Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Tenth of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Tammuz] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4).

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (in 588 B.C.E.), it was also the beginning of the end.

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah.

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon.

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance).


This year, the Tenth of Tevet is tomorrow, January 1, 2015.

This Treat was last posted on December 12, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Midnight

A day is divided into 24 equal units of time (hours). Different cultures, however, define the beginning (and end) of a day differently. For instance, while a day on the Gregorian calendar begins at 12 midnight, a day on the Jewish calendar begins at sunset. 

“Jewish” midnight varies each day, occurring at the moment that truly is, mathematically, the middle of the night--exactly half the hours between sunset and sunrise. Precise moments like midnight, however, are difficult to define, especially as it changes from day to day based on the position of the sun. 

Even the ancient sages questioned the ability of humans to calculate exact midnight (Talmud Berachot 3b), pointing out that even Moses was uncertain and citing Exodus 11:4, when Moses relayed God’s final plans to Pharaoh and stated: “About midnight, I will go out into the midst of Egypt” (Exodus 11:4). 

On the other hand, the sages noted that King David stated in Psalm 119:62: “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto You.” According to Rabbi Simeon the Pious, “A harp was hanging above David's bed. As soon as midnight arrived, a North wind came and blew upon it and it played of itself. He [King David] arose immediately and studied the Torah till the break of dawn” (Talmud Berachot 3b). 

After the destruction of the Holy Temple, a custom arose among the very pious to recite a special midnight service of mourning, Tikkun Chatzot. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim, Poland 1838-1933) noted in his Mishnah Berurah that “The Kabbalists have discussed at great length the importance of rising at midnight and how great this is” (Mishnah Berurah 1:3). This custom is not very widespread now, except in certain Sephardi and Chassidic communities.


This Treat was last posted on December 31, 2009.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Safety

Remember that protecting one's self is a mitzvah.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Events in Granada

Joseph ibn Naghrela (1035 - 1066) was only 21 years when he succeeded his father, Samuel (Shmuel Hanagid), as the vizier of Granada, Spain. Shmuel Hanagid had assumed this position after a lifetime of dedicated work, including entering political life as a tax collector after he met the vizier Abu al-Kasin ibn al-Arif, for whose maidservant Samuel ibn Naghrela had been writing letters. Joseph, on the other hand, stepped into the position with far less experience.

Like his father before him, Joseph ibn Naghrela was well-educated in Jewish law. He supported the Jewish community and succeeded his father in many community leadership roles as well.

It is reported that the younger ibn Naghrela inherited his father's intelligence and talent, but not his humility. In fact, he was noted for living rather opulently.

During his 20 years in office, he had the full support of King Bodis. Indeed, King Badis seems to have outrightly dismissed rumors that ibn Naghrela was working with the king’s enemies and sought to kill the king. These rumors were spread by ibn Naghrela’s great Berber rival, Abu Ishak of Elvira, who had his own aspirations for the viziership.

The king may not have taken the threat seriously, but many of his Berber citizens did. Abu Ishak wrote an inflammatory anti-Semetic poem, that was widely read. On Shabbat December 30, 1066, a riot started and the palace was stormed. Joseph ibn Naghrela was crucified (his wife and son escaped) and many other Jews were killed. The Jewish Quarter of the city was destroyed.

Ibn Nagrhrela’s fall was, perhaps, a warning of dire things to come. This was the beginning of the era when Moorish (Muslim) rulers became less benevolent toward their Jewish citizens. Not long after, the southern region of the Iberian peninsula was overtaken by the more fanatical Almohads, ending the Golden Age of Jews in Muslim Spain.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Family Time

Call a relative with whom you have not spoken recently, just to say hello and see how they are doing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Settling Texas

On December 29, 1845, the sovereign nation known as the Republic of Texas became the 28th state of the United States of America. In the ten years of Texas’ independence before becoming a U.S. state, the Republic actively sought settlers. One man who played a critical factor in increasing Texas’ population was Henri Castro.

Born in 1786 in Bayonne, France, Castro’s family was of Portuguese-Jewish descent. An ambitious young man, he was appointed by the Governor of Landes (Southwestern France) to greet Napoleon, and, later, in 1806, served in Napoleon’s honor guard. After the fall of Napoleon, Castro moved to the United States. Although he became an American citizen in 1827, he returned to France in 1838 to become a partner in a bank. In that role, he worked to negotiate a loan for the Republic of Texas. In gratitude, President Sam Houston appointed him Consul General for Texas at Paris.

In 1842, Castro contracted a land grant on the Medina River in Southwest Texas and was required to find at least 600 families or single men to come to Texas. After recruiting settlers from all over France, he chartered seven ships of settlers, the first of which arrived at the Port of Galveston on January 1, 1843.

The new settlement, which was named Castroville, was established in September 1844. Three more settlements of Castro recruits were then settled: Quihi in 1845, Vandenburg in 1846, and D’Hanis in 1847. To ensure the success of his settlements, Castro used his own funds - more than $200,000 - to make certain that the settlers had everything that they needed.

Although Castro had established his own settlement in Castroville, he decided to return to France in 1865. On his way to France, while still in Mexico (where his ship was to disembark), Castro became seriously ill and passed away on November 3, 1865.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Treats

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Menashe and Ephraim

Joseph’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, are familiar names because (a) they each became the forefather of a tribe when Jacob divided the tribe of Joseph into two tribes, and (b) because of the Friday night blessing given to the son(s) of the household:  “May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe” (Genesis 48:20). While not much can be learned about Menashe and Ephraim as individuals from the narratives in the Book of Genesis, the Oral Torah provides some fascinating details.

Joseph named his eldest son Menashe, declaring “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51). When he named Ephraim, he praised God saying, “ He ‘[God] has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction”(ibid 41:52).

According to the Midrash, Menashe became Joseph’s right-hand man. Not only did Menashe act as an interpreter for Joseph (Genesis Rabbah 91:8), but he was also the messenger when Joseph sent after his brothers to accuse Benjamin (falsely) of stealing Joseph’s favorite cup” (ibid 84:20).

Ephraim, on the other hand, is presented in the Midrash as a man who shared his grandfather’s temperament - quiet and studious. According to the Midrash Tanchuma (Vayachi 6), it was Ephraim who brought Joseph word of Jacob’s illness because he regularly studied with Jacob.

The only real mention in the Torah of these brothers is when Jacob blesses them and places his right hand on Ephraim the younger rather than Menashe the elder. Jacob saw an important spiritual strength in Ephraim, a fact emphasized by another Midrash:

Ephraim was crowned by the patriarch Jacob as he was about to depart this world: [Jacob] said to him, “Ephraim, whoever is the head of a tribe, the head of an academy, the finest and the best of my children [descendants], shall be called by your name [i.e. he shall be called an Ephrathite], as it states [in Jeremiah 31:19], ‘My precious son Ephraim’” (Leviticus Rabbah 2:3).

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Self Awareness

Be aware of your personal strengths.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Surviving Via Shanghai

In his youth, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz probably never imagined that he would visit Shanghai, let alone take care of the finances for several yeshivas in that Chinese city. Thanks to visas issued by Chiune Sugihara however, Shanghai was the famous escape route of the Mir yeshiva, of which Rabbi Shmuelevitz was one of the Roshei Yeshiva (deans of school).

Born in Kovno, Lithuania, on Rosh Hashana in 1902, Rabbi Shmulevitz was orphaned when he was 17. He studied at the Grodno Yeshiva in Poland, where his father had been a respected lecturer and began giving lectures in the preparatory program of the yeshiva. A few years later, with a group of fellow Grodno students, Rabbi Shmulevitz moved to the more advanced Mir Yeshiva in Poland. The Mir was led by Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, whose daughter, Miriam, Rabbi Shmulevitz married in 1929.

Ten years later, when the Soviets took control of Mir, the yeshiva and the families associated with it went into a wandering exile together - 2 months in Vilna, 7 months in Keider and a few more months divided into 4 groups in various Lithuanian towns.

In 1940, the entire yeshiva received visas for Japan and traveled eastward on the Trans-Siberian Railroad before embarking by ship for Kobe, Japan. A few months later, they moved to Shanghai.

The Mir refugees were not the only Jews who had found safety in Shanghai. To be certain that all the Jews of Shanghai received a proper education, it is reported that Rabbi Shmulevitz worked tirelessly to maintain the financial stability of the various yeshivas that had been established there. Rabbi Shmulevitz was so dedicated to the students that he turned down American visas for himself and his family. The yeshiva remained in Shanghai for 5 ½ years. In 1947, they received visas to the United Sates and re-established the yeshiva in New York.

At the outset of the war, Rabbi Finkel (Rabbi Shmulevitz’s father-in-law) had been in Palestine trying to establish a branch of the yeshiva there. Six months after arriving in America, Rabbi Shmulevitz moved to Jerusalem. He resumed teaching at the new Mir, where he remained a Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir until his death on 3 Tevet 1979.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

All Around the World

Remember that one can live an active Jewish life anywhere in the world. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Putting Chanukah In Perspective

The events of Chanukah took place about 150 years after the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE), which brought 40 years of civil war to his empire. Eventually, the empire was divided into 3 smaller empires: the Antigonid Empire in Greece, the Selucid Empire in Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Judea and Cyrenaica (Libya). By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes assumed the throne of the Selucid empire in 175 BCE, Judea was under Selucid control. He began his oppression of the Jewish people in 167 BCE, after his attempt to conquer Egypt was thwarted by threats from Rome. Antiochus's initial anger at the Judeans was for the ousting of Menelaus from the office of High Priest, to which Antiochus had appointed him.

The Maccabees redeemed Jerusalem and re-dedicated the Holy Temple in 165 BCE. While they won religious freedom, the Jews never completely regained their political independence. Jewish kings reigned but were often vassals to greater political empires. Sadly, the era following the great Maccabean uprising is one known for corruption and treachery. 

The Maccabeans began their reign just as a powerful new empire was emerging: Rome. Julius Caeser was born in the year 100 BCE. Just 100 years after the Maccabean victory, Pompey brought the Roman army into Judea at the invitation of Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, the two Hasmonean brothers who were vying for the throne. It was the beginning of a very sad ending to an inspiring victory!

This Treat was lasted posted on December 5, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hannah and Her Sons

The story of Hannah and her seven sons is a story of the Jewish resistance to Antiochus' attempts to Hellenize the Jewish people around 166 B.C.E.

When Antiochus demanded that Hannah's sons bow down to an idol before him, Hannah's eldest son stepped forward and said: "What do you wish from us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers."


The king had him tortured to death and demanded the same of the second son. He, too, and each of his brothers after him, refused and was summarily executed. Finally, only Hannah and her youngest son remained.


Antiochus begged the child not to be a martyr. He beseeched Hannah to convince her son to bow to the idol.


Hannah, however, said to her son, "I carried you for nine months, nourished you for two years, and have provided you with everything until now. Look upon the heaven and the earth--God is the Creator of it all. Do not fear this tormentor, but be worthy of being with your brothers."


When the young boy refused to yield, he too was put to death. As her child lay dying, Hannah requested that, when he arrived in heaven, he remind Abraham of how he (Abraham) had been willing to sacrifice one son to prove his loyalty to God, while she had sacrificed seven; for Abraham it had been a test, for her it was reality. Pleading with God that she should be considered worthy to join her children in the World to Come, Hannah, fearing torture, jumped from a roof and died.


By teaching her sons that there are times one must give up even life itself for the sake of one's beliefs, Hannah made a stand that resonates with all who hear her story.

This Treat was lasted posted on December 5, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reflect Pride

Reflect on the history of the Jewish people and take pride in the nation's survival.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Beauty and the Greeks

What does Noah’s son Yephet have to do with the story of Chanukah and the mitzvah of circumcision?

When the Syrian-Greeks sought to force Hellenization on the Judeans, one of the first mitzvot they outlawed was brit milah, circumcision. In fact, performing a brit milah on one’s child became a capital crime. The Syrian-Greeks found circumcision particularly offensive because of their own culture’s devotion to the beauty and perfection of the human body. The ancient Greeks are renowned for their sculptures and naked athletics. From the perspective of Hellenistic culture, the male body represented perfection. It was, therefore, unconscionable that the Jews should alter it, or maim it, especially by Divine decree.

The Greeks are known in the Bible as “Y’vanim,” the people of Yavan. They are, according to the sages, the direct descendants of Yavan, the son of Yephet, the son of Noah.

Noah had three sons: Yephet, Ham and Shem. Very little is written about Yephet other than the fact that, following Shem’s lead, Yephet covered his father’s nakedness, which had been exposed by Ham. For this noble act, Yephet is praised. (See Genesis 9).There is, however, much one can learn about a biblical personality through his/her name. The name Yephet derives from the Hebrew root (y-ph-h), which is the base of the word Yafeh, beautiful. Thus, beauty, and the admiration of beauty, are part of Yephet’s nature. Consequently, Noah blessed him: “May God grant beauty to Yephet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).


Yephet is associated with beauty and adoration of the human body, the two cultural traits that came to define Yavan-Greece. Perhaps, then, it is not so surprising that they abhorred the dedication of the Jews to the mitzvah of brit milah.


This Treat was lasted posted on December 4, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Maccabees' 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 lasted posted on November 26, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Spirit

Make yourself beautiful spiritually.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rock of Ages

“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower....” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as loosely translated from the original Hebrew by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s. And while tzur may mean rock, the rest of the verse actually means: 

Refuge, Rock of my salvation/ to You is a delight to give praise
Restore my House of prayer/so that there I may offer You thanksgiving
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe/
Then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar's dedication.


Maoz Tzur is one of the best known Hebrew piyyutim (religious songs/poems). Most people, however, are only familiar with this first verse (there are 5 more verses--click here to read the entire song). Thought to have been written in the 13th century, it has become a near universal custom to sing Maoz Tzur after lighting the Chanukah candles. 

Maoz Tzur is a song of redemption. Its paragraphs refer to the many different exiles the Jews have endured, but also reflect the fact that God is always present in Jewish history as our Savior. The exiles are treated in chronological order: 

Verse 2 - “...when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule”
Verse 3 - “...Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved”
Verse 4 - “The Agagite, son of Hammedatha (Haman)...”
Verse 5 - “Then the Greeks gathered against me...”
Verse 6 - “...Thrust the enemy into the darkness...(the word admon refers to Roman exile)”

The author of Maoz Tzur, a man known only as Mordechai (the letters of his name serve as an acrostic of the first letters of the first five stanzas), focused on each exile in order to acknowledge the redemption that God has brought the Jewish people in the past and to pray for a speedy redemption in our own day. 

*Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd. 


This Treat was lasted posted on December 2, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Chanukah Heroine

Have you ever heard of Yehudit (Judith), the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, who saved her city, Bethulia, from destruction at the hands of the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes?

As the Jews in the town neared starvation due to the enemy siege, Yehudit told the elders that she had a plan to deliver the enemy into their hands, but they must not ask her about it. They must simply have faith in her. Knowing her reputation for wisdom and piety, they agreed.

Accompanied by one maidservant, Yehudit managed to gain an audience with Holofernes and told him that, for the sake of those suffering from the siege, she wanted the city to fall. She proposed to report to him, daily, on the town’s supplies and let him know when was best to strike.

After several days, Yehudit felt that she and her maidservant had gained the trust of the enemy. They came and went as they pleased.

When she told Holofernes that the city had no food left and that it would be good time to strike, he invited her to come alone to his tent to celebrate. She agreed, insisting that he partake of her ‘renowned’ goat-cheese. As he ate the salty cheese, Yehudit quenched his thirst with the heavy wine that she had brought with her. When Holofernes finally fell into a stupor from too much food and drink, Yehudit cut off his head with his own sword. The two women wrapped the head in a cloth and returned to Bethulia.

Yehudit instructed the Jewish elders to attack the Syrian-Greeks immediately.

The Syrian-Greeks soldiers awoke to find the Judeans attacking and their leader mysteriously dead. The Syrian-Greek army fled in confusion and panic.


In honor of Yehudit, there is a custom to eat dairy on Chanukah.

This Treat was lasted posted on December 3, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time Together

Light candles with friends and family.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

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 lasted posted on November 29, 2013.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book(s) of Maccabees

Chanukah is neither directly ordained in the Torah (like Rosh Hashana, Passover, etc.) nor mentioned in any other biblical text (as Purim is in the Book of Esther). The Books of Maccabees are not included in the Biblical canon, because these events occurred after the sages had declared the Tanach (complete Hebrew bible) closed to further additions (around 250 B.C.E.). Writings, such as the Books of Maccabees, which have historical import but are not included in the Tanach, are often referred to as Sfarim Chitzonim (external books) or by the Greek term Apocrypha (hidden books).

While Maccabees I was originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek translation survives (although it has been re-translated from Greek into Hebrew). Maccabees I is a historical work that describes Antiochus Epiphanes’ assumption of the Selucid throne (175 B.C.E.), the actions of the Jewish Hellenizers, and, in detail, the revolt of the Maccabees. The book concludes with the death of Simon the Hasmonean (Maccabee) and the appointment of his eldest son, John Hyrcanus, as ruler (135 B.C.E.).

Maccabees II was written in Greek, and, in the style of Greek historians, is full of drama and rhetoric. Focusing mainly on the deeds of Judah Maccabee, the leader of the rebellion after the death of Mattitiyahu, Maccabees II also includes details of the actions of the Hellenizers (power-plays and bribery were a serious problem in the priesthood at the time) and acts of sacrifice and martyrdom by those dedicated to keeping the Jewish faith.

While Maccabees III and Maccabees IV are sometimes grouped together with the first and second books mentioned above, neither of them are accounts of the events of Chanukah, nor are they accorded the same historical veracity as Maccabees I and II.



This Treat was lasted posted on December 4, 2013.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Game for Freedom

Play dreidel and relish your freedom to live a Jewish life. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

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 by the name 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 November 29, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah and Divine Order

Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Tevet. (Rosh Chodesh is celebrated today, 30 Kislev, and tomorrow, 1 Tevet.) This is significant because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.

The very first commandment that the Jewish people received as a nation - "This month shall be yours as the first of months" (Exodus 12:1-2) - instructed the Jews to sanctify the beginning of each new month. The Syrian-Greeks felt threatened by the Jewish concept of Divinely ordained time, since the sanctification of the month was based on the sighting of the new moon, rather than by a humanly calculated number of days.

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. The commandment of Shabbat states: "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.

That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat was last posted on December 3, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Before Shabbat

Light your menorah before Shabbat.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

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, pressed 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” (Talmud 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 [but as fuel], 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 inner.org).

This Treat was last posted on November 27, 2013. 



Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Yum

While Jewish holidays are known for their food (except Yom Kippur, of course), most of these foods are not known for being particularly healthy. Chanukah is no exception. Forget matzah or apples, those are healthy in comparison--pull out your deep fryer, because Chanukah is a celebration of oil.

Soufganiyot (that’s Hebrew for doughnut): Did you know that Homer Simpson’s favorite treat is a traditional Chanukah delight in Israel? Deep fried dough, most often filled with a pinch of jelly, is how Israelis celebrate the tiny cruse of oil found by the Maccabees. This tradition probably developed from the custom among some Sephardi Jews to celebrate Chanukah with bimuelos, which are best defined as a type of fritter.

According to Jewishrecipes.org, the Greek Sephardi community eat loukoumades, a popular, deep-fried Greek pastry comparable to a doughnut, coated with honey and cinnamon. “Romaniotes, the Jewish community in Byzantine Greece, called this pastry ‘Zvingous/Zvingoi.’... Today both Greek Jewish communities, Romaniotes and Sephardi--who immigrated to Greece five centuries ago--make these Chanukah treats.”

Latkes: (That’s Yiddish for pancake, in Hebrew they are called levivot): Read any children’s Chanukah book today and you’ll find descriptions of pancakes made of grated potato sizzling away in oil. But, potatoes were only introduced into European society in the 1500s (they originated in South America).

Prior to the introduction of the potato to the latke, Ashkenazi Jews celebrated Chanukah with cheese latkes. Same basic idea, yummy food fried into pancakes. Dairy, however, has its own special connection to Chanukah. Dairy foods were eaten as reminder of Judith (Yehudit), who, according to tradition, was a beautiful widow who beheaded an enemy general by plying him with cheese and wine until he fell asleep (read the complete story here).




Happy Chanukah. Now get out the griddle and enjoy!



This Treat was last posted on December 1, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Treats

Choose special treats such as doughnuts is honor of Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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 November 28, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Al Hanisim, For The Miracles

Most Jewish holidays are marked not only by feasting and celebrations, but also by special prayers. On Biblical holidays, such as Passover and Rosh Hashana, these special prayers include an entire additional service (Musaf). On Chanukah and Purim, which are considered “post-Biblical” holidays because their observance was not commanded by God in the Torah, there is no additional service. However, to fulfill the desire to add further prayers of thanks and praise to these holidays, Al Hanisim is recited during the silent Amidahand Birkat Hamazon/Grace After Meals. (Additionally, on Chanukah only, Hallel is recited as part of the morning service.)

The opening stanza of Al Hanisim, which is the same for both Chanukah and Purim, reads: “For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.”

At this point, the prayers diverge. On Chanukah, the text continues with a description of life under the Hellenists, of how the government “rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will.” It then continues to describe how, with God’s help, the enemy was delivered into the hands of Matityahu and his sons, who then purified the Temple, kindled the lights and “instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

On Purim, the text describes Haman’s evil decree to “destroy, slaughter and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women.” Rather than describe the rest of the events narrated in the Book of Esther, the Purim Al Hanisim then praises God for the way in which he “foiled his [Haman’s] counsel and frustrated his intention.”

Click here to listen to a musical rendition of Al Hanisim.

This Treat was last posted on December 2, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Miracles

As you celebrate Chanukah and celebrate the miracle of the menorah, discuss the miracles in your own life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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, to 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.


This Treat was last posted on November 28, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Blessings

On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/light is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.


Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה י־י אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, ah'sher kidishanu b'mitz'vo'tav v'tzee'vanu l'hahd'leek nayr shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light.


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה י־י אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'asah neesim la'avotaynu, bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.

The third blessing is recited on the first night only.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה י־י אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.




--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Together

Invite friends over to light the menorah tonight.

Monday, December 15, 2014

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.
 

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



This Treat was last posted on November 25, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Gifts

"One who is diligent in lighting Chanukah candles will have children who are scholars" (Talmud Shabbat 23b).

The desire for scholarly children was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). In modern times, money has been replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights, intelligent children and gelt?

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah is so important that even a pauper, who has no money at all, is required to borrow money in order to buy oil for lighting. People therefore began to give a little money (gelt) to the poor so that they would not be embarrassed or forced to ask for assistance. Because the idea of "being diligent in lighting the Chanukah lights" is primary in both giving to the poor and meriting wise children, it became the custom to give children gelt as a reward for studying. Children who were diligent in their studies were rewarded with a shiny coin.

While gifts are an offshoot of the holiday, they represent an important element of Chanukah--chinuch, Jewish education.

The Maccabees fought so that their children and their children's children would be able to study Torah freely and be knowledgeable about their Jewish heritage. Jewish children are taught about Judaism not only for today, but for posterity as well, as it says in Proverbs 22:6: "Educate a young person in his/her own way, when he/she grows old he/she will not turn from it."


Over time, the simple practice of giving gelt (coins or presents) became a Chanukah custom - and not just for children. In truth, however, it is not surprising that gift giving has moved beyond just children. In our own day and age, we, the adults, also need encouragement to learn about who we are and what our Jewish heritage means.

This Treat was last posted on December 1, 2013. 



Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Create a Space

In preparation for the first night of Chanukah (tomorrow evening), set up an menorah lighting area that is visible to the street.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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 November 27, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 and delivered. 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 November 26, 2013. 




Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Can We Build A Snowman?

With terms like Nor’easter (Northeaster) and Polar Vortex peppering the local weather reports, there is little doubt that winter has arrived. Individuals and families can now look forward to long Shabbat evenings inside a warm home, enjoying the soft glow of the Shabbat candles and the delightful smell of chicken soup. When the snow starts falling, however, not everyone wishes to stay tucked up inside their home. Today’s Jewish Treat is dedicated to those who love the snow.

A snowy Saturday seems the perfect opportunity for building forts, snowmen and snowballs. Building and shaping objects out of snow, however, raises numerous questions concerning Shabbat observance that neither the Torah nor the Talmud dealt with specifically. Since the Middle East only experiences occasional snowfall, later rabbinic scholars were left to grapple with the issue. Whether these scholars classified these activities as m’la’chot (creative labor prohibited on Shabbat) under the category of building, gathering, grinding or squeezing (a subcategory of threshing), the most common opinion is that one should not build forts, snowmen or make snowballs on Shabbat. One may, however, technically, use snowballs that were formed before Shabbat. (Keeping in mind, of course, that many people would not appreciate being hit by a snowball!)

One of the primary questions that rabbis consider when deciding questions related to snow on Shabbat is whether the snow fell on or before Shabbat. Some rabbinic opinions judge snow that fell on Shabbat to be muktzeh (something one should not move on Shabbat). Others disagree.

This difference of opinion is one major factor in the different rulings on whether one may or may not shovel one’s walkway.* If one is concerned about the dangers of a slippery walkway, almost all opinions allow the use of salt to melt the ice.

*Please consult your local rabbi if you have a question.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.