Wednesday, July 31, 2013

With Your Permission

Dear Miss Manners: Yesterday, a friend knocked on my door. I invited him in and he proceeded to grab a snack out of the fridge, watch a movie on my TV and then hopped on to my exercise bike. I wasn’t asked even once if any of this was ok! In truth, I had no problem with him using my home, but I was astounded by the lack of manners, by the fact that I was never asked if it was ok!

It is obvious that even friends should ask their host’s permission before partaking of a host’s generosity. After all, most humans are rather possessive over their “things.” But do we always ask permission?

That beautiful apple that you ate this morning? Did you truly own it? Sure, you paid for it. But was it you who sent the rain to water it and the sun to warm the soil? Think of the planet as God’s home. After all, He is the Creator. Everything is really His, and it is our responsibility to ask His permission and give Him our thanks, just as we would ask permission of a human host.

Our sages therefore taught that one must always say a blessing before eating. Blessings, in effect, are our way of “acquiring” the food from God and acknowledging His role as Creator.

The formula for the blessings are based on the different ways food grows. There are 6 blessing categories: Breads-Ha'mo'tzee, Wine/Grape Juice-Ha'gafen, Grains-M'zo'note, Fruit-Ha’etz, Vegetables-Ha’ah'dama and everything else-Sheh’ha’kohl.

This Treat was last posted on December 10, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don't Forget The Thank You

After eating a meal, don't forget to thank God for the food as well. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Father-In-Law Day

Jewish Treats would like to wish a happy Father-in-Law’s Day to all our readers to whom it applies.

There are two prominent portraits of fathers-in-law in the Torah: Laban and Jethro. Laban was the father-in-law twice over of Jacob as he was the father of both Leah and Rachel. When Jacob arrived in Padam-Aram, he fell in love with Rachel. When he asked Laban for her hand in marriage, Laban agreed, but only if Jacob worked for him for seven years. At the end of that term, Laban stealthfully switched Leah for Rachel and then insisted that Jacob work for him for another seven years in order to marry Rachel as well. Throughout this time, he cheated and stole from his son-in-law, and, when Jacob wished to leave, he tried to physically stop him.

Jethro* was Moses’ father-in-law. After Moses fled Egypt for killing an Egyptian (before he was instructed to save the Jewish people), he stopped some men from bullying Jethro’s daughters at the well. Jethro warmly welcomed Moses into his tent, and, soon thereafter, gave him his daughter, Tziporah, as a wife. When Moses told his father-in-law that he wished to leave in order to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites to freedom, Jethro responded, “Go in peace” (Exodus 4:18). Not only did Jethro encourage him to go, but, according to Jewish tradition,after the Israelites received the Ten Commandments, Jethro joined his son-in-law, converted to Judaism, and even advised Moses on how to make the justice system work more smoothly.

*Jethro is one of several biblical personalities who is known by several names (according to tradition, Jethro had seven). In Exodus 2:18, he is referred to as Reuel; in Exodus 3:1, he is called Jethro.

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Respectful Always

Remember to always speak respectfully about your in-laws, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Woman In Charge: Bessie Gotsfeld

Mizrachi Women of America (MWOA, known today as AMIT - Americans for Israel and Torah) began as part of Mizrachi of America (AMIT’s original name). Its separate identity was the direct result of the efforts of Bessie Goldstein Gotsfeld.

Polish born, Bessie (Baike) Goldstein came to New York in 1905, at age 17, and married her English tutor, Mendel Gotsfeld, four years later. During the first seven years of married life, the Gotsfelds lived in Seattle, Washington, and Bessie got to know the traveling leadership of the Mizrachi movement. They represented religious Jews who supported the Zionist dream of building a Jewish state in the Promised Land. They did not, however, agree that the State should have only secular public education, and advocated for religious public education as well. Mizrachi’s motto was: “The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, in accordance with the law of Israel.”

When the Gotsfelds returned to New York in 1918, Bessie increased her involvement with Mizrachi. The women of Mizrachi proved themselves to be extraordinary fund-raisers. At the 1925 American Mizrachi Convention, Gotsfeld led the leaders of the other women’s branches to declare a separate women’s organization (MWOA) that would administer and support its own projects. Later that year, when one of the organization's leaders realized “how much money the women had raised, he insisted that the funds be turned over to him. Bessie replied that the ladies would consider his request and inform him of their decision at some other time.*” 

MWOA focused on establishing schools for religious students in Israel. Bessie traveled to Jerusalem to find their first school building, which MWOA refurbished as a vocational school. In 1931, Bessie and Mendel settled in Tel Aviv, and she became MWOA’s “Palestine representative.” Over the next 17 years, Bessie helped establish three more schools, two farm village education centers, and numerous other facilities to benefit children.

Bessie Gotsfeld retired in 1948, but remained involved in the organization until her death on July 29, 1962.

*Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Native American. Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Marie Cantlon

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fund Raiser

Don't hesitate to help raise funds for an organization in whose work you believe.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sing the Songs of Shabbat

Music is said to raise a person’s spirit (Berachot 57b), and there is no time more appropriate for joyousness than Shabbat, the day of rest.

To honor Shabbat, and to bring it more tranquility, more joy and more celebration, it is customary to sing special songs (known on zmirot) at the Shabbat table. As Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sang: “The whole world is waiting/to sing the song of Shabbat.”

There are zmirot that are designated for each of the three Shabbat meals, and even post-Shabbat zmirot. Two of the most popular songs for Friday night are:

Yom Zeh L’Yisrael, in its full version, contains an acrostic of the name Yitzchak Luria Chazak, and is attributed to the Arizal, the great 16th century Kabbalistic rabbi. The song speaks of the spiritual contentment of Shabbat and also of the neshama yetayrah, the additional soul, that enters the Jew on Shabbat, to enhance his/her tranquility. Its chorus is: Yom zeh l’Yisrael, ora v’simcha, Shabbat menucha - This day for Israel is light and gladness, Sabbath of contentment.

Menucha V’simcha, one of the shortest of the Shabbat zmirot, was written by an unknown author in the sixteenth century. The title, Menucha V’simcha, means contentment and happiness of the Sabbath day, which is the theme of the song. Its verses speak of the exaltation of God, God’s giving Israel His sacred gift (Shabbat), the strengthening power of Shabbat, and the beauty and merit of the Shabbat mitzvot.

Listen to: Yom Zeh L’Yisrael

Listen to: Menucha V’Simcha

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sing Out

Use song to express your spirituality. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Harem Power

The place: Istanbul/Constantinople. 
The Time: The Sixteenth Century                       

In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman empire was one of the few places in which the Jewish people were able to live in relative peace and where conversos (the secret Jews of Spain) could find refuge from the Inquisition. Because the Ottoman women of Istanbul/Constantinople (particularly the upper classes) did not go out in public nor did they involve themselves with business, the Jewish women were in a position to provide a valuable service to the aristocratic Muslim women by serving as their connection to the world outside the Harem.

Esther Handali earned her place in history by excelling in business and diplomacy. As was often the case in that time, Esther began her business career as an accessory to her husband, Eliya. Working together, the Handalis provided jewelry, fancy clothing and cosmetics to the Harem of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. After her husband’s death, Esther continued the business on her own. She came to be known as Esther Kira, the term Kira (which has multiple spellings) being the title of the economic agent for the harem.

As the conduit to the outside world for the women of the Harem, Esther gained tremendous influence and power. She acted as a secretary, translator, emissary and confidant to the Sultan’s Venetian consort, Nur Banu. She even facilitated correspondence between Nur Banu and the doge of Venice.

Esther’s interactions with the nobility of the Ottoman Empire brought her great wealth, which she generously shared with the Jews of Istanbul/Constantinople through her many acts of charity. She supported widows, orphans, failed merchants and scholars. After a terrible fire devastated Istanbul/Constantinople in 1569, Esther opened her home to many of the Jews who were left homeless.

*Esther Handali is often confused with a later powerful Jewish Kira, Esperanza Malchi, who was murdered. 

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Position to Help

If you are involved in municipal politics, try and assist the needs of the Jewish community. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Those Who Can...Teach And Do

Among the many wise statements recorded in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers is the following from Rabbi Ishmael the son of Yochanan: “He who learns in order to teach will be enabled both to learn and to teach. But, he who learns in order to practice, will be able to learn, to teach, to observe and to practice” (4:6).

Lest anyone become alarmed, Rabbi Ishmael is not demeaning the important role of teachers or teacher training. Rather, this is one of several discussions that are found throughout the Talmud that weigh in on the ever-present issue of whether it is best to study or to act. This discussion applies only to the study of Torah, and it is one that often elicits strong responses (both from the rabbis of the Talmud and the rabbis of today).

In general, the Talmudic opinion is a moderate one. As Rabbi Akiva explained: “Study is greater (than practice) because it leads to practice.” In this he means that those who practice without study, who perform only the rituals that their parents performed and never learn the reasons why, will be stunted in their religious growth. Those who study, however, will be inspired to not only increase their performance of mitzvot, but to be more precise when performing the mitzvot that they already practice. 

This mishna is a reminder that the Torah is not simply a book to be studied as an academic exercise, but a guidebook for life. One who learns its laws in order to grow spiritually will find far greater reward than one who thinks of it merely as a static text.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mitzvah Study

 Focus on learning how to observe one specific mitzvah that is not part of your life today.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Formal Engagement

The picture perfect engagement brings to mind the scene of a sweet young man kneeling on one knee holding out a ring box to his flustered, joyful girlfriend. It’s both a romantic expression of the promise to marry and a verbal contract* between the young couple.

Within Jewish tradition, there is a more formal form of engagement. This is referred to as tena'im, which is an actual contract and, as such, is signed by the two witnesses who testify to the agreement of the families to make a wedding. (Today there are standardized forms available.)  It should be noted that the signing of the tena’im is a custom rather than a requirement. The halachic (legally) required steps of a Jewish marriage, which take place under the chuppah, are  kiddushin (betrothal) and nisuin (marriage).

Over time, a fascinating custom, the breaking of the plate, has become part of the traditional ceremony of the signing of the tena’im. The mothers of the bride and groom (or, if necessary, a close female relative or friend) each take one end of a china plate and smash it. (For safety reasons, the plate is generally covered with a napkin.) The origin of this custom is unclear, but numerous ideas for it have been suggested. One suggestion is that it serves as a reminder that the Temple has been destroyed. Another is that it is a symbol of the commitment between the two families.

Because the formal engagement can be as difficult to undo as the actual marriage, many communities postpone the signing of the tena’im until shortly before the wedding. In other communities, such as among the Hassidim, a bride and groom may be formally engaged (tena’im signed) for an entire year.

*A rabbi should be consulted if either a verbal or written contract needs to be broken.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Engagement Present

When friends get engaged, choose a tasteful piece of Judaica as a gift.

Monday, July 22, 2013

On the 15th of Av: What Hoshea Did

How can one action be both praiseworthy and unacceptable at the same time? Such was the conundrum of Hoshea ben Elah, the last King of Israel (the Northern Kingdom of Ten Tribes).

After the unified Kingdom reigned over by David and Solomon split in two, Jereboam ben Nevat, the northern king, set up two golden calves (one in Bethel and the other in Dan) as roadblocks to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem, announcing to the people, “Here is your God!”

The two kingdoms were separated for more than two centuries, and throughout that time, roadblocks prevented access between them. The Jews of the Kingdom of Israel could not go down to Jerusalem to partake of the festivals or to offer sacrifices. (Instead, they did so in Shiloh.) The Talmud describes the situation thus: “Jeroboam had stationed guards on the roads to prevent the Israelites from going up [to Jerusalem] for the festivals, and Hoshea disbanded them, and for all that time the Israelites did not go up to the festivals. Thereupon God decreed that for those years during which the Israelites had not gone up to the festival they should go a corresponding number into captivity” (Talmud Gittin 88a).

Hoshea’s action of removing the roadblocks was praiseworthy and is noted as one of the positive actions that occurred on Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av. However, the sages also note that, upon removing the roadblocks, Hoshea said: “Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire” (Talmud Taanit 31a). He did not tell them to go to Jerusalem as he should have, and therefore the Israelites continued to follow false gods. The fact that they did not choose to return to tradition led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No Holiday As Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, in Talmudic times it was said: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av...” (Ta’anit 26b). 

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed. 

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised...’” (Proverbs 31:30). 

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu B’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel. 

Today is Tu B’Av

This Treat was last posted on August 15, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Strong Encouragement

Take an active (rather than passive) interest in the Jewish life of those closest to you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Av) is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, referring to the opening words of the haftarah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. It is the first of seven haftarot noted for their theme of consolation.

Having just emerged from the time of deepest mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, our despair is tempered by God’s constant optimistic promise--while our people may be laid low at times by our enemies, we shall be redeemed by God and our Temple will be rebuilt.

The haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu begins with the words: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eh’lo’hey’chem.” Be comforted, be comforted My people, will say your God. (Isaiah 40:1).

Isaiah lived and prophesied at the time when Israelite kingdoms were threatened by the Assyrians. This was more than 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple.

Through his prophecy, however, Isaiah was able to see that these great tragedies would be only temporary and that God would not only bring back the Jews from exile, but would also rebuild the Holy Temple. It is commonly understood that the double language of “Nachamu, nachamu” is an allusion to the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples and the redemptions that would follow.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Temple Talk

This Shabbat, discuss what you know about the glory of the Holy Temple.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Whispered Line

The Shema is both a prayer and a statement of the most fundamental aspect of Jewish theology: God’s oneness. The words of the first line of the Shema are found in Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”) followed by the rest of the first paragraph Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (known as V’ahavta). Two more biblical selections from Deuteronomy 11:13-21 (V’hayah) and Numbers 15:37-41 (Va’yomer) complete the Shema. In every siddur, however, one will find a small line of print that follows the primary line of the Shema. This line, Baruch shem k'vod malchuto l’olam va’ed (‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever) is almost always recited in a whisper.* The Talmud explains why:

According to Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish,, the patriarch Jacob, some time before his demise, wished to “reveal to his sons the ‘end of days.’” [The Almighty, however, did not agree.] Whereupon the Divine presence departed from him. Said [Jacob], ‘Perhaps, God forbid, there is one unfit among my children...’ [But] his sons answered him, ‘Hear O Israel [Israel is another name for their father Jacob], the Lord our God the Lord is One (the Shema): Just as there is only One in your heart, so is there in our heart only One.’ At that moment, our father Jacob opened [his mouth] and exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever” (Pesachim 56a).

Because Jacob connected this verse to the recitation of Shema, the rabbis felt that it should be included in the formal recitation of the prayer. However, uncomfortable with intruding on biblical verses but also with disregarding the declaration of Jacob, the sages “enacted that it should be recited quietly”* (ibid)

*With the exception of Yom Kippur, when it is recited out loud.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Simple Prayer

If you would like to add prayer into your life, start with the Shema.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Some historians are scholars, others are propagandists, and still others live the history that they go on to record. Yosef ben Matityahu, better known as Flavius Josephus (or just Josephus), was all three.

Born around 37 CE, Josephus was the second son of a wealthy priestly family of Jerusalem. His first journey to Rome occurred in 63 CE, when he was sent to secure the release of some Jewish priests  imprisoned in Rome. When he returned from his mission, the Jewish people were on the brink of revolt. Although Josephus later asserted that he was a moderate (inferring that he did not advocate revolt), he was appointed the commander of the Galilee. The Galileans, however, already had a local leader, and many attribute the defeat that followed to the two men’s inability to work together.

The great turning point in Josephus’ life took place at Yodfata. Facing defeat, Josephus ordered his troops to flee. The men made a suicide pact (a common act at the time as capture by Rome often meant Crucifixion or enslavement), but Josephus deviously positioned himself to be one of the last to die. Instead, he himself surrendered to the Roman general, Vespasian. He then told Vespasian that the general was ordained by prophecy to become the Roman emperor. This saved Josephus from crucifixion, but he remained a prisoner until Vespasian did, in fact, become emperor (c. 69 CE).

Josephus then joined Vespasian’s son, Titus, on his campaign against Jerusalem (serving as a translator). After the fall of Jerusalem, Josephus settled in Rome. Over the course of the next 30 years, Josephus wrote his famous histories. His works have shed significant light on life at the end of the Temple era.

Although Josephus is villainized for joining the Romans, it is believed by many scholars that he continued to live a Jewish life.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sun Care

As taking care of one's health is a mitzvah, make certain to put on proper sun protection during the summer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Second Uprising

History is a study in cause and effect. Today, on the 9th of Av, the Jewish people mourn two additional tragic events that followed the terrible destruction of the Second Temple: the plowing over of the Temple Mount and the catastrophic defeat of the Bar Kochba uprising at Betar.

In 130 CE, the Emperor Hadrian decided to rebuild Jerusalem, including, initially, the Temple. However, after visiting the ruins of Jerusalem, he decided to build a truly Roman city there, complete with a pagan temple on the very spot on which the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) had stood.  The city was renamed Aelia Capitalina (Aelia as a  derivative of his full name Publius Aelius Hadrianus, and Capitalina in honor of the Roman God Jupitar Capitolina).

Hadrian returned to Rome, leaving the rebuilding to the governor, Turnus (Tineius) Rufus. Rufus was no friend to the Jews. The Talmud is peppered with references to him, including conversations between Rufus and Rabbi Akiva, in which Rabbi Akiva responds to the Roman general’s questions 'If your God loves the poor, why does He not support them?' (Baba Batra 10) and ‘Wherein does this day [Shabbat] differ from any other?’ (Sanhedrin 65b).”

Turnus Rufus began the rebuilding in a logical fashion, but did not necessarily take into consideration the reaction of the Jewish people. When he ordered the plowing over of the sacred  grounds of the ruined Jewish Temple (which occurred on Tisha B’Av), the Jews were so incensed that they rose up in rebellion against the Romans. The rebellion was led by Simon Bar Kochba. The uprising lasted for three years and ended on Tisha B’Av in the year 135 CE with the devastating defeat at Betar. It is described in the Jerusalem Talmud Ta'anit thus: “[The Romans] went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils...” (4:5).

*It is interesting to note that the Talmud records that after Turnus Rufus died, his wife converted to Judaism and married Rabbi Akiva.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book of Lamentations

On Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, one of the ways that the Jewish people demonstrate their mourning over the loss of both Holy Temples is by refraining from Torah study that brings pleasure to those who study it. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to read only the more somber texts, specifically: 1) Talmudic sections dealing with the destruction of the Temples, and the laws of mourning and excommunication (such as those found in the Talmud Moed Katan), 2) the Book of Job, 3) the admonitions and rebukes of the Book of Jeremiah, and 4) the Book of Lamentations. 

Eicha, as Lamentations is called in Hebrew, is actually read publicly during the evening service on the night of Tisha B'Av. The five chapters of Eicha are chanted aloud in a mournful and dolorous that even those who do not understand the exact words of the text sense devastation and despair expressed by the prophet. 

Attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah (although his name is not found in the book to confirm his authorship), Eicha contains five poetic laments focusing on the destruction of the First Holy Temple. However, upon reading Eicha one will also discover hints to the destruction of the Second Temple. The chapters (except for the last) are written using Hebrew alphabet acrostics (each verse starting with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence). 

Tisha B'Av, the fast of the ninth of Av, began at sundown last night. Click here, for more details on Tisha B'Av

This Treat was originally published on August 9, 2011. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

At Work

If you were unable to get away from working on Tisha B'Av, try to avoid unnecessary socializing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tisha B'Av is Tomorrow

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is tomorrow. The observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. 

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).

 Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
2. The destruction of the First Temple.
3. The destruction of the Second Temple.
4. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.
5. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar (see below).

Click here for later events on this date 

*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sponsoring Columbus

Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon are, without question, the most famous monarchs in Spanish history. They were the sponsors of Christopher Columbus’ famous journey (although they are villains in Jewish history, having brought the Inquisition to Spain and having expelled all the Jews).

History, however, is not always as it seems. The Spanish monarchs did not rush to support the risky proposal presented to them, even though Columbus’ primary goal was to find a short-cut to India and thus give them an advantage in the international spice trade. Indeed, Columbus’ historic voyage might never have taken place had it not been for the Iberian Jews.

While numerous Jews (including Don Isaac Abrabanel) helped find the funding for Columbus’ expedition, two “conversos” (Jews whose families converted to Christianity but secretly maintained their Jewish heritage, also known as marranos/anusim) played critical roles in securing royal support: Luis de Santangel, finance minister of Aragon, and Raphael “Gabriel” Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon. In fact, these two men received identical letters from Columbus in the first dispatch he sent back. (Read Columbus’ letter to Santangel.)

Luis de Santangel is credited with making the final winning argument to convince Queen Isabella to support Columbus - suggesting that in helping Columbus reach India, the Queen would be able to further the spread of Christianity. there are those who speculate that his true motive was the hope that Columbus would find a safe haven for Jews, whose life in Spain was becoming more and more difficult. In fact, in a grand sweep of irony, Isabella’s written orders for Columbus’ voyage were signed on the same day as the edict of the expulsion of the Jews. (His ships sailed the day after Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av.)

This Treat was last posted on October 11, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Last Meal

Before the fast begins at sundown, eat seudah hamafseket, a simple (1 cooked food) meal before the fast. (Many have the custom of eating hard boiled eggs and bread dipped in ashes.) 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mourning Jerusalem: A Brief History of the First Temple

On Tuesday, Jews all over the world will observe the fast of Tisha B’Av.It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,943 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

*This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem: A Brief History of the Second Temple

The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple.

While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including the Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.

By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. Around 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.

Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zechariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)

This Treat was originally posted on August 7, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

History Book

Stop by the library and pick up a book on the fascinating history of Jerusalem. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).

This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

This Treat was originally published on Friday, August 5, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Reflections

This Shabbat, spend some time discussing the significance of the Nine Days and the upcoming observance of Tisha B'Av.   

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cheer Up The Lonely

The most frequently cited reason for the destruction of the Second Temple is Sin'at Chinam, best translated as senseless hatred. The in-fighting among the Jews of Judea, not only weakened their defenses against the Romans, but caused God to turn His favor from the Jewish people.

The mitzvot of the Torah are often divided into two categories: bein adam la’makom (between a person and God) and bein adam l’chavero (between one person and another).  It is the Jewish understanding that while God can forgive a transgression against Himself, a person must appease his/her fellow to receive atonement. 

One of the best ways to do battle with sin'at chinam is by performing chesed, acts of kindness. There are many ways in which chesed can be done: visiting the sick, giving charity and even helping to bury the dead. Volunteering one’s time to an organization that benefits the community is also an excellent means of performing acts of kindness, but one must always remember the ever-true statement that “kindness begins at home.”

In an interesting calendar coincidence, this year, today, just 5 days before Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction) has been labeled “Cheer Up A Lonely Neighbor Day.” By its very name, this “holiday” promotes chesed.

Although there is no specific mitzvah to cheer up one’s lonely neighbor, one could easily connect it to the mitzvah of being kind to widows, orphans or converts. Not only are these three categories of people who might easily be taken advantage of, but they are also prototypes of people who may be missing vital links to the community around them.

In trying to do an act of kindness for someone, such as seeking out an elderly neighbor, one should make certain not to make the recipient of the kindness feel as if they are being sought out  simply to fulfill another’s desire to do chesed.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Meaningful Minutes

When you see a neighbor outside, take a moment to say "Good day" and make a connection.   

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Tribe of Gad

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

Jacob’s deathbed blessing to Gad was that “Gad, a troop shall troop upon him; and they shall troop upon their heel” (Genesis 49:19), leading to an understanding that Jacob saw in his son a strong military nature, one which would be of great benefit to the Children of Israel. Indeed, the land of Gad’s descendants included a vast eastern border holding off Israel’s enemies.

How Gad came to dwell in the east is actually the only scriptural story that is related concerning this tribe during the Israelite’s wandering in the wilderness.  After the Israelites conquered the land east of the Jordan River (outside the parameters of Israel), the Reubenites and the Gadites requested to settle there, rather than cross the Jordan. Moses' response was “Shall your brothers go to the war, and you sit here?” (Numbers 32:6).  The Gadites, along with the Reubenites, then explained that they would first settle their flocks and their families and then join in the war to conquer Canaan.

Before his death, just before the Children of Israel are to enter the Promised Land, Moses blessed the entire nation and each tribe independently. His blessing to Gad was: “Blessed is He who broadens Gad.  Like a lioness he dwells, and tears the arm, even the crown of the head. He saw the first portion for himself, because there, the portion of the lawgiver is hidden. And he came at the head of the people; he did what is righteous for the Lord, and what is lawful with Israel.” (Deuteronomy 33:20-21).

Moses' blessing not only describes Gad’s military prowess and ability to take the lead in battle, but also affirms Gad’s decision to settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan where Moses knew that he himself was to be buried.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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If you are involved in a disagreement, take a moment to try and see things from the other person's point of view.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Failed Bid For Asylum

Political intrigue has been part of statehood since the formation of the very first kingdom. Often what one person thinks of as patriotism is seen by others as treason, It is usually the victor who gets to define how these acts are recorded in history. From the era of King David one finds the fascinating story of Yo'av.

Yo'av the son of Zeruiah appears throughout II Samuel, the Book of the Prophets that records the majority of King David's reign. Yo'av fought the battles that David, as king, could not fight. Yo'av was also known as a noted scholar. In fact, Yo'av and King David were so close that it is said: "Without David['s Torah], Yo'av could not have waged war, and without Yo'av, David could not have studied Torah" (Talmud Sanhedrin 49a).

Despite their unusually close friendship, at the end of his life, David charged his successor, King Solomon, to punish Yo'av for “what [he] did to me” (I Kings 2:5) Yo'av had not only committed murders in David’s name without his permission, but he had also joined a rebellion against the king that was led by David’s son Adonijah. According to the Midrash, this was not what truly angered David. Rather it was Yo'av’s lack of discretion in two instances, one in which Yo'av showed his private orders from the king to the captains of the troops and the other when he allowed the king’s subjects to believe that David had ordered him to kill Abner.

King Solomon fulfilled his father’s wishes and ordered Yo'av’s death. Even when Yo'av tried to claim sanctuary by grabbing hold of the Holy Ark, Solomon ordered his general to carry out the order, an action that is supported by Exodus 21:13: “But if a man comes presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; you will take him from my altar, that he may die.”

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats: Cities of Refuge

No Secrets

During the summer season, make certain to speak with the children in your life about personal protection and the danger of secrets. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Death of Aaron

In every generation, there are men and women who truly make an impact on the world. These incredible individuals are honored both in life and in death, particularly at their time of passing, when people realize what it will mean to be without them.

Aaron ben Amram, the first Kohain Gadol (High Priest) was such a man. The Torah states that “when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days” (Numbers 20:29).

The sages note that “Three good leaders arose for Israel: Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Talmud Taanit 9a). This statement is meant to emphasize the fact that Aaron and Miriam were great in their own right, not simply because they were Moses’ siblings. Beyond being the spiritual leader of the Israelites, Aaron was beloved among them for his constant and extraordinary efforts of making peace between individuals.

On the morning of the first of Av, God informed Moses that it was time for Aaron to “be gathered unto his people.” Moses was to take Aaron and Aaron’s son, Elazar, to Mount Hor. There he would remove the garments of the High Priest from Aaron and place them on Elazar ” (Numbers 20:23-28).

The reaction of the people upon learning of Aaron’s passing is most telling. According to the Midrash, the people refused to believe Moses and said “‘If you bring him [Aaron] back, fine. If not, we will stone you.’ Thereupon Moses rose in prayer and said, ‘ Master of the Universe, remove this suspicion from me!’ Immediately [God] opened the cave (where Aaron was buried) and showed them” (Numbers Rabbah 19:20). Only then did the people accept Aaron’s death and with that, the mourning period began.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.  

Peace Process

Today is the first day of the "Nine Days" (leading up to Tisha B'Av), when extra mourning measures are taken. During this time, be like Aaron and try to help quarreling friends make peace (being careful, of course, not to cause further disagreement). 

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Book of Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah describes the final 40 years of the Kingdom of Judah.

Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet, whose first prophecy came when he was still young, but God said that He would put the words in Jeremiah’s mouth. Jeremiah was also aided by the scribe Baruch ben Neriah, who recorded his prophecies. 

Jeremiah raged at the Judeans' unfaithfulness to God, comparing them to an adulterous wife. He criticized the people for their inappropriate confidence in Temple sacrifices without making the necessary changes in their lives. (“Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, worship Baal ... and stand before Me in this house, whereupon My name is called, and say: ‘We are delivered?’” 7:9-10)

As Babylon grew strong, Jeremiah tried to warn the people that Nebuchadnezzar was the tool of God’s vengeance and that calamity could be averted if Judah pledged its loyalty to Babylon.

King Jehoiakim fell to Babylon, as Jeremiah predicted. When Nebuchadnezzar’s handpicked ruler, Zedekiah, decided to rebel, Jeremiah openly stated that God was with the Babylonians. Jeremiah was arrested for “treason” and remained imprisoned for a portion of the final years before the Temple fell. 

After all of Jeremiah’s pessimistic prophecies came true, the victorious Babylonians granted Jeremiah his freedom. When the new governor, Gedaliah, was murdered, the remaining populace fled, taking Jeremiah with them. 

Like Isaiah, Jeremiah also prophesied consolation, telling the exiles that God wished them to live their lives in Babylon. He then predicted how, after 70 years, they would return and rebuild the Holy Temple.

Jeremiah’s life was difficult. He was ostracized, maligned, imprisoned and beaten, but his belief in God and love of the Jewish people did not allow him to give up on his sacred mission.

Rembrandt van Rijn "Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem"

This Treat was last posted on October 20, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.  

Take A Look

Read the second chapter of the Book of Jeremiah during this Shabbat, the second Shabbat of the Three Weeks.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Jewess in the Revolution

For a Jew to be a landowner, or the owner of an import and export business, or a tavern-keeper, was a rare feat. For a Jew to be all three and a woman who also raised eight children (a ninth died in infancy) was unprecedented. Abigail Minis arrived in Savannah, Georgia, in 1732, along with her husband, Abraham, and their two oldest daughters. Abigail’s business career began upon her husband’s death in 1757, when she took over the family’s properties and their import-export business. Not only did she significantly increase the amount of acres owned and managed by the family, but, in 1763, she opened a tavern in partnership with her unmarried daughters.

The Minises and the 40 Jews who arrived in the new Georgia colony were allowed to disembark  in the colony only because the settlement charter only excluded Catholics. Indeed, when the Trustees of the colony realized that so many Jews had arrived, they wrote to James Oglethorpe, the head of the colony, stating: “The Trustees have heard with concern of the arrival of Forty Jews with a design to settle in Georgia. They hope they will meet with no sort of encouragement, and desire... be allowed no kind of settlement with any of the grantees...” However, after fellow Jewish immigrant Dr. Samuel Nunes helped stop an epidemic, the Jews were permitted to stay. While they organized Congregation Mickve Israel in 1735, most of the Sephardi families fled in 1742 when they thought the Spanish, who controlled Florida, might overtake the colony. The Minis and the Sheftall families were the only families who remained.

Beyond her impressive success, Abigail Minis made her mark in history by supporting the colonial troops during the Revolutionary War using her finances and business acumen to help supply the militia. When Savannah was taken by the British in 1778, the Minises were able to flee to Charleston, S.C. They returned to Savannah in 1783, where Abigail lived until she died in 1794, at the age of 93.

Attack on Savannah by A.I. Keller

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Related Treats

Patriotic Celebration

Celebrate Independence Day in honor of a country that gives us our right to live as Jews.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Place Your Bets

The Talmud states that professional gamblers are among the four types of people who are deemed ineligible to serve as witnesses or judges (in addition to usurers, pigeon trainers and those who trade in the produce of the Sabbatical year). The rabbis explain that the gambler is disqualified because gamblers “are not concerned with the general welfare,” meaning that they do not contribute to a stable society (Talmud Sanhedrin 24b).

Understandably, both witnesses and judges must be above suspicion of transgression. Although the Torah does not prohibit gambling outrightly, the sages equated it to thievery, “Since no one knows beforehand whether one would gain or lose, neither fully consents to transfer possession to the other” (Talmud Eiruvin 82a). One could argue that this mindset applies even when two people bet against each other. But, it applies specifically to games of chance (racing, card games, dice, etc.) since the one who controls the game usually lures the players in with false hopes of winning riches.

The question is often asked whether participation in such games of chance like a raffle or the lottery are considered “gambling” according to halacha (Jewish law). In most instances, it is not considered problematic because the money is given in advance of the drawing and the players, in essence, accept the loss of that money at that time. Therefore, raffles and lotteries are permitted (particularly as the funds often go to benefit the community). However, it should be noted that the organizers of a lottery or raffle must make certain that the drawing is run honestly and fairly (all purchased tickets are included in the raffle and that unpurchased tickets are not eligible, etc.).

*Please note that the rabbis concluded that the rule applies only to professional gamblers and not casual gamblers.

Note: As there are different opinions as to what constitutes gambling, and what is or is not permitted, it is best to consult a rabbi. It is important to always remember that gambling, even those games that are permitted such as lotteries and raffles, can lead to addictive behavior.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.  

Wise Time

Use your spare time to become involved in a charity or help those in your community.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Did You Say Satan?

The word Satan derives from the Hebrew satan, literally “hinderer.” However, the common Christian belief that Satan is a fallen angel who opposes God by tempting humans to sin is quite different from the Jewish concept of Satan.

To understand the concept of Satan in Judaism, one must first understand that angels, mal'achim, are regarded as Divine messengers, each assigned a specific task, from which the angel cannot deviate because it has no free-will. Angels are simply energy emanations of God and extensions of God’s will. Satan is also an angel, albeit one whose job is to test a person’s resolve to follow the righteous path.

To understand better, let’s look at the well-known Biblical conversation between Satan and God (paraphrased from the Book of Job):

God: "Have you seen My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a pure-hearted and an upright man, who fears God and shuns evil?"
Satan: "Does Job fear God for no reason? Haven’t You protected him and all that he has? You’ve blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions are many. If You were to destroy all that he has, surely he will blaspheme You to Your face."
God: "All that he has is in your power; only upon himself do no harm" (Job 1:9-12).

While it might appear from the above conversation that Satan is free to harm Job, that is not the case. Each human soul has a goal, “something” that each person must perfect in the course of his/her life. A person who is never challenged has no opportunities to perfect what must be perfected. It is not Satan’s role to harm a person, but to help people perfect themselves.

This Treat was last posted on June 17, 2009.