Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years Resolutions

Today, Jewish Treats looks at the Jewish nature of some of the most common New Year's Resolutions:

1. Lose Weight/Start Exercising/Eat Healthy Food: The mitzvah of saving a life (pikuach nefesh) is so great that it precedes most other mitzvot. This means one's own life as well. Taking care of one's personal health, whether that means eating a healthier diet, exercising or even making certain to go for an annual check-up, is part of the mitzvah that the sages connect to the commandment of Deuteronomy 4:15 - "And you shall watch yourselves very well."

2. Environmental Concern:
Judaism has always placed great emphasis on taking care of the world, because the world was created by God. An important component of the Jewish view of the universe is that God did not need to create humankind, that our very existence is a gift that comes with a responsibility. The sages inform us that "When the Holy One, blessed be God, created the first human...God said to Adam, 'See my works how good and praiseworthy they are? And all that I have created I made for you. [But] be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world - for if you do spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it'" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).

3. Refrain from Gossip
People do the most damage to each other with their mouths. Damage done with our hands, such as injuries, thefts, etc, can usually be repaired. Words, however, are like feathers in the wind--they fly too fast to catch and can never be retrieved. Jewish law regards lashon harah, wicked speech such as gossip and slander, as one of the worst of the transgressions that one may commit against fellow humans.

4. Give Charity
Ideally, people should have no qualms about supporting those in need. The Torah, however, recognized that charity is not necessarily a natural instinct and, therefore, mandates the giving of tzedakah (charity) of 10% of a person's income. Ma'aser, which means a tenth (often translated as "tithe"), is the specific name given for the allocation of one's tzedakah. In ancient times, each Jew was required to give one tenth of the produce of the fields to the Levite, and an additional tenth to the poor or to support Jerusalem. Today, ma'aser is generally given from both one's regular income and from any additional monies that come to a person, such as bank interest, an inheritance or a monetary gift. Because of the intricacies of the laws and differences in situations, it is recommended that one seek the help of a qualified rabbi to properly allocate one's ma'aser.

For more Jewish thoughts on popular New Year's Resolutions, click here.
Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved


This year, find a way to make Judaism a more active part of your life.

Friday, December 28, 2012

On One Foot

Recently, Jewish Treats was asked to explain the Jewish faith in one tweet. For those unfamiliar with the Twitter format, that means in 140 characters or less. It seems, at first glance, a daunting task. 

Oddly enough, the perfect answer for such a request can be found in the Talmud:

" happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon [Shammai] repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. [Shammai thought that he was making light of Judaism.] When [the heathen] went before Hillel, [Hillel] said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it'" (Shabbat 31a).

Is it possible that the answer to that profound question is that simple? Yes, and no. Jewish law is divided into two main categories, laws that effect one's relationship with other people and laws that affect one's relationship with God. And while both are equally important, Jewish tradition teaches that God can forgive a human being for trespasses against Himself, but not for sins of one person to another. (God destroyed the generation of the flood because they treated each other badly, but He only confused the language of and scattered the generation of the Tower of Babel, who sought to overthrow Him.)

All of Torah is meant to teach a person how to be a "mentsch," a good and decent person. The golden rule of the Torah "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), is phrased differently by Hillel, but is, nevertheless, the heart of Torah. Only by learning Torah, can one learn how to master the golden rule. 

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Go And Learn

When a topic about Judaism interests you, find out more about it. You can always ask Jewish Treats!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Tribe of Simeon

As the forefathers of the 12 tribes, the lives and personalities of each of the sons of Jacob impacted upon the history and behavior of the tribe that was to descend from them.

The descendants of Simeon shared their forefather's zealous spirit...a character trait that did not always lead them down the right path. The Torah describes one incident, in particular, that highlights this aspect of Simeon's nature:

While encamped in Shittim, some of the Israelite men were seduced by the women of Moab, who came out specifically to lure them into sin and weaken their camp. Not only did these women act as harlots, but they also enticed the wayward Israelites to make sacrifices to their pagan god, Ba'alpeor. Before commanding Moses to publicly hang the leaders of the sinning Israelites, God struck the people with a plague. When Moses instructed the tribal leaders to "slay every one of your men who are worshiping Ba'alpeor," Zimri the son of Salu, a prince in the tribe of Simeon, refused to slay his own men. Instead he took Cozbi, a Midianite princess, and committed public harlotry with her in front of Moses. Irate at Zimri's flagrant disregard for authority, Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, slew them both (Numbers 25:1-15).

Zimri had good reason to not want to punish those that were sinning...after all, most of the people were his brethren from the tribe of Simeon. In the census taken in Numbers 1, the tribe of Simeon has a population of 59,300. In the census taken in Numbers 26, however, the population of Simeon decreased to 22,200, demonstrating that the tribe of Simeon suffered greater losses than any other, during the plague in chapter 25.

When Jacob blessed his children, he had forewarned that Simeon (and Levi) would be dispersed among Israel (Genesis 49:7), as indeed they were. In Joshua 19, when the newly conquered land of Canaan was divided, Simeon was not given his own portion, but rather resided together with Judah in Judah's tribal portion.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Choose Wisely

When you choose to act zealously, make certain that you choose the right things for which to be zealous.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Where Are You Shopping?

If you spent the day frantically shopping at Saks, Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus* (to name a few), you've witnessed the amazing legacy of the 19th century influx of German Jews to America. It was not uncommon for young German Jewish immigrants to feed their families by peddling and slowly building up resources to open a store. Although this was not a uniquely Jewish story, the inordinate success of some Jewish merchants profoundly shaped American retail history.

Perhaps the greatest story of German Jewish merchandising success can be found in the history of Federated Department Stores, Inc. (Now Macy's, Inc.). It began in three parts:

1. In 1850, Simon Lazarus arrived in Columbus, Ohio, from Wurttenberg, Germany. Although he was a scholar by nature, he opened F & R Lazarus & Co. with the assistance of his wife and sons.

2. Prussian-born William Filene came to the Boston area around 1848. In 1881, he opened Filene’s Sons and Co, which his two sons took over in 1890 and built into a merchandising empire.

3. Abraham Abraham, the son of a Bavarian immigrant, was raised in New York. In 1865, he created Abraham and Wechsler with Joseph Wechsler, who was bought out by the Strauses in 1893. The store was renamed Abraham and Straus, which was often called A & S. (The Strauses, who were from Germany, originally settled in Georgia but moved to New York after the Civil War. They started a crockery and china store in the basement of R.H. Macy's and became partners in the store in 1888. They became the owners of Macy's & Co in 1895 and established the Herald Square store in 1902.)

Lazarus', Filene's, and A & S joined together in 1929 to create Federated Department Stores, Inc. One year later, Bloomingdale's joined them. In time, Federated became the umbrella corporation for an enormous group of stores. In 1994, Federated Department Stores, Inc. and Macy's merged. Federated began functioning under the name of Macy's, Inc. shortly thereafter.

 *These stores, while not necessarily mentioned in the Treat, all have Jewish roots.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Business Advice

If you have a successful business, offer to mentor a person just undertaking to start a business of their own.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Flying Rabbi

On October 24, 2011, a memorial to the Jewish chaplains of the United States Armed Services was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery. The 14 Jewish chaplains whose names were inscribed on the plaque all perished while serving their country. 

Today, Jewish Treats presents a short bio of Rabbi Louis Werfel (1916-1943). Rabbi Werfel attended Yeshiva College and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), both schools of Yeshiva University. After receiving his ordination from RIETS, Rabbi Werfel and his wife Adina, moved to Mount Kisco, NY, where he accepted a post at the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation. The next year, however, Rabbi Werfel was assigned to a rabbinic position at Knesseth Israel Synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Not long after they moved, the United States entered the Second World War and within a few months, Rabbi Werfel decided that it was his duty as a rabbi and as an American to enlist as a chaplain. In August 1943, after nearly a year of training and work on U.S. bases, Rabbi Werfel was deployed on his first over-seas assignment - North Africa.

As a result of the many military bases in North Africa, Rabbi Werfel often found himself flying from one base to the next in order to serve his congregation of soldiers. In fact, he flew so often, that the popular chaplain was nicknamed "The Flying Rabbi." 

On the second night of Chanukah, after Rabbi Werfel conducted a Chanukah service for troops stationed in Casablanca, the plane that transported Rabbi Werfel crashed in the Algerian Mountains. The next day, December 25, 1943, his young wife was informed of his passing. He was only 27 years old. He was deeply mourned by his family, his military colleagues and throughout the extended American Orthodox community. 

Rabbi Werfel gave his heart, his soul and his life in service to the soldiers of the U.S. Military. His story, like the story of each of the 14 men engraved on the Jewish Chaplain's Memorial, is one which we should take to heart and remember.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Pay Honor

If you are visiting the Washington, D.C. area, stop by the Jewish Chaplains Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nittel Nacht

Jews of the 21st century may comment, or even grumble, about the pervasiveness of Christmas in our society, but, let's be honest, in this day and age, the effects of the holiday season are rather benign. Of course, we must still deal with frequent questions from our children about festive trees and the jolly guy in the red suit. But, nowadays, people do their own thing.

It might surprise some to know that Christmas Eve actually has a name in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition: Nittel Nacht. In many Ashkenazi communities, particularly in Chassidic communities, it is customary NOT to learn any Torah on Nittel Nacht from sundown until midnight. After midnight, however, one is encouraged to study.

Nittel (which may mean either hanged/crucified or birth) Nacht (night) is a custom whose origins are, unfortunately, lost. Many believe that the custom of not studying Torah on December 24th arose as a pragmatic act of protection. On a night of religious fervor among their Christian neighbors, and during days when one needed no real excuse to start a murderous pogrom, it was safest, perhaps, for Jews to stay inside their darkened homes rather than venture out to study collectively in a hall/synagogue. Other opinions believe it may be a custom that was established to minimize any feeling of holiness on that night. Still others opine that it is an act of mourning, commemorating the suffering of the Jewish people during various periods of the "Christian Age."

In Jewish life, customs have a strength of their own. Whatever the reason for Nittel Nacht, it is a custom that is still followed in various Ashkenazi communities around the world.

This Treat was originally posted on December 24, 2009. 

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Snug For The Night

Curl up with a good Jewish book. (If you don't have one,Jewish Treats can always recommend our 99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities eBook, available for almost all ereaders!)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Tenth of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Av] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4).

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in (587 B.C.E.), siege was also the beginning of the end.

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah.

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon.

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance).

This year, the Tenth of Tevet is Sunday, December 23, 2012.

This Treat was last posted on January 5, 2012.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Early Morning

As on all fast days except Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, one may wake up before sunrise to eat breakfast before the fast.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

When Will The End Come

"I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nevertheless, I wait each day for his coming." - Prosaic formula of the 13 Principles of Faith set down by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam).

There have been many who have claimed to have either deciphered or had a mystic revelation of the exact date of the end of the world (as we know it) and the coming of the final redemption. There have also been many who have declared themselves to be the Messiah. Given the present state of the world, both physically and spiritually, one can say without much doubt that they were wrong.

As strong as the Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah may be, trying to calculate the exact date of the final redemption is not high on the list of things to do of most Jewish scholars. Perhaps that is because Jewish law focuses on the here and now (which is the same reason for the unexpectedly vague discussions of the afterlife).

The Talmud states that "Seven things are hidden from humankind....[one of them being] when the Davidic dynasty [the Messiah] will return; and when the wicked kingdom will come to an end" (Pesachim 54b).

Nevertheless, there is some information about the coming of the Messiah. For instance, "Rabbi Kattina said: The world is to last six thousand years, and one thousand it will be desolate (Rosh Hashana 31a).

Now, before one sits down to try to calculate the 6,000 and 1,000 years, it is important to consider the following statement by Rav: "All the predestined dates [for redemption] have passed, and the matter [now] depends only on repentance and good deeds" (Sanhedrin 97b).

As noted earlier, Judaism is fundamentally about the here and now, and the final redemption has always depended on each one of us doing our part to improve who we are.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Here and Now

Focus on what you can do to make the world a better place here and now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Serach's Seranade

When perusing the list of the generations of Jacob found in Genesis 46, one gets a strange sense that there was a powerful genetic predisposition in Jacob's family for male children. Jacob had thirteen children - twelve sons and one daughter. Among the 67 descendants traveling to Egypt with Jacob, there are listed 53 grandsons and one granddaughter: "The sons of Asher: Yimnah and Yishvah and Yishvi and Vriah and Serach their sister" (Genesis 46:17).

Most of the great Biblical commentators agree that there were other granddaughters. What distinguished Serach that she alone was listed along with all the sons?

Turning to the oral tradition, transcribed in the Midrash, one finds that Serach was quite a remarkable young lady. She is best known for her role in informing Jacob that Joseph was still alive. According to the Midrash, Serach and her grandfather had a very close relationship, and Jacob was particularly fond of listening to her musical talents. When the brothers returned from Egypt, they were uncertain how to tell their elderly father the remarkable news that his favorite son was still alive. It might be too much for old Jacob to handle. They recruited Serach, who took hold of her harp and melodiously announced that Joseph was still alive (Midrash Hagadol, Vayigash 45:26).

Serach's name is actually listed twice in the Torah. Not only is she listed among the Israelites who went down to Egypt with Jacob, but she is also listed in Numbers 26 among those who came out of Egypt. (Another list with few women!) According to tradition, Serach's uniquely long life allowed her to assist Moses in locating Joseph's remains in order to transport his coffin to the Land of Israel (Sotah 13a).

Serach, who is said to have been extremely wise and pious, was rewarded with an exceptionally long life and, in fact, is considered to be one of the "nine [who] entered the Garden of Eden while yet alive" (Derech Eretz Zuta 1).

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Getting The Message

In this era of texting and tweeting, remember that how a message is given is often as important as the message itself.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's Not Really Instant

Ten years ago, the favorite catch phrase of media pundits was the expression "disposable society." Critics of  Western society complained, and still do complain, of there being a generational demand for "instant gratification." This need has not diminished as people have filled their lives with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos to get what they want more quickly.

One of the subtle concepts that is repeated over and over in Jewish life, however, is that nothing is really instant. While the blessings recited over food items recognize God's "hand" in the creation of each item of food, the sage Ben Zoma noted: 

"What labors Adam had to carry out before he obtained bread to eat! He ploughed, he sowed, he reaped, he bound [the sheaves], he threshed and winnowed and selected the ears, he ground [them], and sifted [the flour], he kneaded and baked, and then at last he ate; whereas I get up, and find all these things done for me. And how many labors Adam had to carry out before he obtained a garment to wear! He had to shear, wash [the wool], comb it, spin it and weave it, and then at last he obtained a garment to wear; whereas I get up and find all these things done for me. All kinds of craftsmen come early to the door of my house, and I rise in the morning and find all these before me" (Berachot 58a).

While the "instant gratification" we experience today in how we prepare food or buy clothing may make our lives easier, it is a fundamental principle of Jewish life to always take a moment to consider those who made the "gratification" possible. 

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Try, today, to stop and appreciate the details involved in creating at least three items with which you commonly work.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Vanishing Conquerors

Politics do not change much from millennium to millennium. There have always been superpowers, great and powerful nations, vying for control of the world. In the seventh century B.C.E., the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah found themselves in the unfortunate position of being smack in the middle of two expanding empires. For centuries the Egyptians to their south had been a power to be reckoned with--sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but never fully out of the picture. Now, however, the Assyrians had dominion to the north. Israel and Judah maintained their sovereignty with a delicate balance of diplomacy, mostly in the form of sending large tributes.

King Sennacherib of Assyria conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel, and thus were "lost" the ten tribes of the north. His successor, Shalmanezer, looked greedily toward Judah, the smaller southern kingdom that was all that stood between him and Egypt. Judah, however, was ruled by a righteous and wise king, Hezekiah. Not only did Hezekiah fortify Jerusalem and create mighty storehouses of supplies, but he dedicated himself to turning his nation back to the proper worship of God. Because of this, The Kingdom of Judah had God on its side. 

While the Assyrians met with limited success in their march on Judah, their siege on Jerusalem ended with an Assyrian defeat, and no blood was shed on either side. It was not, shall we say, anything like a typical military victory. The army of Sennacherib gathered outside the walls of Jerusalem and called out to the Israelite inhabitants: "Surrender! Come with us and live! Don't listen to Hezekiah when he tells you that God will protect you. No one else's gods protected them from the mighty Assyrians!" But Hezekiah, at the prodding of the prophet Isaiah, held fast, and so did his subjects. That night, as the Jews slept fitfully, worried about what battles the morning would bring, death struck the Assyrian camp. When the new day dawned, the Assyrian army found 185,000 of their soldiers mysteriously lifeless. The citizens of Jerusalem awoke to find the battlefields empty. The Assyrians had fled back to Nineveh.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For Next Year

The Chanukah menorah and its supplies (oil, candles, etc.) will all last from year to year, so pack them neatly together for use next year. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Book(s) of Maccabees

Chanukah is neither directly ordained in the Torah (like Rosh Hashana, Passover, etc.) nor mentioned in any other biblical text (as Purim is in the Book of Esther). The Books of Maccabees are not included in the Biblical canon, because these events occurred after the sages had declared the Tanach (complete Hebrew bible) closed to further additions (around 250 B.C.E.). Writings, such as the Books of Maccabees, which have historical import but are not included in the Tanach, are often referred to as Sfarim Chitzonim (external books) or by the Greek term Apocrypha (hidden books).

While Maccabees I was originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek translation survives (although it has been re-translated from Greek into Hebrew). Maccabees I is a historical work that describes Antiochus Epiphanes’ assumption of the Selucid throne (175 B.C.E.), the actions of the Jewish Hellenizers, and in detail, the revolt of the Maccabees. The book concludes with the death of Simon the Hasmonean (Maccabee) and the appointment of his eldest son John Hyrcanus, as ruler (135 B.C.E.).

Maccabees II was written in Greek, and, in the style of Greek historians, is full of drama and rhetoric. Focusing mainly on the deeds of Judah Maccabee, the leader of the rebellion after the death of Mattitiyahu, Maccabees II also includes details of the actions of the Hellenizers (power-plays and bribery were a serious problem in the priesthood at the time) and acts of sacrifice and martyrdom by those dedicated to keeping the Jewish faith.

While Maccabees III and Maccabees IV are sometimes grouped together with the first and second books mentioned above, neither of them are accounts of the events of Chanukah, nor are they accorded the same historical veracity as Maccabees I and II.

This Treat was originally posted on December 28, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Final Day

The Festival of Chanukah is over tonight at sunset. Add a festive activity to your day to remind yourself that it is still a holiday.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Challenge of Fitting In

The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph the son of Jacob from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah. 

The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him Tzaphenath Pa'nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him. 

Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself, he declared: “. . .for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).

Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession. 

Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks--their dress, their language, their names--they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle. 

Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?
This Treat was last posted on December 23, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hey Handsome

Religion is about spirituality, morals and becoming a better person. One might, therefore, assume that physical beauty is beyond the Torah’s spectrum of interest. But the Torah makes a point of stating that Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel were all beautiful. Physical female beauty, of course, could be seen as having importance within the scriptural narrative (arrangement of marriages, interactions with royalty, etc.). But, the Torah also goes out of its way to state that Joseph, Rachel’s first-born, was handsome.

Joseph’s looks were both a help and a hindrance. One of the reasons his father favored him was because of his resemblance to Rachel his mother, and his good looks certainly helped him find favor both with Potiphar and Pharaoh. But it also contributed to his brothers’ enmity and resulted in Potiphar’s wife’s attraction to him.

The sages praise Joseph by noting that he overcame the seductive overtures of Potiphar’s wife despite his looks and his vanity (see Talmud Yoma 35b). Indeed, the Torah’s description of him as a “youth” is meant to imply that Joseph was vain, a weakness fortunately balanced by his inner righteousness.

Strength of character was not the case with another Biblical figure noted for his looks, “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom” (II Samuel14:25). Perhaps his physical beauty led Absalom to believe himself to be above everyone else, and led him to rise in rebellion against his father, King David.

According to the Talmud (Brachot 58b), when one sees a person of exceptional beauty one should recite a blessing that concludes: “...Who has this [beauty] in His world.” When one is dazzled by the looks of another, or by one's own appearance, this blessing is serves as a reminder that all beauty is a gift from God.

This Treat was first posted on December 10, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Early To Light

Tonight is the seventh night of Chanukah. Make certain to light your Chanukah candles before Shabbat.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chanukah and Divine Order

Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Tevet. (Tomorrow, 1 Tevet, is Rosh Chodesh.) This is significant, because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.

The very first commandment that the Jewish people received as a nation was, "This month shall be yours as the first of months" (Exodus 12:1-2), instructing the Jews to sanctify the beginning of each new month. The Syrian-Greeks felt threatened by the Jewish concept of Divinely ordained time, since the sanctification of the month was based on the sighting of the new moon, rather than by a humanly calculated number of days.

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world, negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.

That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat was previously posted on December 26, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spin The Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!

The Dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the Dreidel. When it falls, depending on which Hebrew letter is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday? 

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 BCE), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis
Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the wordPoh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt. 

This Treat was originally posted on December 3, 2010

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holy Time

Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh (the new month) and Erev Shabbat (the eve of the Sabbath). Find a way to make the day special, perhaps a nice dessert, a new piece of clothing or a bouquet of flowers one would not normally buy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chanukah Yum

While Jewish holidays are known for their food (except Yom Kippur, of course), most of these foods are not known for being particularly healthy. Chanukah is no exception. Forget matzah or apples, those are healthy in comparison--pull out your deep fryer, because Chanukah is a celebration of oil.

Soufganiyot (that’s Hebrew for doughnut): Did you know that Homer Simpson’s favorite treat is a traditional Chanukah delight in Israel? Deep fried dough, most often filled with a pinch of jelly, is how Israelis celebrate the tiny cruse of oil found by the Maccabees. This tradition probably developed from the custom among some Sephardi Jews to celebrate Chanukah with bimuelos, which are best defined as a type of fritter. 

According to, the Greek Sephardi community eat loukoumades, a popular, deep-fried Greek pastry comparable to a doughnut, coated with honey and cinnamon. “Romaniotes, the Jewish community in Byzantine Greece, called this pastry ‘Zvingous/Zvingoi.’... Today both Greek Jewish communities, Romaniotes and Sephardi--who immigrated to Greece five centuries ago--make these Chanukah treats.”

Latkes: (That’s Yiddish for pancake, in Hebrew they are called levivot):Read any children’s Chanukah book today and you’ll find descriptions of pancakes made of grated potato sizzling away in oil. But, potatoes were only introduced into European society in the 1500s (they originated in South America). 

Prior to the introduction of the potato to the latke, Ashkenazi Jews celebrated Chanukah with cheese latkes. Same basic idea, yummy food fried into pancakes. Dairy, however, has its own special connection to Chanukah. Dairy foods were eaten as reminder of Judith(Yehudit), who, according to tradition, was a beautiful widow who beheaded an enemy general by plying him with cheese and wine until he fell asleep (read the complete story here).

Happy Chanukah. Now get out the griddle and enjoy!

This Treat was published on December 6, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Chanukah Heroine

Have you ever heard of Yehudit (Judith), the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, who saved her city, Bethulia, from destruction at the hands of the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes?

As the Jews in the town neared starvation due to the enemy siege, Yehudit told the elders that she had a plan to deliver the enemy into their hands, but they must not ask her about it. They must simply have faith in her. Knowing her reputation for wisdom and piety, they agreed.

Accompanied by one maidservant, Yehudit managed to gain an audience with Holofernes and told him that, for the sake of those suffering from the siege, she wanted the city to fall. She proposed to report to him, daily, on the town’s supplies and let him know when was best to strike.

After several days, Yehudit felt that she and her maidservant had gained the trust of the enemy. They came and went as they pleased. 

When she told Holofernes that the city had no food left and that it would be good time to strike, he invited her to come alone to his tent to celebrate. She agreed, insisting that he partake of her ‘renowned’ goat-cheese. As he ate the salty cheese, Yehudit quenched his thirst with the heavy wine that she had brought with her. When Holofernes finally fell into a stupor from too much food and drink, Yehudit cut off his head with his own sword. The two women wrapped the head in a cloth and returned to Bethulia.

Yehudit instructed the Jewish elders to attack the Syrian-Greeks immediately. 

The Syrian-Greeks soldiers awoke to find the Judeans attacking and their leader mysteriously dead. The Syrian-Greek army fled in confusion and panic.

*This Treat was originally published on December 27, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Last Minute Gift

EBooks make a great last minute gift, and Jewish Treats' 99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities eBook is inexpensive, informative and only a few clicks away.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pure Olive Oil

While a large number of Jews today light Chanukah candles, the more traditional custom is to light the Chanukah menorah with olive oil. This is done in order to most accurately recreate the original miracle.
When God instructed Moses on the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (the vessels of which were eventually placed in the Temple in Jerusalem), he specifically stated: “And you will command the children of Israel, to bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually” (Exodus 27:20).

Pure olive oil, known in Hebrew as sheman zayit zach,* is the first drop of oil when the olive is first squeezed or pressed. The Mishna states that the there is nothing better that the first oil of the first crop, and the sages of the Talmud described the process of how this oil was produced:

“The first crop is when the fully ripe olives are picked  from the top of the tree; they are brought into the olive-press, are ground in a mill and put into baskets. The oil which oozes out is the first kind [of oil]. They are then pressed with the beam, and the oil which oozes out is the second kind” (Menachot 86a).

Olive oil, which burns slowly, cleanly and without an unpleasant odor, has many uses both in daily life and in Jewish rituals. Indeed, oil is one of the items that was offered with the sacrifices in the Temple. However, only the menorah required the purest shemen zayit zach from the first pressing.

“If the candlestick, which does not need [the oil] for eating, requires pure olive oil, how much more do meal-offerings, which [need the oil] for eating, require pure olive oil! But the text states, pure olive oil beaten for the light, but not ‘pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings’” (Menachot 56b).

*It is interesting to note that the words shemen zayit zach, when written in Hebrew, are composed of eight letters, one of the many interesting allusions to Chanukah that are hidden in the Torah  (as found on

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Clean and Bright

Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah. Take a moment to clean off any excess residue or wax to make your mitzvah beautiful.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beauty and the Greeks

What does Noah’s son Yephet have to do with the story of Chanukah and the mitzvah of circumcision?

When the Syrian-Greeks sought to force Hellenization on the Judeans, one of the first mitzvot they outlawed was brit milah, circumcision. In fact, performing a brit milah on one’s child became a capital crime. The Syrian-Greeks found circumcision particularly offensive because of their own culture’s devotion to the beauty and perfection of the human body. The ancient Greeks are renowned for their sculptures and naked athletics. From the perspective of Hellenistic culture, the male body represented perfection. It was therefore unconscionable that the Jews should alter it, or maim it, especially by Divine decree.

The Greeks are known in the Bible as “Y’vanim,” the people of Yavan. They are, according to the sages, the direct descendants of Yavan, the son of Yephet, the son of Noah.

Noah had three sons: Yephet, Ham and Shem. Very little is written about Yephet other than the fact that, following Shem’s lead, Yephet covered his father’s nakedness, which had been exposed by Ham. For this noble act, Yephet is praised. (See Genesis 5).

There is, however, much one can learn about a Biblical personality through his/her name. The name Yephet derives from the Hebrew root (y-ph-h), which is the base of the word Yafeh, beautiful. Thus, beauty, and the admiration of beauty, are part of Yephet’s nature. Consequently, Noah blessed him: “May God grant beauty to Yephet, and may it dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).

Yephet is associated with beauty and adoration of the human body, the two cultural traits that came to define Yavan-Greece. Perhaps, then, it is not so surprising that they abhorred the dedication of the Jews to the mitzvah of brit milah.

This Treat was published on December 2, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rock of Ages

“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower....” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as translated, loosely from the original Hebrew, by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s. And while tzur may mean rock, the rest of the verse actually means: 

Refuge, Rock of my salvation/ to You is a delight to give praise
Restore my House of prayer/so that there I may offer You thanksgiving
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe/
Then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar's dedication.

Maoz Tzur is one of the best known Hebrew piyyutim (religious songs/poems). Most people, however, are only familiar with this first verse (there are 5 more verses--click here to read the entire song). Thought to have been written in the 13th century, it has become a near universal custom to sing Maoz Tzur after lighting the Chanukah candles. 

Maoz Tzur is a song of redemption. Its paragraphs refer to the many different exiles the Jews have endured, but also reflect the fact that God is always present in Jewish history as our Savior. The exiles are treated in chronological order: 

Verse 2 - “...when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule”
Verse 3 - “...Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved”
Verse 4 - “The Agagite, son of Hammedatha (Haman)...”
Verse 5 - “Then the Greeks gathered against me...”
Verse 6 - “...Thrust the enemy into the darkness...(word admon refers to Roman exile)”

The author of Maoz Tzur, a man known only as Mordechai (the letters of his name serve as an acrostic of the first letters of the first five stanzas), focused on each exile in order to acknowledge the redemption that God has brought the Jewish people in the past and to pray for a speedy redemption in our own day. 

*Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd. 

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Human Rights and Brit Milah

Today, December 10th, is "Human Rights Day." Chanukah is the holiday when Jews fought for our rights. Today, the Jewish right to circumcision is once again being challenged. Stand up and let your voice be heard!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the 25th of Kislev

It is not uncommon to find that significant events in Jewish history occurred in different years but on the same day on the Jewish calendar. For instance, Tisha B'Av (9th of Av), the day on which we mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temple, occurred on the same calendar day on which the Israelites in the wilderness listened to the spies and cried out in fear that God was leading them to their deaths. This resulted in 38 additional years of wandering in the wilderness before the next generation was allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Today is the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the first day of Chanukah. Chanukah is celebrated on the anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple by Judah Maccabee and his loyal followers. According to Jewish tradition, however, it is not a coincidence that this event occurred on the 25th of Kislev.

According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina, the construction of the Mishkan (temporary Tabernacle that was used before the permanent Temple was erected) was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Once the Mishkan was completed, however, Moses waited until the 1st of Nissan for its official dedication. The postponement, according to the Midrash, was because "God wanted to celebrate the rejoicing of the Tabernacle in the month in which Isaac was born (Nissan)...Kislev thus forfeited [the honor] though the work had been completed [during that month]. God therefore said: 'I will make restitution.' How did God repay Kislev? With the Chanukah (inauguration) of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees)" (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 184).

Because the Chanukat Ha'Mishkan, the dedication of the Tabernacle, did not occur on the day it was completed, the great honor of the miracle of Chanukah was reserved for the 25th of Kislev.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Chanukah Blessings

The Jewish people have said this prayer daily for thousands of years.On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/light is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.

Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, ah'sher kidishanu b'mitz'vo'tav v'tzee'vanu l'hahd'leek nayr shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'asah neesim la'avotaynu, bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.

The third blessing is recited on the first night only.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

The Sanctity of Home

Bring a hint of the light of the ancient Temple into your own home by celebrating Chanukah and publicizing the miracle (through lighting the menorah).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Light One Candle

"Light one candle for the Maccabee children, with thanks that their light didn't die..."

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary wrote these words in a song that cried out for the pain of his ancestors. He could not have drawn upon a more beautiful or pride-enhancing symbol.

Tomorrow night, the first night of Chanukah, Jews around the world will light one candle on their menorahs to commemorate the Maccabee victory over the Syrian-Greek Hellenists and the miracle that occurred with the rededication of the Temple (one day's worth of oil lasted eight days). And while publicizing the miracle through the light of the Menorah is the definitive mitzvah of Chanukah, lighting candles has far greater significance in Jewish life than just this holiday.

Tonight, as on every Friday night, Jewish homes worldwide will be illuminated with the beautiful light of the Shabbat candles. The Hellenists tried to prevent the Jews from sanctifying Shabbat. But, as Hellenization (read assimilation) became an increasingly greater threat, some of the Jews (Maccabees) fought back.

On Chanukah we place the menorah in a window facing the street, to announce to the world that not only have we survived as a nation (a miracle of history, in and of itself), but that our beliefs and our values have survived as well.

*This Treat was originally published on December 11, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hannah and Her Sons

The story of Hannah and her seven sons is the story of the Jewish resistance to Antiochus' attempts to Hellenize the Jewish people around 166 B.C.E.

When Antiochus demanded that Hannah's sons bow down to an idol before him, Hannah's eldest son stepped forward and said: "What do you wish from us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers."

The king had him tortured to death and demanded the same of the second son. He, too, and each of his brothers after him, refused and was summarily executed. Finally only Hannah and her youngest son remained.

Antiochus begged the child not to be a martyr. He beseeched Hannah to convince her son to bow to the idol.

Hannah, however, said to her son, "I carried you for nine months, nourished you for two years, and have provided you with everything until now. Look upon the heaven and the earth--God is the Creator of it all. Do not fear this tormentor, but be worthy of being with your brothers."

When the young boy refused to yield, he too was put to death. As her child lay dying, Hannah asked him that, when he arrived in heaven, he say to Abraham that he, Abraham, had been willing to sacrifice one son to prove his loyalty to God, while she had sacrificed seven, for Abraham it had been a test, for her it was reality. Pleading with God that she should be considered worthy to join her children in the World to Come, Hannah, fearing torture, jumped from a roof and died.

By teaching her sons that there are times one must give up even life itself for the sake of one's beliefs, Hannah made a stand that resonates with all who hear her story.

This Treat was originally posted on December 16, 2009.

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

After Shabbat

Be certain to wait until full dark, when it is no longer Shabbat, to light your first night Chanukah candles.

Chanukah Decor, Part Three

Jewish Treats and NJOP present a series of design ideas that will help you create an inspirational Chanukah motif in your own home.

For further designs by Lea Frank, click here.

Pictured Items:

1. "Snowflakes on Blue" by Stewsha, available on
2. "Tissue Paper Pom Poms" by PomGarden, available on
3. The Mafic Dreidles by Eric A. Kimmel, available on
4. "Lego Dreidel Set" by CWV Designs, available on
5. "Personalized Children's Alphabet Block Chanukah Menorah" by CadOhLaLa available on
6. "Empire Kilim Rug," available on
7. "Chanukah Oh Chanukah" by Bull City Studio, available on

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Chanukah - What's The Mitzvah

Here's a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the lights in the Holy Temple burned for 8 days.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after sunset. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used so that the Chanukah lights remain lit after nightfall.

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is also permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

NOTE: Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.

This Treat was last posted on December 18, 2011.
Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Gifts

"One who is diligent in lighting Chanukah candles will have children who are scholars" (Shabbat 23b).

The desire for scholarly children was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving Chanukah gelt(money). In modern times, money has been replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights, intelligent children and gelt?

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah is so important that even a pauper, who has no money at all, is required to borrow money in order to buy oil for lighting. People therefore began to give a little money (gelt) to the poor so that they would not be embarrassed or forced to ask for assistance. Because the idea of "being diligent in lighting the Chanukah lights" is primary in both giving to the poor and meriting wise children, it became the custom to give children gelt as a reward for studying. Children who were diligent in their studies were rewarded with a shiny coin.

While gifts are an offshoot of the holiday, they represent an important element of Chanukah--chinuch, Jewish education.

The Maccabees fought so that their children and their children's children would be able to study Torah freely and be knowledgeable about their Jewish heritage. Jewish children are taught about Judaism not only for today, but for posterity as well, as it says in Proverbs 22:6: "Educate a young person in his/her own way, when he/she grows old he/she will not turn from it."

Over time, the simple practice of giving gelt (coins or presents) became a Chanukah custom - and not just for children. In truth, however, it is not surprising that gift giving has moved beyond just children. In our own day and age, we, the adults, also need encouragement to learn about who we are and what our Jewish heritage means.

*This Treat was originally published on December 22, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Window Treatment

Arrange an appropriate place in your home to display your menorah.

Chanukah Decor, Part Two

Jewish Treats and NJOP present a series of design ideas that will help you create an inspirational Chanukah motif in your own home.
For further designs by Leda Rockoff, click here.
Pictured Items:
1. "Menorah Stained Glass Judaica Hanukkah Candle Holder " by Modern Stained Glass Home Decor And Unique Gifts, available on
2. "Home Trim Ties," available on
3. "Mercury Candleholders," available on
4. "Paper Flowers - Sarah Campbell Floral Blooms," available on
5. "Hammered Metal Serveware," available on
6. "Vintage Digoin BLUE BOWLS Cafe au Lait" by French Vintage, available on
7. "Mercury Candleholders," available on

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Story of Chanukah

Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modiin sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who volunteered. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greek forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, scrubbing the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure oil, and finally found a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But it was only one flask of oil, good for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, announcing to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

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

Putting Chanukah In Perspective

The events of Chanukah took place about 150 years after the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE), whose death brought 40 years of civil war to his empire. Eventually, the empire was divided into 3 smaller empires: the Antigonid Empire in Greece, the Selucid Empire in Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Judea and Cyrenaica (Libya). By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes assumed the throne of the Selucid empire in 175 BCE, Judea was under Selucid control. He began his oppression of the Jewish people in 167 BCE, after his attempt to conquer Egypt was thwarted by threats from Rome. Antiochus's initial anger at the Judeans was for the ousting of Menelaus from the office of High Priest, to which Antiochus had appointed him.

The Maccabees redeemed Jerusalem and re-dedicated the Holy Temple in 165 BCE. While they won religious freedom, the Jews never completely regained their political independence. Jewish kings reigned, but were often vassals to greater political empires. Sadly, the era following the great Maccabean uprising is one known for corruption and treachery.

The Maccabeans began their reign just as a powerful new empire was emerging: Rome. Julius Caeser was born in the year 100 BCE. Just 100 years after the Maccabean victory, Pompey brought the Roman army into Judea at the invitation of Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, the two Hasmonean brothers who were vying for the throne. It was the beginning of a very sad ending to an inspiring victory!

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

Share It

If a friend or co-worker is unfamiliar with the history of this holiday, share today's Treat with them.

Chanukah Decor, Part One

Jewish Treats and NJOP present a series of design ideas that will help you create an inspirational Chanukah motif in your own home.

For further designs by Shoshana Halport, click here.

Pictured Items:
1. "Tangle Square Navy Blue Throw Pillow," available on
2. "Shalom in Hebrew Wood Carved-Peace" by Mark Cooper, available on
3. "Sterling Silver Hanukkah Menorah with Hammered Pattern and Bar Candleholders," available on
4. "Bombay White and Blue" by Peacoquettedesigns, available on
5. "Sterling Silver and Wooden Dreidel" by SilverWoodStone, available on
6. "Silver Beaded Stripe Pillow," available on

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Konrad Zegota - Saving Lives

Have you heard of Konrad Zegota, responsible for saving thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Not a who?, but a what?, Konrad Zegota was the code name for The Council for Aid to the Jews. It was generally referred to simply as Zegota.

Created in 1942, Zegota was brought into existence through the efforts of two women, Wanda Krahelska-Filipowic and Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. Activists before the war, these women came from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Krahelska-Filipowicz was a socialist. Kossak-Szczucka was a conservative nationalist who, prior to the war, would have been considered an anti-Semite. In the summer of 1942, Kossak published "Protest," a pamphlet exhorting Poles to assist the Jews, recognizing that the murderous plans of the Germans were beyond immoral.

Zegota was a unique organization in that it was, in essence, a collaboration of organizations, or more accurately, a collaboration of key players from different Polish underground organizations. Members of the Catholic Front for Reborn Poland, Socialists, Peasants Party, and even the Home Army (the military arm of the Polish government in exile) all played significant roles in the Zegota organization. Almost all of these members of Zegota were already privately assisting Jews, either financially or by taking Jews into hiding into their own homes.

Another important and unique factor about the Zegota organization was that it incorporated Jewish organizations as well. Two important Jewish members, Dr. Adolf Berman (of the Zionists) and Leon Feiner (of the Bund), deliberately escaped the Warsaw ghetto to create contacts with the non-Jewish resistence.

Zegota was not, unfortunately, able to move large numbers of Jews out of the country. Zegota, however, was instrumental in providing funds, supplies, forged papers and medical aid to Jews in hiding.

Zegota was recognized and honored by Yad Vashem in the mid-1960s.

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