Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Most Important Meal

Across the country, school breakfast programs are offered in order to ensure that students will be properly nourished and capable of putting forth their best efforts during their day of learning. While the origins of the often repeated statement that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is unknown, the wisdom itself is ancient. “Rabbah asked Raba ben Mari: Whence comes the proverbial expression, ‘Sixty runners speed along, but cannot overtake him who breaks bread in the morning?’”
In the Talmud, and throughout Jewish law, the morning meal is referred to as pat shacharit. Pat means bread and shacharit is the name of the morning prayer service. According to the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch), one should make certain to have a small repast after the morning prayers.

The general thoughts of the sages on the importance of breakfast are noted in Sanhedrin 107b:

... 83 illnesses are dependent upon the gall, and all of them may be rendered void by eating one's morning bread with salt and drinking a jugful of water.

Our Rabbis taught: 13 things were said of the morning bread: It is an antidote against heat and cold, winds and demons; instills wisdom into the simple, causes one to triumph in a lawsuit, enables one to study and teach the Torah, to have his words heeded, and retain scholarship; he [who partakes thereof] does not perspire, lives with his wife and does not lust after other women; and it kills the worms in one's intestines. Some say, it also expels jealousy and induces love.

These concepts need not be read literally. One who faces a lawsuit, should not depend only on eating breakfast to win the case, but rather should understand that eating breakfast renders one to be more clear-headed and emotionally balanced throughout the day.

-- One of the most common breakfast breads is the bagel. Click here to read about the origin of the bagel.

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

In The Kitchen

Take the time to make yourself a healthy breakfast each morning.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Natural Born Athlete

In the world of sports, Bobbie Rosenfeld had, what one might call, the “magic touch.” As it was once noted: "The most efficient way to summarize Bobbie Rosenfeld's career...is to say that she was not good at swimming" (Jewsinsports.org). What is more amazing about her incredible sportsmanship is the fact that she had no formal athletic training.

Fannie “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was born in Dneipropetrovsk, Russia in 1904. Her family moved to Barrie, Ontario, when she was still an infant.

Rosenfeld’s competitive sports career began in 1923 when, at a recreational picnic, she defeated the standing Canadian champion, Rosa Grosse, in a 100-yard dash. In addition to competing in track and field events throughout the 1920s, Rosenfeld twice went with her YWCA basketball team to the national championships, played softball, lacrosse, golf, and won the Toronto Ladies Grass Court Tennis Championship in 1924 - the same year in which she took up the sport!

The timing for Rosenfeld’s athletic career couldn’t have been better. The Olympics of 1928 were the first Games to include women’s Track and Field, and Rosenfeld scored more points for Canada than any other Canadian athlete. She won gold for the 400 meter relay, silver for the 100 meters, and took fifth place in the 800 meters.

In 1929, Rosenfeld was struck with a crippling arthritic condition. Notwithstanding months on bedrest and crutches, Rosenfeld returned to sports in 1930. Over the next three years she became a champion softball player and one of the outstanding female ice hockey players in Canada.

Sadly, the arthritis returned in 1933, and Rosenfeld was forced to stop competing. Her career, however, was far from finished. Not only did she become a coach for multiple women’s sports, she also became a popular sports columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Rosenfeld passed away in Toronto in 1969.

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

Get Out There

Whether you like to run, bike, walk or play a specific sport, make the effort to exercise. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tisha B`Av

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is this Shabbat. Because of Shabbat, the normally observed Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av) is pushed off until Sunday. The observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).

 Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
2. The destruction of the First Temple.
3. The destruction of the Second Temple.
4. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar.
5. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.

Click here for later events on this date

*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

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

The Burial at Betar

In war, a common means of humiliating the enemy is to refuse them burial of their dead (which is also forbidden by the Geneva Convention). Certainly, demoralization was the goal of the Romans when they forbade the Jews from burying the dead after the fall of Betar on 9 Av, 133 C.E. And there were many dead--enough for the sages to pronounce that, “For seven years the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

The intensity of this statement underscores the extent of the massacre that accompanied the capture of Betar. There were, of course, other rebellions against Rome in other parts of their Empire. But the people of Judea seemed to especially enrage the Romans. Perhaps it was the fact that the Jews rebelled numerous times. Perhaps it was their strange, stubborn insistence on monotheism (in a world where the emperor was a diety). Whatever the reason, the Romans were particularly fierce in their repression of Bar Kochba’s rebellion.

An odd thing happened after the massacre at Betar. The Romans left the bodies out to rot in the sun–and yet they did not rot. When, years later, on the 15th of Av, permission was granted for burial to take place, the bodies had not decomposed. Rabbi Matnah explains: “It [15 Av] is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried...On the day when the slain of Betar were allowed burial, the benediction ‘Who is good and does good’ was instituted (as the 4th blessing of Birkat Hamazon: Ha’tov v’hameitiv) - ‘Who is good,’ because the bodies did not putrefy, and ‘does good,’ because they were allowed burial” (Ta’anit 31a).

This Treat was originally published on July 26, 2010.

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

A Day Of Mourning

If you need assistance tapping into the mournful feelings of the day, watch a documentary on the Holocaust.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Terror at the Olympics

On July 27, 1996, the world was startled when a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia. The bomb killed one person directly, another indirectly (heart attack) and injured 111 others.

The Atlanta bombing, which was an act of domestic terrorism by one man, was not the first, nor the most horrifying, act of terrorism to affect the summer Olympics. That sad distinction belongs to the Munich Olympics of 1972, when terrorists from the Palestinian Black September organization led a terrorist attack against the Israeli athletes in Munich’s Olympic Village, where the athletes were housed.

The well-planned attack began in the early hours of the morning when the terrorists climbed the fence of the Olympic Village and entered the Israelis' housing unit. The Israelis resisted the attack and two were immediately killed trying to stop the terrorists. Seven team members were able to escape. The remaining nine were taken hostage.

The terrorists demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, as well as members of the German Red Army Faction being held in German prisons. The German government agreed to arrange air transportation to Egypt for the terrorists and their hostages, but were hoping to use the change of location as an opportunity to take down the terrorists. Unfortunately, numerous factors converged so that the German police forces were under-armed and generally unprepared at the airport. The Terrorists quickly realized that they had entered a trap and murdered the hostages before blowing up the helicopters in which they had been brought to the airport.

Five of the eight terrorists were killed at the airport. The other three were arrested by the Germans, only to be released at the demand of the hijackers of a Lufthansa airplane about seven weeks later.
Beyond the bloodshed, what is perhaps most shocking about the events at the 1972 Munich Olympics is how little they actually affected the games. In fact, the athletic competitions continued for several hours before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to suspend the Games for one day.
On September 6, the day after the massacre, a memorial service was held in the Olympic Stadium, but little else was done to acknowledge the terrible tragedy.

NOTE: The Fast of Tisha B'Av is observed this Sunday. Please see below for details on this important day on the Jewish calendar.

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

Be Heard for Silence

Use your personal social media tools promote the memory of those who died in Munich 40 years ago.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mourning Jerusalem: A Brief History of the First Temple

On Sunday, Jews all over the world will observe the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,600 years ago and the Second Temple 1,942 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

*This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008.

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

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of  Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple

While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.

By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. The Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.

Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zachariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)

This Treat was originally posted on August 7, 2008.

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

Sunday's Fast

Prepare for Sunday's fast of mourning by reading about the Holy Temple to try to better comprehend what was lost. (Click here for Chabad.org's detailed description of the Temple.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

One of the most repeated instructions in the Torah is that judges must do everything possible to provide equitable justice. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses reiterated this point once again, saying:

And I charged your judges at that time, saying: ‘Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. You shall not respect persons in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of any person...’ (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).
The command for equitable judgement resonates deeply in Western society, and yet the Hebrew Bible is often criticized for being harsh - particularly in modern times - because it allows for capital punishment. In fact, the means of capital punishment dictated by the Torah are four: strangulation, stoning, burning and decapitation. In the 21st century, these are all considered “cruel and unusual punishments,” which are illegal according to the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

In ancient times, capital punishment was rarely implemented by Jewish courts because of the very complex rules of evidence that were required. So rare were executions that the sages noted that:

A Sanhedrin that effects an execution once in seven years is branded a 'destructive tribunal.' Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, ‘Were we members of the Sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death.' Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel remarked [on Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva's comment], 'And they would also multiply shedders of blood in Israel!' (Makkot 7a).

Indeed, even where the courts were able to dictate sentences that included beatings, Rabbi Yochanan interpreted Deuteronomy 1:16, “And I charged your judges at that time,” as a “warning to them to use the rod and lash with caution" (Sanhedrin 7b).

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

Judge In Your Own Realm

Remember the concepts of equitable justice when being a judge in your personal life situations.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Hebrew University

Since its first official overseas program in 1955, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has attracted hundreds of young Jewish adults from both North America and Europe. Hebrew University is the oldest institute of higher learning in Israel and predates the State by several decades.             

The Hebrew University was conceptualized by early Zionist leaders when a Jewish state in the ancient homeland was still a distant dream. At the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, Professor Hermann Zvi Shapira, a Russian born professor of Mathematics at Heidelberg University in Germany, proposed the creation of both a Hebrew University and a special fund to purchase land in the British Mandate of Palestine.

Twenty years later, the fund dreamed of by Professor Shapira, the Jewish National Fund, purchased a magnificent property on which Sir John Gray-Hill had intended to build a house for himself and his artist wife, until building excavations uncovered the Tomb of Nicanor. On July 24, 1918, the 12 cornerstones of the Hebrew University were laid for the Mount Scopus campus. Describing the location to his wife, the future first president of the State of Israel, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, noted that “one could see almost the whole of Palestine. There was the Dead Sea and the mountains of Judah, Ephraim and Moab looking as if they were amazed at what was taking place."

Seven years later, in 1925, the building was complete and the Hebrew University was inaugurated at a ceremony attended by such prestigious supporters of the University as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. By 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, the Hebrew University was a well-respected educational institution. During the War of Independence (1948), Mount Scopus remained in Jewish hands, but it was cut off from the rest of Israeli-held Jerusalem. A new campus in Givat Ram in Jerusalem became the university’s primary location, until Jerusalem was reunited in the Six Day War in 1967.

View from Rothberg Amphitheater, Mount Scopus

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

Further Education

If you are thinking of furthering your education, or you know someone else  who is currently in college, explore a study abroad option in Jerusalem.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chosen To Write: Chaim Potok

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with an angel and emerged as Israel, “He who struggles.” In the 20th-21st century, Western Jews spend a great amount of energy wrestling with the world of tradition and the demands of the modern world. Few writers have portrayed this inner conflict of the American Jewish community as engagingly as Chaim Potok (1929-2002), a man who lived this struggle himself.

Herman Harold Potok was born in The Bronx, NY. His family was not-quite Chassidic and Chaim Tzvi, as he was called, spent his childhood learning in Yeshiva. As a boy, Potok was interested in art, particularly painting. Hearing only discouraging words from his family, however, he turned his creativity to words.

Potok graduated suma cum laude with a B.A. in English Literature from Yeshiva University (1950), received rabbinic ordination and a Masters in Chassidic Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1954) and a PhD in Philosophy from University of Pennsylvania (1965). Although he never held a rabbinic post, he served as a U.S. Combat Chaplain in Korea.

The Chosen, Potok’s first and best-known novel, was published in 1967. It spent 39 weeks on the bestseller list. The Chosen, which was made into a major motion picture in 1981, is the story of a friendship that develops between two Jewish youth, one Chassidic and one Modern Orthodox.  Each boy is drawn to the other’s world. The majority of his other novels continued to draw on similar Jewish themes. His other well-known works are: The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, The Gift of Asher Lev, and Davita’s Harp.

In addition to his writing, Potok served as the editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America for eight years before taking on a different role there as the special-projects editor. Potok taught at numerous colleges and universities.

Chaim Potok died on July 23, 2002--14 Av 5762.

Pen It

If you write fiction, use Judaism as a muse in your writing. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Conqueror's Name

Alexander is certainly not the type of name one typically thinks of as a traditional Jewish name. It may surprise you to learn that the name originated as a way of honoring none other than Alexander the Great.

Alexander was in his mid-twenties when he brought his armies to Judea. He had already conquered the Balkans and Asia Minor. Since Alexander was moving into the territory from the north, he first encountered a small converted tribe known as the Samaritans (also referred to as the Cutheans). The Samaritans had accepted much but not all of the Torah; in particular, they rejected the oral law and the Temple worship in Jerusalem. They viewed themselves in competition with the Jews of Judea and therefore told Alexander that the Temple should be destroyed. (They wished that their holy site on Mount Gerizim would thus be rendered the pre-eminent place of worship.) They further attempted to embitter Alexander against the Jews by emphasizing the Jews’ refusal to place a statue of Alexander in the Temple.

Upon hearing of the treacherous plans of the Samaritans, Simeon the Just (Shimon HaTzadik), who was the High Priest at that time, dressed himself in his priestly garments and went forth with some of Israel’s noblemen to serve as a welcoming party. At dawn, they came upon the army of Alexander.

The Talmud relates the encounter thus:
When the dawn rose he [Alexander] said to them [the Samaritans]: Who are these [people]?
--They answered: The Jews who rebelled against you....
When he [Alexander] saw Simeon the Just, he descended from his carriage and bowed down before him.
--They [the Samaritans] said to him: A great king like yourself should bow down before this Jew?
He [Alexander] answered: His image goes before me in all my battles and leads me to victory.
He [Alexander] said to them [the Jews]: What have you come for?
--They [the Jews] said: Is it possible that star-worshipers should mislead you to destroy the House wherein prayers are said for you and your kingdom that it be never destroyed! (Yoma 69a). 

Alexander proceeded to conquer Judea (as well as most of the “known world” of the time), but did not destroy Jerusalem or its Temple. The strife that would later develop between the Jews and the Greeks occurred long after Alexander had died.

To honor Alexander for his respect for Jewish life, many boys born that year were named Alexander. Thus did the name of the great pagan emperor become a Jewish name, along with its Yiddish version, Sender.

According to some calculations, July 20th is the birthday of Alexander the Great. This Treat was originally posted on Jewish Treats’ Twebrewschool.org blog on November 28, 2011.

Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Greek Salad

Add a Greek touch to your Shabbat table, by serving stuffed grape leaves and share the knowledge you have gained from this Jewish Treat.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The First Mourning

For those who suffer the loss of a close relative, Jewish tradition provides a distinctive mourning ritual, the most prominent aspect of which is shiva, the seven days of mourning. Mourners, however, only begin sitting shiva after their deceased family member has been buried. And while it is considered best if burial takes place as close to the time of death as possible, there are reasons for which burial might be delayed. In this interim time period between death and burial, mourners enter an in-between state known as aninut (the mourner is known as an onen).

According to Jewish law, the obligated mourners are: the deceased’s spouse, father, mother, sister, brother, son and daughter. One becomes an onen immediately upon hearing of the death of the relative. At this point, an onen who is, or could possibly be, involved in planning the burial of the deceased is exempt from almost all active mitzvot, such as donning tefillin and reciting the daily prayer services (but this does not permit one to do anything that is prohibited). In fact, because an onen is not obligated to recite the daily prayers, an onen may not be counted as part of a minyan. The state of aninut is an “isolating” one, hence, an onen is required to eat alone and to abstain from meat and wine (which are considered festive fare). However, the rules of aninut do not apply on Shabbat and Festival Days.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states: “Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar used to say: Do not... comfort him [a person who has suffered the death of a close relative] while his dead lies before him” (Pirkei Avot 4:23). The status of aninut recognizes the deep distress of the mourner when they discover that their loved one has passed on, as well as the emotional trauma of having to plan the burial.
NOTE: There are many considerations of special circumstances, so it is best to consult one’s rabbi.

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

Helping A Mourner

If you wish to assist a family in mourning, ask a non-mourning family member who is organizing the shiva how you can help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Satmar's Grandfather

When an important decision needs to be made, people often consider the consequences of their decisions taking into consideration, of course, the near future and the long term goals. Once the decision is made, however, it is almost always impossible to know the long term implications of even the simplest of choices.

A good example of this was when Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759 - 1841) agreed to go with his new son-in-law to visit his rebbe, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin, Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak. He had no idea that this decision would lead to the founding of the Satmer sect of chassidim a century and a half later. It was not an easy choice for Rabbi Teitelbaum. A respected scholar, now known as The Yismach Moshe (after the name of his commentary on the Torah), he had been a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, who was staunchly opposed to the new Chassidic movement.

Rabbi Teitelbaum was not happy to discover that his new son-in-law, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Lipshitz, was actually a chassid. Rabbi Aryeh Leib, however, agreed to forgo the Chassidic life if his father-in-law would travel, just once, to meet his rebbe. Rabbi Teitelbaum returned from his journey to Lublin a changed man.

The Yismach Moshe, whose yahrtzeit is the 28th of Tammuz, became a chassidic rebbe and is credited with having introduced chassidism into Hungary. His sons and grandsons also became chassidic leaders. One of the Yismach Moshe’s great-grandsons was Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (1887–1979), the first Satmar Rebbe. After the Holocaust, from which he escaped as part of a release negotiated with Adolf Eichmann, the Rebbe rebuilt a community (now one of the largest Chassidic communities) for his followers first in Palestine and then in New York.   

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

*This image of Moshe Teitelbaum (Ujhel) was donated to Wikimedia Commons by the National Library of Israel as part of a collaboration project with Wikimedia Israel

Unifying Knowledge

Learn about the different ways other Jews live in order to build unity among the Jewish people.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Ever feel nervous just before the start of a trip? Ever have sleepless nights before boarding an airplane? Perhaps these hesitations connect back to a time when travel, whether by road or sea, was particularly perilous. Today, traveling is so common that we often think nothing of it, even if there are modern dangers.

Because a journey is not an everyday event, the sages created "tefillat haderech,” the wayfarer’s prayer. In English, the prayer is:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us to peace, guide our footsteps to peace, and enable us to reach our desired destination for life, happiness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, robbers, or vicious animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that rage on the earth. May You send blessing in everything we do, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplications because You are God Who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, God, Who hears prayer.

But what is the definition of a journey? Driving from New York to Boston takes approximately 4 hours. Flying between the same two cities takes less than an hour and a half (from take-off to landing, not counting check-in, security and waiting around time!). According to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), tefillat haderech is only required for a journey of more than 72 minutes.

So next time you are off to visit grandma or heading to your dream vacation, take a moment for a little extra traveler’s insurance.

For tefillat haderech in Hebrew and transliteration, please click here.

This Treat was originally posted on November 25, 2008.

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

Glove Compartment

Keep a copy of tefillat haderech handy by placing it in the glove compartment of your car.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lowly for a Purpose

“I am a worm and not a man,” Psalms 22:7

There is an old joke among those who are familiar with the Mussar Movement: A new student comes to a Novardok yeshiva and during the first mussar session begins to cry, “I am a nothing! I am a nobody!” An older student whispers to a friend, “He’s here for one day and already he thinks he’s a nobody!” It’s a strange joke until one learns more about the Novardok brand of mussar.

The first Novardok yeshiva was built by Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horwitz, “the Alter” (Elder) of Novardok in 1896 in Nahvardok, Russia. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Alter ordered all Novardok students (there were by then several branches of the school) to flee to Poland - about 600 made it across the border. The Novardok movement re-established itself in Poland, where its yeshivot were all named Beit Yosef (House of Yosef).

In addition to studying the usual sacred texts, the students of Novardok had daily mussar sessions. The goal of mussar is self-improvement, ridding oneself of negative traits such as jealousy, lust and the desire for honor. Mussar encourages a daily review of one’s behavior and an assessment of how one might improve. Novardok yeshivot often housed a special beis hamussar, house of mussar, where this exercise was the focus.

Novardok’s unique mussar atmosphere was its intense renunciation of “self.” Novardok students deliberately humiliated themselves, wearing ratty clothes and ridding themselves of personal possessions. The yeshivot were small and bare of any material luxuries.

Another unique aspect of the Novardok Beis Yosef yeshiva students was that they did not avoid service in the Polish army (1.5 years). This was in keeping with the great value placed on social service and using challenging situations for personal growth.

A branch of Novardok was established in Jerusalem in the 1930s. That yeshiva, as well as one in Gateshead, England, were the only Novardok establishments to survive the Holocaust. Several yeshivot exist today that continue to follow the philosophy developed by the Alter of Novardok.

Humbly Done

Remember, being humble does not mean making less of oneself, but rather being aware of exactly who one is.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Can’t Move That

Guarding Shabbat is a Biblical commandment that requires a fair bit of knowledge to perform correctly. The act of guarding Shabbat requires that a person refrain from all creative works (known as melachot) throughout the day of rest. To make it easier for Jews to preserve the sanctity of Shabbat, the rabbis enacted numerous laws, creating protective fences to prevent one from breaking a Torah law. The best known of these “fences” is muktzeh, the Talmudic term for an item that serves no purpose on Shabbat, and thus many not be used or moved on Shabbat.

One might assume that it is simple to determine which items in one’s household are muktzeh, but the details of this rabbinic law are actually quite complex (for more specific information, Jewish Treats recommends consulting your rabbi). For instance, a hammer seems like an obvious candidate for muktzeh, after all what can one do with it but melacha? Imagine, however, if a person wishes to eat a nut but does not have a nutcracker. The hammer now has an acceptable Shabbat use and is (temporarily) not muktzeh. Of course, some muktzeh items are quite obvious: Since turning electricity on and off during Shabbat is not permitted, it easily follows that one’s phone or computer serves no purpose and is deemed muktzeh.

Rabbinic laws such as muktzeh serve a very real purpose. If, while talking to a friend on Shabbat, one casually picks up a pen and starts to play with it in one’s hand, it is possible that one might absentmindedly write or doodle, a perfectly normal act. Writing, however, is one of the 39 melachot. Prohibiting the very picking up of the pen thus is an act that serves to guard Jews from disturbing the sanctity of Shabbat.

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

In A Drawer

Before Shabbat, turn off your cell phone and put it in a drawer or closet.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Guest For How Long?

The mitzvah of hachnassat orchim is so important that it is listed as one of only six mitzvot for which “a person eats the fruit in this world, while the principal remains for that person in the world to come” (Shabbat 127a).

Just as welcoming guests is an important mitzvah, it is important for guests to be respectful of their hosts. While neither the Torah nor the Talmud directly discuss overstaying one’s welcome, the sages did extract an interesting piece of etiquette from the discussion of the Sukkot sacrifices. Chapter 29 in the Book of Numbers describes how, on Sukkot, 13 bulls are brought on the first day, 12 on the second, 11, on the third...and so forth for seven days.

What was the Torah’s reason for reducing the number of sacrifices each day? The Torah teaches etiquette from the sacrifices. If a man stays at another’s home and is welcomed by a friend, on the first day his host entertains him generously and gives him poultry to eat, on the second he gives him meat, on the third fish, on the fourth vegetables, and so on as he continually reduces the fare until he gives him legumes (Numbers Rabbah 21:25).

Providing gracious hospitality to a special guest upon his arrival is normal. When guests stay for several days, however, the guests cannot expect their hosts to disrupt their schedules (or budget) every day to prepare a grand feast. Recognizing this fact is not only part of being a good guest, but it also demonstrates true hakarat hatov, gratitude, to one’s host by acknowledging the effort involved in being a host.

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

Best Guest

If you are a guest, or going to be a guest, be appreciative of the needs of your hosts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Don't Be A Boor

Self-improvement trends come and go, but their continuing  popularity underscores people’s general desire to better themselves. It is natural to want to be both liked and respected, and no insult is greater to most people than to be considered a boor.

Some people are naturally charismatic. Others are effortlessly respected for their innate intelligence, creativity or athleticism. Most of us, however, often have to work hard at being someone whom others respect and admire.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the sages offer the following advice:

Seven marks characterize the boor, and seven the wise man. The wise man does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom and he does not break in upon the speech of his fellow. He is not hasty to answer. He asks what is relevant and answers according to the halacha. He speaks on the first point first and on the last point last. Where he has heard no tradition, he says, “I have not heard;” and he agrees to what is true. The opposites of these attributes are the marks of the boor (5:11).
These rules are quite straight-forward when one thinks about them. One who wishes to become wise does not assume to know more than he/she actually does. Listening to others, thinking before one speaks, respecting tradition, staying focused and being able to acknowledge one’s own ignorance or one’s own error, are all signs of one who is wise.

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

Listen Up

Put the advice of the sages into practice and use active listening skills in all your conversations.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Believe Completely

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam) was a 12th century Jewish philosopher, codifier, commentator and physician. He is best known for his codification of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah), his philosophical writings (Moreh Nevuchim/Guide for the Perplexed) and his Thirteen Principles of Faith.

Although Maimonides lived in an age when there were many great Torah scholars (Isaac Alfasi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Nachmanides, etc), a large  part of the Jewish lay population was devout but unlearned. Thus Maimonides found it necessary, while writing a commentary on the Mishnah of Sanhedrin, to elucidate 13 specific principles of faith in which Jews must believe. At the conclusion of his composition of these points, Maimonides noted that anyone who believed that these principles could be easily comprehended in their entirety, was misguided, for they each require a great deal of study to understand the true essence of their meaning.

In short, the Thirteen Principles of Faith as listed by Maimonides are:

1. The existence of the Creator
2. God’s unity (one God)
3. God’s incorporeality (spiritual essence)
4. The eternity of God
5. Only God is worthy of our prayers
6. The existence of prophecy
7. Moses was the greatest prophet
8. God gave the Torah to Moses and the Jewish people
9. There is not, and never will be, another Torah
10. God’s omniscience
11. The existence of reward and punishment
12. The Messiah (Moshiach) will come
13. The dead will return to life t’chi’yat ha’may’tim

During his lifetime, Maimonides’ writing was often considered controversial. In time, however, these thirteen principles were accepted by most Jewish authorities. At an unknown point in history, an anonymous author composed  a more poetic version of the Thirteen Principles in which each principle begins with the declaration: Ani ma’amin b’emunah she’lay’mah - I believe with complete faith. Another poetic rendition, known as Yigdal, is included in the daily prayer service.

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


Print out a copy of the Thirteen Principles for an easy reference.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

In truth, however, this period of "sadness" begins on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (observed yesterday) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

From the first day of the month of Av onward (July 20, 2012), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, we customarily avoid the following activities (along with all of the above):

1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

This Treat was previously posted on Friday, July 20, 2011.

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

Subdued Summer

Arrange your summer plans to reflect the somber events in Jewish history.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days in the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known. On Sunday (July 8), the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed. (The  17th of Tammuz is on Saturday, and therefore the fast is postponed until Sunday.)

As mentioned in the Talmud, five events are commemorated on this solemn day:

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the First Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the First Temple era.
5. Apustamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

Based on the biblical verses found in Zachariah Chapters 7 and 8, it is our practice to fast from dawn to nightfall.

For more information, click here.

This Treat was previously posted on July 18, 2011.

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

To Your Fill

Enjoy a filling Shabbat lunch to celebrate the Day of Rest.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fleeing In The New World

The history of the conversos, those Spanish and Portuguese Jews who hid their identities by publicly behaving as observant Catholics, is tragic not only for the horrible auto-de-fes (mass executions at which those convicted of heresy were burned at the stake), but also for the fear and instability with which these hidden Jews lived. Conversos who managed to leave Spain or Portugal, often had to flee the next country of residence in fear of the Inquisition that often followed recent Spanish conquests. The same story was played out in Europe, India, South America and even in colonial Georgia.

When the first Jews arrived in Savannah, Georgia, in 1733, they were welcomed by the British founding governor, James Oglethorpe. Of three dozen or so new immigrants, most of them were Jews of Sephardic origin who had traveled the difficult path of so many other conversos. For example, Samuel Nunes was born Diogo Roberio in 1668. He was a physician in Lisbon (Portugal) until he was arrested for supporting Judaism. When he was released from the Inquisitors’ jail, he was mandated to remain in Lisbon. Instead, Nunes fled to England (the way having been opened up by Menashe ben Israel in 1656) and from there to the New World.

In 1739, however, England and Spain entered the War of Jenkin’s Ear. Hostilities were fought on both sides of the Atlantic as the British had newly settled in Georgia, while the Spanish controlled Florida.

On July 5, 1742, much to the horror of the Sephardic Jews of Savannah, Spanish governor Don Manuel de Montiano led 5,000 troops to occupy Fort St. Simons on St. Simons Island, about 80 miles south of Savannah. While Oglethorpe and his troops routed the Spanish, the Sephardim had their scare. Most fled north to South Carolina, although some went to other colonies. Only the Minis and Sheftall (See July 4th's Treat) families, both Ashkenazim, remained in Georgia.

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

State History

Learn more about the history of Jews in your own city or state.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Revolutionary in Georgia

Mordecai Sheftall (1737-1797), the son of Benjamin and Perla Sheftall, emigrants from England, was born in Savannah, Georgia. A successful self-made merchant-come-landholder, Mordecai was active in colonial politics. His position on the Parochial Committee (and one-time chairman) made him easily identifiable as an independent minded rebel to any British official. When the hostilities between the British and the colonists eventually turned to war, Sheftall was appointed commissary-general and eventually the “Deputy Commissary of Issues in South Carolina and Georgia.” He was commissioned as a colonel, the highest ranking Jewish officer in America.

Two years into the war, Sheftall was captured by the British. He and his son, Sheftall Sheftall, who served as his assistant, were imprisoned in Antigua. When they were freed in a prisoner exchange, but were unable to return to the British held Savannah, and so resided temporarily in New York and then Philadelphia.

Like other Jews in the era of the American Revolution, Sheftall helped the Continental Army financially as well as through his military efforts. He not only made loans to the authorities, but paid for the upkeep of the soldiers under his command and invested in Georgia bonds and notes. Although he formally petitioned both the State of Georgia and the Continental Congress, the money owed him was never repaid...nor was he able to recover the property he lost when it was seized by British troops.

Mordecai Sheftall was more than a Jewish Revolutionary War hero. He was also an active and devout Jew who helped establish and maintain the Jewish community in Savannah. His own home served as the unofficial house of worship for Congregation Mickve Israel (using the Torah his father had brought with him when he emigrated from England) until an actual edifice was built after the war. He also donated the land for the first major Jewish cemetery in Georgia, which was known for some time as the Sheftall Cemetery.

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

Independence Celebration

Celebrate July 4th with a kosher barbeque.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Make Your Life Interesting

The phrase “May you live in interesting times,” references a Chinese curse. According to Jewish tradition, such a phrase could be seen as a blessing. It is normal to question why people suffer through challenges - both large and small - but Judaism views these tests, known as nisyonot, as opportunities that God provides each individual to grow and meet his/her true potential.

Judaism asserts that every individual has a purpose and a potential to meet--a goal that cannot be accomplished by sitting back and letting life take one where it will. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan discusses this point in Sanhedrin (106a), where he notes that whenever the term “vayeshev,” and he dwelt or settled, is used in the Torah, trouble follows shortly thereafter. 
As an example for an individual, Rabbi Yochanan cites Genesis 37:12: “And Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan...and Joseph brought to his father their evil report.” On a national level, he cites Numbers 25:1: “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab.” (He also cites Genesis 47 and I Kings 5.)
The implication of “vayeshev,” which shares the same root as the verb “to sit,” implies settling down to passively experience life. One who is passive in his/her life is unable to achieve his/her full potential in life.

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

Active Role

Find out how you can participate in your Jewish community and strengthen the Jewish people.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Western Frontier

The pleasant temperatures of the short spring and summer of the fertile plains of the Canadian Midwest are a stark contrast to the winter, when temperatures can plummet to -40 degrees Fahrenheit and almost never rise above freezing. That the land is covered with snow for over half the year was probably not a daunting feature for the hundreds of Russian and Eastern European Jews who arrived there at the end of the 19th century.

The first settlement, referred to as New Jerusalem, was founded in 1882 near Moosomin (Saskatchewan) at the instigation of Canadian High Commissioner Alexander T. Galt, who saw Jewish immigration as a solution to the Russian pogroms. Although some issues arose due to latent anti-Semitism (unusual delays in procuring the land grants), the Jewish colonizers were accepted as part of the Canadian drive to open up its western frontier. Due to adverse conditions and a disastrous fire, New Jerusalem lasted only five years.

Colonies such as Wapella and Hirsch were assisted by independent philanthropists, the English Herman Landau and the French Baron Maurice de Hirsch (with the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society, and the Baron Hirsch Colonization Alliance), respectively. The financing allowed for the initial settlement, but neither of these settlements would have lasted as long as they did without an influx of independently financed settlers. The Hirsch colony had the first synagogue in the province and established, what is today, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Canada.

In 1906, Lithuanian Jews from Europe and South Africa traveled to Saskatchewan, but rather than join the already existing settlements, these scholars and petty merchants went north on the Carrot River to the well-forested land. Edenbridge, derived from Yidden (Jews) Bridge as they wanted to name the town, survived for several decades. The wooden structure of the Beth Israel Synagogue, which was used until 1964, still stands. Indeed, a few Jewish farms were still active as late as 1968.
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Little Farm

Try your hand at cultivating the land and plant a small garden.