Thursday, February 28, 2013

Um, What Day Is It?

Living in the “Age of Information,” it is hard to imagine a person not being able to find out what day of the week it is. But in the days before data flowed across the airways, a person alone in the wilderness could easily lose track of time. To many of us, not having a digital device or a calendar to consult might sound extremely relaxing, but it presents an extraordinary challenge for the celebration of the Day of Rest.

The Talmud actually discusses what to do if one is uncertain which day of the week it is: “Rabbi Huna said: If one is traveling on a road or in the wilderness and does not know when the Sabbath is, he must count six days and observe one. Hiyya ben Rab said: He must observe one and count six [weekdays]” (Shabbat 69b).

The question remains, does one begin observing Shabbat immediately or counting immediately? The Talmud explains further the rationale behind each of these opinions.

“Wherein do they differ? One Master holds that it is like at the time of the world's Creation; the other Master holds that it is like [the case of] Adam” (Shabbat 69b).

Since Adam, the first human being, was created on the afternoon of the Sixth Day of Creation, a short while before God rested (the first Shabbat), acting like Adam would mean celebrating the Shabbat at the first sunset. Counting seven days, on the other hand, emulates God, and the idea that is at the heart of the celebration of Shabbat.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

So what should one do if one has no means of knowing what day of the week it is? According to halacha (Jewish law), one should emulate God and begin counting six days, and only then begin to celebrate Shabbat.

Weekly Schedule

Make the celebration of Shabbat a regular part of your weekly schedule. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who Lights The Shabbat Candles?

While lighting Shabbat candles is generally considered a “woman’s mitzvah,” and is traditionally performed by the woman of the house, it is actually an obligation of the entire household. If a man is living alone or the one who usually lights is away, candles must still be lit. In fact, the Talmud encourages every husband to be involved in preparing for Shabbat and assuring that the Shabbat candles are properly arranged. Many men, therefore, have the custom of preparing the candles for their wives.

One could mistakenly surmise that the custom of candle lighting as the woman’s mitzvah is based on practicality. After all, in most households, women are most active in creating the Shabbat atmosphere of the home.

Tradition states, however, that the connection of Jewish women to candle lighting dates back to the matriarch Sarah. According to the Midrash (cited by the great sage Rashi on Genesis 24:67), a candle burned miraculously in Sarah’s tent from one Friday evening to the next. When she died, the candle and its glow vanished. When Isaac’s bride Rebecca moved into Sarah’s tent, however, the miracle of the light returned.  Just as the matriarchs lit a candle on Friday evening to welcome Shabbat, so too have Jewish women welcomed Shabbat with the lighting of the candles, from ancient times until the present.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats:
Adding Candles
The Candle Lighting Blessing
Lighting the Way to Peace
Covered Eyes

Lights Up

Light Shabbat candles this week in recognition of Shabbat Across America and Canada.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Five Ways To Prepare

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy (Zachor et yom HaShabbat l'kadsho - Exodus 20:8). This commandment alludes to all the positive mitzvot of Shabbat, such as reciting kiddush, eating a festive meal, etc. But “Remembering Shabbat” also refers to the constant focus of the Jewish people on Shabbat - underscored by the fact that in Hebrew the days of the week are called: The First Day of Shabbat, The Second Day of Shabbat, The Third Day of Shabbat....Shabbat. The days of the week count up to Shabbat, just as Jews spend their week looking forward to and preparing for Shabbat.

Jewish Treats therefore presents five things that you can do during the work week to prepare for Shabbat:

Monday--Dry Cleaning - Sounds mundane, but it is customary to wear nicer clothes in honor of Shabbat. Finding stains on Thursday can add unnecessary stress to the end of the week.

Tuesday--Invite Guests/Make Plans* - Whether you plan to host or to be hosted, it’s good to make arrangements early in the week.

Wednesday--Food - Shopping on Wednesday leaves ample time for special Shabbat food preparation.

Thursday--Parasha Prep - Take a few minutes to review the week’s parasha (Torah portion) so that you will have an interesting D’var Torah to share at the Shabbat table.

Friday--Table Setting - Set the table early in the day so that the aura of Shabbat is apparent to all who enter.

*Look ahead to March 1, 2013, and make plans to attend Shabbat Across America/Canada at a location near you.

This Treat was last post on March 4, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

It's Coming

Look ahead to March 1, 2013, and make plans to attend Shabbat Across America/Canada at a location near you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Purim! Again?

Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on location.

The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (yesterday). However, Jews living in the city of Shushan (now the city of Shush, Iran), Jerusalem and all the cities that had walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar (today).

The delay in the Purim celebration is based on Esther 9:16-17.

"And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies...on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy. But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy."

The majority of the Jews were able to stop defending themselves on the 13th, and so rested on the 14th. In the capital city, however, where Haman's evil plot had aroused greater hatred, the Jews were forced to defend themselves through the 14th as well, and rested on the 15th.

Mordechai and the great sages of the time felt that it was important to separate Shushan's celebration from that of the rest of the people. Because they were still in exile, however, the sages wanted to make certain that the people remembered the holy city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It was therefore declared that, in addition to Shushan, any city that was surrounded by a wall at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan would celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar

This Treat was originally published on March 9, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Share The Treats

Share your extra hamantashen with your co-workers. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Purim Drinking

"A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman'” (Megillah 7a).

What does the Talmud mean by the phrase that one "cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman?'"

On a simple level, it is just a description of a level of intoxication, a point at which one has trouble making clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad. On a more philosophical level, when ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman’ become indistinguishable, one has grasped a higher concept that even negative things that happen are good, that they come from God and, in the end, make us better people.

Why do we drink on Purim?

When reading the Purim story, one sees that wine plays an important role in events that unfold:

* King Achashverosh is drunk when he calls for Vashti and when he orders her banished/killed (there are differing opinions as to her fate).

* Esther invites the King and Haman to a banquet, which the Megillah refers to as a wine-banquet.

* The Megillah describes the 14th and 15h of Adar as days of "feasting and joy," inferring that the Jews celebrated with feasts of wine.

While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
2-Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.

This Treat was originally published on March 8, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

It Was Bashert

Bashert, which in Yiddish means “predestined,” is most commonly applied to the concept of one’s intended soul-mate. This idea that, when dating, one is searching for his/her bashert, his/her divinely intended life partner, stems from Talmud Sotah 2a, which states: “Forty days before the creation of a child, a Heavenly Voice issues forth and proclaims: ‘The daughter of A is for B.’”

The concept of bashert implies that the person one will marry is preordained even before birth. There are a great number of discussions that stem from this concept: questions concerning dating, marriage, bad marriages, divorce, second marriages....But the question Jewish Treats wishes to address today is the broader understanding of the concept of bashert.

The quote from Talmud Sotah 2a goes on to state that just as a Heavenly Voice calls forth intended marriage partners, it also calls out “...the house of C is for D; the field of E is for F!” The Jewish idea of predetermination versus free-will allows that certain points in one’s life are set, but how one gets there is determined by one’s free choices.

Those pieces of our lives that are “pre-determined” may be related to one’s wealth, the country in which one lives or the person one marries. And while we may never know why these points of bashert happen, they are often important aspects of a greater story.

The story of Purim is a perfect example of a mysterious match that made sense only in heaven. Nothing, not even the words of Mordechai her guardian, could have comforted Esther when Achashverosh chose her to be his queen. He certainly was not the type of man she expected to marry. Yet, had she not been queen, she would not have been able to undo Haman’s decree, and save her people.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Say A Blessing

Before enjoying a glass of wine, say the blessing over wine. (Click here for the words of the blessing.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering.

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked our weak, tired and elderly shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Therefore, there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Parashat Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

The Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscored the evil character of the Amalekites. God had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek "happened" upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is a description of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of "fate," which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek's philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind because the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.

*This Treat was originally published on March 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Aishet Chayil and Esther

On Friday nights it is customary to sing a selection of verses from the final chapter of the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31) known as Aishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor. At this time of year [pre-Purim], one particular Jewish heroine stands out: Queen Esther.

Which verse of Aishet Chayil best defines Esther? Here are a few selections:

1) Proverbs 31:17
She girds herself with strength / and invigorates her arms.
Even after hearing of Haman's plan to kill the Jews, Esther was hesitant to appear unbidden before the king (an action punishable by death) and beg for mercy. But Esther girded herself with strength...the strength of both the Jewish people (whom she asked to fast and pray) and the strength of her own prayers.

2) Proverbs 31:11
His heart trusts in her / and lacks no treasure.
Achashverosh, however, is pleased to see Esther and offers her anything that she wishes, "even half his kingdom." But all she requests is that the King and Haman join her for a feast.

3) Proverbs 31:12
She does him good, never bad / all the days of her life.
When Esther reveals Haman's plan, she puts all of the blame on Haman. In truth, Achashverosh also had evil intentions like Haman. But since Achashverosh was both the king and her husband, Esther allowed him to make the decision to overrule the plan, rather than embarrass him.

4) Proverbs 31:30
Grace is false, beauty is fleeting / it is for her fear of God that a woman is to be praised.
Had Esther only been a beautiful Jewess chosen to be queen by Achashverosh, an entire book of Scripture would not be named for her. Esther's true glory was that she overcame her circumstances, remained devout to her faith, and risked her life to save her people.

This Treat was last posted on February 16, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If you cannot attend a reading of Parashat Zachor, read it in your home or discuss the significance of Amalek on Jewish history during your Shabbat meal.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

May His Name Be Erased

“Purim Holiday/Purim Holiday/A big holiday for the Jews
Masks and noisemakers/Songs and Dance/Let’s make noise rash rash rash.”
(Classic Hebrew Purim Song - Hava Nareesha Rash Rash Rash)

Although noisemakers are not mentioned in the Book of Esther, they are one of the items most frequently associated with the holiday of Purim. Most English speakers refer to these noisemakers as groggers (also spelled graggers), and they can best be defined as the musical instrument known as a ratchet. In modern Hebrew, a noisemaker is called a ra’ashan. As implied by the Yiddish origin of the word grogger, these noisemakers are of Ashkenazi origin, although they have, with few exceptions,  become common in most Purim celebrations.

It is not clear when the grogger in its current form became popular, but it appears to be a derivative of the custom noted by Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th century Poland) of writing the name Haman on two smooth pieces of wood or stone and banging them against each other until the name was no longer legible.

It is known that the custom reflects the mitzvah that one should “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget" (Deuteronomy 25:19). In connection to Haman, there are numerous ways in which this commandment was fulfilled:

1) After saying Haman’s name, the phrase Yimach Shemo, His name should be erased, is stated.

2) Writing the name Haman on the bottom of one’s shoe and stamping out his name.

3) An effigy of Haman is either hung, pelted with stones and/or burned. (This was a custom in the Babylonian Gaonic period and in some old European communities, and may not be acceptable within the context of modern western society.)

It should be noted that many Sephardi, Mizrachi and Yemenite synagogues do not permit noisemaking during Megillah reading itself as they consider it a violation of appropriate decorum. In those synagogues where noisemakers are permitted, it is important that the noise end on cue, so that the Megillah reading may continue in a fashion in which all congregants will be able to hear each word of the reading.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Whole Megillah

Whether it’s a long-winded tale, or a story overloaded with details--it’s called a “whole megillah!” (In “the old country” they would have said “a gantse megillah!”)

So what exactly is a “megillah”?

Technically, a megillah is a rolled scroll. Specifically, the term megillah is used to describe the five canonical works from the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible that are read in the synagogue on different holidays. The five megillot are:

Shir HaShirim - The Song of Songs - written by King Solomon and read on Passover.
Ruth - The Book of Ruth - written by Samuel and read on Shavuot.
Eichah - Lamentations - written by Jeremiah and read on Tisha B'Av.
Kohelet - Ecclesiastes - also written by King Solomon and read on Sukkot.
Esther - The Book of Esther - written by Mordechai and Esther and read on Purim.

When preceded with a definite article, however, “the Megillah,” refers specifically to the Book of Esther. Megillat Esther is the only one of the five megillot which one is obligated to read/hear. In fact, on Purim, one should hear it read both at night and during the day.

As for the catchy phrase “the whole megillah”--according to, it came into the English vernacular in a variety of forms through its use by Jewish entertainers. The specific wording of “the whole megillah,” however, had its first recorded colloquial usage on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1971.

This Treat was last posted on March 2, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Get Into it

Bring a noisemaker to Megillah reading, but make certain to stop any noise-making in a timely fashion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I and my maidens will also fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her uncle Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

In commemoration of that fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim.

If the 13th of Adar occurs on Shabbat, (as happens this year) the fast is observed on the Thursday prior. Thus Ta'anit Esther will be observed this year on Thursday, February 21, 2013.

The fast begins at dawn (aloht hashachar)* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi).

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning service.

2. At the morning and afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of God's mercy. At the afternoon service only, the Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days.

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying the afternoon service.

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

This Treat was originally posted on March 6, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hester Panim

One might think that the Book of Esther is a heroic tale about Mordechai and Esther saving the Jewish people through diplomatic skill, after all God is not mentioned once in the entire text. Looking deeper, however, one is struck by the overwhelming number of "coincidences" of the right people being in the right places at the right times. To follow one such line of "coincidences":

1. Esther was the niece of one of the leaders of the Jewish people.

2. While women throughout the kingdom hoped to be chosen queen at the beauty pageant, Esther's beauty was noticed and she "was taken to the king's palace" (Esther 2:8). Ultimately, she was chosen as queen.

3. Esther's presence in the palace allowed Mordechai to get word to the king about an assassination plot.

4. Esther was the necessary "insider" to foil Haman's plot. As Mordechai pointed out: "Who knows if not just for a time like this you reached this royal position?!" (Esther 4:14).

These coincidences are the ultimate display of Divine Providence, acting behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved.

Known as Hester Panim, God hiding His face from the world is actually a Divine gift that allows humanity free will. If a child is told not to eat a cookie, as long as the mother remains in the kitchen the child will not take the cookie. However, once the mother leaves the room, it is the child's free choice that determines what happens to the cookie. Nevertheless, even when the mother leaves the room, she is aware of her child's behavior, listens for danger and is ready to jump to the rescue.

God gives His creations space, allowing humankind to make their own choices, but He is always watching from the periphery.

This Treat was originally posted on March 1, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For the Fast

Arrange your schedule for tomorrow so that you can break the fast after sunset.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

This year, Purim will be celebrated on Sunday, February 24th (beginning Saturday evening, February 23rd, after sunset). Four mitzvot are associated with the holiday:

Megillah Reading - Book of Esther - The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. In order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not speak during the Megillah reading.

Mishloach Manot/Shalach Manos - Sending Gifts - On Purim day, every Jew should to give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat food items.

Matanot La'evyonim - Gifts to the Poor - Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is in addition to the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). To properly fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim one must give to two poor individuals. Although one may fulfill this mitzvah by giving a minimal amount of money to each person, the sages noted that the highest form of fulfilling this mitzvah is by giving enough money for a meal, or the equivalent in food. This mitzvah may be fulfilled by donating beforehand to an organization that will distribute the money or food on Purim day.

Seudah - Festive Meal - One should partake in a festive meal on Purim day. The minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one ritually wash one's hands (netillat yadayim), eat bread and then recite the Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals.

The Purim seudah is often associated with drinking. The Talmud says "A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between 'Blessed is Mordechai' and 'Cursed is Haman.'" (Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch--Code of Jewish Law) - generally, this is interpreted as drinking more than one usually does or enough to make one sleepy.

(While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
1-Do not drink and drive.
2-Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.)

This Treat was last published on March 5, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Costume Time

Those who first hear about the custom of Purim costumes might assume that the tradition began as an imitation of Halloween. Research, however, places the origin of Halloween costumes in the 18th century, while Purim disguises are mentioned in rabbinic texts as far back as the 13th century.

Masks and disguises are a popular means of expressing some of the most important themes of Purim. For instance, “Ve'na'haphoch Hoo," "and it was reversed" (Esther 9:1)--on Purim we celebrate the idea that what one perceives as reality can easily be reversed. This theme is also one of the sources for the custom of drinking on Purim. The Talmud states that “One must drink [on Purim] until one does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’” (Megillah 7b); disguising one’s self is another means of creating this same effect.

A second important theme of Purim related to the custom of wearing masks/costumes is hester panim. Hester panim refers to the idea that God conceals His involvement in human affairs. God is not mentioned even once in the Book of Esther, yet it is clearly Divine providence that determines events. This is hester panim, when God “hides” Himself from the world so that we can only see hints of His Divine plan. So too, on Purim, our true selves are hidden behind masks.

Although some people wear Halloween left-overs (Purim shopping begins November 1!), the characters of the Purim story are perennial favorites. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are two queens--Esther and Vashti).

This Treat was originally posted on March 14, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidentially Approved

As the only territory completely under the control of the Federal Government, it is not surprising that Washington, D.C. is home to the only synagogue whose existence was enacted by an Act of Congress and signed by a U.S. President.

The initial meeting to establish a Hebrew Congregation in Washington was held at the home of Mr. H. Lisberger. The notes of that meeting, as well as numerous other documents of the congregation, were written in German, revealing that a majority of the original members of the Washington Jewish community were immigrants from Germany. As they came from a region where Jewish communities were autonomous bodies existing at the beneficence of the municipality, it was natural for them to be concerned about whether or not a Jewish community would be permitted to own its own property. The members of the fledgling Hebrew Congregation therefore petitioned Congress for an Act on Incorporation. Not long thereafter, the “Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the City of Washington,” was signed by President Franklin Pierce.  This act granted the Hebrew Congregation the rights, privileges and immunities that were already granted to Christian churches.

When the Hebrew Congregation was large enough and sufficiently established to purchase its first building, the congregation chose to follow the custom of the German Reform movement and installed an organ to accompany their choir. This choice created a schism in the community and a breakaway congregation established Adas Israel Congregation.

As today is Presidents Day, it is interesting to note the Hebrew Congregation’s connection to three other U.S. Presidents.  The cornerstone of the Hebrew Congregation’s second location was laid by President William McKinley in 1897. President Harry S. Truman laid the cornerstone of the congregation’s current location in 1952, and the building was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955.

Pre-Purim Prep

Prepare for this Sunday's Purim celebration by downloading Jewish Treats' Complete Guide to Celebrating Purim.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Purim Commitment

What does the holiday of Purim have to do with Jews reconnecting to their Jewish heritage? Purim is more than a celebration of the victory of the Jews over an enemy who wished to annihilate them. At the end of the Book of Esther, one verse subtly informs us of a most significant event of the Purim holiday: "And the Jews took upon themselves to do as they had begun" (Esther 9:23). This verse perhaps refers to the customs of Purim, but it is also understood to be a statement of rededication to tradition by the Jewish people.

In the Persian-Medean empire, the Jews were a scattered minority. The eldest of the Jews had witnessed the destruction of the Temple, the sacking of Jerusalem and the oppressive reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. In the era of Achashverosh, however, Jews were finally starting to feel settled and secure. In fact, they were starting to feel so welcome that the Jews of Shushan the Capital even “enjoyed the banquet of that wicked man” (Megillah 12b) when Achashverosh threw a week long party for the citizens of the city.

It is nice to feel accepted. The sages, however, do not speak favorably of the Jews of Shushan. It appears that they were so emotionally unattached to their Jewish identity that they did not care that Achashverosh’s great party was celebrating what the king believed was the passing of the 70th year, by which Israel’s prophets had foretold that the Temple would be rebuilt. (Achashverosh had miscalculated).

When Mordechai donned sack-cloth and ashes, however, the Jews of Persia-Medea realized  how far they had deviated from the ways of their ancestors. According to tradition, as noted by Raba, the Jews “re-accepted [the Torah] in the days of Achashverosh...[meaning that] they confirmed what they had accepted long before” at Mount Sinai.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Commit To Shabbat

Commit to your Jewish heritage by celebrating Shabbat.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Finally Buried

On the 4th of Adar 1307, the Maharam of Rothenberg was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Worms–fourteen years after his death. The rabbi’s remains were released from the fortress of Ensishem when a ransom was paid by Alexander Suskind Wimpfen, who asked only that he be buried next to the Maharam.

The Maharam of Rothenberg’s actual name was Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam is an acronym for Moreinu Harav Reb Meir). He was born around 1215 in Worms, Germany, and was part of a family of Talmudic scholars. In time, Rabbi Meir became the leading rabbinic authority among Ashkenazi Jews. The Maharam corresponded with Jews throughout Western Europe - answering legal questions and giving them guidance.

In 1286, King Randolph I of Germany declared the Jews of his kingdom to be “serfs of the treasury,” in effect, declaring that the Jews were to be the possessions of the king. The Maharam and his family decided to leave and make their way to the Holy Land. Things went smoothly until Lombardy, when an apostate Jew identified the Maharam to the Archbishop.

The Maharam was imprisoned in Ensishem on the charge that, as “property” of the king, he broke the law by leaving. King Randolph demanded an exorbitant ransom. The Jewish community managed, with great hardship, to collect over 20,000 marks, but the Maharam instructed them not to pay the ransom. As important as the mitzvah of redeeming captives is in Jewish law, if the community paid the ransom it would encourage other rulers to imprison rabbis and extort funds from them.

The Maharam lived in the fortress for seven years until his death in 1293. (It should be noted that, while in captivity, he was allowed visitors and was permitted to teach Torah.)

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Last Dignity

Provide your loved ones with a proper and dignified Jewish burial. For more about Jewish burial, click here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who Was Mordechai?

There are some people in this world who always seem to be right in the thick of the action. As described in the Book of Esther, this was Mordechai. It is Mordechai’s niece who is chosen to serve as the new queen. It is Mordechai who overhears a royal assassination plot. It is Mordechai who is the object of Haman’s anger, and it is Mordechai whom the king publicly honors for saving his life. And, finally, it is Mordechai who hears of Haman’s evil decree and protests it publicly.

It is obvious from his actions that Mordechai was a brave man, and thus it is not surprising that assorted midrashim (legendary explanations) reveal that even before the events described in the Book of Esther, Mordechai was one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. The Book of Esther itself tells us that Mordechai was “a Benjaminite who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled [by Nebuchadnezzar] with Jeconiah, King of Judah” (Esther 2:6). According to the Talmudic sage Rava, however, Mordechai actually joined the exile voluntarily so that he could remain with the scholars (Megilla 13a).

One could assume that he was a youth at the time of the exile, as the events of the Purim story take place at the end of the exile. In the interim, traditional sources record that Mordechai was one of those who joined Ezra and Nechemia in returning to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the Temple. When the nations who had moved into Judea’s territory quarreled with the Jews, it was Mordechai who was sent back to Shushan to negotiate with the king.

It appears that Mordechai remained in Shushan and became one of the members of the Sanhedrin (for which he was required to know 70 languages and was thus able to understand the whispered plotting of Bigthan and Teresh against the king.

There are two other interesting biographical facts about Mordechai. He was a descendant of King Saul, the first king of Israel, and, after Haman’s overthrow, he was appointed Prime Minister of Achashverosh’s kingdom.
Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Follow Those Who Know

Follow the advice of Jossie ben Joezer of Tzeredah, who said: "Let your house be a meetinghouse for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet" (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 1:4), and build a relationship with local rabbis and teachers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Purim Story In Under 300 Words

At the end of a 180-day feast, the King of Persia-Medea, Achashverosh, banished (some say executed) his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. He then staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.

Esther lived with her uncle, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful, and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.

Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.

Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.

After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.

That night, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai for revealing an assassination plot by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.

At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.

The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Esther and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

This Treat was posted on March 7, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Heroines

Honor Jewish heroines by sharing their stories.

Monday, February 11, 2013

When Adar Begins

The month of Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar year, begins today. The Talmud (Ta’anith 29a) states:“Mee'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased.

One might think that this increase in joy is because spring is not far away. While winter is not completely gone, it is certainly on its way out. That may be enough reason for others to rejoice, but the Jews have the wonderful holiday of Purim to make our spirits joyful.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar,* Purim is the holiday that commemorates good overcoming evil. In a nutshell, the story of Purim revolves around the plot, launched in the year 518 BCE by Haman (the wicked viceroy of the Persian-Median King Achashverosh), to kill all the Jews in Achashverosh’s kingdom. Haman’s hatred of the Jews reached a psychotic level when Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community, refused to bow to him. Haman requested and was granted permission by Achashverosh to issue a decree calling for the death of all the Jews. Haman, however, was unaware that Achashverosh’s new queen, Esther, was actually Jewish and was Mordechai’s niece. With significant courage (and tremendous faith in God), Esther revealed Haman’s wicked plot to the king, thus saving the Jewish people.

In celebration of their salvation, the Jews feasted, gave charity and exchanged gift baskets with each other. They celebrated being alive with tremendous joy and rejoiced at being part of a wonderful nation. It is the energy of their joy that permeates the entire month of Adar so that even now, 2,500 years later, when Adar begins, rejoicing is increased.

* Some ancient walled cities, and Jerusalem, celebrate on the 15th of Adar.

This Treat was last posted on February 24, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Getting Ready

Purim will be celebrated two weeks from yesterday. Find out what Purim celebrations will be taking place in your community. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Just A Half Shekel

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the Sabbath of Shekels. The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to God's commandment that a census of the Jewish people be taken by the donation of a half-shekel, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less..."

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. (This year, Rosh Chodesh is celebrated on Sunday and Monday.) In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (Adar 14-this year, February 23/24). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

*The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.

This Treat was originally published on February 17, 2012.
Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.
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Parashat HaChodesh

Unity Point

Wish all of your Jewish friends and colleagues Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's in the Book - Malachi

The Book of Malachi is the last of the Twelve Prophets, and there is no reference to its historical period in the text other than the fact that sacrifices are once again being offered in the Temple

Malachi’s first prophecy is a dialogue between God and Israel. The people questioned God’s love for them. God responded, “And your eyes shall see, and you shall say, 'The Lord will be magnified beyond the border of Israel'” (1:5).

But, God then went further, charging the Children of Israel that, although He wants to be a kindly father to them, they have spurned Him: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is My honor? and if I be a master, where is My reverence?” (1:6).

In particular, the people have practiced the great sin of offering “polluted” sacrifices, animals that should not have been considered fit for the altar. After condemning the wickedness of the priests, Malachi rebuked the people for taking foreign wives, and, at the same time, for callously breaking faith with the wives of their youth.

Malachi also prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, when there will be great tumult in the world as the righteous are sifted from the sinful. Malachi’s final verses, however, are a great and constant message of comfort from God for the Jewish people:

"Remember the law of Moses My servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (3:24-24).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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Other "What's In The Book"


Mitzvah on the Mark

When you put effort into performing a mitzvah, make certain that you do it properly. For instance, when you pay a visit to someone who is ill, pay attention to being sensitive to whether the visit is wearing on them.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Waiting For Ice Cream

According to the Talmudic sage Mar Ukva, his father waited an entire day between eating meat and eating dairy in order to avoid transgressing the prohibition of eating milk and meat together. Mar Ukva, on the other hand, found that it was sufficient simply to wait until the next meal. This insight, which is recorded in Talmud Chullin 105a, is the basis for the current 6 hour waiting time observed by most traditional Jews between eating meat and eating milk. (As with all meat rules, this same standard is applied to chicken.)

While the different sages debated the exact length of time between meat and milk, once a certain standard was accepted within a community, that standard became the law. The majority of religious leaders throughout history understood the length of waiting time between meals to be six hours, and therefore, the majority of traditional Jews today continue to wait six hours. (A close custom, based on certain language of the Rambam,* accepts a waiting time of “into the sixth, meaning just over five or five and a half hours.)

Leaders of the early German Jewish community, however, set a three hour standard. It has been suggested that this standard came into practice because of the short winter day in Germany. Because of the early nightfall, many people ate their meals earlier and thus there were only three hours between major meals. The three hour waiting period continues to be the practice of most Jews of Germanic lineage. 

Uniquely, the Dutch community accepted a standard of waiting only one hour.

No matter one’s custom, the period of time that one must wait after eating meat and before eating dairy begins from the moment one stops eating meat and not the time that the meal concluded.

*Rabbi Moses ben Maimon/Maimonides (12th century, Spain/Egypt).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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Ice Cream Cravings

Plan ahead. If you know you will want ice cream, enjoy it early in the day if you are having meat for dinner.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

NJOP - A History

It all began in December 1975, when Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, then the Educational Director at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, launched the now acclaimed "Beginners Service." As the Beginners Service grew in popularity, Rabbi Buchwald introduced several other innovative educational programs to draw unaffiliated Jews to the synagogue. His most popular programs were Turn Friday Night Into Shabbat, the Hebrew Reading Crash Course and what eventually became known as the Crash Course in Basic Judaism, which sought to make the synagogue experience and Jewish life more welcoming to the unaffiliated.

In the Fall of 1987, Rabbi Buchwald decided to replicate his outreach experiences and programs in synagogues across North America. From his own experiences, Rabbi Buchwald understood how challenging it was for synagogues to attract new members and continue to inspire their congregations. Together with Beryl Levenson, he founded the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) to not only provide synagogues with basic course materials, but to also help them attract new members.

NJOP was a new adventure, an organization that was created to help synagogues and Jewish organizations of all denominations inspire Jews from every walk of life in the hope of revitalizing North American Jewry. In the decade that followed, NJOP transformed both the Hebrew Reading Crash Course and Turn Friday Night Into Shabbat into the highly successful continental campaigns known as Read Hebrew America and Canada and Shabbat Across America and Canada, respectively. Numerous additional programs have been added to NJOP's roster, and NJOP's programs have now been offered to almost 1.4 million North American Jews and to hundreds of thousands of Jews in 39 additional countries.

In 2008, NJOP entered the world of social media with the creation of its Jewish Treats/JewishTweets brand. Not only was NJOP one of the first major Jewish organizations to have a Twitter presence, but Jewish Treats has continued to gain in popularity through all of its online venues.

Tonight, NJOP celebrates its 25th anniversary at its Annual Dinner in New York. Congratulations NJOP!

An Anniversary Gift

In honor of NJOP's 25th anniversary, help support Jewish Treats, either through a contribution and/or through sharing your daily Treats with friends and family.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's A Segulah

segulah is an action that is reputed to lead to a change in one’s fortunes. For instance, acting as the kvatter (the one who brings the baby into the brit milah/circumcision) is purported to be a segulah for fertility. Or, wearing the jewelry of the bride while she is under the chupah is said to be a segulah for finding a husband. There are also special segulot related to prayer. Both reciting the Song of Songs daily for 40 days and praying at the Western Wall every day for 40 days are reputed to “shake the rafters” of Heaven, increasing the likelihood of a favorable response.

The word segulah might be translated as a spiritual remedy or an auspicious tradition. In the Bible, however, it is used in the phrase Am Segulah, a treasured nation (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18), and refers to the special relationship God has with the Jewish people.

Perhaps then, a segulah might be understood to be an action that demonstrates a treasured relationship with God by doing something extra. In the case of praying or reciting the Song of Songs for 40 days, this makes immediate sense. But what about the case of the kvatter or the single woman and the bride’s jewelry as mentioned above?

In these cases, the "treasure" that is being dedicated is joy. A person who longs to be married might feel personally sad attending someone else’s wedding. Holding a piece of the bride’s jewelry, however, can help a person refocus thoughts both on the joy of the bride and groom and toward an optimism about her own future (and the same for the kvatter).

One can certainly find an abundance of segulot. While some have a strong basis in tradition, others are old wives’ tales--and the rest fall somewhere in between. In choosing to do any segulah, be certain to check that it has a source in Jewish tradition, and always remember that the most important purpose of the segulah is drawing closer to the Divine, and not just changing one’s situation.

This Treat was originally published on February 25, 2009

The Greatest Treasure

The greatest joy in Judaism is meant to come from creating a relationship with God. Whether it be prayer or rituals or good deeds, seek out that which helps you create a relationship with the Divine.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Is It Almost Spring?

Tomorrow, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day, when thousands breathlessly wait to see if the groundhog is scared into six more weeks of hibernation by the sight of his shadow. This tradition reveals one constant truth, the universal desire for spring. 

The Bible refers to the Passover festival as Chag Ha'Aviv, the Holiday of the Spring. Because the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, however, the months drift out of season* and an extra month is occasionally added to the calendar to balance it. 

Before the creation of the fixed calendar we use today, it was up to the sages to determine which years would warrant an extra month in order to guarantee the celebration of Passover in the spring. The Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin discusses at length the rules guiding the sages decision, such as “The year may not be intercalated** before Rosh Hashana, and if it is intercalated, the intercalation is invalid” (Sanhedrin 12a).

Since the sages did not have Punxsutawney Phil to help them determine how long it would take until the arrival of spring, and the land of Israel is not one known for its dramatic winters, the sages had to evaluate the coming of the spring based on the ripeness of different crops and other signs of nature.

It is interesting to note that the sages were also permitted to take into consideration practical issues such as intercalating "where it is necessary either for [the improvement of] roads or for [the repair of] bridges..." (Sanhedrin 11a).

*Note this year’s “early Passover” will begin on the evening of March 25th. Next year will be a leap year on the Jewish calendar, so Passover will be celebrated in April.

**Intercalated: To insert in a calendar

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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Well It's Been a Long Day

Extra Warmth

As we enter the last months of winter, remember that a smile is an excellent way of sharing warmth.