Friday, November 30, 2012

Shabbat Shabbaton - Complete Rest

In Exodus 31:14-17, the Torah once again reminds the Jewish people to keep Shabbat. In this section, however, Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Shabbaton, which is translated as a complete rest. According to the great Biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki - France, 1040 – 1105) as understood by the Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter - Poland, 1847–1905), this means that "rest" on Shabbat is not supposed to be a rest because one has nothing else to do, but a deliberate rest during which one refrains from even thinking about the mundane activities of the week.

Hey, great! A deliberate period of "chilling out." In truth, however, the state of rest described by the Sfat Emet is not easy to attain. After all, a person’s professional life is often intricately tied up with a person’s self--and talking business is second nature.

To help you create a Shabbat Shabbaton, Jewish Treats presents five tips for resting:

A) Spend time with those who have no business cares – kids. Enjoy time with your own children, nieces/nephews, grandchildren or the children of your friends.

B) Get together with one friend on a regular basis (every Shabbat or every other Shabbat) and talk about something you find spiritually uplifting.

C) Choose a special book to read or study on Shabbat that has nothing to do with your weekday life.

D) Play a game with friends, but keep it light and keep out the competitive edge. Play for the sake of playing.

E) And of course, one can always enjoy a Shabbat nap.

This Treat was originally published on March 12, 2009.

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

Activities of Rest

This Shabbat, spend the afternoon with family and friends.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


In Judaism, the dead are given great respect. One important tradition that reflects the Jewish faith’s respect for the deceased is the placing of a tombstone upon the grave. From a practical perspective, the tombstone makes it possible for people to visit the burial sites, to prevent others from desecrating the grave and for those of the priestly caste (Kohanim) to avoid coming within the precincts of the dead.

While marking a grave appears to be an almost universal custom, the Jewish tradition of doing so is traced back to Rachel’s death. When Jacob led his family back from Charan and entered the Promised Land, Rachel died. Jacob had no choice but to bury her on the roadside. The Torah then describes that "Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day" (Genesis 35:20).

The tombstone, known in Hebrew as a matzeiva or a tziyun, is carved from stone or granite. Although other words may be added to a tombstone, one traditionally finds the following inscriptions (in this order) on a Jewish tombstone:

1: The Hebrew letters Pey and Nun, an abbreviation for "poh nitman," here lies buried.

2: The deceased’s complete Hebrew name.

3: The Hebrew date of death.

4: The Hebrew letters taf, nun, tzadi, bet, and hey, an abbreviation for "Tehe nishmato/nishmata tzerurah bizror hachayim" May his/her soul be bound in the bond of life."

The dedication* of the tombstone is often performed with a simple ceremonial gathering of close family and friends. Psalms are recited, a eulogy is delivered and prayers of mourning are said. Different communities have different customs as to when it is appropriate to place the tombstone, but it is not usually more than one year after the funeral.

*Please note that although "unveilings" are common, they are not a genuinely Jewish custom.

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

Special Visit

Make an effort to visit the graves of your relatives, to bring solace to the departed and to strengthen your connection to your ancestors.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tribe of Reuben

As the forefathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, the lives and personalities of each of the sons of Jacob impacted on the history and behavior of the tribe members that descended from them.

As the descendants of the eldest son, the tribe of Reuben should have played a leading role in the history of the Jewish people. However, as Jacob foresaw, the impetuous nature of Reuben carried on in his descendants. During the 40 year trek of the People of Israel in the wilderness, the tribe of Reuben was involved in two situations that particularly highlighted this impetuosity:

When Korach, a Levite, led an (unsuccessful) rebellion against Moses, his primary support came from Dathan, Abiram, Ohn and 250 other members of the Tribe of Reuben. It was Korach’s contention that Moses and Aaron were usurping all the honors for their own family. He promoted the idea that the priesthood should be open to all Israelites, and not just the descendants of Aaron. Korach’s complaint spoke to the heart of the Reubanites, that they, the descendants of the firstborn of Jacob, should have received the exalted role assigned to the tribe of Levi. (Click here for more on Korach’s rebellion.)

The Reubenites’ involvement in Korach’s rebellion demonstrates the continued impetuous character trait of their forefather. Feeling negated, rather than seeking a positive way to elevate their tribal role, they struck out against Moses.

The second incident occurred when the Reubenites, along with the children of Gad, requested that Moses allow them to settle on the land east of the Jordan River, which they had won after a battle with the Midianites. This land, while ideal for grazing cattle, was not within the original parameters of the Promised Land. When Moses expressed dismay at their assumption that they could leave their brethren to conquer the Promised Land, the Reubenites and Gaddites hastily reconsidered and agreed to fight first, before returning to settle in the Eastern lands.

In the dialogue that ensued (Numbers 32:16-24), the Reubanites and the Gaddites spoke first and foremost of building "sheepfolds here for our cattle," and only then of "cities for our little ones." Moses agreed to let them settle on the eastern shore (along with half of the tribe of Menashe) but rebuked them for their improper priorities: "Build cities for your little ones, and [then] folds for your sheep." (Click here for more on Reuben and Gad’s request.)

Before his death, just before the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses blessed the entire nation and each of the tribes independently. His blessing to Reuben was: "Let Reuben live, and not die; and may his population be included in the count" (Deuteronomy 33:6). Moses’ blessing to the tribe of Reuben is that their impetuous nature should not lead to their destruction; that they should continue to live and thrive even though they have chosen to live outside of the borders of the Promised Land (Indeed, the tribe of Reuben was the first area conquered by the Assyrians, who exiled ten of the tribes in 722 B.C.E.).

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

Act With Thought

Always take a moment to think before you act.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For National Novel Writing Month: Laura Z.

Although three of her published novels were structured around a Jewish storyline, Laura Zametkin Hobson did not wish to be perceived as a Jewish American novelist. She saw being a writer and being a Jew as two separate aspects of her identity.

Hobson, the daughter of revolutionaries who fled Czarist Russia and wrote for New York’s Yiddish press, was born in New York City in 1900. In the 1930s, she made a name for herself in the world of publishing and journalism, working for Time and helping launch Life Magazine.

Although Judaism did not play a central role in Hobson’s life, her first novel, The Trespassers (1943), was a protest against the quota system that had made it so difficult for Jews to escape Nazi Europe. Hobson herself had sponsored several Austrian-Jewish families attempting to emigrate.

The novel that made Hobson famous was Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)–the story of a journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to expose the “polite” anti-Semitism by which Jews were excluded from clubs, hotels, and society.

For Gentleman’s Agreement, Hobson refused the honor of having her book named best Jewish novel of 1947 by The Jewish Book Council because she felt that the book was about American society, with only a tangential relevance to Jewish life. (She later stated that she regretted that decision.)

Hobson’s third Jewish novel, Over and Above, reflects her greater interest in her Jewish identity that developed toward the end of her life.  The novel is based on three generations of an American Jewish family in an era when the UN declared Zionism to be “Racism,” and Jews around the world were awed by the heroism of the Israeli soldiers.

In addition to these three books, Hobson wrote six other novels, several children’s books and an autobiography entitled Laura Z. She passed away in February 1986.

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

Inspired Gifts

This Chanukah, share your favorite Jewish writers with your friends and family.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A-Hunting We Won't Go

Ah, Fall. The crisp air, the beautiful foliage and, for those who live in rural areas, the hunting season! Yes, this is the time of year when, permit in hand, hunters take to the woods for sport.

The permissibility of hunting according to Jewish law is not as straight-forward as one might imagine. Actually, there are cogent arguments for and against hunting and trapping in Jewish tradition.

In Genesis (1:26), God explicitly gives human beings dominion over the entire planet - meaning all animals, vegetables and minerals. Dominion, however, does not mean tyranny or abuse but, rather, responsibility. In fact, this verse is one that is at the heart of Judaism’s sensitive environmental philosophy.

While humans have dominion over animals, Judaism prohibits tza’ar ba’alei chayim, causing undue suffering to living creatures. For this reason, hunting for pleasure is strictly prohibited.

And while humankind has Divine permission to be omnivorous, Jewish law deems any animal not properly slaughtered to be "not kosher" (unfit) for Jewish consumption. Animals with life-threatening wounds, such as those resulting from guns, arrows or traps, are not kosher.

So if animals may not be hunted for either food and pleasure, when might hunting be permitted? One may hunt only for a legitimate need, such as collecting fur and leather for clothes or shoes or to obtain animal products that are used for medicine. Even then, the animal must be killed in a manner that ensures the least possible pain.

JewishTreats leaves you with this question: Would hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation be prohibited as tza’ar ba’alei chayim or would it be permitted in order to make certain that fewer animals starve to death?

This Treat was originally published on November 24, 2008.

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

Second Helping

Wrap up your holiday left overs and bring them to a local food shelter. (Call first to make certain they will be accepted.)

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Poet from the Ashes

"There is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German."

One can only imagine the great burden Paul Celan (born Paul Antschel) must have felt when he, a Jewish survivor of a German labor camp, chose to compose his poetry in Germany.

Although Celan was born in Romania on November 23, 1920, the primary language spoken in his childhood home was German. In truth, Celan was a polyglot. He knew Hebrew from the Zionist primary school that his father insisted that he attend, in addition to knowing Romanian, Russian, Yiddish and French. Like his mother, however, Celan’s passion was the German language.

The German invasion of Europe began while Celan was in university, studying literature and Romance languages. The Germans arrived in his hometown of Ceranti in July 1941 (immediately burning down the city’s 600 year old synagogue) and, shortly thereafter, relocated many of the city’s Jews to a ghetto. On June 21, 1942, most of the Jews in the ghetto were deported. Celan, who was visiting a family friend that night, never saw his parents again. By the end of 1942, Celan had been sent to a labor camp, where he remained until the Red Army’s advance in February 1944.

In the years after the war, Celan went to Budapest, where he translated the works of others while composing his own. He next went to Vienna and then on to Paris, where he published his first collection Der Sand aus den Urnen (Sand from the Urns) in German.

In the early 1950s, Celan’s poetry began to gain popularity. His main audience, German speakers, were only beginning to come to terms with the horrors that Celan had witnessed and experienced. His best known and most critically regarded work is Todesfuge (Fugue of Death).

Celan accepted a position as Reader in German Language and Literature at L'École Normal Superieure of the University of Paris. He held that position until his death (by suicide) in 1970.

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

Shabbat Poems

This Shabbat, enjoy some ancient poetry by reading some Psalms.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Food Blessings

Use the following link to recite the blessings over the food you are enjoying this Thanksgiving: Food Blessings

It's Not a Big Chicken

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to be in supermarkets in November, it’s turkey! In fact, many supermarkets even give them away to promote large purchases of other groceries.

As you put the turkey into the oven, take a moment to think about the significance of that bird. Did you know that a vast amount of rabbinic ink has been expended in discussing the kosher status of turkey?!

While the Torah specifically identifies those features that make animals and fish kosher (chews cud and split hooves for animals, scales and fins for fish), it does not specify the identifying features of a kosher bird. Instead it states that one may eat "all the clean birds," and then lists only the birds which one may not eat (Deuteronomy 14:11-20).

This has created a problem because not all the birds identified in the Torah’s prohibited list are known today. The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch completed in 1563) therefore ruled that only those birds traditionally known to be eaten by Jewish communities were allowed. This included chicken and ducks.

The turkey, however, was not a traditional bird. Turkeys are indigenous to the "New World" and were not seen by European Jews until explorers brought them back from America. As turkeys became more common fare in the general European community, the rabbis began to receive questions about the bird’s kosher status.

The turkey, which shares many similarities to other known kosher birds – the nature of their stomach, the shape of their beak, the structure of their feet, and that they were not predatory – was deemed kosher by almost all authorities.

So go ahead. Stuff the bird!

This Treat is republished each year in honor of Thanksgiving.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey’s Pheasant Roots

Of all the foods that could have become the feature food of America’s Thanksgiving feast, it seems almost poetic that it would be the turkey. When one researches this most American of birds (indigenous to North America), one finds that the turkey is from the Phasianidae family, of the genus meleagris.

The Torah, Numbers 11, mentions this family of birds in relation to an important lesson on being grateful.

It is well-known that the Israelites in the wilderness were fed manna, a special heavenly food. What is less commonly known is that at one point the Israelites felt that they were entitled to complain.

"Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes" (11:4-6).

When Moses asks God what he should do, God, greatly angered, assures Moses that he will take care of the matter.

"And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp...And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails... And while the flesh was yet between their teeth...the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (11:31-33).

Not only did the Israelites lack gratitude for the manna that God was already providing, but one might infer, from the text (they "stood all that day, and night and the next day") that they did not even thank God for the quail. It was this blatant demonstration of their lack of gratitude for which they were punished by God.

From this narrative in Numbers 11, one should learn the important lesson of being thankful for everything that one receives.

*Find out how the Hebrew word for turkey can also be translated as thanks.

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

Blessings, Blessings, Blessings

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for all of your blessings.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Judah, Son of Jacob

When Judah, the fourth son of Leah and Jacob, was born, Leah said, “This time let me gratefully praise God” (based on the Hebrew infinitive, l’hodot, “to praise”).

Judah first demonstrated leadership when he suggested that his brothers sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites (rather than leave him in a pit to die). But the cover-up story that his brothers then told Jacob (that Joseph was dead) so upset Judah that the Torah says, “And it was in that time, and Judah went away from his brothers...” (Genesis 38:1).

Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons: Er, Onan and Shaylah. When his first 2 sons unexpectedly died (having successively wed Tamar), Judah promised Tamar that she would wed Shaylah when he came of age. Later, when Tamar realized that Shaylah would never be given to her, she dressed like a harlot and seduced Judah. He gave her his staff, cord and signet as collateral for payment. Tamar became pregnant, and when Judah found out, he demanded that she be burned for harlotry. When she displayed his collateral (proving the paternity), Judah publicly admitted his guilt. He then married Tamar and she gave birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach. By acknowledging his responsibility, Judah finally became a true leader.

Years later, when the brothers needed to return to Egypt for food, it was Judah who convinced Jacob to allow Benjamin to go, as Joseph had demanded. Judah offered Jacob his solemn pledge that he would bring Benjamin home safely. And when Benjamin was framed with the crime of stealing the royal goblet, Judah stepped forward and offered himself up as a bondsman instead of Benjamin.

Before his death, Jacob gave each of his sons a blessing reflecting their personalities and their futures. To Judah, Jacob said: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you ... The scepter shall not depart from Judah...and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples...” While much of Judah’s blessing (not included due to length) is understood by the sages to be an allusion to the time of the Messiah, Jacob clearly conferred the role of leadership upon Judah and his descendants (the Davidic dynasty).

This Treat was originally published on May 28, 2010.

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

Thanksgiving Talk

At your Thanksgiving meal, use ideas from the Torah as conversation starters

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kosher Salt

The term “kosher” does not usually refer to a style of cuisine, but rather to food that meets the requirements of Jewish dietary laws. However, there are a few products that do use the word “kosher” as an adjective, such as kosher salt. Since salt is a natural mineral, it would be normal to wonder how salt could possibly be “unkosher.” Kosher salt does not indicate that the salt has received certification, but rather that it is salt that is the right cut and coarseness for preparing kosher meat.

The salt treatment that is applied to all kosher meat and poultry is not a curing process. It is the means by which observant Jews ensure that they are not violating a Biblical prohibition against consuming blood.

Kosher-ing salt crystals are flatter and thicker than the crystals of tables salt. After a cut of meat has been thoroughly rinsed of any exterior blood and soaked in water for half an hour and dried, it is covered with a light layer of salt and left to sit on a rack for an hour or so. The salt draws any remaining blood out of the meat.  When the process is completed, the meat is once again rinsed in order to remove all of the salt.

Once upon a time, the salting of the meat was a common household task, and therefore, kosher salt was a popular retail item. Today, this process is usually completed by the kosher butcher or meat processor before packaging.

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

Thanksgiving Choice

At your Thanksgiving meal, use ideas from the Torah as conversation starters.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rabbi Aharon Kotler

Rabbi Aharon Kotler, whose 50th yahrtzeit is today, arrived in the United States in 1941. The Va'ad Hatzalah brought Rabbi Kotler out of Nazi controlled Europe, where he had been a highly regarded scholar and the head of the Yeshiva in Kletsk. At the time of his arrival, the United States was considered a Torah wilderness–meaning that there were few yeshivot (learning centers) and only a small number of recognized Torah scholars. The commonly held opinion in pre-Holocaust Europe was that a world centered around Torah scholarship could never be created in America.

Rabbi Kotler felt differently. In 1943, he opened Beth Medrash Govoha (the School of Advanced Torah Study) in Lakewood Township, NJ. Lakewood was just far enough from New York City to avoid the big city distractions. Rabbi Kotler began his yeshiva with 15 students. Nineteen years later, at the time of his passing, Beth Medrash Govoha had 250 students and numerous offshoots led by his former students. Today, Lakewood Township is the home to tens of thousands of families whose lives are centered around the yeshiva, which boasts over six thousand students.

The success of the Lakewood Yeshiva movement was due to Rabbi Kotler’s single-minded dedication to his dream of re-planting the Eastern European world of Torah Judaism on American soil. He not only taught and gave guidance to his students, but personally raised the funds that allowed the yeshiva to exist and flourish.

In addition to his dedication to Beth Medrash Govoha, Rabbi Kotler helped establish Chinuch Atzmaee , the independent system of Israeli religious schools, served as the chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel (Council of Torah Sages), was involved in numerous other Orthodox community organizations and was the Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva) of Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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

Weekend's Work

As you prepare for next week's Thanksgiving holiday, consider purchasing a few extra cans of food to donate locally or to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Treat For World Philosophy Day

Philosophy is defined by as "the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or conduct." Judaism, being a religion, is a system of living according to set principles of belief. From as early as the time of the Greeks, the era of Aristotle and Plato, Jews used the tools of philosophy to clarify Jewish beliefs.

One of the earliest written works to incorporate philosophy and Jewish thought was The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs, written by Saadia Gaon (Egypt-Baghdad, 882-942 CE). The book’s introduction reveals that Saadia Gaon felt that such a work was essential in his era, when people, both believing and non-believing, based their beliefs on erroneous principles.

The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs was originally written in Arabic and was translated into Hebrew by Judah Ibn Tibbin (entitled Emunot v’Deot) in the 12th century. The format through which Saadia Gaon chose to express himself is said to be highly reflective of the Islamic culture in which he lived. In delivering his theological arguments, Saadia Gaon arranged the ten chapters of The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs in the style of the Islamic mu’tazila kalam, a common philosophic system of that time and place, that centered on five tenets. The ten chapter subjects are:

(1) Creation of the World, (2) the Creator’s Unity (Kalam tenet 1 - Divine Unity),

(3) Revelation and the Commandments, (4) Free Will (Kalam tenet 2 - Divine Justice)

(5) Merit and demerit (Kalam tenet 3 - Promise and Threat)

(6) The Soul and Death, (7) Resurrection of the Dead, (8) Messianic Redemption,

(9) The World to Come (Kalam tenet 4 - the Intermediate Position [Faithful Sinners])

(10) Moral Conduct (Kalam tenet 5 - Promotion of Virtue/prevention of Bad Practices)

Saadia Gaon’s use of this familiar philosophical system allowed Babylonian Jews to better relate to their own Torah belief system.

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

On Smoking

Today is National Smoke Out Day. Click here to learn the Jewish opinion on smoking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


"There is always room for sweet things." Although this quote comes straight from the Talmud (Megillah 7b), it is a common sentiment among many cultures. In the lifetime of Abaye, the sage quoted above, sweet things referred to treats made with honey, dates or other natural ingredients. Sugar, the primary sweetener of the modern era, was then unknown. (Although populations in India were already cultivating sugar cane, the refining process that creates sugar crystals is thought to have been developed in the 5th century.) The crusaders brought sugar to Europe in the 12th century, but the mass production (and the mass consumption) of sugar did not actually begin until it was discovered that the new world (Caribbean) was an excellent climate for sugar cane cultivation.

When Abaye noted that there is always room for sweets, he meant that one always has a desire for sweets, not that one should always indulge in that desire. In fact, the need to control one’s desire for sweetness was noted by King Solomon, who wrote in the Book of Proverbs: "Have you found honey? Eat as much as is satisfying, lest you become full and vomit" (25:16). He also wrote, "It is not good to eat much honey" (25:27).

Aside from adhering to the rules of kashruth, the Torah does not give any specific guidelines for how one eats. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, also knows as the Rambam), who was both a rabbi and a physician, wrote: "When a person eats [or] drinks...he should not focus his heart on doing such things in order to enjoy himself alone. If he does, he would not eat and drink only sweet things...rather he will eat things which are beneficial to him...and will not eat unhealthy foods, even if they taste good..." (Laws of Knowledge 3:2).

The month of November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and November 14th is World Diabetes Day. Type II Diabetes has been linked to the levels of sugar and the regularity of over-indulgence in the modern diet.

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

You Are What You eat

Making healthy food choices is part of the mitzvah of maintaining your health.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kindness Day

While giving charity (tzedakah) is an act of kindness (chesed), an act of kindness is not charity. According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Elazar, "Acts of Kindness are greater than charity, for it is said (Hosea 1:12), ‘Sow to yourself according to your charity, but reap according to your kindness.’ If a person sows, it is doubtful whether he will eat or not, but when a person reaps he will certainly eat it" (Sukkah 49b).

The sages go on to explain that in three ways kindness is better than charity: (1) Kindness can be done with one’s person and one’s money, as opposed to charity, which can only be done with money. (2) Kindness can be done for any person, rich or poor. (3) Kindness can be done for both the living and the dead.

There are many ways in which a person can perform acts of kindness. Some of the best-known mitzvot associated with chesed are: visiting the sick, welcoming guests, and helping a bride and groom. Opportunities to visit the sick, welcome guests or help a young couple do not usually occur on a daily basis. Chesed opportunities, however, are available to most people numerous times each day. Acts of kindness are performed when helping a co-worker resolve a problem or holding the door for someone even when it means waiting an extra minute. In truth, the simple act of smiling at another person is an act of kindness. The Talmud states, "The man who shows his teeth [smiles] is better than one who gives milk to drink" (Ketubot 101b).

Today, November 13th, is World Kindness Day, but in Judaism, every day, indeed, every moment, is an opportunity to perform acts of kindness.

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

Your Kind Acts

Pay attention to the people around you and look for opportunities to do chesed, acts of kindness.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Jewish Major General

In honor of Veteran’s Day, Jewish Treats; presents a mini-biography of Major General Julius Klein (1901-1984), who served his country in both World Wars.

Born in Chicago, Klein was the descendant of Prussian and Hungarian Jews. (His maternal grandfather was a Torah scholar known as the Maharam Shick.) Having spent part of his childhood in Germany, Klein served as a spy during the first World War, although little is recorded about his particular activities.

Klein’s life during the interwar years reads like an epic novel. He was a criminal reporter for the Herald Tribune, ran for both Congress and the Senate, arranged for the first German language radio programming in the U.S., worked in the movie industry and joined the Illinois National Guard.

By the beginning of World War II, Klein was a Lieutenant Colonel. He served in the South Pacific and was noted for his heroic actions during an explosion on New Caledonia. Klein’s major war contribution was the creation of the "Combat Public Relations" plan, which incorporated the elements of both propaganda and psychological warfare into overall military strategy.

Klein attained the rank of Major General after the war. In 1947, he was elected the National Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States. The next year he led JWVUS members in a Fifth Avenue parade in support of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Klein’s career after World War II drew much criticism from the Jewish community. His public relations clients included West German politicians and companies that wished to whitewash their war histories. However, he also worked with the West German government on matters of financial settlements and reparations for Holocaust victims.

For all the criticism Klein received, his commitment to the Jewish people remained strong. He was a constant supporter of the State of Israel and a good friend of David Ben-Gurion. Julius Klein passed away in April 1984.

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

Veterans' Views

If there is a veteran in your life, take the time to hear his/her stories.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lighting The Way To Peace

The very last act performed before bringing Shabbat into the home is the lighting of the Shabbat candles. While this mitzvah is considered one of the three primary mitzvot of a Jewish woman, Shabbat candles may also be lit by a man.

Shabbat candles have long been the symbol of Shabbat. Why are they so important, especially if the mitzvah of lighting candles is done before Shabbat actually begins? The candles are lit just before Shabbat because one may not kindle a flame on Shabbat, since kindling is considered "creative work." The actual candles, however, must burn well into Shabbat evening, since the light of the Shabbat candles is perceived as a critical part of creating oneg Shabbat -- an enjoyable Shabbat atmosphere.

One is supposed to enjoy Shabbat, and stumbling about in a dark house is hardly a way to experience enjoyment. Today, when every house is filled with electric light, it may be difficult to grasp the importance of candles. It should be recalled, however, that electric light came into use only at the beginning of the last century. The burning Shabbat candles, often placed on or near the dining room table, provide a sense of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, for Shabbat evening. Even today, in rooms filled with electric light, there is a special soothing feeling when watching the flickering flames of the candles cast playful shadows as they add a glow of sanctity to the Shabbat setting.

This Treat was originally published on August 22, 2008.

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

Candles Relaxing Light

Light candles this Shabbat, relax and bask in their glow.<

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hand on the Bible

The classic courtroom image portrays a witness standing in the dock, right hand raised and left hand resting gently on the Bible. The witness is then asked: "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
Holding a religiously significant object while taking an oath is actually discussed in the Talmud: "Raba said: A judge who adjures by ‘the Lord God of heaven’ [without handing a sacred object to the person taking the oath] is counted as having erred in the ruling of a Mishnah, and must repeat [the procedure correctly]...The oath [must be taken] standing; a disciple of the wise [may take it] sitting. The oath must be administered with a Torah scroll, a disciple of the wise may directly take it with tefillin (phylactaries)" (Talmud Shevuot 38b -39a).

The actual physical act associated with taking an oath goes all the way back to Abraham, as scripture reports: "And Abraham said to his servant [Eliezer]...‘Please place your hand under my thigh. And I will adjure you by the Lord, the God of the heaven and the God of the earth...’" (Genesis 24:2-3).

Even the requirement to raise one’s right hand has a Biblical source: "Whose mouth speaks falsehood, and their right hand is a right hand of lying" (Psalms 144:8).

It should be noted that the requirement of holding a Torah scroll while reciting an oath does not apply to secular court cases.

It is also important to note that swearing is no simple matter in Jewish law. According the halacha, the penalty for breaking an oath is lashes. For this reason, it is important to refrain from swearing whenever possible. In court or in other legal situations, one should rather "affirm" than swear, a subject to be dealt with in a future Jewish Treat).

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

No Vow

Even in your day-to-day life, be careful not to swear or vow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fully Present

In Hebrew, one word can say so much. For instance, hineni. This seemingly simple phrase is understood as a powerful statement of a person’s state of mind. Literally, it is translated: "Here I am." It is a statement first pronounced in the Torah by Abraham, and it underscores one of the essential differences between Adam and Abraham.

After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their relationship with God was based on fear. When God came to them in the Garden of Eden and called out, "Where are you?" Adam responded to God saying that they are hiding because they are ashamed that they are naked.

Similarly, while God communicated with Noah, Noah did not have a full relationship with God. God simply told him what to do, and he did it.

Abraham, on the other hand, had an active relationship with the Divine. When God informed him that Sodom was to be destroyed, Abraham challenged Him. So too, when God calls out to Abraham, Abraham answers, "Hineni" (Genesis 22:1). Let’s be honest, most of the time, when someone calls our name, the natural response is to say "yes," or to ask "what?" Abraham, however, hears God call his name and immediately presents himself.

The declaration of hineni appears several other times in the Torah, and each time it is an affirmation that the person is ready to act. In fact, it is interesting to note that each of the patriarchs declares hineni at least once, as do Joseph and Moses. (The only other person quoted as saying hineni is Esau, in the context of fulfilling the one mitzvah for which he is given great credit - honoring his father.)

Hineni is about attitude. One can live a Jewish life passively, or one can grasp it, effectively declaring hineni! Here I am!

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

Ready and Set

Be fully present and ready to act in all of your activities.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Barry Commoner for President

In 1980, Barry Commoner, a prominent biologist, environmentalist and author of Jewish parentage, ran as a candidate for the President of the United States. As the third party candidate for the Citizens Party (which he founded), Commoner garnered .25% of the vote. While a few hundred thousand votes may seem like nothing among the millions of potential votes, his true goal was to raise the nation’s consciousness to the need for societal reform to benefit the environment.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1917, Commoner held degrees from Columbia and Harvard. He served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II and began his professional academic career at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

By the late 1950s, Commoner was a known activist in the anti-nuclear movement and was part of the scientific team that demonstrated the pernicious effects of nuclear fallout by highlighting the presence of Strontium 90 in children’s teeth.

By 1970, Commoner’s focus had shifted to the larger environmental movement, about which he authored several highly regarded books. Unique among the environmentalists of his time, Commoner believed that a restructuring of the country’s capitalist economy was the key to solving ecological issues (as opposed to controlling “over population”). Commoner’s philosophy is commonly summarized with his “Four Laws of Ecology:” Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. And there is no such thing as a free lunch (nothing comes without paying an environmental price).

After Commoner’s run for president, he moved his Center for the Biology of Natural Systems from St. Louis to Queens College in New York. He remained its director until 2000, when, at the age of 82, he chose to focus on new projects.

On September 30, 2012, Barry Commoner passed away at age 95.

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

Get Out And Vote

Whatever your political viewpoint, participating in elections is a means of demonstrating gratitude to the country for the freedoms we enjoy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Picking Up Pigskin

The Jewish dietary laws prohibit Jews from eating any food products derived from animals that do not have both split hooves and chew their cud. It is a not uncommon assumption that Jews are forbidden, as well, to touch objects made from non-kosher animals. However, the fact of the matter is that if a Jewish football fan came upon an actual pigskin football (originally the game was played with an inflated pig bladder) that Jew would have no issue picking it up and taking a toss. Here’s why:

In Leviticus 11, after stating the qualifications of kosher animals and listing a number of animals who have only one such qualification, it is stated: "and their carcasses you shall not touch, they are unclean to you" (Leviticus 11:8).

The sages questioned the meaning of Leviticus 11:8, noting: "Seeing that in the case of a serious uncleanness [a human body], the priests are cautioned while the Israelites are not cautioned how much less [are they likely to be cautioned] in the case of a light uncleanness!" (Rosh Hashana 16b).

While priests are prohibited from touching dead bodies with the exception of the bodies of immediate family members, there is no such prohibition for other Jews. This fact led the sages to their question: If it is not a problem for most Israelites to touch a dead human body, why is it forbidden for a Jew to touch a dead animal body?

A priest would be prohibited from coming in contact with a dead body because his resultant state of impurity would prevent him from entering the holy space to perform the Temple service. Since the rest of the Jewish population generally only entered the Temple on the festival days, the sages deduced that on the days of the festival one would cleanse himself (in the mikveh) and avoid touching the carcass of an unclean animal.

Being that the prohibition was related to celebrating the festivals in the Temple, one need not have any hesitation today about purchasing a non-food item made from the leather of a non-kosher animal.

Written in honor of American Football Day, November 5th.

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

Snack It

If you attend a game, bring along kosher snacks.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Jewish League of Woman Suffrage

In the early twentieth century, one of the critical political battles was the fight for women’s right to vote. Among the suffragist organizations of Great Britain, there arose a unique organization known as The Jewish League for Woman Suffrage (JLWS).
Founded on November 3, 1912, by a group of women already active within the Jewish community, the JLWS had two primary goals: earning the right to vote nationally and earning the right to vote in their own synagogues.

At the time of the British suffragist movement, it was natural for Jewish women to have a separate organization, as there were still many class and cultural divisions within British society.

One reason that the JLWS was accepted among the British suffragists was due to the women at its helm: Lily Montagu, Edith Zangwill (and her husband, Israel Zangwill), Inez Bensusan, Hennrietta Franklin, etc. In addition to their already existing community involvement, these women were all respected members of upper-middle-class society. (Working class women were too afraid of how such activism might effect them.)

The JLWS secured its place in Jewish history through its campaign to gain women greater rights in the synagogue. From 1913 until the beginning of World War I, a more militant group within the JLWS became known for disrupting Shabbat services in order to draw attention to their cause. Although the United Synagogue (the umbrella organization for British synagogues) did not grant women synagogue voting privileges, they did have success winning voting rights in several individual synagogues.

Following the First World War, the Representation of the People Act 1918 granted women over 30 the right to vote. Without this distinctive need, the JLWS became obsolete. The struggle for women’s rights in synagogue administration did not, however, become obsolete, but was taken up by the Union of Jewish Women.

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

Day of Rest

Tonight it Shabbat. Enjoy your day of rest with friends and family.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lord George Gordon

    As few members of the British aristocracy have converted to Judaism, the conversion of Lord George Gordon* (1751 - 1793) was a matter of note in British society.
    Lord George's life both before and after his conversion was a roller coaster of events. At 12, he sailed as a midshipman (officer-in-training) to Jamaica. After his service in the Carribean and earning the rank of Lieutenant, he spent time in Virginia, where he developed a great sympathy for the colonists' desire for self-rule.
    In 1774, Lord George attained a seat in the House of Commons. In 1779, he organized and presided over the Protestant Assembly, an organization opposed to a bill that would relax the restriction on Catholic rights that was designed, in his opinion, to woo the Catholic nations to support England's war against the Colonies. Unfortunately, when a rally to petition the repeal of the bill turned violent (Gordon Riots), Lord George was blamed and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Ultimately, he was acquitted.
    Once free, Lord George retired from public life. When he began his friendship with the local Jewish community, his requests to convert to Judaism were rejected by London's Chief Rabbi (perhaps to protect the local community from an unpopular public figure).
    In 1787, Lord George was charged and convicted of defamation (in support of a friend, he had taken a newspaper ad denouncing Marie Antoinette). He fled the court and took up residence in the Jewish community in Birmingham, where he formally converted. He spent six months living as Israel ben Abraham before being arrested and then the final six years of his life in the infamous Newgate prison. His brother, the Duke, arranged a private quarter, as well as kosher food. As a wealthy prisoner, he was also allowed visitors and even managed to have a minyan in his cell each Shabbat. He frequently visited the other prisoners and distributed charity among them.
    At the end of his 5 year sentence, Lord George was returned to prison when he refused to allow non-Jews (even his brothers) to guarantee his future good behavior (and the court refused to recognize his two Jewish guarantors). On November 1, 1793, Lord George perished from a prison typhoid outbreak.
(Not to be confused with the poet Lord George Gordon Byron.)
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Subtle Support

Be supportive of converts in your community.