Friday, November 29, 2013

The Challenge of Fitting In

The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which almost always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph the son of Jacob from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah.

The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in a non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him Tzaphenath Pa'nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him.

Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself, he declared: “...for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).

Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession.

Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks--their dress, their language, their names--they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle.

Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?

This Treat was last posted on December 14, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spin the Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!

The dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When it falls, depending on which Hebrew letter is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday? 

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 B.C.E.), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the word Poh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt. 

This Treat was last posted on December 13, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish and Proud

During this year's Chanukah celebration, find new ways to express your Jewish identity. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

These Lights We Kindle

While the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is an outward-focused mitzvah - the menorah is lit in a window or doorway - it is also an opportunity for personal reflection on the deeper meaning of the holiday. Recognizing this, a special paragraph was added to the menorah lighting ritual. Ha’nayrot Halalu, as it is called, is recited immediately after the Chanukah blessings:

These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and on the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days in this season, through Your holy priests. During all eights days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred. We are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them, in order, express thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

Ha’nayrot Halalu reminds us that there are many extraordinary events within the celebration of Chanukah. There are the miracles, such as the single flask of oil lasting eight days instead of one. There are wonders, such as the fact that there remained even one single flask of pure olive oil still sealed by the High Priest. And there are salvations, such as the incredible courage of the small Jewish army to go into battle while so severely out-manned and their ability to overthrow the soldiers of the mighty Syrian-Greek empire.

Additionally, Ha’nayrot Halalu contains a reminder, that while there are no restrictions on one’s actions on Chanukah (as there are on the Biblical festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), one must not forget that the days of Chanukah are holy as well. Thus it is that one may not use the Chanukah candles for any purpose other than as a reminder of the many ways of God’s salvations.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

On The 25th Of Kislev

It is not uncommon to find that significant events in Jewish history occurred in different years but on the same day on the Jewish calendar. For instance, Tisha B'Av (9th of Av), the day on which we mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temple, occurred on the same calendar day on which the Israelites in the wilderness listened to the spies and cried out in fear that God was leading them to their deaths. This resulted in 38 additional years of wandering in the wilderness before the next generation was allowed to enter the Promised Land. 

Today is the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the first day of Chanukah. Chanukah is celebrated on the anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple by Judah Maccabee and his loyal followers. According to Jewish tradition, however, it is not a coincidence that this event occurred on the 25th of Kislev. 

According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina, the construction of the Mishkan (temporary Tabernacle that was used before the permanent Temple was erected) was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Once the Mishkan was completed, however, Moses waited until the 1st of Nissan for its official dedication. The postponement, according to the Midrash, was because "God wanted to celebrate the rejoicing of the Tabernacle in the month in which Isaac was born (Nissan)...Kislev thus forfeited [the honor] though the work had been completed [during that month]. God therefore said: 'I will make restitution.' How did God repay Kislev? With the Chanukah (inauguration) of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees)" (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 184).

Because the Chanukat Ha'Mishkan, the dedication of the Tabernacle, did not occur on the day it was completed, the great honor of the miracle of Chanukah was reserved for the 25th of Kislev. 

This Treat was last posted on December 11, 2012. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

It's Not a Big Chicken

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to be in supermarkets in November, it’s turkey! In fact, many supermarkets even give them away to promote large purchases of other groceries.

As you put the turkey into the oven, take a moment to think about the significance of that bird. Did you know that a vast amount of rabbinic ink has been expended in discussing the kosher status of turkey?!

While the Torah specifically identifies those features that make animals and fish kosher (chews cud and split hooves for animals, scales and fins for fish), it does not specify the identifying features of a kosher bird. Instead it states that one may eat "all the clean birds," and then lists only the birds which one may not eat (Deuteronomy 14:11-20).

This has created a problem because not all the birds identified in the Torah’s prohibited list are known today. The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch completed in 1563) therefore ruled that only those birds traditionally known to be eaten by Jewish communities were allowed. This included chicken and ducks.

The turkey, however, was not a traditional bird. Turkeys are indigenous to the "New World" and were not seen by European Jews until explorers brought them back from America. As turkeys became more common fare in the general European community, the rabbis began to receive questions about the bird’s kosher status.

The turkey, which shares many similarities to other known kosher birds – the nature of their stomach, the shape of their beak, the structure of their feet, and that they were not predatory – was deemed kosher by almost all authorities.

So go ahead. Stuff the bird!

This Treat is republished each year in honor of Thanksgiving.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Enjoy Your Turkey

Enjoy Your Turkey, but don't forget to thank God for His wonderful bounty with the proper blessings over food.


Make the lighting of the menorah a central part of tonight's celebrations. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Chanukiyah

The term menorah is used for both the classic symbol of the holiday of Chanukah and the great seven-branched candelabra that was built in the wilderness following explicit Divine directions and used first in the Tabernacle and later stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In order to make a distinction between these two menorot, the term chanukiyah is sometimes used in reference to the Chanukah menorah. It has nine branches - eight lights for Chanukah and a shamash, a "helper" candle to light the other candles.

In preparation for the holiday and to make Chanukah truly shine, Jewish Treats presents some “things to know” about the chanukiyah:

1) You really don’t need a chanukiyah (or a menorah)! That’s right, one could technically light a series of tea lights (for example) one next to the other and still properly fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah lights.

2) The lights should be in a straight line without any difference in height between any of the Chanukah lights. They may be in a semi-circle as long as all the lights are visible at the same time. The place for the shamash on the chanukiyah, however, should be differentiated from the other lights. Usually it is higher, lower or out of line with the others.

3) There should be enough space between lights so that the none of the flames merge with their neighbor. Also the candles must be far enough apart that one candle does not cause the candle next to it to melt.

4) It is preferable to use olive oil for the Chanukah lights since the miracle took place with olive oil. One may, nevertheless, use wax or paraffin candles or other types of oils as long as they produce a steady, clean light.

This Treat was last posted on December 21, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pure Olive Oil

While a large number of Jews today light Chanukah candles, the more traditional custom is to light the Chanukah menorah with olive oil. This is done in order to most accurately recreate the original miracle.
When God instructed Moses on the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (the vessels of which were eventually placed in the Temple in Jerusalem), he specifically stated: “And you will command the children of Israel, to bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually” (Exodus 27:20).

Pure olive oil, known in Hebrew as shemen zayit zach,* is the first drop of oil when the olive is first squeezed or pressed. The Mishna states that the there is nothing better that the first oil of the first crop, and the sages of the Talmud described the process of how this oil was produced:

“The first crop is when the fully ripe olives are picked  from the top of the tree; they are brought into the olive-press, are ground in a mill and put into baskets. The oil which oozes out is the first kind [of oil]. They are then pressed with the beam, and the oil which oozes out is the second kind” (Menachot 86a).

Olive oil, which burns slowly, cleanly and without an unpleasant odor, has many uses both in daily life and in Jewish rituals. Indeed, oil is one of the items that was offered with the sacrifices in the Temple. However, only the menorah required the purest shemen zayit zach from the first pressing.

“If the candlestick, which does not need [the oil] for eating, requires pure olive oil, how much more do meal-offerings, which [need the oil] for eating, require pure olive oil! But the text states, pure olive oil beaten for the light, but not ‘pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings’” (Menachot 56b).

*It is interesting to note that the words shemen zayit zach, when written in Hebrew, are composed of eight letters, one of the many interesting allusions to Chanukah that are hidden in the Torah  (as found on

This Treat was last posted on December 11, 2012. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

First Night Light

Start the holiday right by lighting your menorah at the earliest time possible after dusk. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Story of Chanukah

Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modi'in sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who volunteered. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greek forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, scrubbing the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure oil, and finally found a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But it was only one flask of oil, good for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, announcing to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

This Treat was last posted on December 5, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Maccabee Who's Who

Mattityahu (Mattathias): A High Priest descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and then slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.

Yochanan (John) Gaddi: The oldest son of Mattityahu fought alongside his brothers. His death at the hands of the sons of Jambri from Medeba (in Moab, now Jordan) is recorded in the first Book of Maccabees.

Shimon (Simon) Thassi: The second son of Mattityahu, Shimon fought alongside his brothers. He was the first ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty, who came to power around 142 B.C.E, and also served as the High Priest. 

Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee: The third son of Mattityahu, Yehuda was the recognized leader of the revolt after his father’s death (about a year into the revolt). He is considered one of the greatest Jewish warriors in history. After the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple, Judah continued to lead the battle against the still occupying Syrian-Greeks. The battles continued even after Yehuda’s death in battle in 160 B.C.E.

Elazar Avaran: The fourth son of Mattityahu was killed during the initial rebellion. The Syrian-Greeks had a cavalry of elephants. Elazar ran under one elephant and cut open its belly, but was unable to escape from under the animal before it collapsed on top of him.

Yahonatan (Jonathan) Apphus: The youngest son of Mattityahu, Yahonatan led the Jewish army after Yehuda’s death in 160 B.C.E. and also served as the High Priest. He was taken captive and killed by the Seleucid King Diodotus Tryphon in 143 B.C.E. (According to the historian Josephus, who claimed descent from Yahonatan’s daughter.) 

This Treat was last posted on December 7, 2010. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Preparations II

Purchase candles or olive oil for lighting your Chanukah menorah

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chanukah - What's The Mitzvah

Here's a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

 a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

 The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the oil in the menorah in the Holy Temple burned for eight days instead of one.

 In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

 In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after dusk. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used so that the Chanukah lights remain lit after nightfall.

 If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

 If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

 If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is permitted to light and say the blessings.

 If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

 NOTE: Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.

 This Treat was last posted on December 6, 2012.  

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Preparations

Get ready for Chanukah by dusting or polishing your menorah, as needs be.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Confidence to Succeed

Have you ever met one of those people who are just naturally successful, who seem to be effortlessly organized and one step ahead of everyone else? These are the types of people about whom we refer to as having a charmed life. Of all the characters in the Bible, there are few who better fit this description than Joseph. He had his downfalls, but  always seemed to come out on top. 

(A brief review of Joseph’s life - for more detail, click here - Favored son, his brothers are jealous of him and plan to kill him, but instead sell him into slavery. As a slave in Egypt, he rises to head  Potiphar’s household,  until Potiphar’s wife accuses him of rape. He is jailed, but is  placed in charge of all the other prisoners. After two years, he interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and winds up as Egypt’s Viceroy.)

One of the character traits that appears to be common among successful people is confidence. They believe that they will succeed. Joseph believed completely that God was with him at every moment:

“The name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, never left his [Joseph’s] mouth. When he came in to minister to him [Potiphar], he would whisper and say, ‘Master of the World! You are My Source of trust, You are my Patron, so grant me favor, kindness and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of Potiphar my master’” (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeishev 8).

Because Joseph’s confidence was based on his absolute belief that God runs the world, his confidence never grew into arrogance. Rather, Joseph’s success and confidence was a result of the fact that he was perfectly comfortable putting his fate into God’s hands. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Continued Gratitude

Remember to express your gratitude when God helps you succeed.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The First Jewish Author in the Americas

Forgetting the rights and wrongs of conquest, one must acknowledge that the men and women who crossed the ocean to settle the so-called "New World" were incredibly brave. Imagine leaving behind everything familiar to traverse a seemingly endless body of water and settle in a whole new land. For an untold number of these Spanish settlers, the goal of crossing to the New World was to escape the scrutiny and dangers of the Inquisition. 

Around 1582*, the first governor of the New Kingdom of Leon (in central Mexico),  Don Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, brought over his sister, Doña Francisca Nuñez de Carabajal, her husband, Don Francisco Rodriguez de Matos, and their children. Unlike the governor, Don Francisco and Doña Francisca and their family were Crypto-Jews, outwardly practising Catholicism while remaining devout to their Jewish faith.

Around 1590, Doña Francisca, her son Don Luis de Carabajal (referred to in some research as jr.), and four of her daughters were incarcerated by the Inquisition, (which followed the settlers to the Americas) on charges of Judaizing. They were tortured and forced to publicly confess the errors of their ways at a public auto-de-fe in February 1590, and then condemned to a lifetime imprisonment. While imprisoned, the Carabajals continued their secret faith. The women wrote messages of strength to each other on Spanish pear seeds. Cellmates informed the inquisitors of how the Carabajals greeted each other in a Jewish manner, prayed on Yom Kippur and maintained other Jewish traditions.

Five years later, the Carabajals were tried as relapsed apostates. They were sentenced to burn at the auto-de-fe on December 8 (17 Kislev) 1596. Don Luis de Carabajal (Jr.) was not yet 30 when he died, but he made a mark on history and has been noted as the first Jewish author in the Americas. He wrote both a memoir (in which he recorded circumcising himself) and, along with his brother Balthasar, composed hymns and dirges for the Jewish fasts. 

*Please note that the exact dates are disputed.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Share Jewish Treats with friends and family to help them stay connected to their Jewish roots. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jewish Geography

If you were lost in the wilderness, would you know which way was north? The classic natural tracking maneuver is to look up at the sky and find the north star. It is interesting then to note that the Hebrew word for north is tzaphon, which shares a root with the word tzaphoon, meaning hidden or concealed. 

In general, the direction words used in the Torah are tied to the geography of the holy land. The word for south is negev, which shares a root with the verb meaning to dry. For those who are familiar with Israel, this word may sound familiar as it is the name of the large desert region that covers much of the country’s south. The Torah also uses the word darom to refer to the south.

The Torah refers to the west with variations of the word yama, meaning sea. With directions based on the physical realities of the Holy Land, this is an obvious reference to the Mediterranean Sea. But ma’arav is also used to refer to the west, and this word is related to the words that refer to the evening, the two most prominent being erev (evening) and ma'ariv (the evening service).

Today, the most common term used to refer to east is mizrach, which shares the root of words meaning to illuminate. The connection, of course, is that the sun rises in the east. But the word used in the Torah for east, is kedem. What is fascinating about this term is that it is related to the Hebrew word mukdam, meaning early. Abraham, the first Jew, moved from east to west and left his past, that which came earlier, behind him.

In honor of Geography Awareness Week, Jewish Treats hopes that you’ve enjoyed this new interpretation of Jewish Geography.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don't Waste Time

Make certain that you have proper directions when travelling. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Tribe of Naphtali

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.

As with Naphtali himself, little is said of the tribe of Naphtali during the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness. When Moses blessed the tribes before they entered the Land of Israel, he said “Naphtali is satiated with favor and filled with Godly blessings.  The sea and its south it will possess” (Deuteronomy 33:23).

The contentment and blessing Moses spoke of for the tribe of Naphtali was actually a direct correlation to the tribe’s land. They settled in the Galilee, in the fertile mountains nestled against the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). On this bountiful land, the Naphtalites had all that they needed.

When trouble brewed, the people of Naphtali did not hesitate to come to the aid of their brethren.  When Jabin, the king of the Canaanites, oppressed the Children of Israel, Deborah, the prophetess, judge and leader of the Israelites, called for Barak the son of Abinoam from the tribe of Naphtali to gather and lead an army against the Canaanite general Sisera (Judges 4).  And, later, when the Midianites oppressed the Jews, the soldiers of Naphtali swiftly joined Gideon’s army (Judges 6).

Naphtali was regarded as a messenger, and his descendants delivered a palpable message of support for God’s anointed second king of Israel, David.  When Saul’s son Ishboshet tried to assert his right to the throne (which God had definitively removed from the descendants of Saul), 38,000 Naphtalites moved to support David (1 Chronicles 12:34).

When the unified kingdom divided, Naphtali became part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and was one of the first tribes to be decimated and exiled by the Assyrians.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hurry For The Right Reason

When you have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, don't delay.

Monday, November 18, 2013

For Your Eyes Only

Did you know that according to the U.S. Postal Service, willfully and knowingly reading someone else's mail is a federal offense. That’s right, even that department store bill addressed to your spouse! If it isn’t addressed to you, it isn’t yours to open. (Of course, most families have an understanding that either spouse may open such mail.)

What, you might ask, does the federal privacy statute have to do with Judaism? Around the year 1000 C.E., Rabbeinu Gershom of Mainz, the Ashkenazic legal authority at the time, issued a takanah, a legal decree, for all Ashkenazic Jews (which was eventually accepted by Jews worldwide) forbidding a person from reading the private correspondence of another.

The purpose of this ruling was twofold. First and foremost, it reflected the prevailing business ethic. In an era without telephones or fast modes of travel, business was often transacted through couriers and messengers. However, the takanah was also issued to protect Jews from lashon harah and re’chee’lut - two forms of gossip. If you mind your own business, you won’t have any juicy “news” to share with the world.

Most people today would never think of reading another person’s mail – it breaks many of our accepted social mores. Ahh, but what about reading your friend’s e-mail over his shoulder...

This Treat was last posted on November 5, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Privacy Protected

Respect the privacy of your coworkers and friends

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Tiberias is Holy

While Israel is the Holy Land, four of her cities are considered holier than all the others, and each of these is accorded a mystical connection with one of the four classical elements. Jerusalem is the city of fire. Hebron is the city of earth. Safed is the city of air. Tiberias is the city of water.

Tiberias’ association with water is obvious, as the city is situated on the northern banks of the Sea of Galilee (known in Hebrew as the Kineret). But, the city was not always considered holy. In fact, when it was built (c. 20 CE) by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, most Jews refused to move there because it was constructed on top of an ancient cemetery. Antipas had to resign himself to populating his Galilean capital with people from other nations.

According to legend, the city remained in a state of ritual impurity until around 135 CE, when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai purified the city. Not long thereafter, the Jewish people suffered a terrible blow with the defeat following the Bar Kochba uprising. The Jews were formally exiled from Jerusalem and Jewish life was forced northward. Eventually, Tiberias and its neighboring city of Tzippori, became the center of Jewish scholarship in the Holy Land. It was in Tiberias that Rabbi Judah the Prince redacted the oral Torah into the Mishna and where the sages of the Sanhedrin remained for several centuries. Tiberias was also the location where the Jerusalem Talmud was completed.

Because of the city’s connection to the Sanhedrin, the Mishna and the Talmud, it is now considered one of the four holy cities of Israel. The city itself has survived a tumultuous history of conquering armies and devastating earthquakes to become a place which no tourist of Israel should miss.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Shalom

This Shabbat, greet those you meet with the words, "Shabbat Shalom."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Original Little Red Riding Hood

The story of Dinah, the youngest child of Leah, and Jacob’s only named daughter, is often glossed over when it is first taught.

When Jacob was camped outside the city of Shechem, Dinah went out on her own to see the local girls. She was seen by the prince of the city, who desired her, kidnapped her, raped her and then asked for her hand in marriage.

In many ways, Dinah can be seen as a prototype for a future group of “fascinating” women. Indeed, was not Dinah the original Helen of Troy, the beautiful woman whose face “launched a thousand ships.” In the case of Dinah, it was swords that were launched, not ships, and only two of them. In the Biblical narrative, two of Dinah's brothers, not her husband, launched the attack.

Following Dinah’s abduction, the King of Shechem came to Jacob hoping that the family would be eager to accept a marriage proposal. After much haggling, Jacob's sons agreed to the proposal, but only upon the condition that all the men of Shechem undergo circumcision. Commanded by their king, all the men of Shechem were circumcised. On the third day after the city-wide circumcision, Shimon and Levi went into the city and avenged their sister’s honor by attacking the townsmen who felt that marriage by abduction was perfectly acceptable. Jacob condemned his sons’ violence and rashness.

On the other hand, Dinah could also be seen as the original “Little Red Riding Hood.” Thinking the world a safe place, she went out from her father’s camp and came upon a wolf. He lured her in and raped her. The inclusion of Dinah’s story in the Torah can easily be interpreted as a warning against straying, about the safety of the home and the dangers of strangers.

Calling Dinah either Helen of Troy or “Little Red Riding Hood” are both simplifications. Strangers can be dangerous, but then again, Rebecca and Rachel spoke to strangers at their wells and wound up as matriarchs of the Jewish people. The Trojan War is mythologically portrayed as a battle over a beautiful woman, but there is far more complicated history and politics behind the fighting. So too, when reading the Torah, one must learn to read behind the scenes in order to understand the true motivations of our forefathers.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Self Protection

Take the time to learn basic self defense moves.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

Today, November 13, 2013 is "World Kindness Day."

An entire generation of North Americans hear the words “random acts of kindness” and immediately think of Oprah Winfrey. Without question, the queen of afternoon television has done amazing things and, in the process, reminded millions of her fans and followers of an extremely important ethic in society. Acts of kindness, known in Hebrew as gm’eelut chasadim or simply chesed, are so important, in fact, that the Talmudic sage Shimon the Righteous considered it one of the three things that sustain the world (along with Torah and service to God–Pirkei Avot 1:2).

Often, when a discussion turns to “good acts,” people pull out their checkbooks to make a charitable donation. Donating one’s money as charity is a beautiful and important mitzvah, that is known in Hebrew as tzedakah, which comes from the Hebrew word for righteousness (tzedek). However, the sages make a distinction between tzedakah and chesed:

“Our Rabbis taught: In three respects are acts of kindness superior to charity: Charity can be done only with one's money, but acts of kindness can be done with one's body and one's money. Charity can be given only to the poor, acts of kindness both to the rich and the poor. Charity can be given to the living only, acts of kindness can be done both to the living and to the dead” (Sukkah 49b).

Anyone can perform acts of kindness. More importantly, acts of kindness can be small, seemingly insignificant gestures (holding the door for someone, passing along a resume, or preparing a meal for a new mother and her family) or large (letting someone live in your house while they look for a new home, chauffeuring someone to multiple doctor visits). And no matter how simple the act may seem, to the recipient, that kindness is priceless.

This Treat was last posted on February 15, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Paying Attention

Throughout your day, pay attention for opportunities to perform an act of kindness.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fortunate! Fortunate! Forunate!

Central among the morning prayers known as Pesukei D’zimra, Songs of Praise, is Psalm 145, which is more often referred to simply as Ashrei. Actually, Ashrei is included in the service both during Pesukei D’zimra, and after the Shemonah Esrei, and again at the beginning of Mincha (the afternoon service).

The word Ashrei is usually translated as “Fortunate!” or “Happy!” This psalm of praise declares how fortunate one is to have a relationship with God. The message of Ashrei is so positive and uplifting that “Rabbi Eleazar ben Abina says: Whoever recites “Praise of David” [Psalm 145]  three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come” (Talmud Brachot 4b). What is so special about Psalm number 145?  After all, the Book of Psalms contains 150 beautiful poems and songs? Ashrei isn’t the longest, or the shortest, or the most grammatically complex – in fact, it doesn’t stand out at all to the average eye. So what is it about this psalm that makes it a key to earning entry into the world to come?

The sages discuss several possibilities, such as the fact that it is an alphabetical acrostic. The psalm, contains all the letters of the entire Hebrew Aleph-Bet (except for the letter “nun”) in correct order at the beginning of each sentence.  This represents that God’s praise is sung in all of Creation, which Jews have the opportunity to elevate.  The line starting with the letter nun, however, is omitted because nun is the first letter of the word nephilah, fallen.

It is also suggested that Ashrei’s importance is due to the inclusion of the verse: “Poteach et yadech, umasbiya l’chol chay ratzon...You open Your hand and provide satisfaction for all life willingly.” This line transforms the praises of the rest of the Psalms into a declaration of God’s ability to sustain the world.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

List It

Take a moment and list, on paper or in your head, all the ways in which you are fortunate. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

For The Medal of Honor: The Story of Leonard Kravitz

On March 6, 1951, a platoon of American soldiers serving in the Korean War came under heavy fire by the Chinese Army near Yangpyong, Korea. When the platoon’s Machine Gunner was wounded, Private First Class Leonard Kravitz took over for his injured comrade. Shortly thereafter, the platoon was ordered to retreat. PFC Kravitz refused to withdraw, because he knew that if he left his position, the Chinese would take the advantage. His protective fire enabled a safe retreat for his comrades, but cost him his life. When the American troops retook the area, they found Kravitz’s body slumped over the gun, the majority of ammunition expended, and numerous enemy dead before him. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award accorded to members of the United States Army.

PFC Leonard Kravitz (the uncle of the musician of the same name)  was 20 years old when he was killed in action. His heroism may have remained just one of the many stories of fallen soldiers cherished by the surviving family, if not for Kravitz’s close friend from his Brooklyn childhood, Mitchel Libman.

Libman was bothered that Kravitz had not received the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious American military award. He noticed that Kravitz and numerous other deserving Jewish heroes had been given lesser honors for similar acts of valor by non-Jewish servicemen who had received the Medal of Honor. In fact, not one of the 136 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean War was given to a member of the Jewish faith.

Libman’s findings developed into a multi-decade campaign that was later taken up by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. In 2001, Representative Wexler introduced the Jewish War Veterans Act (informally called the “Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act”), which called for a review of Jewish veterans awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to determine if the Medal of Honor should have been given. The request for Kravitz’s upgrade is still under review.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Stand Up

Stand up for your friends. Whether at work, school, or in social situations, be supportive of your friends.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Knotty Subject

The act of knotting was one of the necessary creative works (melacha) necessary for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). During the making of the ten curtains that draped over the Mishkan roof, “when a thread tore during the weaving process, they [the Israelites] knotted the thread” (Talmud Shabbat 74b). As a melacha used in the Mishkan, the act of knotting is considered one of the 39 m’la’chot (creative acts) prohibited on Shabbat.

According to Jewish law, all knots are not created equal. When it comes to determining the permissibility of a certain knot on Shabbat, “Rabbi Judah stated a general rule: Any knot that is not permanent entails no culpability” (Talmud Shabbat 113a). An additional factor is whether it is a professional knot.

So what is the status of the three most common types of knot-tying in the modern age?

Neck Ties: In general, most people don’t intend the knot of their tie to be permanent. It is tied and untied each time the tie is worn. Knotting one’s necktie is therefore permitted by most authorities on Shabbat.

Garbage Bags and other plastic bags: Because it is common for people to tie these bags tightly, so that no garbage spills out, they require particular attention on Shabbat. A simple once over of two sides (similar to the first steps of tying a shoe) is permitted. A double knot, however, may not be.

Shoes: In general, shoes are tied temporarily and so a simple double loop knot is permitted. Double knotting one’s shoes, however, may be more of an issue. The purpose of the double knot is to make certain that the original single knot stays firm, which some might regard as creating permanency. However, the general intent of tying a double knot in a shoe is temporary. As there are different opinions regarding double knotting shoes, one should consult one’s personal rabbi.

It should be noted that any type of knot that may not be tied, may not be untied.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Early Shabbat

Remember that this week Shabbat starts one hour earlier in those locations that changed their clocks last week. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Situation in the Suez

The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and thus to the Indian Ocean, was built in the 1860s through a French-Egyptian partnership. In 1875, debt forced the Egyptians to sell their share in the canal to the British (who subsequently occupied Egypt in 1882). The Convention of Constantinople (1888) and the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 declared the canal to be a neutral zone under British control.

Following the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Egypt unilaterally closed the canal to Israeli shipping. Egyptian president Gemal Abdel Nassar had two major nationalistic goals. The first was to demonstrate Egypt’s ability to harm Israel by hurting its economy. The second was his desire for Egypt to become the leader of all the Arab nations. In 1949 and 1951, the UN ordered the canal open to all. The Egyptians did not comply, and, in July 1956, Nasser declared that the canal belonged to Egypt and blockaded the Straits of Tiran. (In addition to the blockade, there were regular incursions of Egyptian fadayeens - terrorists - into Israeli territory)

Needing to defend itself, Israel agreed to the proposed military plan of the French and British to respond to the closing of the canal and the straits. On October 29, 1956, the Israelis attacked across the Sinai Peninsula. Within one week, Israel had successfully swept across most of the Sinai desert. Their European allies then demanded that the two sides disengage. When the Egyptians refused, the French and British used this as an excuse for adding their own military forces to protect the canal. After they took Port Said, however, the British unexpectedly agreed to a cease fire, imposed upon them by the threat of Soviet retaliation.

On November 7, 1956, the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was established by United Nations General Assembly to secure an end to the 1956 Suez Crisis. Following the hostilities, Israel was forced by international pressure to withdraw from the territory they had captured in the Sinai Peninsula. However, Israeli access to the canal has, by and large, remained open.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Healthy Choices

Eating healthy is an important aspect of the mitzvah of maintaining one's health.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Many Wives of Esau

Have you ever wondered who Esau married? In fact, Esau’s marital history is explicitly detailed in Genesis:

“And when Esau was forty years old, he took as his wife wife Judith (also known as Oholibamah) the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath (also known as Adah) the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a bitterness of spirit to Isaac and to Rebecca” (26:34-35).

So disruptive were these women to the household that the Bible reports:

“And Rebecca said to Isaac: 'I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?’” (27:46).

Perhaps when Esau married Judith and Basemath, he assumed that they would be acceptable because his own mother, Rebecca, was the daughter of idolators. When Rebecca came to marry Isaac, however, she accepted the way of life established by Abraham and Sarah. The Hittite women, however, never gave up their idolatrous practices.

When Esau overheard Isaac and Rebecca instructing Jacob not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,  he realized that his parents disapproved of his Hittite wives. He immediately set out to resolve the situation by going to Ishmael, his father’s brother, and marrying his daughter. 

“And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; so Esau went to Ishmael, and took, in addition to his wives, Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaiot, to be his wife” (28:8-9).

On this decision, the commentaries have been divided. Some say that this act brought Esau atonement. Others, however, say that because “he took Mahalath in addition to his wives, [he was] adding grief to grief” (Genesis Rabbah 67:13).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Seek the advice of your parents when contemplating life decisions. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel

The list of American rabbinic leaders whose faces have graced U.S. Postage stamps is rather small, to say the least. One such stamp, created in 1986 and given a $1 value, featured Rabbi Bernard Revel as part of the Great Americans Series.

Rabbi Revel (1885 - 1940) did not come to the United States until he was 21. He was born in Lithuania and received both an advanced Torah education (he was ordained at age 16) and independently completed the necessary requirements for a Russian high school diploma.

Once in the United States, Rabbi Revel enrolled at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (, better known as RIETS, the rabbinic seminary of what later became Yeshiva University) and, at the same time, availed himself of the open enrollment policies of American Universities to earn a Masters from NYU.  He went on to earn a doctorate of philosophy from Dropsie College (their first PhD graduate).

After he finished his doctorate, Rabbi Dr. Revel and his wife, Sarah Travis, spent several years in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he worked for his father-in-law’s oil company. In 1915, when his alma mater RIETS merged with Yeshivat Etz Chaim, Rabbi Revel returned to New York as its head. He introduced new subjects that allowed the school’s graduates to better understand the needs of American Jews.

In 1928, RIETS relocated from the Lower East Side to Washington Heights and, more significantly, was transformed into Yeshiva College when Rabbi Revel established a corresponding secular curriculum. Yeshiva College* was a unique institution, to which Rabbi Revel brought both renowned rabbinic scholars and introduced intercollegiate sports. He remained its head, leading a path for American Orthodoxy, until his passing in 1940.

Rabbi Revel’s stamp also bears an interesting history. Invisible to the naked eye, the Postal Service engraver, a man named Kenneth Kipperman, added an unauthorized Star of David in his beard.

*Yeshiva College is now part of Yeshiva University.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Keep It Clean

Make certain your trash lands in a garbage can. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Keshet of Kislev

It was during the month of Cheshvan that God sent the heavy rains to cover the world and destroy all but those in Noah’s pitch-covered ark. Just over a year later, at the end of the month of Cheshvan, the land finally dried out. Noah’s family, and all the animals, left the ark. During those first days on land, Noah built an altar and brought sacrifices from the “clean” (kosher) animals.

The Torah notes that the savory scent of the sacrifices pleased God, indicating that God recognized Noah’s appreciation for all that He had done. Not long after, God made the covenant of the rainbow with Noah and with all creatures:

“It shall come to pass, when I bring clouds over the earth, and the (rain)bow is seen in the cloud, that I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature... and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:14-15).

The covenant of the rainbow took place during the first days of the month of Kislev, and so the keshet, the bow, became the symbol of that month.

The word keshet, however, also refers to the bow of a bow and arrow, and this, too, is appropriate for the month of Kislev. In just 25 days Jews the world over will celebrate one of our people’s greatest military victories, the Maccabees’ rout of the Syrian-Greek forces (Chanukah). The Maccabees were, in truth, a small band of citizens who took up arms to fight for their right to be Jews, and there is little doubt that the bow and arrow was one of their most important weapons.

The Treat was last posted on November 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Beautiful Message

When you see a rainbow, remember that it is more than just a thing of beauty, but a reminder of God's promise not to flood the world again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Meal of the Mourners

Burying one’s loved one is a traumatic experience that not only highlights one’s personal loss but also reminds one of his/her own mortality. Following a Jewish funeral, it is customary for the mourners (immediate family members) to be escorted to the home in which they will begin sitting shiva (the initial seven day mourning period). The emotionally distressed, and often physically exhausted, mourners are then served a small repast known as the Seudat Havra’ah.

While it is customary for friends, relatives and neighbors to provide food for the mourners throughout the week of shiva, the Seudat Havra’ah is a separate and unique meal that is always provided by others. Thus it is dictated in the Talmud: “Said Rav Judah, citing Rav: A mourner is forbidden to eat of his own bread on the first day [of mourning]” (Talmud Moed Katan 27b).

The Seudat Havra’ah, in which only the mourners partake, is eaten in silence. The communal nature of provisioning the mourners is a symbolic way of assuring them that the community will support them in their time of need. By insisting that the mourners eat as soon as they return home from the cemetery, they are given a subtle reminder that life must go on.

In addition to the bread mentioned by Rav Judah, it is customary to serve hard boiled eggs and lentils or chickpeas at the Seudat Havra’ah. These foods are particular to many life cycle events because their round shape represents the cycle of life. Lentils have an additional connection to Jewish mourning customs. The “red pottage” that Esau demanded of Jacob (for which Esau was willing to sell his firstborn birthright) is said to have been red lentils. According to the Midrash, Jacob was preparing these lentils for Isaac, who had just begun mourning the loss of his father, Abraham.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

How May I Help?

If you have a friend who loses a close relative, be supportive and ask the person responsible for the shiva house how you can be helpful.