Friday, August 30, 2013


In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).

Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).

Ayl: He is powerful.

Rachum: He is compassionate.

V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.

Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.

V’rav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.

V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.

Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.

Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.

Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.

V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.

V’nah'kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh

Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are usually recited prior to the morning service.

--Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.

This Treat was previously published on September 10, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Your Town

If there are selichot being said in your neighborhood, make the effort to attend.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Festive Poems

Take a survey of the most common adjective used to describe the Jewish High Holidays and the word might just be “long.” One reason for the long services is that in addition to the usual sections of prayer, the services are also embellished with a host of piyyutim, liturgical poems.

The inclusion of piyyutim in the prayer service is a tradition that goes back to ancient Israel. These inspirational poems not only served as a means of religious expression for the paytan (the poet), but in some communities they actually served as alternatives to the set liturgy in times and places where Jewish prayer was outlawed.

Piyyutim carry distinctive styles depending on the time and place they were composed. Those included in the service come from such a variety of places as Israel, Spain, Germany and France, all countries with distinct traditions.

An excellent example of a piyut is L’Ayl Oraich Din, which is recited on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. L’Ayl Oraich Din helps us understand God’s role as Judge, King and Father. In the following sample (the first several verses of the piyut), note the repetitive alternating ending:

And all shall ascribe the crown to You:
To God Who prepares man for judgment
To the One Who tests hearts on the day of judgment
To the One Who reveals the depths in judgment
To the One Who speaks fairness on the day of judgment

Another well known piyut is Hayom T’amzeinu. The piyut as it is recited today is only seven verses long. However, it is believed that is was originally composed as a full alphabetic acrostic. As can be seen from even just the first three verses (below), this piyut celebrates the completion of the main prayers of the day and the firm belief that these prayers have been accepted:

Today, may you strengthen us...Amen
Today, may you bless us...Amen
Today, may you make us great...Amen

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Melody Search

Use the internet to familiarize yourself with the melodies of the High Holiday services. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Book At A Time

Those who choose to go (or go back) to college at a more mature age will testify that it is not a simple decision. Beyond the financial and logistical considerations, many find the idea of starting over to be intimidating. Most people, by nature, are afraid of looking unskilled and uneducated. 

Throughout the ages, this same fear has kept many Jews from exploring their Jewish heritage more intensely. The rabbis in the Midrash describe a person who enters a busy Yeshiva (school of Torah) and asks how a person can begin to learn the law? They answer him, “‘First a man reads from a scroll, then the Book [of the law], and then the prophets, and then the writings; when he has completed the study of scriptures, he learns the Talmud, and then the laws (halachot) and then the legends (aggadot).’ After hearing all this, [the person] says to himself, ‘When can I learn all this?’ and he turns back from the gate” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3).

The description of this man is presented as an explanation of the verse in Proverbs 24:7, “Wisdom is as unattainable to a fool as coral; He does not open his mouth in the gate.” Coral may be delicate and look exotic, but it is actually rather easy to harvest since it flourishes quite near the shore.  The man who hears the many topics he must study and walks away feeling intimidated (“He does not open his mouth in the gate.”), doesn’t realize that learning about Judaism is like “coral,” easy to gather.

One should not give up on study so easily. The Midrash says further: “Anyone who is a fool says, ‘When will I succeed in reading the whole law!?’ But the wise person...learns one chapter everyday until he completes the whole law. [As] God said, ‘[For this commandment that I command you this day], it is not too hard’ (Deuteronomy 30:11). If it is too hard, it is...[only] because you do not study it” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ask A Question

If you wish to learn more about Judaism, start with simply asking for the information you want to know. You can certainly ask Jewish Treats.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Forgiveness: An Elul Treat

Many feel that the three hardest words to say are: “I am sorry.” Yet, we all know how very important those words are. Indeed, saying one is sorry, or at least admitting one’s guilt, is a critical part of the process of teshuvah, repentance.

Equally important, however, is the ability to hear someone else’s apology and to accept it. Even greater is the ability to forgo an apology altogether and simply forgive the person for hurting you.

Jewish tradition teaches that one is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for their misconduct, as he/she has demonstrated true regret. The one who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

What is wrong with bearing a grudge against a person who really hurt you? Beyond the fact that it is a violation of a Torah prohibition (Leviticus 19:18), bearing a grudge affects the person psychologically. A person bearing a grudge is, in general, less happy with the world and with other people because he/she cannot get past the feeling that he/she was wronged.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is rather easy to bestow. And when it is done with sincerity, it is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to the person we forgive.

*This Treat was last posted on September 1, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Forgive In Your Heart

The first step in forgiving a person is letting go of resentment in your heart, even before the other person seeks your forgiveness.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rebuilding A World

There are many dramatic stories of the great struggles involved in rebuilding the Jewish people after the Holocaust. Any collection of such stories would be remiss if it did not mention the contributions of Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, better known as the Ponevezher Rav.

Born in Lithuania in 1886, Rabbi Kahaneman’s early life followed the trajectory of most of the great Torah leaders of Eastern Europe. He studied at various great yeshivot and made a significant connection to Rabbi Eliezer Gordon of the Telshe yeshiva. After his marriage (c. 1910), he assumed the position of Rabbi of Vidzh. Eight years later he was appointed as the Rabbi of Ponevezh, one of the largest centers of Jewish life in Lithuania at that time. He opened several yeshivot (schools of Torah scholarship), a preparatory school and an orphanage. Rabbi Kahaneman’s involvement went beyond overseeing scholarship, involving himself politically as a member of the autonomous National Council of Lithuanian Jewry and, from 1923-1925, was a representative in the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament).

When World War II began, Rabbi Kahaneman was out of the country and could not return to his family at home. In 1940, Rabbi Kahaneman made the decision to settle in the British Mandate of Palestine. From there, he put all of his efforts into trying to save Jews trapped in Europe.

When the horrors were finally over, only he and one son, Avraham, had survived. Rabbi Kahaneman dedicated himself to rebuilding Jewish life. Few believed in his vision to rebuild his European yeshiva in the Land of Israel, but it was a dream he made come true. He not only raised funds, but used his political experience to guarantee assistance from the bourgeoning secular government of Israel. While he started his new institution with seven students, today, thousands sit in the study halls of the great Ponevezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman passed away on 20 Elul, 1969.

Perfect Prep Tool

Begin preparing for the High Holidays with Jewish Treats Complete Guide to Rosh HashanaClick here for your free download. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Pair of Psalms

“You will eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10). There are few pleasures shared by cultures around the world as the pleasure of eating. Because it is human nature to take much pleasure in feasting, it is written in the Zohar (book of mystical teachings attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) that a person who derives pleasure from bread, delights in given foods, is required to remember and worry over the sanctity of the Holy Land and over the Palace of the King which is in ruins (Teruma 157a) . Since the destruction of the Holy Temple two thousand years ago, the Jewish people have not, according to tradition, been able to experience true joy because every celebration is a bit marred by the knowledge of our spiritual exile.

In order to connect to the proper sentiments reflecting the Jewish exile, it became customary to recite Psalm 137 before Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals). Psalm 137, “By the Rivers of Babylon” (click here to read the full Psalm), which includes the famous verse: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”

Psalm 137 captures the pain of the Jewish people during their forced march to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. On Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous celebrations, when normal mourning practices are set aside, Psalm 137 is replaced by Psalm 126, frequently referred to simply as Shir Hama’alot, a Song of Ascents. (Click here to read the full Psalm.)

Shir Hama’alot is a psalm of rejoicing and a poem of gratitude. In contrast to Psalm 137, which describes the Children of Israel’s somber march into exile, Shir Hama'alot begins “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men who dreamed...” In keeping with the spirit of Shabbat joy, Shir Hama’alot is usually sung just prior to Birkat Hamazon.

--The recitation of Psalm 137 is now a custom followed by a minorty. However, the custom of reciting Psalm 126 on Shabbat, holidays and joyous occasions continues to be prevalent in the Ashkenazi communities.  

Click here to listen to a traditional version of Shir Hama'alot. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don't Forget The Challah

Make or buy challah to serve for Shabbat dinner tonight.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we declare: "Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!" In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts:Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

Teshuva (repentance), a central theme of the High Holidays, means more than just saying "sorry." Teshuva means recognizing one’s errors and making an effort not to repeat them. In many ways, teshuva is a private act because one must be introspective in order to recognize one’s own mistakes.

Tefila (prayer) is the acknowledgment of God as the King and Ruler of the universe. Tefila is almost private, but not quite. It is a conversation between the person and God.

Tzedaka (charity) is a critical step necessary to reverse an evil decree simply because it constitutes an action. The performance of this mitzvah affects the person giving, the person receiving, and its benefits often extend to others as well. Tzedaka is reaching out beyond one’s self, and is thus a public act.

Everything that a person does affects the world in multiple ways. It affects the person’s relationship with him/herself, his/her relationship with the Divine and his/her relationship with his/her fellow human beings. The path to reversing an evil decree must therefore involve the private, the spiritual and the public spheres of our lives.

*This Treat was previously published on September 7, 2012. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Begin your High Holiday preparation by thinking about the positive changes you can make in your life. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Forever Fashions

When the Children of Israel left Egypt, they did not expect to be in the wilderness for 40 years. (Indeed, 38 years were added to their journey because the generation that left Egypt proved themselves unworthy of entering the Holy Land.)

Jewish law requires every parent to provide their child with the basic necessities: nourishment, shelter and clothing. For food, God provided the Israelites with manna. For water, they had the well that followed Miriam. For shelter, they had the ananei hakavod, the clouds of glory.

What about clothing? In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses twice notes that the clothing and shoes of the Israelites remained in tact for all 40 years. In Deuteronomy 8:4, Moses recounts: “Your clothing did not wear out upon you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.” In Deuteronomy 29:4, Moses says “And I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out upon you, and your shoe has not worn out upon your foot.”

To explain this miraculous occurrence, the Midrash Rabbah records a conversation between Rabbi Eleazer (the son of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai) and Rabbi Simeon ben Jose, his father in law. In this conversation, Rabbi Simeon explains that the clothes of the Israelites were presented to them by the ministering angels, and that, like the shells of snails, the clothing grew with the Israelites and were cleaned by the clouds of glory. Rabbi Eleazer even asked if the clothes smelled from the people’s perspiration, to which Rabbi Simeon responded that the sweet-scented grass around Miriam’s well constantly freshened the smell of the clothing (Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:11).

What the Israelites wore in the wilderness may seem like a trivial detail to describe, but it demonstrates the loving-kindness of God, the Ultimate Provider.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Basic Appearances

When choosing what to wear, make certain they respect your self-worth.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova”("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year there is a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balanced between extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhu v’taychataymu (that’s the plural form).

This Treat was last posted on  September 4, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Greetings

Whether by email, regular mail or by telephone, call your friends and family and wish them a happy New Year. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Roman Vishniac: Beyond the Photographs

The poignant photographs of the  shtetl by Roman Vishniac (published in his 1986 book, A Vanished World) very much shaped the cultural memories of the post-war generation. These images all resulted from the work Vishniac did between 1935 and 1939 on commission for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who wished to use the photographs to raise money.

While Roman Vishniac’s greatest fame was the result of his photographs, he was actually a man of wide-ranging talents. (To read more about Vishniac’s photography, click here.) Born on August 19, 1897, to wealthy and influential parents (one of the few families permitted to reside in Moscow), Vishniac took an early interest in photography and biology, combining his two passions by photographing insects and other small living beings through his microscope. Vishniac earned a Ph.D. in Zoolog at the Shanyovsky Institute.

When, in 1918,  to avoid the Russian instability, Vishniac’s family moved to Berlin, Vishniac followed. There he married his first wife, with whom he had two children. (They divorced in 1946.) He studied Far Eastern Art at the University of Berlin, as well as endocrinology, optics and photography, while also lecturing on naturalism for the Salamander Club.

After Vishniac’s wife and children left for Sweden in 1939, Vishniac himself went to France. In 1940, he was arrested in Paris and interned for being a stateless person. Three months later, Vishniac and his family were able to flee Europe on US visas obtained by his wife.

In New York, Vishniac struggled due to his lack of fluency in English. He did some portrait work (most famously, a portrait of Albert Einstein), but eventually settled into a career in photomicroscopy. Not only did he have a successful academic career, he also produced numerous important scientific films as well.  Vishniac received Honorary Doctoral degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia College of Art and the California College of Art.

Roman Vishniac died on January 22, 1990.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

To The Talented

If you have an artistic talent, use it to enhance Jewish life.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Village of Moses

Immigration scams in which those wishing to emigrate are promised guidance and assistance for a “small fee” are, sadly, not new. Such incidents have been going on for hundreds of years.  Just such a scam played a role in the beginning of the Argentinian Jewish gauchos (often translated as cowboys).

It all began in the Ukraine, when Eliezer Hauffmann returned from Paris without an agreement for 800+ Jews to create a new settlement in Palestine, but with a signed contract for land in Argentina. (Even unknown Argentina was better than pogrom-ridden Ukraine at that time.)

When the immigrants arrived in Buenos Aires in 1889, however, they discovered that the land promised to them was not actually available. Not wanting to return to the Ukraine, they accepted an alternative tract of land and purchased it from Pedro Palacios. The travel conditions were frightful and, at the end of the rail line, their guides failed to appear. The settlers ended up living in freight cars along the rail-lines. They survived on handouts, and more than 60 of their children perished due to these harsh conditions.

Wilhelm Loewenthal, a Romanian bacteriologist, who was in Argentina on a scientific mission, travelled to Palacios’ train station and saw the miserable conditions of these swindled settlers. He reported the situation to the Alliance Israelite Universelle. The Alliance raised the necessary funds for assistance from Baron Maurice Moshe Hirsch, who then created the Jewish Colonization Association.

The spirit of these settlers was incredible. With the assistance of neighboring Italian settlers and the funds from Baron Hirsch, they created Moises Ville (Moses’ Village, in honor of Baron Hirsch). These Jews soon learned to work the land and herd cattle.

Through Baron Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association, additional Jewish settlers came to the Santa Fe province. The community of Moises Ville flourished until members of the recent generation, drawn toward urban life and upwardly mobile professions, moved away.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

An August Shabbat

Enjoy the summer Shabbat with a long walk, Shabbat dinner on the patio or by watching the stars if the night is clear.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Tribe of Dan

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 said of Dan (Genesis 49:16): “Dan shall judge his people, as one will be the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the road, an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider falls backward.” Moses’ blessing of the tribe was far simpler: “Dan is a lion club, leaping forth from Bashan” (33:22).

The Tribe of Dan had an adventurous spirit, like a lion cub. It is interesting to note that Dan is compared to a lion cub, which has strength but lacks too Dan had great force, but it was often misplaced. And like the serpent Jacob had foreseen, his forcefulness could be dangerous to those who came upon him.

The northern territory allotted to Dan was not easy to capture, and much of it remained in foreign hands. Still, Dan held numerous cities in the north, including the great port of Jaffa.  From Jaffa, Dan launched its great commercial fleets mentioned by the prophetess Deborah in Judges 5:17, when she rebuked Dan for remaining on its ships rather than helping to fight Sisera.

Since much of their allotted territory remained unconquered, the Danites searched for more land. Indeed, one learns much about the roughness of the “young lion’s”  actions from the actions of the Danites in Judges 18: The original inhabitants, the Amorites, kept the Danites confined to the hill country of Ephraim and Benjamin. Unable to conquer their allotted territory, some members of the tribe of Dan migrated far to the northernmost area of the Promised Land and conquered the isolated city of Laish (in what is today the Golan Heights) in the territory of Naphtali, which they renamed Dan.

The best known of all the Danites was Samson.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Level Head

In the face of adversity, try your best to stay level-headed. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Bnei Menashe of India

It is the belief of the Bnei Menashe of Northeastern India that their legendary forefather Manmasi,* was actually Menashe the son of Joseph and that their communities are the remnants of the Tribe of Menashe. The oral history of the Bnei Menashe tracks a path of escape from Assyrian slavery westward to Afghanistan, moving eventually into Tibet and then China, where the people dwelled in caves until they were expelled and scattered across Southeast Asia.

In the 1890s, as Christian missionaries made their way to the remote northern corner of India, the Bnei Menashe recognized the Old Testament narratives of the missionaries, and many of them converted to Christianity. In 1951, however, a tribal leader named Challianthanga shared a dream he had that instructed the people to return to their origins - to Judaism and the Land of Israel.

According to traditional Jewish law, one is Jewish because one’s mother is Jewish or because one converts. As hundreds of Bnei Menashe began studying Judaism and adopting Jewish traditions, a decision had to be made regarding the tribes’ Jewish authenticity. While the Bnei Menashe did have some customs that might be associated with Jewish tradition, none were sufficiently definitive.

Eventually, the question was brought to Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel at the time. In 2005, Rabbi Amar ruled that while an ancient connection could be accepted, the Bnei Menashe who wished to live as Jews and who wished to make aliyah (move to Israel) required a formal conversion because of the extent and duration of their separation both in time and in customs from mainstream Jewish life. In the last several years, hundreds of Bnei Menashe have completed their conversions and moved to Israel.

*The Bnei Menashe are all technically members of the Mizo, Kuki and Chin tribes of the area.

Related Treats
The Cochin Jews of India

Smiling Faces

When you meet a fellow Jew, smile and make a personal connection.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Am To My Beloved

The Torah verse that epitomizes the emotion of love is: “Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee” - I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). The ideal love relationship according to the Torah is one in which both parties are willing to give themselves to their chosen partner. The Hebrew acronym for the verse Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee is “Elul,” the name of the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana.

When speaking of Rosh Hashana, the sages discuss the great sense of awe that one must feel. They do not, however, mean awe as in fear. Rather, they mean awe as in a sense of reverence, of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God. The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not simply to make people feel guilty for their mistakes or promise to do better (although that too is important), but, as with much of Jewish life, it is to help develop each individual’s relationship with God.

To have a relationship with God, a person must recognize all of God’s roles--including King and Judge, as is the focus of Rosh Hashana. During Elul, however, we focus on God as the Beloved of the Jewish people.

In many rabbinic allegories, the Jewish people are likened to a bride while God is portrayed as the waiting groom. The Jewish people (both as individuals and as a nation) can gain the most by recognizing that God loves His people and wishes to bring blessing upon their homes.

"I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me." When “I” (meaning the Jewish people) can truly give to “my beloved” (meaning God), then God will become ours in a beautiful and Divine partnership.

This Treat was last posted on September 15, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Relationship Time

During the month of Elul, work on your relationship with God and with other people.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Original Employee Discount

Those who work in retail are often compensated with a special employee discount on goods sold in the store. In the days before retail, when the majority of the population worked in agriculture, there was among the Jewish people a special and unique employee discount ordained by the Torah.

“When you come [to work] in your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat the grapes you desire until you are satiated, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come [to work] in the ripe grain of your neighbor, then you may pick the grain with your hand, but you may not take a sickle to your neighbor’s grain” (Deuteronomy 23:25-26).

In the Talmud Baba Metzia 87a-b, the rabbis explain that this special provision does not give the employee carte-blanche permission to eat whatever is at hand. This law applies only to that which grows from the earth and only when that fruit is ripe but not yet gathered. In other words, a worker may pluck a ripe grape and eat it, but not take grapes out of the container of gathered fruits that are ready to be brought to owner of the field. Produce that still needs to ripen may not be eaten, and the employee may not take extras to enjoy later. The Talmud notes further that the words, “Then you may eat,” mean that one may not simply suck the juice out of the grape. The words, “Until you are satiated,’ prohibit one from acting glutenously.

The law of the grapevine and grain field reveal the Torah’s fine understanding of the employee-employer dynamic. By seeing to the basic needs of the employees and understanding the natural temptation to taste the fruit, this law does much more that prevent actual theft by employees. It also reminds the owners of the fields that they have an obligation of kindness to their employees.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Employee of the Month

Make certain to take the time to recognize and appreciate what your coworkers do. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Seeking God In Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat was last posted on August 28, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Morning Chat

Say a little prayer each morning as a means of spiritual preparation for the High Holidays.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Better Than A Bullock

In the times of the Temple, the most exalted form of worship was through sacrifices brought to Jerusalem. But, now the Jewish people have lived for centuries without the Holy Temple. While generation upon generation of Jews have studied the laws of the sacrifices with the unextinguished desire to see those mitzvot fulfilled in their lifetime, the rabbinic authorities found hope and comfort in the words of the Book of Proverbs: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to God than sacrifice” (21:3).

While this may seem a simple idea to those who have never lived in a time when ritual sacrifice was customary, the rabbis felt that it was necessary to come to an understanding regarding this distinction. Several explanations are listed in Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:3:

1) Sacrifices are able to bring atonement only for sins committed unwittingly. Acts of justice and righteousness are able to atone for sins committed both unwittingly and intentionally.

2) Only humans can offer sacrifices. Acts of kindness are performed by both humans and angels. Through acts of kindness, humankind is therefore able to emulate angels.

3) One receives the rewards and spiritual benefits of sacrifices only in this world. Acts of justice and righteousness have an impact in both this world and in the world to come.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Own Acts

Try to incorporate more “Acts of Righteousness and Justice” in your life. Start by making an extra effort at judging others favorably.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Alarm Clock

New beginnings are often difficult.

For those who are not “morning people,” every day is a new beginning, and we must be thankful to whoever invented the alarm clock, which keeps us from being labeled as “slothful” and “lazy.”

No other beginning is quite as profound as the one we face annually at Rosh Hashana. During the High holidays, God gives all people the chance to face His judgment and wipe their slate clean.

Looking honestly at one's actions and resolving to make changes to one's life is a daunting task. Just as in the morning, people naturally desire to continue sleeping and not wake up at what feels like the crack of dawn, most people wish to roll over and bury their heads back in the blanket rather than face the challenge of change.

The great symbol of Rosh Hashana is the shofar. Knowing well the nature of people, the sages realized that what was really needed was an "alarm clock." They therefore instituted the custom of blowing the shofar every morning during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana. When the shofar is sounded in the synagogue, it is meant to serve as an alarm clock that awakens our souls and reminds us that Rosh Hashana is soon at hand.

This Treat was last posted on Monday, August 20, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Let The Planning Begin

Begin to make plans for the High Holidays: find a location for services, organize meals, and follow Jewish Treats to learn more about the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Jews of Jamaica

As in many countries of the “New World,” the Jewish history of Jamaica begins with conversos, the secret Jews who fled Spain. They came to the New World seeking not only new opportunities, but also to distance themselves from the Inquisition. As in many countries of the “New World,” the conversos rejoiced when the British conquered the island from Spain in 1655. (A fascinating fact: the ship that led the British into Kingston, Jamaica, was piloted by one Compoe Sabbatha, who was, himself, a converso.)

With the island under British control, Jews felt safe coming to Jamaica, and many arrived from Spanish held territories. Just because the Inquisition was not in Jamaica, however, did not mean that the Jews were particularly welcome. As early as 1671, there was a failed petition to expel Jews, and, in 1693, a special tax was levied on the community. In the 1700s, Jews were banned from hiring Christian house-servants.

Still, the community flourished, and the Jews, who were often involved in the sugar and vanilla trades, prospered. It is apparent that the Jews were actually well-respected in Jamaica since, once they were granted equal status in 1831, they captured a decent percentage of the seats in the  legislature. By 1849, eight of the forty-seven members of the colonial assembly were Jewish. In fact, that year the assembly voted to adjourn over Yom Kippur.

Both Sephardim and Ashkenazim settled in Jamaica. At one point there were synagogues in Kingston, Port Royal, Spanish Town and Montego Bay. Time, assimilation, and economic/political factors had their effect on the Jamaican Jewish community. By the 1980s, only a few hundred Jews remained. Today, one synagogue remains in Kingston, the Shaare Shalom, as well as a Jewish school (the Hillel Academy) and several other Jewish organizations.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Community Strength

If you live in a smaller community, work together with others to ensure the strength of the community.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Chapters of Song

While the primary focus of the Shacharit (morning) service is the recitation of the Shema and the Shemoneh Esrei (also known as the Amidah), there are several sections of prayers that precede these central prayers. The longest of these sections is known as Pesukei D’zimra, the “Chapters of Song.”

The purpose of the Pesukei  D’zimra is to prepare for prayer. “Our Rabbis taught: One should not stand up to say prayer while immersed in sorrow, or idleness, or laughter, or chatter, or frivolity, or idle talk, but only while still rejoicing in the performance of some religious act” (Brachot 31a). The preparatory religious act that has been ordained is the recitation of Psalms 145-150, which are specifically psalms praising God. In time, additional prayers were added to this section, including other psalms, readings from other biblical texts and the song recited by Moses after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.

Initially, the reading of these preliminary Psalms was an act done primarily by the pious, a fact noted by Rabbi Jose who said: “May my portion be of those who recite the entire Hallel every day...[Hallel refers to] the ‘Pesukei D’Zimra’” (Shabbat 118b).

One can view the Pesukei D’zimra as a form of meditation, or perhaps it is simply a question of appreciation. Let’s say that one had just received a gift – a beautiful oil painting. Upon first receiving the painting, the new owner looked at it and thanked the person who had given it to him/her. More than that, the person would probably express his/her appreciation by commenting upon the stunning detail, the intricate color, and the delicate technique. The more one looks at the art, however, the more one realizes what an amazing accomplishment it is and begins to praise the true artist.

At this point, one is ready to pray.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Say It For Yourself

If you are not involved in formal prayer, or even if you are, sing some praises to God as you get ready for your day.

Friday, August 2, 2013

On Top of Mount...

Without question, Mount Sinai is the best known mountain in the Bible. In the days before highways, street signs or GPS, geographic landmarks played an important role in people’s lives. Many of the significant events in Biblical history are associated with mountains. Today’s Jewish Treat will be a taste of Biblical Geographic: Mountain Edition.

Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim - These two mountains are located near the city of Shechem. In Deuteronomy 27, God instructs the Israelites that, when they will come into the Promised Land, they “set up great stones, and plaster them with plaster: And you shall write upon them all the words of this law” (27:2-4). Upon Mount Gerizim the stone was to be inscribed with a list of blessings, while the stone on Mount Ebal was to be inscribed with a list of curses. Additionally, the tribes were themselves divided into two groups of six, and told to stand upon the two mountains. Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph (Ephraim and Menashe) and Benjamin were to stand upon Mount Gerizim, while Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali were to stand upon Mount Ebal. Joshua 8 records the fulfillment of this commandment.

Mount Hor - The name of the mountain on which Aaron passed away and was buried.

Mount Moriah - The name of the mountain to which Abraham brought Isaac when he was asked to sacrifice his son. Moriah later became the location of Jerusalem.

Mount Nebo - Deuteronomy 32:49 lists Mount Nebo (also referred to as the Mountain of the Abarim) as the location of Moses’ passing. He died there after looking out over the Promised Land that he could not enter.

Mount Sinai/Horeb - The mountain the Moses ascended in order to receive the Torah. According to tradition, it is also the mountain where Moses encountered the burning bush.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Simple Tip

Take a Shabbat walk and appreciate the beautiful sights you come upon.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Story of Samson and Delilah

Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Academy Award Winning Samson and Deliliah was an action packed drama that had a wealth of original biblical material from which to work.

In truth, Samson’s biography cannot be told in a single Treat. Before his birth, his parents were instructed to raise him as a Nazarite, a person who may not consume any grape product and who refrains from cutting his hair or beard (Judges 13). (A full Nazarite, one who makes this vow as an adult, must also avoid contact with the dead.)

Samson was the Jewish leader chosen to rid the Land of Israel of the Philistines. After he killed thousands of Philistines in revenge for the murder of his first wife (Judges 14 - a story for another time), his supernatural strength became known throughout the land.

After Samson had judged the Israelites for twenty years, and became the acknowledged leader of the nation who fought many battles with the Philistines (Judges 15), he met Delilah, a Philistine woman, and fell in love. The Philistines bribed Delilah to use Samson’s love for her in order to discover the secret to his strength. At first, Samson refused to tell her, teasing her with false information. Eventually, however, he let it be known that he would lose his strength if his hair was cut. While he slept, she cut his hair. The Philistines then captured Samson, blinded him and set him to work grinding grain.

Wanting to revel in their victory, the Philistines arranged a feast to their idol. In chains, Samson was brought to the feast, to serve as an object of derision. Feigning fatigue, Samson rested against a pillar and turned to God, praying that his strength return once more to punish the Philistines. His Nazarite strength returned, Samson pushed down the pillars, killing himself and the three thousand Philistines in the temple (Judges 16).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


When someone tells you a secret, remember that the person is trusting you.