Friday, May 31, 2013

The Additional Service

“In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the sages note that the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of kindness).” The term “avodah” is associated with prayer and with the sacrificial service in the Temple, both important parts of Jewish life since the days of Abraham. 

The sages relate that the three services of the day (shacharit/morning, mincha/afternoon, and maariv/night) are connected, respectively, to the three patriarchs. Given that assertion, one who is familiar with a traditional Shabbat service might then ask, but what about Musaf?

Musaf, which translates as additional, is the name of the prayer service that follows the reading of the Torah and the haftarah on Shabbat, as well as on Festivals and on Rosh Chodesh (celebration of the new month). It is primarily an additional Amidah, the silent standing prayer that is recited. Included in the Musaf service are references to the additional (musaf) sacrifices that were brought in the Temple on these special days.

In the days of the Holy Temple (and, prior to that, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness),the Musaf offering consisted of two male lambs. Because there is no longer a Temple for worship, the additional Shabbat offering was transformed into a prayer. Thus, the main body of the Amidah recited in the Shabbat Musaf also includes a prayer for a return to Israel where the sacrifices will once again be offered, the recitation of Numbers 28:9-10 (“On the Sabbath day, two first year lambs, unblemished...”) and a prayer for the Jewish people to be able to fully rejoice on Shabbat.

Related Treats:
Sacrifice and Innocence

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Add A Prayer

On Shabbat, take an extra moment to talk to God.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Curly-Headed White Chief with One Tongue

On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which officially defined the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and opened up a significant part of what became known as the “Wild West.” From outlaws to “Indians,” the dangers and adventures of the “Wild West” have been a rich source of tales that have been recorded and reenacted in the full range of entertainment media. 

Among the Jews who moved west to settle the land there were many traders and merchants as well as farmers. In the “Wild West,” even those with commercial interests were sometimes part of the great adventure. 

Born in Prussia in 1851,* Julius Meyer arrived in Nebraska in the 1860s to join his brothers in trade. Legend has it that he was captured by Ponca People and was saved from being scalped by Chief Standing Bear. This began a relationship that would allow Meyer to make his mark upon the world. 

Meyer felt comfortable among the different tribes and became fluent in six different tribal languages. Meyer’s interactions with the local Native Americans helped build his trading business (including his curio shop The Indian Wigwam). His respectful attitude and the personal interest he took in the tribes, set him apart from many of the other American settlers. In fact, Meyer’s was given the name “Curly-Headed White Chief with One Tongue.” The term “one tongue” was in honor of his honesty, for a person with one tongue cannot speak out of two-sides of his mouth. 

Little more is actually known about Meyer other than that he served as both an interpreter for the Native Americans to Congress and as an “Indian Agent” for the government. However, Meyer left behind a rare trail of photographs from the era, including a photograph of himself with Spotted Tail, Iron Bull and Pawnee Killer. Additionally, records state that Meyer was involved with both the first synagogue in Nebraska, Congregation of Israel of Omaha (now Temple Israel), and Omaha’s Hebrew Benevolent Society.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month.

*Some sources say 1839.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Opportunities For Peace

Step out of your comfort zone and take a positive attitude toward building community relations.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can You Be The Tenth?

That the Hebrew word “minyan” derives from the infinitive “lim’not,” to count or number, is not at all surprising. A minyan is a quorum of 10, the smallest number necessary to create a formal “congregation.” It is customary to have a minyan for certain life cycle events (such as a brit milah - circumcision). However, most people are familiar with the term minyan in reference to prayer, since, ideally, Jewish prayer takes place with a minyan, allowing the full service to be recited.

According to the Talmud (Megillah 23b), certain prayers of sanctity (such as Kaddish) can only be recited in the presence of a minyan. This is understood from the verse, “And I [God] shall be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel” (Leviticus 22:32). What determines being “in the midst”? Two people? Five people?

In the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 4:4)*, two verses are cited, in which a group of 10 is called the Children of Israel or “congregation.” In Genesis 42:5, the 10 sons of Jacob go to Egypt to buy food. The Torah there says: “And the Children of Israel came to buy among those that come.” In Numbers 14:27, 10 of the 12 scouts sent into the Land of Israel return bearing negative reports, to which an angered God responds: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmurs against me?”

We see, especially from the verse concerning the scouts, whose lack of faith leads to the punishment of the entire nation, how powerful a group of 10 can be, impacting on the very destiny of Israel. On the other hand, when Abraham prays to God to spare the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:32), he stops negotiating when he reaches 10 righteous people, indicating that a group of 10 virtuous people (but not less) can bring salvation to an entire city.

This Treat was last posted on June 4, 2010.

*The Babylonian Talmud Brachot 21b is also a source for the equation of ten as the minimum for a congregation.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Step Inside

If you are not currently a member of a congregation, find a synagogue near you and explore their membership options.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Jews' Hospital of New York

Healthcare is a topic that is frequently in the news and part of the current public discourse.
Before it became standard practice for governments to fund public hospitals, most hospitals were under religious auspices. (Thus the heroes of historical fiction are often cared for by sympathetic nuns.)

Because of both religious discrimination and the specific needs of the community, it was not uncommon to find specifically Jewish hospitals in major cities. One excellent example of the development of Jewish hospitals in America is The Jews’ Hospital of New York (now known as Mount Sinai Hospital), which was founded in 1852. 

Although there were nine representatives of Jewish charities who agreed to the creation of a charity hospital for Jews, the name most closely aligned with the launch of The Jews Hospital is Sampson Simson (1780-1857), an American born Jewish philanthropist. Not only did Simson donate the land on which the hospital was built (West 28th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues), but he served as the first president of the Board of Directors.

The Jews Hospital of New York accepted its first patient on 19th Sivan (June 5) 1855. While people of all faiths were welcome, the majority of patients were immigrant Jews. With the outbreak of the Civil War, however, the demands for the hospital’s facilities greatly increased.

Having expanded its mission to accommodate the war, The Jews' Hospital formally retired its sectarian charter in 1866 and renamed itself The Mount Sinai Hospital. The formerly Jewish hospital was, however, better able to care for the religious needs of its Jewish patients (kosher food) and offered opportunities that Jewish medical professionals might not have found elsewhere in those times when Jews were barred from certain professions and suffered academic quotas. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

It's A Visit

If a friend is in the hospital (and up for visitors), clear an hour of your schedule to participate in the mitzvah of bikur cholim (visiting the sick).

Monday, May 27, 2013

Medals of Honor

All soldiers must be brave, but some go above and beyond their duty and give their lives so that others my live. In honor of Memorial Day, Jewish Treats introduces two brave young American Jews who, because of their courageous acts, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Isadore Jachman was 22 years old when he demonstrated his outstanding bravery at the village of Flamierge, Belgium. Born in Berlin, but raised from the age of 2 in Baltimore, Maryland, Jachman was a Staff Sergeant in the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment. When his unit was trapped by the enemy, Jachman ran into the open area, grabbed a bazooka from a fallen comrade and managed to drive off two enemy tanks (actually damaging one of them). Sadly, the wounds he received were fatal, and he passed away that same day, January 4, 1945.

In addition to receiving, posthumously, the Congressional Medal of Honor, Jachman’s courage was acknowledged with a statue in the village of Flamierge. 

Raymond Zussman was born and raised in Michigan. Following his basic training in 1941, he was sent to Armored Officers School and then served as a tank instructor, before being deployed to Europe.

The battle for which Second Lieutenant Zussman was issued a Congressional Medal of Honor took place on September 12, 1944 at Noroy le Bourg, France. When his lead tank was stopped, Second Lieutenant Zussman, armed with only a carbine rifle, led his one remaining tank and accompanying infantry on foot. Scouting ahead on foot and under constant fire, Second Lieutenant Zussman led his men to destroy a road block and defeat several enemy-held houses from which machine guns were being fired.  When the battle was finally over, 18 enemy soldiers had been killed and 92 had been captured. 

Second Lieutenant Zussman received no fatal wounds while leading this heroic charge. Sadly, however, he died 9 days later from wounds he received when a mortar exploded next to him while he was resting after battle.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If you know of any Jewish servicemen/women who gave their lives for the country, honor them by visiting their graves. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Tribe of Judah

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

According to tradition, Judah earned for his descendants the right to kingship because of his ability to acknowledge his own mistakes, accept responsibility for his actions and alter his course of action. 
The kingship of David, the most famous descendant of this tribe, was the beginning of a dynasty that would outlast the kingdom itself, as the Messiah is destined to come from this line. Even before David, however, the tribe of Judah, which was the largest of the tribes, provided Israel with leaders, men of strong will and solid judgment (indeed, the very first of the Judges, Othniel, was from the tribe of Judah). 

As the tribe of leadership, Judah was the first tribe in the marching order in the Wilderness, as well as the first tribe to enter Canaan and conquer its own land. Their strength in battle fulfilled Moses' prayer for them (Deuteronomy. 33:7): "Listen, God, to Judah's voice, and return him to his people; may his hands fight his grievance and may You be a Helper against his enemies."

Judah's natural quality of leadership was also reflected by other members of the tribe of Judah such as Nachshon the son of Amminadab, and Caleb the son of Yephunneh. Nachshon led the Israelites into the Sea of Reeds when they hesitated in fear. With the Egyptian army behind them, the water before them, and only his faith in God, Nachshon walked into the water. When he was nose deep, the waters tore themselves apart and the children of Israel followed Nachshon on dry land.

Caleb represented the tribe of Judah when Moses sent a man from each tribe to scout the Promised Land. When they returned, ten of the scouts reported that the land's inhabitants were fierce and unconquerable. Caleb and Joshua the son of Nun refuted these claims and tried to rally the people to keep the faith. After all, God had promised the land to them, so it must be that with God's help they would be able to conquer it. Caleb was later given the area of Hebron, which he had personally scouted 39 years earlier.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Judah Like

Follow the path of Judah and be a leader by taking responsibility for your actions. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Weights and Measures

The last century has seen the rise, fall and transformation of several major economic-political philosophies (socialism, communism, capitalism). The primary economic philosophy of the Torah is, fundamentally, ethical fairness. If one works hard and becomes rich, wonderful--just don’t forget those less fortunate.

Jewish business ethics are derived directly from the Torah. For instance, “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure” (Leviticus 19:35). Common sense would certainly assume that every society abides by a rule such as this. After all, no one wants to be cheated. And yet the desire to cheat is quite tantalizing. We read about crooked business dealings all the time.

In the 14th century, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (“Ba’al Ha’turim,” Spain, 1270 - c.1340) wrote, in the business section of his legal code Arba’ah Turim, that a community is required to appoint people to examine all public scales and measures and to oversee the community’s businesses. These officials, he instructed, must have the ability to fine or punish (Choshen Mishpat 231:2).

People will always look for ways to “get ahead.” Any success they have through such immoral measures, however, is counter-balanced on the heavenly scale. In fact, the sages declared that “Punishment for [false] measures is more severe than the punishment for illicit sexual relations" (Talmud Baba Batra 88b). Why? Because you can cease doing, and repent from, illicit relations. In order to fully repent from false measures, however, one must be able to make financial restitution to those who were cheated, and that is often very hard to do, especially when stealing from the public.

This Treat was last posted on December 28, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Modern Measures

Make certain to always use fair billing practices. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Or The Egg

For those starting the study of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), the status of eggs is almost always one of the first issues encountered. Since an egg comes from a chicken (or other kosher bird) which is considered meat, does an egg also have the status of meat?

The simple answer is that eggs are pareve (neither meat nor dairy). This is because Jewish law actually distinguishes between fully-formed eggs and eggs that are still connected by veins to the animal. The former are pareve, the latter are “meat” because they are seen as an extension of the chicken’s body. Today, however, since chickens are kept entirely separate from roosters, it is extremely rare that one encounter a “meaty egg.” 

The pareve/meat status is not the only kashrut question related to eggs. Blood spots are also an issue to consider. “If there was found on it a spot of blood, the blood must be thrown away and the rest [of the egg] may be eaten...Dashai, the father of Aptoriki, taught ‘this rule applies only if [the spot of blood] was found on the white, but if found on the yolk, the whole egg is forbidden” (Talmud Chullin 64b).

Because most eggs today come from hen houses and are thus unfertilized, blood spots are also quite rare.* And while most rabbis agree that a blood spot can simply be removed, it is, nevertheless, customary before use, to crack each egg into a clear container to check for blood spots. Additionally, when a blood spot is found, most consumers discard the entire egg.

In the case of boiled eggs, it is customary to prepare a minimum of three eggs at a time so that an unnoticed blood spot would be nullified by the majority and not render the pot unkosher. 

*Brown eggs and fresh farm eggs have a significantly higher percentage of blood spots. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Jewish Treats

Taking Care

Eating a healthy and well balanced diet is part of the mitzvah of taking care of one's body.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Marvelous Manna

“Foodies” everywhere might appreciate the fact that some people see the exceptionally wide variety of textures and flavors that are found in food as proof of God’s desire for humankind to not only live in the world, but to enjoy it as well.

One can see this unique form of compassion in God’s treatment of the Israelites in the Wilderness. When the Children of Israel complained that they did not have any food in the Wilderness (and that they prefer to go back to Egypt), God could have simply taken away the sensation of hunger or provided them with simple bread and water. Instead, despite the peoples’ complaints, God provided the Israelites with this gift of  “manna.”

Physically, the manna is described as being “a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14) that lay just under the morning dew upon the Wilderness each morning (except on Shabbat). Furthermore, it is described as being “like coriander seed, white” (Exodus 16:31).

Exodus 16:31 states that the raw manna tasted “like wafers made with honey,” and Numbers 11 records that when it was ground and made into cakes, “the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil” (11:8). According to Jewish tradition, however, the manna was an extraordinary food to eat because it tasted like whatever a person desired*. This tradition is based on the statement in Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9:: “Rabbi Jose ben Hanina says: ... the manna that descended with a taste varying according to the needs of each individual Israelite. The young men, eating it as bread...the old, as wafers made with the babes, it tasted like the milk from their mothers’ the sick, it was like fine flour mingled with honey.

It is interesting to note, that long before the peoples’ complaints, God was already prepared to provide food in the wilderness. It is recorded in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, that the manna was one of the ten things created by God at twilight on the eve of the first Shabbat” (5:9).

*According to Rashi, quoting Midrash Sifri, Manna could taste like any food except the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, and garlic because these foods might be harmful to nursing mothers.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Deep Appreciation

Explore the many food tastes and textures God provided for us to enjoy, but don't forget to express your thanks to the Creator.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Simple Measurements

In honor of World Metrology Day, which celebrates the 1875 Metre Convention that established a worldwide uniformity of measurement (with the notable exception of the United States), today’s Jewish Treat focuses on measurements in Jewish law. The Torah and the Talmud use measurements not only to describe significant structures in the biblical narrative (Noah’s ark, the Holy Temple), but also to ensure the proper fulfillment of certain mitzvot (building a sukkah, eating matzah at the Passover seder, etc.).

Unlike the metric system celebrated today, which is based on a standard measure prototype, biblical/talmudic measurements were based on those things that were always on hand. Measurements of length were, for the most part, based on body parts. This was particularly true of smaller measurements such as: etzbah (plural: etzba’ot) - fingerlength; tefach (plural: t’fachim) - the measure of a palm or fist, sometimes referred to as a handbreadth; zeret (plural: z’ratot) - handspan; and, perhaps the best known small measurement of length, amah (plural: amot) - a cubit, which was two z’ratot, or the length from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow.  Other larger terms of measurement were borrowed from the surrounding cultures, such as mil (plural milin), a Roman term that signified the length of approximately 2000 amot, and parsa (plural parsa'ot), a Persian measure of approximately 4 milin.

The measurement of volume is also significant in Jewish law. Similar to measurements of length, measurements of volumes were often based on common items of a consistent size. The two best known biblical/talmudic measurements of volume are the beitzah, which was the volume of a large egg, and a kzayit, which is best translated as “like an olive.”

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mental Measure

Measure the weight of your words, and be careful not to say anything hurtful to others.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Guard And Remember

The observance of Shabbat is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, listed in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. One would expect to find no difference in the wording of the Ten Commandments from one Biblical Book to the next. However, the wording of the Fourth Commandment differs in two major ways.

In Exodus, the Jews are commanded: “Remember (zachor) the Sabbath day” because “in six days God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested.” In Deuteronomy, they are instructed to “Guard (shamor) the Sabbath day” because “you were a slave in Egypt, and God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”

On the whole, however, the two commandments are the same--whether remembered or guarded, Shabbat is to be made holy and no creative work (m’la’cha) is to be done on it. Indeed, according to Jewish tradition, when God told the Jewish people the Ten Commandments, He spoke the words zachor and shamor at the same instant (Rosh Hashanah 27a), illustrating the fact that there are two important aspects to the observance of Shabbat.

Guard the Sabbath, shamor, refers to the prohibited acts which serve to ensure that the day remains holy. These are "creative labors" known as m'la'chot, which includes such acts as cooking, planting, and writing.

Zachor (Remember) refers to the positive commandments: reciting Kiddush (the blessing over the wine), having three meals, lighting the candles, etc. Remembering Shabbat also refers to the constant focus on Shabbat--represented in the fact that the Hebrew names of the days of the week are the First Day to Shabbat, the Second Day to Shabbat, the Third Day to Shabbat....Shabbat. The days count up to Shabbat, just as Jews spend their week looking forward to and preparing for Shabbat.

By wearing nice clothing, drinking wine, eating a full sit-down meal, inviting guests, etc., Jews around the world transform the seventh day into Shabbat on a weekly basis.

This Treat was last posted on February 25, 2011.

Bring It In Brightly

Light candles tonight in honor of Shabbat.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Green Cheesecake at Midnight?

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites. 

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.
For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.) 

This Treat was last posted on May 22, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. When they reached Israel, however, Naomi urged them to go back to their fathers’ homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi]  go, I shall go, your people will be my people, your land will be my land, and your God will be my God."

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s family had fled the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

In the meantime, the elders of Bethlehem debated whether Ruth was a true convert and whether she could marry a Jewish man. Naomi, however, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere. She directed Ruth to go to the ceremony at the close of the threshing and seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David.

The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot.
This Treat was originally posted on May 25, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wishes To All

Jewish Treats wishes you all a wonderful holiday.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Different Set of Loaves

There are several well-known connections between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The most obvious of these is that the celebration of Shavuot is dependent on the count of 49 days that begins on the second day of Passover. Additionally, on Passover we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and on Shavuot we celebrate the true culmination of that event, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

One fascinating juxtaposition of the two festivals is that whereas on Passover there is a prohibition against eating bread, on Shavuot the priests brought a special Offering of the Two Loaves (of bread) in the Temple. In fact, they were specifically leaven bread (chametz), as opposed to the unleavened bread (matzah) of Passover. The holiday of Shavuot is also known as Chag Habikurim, the Holiday of the First Fruits, because of the offering of the first fruits that was brought to the Temple. Although the Offering of the Two Loaves was officially separate, it was another form of offering “first fruits,” as the Two Loaves were made from the first cut of the new wheat harvest.

Generally, when one thinks of sacred Jewish bread, one pictures beautifully braided challahs, perhaps the stunning twelve (or more) stranded challahs often seen at weddings or bar/bat mitzvahs. Actually, the Offering of the Two Loaves were shaped like large bricks. Their dimensions were seven hand-breadths long, four and a half hand breadths wide and four 'fingers' high (approximately 22 inches x 9.5 inches x 3 inches).

The rules associated with the Two Loaves go into great detail as to the preparation of the wheat and the loaves. The Torah instructs that the two loaves be taken as a wave offering, after which each of the priests is given a small piece to consume with a portion of the peace offerings. All of this comes to underscore our constant dependence upon G-d for our sustenance and our gratitude to Him for our total well-being.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In The Wilderness

The Torah was given to the Jewish nation in the midst of the wilderness on a tiny mountain called Sinai. Throughout the Torah, however, there is much focus on the “Promised Land” and the mitzvot that can only be performed when the Israelites settle the land.

There are two significant ideas that one may learn from the fact that the Torah was given in the desert:

1) The Torah is not only for those who live in the Land of Israel. Its laws and precepts are meant to be practiced by the Jewish People no matter where they may live. (It must, of course, be noted that there are a significant number of mitzvot that can only be observed in the Land of Israel itself.)

2) Attaining possession of the Holy Land is a great reward. The Israelites spent their time in the wilderness preparing themselves, studying and practicing the laws of the Torah. The books of the Prophets, which record the history of the Jewish people following their entry into the Promised Land, teach that whenever the people strayed from the Torah, the land was conquered and the people subjugated until they mended their ways.

There is no question that the Jews are bound to the Land of Israel. This fact is evident throughout the Bible, the Talmud, the liturgy, and the extensive canon of Jewish writing. Judaism, however, is bigger than a particular location. Judaism is a way of living wherever a Jew may be.

This Treat was originally posted on May 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Bake Bread

Prepare for Shavuot by baking Challah. Here is a delicious recipe.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fear Your Mother?

"Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12) is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. It is at the very heart of Judaism and is a mitzvah that straddles the twin aspects of Judaism: “bein adam la’makom” (between human and God) and "bein adam l’chavero” (between human and human). Honoring parents recognizes the process of creation and enables us to appreciate God’s role in the creation of life.

A lesser known mitzvah, however, is "Every person shall revere/fear his/her mother and his/her father" (Leviticus 19:3). To honor one’s parents requires providing for their personal needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). To revere/fear one’s parents is to make certain never to undermine their dignity (not contradicting one’s parents, not sitting in their specific seats, etc.)

Note that when the Torah speaks of reverence/fear of one’s parents, “mother” precedes the word “father,” yet "father" precedes "mother" when the Torah commands us to honor our parents. The word sequence reveals a strikingly accurate understanding of family dynamics. In many homes, the nurturing role of the mother makes her more beloved to her children than the father. It is easy to want to honor her, to take care of her. But, the Torah places the word “father” first, with respect to honor, as a reminder that the father deserves an equal measure of honor. So too, it is often the father, who may be more distant from child-rearing (and who is often the disciplinarian), who is naturally revered/feared by the child. The Torah, therefore, uses the word “mother” first, in order to uphold their equality with respect to fear/reverence. Hence, children must revere/fear and honor both their mother and father equally.

This Treat was originally posted on July 21, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thank You, Mom

In honor of all our favorite Jewish Mothers, we've decided to re-Treat this special Mother's Day edition of Jewish Treats!

Don’t forget to call your mother today, or send her flowers or a card. For those very, very out of the loop, today is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day set aside to show the moms in our lives how much we appreciate them. It’s a sweet and wonderful idea...but according to the Torah, every day is Mother’s Day.

The very first commandment that God gave to Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply.” Traditionally, this mitzvah is only considered obligatory upon men, not women.

This seems strange. After all, women are the ones who carry the children in the womb, nourish the infants from their breasts, and, traditionally, take the brunt of the child-rearing responsibility. If anything, “peru oo’revu,” be fruitful and multiply, should be a woman’s mitzvah!

According to the sages, however, the mitzvah of “peru oo’revu” is not obligatory on a woman because of the inherent dangers in childbirth. It has only been in the last 100 years or so that the number of fatalities during birth has become minimal, and Torah law does not command people to put themselves in life-threatening situations.

Perhaps, however, the danger inherent in motherhood is not just physical. Motherhood changes a person, restricts her and demands that she sacrifice many of the things she most values in life (sleep, independence, etc.). At the same time, through motherhood, a woman has the chance to not only experience the immense power of creation, but also to emulate God's endless ability to give.

Motherhood, therefore, is both a choice and an opportunity. And it is because of this choice, and the sacrifices inherent therein, that one must give his/her mother honor, respect and even gratitude, not just on Mother’s Day, but everyday.

This post was previously treated on May 13, 2012, May 8, 2011, May 9, 2010, and May 8, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Her Smile

If you have not yet, call your mother and just say thank you.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Give Them A Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder...and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. This is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

This Treat was originally posted on May 23, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Day of Distinction

On the first day of Sivan in the year 2448 (Jewish calendar), only seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the Wilderness of Sinai. On the desert plain around the mountain, they set up camp and watched as Moses set off toward the mountain to hear God's will.

The next morning, Moses called for the elders of Israel and transmitted God's message to them (which they then related to the rest of the nation). God had instructed Moses to tell the Israelites:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now, therefore, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).

On that day, 2 Sivan 2448, the Israelites made the most monumental decision in history. They chose to become a people with a distinct and direct relationship with God. They chose to become God's servants, to follow His rules and to faithfully serve Him. They chose to strive for holiness. On the second of Sivan, they chose to be “chosen” when they responded with one voice: “All that God has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

The second day of Sivan is not marked as a holiday, as is the sixth of Sivan (Shavuot), the day on which the Israelites actually received the Torah. However, to honor the agreement that was presented and accepted on this day, the second of Sivan is known as Yom Ha'meyuchas, the Day of Distinction.

This Treat was originally posted on May 23, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make A Choice

Make a choice to have a more active Jewish life.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Tuesday night (May 14th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

This Treat was originally published on May 21, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Two Pillars of Five

Jewish law, and thus Jewish life, rests on two pillars, the mitzvot between a person and God and the mitzvot between one person and another. These two pillars of law are laid out in the Ten Commandments.

According to the sages, the first five commandments concern one’s relationship with God. The second five are concerned with interpersonal relationships. Strikingly enough, these two sets of five parallel each other:

1) I am the Lord your God and 6) Do not murder: When someone murders another person, the perpetrator, in effect, denies that the victim is created b’tzelem Eh'lokim, made in the image of God. A murderer assumes that there is no higher power who will either punish him/her or who will punish the person whom he/she feels has wronged him/her.

2) You shall have no idols and 7) Do not commit adultery: Just as adultery is being unfaithful to one’s spouse, worshiping idols is tantamount to being unfaithful to God.

3) Do not make a false oath and 8) Do not steal: One who swears falsely in God’s name distorts the trust that people place in God to uphold justice. One who steals twists the trust another person puts in him/her.

4) Sanctify the Sabbath and 9) Do not bear false witness: By sanctifying the Sabbath day, one bears testimony that God created the world and redeemed the Jews from Egypt. Violating the Sabbath denies both.

5) Honor your mother and father and 10) Do not covet your neighbor's possessions: By honoring our parents, we recognize God as our Creator, thereby honoring Him as well. When we covet our neighbor's possessions we deny God as the Ruler of the world and believe that we have been denied something that we deserve.

This Treat was last posted on February 12, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mark Your Calendars

Make preparations to celebrate Shavuot next week.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Western Wall History

The Western (Wailing*) Wall is the holiest location in Jewish life. With 28 rows of massive stones above ground (and 17 below), the wall itself is physically breathtaking. Its holiness stems
from the fact that it is the closest location to where the Holy of Holies was located in the Temple.

When the Western Wall was first built by Herod as part of a retaining wall for the expanded Second Temple (c. 13 CE), it was 24 rows of stones shorter and remained that height for nearly seven centuries. The other rows have been attributed to later sources. The Second Temple fell in 70 CE, and after the quelling of the Bar Kochba’s uprising in 135 CE, the Jews were fully exiled from Jerusalem. They were not allowed to live in Jerusalem or worship at the Wall until the early 5th century, when permission was granted by Aelia Eudocia, the Byzantine Empress.

It seems, from the sparsely recorded data, that Jews continued to be allowed to come to the Western Wall throughout much of the Middle Ages. Alas, after Saladin’s overthrow of the Crusaders (1187), Saladin’s son established a “Moroccan Quarter” to create housing for his loyal followers--who regularly dumped their waste in the 13 foot gap left between the houses and the holy wall.

In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered Jerusalem. Under the Ottomans, several legal rulings were issued, both allowing Jews to come to the Wall to pray and, at the same time, prohibiting them from paving the narrow walkway in front of the wall, making noise and setting up tables.

When the British took control of Jerusalem from the Turks (1917), the Jews had to constantly fight for their rights to pray at the wall. After the 1948 war, the Jordanians took control of the entire Old City. Although the 1949 Armistice Agreement stated that Jews would be permitted access to the Wall, the Jordanians never actually allowed them to do so.

During the Six Day War of 1967 (on the 28th of Iyar), the Israeli Defense Force took back the Old City. Shortly thereafter, they demolished the “Moroccan Quarter” and greatly expanded the plaza in front of the Wall, allowing access to anyone who wished to come to the holy site.

*The term “Wailing Wall” is actually a modern term that appears only in the late 1800s/early 1900s. It may be based on the ancient Arabic name for the Wall, El-Mabka, which means “the place of weeping.” Both El-Mabka and Wailing Wall refer to the Jews who have, throughout history, come there to cry for the lost Temple.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jerusalem Day

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine (Israel) into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an “international city” for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the partition plan). 

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall, the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the retaining wall that supported the Holy Temple, and nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.

On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. The war itself lasted six days, but on June 7, 1967 - 28 Iyar 5727 - Jewish troops took the Old City and, for the first time in almost twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.

This Treat was last posted on May 18, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Virtual Wall

Pay a virtual visit to Jerusalem via Kotel cam.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In Five Years Time

In the past, it was common for people to learn a trade by serving as an apprentice. If one wished to learn a trade different from that of one's family, a professional was paid by the young person or the youth's family to teach him.

Although the Torah does not formally discuss life details such as apprenticeships, it was noted in Midrash Numbers Rabbah that such a training program is alluded to in the instructions given to the Levites.

In Numbers 4, it is instructed that the census of each Levite family was to be "from thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter upon the service, to do work in the tent of meeting" (Numbers 4:3). However, in Numbers 8 it is written that "This is that which pertains to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall go in to perform the service in the work of the tent of meeting" (Number 8:24).

If the Levites were to serve in the tent of meeting from the ages of twenty-five to fifty, why were the individual families counted only after reaching the age of thirty? Our sages explain that this is done "only to tell you that all those five years, from the age of twenty-five to the age of thirty, he [the Levite] served his apprenticeship and from that time onward he was allowed to draw near to do the service" (Numbers Rabbah 6:3).

The fact that the Levites served an internship is interesting. But, more fascinating is the "life-coaching" lesson that the sages learned from the apprenticeships of the Levites. The Midrash continues to state: "From here it has been inferred that a person who sees no sign of success in his studies within a period of five years, will never see it any more. Rabbi Jose says three years..."

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Helpful Hints

Don't hesitate to give advice to someone who wishes to go into the same line of work as you.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Fascinating Life of Judah P. Benjamin

Raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Judah P. Benjamin (1811, St. Croix - 1884, Paris) was 14 years old when he left home to attend Yale Law School. (For unknown reasons, he did not graduate.) By age 21, he was settled in New Orleans, had passed the Louisiana bar and began practicing law. In addition to his work as a lawyer, Benjamin also was a founder of the Illinois Central Railroad and the owner of a sugar plantation (and its 140 slaves whom he eventually freed).

After being involved in state politics for a number of years, Benjamin was elected to the United States Senate in 1852. He was the second senator of Jewish ancestry (the first was David Levy Yulee). During his involvement in national politics, Benjamin was twice offered a seat on the Supreme Court.

Benjamin was, at heart, a Southerner. When the southern states seceded in 1861, he went with them. A close friend of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Benjamin was first appointed Attorney-General to the Confederacy and then Secretary of War. When Roanoke Island fell to the Union, Benjamin was vilified for not sending supplies and back-up forces. It later came to light, however, that he had allowed the blame to fall on himself rather than let the Union know just how much the Confederates were lacking in soldiers and supplies. He stepped down as Secretary of War and was appointed Secretary of State. 

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Benjamin settled in England. Many false rumors connected him to the assassination, and he feared for his safety. Since the British colony of St. Croix was his place of birth, Benjamin had British citizenship. Once established in London, he resumed his practice of law and eventually attained the rank of Queen's Counsel. 

Upon his retirement Benjamin settled in Paris, where he passed away on May 6, 1884, at the age of 72.

*An Interesting Addition:

Judah P. Benjamin expressed his Jewish pride in the face of an anti-Semitic attack by Senator Benjamin Wade in 1853 by replying: “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amid the thundering and lightening of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.”

One cannot help but reflect on the similarity of this statement to its more famous predecessor expressed by Sir Benjamin D’Israeli in 1835: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon.”

May is Jewish American Heritage Month.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.