Friday, August 31, 2012


What are you doing this weekend? Actually, most people take their weekends for granted and forget that the five day work week was a victory won by the labor movement of the early twentieth century, with rabbinical organizations as their partners.

Jews in America at the turn of the 20th century were, more often than not, forced to work on Shabbat. The threat of unemployment was frequently far stronger than the call of the synagogue. In addition to the Saturday work, Jewish life was greatly affected by “Blue Laws” that forbade commerce and industry on Sundays. Thus, even if a Jewish businessman wished to start a business of his own, his competitive ability was greatly hindered.

One of the earliest Jewish organizations that sought to remedy the Saturday situation was the Jewish Sabbath Alliance. They advocated for a staggering of the work week to allow Jews to work on Sunday. The resistence they met was overwhelming, to the point that the Jews were accused of trying to gain unfair advantages. The Alliance tried to fight the Blue Laws from a Constitutional standpoint, claiming that such laws forced Jews to observe a Christian sabbath, but the courts regarded Blue Laws as a civil necessity rather than religious.

As the labor movement grew, one of the primary desired reforms was a shortening of the work week, a movement supported by rabbinic associations affiliated with the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. The backing they gave the labor movements on this issue turned into a relationship in which organizations such as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis actually preached in the language of the unions. For instance, Rabbi Bernard Drachman of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis advocated the creation of weekends as a means of improving the workers' bargaining position for wages and a way to discourage over-production.

By 1924, a 40-hour/5-day a week schedule was well established and no longer considered negotiable. Surprisingly, one of the earliest industrialists to institute weekend closures was Henry Ford, a known anti-Semite. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act that established an official five day, 40-hour work week.

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

Restful Weekend

Spend the first half of your weekend resting on Shabbat.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

In-Law Ties

Until 100 or so years ago, marriage was, on the whole, a practical arrangement that provided stability for property and protection for women. Marriage in the modern world is defined as a union between two people who wish to commit themselves to each other and to create their own unique family unit. This relatively new, romantic definition of marriage makes the Torah laws of yibbum, the so-called “levirate marriage,” challenging to understand.

The Torah in Deuteronomy 25 instructs that if a man dies childless, his widow “shall not marry an outsider.” One of her late husband’s surviving brothers is encouraged to marry her in a levirate marriage, and their firstborn son is to be considered the progeny of the deceased. If the brother-in-law does not wish to wed the widow, a chalitzah (divorce) ceremony is arranged. The widow removes the shoe from her brother-in-law’s foot, spits in front of him and announces “Thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s household.” His family is henceforth referred to as “The household of the one whose shoe has been removed” (25:5-10). If the widow does not wish to wed the brother-in-law, the same ceremony is performed.

The specifics of when and how either yibbum or chalitzah takes place are complicated enough that an entire tractate of the Talmud is named Yebamot. There are many situations in which the question is rendered moot - for instance, if the brother-in-law is already married to the widow’s sister - in which case, such a union would be prohibited.*

While the particular laws of yibbum and chalitzah are unique to Judaism, levirate marriages - when a widow marries her brother-in-law - are actually quite common in different cultures around the world.

Although it is a mitzvah for a man to marry the childless widow of his deceased brother in order to build up his brother’s house, the later sages strongly encouraged chalitzah. Of primary concern was the ruling in Yebamot 109a that a man who marries his brother’s widow purely because he desires her, or for reasons of his own gain, is considered as if he is committing incest.

In the twenty-first century, actual yibbum is practically unheard of.

*Jewish law does not allow a man to marry two sisters. Additionally, since the Middle Ages, most Jewish communities follow a ruling prohibiting polygamy.

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

Holidays and Family

The season of Rosh Hashana is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with family.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Paralympics’ Jewish Roots

The competitive spirit of this year’s Summer Games in London did not end with the Closing Ceremony. From August 29 - September 9, 2012, thousands of athletes with physical disabilities will take over London’s Olympic Park for the 2012 Paralympics. These amazing athletes can credit this grand event, and indeed an entirely new philosophy in dealing with physical disabilities (particularly spinal injuries), to a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

Sir Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (1899 - 1980), a native German, believed, at first, that the Nazis were a temporary departure from the norm. After he was prohibited from working in public hospitals in 1933, he immediately accepted the position of director of the neurological/neurosurgical department at the Breslau Jewish hospital. It was not until after Kristallnacht (1938), after he was forced to justify the admission of 64 patients to the hospital following the beginning of deportations, that Dr. Guttmann realized he had to leave Germany.

In England, a paper by Dr. Guttmann was influential in the creation of the Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, a unique institute for dealing with spinal cord injuries. As the director, Dr. Guttmann took a holistic approach to helping those with spinal injuries. Dr. Guttmann showed the injured that they could use their bodies in new ways.

The athletics that were a natural part of Dr. Guttmann’s rehabilitation program soon became recreational for his patients. On July 29, 1948, the same day as the opening of the 1948 London Olympics, Dr. Guttmann oversaw the first Stoke-Mandeville Games. Sixteen injured soldiers competed in archery. Four years later, Dutch soldiers participated, making the games international. The Stoke-Mandeville games continued to shadow the Summer Olympics. The 1960 games in Rome are formally recognized as the first Paralympics, as the competition was open to veterans and civilians alike. The winter Paralympics began in 1976. Since 1988, the Paralympics have been held in the same city as, and  immediately following, the Olympics.

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

Your Support

Root for the Jewish athletes of the Paralympics, just as was done for the Jewish Olympians.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Seeking God In Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this Psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this Psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord."

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat was originally sent on August 8, 2010.

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

Add It To Your Morning

Print out a copy of Psalm 27 and read it while you wait for your morning coffee.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What You Know

Astronomy plays an important role in Jewish life because it is the means by which we calculate the months and, therefore, the holidays--based on the cycles of the moon. Astrology (reading the future from the alignment of the stars), which many today might scoff at, is actually cited frequently in ancient Jewish texts and is considered a valid science by some Jewish philosophers--with the caveat that God took Abraham and all of his descendants and placed them outside the workings of such metaphysical mysteries. The sages placed so much value on the study of the stars that it is written in the Talmud:

"Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi on the authority of Bar Kappara: He who knows how to calculate the cycles and planetary courses, but does not, of him Scripture says (Isaiah 5:12), 'but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither have they considered the operation of his hands.' Rabbi Samuel ben Nachmani said in Rabbi Jochanan's name: How do we know that it is one's duty to calculate the cycles and planetary courses? Because it is written (Deuteronomy 4:6), 'for this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples.' What wisdom and understanding is in the sight of the peoples? Say, that it is the science of cycles and planets" (Shabbat 75a).

Today we have a set Jewish calendar, scientific equipment and knowledge that makes the study of astronomy a specialized science Nevertheless, there is an important message in this Talmudic passage. If, as is frequently quoted, knowledge is power, then each of us must recognize whatever knowledge/ability we have and use it as a positive power in the world.

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

Nature's Rules

When you think about the "Laws of Nature," like gravity, take a moment to be in awe of the fine details of God's creation.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Shabbat Limit

Nothing is more enjoyable on a Shabbat afternoon than a leisurely stroll with friends and family. Certainly those who are Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant) and attend synagogue spend a great deal of time walking - so how does general Shabbat observance incorporate what is written in Exodus 16:28-30: “And God said to Moses: ... He [God] gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.' So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:28-30)?

Since, in Exodus 16,  the Israelites left their encampment to try and collect manna on Shabbat (instead of accepting God’s word that the double portion of the previous day would suffice), the techum Shabbat (Shabbat limit) is thus defined as 12 mil (24,000 amot, about 7.5 miles), the size of the Israelite camp. Seeking to ensure that the laws of Shabbat would not be broken, the sages redefined the perimeters of the techum Shabbat according to the dimensions of the outskirts of the cities of the Levites as defined in Numbers 35, 2,000 amot (.62 of a mile) on each side.

In today’s more urban/suburban lifestyle, a Shomer Shabbat Jew can easily walk a great distance without leaving the city. The question of techum Shabbat does, however, often affect those who vacation in small towns or isolated cabins where there are no contiguous dwellings.

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

Walk About

Enjoy Shabbat with a pleasant walk.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Across North America, most parents are either frantically preparing for, or have just settled into, the new school year. Returning with the yellow buses and the pile of books is the perennial debate about homework: too much or too little? Does it serve no real purpose, or is it an important review tool? etc.

The Torah does not talk about homework. It does, however, specifically command a parent to educate a child. Throughout history, a large number of parents have delegated the task of education to schools or to private tutors. In fact, the Talmudic sage Joshua ben Gamla “came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town”(Baba Batra 21a). Sending a child to school does not, however, absolve a parent of responsibility to ensure that the child is being educated. The important role of a parent in education is reflected in the following Talmudic passage:

"Rabbi Chiya ben Abba found Rabbi Joshua ben Levi wearing a plain cloth upon his head and taking a child to the synagogue [where he had his lessons]. ‘What is the meaning of all this?’ he demanded. ‘Is it then a small thing,’ he replied: ‘that it is written (Deuteronomy 4:9): ‘and you shall make them known to your sons and your sons’ sons’...? From then onwards, Rabbi Chiya ben Abba did not taste meat [eat breakfast] before revising [the previous day's lesson] with the child and adding [another verse]. Rabbah son of Rabbi Huna did not taste meat until he took the child to school" (Kiddushin 30a).

Although this quote does not answer the homework debate, it does enforce an important message that is agreed upon by educators around the world--few factors are as important in education as parental participation.

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

After Class

Volunteer to tutor children in your neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's Okay To Be Afraid

“Courage is a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared.”  -David Ben-Gurion

Within the genre of today's Hollywood war movies, there is a common motif of the soldier coming to terms with his/her fear of going to war. Inevitably, this fearful soldier receives a heartfelt pep talk from a commanding officer or more experienced companion. Perhaps the first such pep-talk script can be found in Deuteronomy 20:1: "When you go to battle against your enemies, and see horses, chariots, and a people more than you, you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you..."

The Torah commands that the officers should go through the Israelite troops to find those soldiers who have recently built a home but have not dedicated it, planted a vineyard but have not eaten of its fruit, or betrothed a wife but have not wed her. These men are to be sent home.

At the same time, the officers are to announce, "Any man who is fearful and faint-hearted, let him go and return to his house, lest his brothers' hearts melt as his heart" (Deuteronomy 20:8).

Fear is a natural emotion, as is embarrassment at being afraid. The reprieve from service for the new homeowner, field owner and bridegroom serve an additional purpose of providing anonymity to those who choose to go home out of fear, for all four categories are called out together.

According to the sages, two types of men are thus saved from embarrassment, those who are afraid of war and those who are sinful:

"Rabbi Akiba declares that: 'fearful and fainthearted' is to be understood literally as meaning [a soldier] who is unable to stand in the battle-ranks and see a drawn sword. Rabbi Jose the Galilean says: 'fearful and fainthearted' alludes to one who is afraid because of the transgressions he had committed" (Sotah 44a).

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

Fear Not

In order to overcome one's fears, one must first acknowledge them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Educator

Community day schools have played a vital role in maintaining Jewish life in America, particularly in communities outside of the major Jewish population areas. The graduate of such schools owe a debt of gratitude to the memory of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1888 - 1948).

Born in Hungary, Rabbi Mendlowitz (who preferred to be referred to as Mr. Mendlowitz) arrived in America in 1913. After teaching for seven years in a Scranton, PA, Talmud Torah and then running a small ice cream business in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Rabbi Mendlowitz accepted a teaching position at Yeshiva Torah Vadaas, one of the few elementary school yeshivas in America, in 1922.

Rabbi Mendlowitz brought a new energy to the students. When he assumed the role of principal, Rabbi Mendlowitz surprised the school’s board by informing them that he expected each board member to attend Torah education classes as well.

One of the great challenges of Jewish education at that time was the fact that most boys* only received a primary Jewish education. In 1926, Rabbi Mendlowitz accomplished the first of many surprising achievements in Jewish education, opening Mesivta Torah Vadaas, a high school for Jewish boys.  A few years later, after realizing that these dedicated young men needed a venue in which they could continue their Torah studies, he created Beth Medrash Elyon, a kollel (a learning institute for young married men, in Spring Valley, New York) .

If Rabbi Mendlowitz had focused only on his own students, his accomplishments would still have been significant. However, wanting to see Torah education flourish everywhere, he helped other yeshiva high schools come into existence, even to the point of sending them some of his best teachers. Additionally, along with several other community leaders of the era, Rabbi Mendlowitz helped to create Torah Umesorah, an organization dedicated to creating and supporting Jewish day schools across the country.

Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz passed away on 3 Elul, 1948.

*Bais Yaakov, the movement for girls’ Jewish education, was still in its fledgling stages
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Day School Support

Whether your children attend the local day school or not, do your best to support it whenever possible.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Alarm Clock

New beginnings are always difficult.

For those who are not “morning people,” every day is a new beginning, and we must be thankful to whoever invented the alarm clock, which keeps us from being labeled as “slothful” and “lazy.”

No other beginning is quite as profound as the one we face annually at Rosh Hashana. On the Jewish New Year, God gives all people the chance to face His judgment and wipe their slate clean.

Looking honestly at one's actions and resolving to make changes to one's life is a daunting task. Just as in the morning, people naturally desire to continue sleeping and not waken at what feels like the crack of dawn, most people wish to roll over and bury their heads back in the blanket rather than face the challenge of change.

The great symbol of Rosh Hashana is, of course, the shofar. Knowing well the nature of people, the sages realized that what was really needed was an "alarm clock." They therefore instituted the custom of blowing the shofar every morning during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana. When the shofar is sounded in the synagogue, it is meant to serve as an alarm clock that awakens our souls and reminds us that Rosh Hashana is soon at hand.

This Treat was originally sent on Monday, September 22, 2008.

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

In One Month's Time

Rosh Hashana is one month away. Make your holiday plans now.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Reward of Honoring Shabbat

According to the wisdom of the sages, there is no way to “over-spend” on Shabbat. As it is said, “One who lends to Shabbat, Shabbat repays him!”(Shabbat 119a). “Lending to Shabbat” does not mean going into debt to purchase fancy foods or decor, but rather that one should borrow from his/her weekday budget in order to make Shabbat more beautiful.

How does Shabbat repay those who honor it? Primarily, there is the spiritual and physical recharge of “the batteries.” Sometimes, however, the reward is tangible, as in the story of Joseph Mokir-Shabbat, whose dedication to honoring Shabbat was richly rewarded (Shabbat 119a):

Joseph Mokir-Shabbat was known for his largess when preparing for Shabbat. One day, his neighbor was told by fortune tellers that “Joseph Mokir-Shabbat has eaten all your wealth.” Assuming that this meant that Joseph would take over his lands, the man sold all his property, and bought a precious jewel with the proceeds. He hid the jewel in his hat.  One day, however, a wind blew his hat into the river, and he watched, devastated, as a fish swallowed the jewel.

Not long thereafter, the fish was caught by some Jewish fishermen. However, it was almost Shabbat and they did not know to whom they could sell it.

“Take it to Joseph Mokir-Shabbat,” they were told, “who always buys delicacies in honor of Shabbat.” Although Joseph had already prepared his Shabbat meal, he was happy to spend the extra money for the special fish. (And this in the days without freezers!)

When Joseph went to prepare his fish he found the jewel, which he sold for a princely sum (Shabbat 119a).
This Treat was posted on June 19, 2009.

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

Chodesh Tov

Buy a delicious dessert in honor of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (the start of the new month).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Netziv

At most yeshivot, the primary focus of study is on the Oral Law (as compiled in the Talmud and later legal compendiums), leaving the study of the written Tanach (the five books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings) as secondary. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (known as the Netziv), who headed the Volozhin Yeshiva from 1854 until its closure in 1892, gave a daily lecture on Tanach after morning prayers.

In addition to the Netziv’s unique educational philosophy of including Tanach in the curriculum, he was also known for his unique support (at that time) of providing religious education for women. He has also been remembered as an avid reader of the newspaper, which brought the outside world into his home.

Born in 1817 (Mir, Belarus), the Netziv was noted as being a less than stellar student, and his parents considered withdrawing him from Yeshiva, and setting him up in trade. When he heard this, he begged for a second chance. His incredible diligence proved far more potent than most students’ natural abilities.

The first wife of the Netziv was the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva where the Netziv was a student. In 1847, the Netziv became a lecturer in the Yeshiva, and in 1853, he was named the Rosh Yeshiva.
Unfortunately, the political atmosphere in Russia became increasingly hostile. The Russian government, seeking to assimilate its Jewish population, placed restrictions on Jewish studies before 3 pm and put an end to night classes. And while the Netziv was prepared to incorporate some secular studies, he closed the Yeshiva rather than accept a system that would have left only a few hours a day for Torah study.

The Netziv hoped to ultimately travel to the land of Israel, but his poor health (he was diabetic) kept him in Warsaw. He died there on the 28th of Av, 1893.

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

A Little Bit At A Time

Follow the example of the Netziv and read a little bit of Tanach each day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Cochin Jews of India

The Malabar Jews of Cochin*, India, claim to have existed as a community since the times of King Solomon’s trade missions for ivory and silver. It is most likely, however, that their ancient community “only” dates back to the destruction of the Second Temple. The most important artifact recording the Jewish presence in the area is the  “S√Ęsanam,” a set of copper plates on which it is recorded that Joseph Rabban was granted a small principality.

Rabban’s descendants maintained their chieftainship of the Malabar Jews until the sixteenth century (until an argument between two heirs ended it). But, in truth, their rule would certainly have been threatened by the newest power in India: the Portuguese, who were no great friends of the Jews. And yet, at the same time, a new population of Jews appeared in the Cochin region--a community of Sephardi Jews fleeing the Iberian Peninsula. These Jews, who became known both as the Paradesi Jews and the White Jews, held themselves aloof from Malabar Jews (who became known as the Black Jews due to their more native skin tone).

Unfortunately, for most of the history of the Cochin Jews, the White Jews and the Black Jews refused to form a united community. Although it appears that the two communities observed many of the same customs, they had separate synagogues.  Additionally, there was a sub-community among the White Jews of remunerated slaves known as meshuchrarim, who were treated as second class citizens. Mirroring the surrounding Indian world, these Jews formed a caste system, with the meshuchrarim on the bottom.

Physical remains of the Cochin Jewish community, such as the Paradesi Synagogue, can still be visited by tourists in the area still known as "Jew Town," but the community itself has dwindled to a mere handful of elders. While some left the community by integrating into the general Indian society, many chose to move to the State of Israel.

Today, August 15, is India Independence Day.

*The city's name was changed to Kochi in 1996.

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

All Jews

Always remember that there are Jews of all races.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What's With The Cheese

There are few types of food with as many variations as cheese. Like all dairy products, only cheese that has been made with the milk of a kosher animal can be kosher. (For those celebrating August’s National Goat Cheese Month, that’s good news, since goats are kosher animals.)

Unlike milk or butter, however, the qualifications for kashrut are a bit more complicated than simply the source of the dairy. In fact, there is a specific prohibition in the Talmud against the consumption of gvinat akum, literally the cheese of heathens.

“Rabbi Judah said: Rabbi Ishmael put this question to Rabbi Joshua as they were on a journey: ‘Why’ asked he, ‘have they forbidden the cheese of heathens?’ He replied, ‘Because they curdle it with the rennet of a nevelah (an animal that died of natural causes rather than via the required kosher slaughter)” (Avodah Zarah 29b).

The Talmud continues the discussion, but for Jews of the 21st century, this citation captures the heart of the matter: rennet. Rennet, for those unfamiliar with the cheesemaking process, is a unique complex of enzymes found in the stomach lining of all mammals. Rennet causes milk to separate into curds and whey.

The primary kashrut concern in making cheese with rennet is the source of the rennet. The rennet must come from a kosher animal that has been properly slaughtered and processed. Therefore, cheese needs special supervision. (Rabbinic authorities also discuss issues of combining milk and meat that will not be discussed in this Treat.)

Today, there are many artificial rennets. The prohibition against gvinat akum, however, is maintained even in cases where a non-animal curdling agent is used. Luckily for kosher turophiles (cheese lovers), the market for more refined cheeses has grown in the last few decades and many “fancy” kosher cheeses are now available.

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

Cheese Glorious Cheese

If you love cheese, find out if your favorites are available from a kosher source.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"If It Walks Like A Duck..."

There is a famous statement attributed to the American writer James Whitcomb Riley (1849 – 1916) that asserts: "When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck." And while that conclusion seems logically unimpeachable, the Torah makes a strong point for investigating that duck just a little more--especially when that duck attests to being a prophet.
Deuteronomy (13:2-6) warns the Jewish people that anyone claiming to be a prophet who performs signs and wonders ("miracles" or seeing the future), but tries to entice others to worship false gods, then that person is a false prophet. No matter how convincing that so-called prophet’s magic may seem.

The first thought that passes through a modern reader’s mind pertains to the "signs and wonders." We today are great skeptics of "magic," but there is conclusive testimony in the Torah that there once were people who knew how to manipulate the forces of the natural world in a seemingly unnatural way. While this was a talent and a skill, it was not a sign of holiness.

More importantly, God is reminding the people that all the wonders in the world pale in comparison to what He has shown them and done for them (the Exodus, the splitting of the sea, giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, etc.), and that more important than all other things is staying true to our relationship with God.

As for the false prophet, he/she shall be put to death; because he/she spoke falsehood about the Lord ... "so shall you clear away the evil from your midst" (Deuteronomy 13:6).

This Treat was originally published on August 12, 2009.

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

Transparent Honesty

Be honest in all your dealings with other people.

Friday, August 10, 2012

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

The Book of Haggai is the first of the Twelve Prophets written after the exiled Jews returned to the Land of Israel and were governed by Zerubbabel. The High Priest of the era was Joshua ben Jehozadak.

Haggai’s first message is that the people’s slackness in rebuilding the Temple is the reason for their problems. (Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, said the Lord - 1:8.) The people then commit themselves to rebuild the Temple. While not approaching the majesty of the First Temple ("Who is left among you that saw this House in her first glory? How do ye see it now? It seems in your eyes like nothing?" - 2:3), Haggai assured the people that the Second Temple would have real grandeur. However, the people must not allow the surrounding nations to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple.

Haggai concluded with an assurance that the powerful nations will be destroyed and Zerubbabel will be selected to govern the people.

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

Hope-Filled Reading

Read the Books of the Prophets with an eye to the message of hope for the future.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Mother of Modern Swimming

In 1920, at age 35, Charlotte Epstein was not a contender for an Olympic medal in Antwerp, but she was, in many ways, the hero of women’s swimming. Born in 1884 in New York City, "Eppy," as she was known to her acquaintances, was a court stenographer who took up swimming as a means of exercise after work with her female coworkers.
Credited with founding the Women’s Swimming Association (WSA) in 1917 to help encourage women and girls to exercise more through swimming, Epstein also campaigned with the Amateur Athletic Union to recognize female swimmers. Once she accomplished this, Epstein took on the Olympics.

The first Olympics to include women’s swimming was the 1912 Stockholm Games. The United States, however, did not allow women to participate in any Olympic event at which they could not wear long skirts. It was due to Epstein’s constant lobbying that the United States presented a women’s swimming team in 1920. Epstein was not only the team manager, she also served as the team chaperone, as some of the swimmers were only in their mid-teens.

Epstein also attended the 1924, 1928 and 1932 Olympics, continuing her role of manager and coach. In addition to Olympic medals, "Eppy’s Swimmers," as they were sometimes called, won 30 national championships and set 52 world records (including the record for swimming the English Channel by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to attempt this feat).

While Epstein maintained her management role with the Olympic swimmers, she boycotted the 1936 Olympics held in Germany as a protest against the Nazis.

In addition to her work with the Olympic swimming team, Epstein also chaired the swimming committee of the second Maccabiah Games held in Tel Aviv in 1935.

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

Company Enjoyment

If you enjoy exercise, encourage others around you to join in (but don’t nag!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One! Two! Three! Feel The Burn!

Some people love to exercise, others hate it, but everyone knows that it is a vital component of properly maintaining one’s physical health.   

While the Torah does not specifically speak of exercise, in the Biblical era the vast majority of people lived lives of constant physical activity. Abraham and Sarah walked/rode from Padan Aram hundreds of miles to the land of Canaan, and then they continued on to Egypt. Moses followed Jethro’s sheep over mountains. The Israelites spent 40 years marching across the wilderness.

Any discussion of Judaism’s perspective on exercise goes back to a verse in Deuteronomy, which states: "Only take heed of yourself, and keep your soul diligently. . .Be very careful to guard your soul" (Deuteronomy 4: 9,15). The fact that Deuteronomy 4:9 distinguishes between caring for one’s self and one’s soul emphasizes that Judaism values both body and soul.

When it comes to taking care of one’s body, few of the great Torah scholars are seen as more definitive than Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam, Spain/Egypt, 12th century), who was a renowned physician in addition to being a great Torah scholar. On the importance of exercise, the Rambam wrote: "As long as you exercise, take care not to eat to the point of satiation and keep your bowels soft, you will not fall ill and your strength will increase. . .The opposite is true of someone who leads a sedentary life and takes no exercise. . .Even if such a person eats good food and takes care of himself according to proper medical principles" (Hilchot Deot 4:15).

The Rambam defines exercise as: "any form of movement--whether vigorous, gentle or a combination of both--that involves some effort and causes an increase in one's breathing rate" (Hanhagat Habriut 1:3).

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

Moving It

If you work at a desk job, take a two minute break to periodically move your body.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Prayer's Essence

According to many opinions, the most minimal prayer format one should recite daily should consist of praise of God, a request of God and a thank you to God. Thus for instance, a mother of triplets might say: "God, You are the giver of blessings. God, please give me patience. God, thank you for creating coffee."

The 13th century Sefer Hachinuch connects the commandment to pray to God with the verse: "You shall fear the Lord your God; Him shall you serve; and to Him shall you cleave, and by His name shall you swear" (Deuteronomy 10:20). Although this verse refers to prayer when it states "Him shall you serve" (serve being a translation of avodah) the language of the rest of the verse can be seen to reflect the three elements of Jewish prayer:

1) You shall fear... The translation of the Hebrew word yirah as fear changes the true meaning of the word. The concept of yirah when used in connection with God is more accurately translated as "to be in awe." The awareness of the Divine power and Divine mercy, the face of Divine awesomeness, leads one to praise God.

2) Him shall you cleave to...Cleaving is the act of drawing close to something. When a person turns to God with his/her requests, both large and small, this is an act of drawing oneself closer to God.

3) by His name shall you swear...Although swearing, in general, is prohibited in the Torah because it is very likely that one will not fulfill one’s vow, swearing by any name other than God implies a recognition of its power. This is the purpose of the prayers of gratitude. When a person thanks God for all aspects of his/her life, it serves as an acknowledgement that all things in one’s life come exclusively from God and no other power.

One Week At A Time

Try to incorporate the most basic form of prayer (one statement of praise, one request and one statement of gratitude) every day for a week.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Left Jab

Even those who are unfamiliar with boxing can picture the subtle dance of the boxer in the ring. The art of moving subtly about the ring, the elaborate footwork, sparring and counter-punches, are credited to Daniel Mendoza (1764 - 1836), who is sometimes referred to as the "father of scientific punches." He developed his unique style to compensate for his slight frame (5'7" and 160 lbs). The descendant of Marranos living in London, "Mendoza the Jew" is said to have been the first Jew to speak to King George III, whose patronage he earned in 1787. He held the title of Heavyweight Champion from 1792 - 1795.

Boxing has been a recognized Olympic sport since 1904, and has been a feature of every Olympics, with the exception of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.
Boxing itself is an ancient sport, images of which have been found in archeological digs throughout the Mediterranean. Although neither sports in general nor boxing are discussed in the Talmud, it is interesting to note that the sages did discuss whether one can be held responsible for hurting a person at that person’s request. The Mishna on Baba Kama 92a notes that if the plaintiff said "Put out my eye, cut off my arm and break my leg,...on the understanding that the (the perpetrator) would be exempt, he would still be liable." In summation of their discussion, the sages determined that the true issue was injury to one’s extremities, which impacts on oneself and one’s family for the rest of one’s life.

The real question stems from a verse concerning the application of the punishment of lashes: "Forty stripes he may give him, he shall not exceed...(Deuteronomy 25:3)" which most legal codifiers (Rambam, Sefer Hachinuch) have understood to include the prohibition against striking another person. However, other commentators have noted that this liability is void when two people consensually "hurt" each other, such as in wrestling and boxing.

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

Proud of the Jews

In this second week of the Olympics, continue to cheer on the Jewish Olympians. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tu B'Av and the Offering of Wood

Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of Av, was celebrated in ancient times by unmarried maidens who went out on this day to dance in the vineyards hoping to be chosen by an unmarried youth to be his bride (For more information on this ceremony, please see: No Holiday As Joyous.) However, this day was marked for celebration for several other reasons.

The fifteenth day of Av marked the final day of the calendar year on which wood could be cut for the Temple sacrifices. After the fifteenth, the sun's power, which has already begun to diminish, was no longer considered strong enough to dry out the wood sufficiently (Jerusalem Talmud,Taanit 4:7).

During the rebuilding of the Temple, a wood offering ceremony was introduced. When Ezra and Nechemiah brought the people to Jerusalem, they found that more than just the Temple had been destroyed...the land itself had been laid waste. In the process of destruction, almost all of the trees had been uprooted, creating a great shortage of wood. Anyone who was able to donate wood did so, and the “wood offering” became a tradition and a great honor.

This wood offering is associated with a story of the unique heroism of the Jewish people in their desire to serve God at the Temple. Once, during the times of the Second Temple, the people were prohibited from bringing wood to the Temple by the occupying power of the time. Rather than despair, the Israelites made ladders from the wood and, when asked at the roadblocks where they were going and for what purpose they needed ladders, the Israelites replied that they were taking the ladders to retrieve fledglings from their dovecotes (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 28a). After passing the roadblocks, the ladders were disassembled and brought to the Temple.

This Treat was published on August 5, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.
Honor the spirit of Tu B’Av and Shabbat by donating to a local food bank.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Swim Baby Swim

Hot summer days and dramatic Olympic competitions bring to mind the joy of swimming. But swimming is more than a sport or a relaxing pastime, swimming is a skill that is specifically mentioned in the Talmud.

Kiddushin 29a lists those things that a parent is obligated to do for his/her child: “The parent is obligated to circumcise and redeem his [first-born] child (via a pidyon haben), teach him Torah, find him a wife and teach him a craft. Some say, also to teach him to swim.”

Circumcision and pidyon haben are specific religious rituals that intimately connect a child to the Jewish people. Teaching a child Torah is teaching him/her the rules of life--the paths of morality, and the laws of justice. More than that, teaching a child Torah gives the child tools for spiritual growth. Finding a spouse and learning a craft are the foundations for successful adulthood. Starting a family and having a means of supporting a family are the fundamental building blocks of civilization.

But why swimming? Our rabbis maintain that the instruction to teach a child to swim is to be taken both literally and figuratively. To teach a child to “swim” really means teaching a child to survive in a world that abounds with spiritual and physical dangers.

Raising a child means preparing him/her to face all of the challenges and joys of life, be they spiritual, physical or societal.

This Treat was published on August 18, 2008.

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

Swim Class

If you do not know how to swim, sign up for a swimming lesson.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guide to Talmudic Terms

Tonight, tens of thousands of Jews will celebrate completing their study of the Talmud. Some of the celebrants are full-time Torah scholars, others are dentists, mechanics and businesspeople. Almost all of them have been involved in the Daf Yomi, a program of studying one folio page of Talmud each day that was initiated in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. It takes 7 ½ years to complete the Talmud’s 2711 folio pages one folio page at a time, and each Daf Yomi cycle’s completion is celebrated at a Siyyum Hashas. A siyyum is a special celebration observed upon completing any set amount of Torah study. Shas is an acronyn for the Talmud, alluding to the Shisha Sedarim, the six orders into which both the Mishna and the Talmud are divided.

The Shisha Sedarim, which are then broken into smaller tractates, are as follows:

(1) Zera'im ("Seeds") - agricultural laws and prayers.
(2) Mo'ed ("Festival") - Shabbat and the Holy Days.
(3) Nashim ("Women") - marriage and divorce.
(4) Nezikin ("Damages") - civil and criminal law.
(5) Kod'shim ("Holy [things]") - sacrifices, the Holy Temple, and the dietary laws.
(6) Taharot ("Purities") - ritual purity and impurity.

In honor of the Siyyum Hashas, Jewish Treats presents several common terms used when discussing the Talmud:

Mishnah: The first transcription of the Oral Torah, compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince (app 200 C.E.), out of fear that these teachings might otherwise be forgotten and lost forever.

Gemarah: The transcription of scholarly rabbinic discussions concerning the teachings of the Mishnah. Transcribed by Ravina and Rabbi Ashi in approximately 500 C.E.

Talmud: The Mishnah and Gemarah published together.

Masechet: One of 63 tractates, subdivisions of the six orders.

Baraita: A statement of Oral law that had not been written in the Mishnah but is accepted as a proof-text in the Gemarah.

Sug’ya: Talmudic topic leading to discussion that begins with either a quoted Mishnah or a question.

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

Starting Again

The new Daf Yomi cycle begins on Friday morning. Click here for an online resource guide to how you can participate in Daf Yomi.