Friday, November 28, 2014

Caveat Emptor...Let the Buyer Beware (And the Seller Too)

Today is "Black Friday," the day on which retailers across America try to assure their profits for the year by offering outrageous sales. Each store tries to outsell its competitors, whether by offering the lowest price or by opening at the earliest hour. Under such pressured circumstances, as the crowds "stampede through," one must certainly keep in mind the Roman warning of Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.

In honor of this mercantile tradition, Jewish Treats presents a few ideas of Jewish law applicable to a day of sales:

1) Honest Weights And Measures: "You shall do no injustice in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure" (Leviticus 19:35). Although many products today are not sold by measurements, this important halacha can be understood as an injunction for retailer honesty - to sell exactly what has been advertised.

2) Intention To Buy: "A person may not oppress (or mislead) his friend" (Leviticus 25:17). In the Talmud, this verse is connected to the following statement: "One must not ask another, 'What is the price of this article?' if there is no intention to buy" (Baba Metzia 58b). Going into a store and asking the sales clerk about a product when you have no intention of making a purchase, or you intend to purchase the same item from another retailer, gives the clerk the false hope of a sale. Additionally, it steals the time of the sale's clerk, and perhaps, that of other waiting customers. However, if one is even remotely contemplating purchasing the product from the store, the inquiry is permitted.

3) Pricing Power: Jewish law generally allows a retailer free rein when it comes to pricing. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) notes that pricing that varies by more than 1/6th of the going market price is considered unfair, and both the seller and the buyer have the right to annul the sale. 


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Something Special

If you take advantage of Black Friday sales, buy something special for Shabbat.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks For The Day

The harsh piercing whine of the alarm clock startles you from sleep, and you push your nose into the pillow to block out any hints of sunlight in the room.

Sleep...as Shakespeare said “to sleep perchance to dream...,” but as any good Shakespearean scholar will tell you, Hamlet’s monologue was a poetic discussion of suicide, and sleep was used as a metaphor for death. The Talmudic sages refer to sleep as a one-sixtieth part of death (Talmud Berachot 57b), for during sleep the neshama (soul) ascends to heaven to give an accounting to the Heavenly court of that day’s experiences. According to Jewish tradition, in recognition that the return of the neshama is the gift of another opportunity to better one’s self, the very first words uttered in the morning are:

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ, מֶלֶך חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה ־ רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.


Modeh ani li’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam, sheh’heh’cheh’zarta bi ni’shmati b’chemlah rabah emunatecha.

I give thanks before You, living and eternal King, that You have returned my soul in me with compassion - great is Your faithfulness. 

By waking up with thanks on one’s lips, one not only thanks God for returning one’s neshama in the morning, but sets a tone for the day to come.  Throughout the day, one should utilize every opportunity to acknowledge and thank God, thus re-focusing oneself on the purpose of life. This is accomplished by making various blessings (over food, for the healthy acts of one’s body, etc.). This is also one of the purposes of the morning, afternoon and evening prayer services - saying thank you to God all day long.  Thank you in the morning, thank you in the afternoon, thank you in the evening.

Copyright © 2014 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 © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

On This Day

On this day for giving thanks, Jewish Treats thanks you for your support.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Bird of Thanks

On Thanksgiving day, it is customary in the United States to eat a turkey dinner. The Hebrew word for turkey is “tar'negol hodu,” literally, an “Indian Rooster.” It came by this name because turkeys are indigenous to North America, which the first explorers thought was actually part of India. The country of India is called Hodu in Hebrew, most commonly recognized from the opening lines of Megillat Esther (Book of Esther, Purim), when King Achashverosh is depicted as ruling a kingdom that stretched “me’hodu v’ad kush” from India to Ethiopia. 

“So what?” you might ask. Actually, this really might be one of life’s weird coincidences, since there is another way to translate tar'negol hodu. Using the other meaning of the word hodu--thanks, a turkey in Hebrew actually means a “rooster of thanks.”

The phrase from Tehillim (Psalms) 118, Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov, is generally translated as, “Give thanks to God because He is good.” However, the phrase may also be translated as, “Give thanks to God because it is good.” Giving thanks to God is good for us!

Almost every child is trained by his/her parents to say, “Thank You” when given something. But, when one is constantly receiving, it is easy to let those manners slide. Human beings are constantly receiving, or to put it another way, we are all totally dependent upon the Divine forces of nature (to make bread you need wheat, wheat you need rain, etc.). From the first moments of life, we are all takers - and that is okay. That is what was intended. What is not, okay, however, is ingratitude. 


Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov! Every act of thanking God has a positive effect on a person! So go ahead and carve that tar'negol hodu, but don't forget to take a moment to thank God for the bounty before you.

This Treat was last posted on November 25, 2010. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Saying Thanks

Incorporate Jewish thanks (prayers or Psalms) into your Thanksgiving feast.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Evacuation Day

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called upon the American people to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. In New York, however, there was already a holiday at the end of November known as Evacuation Day. Celebrated on November 25, Evacuation Day commemorated the day on which the British soldiers finally left New York City (almost three months after the war ended). It was a well-loved holiday, and the centennial was noted as one of the greatest civic events of the 19th century. With the popularization of Thanksgiving (and stronger ties with Britain), however, Evacuation Day celebrations slowly disappeared.

Jewish Treats has highlighted this old holiday because the New York Jewish community was greatly affected by the British occupation of the city. When the Revolutionary War broke out, there was one synagogue in New York, Congregation Shearith Israel, whose chazzan (prayer leader) and minister,* Gershom Mendes Seixas, was the first native-born head of an American congregation. Like many of his congregants, Seixas was a supporter of the revolution. At the behest of similarly-minded community members (such as Jonas Phillips), Seixas closed Shearith Israel and took its valuables with him to Philadelphia for safekeeping. The New York congregants greatly bolstered the community of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia.

One of the congregants who did not immediately leave the city was Haym Salomon, who not only used his financial know-how to the benefit of the Revolutionary troops, but also used his ability to talk German to turn a number of Hessian mercenaries against the British. 

Although many of those who left New York at the beginning of the revolution permanently settled in Philadelphia, the evacuation of the British troops from New York allowed the rest to return. From 1783 onward, the New York Jewish community began to thrive and is, today, the home of one of the world’s largest Jewish populations.

*He did not receive the formal semicha (ordination) of a rabbi.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Jewish America

As Thanksgiving approaches, be appreciative of the freedoms of the American Jewish community.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Second President

Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, the second President of the State of Israel, was born on November 24, 1884 in Poltava, Ukraine.  After participating in the Jewish self-defense units organized during the 1905 pogroms, Ben-Zvi joined the Poalei Zion political party, attended the 1907 World Zionist Congress as a delegate and made aliyah shortly thereafter. 

In the years immediately following his immigration, Ben-Zvi took part in the founding of Bar Giora (an organization of Jewish defense communes), which later developed into Hashomer (a Jewish defense organization), the Hebrew Gymnasia Rechavia school and Achdut (unity), a Hebrew socialist magazine.

In 1912, along with David Ben-Gurion, Ben-Zvi studied law in Istanbul. Following the completion of their studies in 1914, the two men returned to Palestine only to be expelled by the Ottomans. They traveled to the United States, where they founded the pioneer movement HaHalutz and wrote a Yiddish book The Land of Israel Past and Present.

Following World War I and the change of power in Palestine from the Ottomans to the British, Ben-Zvi and Ben Gurion were able to return home as part of the British Jewish Legion. Upon his return home, Ben-Zvi married Rachel Yanait, with whom he had co-founded the Gymnasia and Achdut before his exile. 

Ben-Zvi was at the center of activity as Jews moved toward independence and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Statehood in 1948. After serving as a Member of Knesset (Mapai party) for two terms, Ben-Zvi was elected the second President of Israel (following the death Chaim Weizmann). In addition to his political duties, Ben-Zvi was also the head of the Institute for the Study of Oriental Jewish Communities in the Middle East (later renamed Yad Ben-Zvi), which he had founded in 1948.

During his time in office, the Ben-Zvi family lived in a wooden hut in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. He strove to live simply as a reflection of the austere times in the burgeoning state. Ben-Zvi died on April 23, 1963, at the beginning of his third term of office. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Get a Bird


Purchase a kosher turkey for Thanksgiving.
 

Friday, November 21, 2014

World Hello Day

In 1973, Brian and Michael McCormack created World Hello Day as a reaction to the Yom Kippur War. College students at the time, the brothers started a campaign encouraging people to actively say “hello” to at least 10 people on November 21. The “holiday” has become an annual event and has garnered international attention.

Is there validity in the idea that saying hello to people can inspire peace? Actually, the significance of greeting others is often highlighted by the sages:

“Rabbi Matyah ben Cheresh used to say: Be first in greeting every man...” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 4:20).

“Shammai said: “...receive all men with a cheerful face” (ibid 1:15).

In Hebrew, the word for hello is Shalom, which not only means peace, but is also one of the names of God. Thus it is that when people greet each other with the word shalom, they are following the custom set out by Boaz: “And they instituted that one should greet their friend with God’s name, as the verse says (Ruth 2:4), ‘And behold Boaz came from Bethlehem, and he said to the reapers, ‘May God be with you.’ And they said to him,’God bless you’” (Talmud Brachot 54a).

Saying hello with Shalom is also a modern greeting. Traditionally, Jews greeted each other by saying Shalom Aleichem (Peace unto you). The Talmud states: “Rabbi Helbo further said in the name of Rabbi Huna: If one knows that his friend is used to greeting him, let him greet him first. For it is said: Seek peace and pursue it. And if his friend greets him and he does not return the greeting he is called a robber” (ibid 6b). Perhaps that is why the traditional reply to Shalom Aleichem is Aleichem Shalom (Unto you, peace).

World Hello Day is an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves that greeting others is a true Jewish value.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Greet the Angels

Sing Shalom Aleichem and welcome the angels to your Shabbat table.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pictures Worth Countless Words

Dawid Szymin, better known by his nickname Chim (or by his Americanized name David Seymour), was born in Warsaw on November 20, 1911. His father, Benjamin, was a publisher of many of the great Yiddish and Hebrew writers of the time. The family-owned bookstore was the center of cosmopolitan Warsaw. But, in the end, Chim chose images over words.

In 1932, Chim enrolled in the Sorbonne in Paris. Although he was studying physics and chemistry, he began to dabble in photography. With only 2 years of experience, he was appointed staff photographer for a left-wing weekly known as “Regards.” 

Chim took his camera to the center of the action - most notably capturing images of the Spanish Civil War.  In 1939, after photographing Spanish loyalist refugees fleeing to Mexico, Chim also went to Mexico. He stayed only briefly, however, and then headed to the United States. 

In 1942, however, he was drafted into the U.S. army (his naturalization happened while in the service) into military intelligence. For three years, Chim served in photo reconnaissance and interpretation under his Americanized name as he feared that his family might suffer. Sadly, he found out after the war that his parents had been murdered by the Nazis.

Returning to New York, Chim became one of the co-founders of Magnum Photos, an international photography cooperative. Magnum, which still exists today, became one of the premier photojournalist outlets. 

Chim moved to Rome in 1950. Although his assigned Magnum territory was Europe, he spent a great deal of time in Israel, and took many photos of the burgeoning state. About Israel he wrote to his sister: “It was like coming home again. It was like picking up the living threads of my life for which I had been searching in vain on the heaps of rubble and ash in the ruins of Warsaw.”

On November 10, 1956, while covering the conflict over the Suez Canal, Chim was killed by an Egyptian sniper. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Decor

Demonstrate pride in your Jewish heritage with Jewish artwork

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Spiritual Inheritance

In the Book of Genesis, the question of birthright is the center of several narratives - most famously that of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. Esau, the elder of the two, willingly sold his b’chora (birthright of the eldest) to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of lentils. 

What exactly did Esau sell, and why did Jacob want it? In Jewish law, the firstborn son (the b’chor) inherits a double portion. But Jacob was not simply seeking to have twice as much wealth as his brother. He understood that the most important inheritance was the spiritual inheritance that was to foster a continuation of the relationship with God that his grandfather Abraham had begun. Rebecca understood this as well and, therefore, pushed Jacob to be the one to receive Isaac’s blessing. (Since Esau had sold it to Jacob, it was legitimately his blessing.)

A significant insight into why Jacob sought to buy the birthright can be found in the final line of the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob: “Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed” (27:28-29). 

This is the essential element of the blessing and is an echo of God’s blessing to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation...and you will be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you, and in you will all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Making Choices

When faced with a choice, try to choose that which will bring you spiritual enhancement.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Historical Overview of Jews in Morocco

Jews have lived in Morocco for thousands of years. Jewish nomadic tribes integrated into all aspects of Moroccan life even before the Mohammedan conquest of Morocco, which occurred in the 7th century.

While life under Muslim rule was relatively stable, there were varying amounts of persecution. The Jews were, at times, forced to live in mellahs (similar to European ghettos), suffered burdensome taxation and were required to wear identifying articles of clothing. However, at the times of the Spanish Inquisition, the North African coast proved to be an important refuge for persecuted Spanish Jews, leading to a tremendous increase in the Jewish population of Morocco. At the time, the old-time Moroccan settlers were classified as toshavim (resident) while the newcomers were called m’gorashim (refugees). The latter primarily spoke Spanish, the former maintained a Judeo-Arabic language.


The fate of the Jewish community depended largely on the ruler in power.  Some rulers severely oppressed their Jewish subjects, others had mercy on them, and still others maintained the status quo. Throughout Moroccan history, there were Jews who achieved high ranks at court, often serving as ambassadors to European countries. The personal successes of individuals did not, however, translate to better living conditions for their brethren.


The Jews of Morocco remained second class citizens until 1864, when Sultan Mohammad IV granted them equal rights. By this time, Morocco was being heavily influenced by France (although some areas were under the influence of Spain). In 1862, The first Alliance Israelite Universelle school had opened in Tetouan, Morocco. The mission of the Alliance was the emancipation of the Jewish people through education. 


The majority of Moroccan territory became a French protectorate in 1912. When the Nazi controlled Vichy government took control of France, Morocco’s Sultan Mohammed V refused to impose the anti-Semitic laws as he was instructed.


Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jews of Morocco faced several violent riots. Tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews moved to Israel, and while Zionist organizations actively encouraged emigration, many Jews chose to stay.


On November 18, 1956, Morocco successfully separated from France. Jews continued to live peacefully, some even becoming Members of Parliament. However, Jewish-Arab discord increased greatly after the 1967 Six Day war. More and more Jews emigrated, and there is today only a relatively  small Jewish population left in Morocco.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Warm All Over

As a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of taking care of oneself, dress warmly in the winter.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hail the Holy Pomegranate

The Pomegranate is a funny sort of fruit. Rather than eating the flesh and throwing away the seed, as one does when eating an apple or orange, pomegranate seeds are eaten and the flesh discarded. It is, therefore, interesting that God commanded that this fruit be reproduced on the High Priest’s garb: “You shall make on its [the coat’s] hem, pomegranate ... and gold bells between them all around. A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the robe all around ... the sound thereof shall be heard when he [the High Priest] goes in to the holy place before God, and when he comes out. (Exodus 28:33-35). After all, what is so special about a pomegranate? 

The pomegranate is a very symbolic fruit. Judaism views it as a representation of the righteousness within each Jew: “Even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate, as the verse states (Song of Songs 4:3), ‘Like the separating of a Pomegranate ra'kataych.’ Don’t read the word ‘ra'kataych’ but rather ‘rey'kataych,’[empty ones] even the empty ones [the sinners] among you are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate” (Eiruvin 19a). Traditionally, pomegranates are reputed to contain 613 seeds representing the 613 mitzvot, which is why it has become customary to eat pomegranate as one of the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana and pray, “That our merits shall increase like a pomegranate.” (Before you ask, pomegranates do not have a set number of seeds!)

Pomegranates are one of the seven species identified with the Land of Israel. (Deuteronomy 8:8), and many Jewish artisans found the fruit an alluring subject for reproduction. They were used as decor in Solomon’s Temple (I Kings 7), on ancient Judean coins and, even today, are often part of the silver ornaments found on many Torah scrolls.


This Treat was last posted on November 1, 2010.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fill Your Life

Try to fill your life with Torah and mitzvot, just as a pomegranate is stuffed with seeds.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Success After Exile

When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492, Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn (Abi) Zimra (known as the RaDBaZ, his initials) was 13 years old.  His family fled to Safad in the Holy Land, where he remained for 18 years.

By the time the Radbaz left Safed, he was a respected Torah scholar. He served on the beit din (rabbinical court) in Fez, Morocco, until 1517, when the Ottoman government began impinging on the autonomy of the Jewish community in Morocco.

The Radbaz relocated to Cairo, Egypt, where he was appointed Chacham Bashi (Chief Rabbi). In addition to serving as the head of the Egyptian Jewish community, the Radbaz was a successful merchant. His personal wealth not only garnered him the respect of the Egyptians, but freed him from any limitations in leading the community that may have resulted from financial dependence. Consequently, he was able to successfully initiate a number of wholesale changes to the practices of the Egyptian community. Many of these edicts were meant to return the Egyptian community to the common practices of the global Jewish community, such as the way the Amidah was recited with a prayer quorum (silently by all, then repeated by the prayer leader) and marking their calendar years since the creation of the world, rather than with the Seleucid dating system.

Resigning at the age of 90, the Radbaz divided his wealth among the poor and moved from Egypt to Jerusalem. Alas, the Ottoman governor had imposed heavy taxation on the Jewish community in Israel, so the Radbaz chose to head north to Safed. Maintaining an active scholastic life, the Radbaz continued to publish books, write teshuvot (answers to Jewish legal questions) and participate in the beit din led by Rabbi Joseph Caro.

The Radbaz passed away on 21 Cheshvan in 1589. He was 110 years old.

Shabbat Shmooze

Linger over Shabbat dinner tonight and converse about your favorite aspects of Jewish life.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Learning Kindness

Today is marked on the calendar as World Kindness Day, a fact that Jewish Treats celebrates annually because kindness, known in Hebrew as chesed, is one of the foundations of Jewish life. According to Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 1:2, the world stands on three things: Torah, Prayer (Avodah) and Acts of Kindness (Gemilut Chasadim).

Most societies have laws that promote social welfare - laws that can be defined as acts of kindness. Most people perform acts of kindness on a regular basis, for instance by offering a friend a  ride or donating funds to charity.

In Judaism, many acts of kindness are regarded as specific commandments, and many of these commandments are derived from the actions of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. One example of an act of kindness learned from the Patriarchs is the respectful interment of the dead. This mitzvah includes both the procurement of a proper burial site and honoring the deceased with a eulogy, both of which are described in Genesis 23.

Abraham went to great lengths to purchase Maarat Hamachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron. To stress the importance of providing proper burial (and indisputable ownership of the site), the Torah dedicates 13 verses to recording the negotiations that took place between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite, who sold the land to Abraham for 400 silver pieces.

The act of eulogizing the dead, which the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) calls a “great mitzvah,” is also found in Genesis 23: “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her” (23:2). The mitzvah of a proper burial is not limited to relatives or close friends. Taking care of an unknown deceased person is considered the ultimate act of kindness because such an act can never be repaid.

As You Can

Support the local chevra kaddisha (Jewish burial society).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Um, This Is My Seat

Humans are often creatures of habit. People tend to regularly take the same route to work, choose the same restaurants to eat in and create routines for their daily tasks. Along these same lines, people also have a tendency to sit in the same spot in a room. Quite often, the seat in which a person sits the first time they enter a room is the one to which they continue to gravitate.

As fascinating as this might be to behavioral science, it is actually embedded within Jewish tradition.
“Rabbi Helbo, in the name of Rabbi Huna, says: Whosoever has a fixed place for his prayer has the God of Abraham as his helper. And when he dies, people will say of him: Where is the pious man, where is the humble man, one of the disciples of our father Abraham! -- How do we know that our father Abraham had a fixed place [for his prayer]? For it is written [in Genesis 19:27]: And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood” (Talmud Brachot 6b).

A person’s set place in a synagogue is known in Hebrew as a makom kavua.* It is considered proper to always sit in one’s makom kavua when at prayer. However, if another person, such as a visitor, unsuspectingly sits in one’s place, it is better to sit near one’s makom rather than embarrass the other person. One’s makom kavua, while important, is not set in stone, and one may change it if one is unhappy with the space.

For families that attend services together, the same rules of respect that apply to parents’ regular places at the table apply to their seats at the synagogue. Additionally, there is a custom to change one’s synagogue seat when one is in mourning.

*A makom kavua is not limited to a specific chair but the area in which one sits and is generally thought to be a span of daled amot, a radius of 6-8 feet.

Makom

Be respectful of other people's space.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The First Advisor on Jewish Affairs

In 1942, after first serving as a rabbi in Buffalo, New York, and then in Chicago, Illinois, Rabbi Judah Nadich (Baltimore 1912 - New York 2007) enlisted in the United States Army as a chaplain. A few months later he became the first Jewish chaplain in the European Theater of Operations during World War II.

Rabbi Nadich’s service began with the normal responsibilities of an army chaplain. In 1944, however, he was sent to France. Following the Allies into Paris, he became a contact between the community of survivors and the greater Jewish world.

When Rabbi Nadich was transferred to Frankfurt a year later, he became the first ever Advisor on Jewish Affairs to the Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In this new role, Rabbi Nadich toured the region and saw that the living conditions of the displaced persons (DP) camps were little better than the concentration camps. Because of Rabbi Nadich’s recommendations, the Jews were given separate DP camps that did not have barbed–wire fences, were provided with better food, and a relaxation of travel restrictions were granted to the DPs. Most importantly, Nadich convinced the U.S. not to enforce a policy requiring DPs to return to their native countries.

Following his discharge from the army, Rabbi Nadich worked for the Joint Distribution Committee and the United Jewish Appeal as a spokesperson and fundraiser. He married and returned to life as a pulpit rabbi, first in Brookline, Massachusetts,  and then at the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan. In 1953 he published a book, Eisenhower and the Jews.

Rabbi Nadich served the Park Avenue Synagogue until 1987, when he retired. He passed away in 2007, at the age of 95.

Today, Veterans’ Day, Jewish Treats proudly salutes all those who have served our country with valor.

Listening

If you know any veterans, ask them to share the history they experienced.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Prayer's Essence

According to many opinions, the minimum amount of prayer one should recite daily should consist of praise of God, a request of God and a thank you to God. Thus for instance, a mother of triplets might say: "God, You are the giver of blessings. God, please give me patience. God, thank you for creating coffee." 

The 13th century Sefer Hachinuch connects the commandment to pray to God with the verse: "You shall fear the Lord your God; Him shall you serve; and to Him shall you cleave, and by His name shall you swear" (Deuteronomy 10:20). Although this verse refers to prayer when it states "Him shall you serve" (serve being a translation of avodah) the language of the rest of the verse can be seen to reflect the three elements of Jewish prayer:

1) You shall fear... The translation of the Hebrew word yirah as fear changes the true meaning of the word. The concept of yirah when used in connection with God is more accurately translated as "to be in awe." The awareness of Divine power and Divine mercy, the face of Divine awesomeness, leads one to praise God.

2) Him shall you cleave to...Cleaving is the act of drawing close to something. When a person turns to God with his/her requests, both large and small, this is an act of drawing oneself closer to God. 

3) by His name shall you swear...Although swearing, in general, is prohibited in the Torah because it is very likely that one will not fulfill one’s vow, swearing by any name other than God implies a recognition of its power. This is the purpose of the prayers of gratitude. When a person thanks God for all aspects of his/her life, it serves as an acknowledgement that all things in one’s life come exclusively from God and no other power.

This Treat was last posted on August 7, 2012.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

All Three

Make a habit of communicating with God via praise, requests and words of gratitude.

Friday, November 7, 2014

If There Are But 10...

While the destruction of  Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the better-known biblical narratives, it is preceded by an interesting dialogue between God and Abraham. God reveals to Abraham his intentions to destroy the region of Sodom, and Abraham argues with him: “Will You [God] even destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city; will You ever destroy and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous men who are in its midst?” (Genesis 18:23-24).

God responds that if there were 50 righteous people found in Sodom, he would save the city -- implying that if there were not, the city could not be saved. The dialogue continues like a countdown: If there are 50-45-40-30-20-10...Alas the inhabitants in the region of Sodom appear to have been thoroughly corrupt.

There were five cities in the region, of which Sodom was the largest. The other cities were Gomorrah, Adman, Zeboim, and Bela/Zoar. Abraham began with 50 hoping that a quorum of 10 righteous people could be found in each of the cities. He dropped to 45, hoping that there were 9 righteous people who, with the addition of God’s presence, would qualify to serve as a quorum per city. Once it was clear that a quorum of 10 would not be found in each of the cities, Abraham continued to  argue, reducing each request by 10, based on the hope that at least some of the cities might be spared.

Why didn’t Abraham  continue to ask for fewer than 10 righteous people? According to Genesis Rabbah 49:13, “Because at the generation of the Flood, only eight righteous people (Noah, his wife and their sons and daughter-in-laws) remained and the world was not given a respite for their sake.

While Abraham was unable to save the citizens of Sodom, there is an important lesson to be learned from his efforts, perhaps a hint to an inherited predisposition to social action. Abraham was not just concerned with the members of his family who resided in the city (his nephew Lot, and his family), but with all of the people who lived in the region even though their values were so different from his own.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Time Shift

Remember that for those affected by Daylight Savings Time, Shabbat begins one hour earlier than it did last week. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spiritual Compass

Today, November 6, brings us to yet another odd, seemingly random, holiday that has grown out of the internet age. Today is “Marooned without a Compass Day.” While the name of the day may seem quaint and benign, the concept highlights the importance of always knowing where one is and where one is going.

In Jewish life, knowing one’s direction - one’s spiritual direction is always important. Whereas a geographic compass is calibrated to point “due north,” the spiritual compass of Jewish life is calibrated toward our spiritual epicenter - Jerusalem.

The sages described the centrality of Jerusalem thus: “The world is like a human eyeball. The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world, The iris is this continent, The pupil is Jerusalem, And the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple” (Talmud - Derech Eretz Zuta 9).

Since Jerusalem is the spiritual focal point of the world, it is not surprising that throughout the millenia, Jews have faced Jerusalem when reciting the Amidah, the central prayer of each prayer service. This custom goes back to the very first exile: “[The prophet Daniel] went into his house--now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem--and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:11).

An interesting custom related to facing Jerusalem involves the direction in which the dead are buried. In many communities, the deceased are buried with their feet facing Jerusalem so that they might go there more quickly in the end of days, upon the arrival of the Messiah when the dead will be revived. Some other communities, however, have the opposite custom, and bury their dead with their heads toward Jerusalem to be closer to the holy city.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Which Way

Be aware of the direction Jerusalem is from your city. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

K'tav Ivri: Ancient Hebrew Script

Archaeology is one of the major academic attractions of the Land of Israel. One hardly has to scratch the surface of the land to find coins dating back thousands of years. A walk through the corridors of the many Israeli museums reveals much about the land, its people and their language. What is most noticeable about the archaeological finds of ancient Israel is that, while the words are in Hebrew, the letters all “look funny.”

If the shape of the Hebrew letters have mystical significance, as the kabbalists tell us, then why do the ancient Hebrew letters look nothing like the Hebrew letters of the Torah?

The sages themselves address the distinction between the scripts in TalmudSanhedrin (21b). The script of the Torah and of all Hebrew writing since the Talmudic period, is known as K’tav Ashuri (possibly meaning Assyrian Script). The script found on ancient coins and in tombs resembles the ancient Phoenician writing, and is referred to as K’tav Ivri (Hebrew Script).

While the sages of the Talmud debated in which font the Torah was originally written, the general consensus is K’tav Ashuri, as certain attributes of K’tav Ivri do not align with the mystical teachings about the letters.

K’tav Ivri is viewed as a lesser script that came into use when the people descended into immorality and idolatry. K’tav Ashuri, however, was brought back into use at an unspecified time in later history (possibly in the era of Ezra). No matter which script (K’tav Ivri or K’tav Ashuri) one is referring to, all of the names of the letters, their sequence, and their numerical values remain the same.

For a more in depth look at this topic, please visit the Jewish Virtual Library.


This Treat was originally posted as part of Twebrew School(twebrewschool.org) to promote READ HEBREW AMERICA and CANADA, the annual Hebrew literacy campaign of NJOP.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Practice Practice

Practice reading Hebrew on a regular basis. If you do not know how to read Hebrew, learn the fundamentals at one of hundreds of Hebrew Reading Crash Courses being offered across North America throughout the month of November as part of Read Hebrew America and Canada.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mother Rachel

The patriarch Jacob had four wives (all at the same time): Leah and Rachel and their handmaidens Bilha and Zilpah. Rachel, however, was the wife that Jacob truly loved.

But while Rachel held Jacob’s heart, Leah had his children. Rachel watched her sister blossom time and again in pregnancy, while she remained barren. Desperate and jealous, she demanded of her husband “Give me children, for if not, I am as dead”(Genesis 30:1). When Jacob responded that this was God’s department, Rachel chose to give Jacob her handmaiden, Bilha, to be her surrogate. When Bilha bore Jacob two sons, Rachel named the older Dan ("God has judged me. He has also heard my voice and has given me a son") and the younger Naphtali (“I have attempted every means to influence God to grant me children as He did my sister, and I have succeeded.”)

It would seem, from her statement in naming Naphtali, that Rachel had accepted her inability to bear children. Therefore, it must have come with great joy and surprise when Rachel discovered that she was finally pregnant. (Leah, at this point, was pregnant with her seventh child, Dinah.)

Upon the birth of her first son, Rachel declared “God has taken away my reproach.” She named her son Joseph, stating “May God add to me another son” (Genesis 30: 23-24). It wasn’t, however, until eight years later that Rachel had her second child. His birth occurred as Jacob and his family were about to return to the land of Canaan. Sadly, “she [Rachel] was in hard labor....and it came to pass, as her soul was departing--for she was dying--that she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:17-18). 

Rachel’s yahrtzeit is today, 11 Cheshvan. She was buried in Bethlehem.

This Treat was last posted on October 19, 2010.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Focus on Blessings

Transform feelings of jealousy by focusing on the blessings you have in your life. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Catch-22

In honor of National Novel Writing Month:

Joseph Heller is best known for his novel Catch-22, a satiric work whose title has become an idiom referring to a situation in which one cannot escape contradictory rules. Heller’s novel followed the absurd antics of Army Air Corps Captain John Yossarian, who tries to get out of the military by pretending he is crazy. The army doctor, however, explains: “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.”

While Heller’s best known works are not focused on particularly Jewish themes, there is an unquestionable Jewish influence in his work.

Born on May 1, 1923, and raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. Heller was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. A few years after high school, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, where his primary service was on the Italian Front. He went on to study English at the University of Southern California and New York University. He then received an M.A. from Columbia University and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford. In addition to his writing, he taught at Penn State University and Yale and then worked for Time Magazine and later in advertising.

Heller’s two most distinctively Jewish works were Good as Gold (1979) and God Knows (1984). The protagonist of the first is a Jewish man who is offered the opportunity to be the country’s first Jewish Secretary of State. The second is a literary retelling of the life of King David (told as a deathbed memoir).

Joseph Heller died in his Long Island home on December 12, 1999.

Note: This Treat is an extremely abbreviated summary of Joseph Heller's life.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Write It

If you enjoy writing, use your talents to explore your Jewish identity.