Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Tribe of Asher

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

Jacob’s deathbed blessing to Asher was that "His bread will have richness, and he will provide kingly delicacies (Genesis 49:20)," inferring that Asher was, and would continue to be, a wealthy man. Moses’ blessing to the Tribe of Asher similarly spoke of good fortune: "The most blessed of children is Asher; he shall be pleasing to his brothers and dip his feet in oil" (Deuteronomy 33:24).

“The most blessed of children is Asher...” The population of Asher surged by nearly 12,000 in the Wilderness (second only to Menashe). It is also interesting to note that Asher’s “most blessed children” seem to be daughters. In addition to his musical daughter Serach (click here for Serach’s bio), the Midrash notes that  “Rabbi Levi said: It means that their daughters were beautiful and married to [High] priests who were anointed with the oil of the olive-tree. Rabbi Simon said: Their daughters were beautiful and married to kings who were anointed with olive oil” (Genesis Rabbah 71:10)

Perhaps these daughters used lotions of olive oil, for, just as Jacob predicted, Asher settled into a fertile territory that was particularly bountiful with olive trees. However, according to the Book of Judges 1:31-32, the Asherites did not drive out the inhabitants from this territory but, instead, dwelled among the Canaanites (Phoenicians), who were known for their trading routes. Perhaps a need for that close connection is why Asher was one of two tribes reprimanded by Deborah for not assisting in battling and overthrowing the Canaanite tyrant Yabin: “Asher dwelled at the shore of the sea, and abided by its bays” (Judges 5:17).

The Tribe of Asher was not afraid to fight, as was demonstrated in Judges 6:35, when they heeded Gideon’s call to arms against the Midianites and the Amalekites. Indeed, it is noted in Judges 7:23, that the soldiers of Asher, Naphtali and Menashe were the ones who pursued and vanquished the fleeing Midianites. 

The Tribe of Asher makes one further noteworthy appearance in Scripture. Chronicles II records that long after the division of the Israelites into two kingdoms, King Hezekiah of Judah invited the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, and only representatives from Asher, Menashe and Zebulun attended. (30:11).

The Midrash records Asher’s birthdate as the 20th of Shevat. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats: 

Asher, Son of Jacob
Serach's Seranade
The Flags of the Tribes

Wealth Notes

If you have success in business, use your wealth to help those less fortunate than you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Take Two Tablets

Most artistic representations of the Ten Commandments present two rectangular tablets rounded off at the top. As pleasing to the eyes as this rounded design may be, tradition suggests that the luchot (tablets) were “six handbreadths in length, six in breadth and three in thickness” (Baba Batra 14a). To clarify, the luchot were large, thick and square (and incredibly heavy).

Two large, square chunks of carved stone may not appear to be particularly artistic, but the Torah itself provides some interesting details that allow us to imagine just how magnificent the luchot were. The Torah records that Moses stood on Mount Sinai for 40 days and, at the end of that time, God gave Moses “the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18). Similarly, it is written “Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:15-16).

The tablets of the Ten Commandments were not fashioned with a hammer and chisel, but rather “carved” with the finger of God. The luchot had the miraculous effect that “The writing of the Tablets could be read from within and without” (Shabbat 104a). According to tradition, this does not mean that God wrote the same words on both sides, but that, although God carved straight through the stone, the writing was legible from which ever direction one looked. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats:
The First Ten
Two Pillars of Five
Smashing the Tablets

Choose A Focus

Choose one of the Ten Commandments to focus on as a "mitzvah of the week" project.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Character List

Throughout the Talmud there are numerous lists of character traits that are good, bad and otherwise. While some of these lists appear to be simple assessments of what would now be called basic psychology, in each list there is something more to be learned about a person’s ability to connect with the Divine.

An excellent example is the statement by Rabbi Ila'i: “By three things may a person's character be determined: By his cup, by his purse and by his anger” (Eruvin 65). This is a fairly simple statement to understand.

-People reveal their true inner character in how they behave when they drink. As we all know, there are happy drunks, angry drunks and foolish drunks.

-“By his pocket” infers that one can gain great insight into a person’s nature by observing whether they are generous or stingy, and, by extension, whether they are honest in their business dealings.

-The third qualification is anger. The ability to control one’s anger is one of the most difficult, and one of the most important, character traits a person can develop.

This list might seem to be an interesting psychological study, until one compares it to another Talmudic list: “Three [types of people] the Holy One, blessed be He, loves: he who does not display temper, he who does not become intoxicated, and he who does not insist on his [full] rights” (Pesachim 113b).

While the parallel might not be exact, the comparison of these two lists provides a powerful reminder that our relationship with the Divine is often a reflection of the ways we interact with our fellow human beings.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats: 

The Final Analysis

Self Reflect

Remember that your actions are observed on many levels.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Almost Consul to Jerusalem

Can you name the first man appointed U.S. Consul to Jerusalem? In 1844, Warder Cresson was appointed, but never served, as the appointment was revoked while he was en route. Cresson’s journey to the Holy Land would have a profound effect on this earnest, truth-searching man. 

Born in Philadelphia in 1798, Cresson was raised as a Quaker. In his middle years, married with a family and a successful farm, he began questioning his fellow Quakers’ way of life and wrote a scathing pamphlet calling on them to live more humbly. 

Cresson’s appointment to Jerusalem was no accident. It appears, in fact, that he may have even petitioned for it, believing that in Jerusalem he would be able to watch the ingathering of the exiles and the “second coming.” A few years prior to his appointment, Cresson had met Rabbi Isaac Leeser of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. Their friendship inspired Cresson’s interest in Judaism. 

Although he had no official office, Cresson remained in Jerusalem. He was fascinated by the vibrant Jewish life, particularly noting the sacrifice of material wealth that these Jews made in order to live according to the rules of the Torah. By mid-1848, Warder Cresson chose to convert. He had himself circumcised and officially became Michael Boaz Yisrael ben Abraham.

Warder Cresson’s journey of faith did not please those whom he had left behind.  When he returned to the States to settle his affairs before moving to Jerusalem permanently, his wife, Elizabeth Towsend, and one of his sons had him declared insane by the court. His appeals trial called nearly 100 witnesses and turned into a major media event. Four years after he first returned from Jerusalem, the court found in Cresson’s favor. 

With the court case resolved (and his sanity confirmed), Cresson returned to Jerusalem and assumed the lifestyle of the Sephardic Jews there. He remarried and devoted himself to the goal of agricultural redemption of the land. He died in November 1860 and was buried on the Mount of Olives. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats: Other Famous Converts
A Convert of the Inquisition
Bishop Bodo
Abraham ben Abraham
The Emperor's Nephew
Lord George Gordon
The Book of Ruth

City of Inspiration

Jerusalem is a city that inspires many. If you have the opportunity to visit, take it. If you have had the opportunity to visit, spend time reflecting on your visit.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Foods of Tu B'Shevat

This Shabbat, Jews around the world celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the new year of the trees. Tu B'Shevat is often celebrated with the 7 species for which the Torah praises the land of Israel: “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (from dates)” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Wheat (chitah): The Sages noted the importance of wheat in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21): “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no Torah, there is no flour.”

Barley (seh’o’rah): At Passover time, the Omer offering (a measure of barley from the new harvest) was brought to the Temple, symbolic of the start of the spring harvest.

Grape (gefen - literally grape-vines): The transformation of grapes into wine reflects humankind’s ability to choose to uplift itself or debase itself depending upon how they use the grape.

Fig (t’aynah): “... All the figs on one tree do not ripen at once, rather a few each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs one finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds" (Eruvin 54a).

Pomegranate (rimon): According to the Midrash, the pomegranate has 613 seeds equivalent to the number of commandments in the Torah.

Olive (zayit): “...Just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter, so too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off--neither in this world, or in the World to Come” (Menachot 53b).

Date (tamar): While the Torah uses the word d’vash, honey, it is understood as referring to date-honey because the date is frequently boiled to make a type of honey. “The righteous shall flourish like a date-palm tree” (Psalms 92:13), for those who act holy are sweet in God’s eyes.

This Treat was previously posted on January 28, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Land of Milk and Honey
Hail the Holy Pomegranate
Pure Olive Oil
Whose First Fruit

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it has been a difficult winter for many of us, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit

This Treat was previously posted on February 8, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Platter Prep

Serve a platter of delicious fruit (fresh or dried) at your Shabbat meal in honor of Tu BiShevat. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seek Out The Positive

An ethical dilemma: A close friend confides in you that he/she recently purchased an expensive, one-of-a-kind, nonreturnable item. When he/she shows it to you, you are immediately aware that the item is not at all unique,  your cousin has purchased the exact same item. Your friend and your cousin will probably never meet, so your friend will probably never know that he/she overpaid for something that was not really one-of-a-kind. Should you inform your friend?

Perhaps the following Talmudic quote will help inform your decision: 

“Said [the students of] Hillel to [the students of] Shammai: ...if one has made a bad purchase in the market, should one praise it in his [the buyer’s] eyes or depreciate it? Surely, one should praise it in his eyes. Therefore, the Sages said: The disposition of man should always be pleasant with people” (Ketubot 17a).

In the above example of the overpriced item, sharing the information would be of no benefit to the friend, as the item is no longer returnable. Telling him/her would only hurt his/her feelings. But what about a situation where one is actually asked for an opinion regarding an article of clothing that one does not like, or knows that the new electronic gizmo is not actually the most recent or advanced model?

It should be clear that the sages are not suggesting that people should lie, which would contradict the Torah’s instruction to ‘Keep far from a false matter’ (Exodus 23:7). Rather one should always look for the positive, which can be found in almost every situation. 

January 24 is National Compliment Day.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Careful Chatter

One must be careful of what one says even in casual conversation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Miracle of the Sea

The splitting of the sea is one of the most dramatic and well-known scenes in the Torah. It is the final, grand event of the exodus from Egypt, after which the Children of Israel were finally free to go and serve God. 

The Torah describes the scene this way:
“And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.  And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22).

The dramatic scenes of the Bible have long inspired poets, artists and even scientists. In fact, in September of 2010, a group of scientists studied ancient maps and created a computer model simulating an overnight wind blowing strongly on six-foot-deep waters. The results were a scientific verification that a really strong wind blowing consistently could create a completely dry path in the middle of the sea. 

As with other scientific explanations of Biblical miracles*, the fact that a strong wind could blow a path through the sea does not make the event any less miraculous. The fact that a strong wind split the sea at the exact moment that the Children of Israel needed it was the miracle! Timing is also a miracle!. 

*For an interesting treatise on this topic, see  Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Free To Explore

Feel free to explore the questions you have on the Torah. (You can always email them to!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Don't Sell Them Iron

The Bible does not specify how the world’s first murder (Cain murdered Abel.) was committed. The Bible does, however, teach that it was Cain’s great (x5) grandson, Tubal-Cain, who first taught the world how to sharpen metal (Genesis 4:22) in order to presumably create swords and fashion weapons.

It is a sad but true statement that war and violence have always been a part of the human experience. At the same time, it has also been the human desire to minimize both war and violence. For almost every society, this has meant keeping weapons out of the hands of those who would wish to harm others. 

As “gun control” debates rage across our media, it is interesting to note that even in the days of the Talmud, the great minds of the era debated the risks that lay in selling raw materials that might be turned into weapons. Like today’s debates, opinions appear to have been deeply divided:

There are some who say that the reason for not permitting [the sale of] shields is this: When they [the Romans] have no weapons left, they might use these [shields] for killing [in battles]. But there are others who say that shields may be sold to them, for when they have no more weapons they run away.

Said Rabbi Adda ben Ahabah: One should not sell them [the Romans] bars of iron. Why? -- Because they may hammer weapons out of them. If so, spades and pick-axes too [should be forbidden]! – Said Rabbi Zebid: We mean [bars of] Indian iron [used only for producing weapons]. Why then do we sell it now? -- Said Rabbi Ashi: [We sell it] to the Persians who protect us (Avodah Zarah 16a).

Will a person still commit a crime if a weapon is unavailable, and, if yes, to what length will a person go to find a weapon?  How do we deal with the defensive need for weapons, in the face of their possible offensive use? The questions brought up in this Talmudic passage are eerily reminiscent of today’s gun control debates, and the answers to these questions remain heavily weighted by individual opinions. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Charity Defense

Giving charity generously is one of the foundations for building peace.

Monday, January 21, 2013

He Marched With King

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a twentieth century Jewish theologian whose intense commitment to social action brought him to the heart of the Civil Rights movement. 

Born in Warsaw, Heschel was the descendant of rabbinic families on both his father’s and his mother’s side. After completing his traditional education and receiving rabbinic ordination, Heschel moved to Berlin, Germany, where he was a doctoral student at the University of Berlin and, at the same time, studied for and received an additional ordination from the Liberal Jewish Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Higher Institute for Jewish Studies)

Heschel remained in Germany until 1938, when he was deported by the Nazis. He returned briefly to Warsaw, where he lectured at Warsaw’s Institute of Jewish Studies, before escaping to  the United States via London. (His mother and three of his sisters were killed during the war.)  In America, Heschel first taught at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, OH, and then at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. He was a highly-regarded theologian and scholar who published numerous works, the best known of which are The Sabbath and God in Search of Man.

Whereas many theologians remain entrenched in their research and writing, Heschel was also a major social activist. Perhaps his own words provide an insight into the philosophy that drove him: “A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought. He is asked to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does. (1)”

Heschel felt so strongly about the Civil Rights movement that he joined the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on his famous march from Selma to Montgomery. He also protested against the Vietnam War, spoke out on behalf of Soviet Jewry and helped revise the Catholic Church’s sentiments toward Jews during the Vatican Council II (1962–1965)

(1) Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, (New York, 1955), p. 283

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Right Rights

Stand up for the rights of all people.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Shabbos Goy"

While there are some mitzvot that are obligatory on all people (e.g. the seven laws of Noach), the observance of Shabbat is not one of them. It therefore seems entirely natural that if one needs a forbidden creative labor done on Shabbat, one could simply call on a non-Jew to do it for them. 

Numerous well-known public figures, such as Colin Powell and Mario Cuomo, have acknowledged that they acted as their neighborhood “Shabbos Goy,” proudly using the Eastern European term for a non-Jew hired to do “work” on Shabbat that may be forbidden to Jews. 

The idea of asking a non-Jew to perform m’la'cha (creative labor) sounds like an easy solution...but it isn’t quite so simple. It is, in fact, unacceptable to ask a non-Jew specifically to do anything on Shabbat that a Jew may not do oneself. There are, however, caveats to this rule. If, for instance, the non-Jew is building a fire for himself and invites a Jew to sit with him, the Jew may join him. 

Certain situations, however, allow for, and even require, leniencies. If one is ill, one may ask a non-Jew to perform certain m’lachot that are beneficial to one’s health, such as turning up the heat. Because cold, especially in frigid climates, is itself a health danger, it was rather common for a “Shabbos Goy” to maintain the fires in Jewish homes.

In situations where one might be permitted to benefit from the work of a non-Jew, one should not ask them to do the m’la'cha directly, but rather give them a hint (“Gosh, it’s cold in here.”). In cases of saving a life, however, one can ask a non-Jew directly or perform the necessary forbidden m’la'cha oneself.

This is but a brief overview of the idea of the “Shabbos Goy.” Questions should be addressed to one’s local qualified rabbi.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Taking Care

When you prepare for Shabbat, double check that your stove and lights are properly set.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg

In the age of “Reality Television,” it is easy to forget how magical the very early television programs were. Many of these series had originally been successful radio programs and therefore brought pre-existing audiences with them when they transferred media. One of the most successful of the early sitcoms was The Goldbergs, which aired its first television episode on January 17,* 1949.

The original radio program was named The Rise of the Goldbergs. It was first broadcast in 1929 and became a daily 15 minute program in 1931. It was written and directed by its lead actress, Gertrude Berg (1898-1966). The show revolved around the life of Molly Goldberg, a Jewish working-class wife and mother who resided in a Bronx tenement. Over the course of the show’s history, it dealt with both everyday situations and with issues particular to the immigrant experience -- including, toward the end of the series, moving out to the suburbs.

Molly Goldberg was the loving and sharp-witted, problem-solving matriarch upon which many future stereotypical Jewish mothers on television would be based. Her famous opening line was a call to her upstairs neighbor, “Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Bloom!”

Although there was some initial concern about the reaction to such an openly “Jewish” program, The Goldbergs was extremely popular. (In fact, Berg won the first Emmy Award for Best Actress in 1951.) On the whole, the storylines dealt with everyday issues, although Berg always insisted on maintaining an overall Jewish connection. 

Berg is not only fascinating for her strong role in the early entertainment industry, but for her personal character. When, after months of refusing, she was finally forced by the network to fire the blacklisted actor Philip Loeb, Berg continued, for many years, to pay him a salary. 

The final episode of the Goldberg’s aired in June 1956.

*Conflicting sources list both January 17th and January 10th as the date on which the first episode aired. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Yoo Hoo Mom

Give your mother a call just to tell her you are thinking of her and give her a little nachat (joy).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Flag of Israel

The Israeli flag was specifically designed with stripes to recall the image of a tallit - the Jewish prayer shawl. Its top and bottom blue stripes are reminiscent of the sky and the sea. While some tallits (tallitot) have blue stripes, others have black or white or a veritable rainbow of colors. We need to ask: Why the stripes, and is there any significance to the colors?

The stripes in general are present to beautify the four-cornered garment, in fulfillment of a loose understanding of the verse (Exodus 15:2), “This is my God and I will glorify Him.” This principle is often invoked as a source requiring Jews to make an object used for a mitzvah as beautiful as possible (within one’s means, of course). Think about elaborately designed candlesticks, menorahs, mezuzahs, spiceboxes, etrog boxes, chuppahs, beautifully adorned Torahs covers, mikvehs and synagogue structures, and you get the idea.

Blue in particular has significance as the color associated with the tzitzit (fringes) commandment (Numbers 15:38), which originated from a special aquatic creature called “hilazon.” The blue is meant to remind Jews of the sea, which reminds us of the sky, which reminds us of God, which reminds us to be good Jews (Rashi’s comment on Numbers 15:38). As the official blue color for the tzitzit was unavailable for hundreds of years, blue stripes were therefore placed on the body of the tallit garment to serve as a reminder of the commandment.

The treat was originally posted on September 18, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Flag Day

Wikipedia lists January 16 as Flag Day in Israel. Display your pride in the Jewish State by putting an Israeli flag as your computer's screen saver.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baba Sali - Praying Father

Although it is not uncommon for Jewish sages to be known by a pseudonym, such names are most often either abbreviations of their full names (e.g. RaMBaM, an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) or the names of their most popular writing (e.g. Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan). Rabbi Israel Abuhatzeira (1890-1984), on the other hand, is most often referred to as the Baba Sali (the Praying Father).

The Baba Sali came from a long line of scholars. He was born on Rosh Hashana in 1890 in Tafelatetch, Morocco, where his father was the head of the Jewish court. He grew up immersed in Torah study and, as soon as he passed bar mitzvah age, joined the yeshiva housed on his family’s estate.

For years, the Baba Sali threw himself into a rigorous schedule of Torah study. With the coming of World War I, however, his world was upended. When the French moved into North Africa, many Moroccans in his region rebelled. The rebels not only fought the French, but harassed the Jews as well. When Rabbi David Abuhatzeira, the rabbi of the community and the Baba Sali’s older brother, was murdered, the Jews of Tafelatetch fled to Badniv, where they asked the Baba Sali to assume his brother’s position. The Baba Sali initially refused and, instead, went to Jerusalem to publish his late brother’s writings. One year later, however, he returned and accepted the position. In time, he (reluctantly) agreed to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Morocco.

In 1950, the Baba Sali moved to Israel and eventually settled in the southern town of Netivot. Soon Jews, both those from Morocco and elsewhere, were flocking to Netivot to receive blessings from the Baba Sali. There are many credible stories of miracles that occurred through the prayers of the holy Baba Sali.

He passed away on 4 Shevat 1984.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Good Day To You

Blessings can come from anyone. Don't hesitate to give other people a blessing, even a simple one such as "Have a good day."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spiced Honey Locust, Anyone?

Jewish law prohibits the consumption of insects, referring to them as sheratzim, that which swarm. One might think that this dietary restriction is easy, as most people do not generally have a desire to eat ants or spiders or flies. In fact, traditional Jews are extremely careful to avoid consuming insects and make certain to wash and check their produce to remove small bugs that may feed upon it.

Trivia fans might interject that some Jewish communities, such as the Jews of Yemen, eat locust. This is not a myth. They are one of the only Jewish communities who have maintained a continuous tradition that identifies which creatures fulfill Leviticus 11:20-22: "All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing unto you. Yet these may you eat of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours, which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth; even these of them you may eat: the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the cricket after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds."

While the translation cited above appears to list specific species, there are numerous sub-species of each of these groups that would not be kosher. In order to partake of these unique kosher items, there must be an unbroken tradition that identifies the exact species. Most Jewish communities have lost the knowledge of the acceptable species (and cannot now assume them).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Appreciate the incredible acts of creation by noting the incredible diversity of life.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Isaiah 66 and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

Inevitably, the holidays, weekly celebrations (Shabbat) and monthly celebrations (Rosh Chodesh) of the Jewish calendar sometimes overlap. In some instances, the holiday overrides the regular celebration (e.g. on Rosh Hashana, the first day of Tishrei, Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is not mentioned). In other cases, the regular celebration takes precedence (e.g. if Tisha B’Av occurs on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday). 

Every so often, however, Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat overlap. Such is the case this week, when the month of Shevat begins on Shabbat (tomorrow). 

Because Rosh Chodesh is marked largely through the addition of special prayers (such as Hallel), the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh service is longer than the normal Shabbat service. (There are special additions to Birkat Hamazon as well). One of the most interesting of these changes is the haftarah (reading from the Prophets) designated to be read on every Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: the final chapter (66:1-24) of the Book of Isaiah

It has been suggested that this chapter was chosen because of its penultimate verse, which mentions both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat: (66:23) “And it shall be that, from New Moon to New Moon, and from Shabbat to Shabbat, all flesh shall come to prostrate themselves before Me, said God.” The chapter itself, however, can be read as both a consolation and inspiration for those who have remained faithful to God. In this final chapter of Isaiah, God promises that the wicked shall receive retribution and the faithful shall live and endure. The moon, with its waxing and waning, is a potent and ever-present symbol of such a promise and is thus integral to the celebration of Rosh Chodesh.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Special Meal

In honor of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, enjoy a special treat tonight.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's Just A Little Bit

Years ago, a popular ad for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups showed a person with a bar of chocolate accidentally plunging the chocolate into someone else’s open peanut butter container. The result turned out to be the delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

The dilemma of the at-first unhappy consumers in the Reese’s advertisement is actually quite similar to an important component of the Jewish dietary laws. What happens if a non-kosher item accidentally falls into one’s kosher hot soup or a person accidentally adds milk to a hot meat stew? One’s first instinct might be to rashly dispose of the food immediately, but the real answer to what one should do next, depends, in most cases, on the size and volume of both items that were accidentally mixed.

The general rule is that if the volume of the unwanted ingredient is 1/60th or less than the volume of the desired food, then the kosher status of the food has not been compromised. If, however, the volume of the unwanted ingredient was more than 1/60th, the food would assume a non-kosher flavor and status. This law is known as bitul b’shishim, nullified in one sixtieth.

The sages defined the critical factor as being whether the taste of the non-kosher item remains in the mixture. The problem, however, is that in the process of testing and determining whether the taste remained, one might actually eat non-kosher food. The sages therefore declared that a flavor becomes null in a proportion of 1/60.

There are many guidelines for nullifying forbidden food in bitul b’shishim and a qualified rabbi should be consulted. The most important of these is that the forbidden ingredient may not be intentionally added. In other words, one may not add a dash of cream to a large pot of chicken soup thinking that the minimal amount renders it acceptable.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Cautious Kitchen

When cooking in a kosher kitchen, pay attention to the small details.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Frankfurt on the Hudson

Rabbi Joseph Breuer (1882 - 1980) was 57 years old when he and his family arrived in New York City from Europe. It was 1939, and the grandson of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch immediately set about rebuilding the German Jewish community in New York City.

Rabbi Breuer received his ordination in 1903 and completed a PhD at the University of Strasbourg in 1905. In 1933, as the dean of the Frankfurt yeshiva, Rabbi Breuer attempted to escape the Nazis by moving the school to Fiume, Italy, but the arrangements in Fiume lasted only one year. Shortly after, Rabbi Breuer and his students returned to Frankfurt, but the yeshiva was closed by the Nazis. On the day of Kristallnacht, Rabbi Breuer was arrested. After his release, the Breuers left Germany, and, after a short stay in Antwerp, they arrived in the United States.

In New York, Rabbi Breuer discovered that many German Jews were living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He quickly became their spiritual leader and, slowly, built a “Frankfurt on the Hudson.” In time, Rabbi Breuer helped the community build a mikveh (ritual pool), elementary and high schools for both boys and girls, a yeshiva and a synagogue (named K'hal Adas Jeshurun after the synagogue in Frankfurt).

Following the path set down by his grandfather, Rabbi Breuer continued to advocate for Torah im Derech Eretz (understood to mean “Torah with Modern Life”), educating his followers to live a traditional Jewish life while not isolating themselves from the world.

The synagogue maintains the German Minhag (Minhag Ashkenaz). One of the most beautiful and unique customs transported from Frankfurt to Washington Heights is the synagogue choir. To this day, the beautiful voices of the all male choir enhance and solemnize the Shabbat and holiday prayer services at the synagogue.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Heritage Yours

As a way of taking pride in your Jewish heritage, investigate the unique customs of the region from which your family came.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How Pharaoh Forgot

The Pharaoh of the Exodus was a cold-hearted man whose fear of losing power to the growing minority of the Israelites led him to enslave them. According to Exodus: “And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:7-8).

How is it possible that the new Pharaoh who arose forgot Joseph? Only one generation earlier, Joseph had served as the viceroy to Pharaoh and managed to save Egypt from starvation while, at the same time, bringing the entire economy of Egypt under Pharaoh’s control. Is it possible that the successor to the Pharaoh who appointed Joseph forgot Joseph?

It is a well-known fact that many rulers in ancient polytheistic societies viewed themselves, or at least wished their subjects to view them, as gods. Pharaoh was no different. In fact, the Midrash notes that “Only in the morning did he [Pharaoh] go out to the water, because this wicked one used to boast that he was a god and did not require to relieve himself; therefore he used to go early in the morning to the water” (Exodus Rabbah 9:8).

A man who wants the world to believe that he is a god cannot allow anyone else to take credit for his glory, especially a foreigner. Pharaoh’s failure to remember Joseph has, sadly, been repeated many times throughout history. Don Isaac Abrabanel made a fortune for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and yet they still expelled him along with all of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Similarly, the Nazis in Germany willingly forgot many prominent German Jews who had made invaluable contributions to all aspects of  German culture and had courageously fought in defense of Germany during World War I.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remember the Good

Don't forget to share credit when someone helps you on a work project.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Duties of the Heart

The concept of “being spiritual” is often assumed to be a fairly recent one, resulting, perhaps, from the enlightenment’s deconstruction of organized religion.  The idea of spirituality - how to create, live and grow in a relationship with the Divine - is, however, not really new. In fact, it is a question that has often caused Jewish scholars to put pen to paper. Among the most highly regarded of such texts is Chovot Halevavot, most commonly translated as Duties of the Heart.

Chovot Halevavot was written by Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda  Not much is known about Ibn Paquda other than that he was a well-regarded scholar who lived in Muslim Spain (Sargossa) in the eleventh century. His great work was written in Judeo-Arabic (in Hebrew letters) under the title Kitab al-Hidāya ilā Fara'id al-Qulūb. It was given the name Chovot Halevavot by the famed translator Judah ibn Tibbon.

Bachya ibn Paquda, divided his work into 10 chapters:

1. The Gate of Divine Unity
2. The Gate of Reflection
3. The Gate of Serving God
4. The Gate of Trust in God
5. The Gate of Unification of Action
6. The Gate of Humility
7. The Gate of Repentance
8. The Gate of Self-Examination
9. The Gate of Seclusion
10. The Gate of the Love of God

The term gate that is used in each title infers the progressive nature of ibn Paquda’s gates.

The detailed laws of the Torah, both written and oral, are the backbone of Jewish life. Ibn Paquda’s Chovot Halevovot clarifies how they are also the heart and soul of Jewish life and the means of creating an intimate spiritual relationship with the Divine.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


One way of drawing closer to God is to see the way the world fits together. Take a moment today to think about recent unlikely coincidences in your own life.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Truth About Gefilte Fish

There is a little known secret that, hidden in what was once the Russian Pale of Settlement (basically Belarus and Eastern Poland), there is a deep, fresh water lake stocked with the unique fish called gefilte... Just kidding. But it is true that gefilte fish is a uniquely Ashkenazi Jewish food...So where did it come from?

Gefilte fish is generally made of filleted, ground fish, usually carp, pike and/or whitefish. The ground fish is then combined with ingredients such as matzah meal, egg and seasonings, after which it is either boiled or baked. Originally, the ground fish was then stuffed back into the skin of the whole fish--thus the origin of the name gefilte (derived from the German word for stuffed). Today, most people purchase gefilte fish in jars, fully prepared, or in frozen loaves that can be easily seasoned and prepared.

It is commonly thought that Jews began eating gefilte fish as a means of avoiding the melacha (creative work forbidden on Shabbat) of bo'rayr (sorting the bad out of the good). Fish served whole often left a person with the difficult challenge of dealing with the small bones on Shabbat. Filleted gefilte fish, however, has no bones.

An additional, and more practical, reason for the popularity of gefilte fish, however, was probably budgetary. Ground fish can serve more people, and the extra ingredients also add taste to less expensive species of fish.

Gefilte fish is most often served with ground horseradish, either with or without beets, known as chrain (Yiddish). The origin of this custom, however, is shrouded in the annals of Jewish cooking history. Any PhD students interested?

For a delicious gefilte fish recipe, click here.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fish Plates

According to Jewish tradition, eating fish and meat together is dangerous, so serve your gefilte fish course as a hors d'oeuvres to your Shabbat meal. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Presuming Innocence

"Innocent until proven guilty" is one of the great American judicial principles. That important concept, however, could very well have been composed by someone who had studied a bit of Talmud. In tractate Shabbat, 97a, Reish Lakish is quoted as saying: "He who entertains a suspicion against innocent people is bodily affected..."

As his proof-text, Reish Lakish cites Exodus 4:1. Moses, who is reluctant to become God's emissary, declares, "But, behold, they [the Israelites] will not believe me!" The Talmud goes on to state, "But it was known to the Holy One, blessed be He, that Israel would believe. Said He to him: 'They are believers, the descendants of believers, whereas you [Moses] will ultimately disbelieve.'" Reish Lakish concludes that for failing to give the Israelites the benefit of the doubt, Moses was (temporarily) smitten with leprosy.

Proof-text aside, Reish Lakish's statement is a powerful pronouncement for judging everyone favorably (dan l'chaf zchut). 

While it may be human nature to judge other people, each one of us has the free will to decide how we will judge other people. In other words, one should always make a conscious effort to judge others favorably. 

How, though, one might ask, can Reish Lakish assert that a suspicious person who is always negatively disposed towards others is "bodily affected"? One may answer that one is indeed bodily affected, although not necessarily in the sense of a physical illness. One who is suspicious of others, always feels the weight of negativity, whether it is a sense of tension in the head or a pit in one's stomach. On the other hand, one who seeks out the positive in others, usually has a lighter heart. Many studies confirm the mental and physical health benefits of having a positive and optimistic nature.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

Your View

Always remember that how you judge a person or a situation is in your own hands.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The proliferation of buildings and organizations that bear the name Maimonides, the patrinom of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (also known as the RaMBaM), attests to the incredible impact this one man had on Jewish life. Without a doubt, Maimonides was a man of rare genius who excelled as a scholar, community rabbi, doctor and philosopher.

Born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1135, Maimonides' early life was fraught with peril. Shortly after his bar mitzvah, the Almohades, North African Muslims who violently persecuted non-Muslims, conquered Cordoba. The Maimon family began, what would become, an eleven year period of wandering. In 1159, they settled in Fez, Morocco. By this point, Maimonides had already begun writing a commentary on the Mishnah and was gaining renown as a scholar.

Approximately five years later, the Maimon family had to once again flee the Almohades. Their journey, which took them through the Holy Land, ended in Egypt, where Maimonides continued with his scholarship while his brother, David, supported the entire family through trading in precious stones. During this time, Maimonides became a rabbinic leader in the community. Sadly, around the year 1170, David ben Maimon was lost at sea along with most of the family fortune.

Maimonides grieved for a year, and then he began supporting the family by practicing medicine, which he had studied with his father and with physicians in the city of Fez. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed the court physician of the Grand Vizier, and then to the Sultan Saladin.

In addition to his work as a physician, a Nagid (communal leader) and a scholar, Maimonides, incredibly, still found the time to compose philosophical tracts, to correspond with other scholars and to write his magnum opus, a codification of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah).

Maimonides died on the 20th of Tevet 1204. Although he was initially buried in Fustat (Cairo), Egypt, his remains were later transferred to Tiberius, Israel, where his impressive tomb is located today.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Your All

Put your best effort into all of your endeavors.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Judah Touro

Unlike many of the great philanthropists recorded in history, Judah Touro (1775-1854) was neither the scion of old money nor a man famed for his incredible business talents. His philanthropic activities were so important to him that his tombstone was inscribed: "The last of his name, he inscribed it in the Book of Philanthropy to be remembered forever." 

Judah Touro moved to New Orleans in 1802, where he demonstrated his business acumen. During the War of 1812, Touro enlisted in the military under the command of Andrew Jackson. During the Battle of New Orleans, Touro was severely wounded (a presumed fatal injury). He was rescued and nursed back to health by a close friend. 

Touro's philanthropic activities began on a civic level. He provided the funds, nearly $10,000, for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston as well as significant support for the Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Late in his life, Touro befriended Gershom Kursheedt, who is credited with having renewed Touro's interest in Jewish life. Not only did Touro begin attending services on a regular basis, but he was also one of the founders and the key supporter of the Nefuzoth Yehuda synagogue in New Orleans (which became part of what is today the Touro Synagogue). 

In addition to supporting the New Orleans' Jewish community, Touro took a particular interest in the Newport (R.I.) synagogue where his father had once served as the chazzan (cantor). Jeshuat Israel, as it was then called, was founded in 1658 and is most famous for the congregation's correspondence with George Washington. Today, it is also known as the Touro synagogue in honor of the financial support it received from both Judah Touro and his brother Abraham. 

Judah Touro passed away on the 19th of Tevet (today), 1854. His will contained an incredibly diverse list of donations to a long list of Jewish and non-Jewish causes. One of the most sizable bequests was $50,000 for Sir Moses Montefiore to distribute among the needy Jews of Palestine.

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved

What You Can

While not all of us can be major philanthropists like Judah Touro, we each can do our part by giving to charity.