewish friends and family.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sustainable Living

In Rio this week, politicians and activists from around the world are meeting at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The Torah has always been concerned with the environment and with the care of the physical world. And while Jewish society was mostly agrarian at the time, Jewish law also set certain standards to make crowded (urban) living more comfortable and healthy. Take, for instance, the Torah’s regulations on waste.

Often when we think of “olden times,” the image that comes to mind is that of the medieval city in which urban inhabitants emptied their chamber pots into the streets. Deuteronomy 23:13-14, however, demonstrates the great value the Torah places on maintaining a sanitary place in which people can live: “[When you camp against your enemies]...And you shall have a designated place outside the camp, so that you can go out there [to use it as a privy]. And you shall have a designated place: And you shall keep a stake in addition to your weapons; and it shall be, when you sit down outside [to relieve yourself], you shall dig with it, and you shall return and cover your excrement.”

One can imagine that the conditions at an ancient army camp, especially in times of battle, could easily become truly base. The Torah, therefore, states this law to serve as a reminder to all humankind to live with dignity wherever they may be.

In fact, we are taught in several places that Jerusalem--the ideal city in all Jewish texts, must be kept completely free of human waste. For instance, Baba Kama 82a states that in Jerusalem “No dunghills should be made there... no kilns should be kept there.”

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

Doing Your Part

Maintaining our environment is everyone's responsibility. Do your part and refrain from littering.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Well It's Been A Long Day

Today is the longest day of the year - the summer solstice. Technically, the summer solstice is an astronomical event that occurs when the sun reaches its most northern point in the sky.

The sages of ancient days were well aware of astronomy and the cycle of the seasons. The Talmud even records their calculations of the seasons:

"Samuel stated: ...The summer solstice only occurs either at the end of one and a half, or at the end of seven and a half hours of the day or the night...and the winter solstice only occurs at the end of four and a half, or ten and a half hours of the day or the night. The duration of a season of the year is no longer than ninety-one days and seven and a half hours; and the beginning of one season is removed from that of the other by no more than one half of a planetary hour" (Eruvin 56a).

The NASA website supports the sage's calculations (which were established even without sophisticated scientific equipment or a large budget). Perhaps it could be argued that the solstices are not so difficult to calculate, and any observant person can do so by simply counting. But on the days surrounding the solstice, the alteration in the length of days occurs in minimal increments, making accuracy much more difficult. In fact, people often do not even notice that the days are getting shorter until a month or so later, a fact noticed elsewhere in the Talmud where it states: "It has been taught, Rabbi Eliezer the Elder says: From the 15th of Av onwards the strength of the sun grows less" (Taanit 31a). (The 15th of Av this year corresponds to August 3, 2012).

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

New Season, New Month

The Talmudic term for the summer solstice is Tekuphat Tammuz, and at sunset tonight the first day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz begins. Celebrate Rosh Chodesh with a special meal or outing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Breaking The Glass

No respectable film-maker would record a Jewish wedding scene without including the dramatic moment of the breaking of the glass, followed by the joyous shouts of "Mazal Tov!" A moment of juxtaposition from sadness to joy, the breaking of the glass is most often explained as a means of remembering the destruction of the Temple.

Although Jewish wedding customs around the world differ, the basic framework remains the same: a chuppah (wedding canopy), the blessing over wine and a blessing of sanctification of the marriage, the giving of a ring, the ketubah (wedding contract), the recitation of the sheva brachot (seven blessings) and the breaking of the glass. They are all customs mentioned in the Talmud.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of remembering the Temple as a source for the custom of breaking the glass:

Mar the son of Ravina made a marriage feast for his son. He saw that the rabbis were growing very merry, so he brought a precious cup worth four hundred zuz and broke it before them, and they became serious. Rabbi Ashi made a marriage feast for his son. He saw that the rabbis were growing very merry, so he brought a cup of white crystal and broke it before them and they became serious (Brachot 30b-31a).

The reaction of both Mar and Rav Ashi is attributed to the verse "Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling" (Psalms 2:11). The hosts saw that the celebration was getting out of hand, even though it was a celebration for a mitzvah, and smashed the glass to remind them of the need for constant dignity and solemnity.

As breaking the glass became a common practice, the solemnity it was meant to instill was connected to the religious priority Judaism places on remembering that until the Holy Temple is restored, the Jewish people can never fully rejoice.

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

Planning It

If you wish to plan a Jewish wedding, consult your local rabbi on the necessary requirements.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Napoleon’s Sanhedrin

On June 18, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte suffered his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. While it was the end of an era, it was an era that had already changed the entire course of history.

Although Napoleon came from a somewhat privileged background (his father was Corsica's representative to the Court of Louis XVI of France), he sided with the republicans during the French Revolution and adopted their goals of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”

As part of his goal to grant freedom to everyone, he threw open the doors of the ghetto and gave Jews equal citizenship. The equality Napoleon sought was one in which there were no differences. He himself said, in reaction to anti-Semitic articles calling for banishing the Jews, that “It takes weakness to chase them [the Jews] out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them.”
In 1806, Napoleon convened an assembly of 71 Jews, which he called “the Sanhedrin” after the ancient Jewish high court. Napoleon presented the Sanhedrin with a series of questions, hoping to establish that Jewish law would not prevent Jews from being loyal French citizens. In their statement, the gathered Jewish representatives stressed that they were Frenchmen in their hearts who would gladly take up arms for France, and that Jewish law categorically forbade deceptiveness in business dealings.

Napoleon, however, was not impervious to the frequent anti-Semitic grumbling about him. In 1808, he limited the freedom that he had given to the Jews with new restrictive orders and forgave all debts owed to Jews, which nearly bankrupted the community. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, many countries reverted to their pre-Napoleon status on Jewish issues.

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

Family Time

Judaism places great value on family. Find time this summer to get your family together to enjoy quality time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Importance of Dad

In honor of Father's Day, Jewish Treats presents this classic Treat on the importance of a father.

Where does a child learn to be a mentsch (a good person)? From his/her parents! Indeed, in the Talmud (Sukkot 56b) it even notes that a child repeats in the streets what he/she hears at home.

According to Dr. David Pelcovitz (author of Balanced Parenting), research studies have found that the active involvement of both parents in a child’s moral education is the strongest predictor of children's moral reasoning and empathy as they grow older.

In the traditional family model, in which mom tends to have the central role in parenting (i.e. spends a lot more time with the kids), it is important to note that these studies have found particular importance in dad’s involvement.

The father is often seen as the enforcer of the rules laid down by the mother. However, far more important than being involved in discipline is dad’s actual involvement in teaching his child(ren) how to live a Jewish life (i.e. being a mentsch), which has an incredibly positive influence on the child’s future. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (22:6), “Educate a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

According to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son), a father’s primary responsibilities are to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, and to teach the child a trade (Kiddushin 29a). At the bare minimum, his fatherly obligations are  to make certain that the basic necessities of child-rearing are attended to (by a third party if necessary). But, the best child-rearing includes dad sharing his time, knowledge and wisdom, and truly leaving a lasting and meaningful impression on his children.

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

Special Thanks Always

Call your father and wish him a happy Father's Day, and call him again later this week just to let him know you were thinking about him.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's In The Book - The Twelve Prophets: Zephaniah

The Book of Zephaniah dates from the reign of King Josiah of Judah.

Zephaniah’s opening prophecy is dark and violent, describing God’s plans for the complete and total destruction of the Kingdom of Judah--condemning those who turned to idolatry and disparaging those who worship wealth. At the same time, Zephaniah made clear that all people would be punished, rich and poor, for the entire nation had been corrupted.

Zephaniah explained that beyond the blatant idol worship, God was angered by the agnosticism in the hearts of the people: “And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men who are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil” (1:12).

After calling upon the Judeans to repent, Zephaniah predicted that the nations that have mocked and attacked the Children of Israel would themselves be destroyed.

The third and final chapter of Zephaniah begins with a reiteration of the corruption and destruction of Jerusalem, but with the purpose of leading to absolute redemption. (“For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.” - 3:9 “At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes.” - 3:20)

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

Shabbat Neighbors

Sit out on your porch and greet your neighbors with a "Shabbat Shalom."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Fashion Statement

In Numbers 15:38, God commands the Jewish people to “make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations.” Additionally, it is written in Deuteronomy 22:12, “make twisted cords on the four corners of your covering, with which you cover yourself.”

These vague instructions leave us with a lot of questions:

Where does one put the strings? The answer is: on four-cornered garments. Since these are not generally worn anymore, special garments with four corners are used to fulfill this mitzvah. The tallit is a large four-cornered garment draped over one’s shoulders during prayer. The tallit katan (little tallit, which is often incorrectly referred to as tzitzit) is a smaller, four-cornered garment with a hole cut-out for the head so that one may wear it comfortably like a shirt.

What are the tzitzit? The word tzitzit specifically refers to the fringes, each of which is composed of four strands of string. These strands are inserted through a hole near the corners of the garment, folded over and then tied according to specific halachic regulations. Pre-tied tzitzit can be purchased at any Judaica store.

Who wears a tallit/tallit katan? According to the Torah (Numbers 15:39), the obligation to wear tzitzit is only during the day when they may be seen. Thus, it is a positive, time-bound mitzvah, which, according to the traditional understanding, exempts women from the obligation.

The purpose of the tzitzit is stated in Numbers 15:39: “That you may see it and remember all the commandments of God and perform them, and not wander after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.”

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

Oh Them Strings

Learn more about the mitzvah of tzitzit at this tzitzit webpage.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

No Lazy Days

Most people have, at one time or another, dreamed of winning the lottery, quitting their jobs and sitting lazily in front of a pool all day. It's a fantasy that for most people, if they ever really won the lottery, wouldn’t last long before they grew bored. Yet, we've all met one or two people who really do appear to be living the “lazy life.”

Not surprisingly, this is not a lifestyle that Judaism encourages. In fact, in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrcanus specifically addresses the lazy life: "Sleeping away the morning, drinking at noonday, childish playing and sitting in the meeting houses of the unlearned, remove a person from this world" (Pirkei Avot 3:14). What does it mean that such actions “remove a person from this world”? Obviously, there are many elements of wisdom that one might derive from Rabbi Dosa's statement. It might be simply stating that a person who sleeps all morning and who spends his days at the meeting house not engaged in the real world, cannot possibly understand the life that the vast majority of the people live.

Judaism is a religion of action. The Torah even has a verb that means to get up early in the morning, l'hash’kim. The sages also note, in Pirkei Avot 1:2, "On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on the service [prayer], and on deeds of loving kindness." These are not passive acts. All these acts require people to push themselves - and that is a central objective in Jewish life. Judaism places great value on personal growth, and Pirkei Avot provides excellent guidelines on how to continue growing and actively participating in Jewish life.

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

An Hour To Spare

If you have time, volunteer in your community or set aside time to study Torah.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Anne Frank’s Diary

In 1952, Doubleday released the American edition of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. For many Americans, the contents of the book were a disturbing introduction to the horrific atrocities that had occurred in Europe.

Anne Frank, who was born on June 12, 1929, did not live to see the war end. She died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in March 1945. The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945.

Of the eight people who hid with Anne, only her father, Otto, survived. After the war, Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam and lived with Miep and Jan Gies, his former employees who had been instrumental in hiding the Frank family. It was Miep who had found and safeguarded (but not read) Anne’s diary after the Nazis had deported the hidden Jews. Miep had two versions of the diary: Anne’s first draft and the revised version that Anne had created in 1944, after Gerrit Bolkestein (a member of the Dutch government in exile) encouraged people to keep records of their experiences for the future.

Two years after his return, in 1947, Otto Frank transcribed and published some of the diary for his relatives in Switzerland. The diary came to the attention of the Dutch publishing house Contact Publishing, who brought it to market in June 1947 (under the title Het Achterhuis-the back house). By 1950, the diary was in its sixth edition and was being translated into English and German. Shortly thereafter it was translated into Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Greek and most other languages.

In 1953, only a year after its U.S. release, The Diary of Anne Frank was adapted into a Broadway play. The play received the Pulitzer Prize for theater, the Tony Award and the New York Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The Hollywood script and feature length movie that followed in 1959 won three Oscars.

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

Read It

If you have not done so, read The Diary of Anne Frank. If you have read it, encourage others to read it so that the tragic events of the Holocaust will not be forgotten.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Camp

The end of the school year is upon us, and across the country, many parents are packing their children’s trunks for summer camp. The world of Jewish camping began as a reaction to urbanization. Those interested in “social welfare” and the health of the children, promoted summer getaways so children could experience nature and fresh air. Such was the goal when, in 1893, the Jewish Working Girls Society of New York opened Camp Lehman (later called Camp Isabella Friedman).

Originally, Jewish camps were only for Jews simply because society at that time was more culturally segregated. However, the positive potential of these all-Jewish environments was soon recognized. For instance, in 1927, Camp Achvah opened as the first Hebrew-speaking camp. Other camps, such as Camp Cejwin, surrounded children with the Jewish culture that was being lost in the American “melting pot.” One of the most famous of these Jewish cultural camps was Camp Massad in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

In the middle of the 20th century, the trend in Jewish summer camps began to separate along denominational lines. The first Camp Ramah, the camp of the Conservative movement, opened in Wisconsin (near Chicago) in 1947. The first official camp of the Reform movement, UAHC Camp-Institute opened in 1950, also in Wisconsin. Both of these camp movements continued to grow. There are currently 8 Ramah camps in North America and 13 URJ Camp-Institutes. In the late 1950s, Chabad joined the camping world when it opened Camp Gan Israel, which has grown into the largest chain of Jewish camps in the world. Summer camps are also very popular among the Orthodox, but as there is no umbrella organization within Orthodoxy, they remain mostly independent institutions.

In addition to the overnight camps, the Jewish camping world includes many independent Jewish summer camps, as well as hundreds of day camps (often affiliated with Federation-JCCs). Jewish camping has proven so powerful a tool in giving children positive Jewish identities that the Foundation for Jewish Camp was created in 1998.

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

Make a Plan

Contact the Foundation for Jewish Camp to find a Jewish camp in your area.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Frequent Flyer Miles

As far back as the mid-1800s, rabbis wrestled with the question of the growing mobility of the populace. Since there were no new lands to be discovered, those of an exploring nature were drawn north, to the great white unknown.

The closer to the north or south poles one travels, the more difficult it is to distinguish day and night. There are parts of the world where the sun does not set for months on end, followed by months in which the sun does not rise at all.

For the average traveler, this would have no consequences beyond creating confusion in his/her internal sleep mechanism. However, for the Jew concerned with observing the proper times for prayer, or when to observe Shabbat, it presents quite a conundrum.

Opinions vary, as one might imagine. Some authorities rule that the travelers must base their daily schedule on the time in the place where they started their journey. Others, however, rule that the timing depends on when the sun is at its physically lowest point (when it doesn’t set) or physically highest point (when it doesn’t rise). Still other authorities believe that it depends on the closest geographical location where there is both sunrise and sunset.

An answer will not be presented here, as Jewish Treats is not intended to be an authority on Jewish law. We present this treat to give you something to think about. Next time you consider an Alaskan vacation, think about when you would celebrate Shabbat. (For further information, ask your rabbi.)

For a more complete look at the issues of travel, time zones and halacha, please click here.

This Treat was originally posted on December 2, 2008.

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

A Day's Vacation

Enjoy a weekly day of vacation. Enjoy Shabbat.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Humility's Gift

Moses’ job of leading the Israelites was not easy. Not only were the people “stiff-necked,” they also spent a great deal of time complaining. When the nation cried out that they wanted meat (Numbers 11), not manna, Moses asked God why he alone was to bear the burden of an entire nation. God told him to appoint 70 elders whom He would endow with the prophetic abilities of Moses--but only for a limited time.

While the Torah records the command and the action, the Midrash provides some additional details. For instance, Moses chose six men from each tribe (for a total of 72), and each man had to draw a lot. The two men who drew blank lots would not be included in this first Sanhedrin (Supreme Court of Jewish law) (Sanhedrin 17a). When the appointed time came, however, only 70 men appeared. Eldad and Medad remained in the camp. According to Rabbi Shimon, “They stayed, because they felt they were unworthy of greatness” (ibid).

These two men sought no honor, and as sometimes happens when true heroes refrain from glory, they were rewarded with something greater. The Torah records that when the spirit of God came upon the elders, “a young man ran [to Moses’ tent] and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camps’” (Numbers 11:27). When Joshua wished to have the men contained, Moses replied, “Would that all God’s people were prophets, that God would put His spirit upon them!”

Whereas the elders had prophecy only about the events of the next day, Eldad and Medad foresaw the future (according to Targum Yonason, Eldad foresaw Joshua’s succession as leader of the Israelites). But their reward was more than just prophecy. It is recorded in Numbers Rabbah 15:19 that Eldad and Medad entered the Promised Land (the other elders did not) and had their names recorded in the Torah.

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

Live It

Remember the benefits of humility in your everyday life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Soviet Yeshiva

If one were to create a list of the great European learning centers, Moscow would probably not be on it. After the establishment of the Soviet Communist regime, Jewish life was systematically oppressed, as the Communists viewed all religion as the “opiate of the masses.” It is therefore surprising to note that in 1956, during the premiership of Nikita Khrushchev, the opening of a rabbinical seminary in Moscow was announced.

The founding of this institute demonstrates that while the Soviet regime disdained religion, it recognized that it was unlikely that all citizens of the Soviet Union were going to shed their beliefs. It was therefore in the government’s best interest to involve itself with the religious institutions.

Kol Ya’akov Yeshiva, which opened in January 1957, was situated at the Moscow Choral Synagogue. The first rector was the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Shlifer, who passed away later that year. The government allowed Rabbi Shlifer to access religious books and to create a kosher kitchen. He raised additional funds to produce a new prayerbook, Siddur Ha’shalom (The Peace Prayerbook), of which between 2,000 and 3,000 were published and sold to Soviet communities.

In order to study in Kol Ya’akov Yeshiva, students had to be approved by the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults. Many students were afraid to apply, others were rejected. The first class had ten students, and there were never more than 20 students enrolled. The majority of these students came from the Soviet Republic of Georgia, to which they promised to return. Students often had difficulty obtaining permission to reside in Moscow and were unable to complete their studies. The last five students attended the institution in 1962.

*Bibliographical Notation: Much of the information for this Treat was obtained from - YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

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

Learning Online

Torah learning happens everywhere. Share Jewish Treats with your friends, family and other Jewish acquaintances.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Thrace Pogroms

In discussions of World War II and the decade leading up to the war, history tends to mainly focus on the major players in Europe (Germany, France and England) and the Pacific (Japan and China). Even Jewish historical accounts (which tend to be quite detailed) overlook the destabilizing impact that the increasing nationalism in other countries had during the 1930s. For instance, most people have not heard of the Thrace Pogroms of 1934. In fact, many readers might even be wondering where Thrace is--certainly not on any 20th century map. Thrace is a region in Southeast Europe, between the Balkan Mountains, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. The incident in question actually occurred in “Eastern Thrace,” which is part of Turkey.

Although June 5, 1934, is recorded as the date on which the Thrace Pogroms began, the background history is important. The Republic of Turkey was established in 1922, on the ashes of the 600 year old Ottoman Empire. One of the new regime’s primary goals was to create a secular republic. Fierce nationalism - a Pan-Turkish movement - swept the country. Additionally, there were many in Turkey with pro-Nazi sympathies.

Following a series of pro-Turkish, anti-Semitic articles, the pogroms in Thrace began with a boycott of Jewish businesses. At first, this meant looting and burning buildings, but the violence steadily increased throughout the month of June. It is even rumored that a rabbi was chased naked through the streets, and his daughter raped. Over 15,000 Jews were forced to flee before the government finally took action on July 4th.

While the Thrace Pogroms demonstrate the underlying anti-Semitism that then existed in Turkey, it should also be noted that during World War II, even with a strong pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic element among its citizens, Turkey remained neutral in the conflict until they joined the Allies in 1945.

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

Ice Cream

On a hot day, choose a kosher brand of ice cream (luckily, most major brands are kosher).


Jewish Treats would like to thank our readers for all of their comments. In regard to yesterday's Treat, The Jewish Honeymoon, we received several responses directing us to an opinion that the Torah does, indeed, allude to Sheva Brachot. In Genesis 29, after Jacob realizes that he has been wed to Leah instead of Rachel, and confronts his new father-in-law, Laban's response is: "Fulfil her [Leah's] week, and we will give you her [Rachel] also..." (Genesis 29:27).

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Jewish Honeymoon?

Where are you going on your honeymoon? Rather than announce an exotic location like Hawaii or Tahiti (or even Niagara Falls), most traditional Jewish couples answer that they are going to Sheva Brachot.

Sheva Brachot (lit. Seven Blessings) is both the name of the seven blessings recited under the Chuppah and the name of the daily celebrations that continue for an entire week after the wedding. At each of the Sheva Brachot feasts, the seven blessings are recited as the conclusion of the Grace After Meals.

Although there is no source for Sheva Brachot in the Torah, the Talmud discusses the seven days of benedictions as a matter of long-standing tradition. It is a custom that  reflects Judaism’s emphasis on the mitzvah of rejoicing with the bride and groom, as well as Judaism’s sensitivity to the transition that the bride and groom must undergo as they start building their home together.

During the week of Sheva Brachot, the bride and groom are treated like royalty. Each night’s Sheva Brachot is hosted by friends or relatives who invite others (making certain that there is a minyan for the recitation of the actual Sheva Brachot), allowing more people to join in the couples’ joy. In fact, it is necessary that there be at least one or two “new faces” (panim chadashot) at each Sheva Brachot feast, based on the Talmudic statement (Ketubot 8a): “Rabbi Ashi came to the house of Rabbi Kahana. The first day he said all the benedictions. From then on; if there were new guests, he said all the benedictions, but if not, [he declared] it to be merely a continuance of the same joy."

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

What An Offer

If you know a young couple getting married, offer to arrange Sheva Brachot for them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

First On The Court

Born in 1856, in Louisville, Kentucky, Louis Dembitz Brandeis was the child of European immigrants who maintained a minimal Jewish identity. However, his maternal uncle, Lewis Dembitz, lived a more Jewishly involved life-style and inspired Brandeis’ subsequent Zionist activities.

Brandeis graduated from Harvard Law School at 20 with the highest (at that time) grade point average in the history of Harvard. After a brief stint in Louisville, he set up a practice in Boston. Achieving financial success, Brandeis began representing causes he believed in, purely for the love of the law. Professionally, Brandeis was involved in breaking monopolies, creating the Federal Reserve System
and the Federal Trade Commission. He is also noted for his articulation of the legal “right to privacy” concept.

Brandeis was nominated by President Woodrow Wilson to become a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916. On June 1st, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a Senate vote of 47 to 22. He was the first Jewish Justice on the Supreme Court. While his Jewish identity was certainly the cause for some opposition, it was his reputation as a crusader for social justice that predominately energized his opponents.

Although Brandeis had a distant relationship with his Jewish heritage, he was an ardent Zionist. During World War I, he chaired the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs (predecessor to the Zionist Organization of America, ZOA). In 1919, however, he left ZOA after an administrative disagreement with Chaim Weizmann (later President of Israel). He remained active on a personal level, including using his political influence to benefit the Zionist movement.

Sadly, Brandeis never witnessed the creation of the independent State of Israel. He died of a heart attack in 1941, two years after resigning from the Supreme Court. Brandeis was survived by his wife Alice nee Goldmark, and two daughters, Susan Gilbert and Elizabeth Raushenbush.

This Treat was originally posted on June 28, 2010.

If you enjoyed this mini-biography, check out Jewish Treats: 99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities

It's Almost Shabbat

Celebrate Shabbat tonight with a special meal.