Monday, June 30, 2014

To Our Readers (Six Years!)

There are numerous mitzvot for which, according to the Talmud, a person is rewarded in both this world and the world to come. These mitzvot include honoring one’s parents, hospitality, visiting the sick, and making peace between people, to name a few. The passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) concludes that the study of Torah is equal to all of these mitzvot.

In 2008, NJOP developed the idea of creating a daily email that would make the study of Jewish life accessible to any and all. Since the first Treat was posted on June 30th of that year, Jewish Treats has stayed true to its goal of offering intelligent, inspiring, appealing and positive mini-essays. These posts are written so that everyone can learn from them, no matter how much Judaism one has studied before or what particular aspect of Jewish life one finds most interesting.

In a different Tractate of the Talmud, in Nedarim (36b-37a), the sages discuss the question of whether a person can be paid for teaching Torah. Based on the idea that God commanded that the Torah needs to be taught, various sages differ on which parts of Jewish learning one can be paid for and which one cannot. This does not mean that teachers are not paid, but rather it provides a different perspective on the significance of what they are teaching.

The Jewish Treats emails are written and dispensed without charge. However, if you would like to support NJOP, the organization that brings you Jewish Treats in honor of our Sixth Anniversary, please click to donate. If you cannot support Jewish Treats financially, please consider sharing the gift of Jewish Treats by forwarding the posts to your Jewish friends and family.

Jewish Treats wishes to thank you for your dedicated readership over these last six years. As always, we are delighted to hear your thoughts, questions and comments.

We'd Love To Hear

If you enjoy Jewish Treats, let us know. Send us an email ( telling us your favorite Treat topics.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Steal A Person

The Eighth Commandment, lo tignohv, do not steal, appears to be an obvious law. Every civil code prohibits theft. However, in both syntax and placement, the Eighth Commandment appears to be of equal measure to not killing, not committing adultery and not giving false testimony--all three of which can be capital offenses.

What object, one might ask, could be so valuable that its theft could equal the price of a person's life? (And remember, Torah law goes to great lengths to avoid actually carrying out capital punishment.) Additionally, if the Eighth Commandment prohibits simply stealing, then what is the purpose of the Tenth Commandment, which prohibits coveting, but is only truly violated if one actually acts to obtain the coveted item illegally?

Questions such as these, along with a subtle analysis of the language, lead the sages to understand that this particular injunction is actually intended to mean "thou shalt not kidnap," a capital crime. (However, other verses in the Torah, and the very detailed civil code of the oral law, make it clear that ALL theft is prohibited. It just isn't a capital crime.)

What is so serious about the act of kidnaping that it merits inclusion in the Ten Commandments? Central to God's creation of humankind is His gift of free-will. Slavery is permitted in the Torah because the slave becomes a slave through his own actions (stealing, enemy in war). When a person steals another person, however, the victim unjustly loses the important human element of freedom.

In a situation where a kidnaping has occurred, Jewish law places tremendous weight on the act of redeeming the captive. Rabbah ben Mari explained (Talmud Bava Batra 8b) that captivity is worse than natural death, sword and famine, and therefore the redemption of captives is a religious duty of the greatest importance.

Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon/Rambam Spain/Egypt/Israel 1135 - 1204) wrote that the act of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming the captive, was part of three different mitzvot in the Torah: 1) "you shall not harden your heart" (Deuteronomy 15:7); 2) "you shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother" (Leviticus 19:16); and 3) "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

Bring Back Our Boys

Tonight marks the third Shabbat since three Israeli boys,Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim and Ayal ben Iris Tishrah, were kidnapped. 

To demonstrate solidarity with the families of the boys,Jewish Treats recommends the following actions:

1) Recite T'hillim (Psalms) 121 and 130.

2) Light Shabbat candles (see below). If you already light Shabbat candles, try to light early as a means of extending Shabbat.

3) Tweet or post on social media using the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Jewish History of the Cyclone Roller Coaster

Coney Island’s reputation as a vacation destination began in the early 1800s, when New Yorkers would head to the beaches. Following the Civil War, Coney Island became a true recreation hotspot. The posh hotels attracted many visitors, and, while some hotels sought to restrict Jews from staying in their establishments (which was legal at the time), the area became known as a Jewish-friendly vacation destination. 

The early twentieth century was a period of heavy development in the amusement park industry. Numerous roller coasters were erected in the Coney Island area, leading Jack and Irving Rosenthal to invest their money in building the next great coaster. They purchased The Giant Racer coaster (built 1911) and knocked it down. The Rosenthals then hired Vernan Keenan to design a roller coaster that was higher, faster and had a steeper drop than its competition. He succeeded.

Debuting on June 26, 1927, the large wooden coaster was a tremendous success. Over time, the ownership of the Cyclone changed several times. By 1969, it was in the possession of the City of New York. 

The second half of the twentieth century was less kind to Coney Island. When rumors began that the Cyclone was going to be torn down, its fans rallied to “Save the Cyclone.” Among those working to revitalize the area was a Jewish father and son team, Dewey and Jerry Albert, who were the builders of the nearby Astroland amusement park. Although their Astroland was themed for the “space age,” they took control of the Cyclone in 1975. The classic coaster was renovated, refurbished and reopened to once again make it a prime Coney Island attraction. 

Declared a city landmark in 1988, the Cyclone was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. While Astroland closed in 2008, the Cyclone remains operational to this day.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Be generous with your good will. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fronting the Frontiersman

One of the iconic figures of the American frontier was Daniel Boone, a frontiersman often pictured with a racoon-skin hat. A fact many do not know about Daniel Boone is that some of his great exploits were financed by Isaiah Isaacs and Jacob I. Cohen of Richmond, Virginia.

A native of Germany, Isaiah Isaacs (1747-1806) arrived in Richmond in 1769. He felt himself deeply connected to his new country and joined the militia to fight for independence. Jacob I. Cohen (1744-1823) arrived in America from Bavaria in 1773. He too joined the colonial militia to fight the British.

In 1781, the two became business partners, beginning with a tavern (purportedly Richmond’s first) called "The Bird in the Hand."  Together they became merchants. It is interesting to note that their mercantile partnership was known as “the Jew’s Store.” They also entered the world of  real-estate. In fact, Daniel Boone’s commission from Isaacs and Cohen was to survey their land in Kentucky (then a county of Virginia).

Like many well-to-do Virginians of the time, Isaacs and Cohen were both slave-owners, but neither was completely comfortable with the situation and both freed their slaves in their wills.

Both Isaacs and Cohen were highly involved in the Jewish community. They were founders of Richmond’s first synagogue Beth Shalome. Isaacs donated the land for the first Jewish cemetery. In addition to his activities in Richmond, Cohen was active in Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel Congregation as he spent a great deal of time there and eventually settled in Philadelphia in 1807. Both Isaacs and Cohen were also politically active. Both were elected to the city’s Common Hall, similar to city council, and served on the Grand Jury.

Today’s Treat is dedicated to the Anniversary of Virginia’s entrance into the union of the United States.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Speak With

Be conscious of speaking respectfully to all people.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Touched By An Angel

Virtually all topics concerning life are covered in the vast and varied discourses of the Talmud. Life, afterlife, and even pre-life. In Talmud Niddah (30b), the sages discuss the experiences of a baby as it passes from life in the womb to life out of the womb:

“It [the fetus] is also taught all the Torah from beginning to end, for it is said, 'And He taught me, and said to me: Let your heart hold fast My words, keep My commandments and live,’ (Proverbs 4:4) ... As soon as it sees the light, an angel approaches, slaps it on its mouth and causes it to forget all the Torah completely, as it is said, ‘Sin crouches at the door’(Genesis 4:7)...”

While a child is still in the uterus, according to the Midrash, an angel teaches it all of the Torah. When the child passes into the world, the angel touches the child just above the lips, creating the vertical groove between the upper lip and the nose (philtrum), and the child forgets everything he/she had known.

Great, so once we knew everything, but now we don’t. What’s the point? 

In this way, when a person is confronted with emet, with truth, emanating from the Torah, he/she will be more likely to recognize it and be drawn to it. An example: the mitzvah not to steal. Your average person will feel that this is just an obvious law. But it is obvious only because it is something that was learned years before in that “mysterious” time just before we entered the world. 

This Treat was last posted on August 5, 2010.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In The Atmosphere

Surround yourself with Judaism. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Miraculous Water

Human beings have several basic needs: food, water and protection from the elements. In the desert, these necessities can be difficult to come by. During the Children of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, these needs were taken care of by God. For general shelter, God gave them the Ananei Hakavod, the Clouds of Glory. For more personal protection, He maintained the Israelites’ clothing so that there was no need to wash or mend. The food eaten by the Israelites was manna, a substance from heaven that the people collected each morning except for on Shabbat. Food and shelter thus provided, that leaves only the issue of water to drink.

According to tradition, as the Children of Israel traveled through the wilderness, they were accompanied by a well of clean, potable water. In fact, Rashi explains that it was “a rock from which would issue forth water. It would roll along and accompany the people of Israel (in their wanderings from place to place)” (Rashi on Talmud Taanit 9a). This rock is referred to as the Well of Miriam. It is associated with Miriam because it is written in Numbers 20, “and Miriam died there and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation.” (Numbers 20:1-2). The proximity of these two verses implies that the water was provided in Miriam’s merit. When she died, the well ceased to meet this need.

It is interesting to note that the sages declared that this miraculous well was one of ten objects created at twilight on the eve of the first Shabbat (Ethics of the Fathers 5:8), and, therefore, it is an eternal object that was relocated into the Lake of Tiberius (Leviticus Rabbah 22:5).

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thanks for the Water

Before enjoying a glass of cold water, say the blessing:
Ba'ruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech ha'o'lam sheh'ha'kohl nee'h'yeh bid'varo. (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, by whose word all things came to be.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

How Many Tribes?

The challenge to name the number of tribes of Israel would fall into the category of  “easy” by trivia fans. However, the term “The Twelve Tribes of Israel” can be enumerated in different ways at different times.  Let’s clarify:

The Twelve Tribes of Israel began with the twelve sons of Jacob (also known as Israel): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin.  While Reuben was the first born, his act of moving his father’s bed into his mother’s tent after the death of Rachel (Genesis 35:22) lost him his natural firstborn right. The rights of the firstborn were transferred to Rachel’s firstborn son, Joseph.

In Egypt, where the family of Jacob migrated to escape a famine in Canaan, Jacob met Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Menashe. He told Joseph “Your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you, to Egypt, shall be considered mine, like Reuben and Simon” (Genesis 48:5).

When, after years of enslavement, the Children of Israel left Egypt, the descendants of Joseph were regarded as two tribes in one. In some situations, such as when Moses blessed the tribes, both tribes together are referred to as the Children of Joseph. But, in other situations, they are addressed as the Tribe of Ephraim and the Tribe of Menashe. They each had their own princes and their own encampments in the wilderness, which, though adjacent, were distinct.

The double portion (a firstborn right) of Joseph’s descendants was a counterbalance to the status change of the Tribe of Levi. When the Levites were designated as the caretakers of the Tabernacle and as the teachers of the people, they yielded ownership of a portion of the Promised Land that all other tribes received. As a result of the division of the children of Joseph into two tribes, the balance of twelve tribal areas of the Promised Land was maintained.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Beauty

Bring home some beautiful flowers in honor of Shabbat. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Sauntering Day

In Jewish life there is a great appreciation for a character trait known as z’reezut, which is often translated as zealousness. The word z’reezut actually comes from the root zayin-reish-zayin, which is associated with the concept of haste.

Acting with z’reezut does not mean that one should speed through one’s day but, rather, that when a person has the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, it should be done with deliberate speed. This idea applies to activities like arriving early to synagogue services as well as responding to unexpected opportunities, like helping provide meals for community members in need.

In a culture where z’reezut is a positive character trait, what can be said about a day designated for sauntering, walking slowly in a casual manner? World Sauntering Day (June 19) may imply a call to behave in a lazy manner, but, in fact, it was meant by its creator, W.T. Rabe, to be a way to encourage people to slow down and appreciate the world.

Jewish living is about balance. One needs to know the appropriate time for z’reezut and the appropriate time for “sauntering.” Indeed, one does not have to exclude the other. Slowing down allows one to be more aware of others, which may provide a chance to discover new mitzvah opportunities (which one can then hurry to take care of).

As interesting as it may be that there exists such a thing as World Sauntering Day, Judaism has an inner mechanism for slowing down and appreciating the world. Once a week, Shabbat provides Jews with an “oasis of time” to truly slow down. In fact, that day is so significant that the preparations for it are often done with z’reezut.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Opportunity Knocks

When you have the opportunity to do a mitzvah, don't hesitate.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

His Wife Saved His Life

Ohn the son of Pelet was a Reubenite who fell under the sway of a rebellious Levite named Korach. Korach felt that a great injustice had been perpetrated in Aaron’s appointment to the High Priesthood. Why, he challenged, was the leadership completely in the hands of Moses and Aaron?

Two known troublemakers (according to the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 167), Datan and Aviram quickly gave Korach their support. Ohn, who lived near Datan and Aviram, also joined Korach’s cause. Together, these four men enlisted more followers until Korach was able to approach Moses and Aaron accompanied by 250 men and state, “You take too much upon yourselves, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and God is among them; why then do you lift yourselves above the assembly of God?” (Numbers 16:1-3).

After trying to convince them of their folly, Moses challenged them to bring an incense offering the next morning, as would Aaron. God would then demonstrate the chosen leader. That night, Korach went through the Israelite camp and said, “Do you think I am endeavoring to acquire a high position for myself? I seek distinction for all of us” (Numbers Rabah 18:10).

Ohn’s wife was not convinced of Korach’s sincerity. She said to her husband: “What does it matter to you? Whether the one [Moses] remains master or the other [Korach] becomes master, you are only a disciple” (Talmud Sanhedrin 110a). Ohn, however, feared that he was already far too involved and would be forced to join in burning the incense. To protect him, Ohn’s wife sat outside their tent looking like a disreputable woman while Ohn stayed inside. Korach’s followers saw her when they came to pick him up, and, fearful of being accused of immorality, they turned away. Ohn’s wife saved his life.

This Treat was last posted on June 11, 2010.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Your Own

If you feel the actions you are taking aren't leading you where you want to go, don't be afraid to change paths. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Conquering the Desert

One of the great miracles of the State of Israel has been its ability to transform desert into blooming arable land. In 1867 Mark Twain described the land in one of his memoirs: “The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

Today is marked by the United Nations as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. This battle against desertification and drought is one that Israel has fought from even before statehood and, as a general statement, has won - although there is much ongoing research for better ways to irrigate the land and help it flourish.

Much of the credit for Israel’s success in making it’s dry soil crop worthy goes to Simcha Blass (1897-1982), a Warsaw-born engineer. In the pre-state land of Israel, Blass planned an aqueduct for the Jordan Valley and a pipeline to the Negev that enabled 11 new settlements to open. Along with Levi Eshkol, he founded the Mekorot water company. Most significantly, Blass developed a new system of Drip Irrigation, through which small drops of water are released through larger and longer passageways (rather than tiny holes) by using friction to slow water inside a plastic emitter. In 1965, Blass and his son Yeshayahu brought their system to Kibbutz Hatzerim in the Negev Dessert and proved that they could make the desert bloom. The Drip Irrigation system is used throughout the world today.

The struggle against desertification requires creativity, technology and ingenuity and is a constant subject of research in the State of Israel.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Even if you live in an area of frequent rain, be conscientious of your water usage. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Heading to the Catskills

As the summer holiday season begins, Jewish Treats presents a mini-biography of Jennie Grossinger, who was once called “the best-known hotel keeper in America.” Her drive and her hosting skills built the famous Grossinger Resort in the Catskills Mountains, NY, which, in the mid-twentieth century, was the “go-to place” to vacation (especially for Jews who were often excluded from other resorts).

Jennie Grossinger was born on June 16, 1892, in Galicia (Austria). She came to America at age 8. By the time she was 14, she had dropped out of school and was earning money for the family as a button hole maker. In 1912, Jennie married her first cousin, Harry Grossinger.

When Jennie’s father bought a small farm in Sullivan County, NY,  in 1914 as a means of escaping the city, Jennie joined her family there (Harry came on weekends). Alas, the soil was not ideal for farming, so the Grossingers began taking in summer boarders. The farmhouse was large but simple. There was no electricity and no indoor plumbing, but the Grossingers provided their guests with charming company, a relaxing atmosphere and extraordinary kosher dining. After several successful summers, the Grossingers were able to purchase a much larger piece of property and open a real resort.

Jennie immediately oversaw the installation of tennis courts, created a bridle path, hired a social director and organized a children’s camp. There were activities for everyone and top notch entertainers (many of whom went on to become famous), as well as sporting events (boxing matches and ice skating, when they were opened in the winter).

During World War II, Jennie raised millions for war bonds and organized a “canteen-by-mail” for former employees serving abroad. A war plane was named “Grossinger” in her honor. Following the war she became a renowned philanthropist and a supporter of Israel.

Harry Grossinger passed away in 1964, as which time Jennie gave the hotel to her children, Paul and Elaine. She lived on a cottage on the estate until her death on November 20, 1972. By the time Jennie died,  the hotel had grown to 35 buildings on 1,200 acres  that served 150,000 guests a year.  The hotel closed its doors in 1986.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Enjoy kosher cuisine on your vacation.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Importance of Dad

In honor of Father's Day, Jewish Treats presents this classic Treat on the importance of a father.

Where does a child learn to be a mentsch (a good person)? From his/her parents! Indeed, in the Talmud (Sukkot 56b) it even notes that a child repeats in the streets what he/she hears at home.

According to Dr. David Pelcovitz (author of Balanced Parenting), research studies have found that the active involvement of both parents in a child’s moral education is the strongest predictor of children's moral reasoning and empathy as they grow older.

In the traditional family model, in which mom tends to have the central role in parenting (i.e. spends a lot more time with the kids), it is important to note that these studies have found particular importance in dad’s involvement.

The father is often seen as the enforcer of the rules laid down by the mother. However, far more important than being involved in discipline is dad’s actual involvement in teaching his child(ren) how to live a Jewish life (i.e. being a mentsch), which has an incredibly positive influence on the child’s future. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (22:6), “Educate a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

According to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son), a father’s primary responsibilities are to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, and to teach the child a trade. Some say, to teach him/her to swim too (Kiddushin 29a). At the bare minimum, his fatherly obligations are  to make certain that the basic necessities of child-rearing are attended to (by a third party if necessary). But, the best child-rearing includes dad sharing his time, knowledge and wisdom, and truly leaving a lasting and meaningful impression on his children.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hey Dad

If you can, call your father and shmooze on a regular basis. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Unlucky 13?

Our culture has planted in our minds that 13 is a particularly unlucky number (Triskaidekaphobia = fear of 13). “Friday the 13th” (Paraskevisekatriaphobia = fear of Friday the 13th) is a particularly inauspicious day to a large portion of the population, and many buildings even avoid having a 13th floor, etc.

In Judaism, however, the number 13 has positive associations and is significant in many ways. At 13, a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah. God has 13 attributes of mercy. Maimonides lists 13 principles of faith. Talmudic law and logic was reduced by Rabbi Ishmael into 13 principles. There are 13 months in a Jewish lunar leap year. The Purim victory celebrated by Queen Esther took place on the 13th day of Adar.

That’s not all. In the Talmud, there is an abundance of portentous 13s mentioned: in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there were 13 charity boxes, each with a different phrase etched onto it (Temurah 23b), 13 partition curtains (Yoma 54b) and 13 tables (Tamid 31b); Rabbi Oshiya suggests 13 categories of damages that can be litigated in court (Kritut2b); Israel will one day be divided into 13 tribal sections instead of the original 12 of Joshua (Bava Batra 122a); 13 covenants were sealed between God and the Jews through the brit milah (circumcision covenant) (Brachot 49a); and when tying the strings of a talit (prayer shawl), the maximum number of knots permitted is 13 - symbolic of the 7 heavens and the 6 air spaces between them (Menachot 39a).

In Judaism, the number 13 is definitely not unlucky. In fact, it is quite significant!

This Treat was last posted on March 13, 2009.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Summer Spirit

Try a different kosher wine for your Shabbat celebration.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jews in the Philippines

When they think about the Philippines, most people do not think of Jews. However, a Jewish presence has been documented in the Philippines from as far back as the 1500s. The 16th century was an era of exploration and colonization of the new world by the Europeans. The Spanish claimed the islands of the Philippines in the middle of the century. For those of Jewish descent, this meant that settlement there was as risky as living in Spain, where they were under threat from the Inquisition. Indeed, in 1593, several conversos were convicted of practising Judaism. And while Jews certainly came to the Philippines during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, they needed to hide their Jewish identities.

The first open settlement of Jews in the Philippines occurred in the late 1870s. Jews slowly trickled in to the country following the opening of the Suez Canal, which allowed freer trade between Europe and the Far East. On June 12, 1898, the Spanish-American War left the Philippines in American hands, which would prove to be of some significance during World War II.

In 1935, the Philippines became a Commonwealth, meaning a semi-autonomous state.  The President of the Commonwealth at that time was Manuel Luis Quez√≥n y Molina, who openly supported the immigration of Jewish refugees. The U.S. government, which still had ultimate control over the Philippines, had reservations about allowing too many refugees to settle in the Philipinnes, concerned that it was being used as a means of sidestepping the U.S. quota-driven immigration restrictions. In total, a little over 1,000 Jews actually made it to the Philippines before the Japanese invaded in 1941.

The Japanese were part of the Axis Powers--allied with the Nazis. Ironically, this meant that most German Jewish refugees residing in the Philippines were left alone, but American Jews living there faced internment.

In 1946, America granted the Philippines its independence. After the war, many of the refugees moved elsewhere, but a small Jewish community remained, and today there are several hundred Jews who reside there.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Heritage Vacation

If you enjoy history and are looking for an interesting vacation, sign up for a tour that focuses on Jewish heritage.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Intellectual Prototype

In the early and mid-twentieth century, there were what might be called stereotypical Jewish intellectuals – Jewish men and women who were dedicated socialists and whose fervor was often born from Communist roots. They dedicated their lives to the pursuit of social justice and intellectual ideas. It would not be hard to describe Irving Howe as one of the prototypes of this image. 

Born and raised in The Bronx, New York, on June 11, 1920, Howe’s birth name was Irving Horenstein. His parents were immigrants from Bukovina (Romania/Ukraine area). After his grocery failed during the Depression, Howe’s father took to peddling before becoming a presser in a dress factory. His mother also worked in the garment industry. 

At the City University of NY, Howe involved himself in socialist organizations and developed a cadre of like-minded thinkers. Howe was known as a democratic socialist who had no patience for the more radical political agendas, especially those that tended to be violent.

Howe began his literary career after four years of service in the army, writing book reviews and magazine essays. In 1953, he was offered his first teaching position at Brandeis University. He later taught at Stanford and then joined the faculty of City University of New York. 

Howe became a renowned literary critic. He was the founding editor of Dissent magazine, in which he joined his political and literary aspirations. Raised in a Yiddish culture, Howe also dedicated himself to translating the great, classic Yiddish works and was one of the first to bring the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer to an English speaking audience. While Howe authored several books, his best known publication was The World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made, which can best be described as a sociological study of the Jewish immigrant experience in New York.

Irving Howe passed away on May 5, 1993.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spare A Dime

Carry extra change with you in case someone asks you to spare a dime.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Make Me the High Priest

The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) relates the strange story of a non-Jewish man who wished to convert to Judaism in order to ultimately become the High Priest of Israel. He believed that, in this way, he would attain a position of prestige, power and wealth. The man first went to the sage Shammai, who, upon hearing his plan, summarily turned the man away. Undaunted, the man then went to the sage Hillel and asked Hillel to convert him on condition that he then be appointed High Priest. Rather than turn the man down, Hillel sent the man to study the Torah, explaining that a man cannot be king unless he knows the laws of the land. When the man read Numbers 1:51, “and the common man that comes close (to the holy parts of the Tabernacle) shall be put to death,” he questioned Hillel as to whom this law applied. Informed that even King David himself could not enter the Tabernacle, the man was humbled and retracted his request to be High Priest. He nevertheless completed his conversion and, it is assumed, lived a long and happy Jewish life.

This selection is actually one of a series of three stories relating to converts who were turned away by Shammai but accepted and taught by Hillel. Each one presented the sages with a strange ultimatum (teach me Torah while standing on one foot, teach me only the Written Torah without the Oral Law). While Shammai questioned their motives, Hillel embraced their minds and souls.

From these stories, one might appreciate the validity of the old saying “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” To Shammai it was obvious that one could not convert and become the High Priest (priesthood being an inherited status). Hillel, on the other hand, realized that through the recognition of why the man could not be High Priest, the man would see the beauty of the Torah itself.

This Treat was last posted on May 24, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don't Hesitate To Ask

Don't hesitate to ask questions about Jewish life and Jewish law. If you do not have contact with a local rabbi to whom you can ask questions, feel free to email Jewish Treats ( and we will try to be of service.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Placing A Veil

One of the most beautiful customs of a traditional Ashkenazi wedding is the ceremony known as the Badeken. The term Badeken is Yiddish for covering, as this is the moment when the bride is veiled in a brief but poignant ceremony that takes place shortly before the chuppah.

The Badeken begins when the groom is escorted by his father and father-in-law, the rabbi and any other chosen dignitaries to the bride, who often sits upon a regal chair. Friends and family form a secondary escort, and the entire procession is accompanied by music.

When the procession reaches the bride, she is given a blessing by each father (and anyone else specified for

this honor). The groom then takes her veil and places it over the bride’s face. The bride remains seated with the veil over her face as the groom is escorted out of the room. They will next see each other under the chuppah.

While the exact source of the Badeken ceremony is unclear, it is often related to two separate biblical narratives. The first narrative, which perhaps relates to the reason for the veil itself, is the biblical text describing the first meeting of Rebecca and Isaac. Since their marriage was arranged “long distance,” and the bride and groom had never met, when Rebecca realized that the man before her in the field was Isaac, Scripture reports that “She took her veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:65).

The second narrative relates to the marriage of Jacob and Leah and explains why the groom places the veil over the bride. Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel, but, at the last moment, his wiley father-in-law-to-be switched his daughters, placing the wedding veil over Leah instead of Rachel (click here to read the full story). When the groom places the veil on the bride at the Badeken, he is affirming that this is his intended bride.

*Badeken also derives from the Hebrew root B-D-K, which builds a word family meaning "to check."

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fine Words

When in the presence of a bride or groom, speak well of their new spouse. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day and The Dunera Boys

Seventy years ago today (June 6, 1944), the Allied armies began the largest seaborne invasion in history. D-Day, as it is now called, began the Invasion of Normandy. Among the thousands of American, Canadian, British, Polish and French troops who stormed the beaches was a remarkable group of soldiers who have been referred to as “The Dunera Boys.” While each of their stories is unique, the Dunera Boys had all experienced a shared twist of fate that had taken them from Nazi Europe to England to Australia and then back to Europe.

The term Dunera refers to the Hired Military Transport Dunera, a passenger ship designed for troop transport. After England entered the war, the British feared that the refugees to whom they had offered asylum would become a security risk. The government decided to deport military aged male refugees. Over 2,000 such refugees (along with several hundred Italian and Germany Prisoners of War) were shipped out of England on the HMT Dunera. Designed to transport only 1,600, the Dunera was over-crowded and conditions were abysmal. The British Troops, who were later reprimanded, treated the refugees as if they were the POWs – yelling at them, hitting them and destroying their personal possessions. The Dunera was at sea for 57 days.

Upon arrival in Australia, the refugees were sent to a detention camp. At this point, the British government realized the error in the way the refugees were treated. They began making life more comfortable for the refugees and they also asked if any of the deported men wished to join the war effort. Despite their severe maltreatment, 500 young men volunteered, risking certain death as “traitors” and as Jews if caught by the Germans.  Many of the Dunera Boys were among the brave troops on beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

An Honored Guest

Invite a veteran to join you for a Shabbat meal. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

King David’s Day

According to tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot. To try and summarize the life of King David in a 300 word Treat would be impossible. In the annals of Jewish history, David was more than a king. He was a shepherd, a warrior, a scholar and a poet -- and these descriptions do not even begin to describe the complex personal life of David and his family. 

There are many reasons given to explain why King David was considered so extraordinary, but the Midrash reveals that he was unique even before he was born. According to The Midrash, God showed Adam the entire future of humankind. Adam noticed one particularly bright soul that was full of potential but had no years of life attached to it. Adam offered to give  this soul 70 years of his own life. Thus it was that David lived exactly 70 years, and that Adam lived 70 years short of a complete millennium.

David was born the eighth son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. He was born under what seemed to be questionable circumstances (click here to read more). In addition, according to Talmud Sotah 10b, he had the unusual distinction of being born circumcised.  

The Midrash also notes that King David's death was unusual. The Talmud, Shabbat 30a, relates that David was aware that he would die on Shabbat and wished to die on Sunday instead so  that he could be buried without any delay. God told him that this was not possible, but David took matters into his own hands. He spent every Shabbat immersed in Torah study so that the Angel of Death would have no power over him. Not to be put off from his Divine mission, the Angel of Death caused a great noise in the orchard beside David's study. David continued to study as he went to see what the noise was, but paused momentarily when a step broke beneath him. In that moment, the Angel of Death completed his mission.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book of Ruth

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot.

This Treat was last posted on May 14, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Greetings

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you a happy Shavuot.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Tuesday night (June 3rd), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on  May 9, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Whose First Fruits

When the Oral Law was first codified, most Jews lived in agrarian settings. Today, being less familiar with agrarian culture, some people find it difficult to relate to some of the discussions in the Mishna (Oral Law) regarding planting or livestock. Although we may no longer farm or herd flocks, the importance of responsible land ownership and use is a value that has remained throughout time.

For Jewish farmers in the land of Israel, one of the mitzvot that is part of the cycle of crop production is that of bikkurim, the first fruit offering. The first fruit to blossom on each plant of the seven species of the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) is marked (with a string) to be set aside for an offering at the Temple. One might assume that this mitzvah would apply to all farmers, but, in fact, the rabbis understood the pronouns in this commandment to be very specific: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land” (Deuteronomy 26:2).

The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:2) states that “tenants, lessees, or occupiers of confiscated property--or a robber--may not bring them...because it says, ‘the first-fruits of your land.’” As significant as the first fruits are, the relationship of the farmer to the land upon which the plant grows is also important.

But ownership of the land is not the only criteria. “These may not bring them [bikkurim]: He who plants on his own soil, but sinks [a shoot] so that [it] nourishes from the territory belonging to an individual or to the public...[or similarly] that it grows on his own property”(Bikkurim1:1). In other words, this mitzvah can only be performed by one who makes certain not to infringe o the property rights of others or the public.

This Treat was last posted on September 14, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fruits of Love

Choose extra-nice fruits and vegetables for your Shavuot meals.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Preparing for the Torah

Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves.

There is no way to describe the effects of being in the presence of God because there is no human being alive today who has experienced this level of holiness. In fact, Moses was the only prophet who had direct interaction with God, and God’s Presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given was a one-time-only event.

However, it is understood that being in the Divine Presence requires preparation, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses, prepared themselves for three days. They washed their clothes and prepared their souls.

It was not just the people who needed to be prepared. God’s presence affected the inanimate earth as well. The Israelites were instructed, under threat of death, not to go up, or even draw close to, the mountain until the shofar was sounded.

The three days preceding Shavuot (Sivan 3, 4 and 5) are known as Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of boundaries. These three days were, and still are, days of preparation. Today, while we do not stand at the physical base of Mount Sinai, we can, and should, prepare ourselves to ascend to a higher level of spirituality and religious commitment on Shavuot.

Today is the first day of the Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbolah, the three days of preparation. The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah, begins on Tuesday night.

This Treat was last posted on May 24, 2012.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Give Them A Choice

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on May 10, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Summer Frock

Choose something special to wear on the upcoming holiday.