Tuesday, June 30, 2015


In Jewish tradition, there is special significance to the number seven. The seventh day is Shabbat, the day of rest. The seventh month is Tishrei, the month with the most holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot). The seventh year of the sabbatical cycle is the Shmittah year, when the land of Israel is meant to lie fallow.

One understanding as to what is significant about seven is that it is one step beyond nature. It therefore symbolizes that which is kadosh - a word that is often translated as holy but also means sanctified, as in separated from the mundane.

Today, NJOP’s Jewish Treats celebrates its seventh anniversary.

From the beginning, NJOP’s goal has been to provide short - but juicy - tidbits about Jewish life and Jewish history that, hopefully, increase the readers’ connection to their heritage and heightens their Jewish pride. The short, daily “action tips” included each day offer suggestions for actively increasing the Jewish style of one’s life, and the review of different Jewish prayers enable Jewish Treats’ readers to enjoy a more spiritual approach to sanctifying their day.

NJOP salutes our Jewish Treats fans and followers and thanks you for your continued interest and support. In honor of Jewish Treats seventh anniversary, we ask you each to commit to sharing Jewish Treats with seven of your Jewish friends!

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Let Jewish Treats know what topics you have most enjoyed and what topics you would like to see addressed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Goodly Tents

Much of Jewish life is built around community. Jews often live close to each other, often with a synagogue or synagogues at the center of their neighborhoods. As important as living in a community is, Judaism has always put a premium on maintaining individual privacy.

In the era of the Talmud, those living in towns and cities often built their homes around communal courtyards--comparable, perhaps, to today’s townhouse communities. Because people lived so close to each other, the Talmud contains detailed discussions about insuring privacy. For instance, it is written: “In a courtyard that one shares with others, a man should not make a door facing another person's door nor a window facing another person's window...On the side of the street, however, he may make a door facing another person's door and a window facing another person's window” (Baba Batra 60b).

Protecting individual privacy by not placing doors and windows that invade other’s privacy is more than good manners. The sages understood that respecting the privacy, and thus the modesty, of every Jewish family, is critical to maintaining the Jewish people’s mission to be a holy nation. Thus the Talmud continues:

Whence are these rules derived?--Rabbi Johanan said: From the verse of the Scripture, “And Balaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes” (Numbers 24:2). This indicates that he saw that the doors of their tents did not face one another, whereupon he exclaimed: “Worthy are these that the Divine presence should rest upon them!”

This Treat was last posted on July 7, 2011.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Nice Neighbors

Be aware of the sensitivities of your neighbors.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Truly Jewish Hospital

It happened during the Holocaust that Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam was shot in the arm by the Nazis. Afraid to go to the Nazi infirmary, which he felt meant certain death, Rabbi Halberstam used a tree leaf to staunch the bleeding and a branch to bind the wound. On that day, Rabbi Halberstam  decided that, were he to survive, he would build a hospital open to all people in the Promised Land.

It took years, decades really, but Rabbi Halberstam turned his dream into a reality. The Laniado* Hospital, located in Netanya, opened its doors in 1975. The hospital operates in strict adherence to Jewish law, which means far more than kosher food and Shabbat laws. Laniado is the only Israeli hospital that has never closed due to a strike; saving a life is of such importance to Jewish law that Rabbi Halberstam felt it important to include a non-strike clause in the hospital’s employment contracts.

The man behind the hospital was not a businessman or a medical pioneer. Rabbi Halberstam was, in fact, a Chassidic (Klausenberger) rebbe. Born in Romania in 1904, he was recognized early on as a  scholastic genius, and had a Chassidic following from a young age. Then came World War II. The Klausenberger Rebbe and his family were sent to Budapest. He was arrested several times. Living conditions were difficult, but Rabbi Halberstam refused to leave his followers. When the Nazis came, the Halberstam family was sent to Auschwitz. Only Rabbi Halberstam survived. His wife and 11 children were murdered.

After surviving multiple camps and work crews, Rabbi Halberstam finally made his way to New York. In Williamsburg (Brooklyn), he rebuilt his community (which became the Klausenberg-Sanz Chassidim). He also remarried and was the father of seven children after the war.  In 1960, Rabbi Halberstam moved to Kiryat Sanz, a Chassidic neighborhood that he established in 1958, in Netanya, in northern Israel.

Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam died on 9 Tammuz, 1994.

*Laniado Hospital was named after Alphonse and Yaakov Avraham Laniado, two Syrian Jewish brothers living in Switzerland who provided Rabbi Halberstam with the initial funds for the hospital.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Consider volunteering at a local hospital. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's All in the Timing

When setting out to conquer the Promised Land, the Israelites' first military confrontation was with Jericho. This battle is famous...Why? Because (now sing aloud to yourself): "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho...and the walls came tumblin’ down!"

Following Divine instructions, Joshua marched the Israelite troops around the city walls once each day for six days (thus making the city inhabitants rather nervous). On the seventh day (by which point the people in Jericho probably thought - oh those Israelites are circling again, no big deal), Joshua and his troops encircled the city seven times, and on the seventh time, at Joshua's signal, seven priests blew on seven shofars. Upon hearing the blasts of the shofars, the troops began shouting and yelling and, lo and behold, the walls of Jericho collapsed. Joshua and his people easily captured the city and began their conquest of Canaan.

A miracle? In the 1950s, archaeologists discovered the walls of ancient Jericho. Rather than falling inward, it appeared from the archaeological evidence that the walls had collapsed outward (exactly as described in the book of Joshua). Not willing to attribute this to a miracle, the archaeologists concluded that the walls had obviously collapsed as a result of an earthquake, thus negating evidence of a miracle. However, one sees that, according to Jewish tradition, a miracle rarely involves a complete aberration of nature. Rather, when performing Divine miracles, God often uses nature to change the course of events. Timing, of course, is also part of the miracle. So let's say the Israelites encircled Jericho, blew their shofars and, just as they let out their great shouts, an earthquake struck the town of Jericho.

I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty miraculous to me!

This Treat was last posted on June 30, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Try to see the miracles in the world around you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Private versus Public

Moses’ greatest desire was to enter the Promised Land along with the Israelite nation whom he had led across the wilderness. Sadly, it did not happen. Moses died and was buried shortly before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan.

There is a great deal of discussion and debate among the commentators as to the deeper, more philosophical reasons why Moses could not enter the Promised Land, but the most basic reason is the one recorded in the Book of Numbers: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring the congregation into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). God thus rebukes Moses and Aaron immediately at Meribah, after they struck the rock to get water rather than speak to it as God had instructed (ibid 20:7-11).

According to the Midrash, the real issue was not that Moses or Aaron doubted God, but that they acted in a manner that might lead others to doubt God. The Midrash explains the situation with a parable comparing the situation, to a “case of a king who had a friend. Now this friend displayed arrogance toward the king, privately using harsh words. The king, however, did not lose his temper with him. After a time, he [the friend] rose and displayed his arrogance in the presence of his legions, and the king passed sentence of death upon him” (Numbers Rabbah 19:10).

Moses had a special and unique relationship with God. On more than one occasion, the Torah describes Moses challenging God - but those were always during one-on-one conversations. When Moses chose to act disrespectfully publicly the way he acted privately, God could not allow it to go unaccounted.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Aware of Place

Be aware of how you treat others both publicly and privately.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sir “The Jew”

The first Jew to be knighted by a monarch of England was not himself English. But, then again, neither was the king!

In 1688, Willem the Third of the Dutch Republic conquered England in an invasion now known as “The Glorious Revolution.” Along with King William III, as he became known in English history, came his financier and war contractor, Solomon de Median. Interestingly, his birth name was actually Diego de Medina, and he was born in Bordeaux around 1650.

Although he is referred to in written records as “the Jew Medina,” de Medina had a special relationship with William III. It is even noted that in 1699, the king once dined at de Medina’s home (also the first time an English king is recorded visiting a Jew). The visit was most likely motivated by the king seeking funds that had been denied him by parliament. De Medina’s knighthood  followed not long thereafter, on June 23, 1700.

Sir Solomon de Medina did not stay long in England, but he did play a further important role in the country’s history by assisting the Duke of Marlborough during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). He not only accompanied the Duke and assisted him financially, but, more importantly, according to the report of the Duke to Parliament, he also provided vital information through a communication system that was far faster than the official channels.

It is particularly noteworthy that despite his many outside business, political and social obligations, de Medina remained loyal and active in the Jewish community and was a major contributor to London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue. Not long after the start of the War of Spanish Succession, however, de Medina returned to Amsterdam. He continued his business from there with the assistance of his son-in-law who acted as his London agent. Sir Simon de Medina died in Amsterdam, some say penniless, on September 13, 1730.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Local Support

Support your local Jewish community.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Entertainer

Judging by the jokes included in so many movies about marriage, there is a great deal of pressure on the best man to present a toast that not only honors the groom, but is entertaining as well. At a traditional Jewish wedding, however, there is no specific concept of either a best man or a toast.

In some communities, particularly among the Chassidim, there is a person whose specific job is to serve as the wedding entertainer. The most common term for this person is “badchen,” although historically there are other types of wedding entertainers as well, such as latzanim (clowns, people performing a more base humor) and mashkilim (storytellers). While every badchen has his own “shtick” (repertoire), their performances generally combine humor, poetry, Torah subjects, Talmudic exposition and family history for their performance pieces. The best known aspect of badchanus (the act of the badchen) is the graman, a poem/song that humorously parodies the subject of the poem (usually the groom).

While the idea of the badchen/entertainer can be linked back to the Talmud, it is interesting to note that during the Middle Ages the custom of this type of wedding entertainment was discouraged. Many of the writings about the ban on badchanus consider badchanus the actions of a fool. However, many now believe that this was also a reflection of the challenges of the era, when many Jews were terribly impoverished and persecution was a constant concern.  The disregard for badchanusduring this era did not occur in the Chassidic community, which is why modern badchanim are primarily found only among the Chassidim.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fine Line

When joking with other people, be aware of their reactions and be careful not to overstep and embarrass them.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Importance of Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on June 15, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Day

If you can, call your father and wish him a happy Father's Day. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Respect of the Sons

In the twenty-first century, rebelling against one’s family is all-too-often presented as a right of passage, a natural part of growing up and as a means of declaring one’s independence. The Torah, however, stresses the importance of honoring one’s father and mother.

While halacha (Jewish law) provides guidelines on observing the particulars of honoring one’s father and mother, there are certain situations when honoring one’s parent(s) can be tricky. For instance, what should a person do when his/her parent is leading them into trouble?

There is a fascinating Midrash about the sons of Korach, Moses’ cousin who led a rebellion against his leadership in the wilderness. Korach and his followers were ultimately punished when the earth opened up and swallowed them alive (think spontaneous, isolated earthquake).  However, the Torah reports that “the sons of Korach did not die” (Numbers 26:11).

According to the Midrash, the sons of Korach were separated from Korach’s other followers because of one specific incident. Korach and his three sons were sitting by their tent and noticed Moses approaching. “They said to one another, ‘What shall we do? If we rise out of respect for Moses we will, in effect, be showing disrespect for our father, and we are commanded to honor father and mother. If we do not rise, we will have transgressed the command to rise before a sage.’ They decided to rise out of respect for Moses” (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni 752).

The sons of Korach were faced with a difficult dilemma, but what is particularly noteworthy is their decision-making process and how heavily they weighed the importance of honoring their father.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Always with Respect

If you disagree with your father or mother, make sure to be respectful in how you express your disagreement.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rosh Chodesh

The very first commandment that was given to the entire Jewish nation was the commandment to celebrate the appearance of the new moon. “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). That first month was the month of Nisan, the month of Passover.

The commandment of celebrating the appearance of the new moon was the first step in the Divine plan to teach the Jewish people to be free and to be holy. By instructing the Children of Israel to mark the start of each month, to take charge of their calendars, God gave them a sense of controlling time--something that they had lacked as slaves.

Originally, Rosh Chodesh (the "head" of the month) was determined by the testimony before the Sanhedrin of witnesses that had seen the new moon. Once the testimony was accepted, hilltop fires were lit to announce the new month to neighboring communities, who spread the word in the same manner. In the year 358 C.E., however, a set lunar calendar, integrated with the solar calendar, was introduced and accepted in lieu of witnesses.

Rosh Chodesh is celebrated with the addition of Hallel (Psalms of praise), ya’aleh v’ya’vo and musaf to the prayers, as well as a general acknowledgment of it being a festive day (nicer clothes, nicer food, etc). In the times of the Temple, the day began with the sound of the shofar, and special sacrifices were offered in the Temple.

Rosh Chodesh is either one day or two, depending on the month. Rosh Chodesh Tammuz is celebrated for two days, the second of which is today.

This Treat was last posted on August 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Special Day

Enjoy a special Treat today in honor of Rosh Chodesh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jews in Iceland

In honor of Icelandic National Day, Jewish Treats presents a history of Jews in Iceland.

It is interesting to note that long before any Jews actually visited Iceland, let alone resided there, there was a unique Icelandic word for Jews: Gyðingar, a derivative of the word Guð, meaning God. In fact, there is even a 13th century text called The Gyðingar Saga, which was a retelling of the Book of Maccabees and included fragments of the writings of the ancient historian Flavius Josephus.

Jews did not arrive in Iceland until the 1700s, and even then they only came as traveling merchants. There is particular note given to the arrival in 1815 of “The Ulricha, “ a trade ship controlled by Ruben Moses Henriques of Copenhagen that is specifically referred to as a Jewish ship.

In 1853, as a dependent of Denmark, Iceland was pressured to follow the path of Denmark, which had permitted Jews to settle in its lands in 1850. The Icelandic parliament, the Althing, refused. Two years later, however, this decision was overturned - although it was many years until any Jews took advantage of this law. One interesting recorded Jewish resident was Fritz Heymann Nathan of Copenhagen, who arrived in 1906. An extremely successful businessman, Nathan built Iceland’s first “tall building” (five stories) in 1916. The next year, after marrying, he realized that his family could not live a full Jewish life in Iceland and he returned to Copenhagen.

A real Jewish community was not established in Iceland until the allies arrived there during World War II. (In fact, Iceland had a closed immigration policy and only a few European Jews managed to find refuge there.) With the influx of Jewish Allied soldiers, a congregation (one that still exists today) was established. It was during World War II that Iceland reached its greatest Jewish population. While some Jews remained after the war, there is great pressure on all minorities to conform and assimilate into the Icelandic culture. Today, there are only 50-100 Jews living in Iceland.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


On a hot day, offer a cold drink to your local mail delivery person.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Never to Forget

In 1938, when  native New Yorker Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz (1915-1990) was 23 years old, she traveled to Vilna, Lithuania, in order to immerse herself in the Yiddish culture that she had begun studying during a Masters program at Columbia University. Her experiences during that year, in which she studied at YIVO (Yiddish Scientific Institute) in Vilna, and the tragic world events that followed shortly thereafter, would shape the direction of the rest of her life.

Returning home to New York one month before the start of War World II, Dawidowicz worked for the New York branch of YIVO. Although she had witnessed the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, like many Americans, she had no real comprehension of the full horrors of the Holocaust until after the war. In 1946, she returned to Europe with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and worked as an aide in the Displaced Persons camps. At the same time, she actively participated in the recovery of looted and confiscated books.

After returning to the United States in 1947, Lucy Schildkret married Szymon Dawidowicz, a Jewish refugee from Poland. Dawidowicz focused her energies on preserving the culture of the Eastern European Jewish world that had been destroyed. She published numerous articles in prominent newspapers and magazines. She also began teaching at Yeshiva University, where she eventually held a Chair in Interdisciplinary Holocaust Studies. Dawidowicz published several books on the Holocaust. The best-known of which is 1975's The War Against the Jews 1933-1945. 

In 1985, Dawidowicz founded the Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature from Yiddish and Hebrew* into English. She was also active in the campaign for freedom for Soviet Jewry.

Dawidowicz, whose 100th birthday would have been today, passed away on December 5, 1990.

*As recorded on Wikipedia.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read Up

Read up on Jewish history.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Officers of the Law

The Bible in Deuteronomy states, “Shoftim v’shotrim, Judges and “shotrim” you shall appoint in your cities.” Most English versions of the Torah translate the word shotrim as “officers,” and numerous commentators explain this term to refer to those who were responsible for enforcing the rulings of the judges. These shotrim were not police officers who caught people and brought them to jail, as we think of the term today, because jail is not one of the penal practices listed in the Torah. (Although it is interesting to note that the Torah does refer to jail time in Genesis 39-40, when Joseph is imprisoned for two years.)

While the Torah system of law and order may not include the modern concept of police officers, the Torah promotes a deep respect for those who work to ensure “law and order.” These officers of the law are admonished throughout the written and oral law to pursue justice and are given a great deal of guidance on how to function.

Today is marked as a National Day of Prayer for Law Enforcement Officers on numerous holiday-list websites. Law enforcement officers of every era are tasked with great responsibilities. While all people naturally desire justice in life, the men and women who work in law enforcement accept upon themselves a duty to fight for justice each day.

On this day of prayer for them, Jewish Treats salutes all those who stand up and often risk their lives for a just society.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Word or Two

When you see someone working for the benefit of society, take a moment and say thank you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Stay Cool

As the summer heats up, people everywhere are turning to whatever means possible to keep cool. Many find relief in the artificial coolness of air conditioning. (Thank goodness for living in the twenty-first century.) Others, however, are inclined to turn to far older methods of cooling off.

While the laws of Shabbat limit a person’s ability to manipulate their environments (given the m’la'chot, the 39 prohibited creative labors), one might think that they are limited in how they can cool down on a hot Shabbat day. Most methods of staying cool, however, are fine for Shabbat as long as attention is paid to details and nuances.

For instance, while there are few things as refreshing on a hot day as an ice cold drink, one must be careful about how ice cubes are obtained on Shabbat. Using ice cubes from an old fashioned ice cube tray is perfect, but taking ice cubes from an automatic ice cube maker (built into the freezer) is problematic. Removing ice from the bucket makes the bucket lighter, which triggers the ice cube making mechanism.

Fans are also an excellent means of cooling off in the summer heat. While one may neither turn a fan on or off nor adjust the speed of the fan, one may move the fan itself in order to redirect the air flow. Additionally, since the general mechanism for causing the fan to oscillate or not oscillate is a mechanical button that simply locks or unlocks the gears, one may change the oscillation on the average standing fan. (If one knows that there is an electric component to a specific fan’s oscillation mechanism, then this feature may not be used.)

Jewish Treats wishes you an enjoyable and cool summer.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Freeze some grapes for a delicious, nutritious and cooling Shabbat treat.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Salty Ghettos

It is a fairly well-known fact (perhaps due to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice) that Jews in many European cities were forced to reside in ghettos. The first of these areas of restricted residence was in Venice - hence, the Italian name.

Alas, Europe was not the only place where Jews were forced to live separately from the general population. The terms for these “Jewish Quarters” varied from location to location. In cities controlled by Spain, they were often referred to as Juderia. However, the Jewish Quarters most often compared to the ghettos of Europe were the Mellahs of Morocco.

It has been speculated that the term “Mellah” comes from the salty nature of the soil where the Fez Jewish Quarter was established. Mellah is also the Arabic word for salt. This first Mellah was not created in an effort to restrict the Jews, but rather to protect them from Arab rioters.

The Mellah in “Fez” was created in the fifteenth century. Over the next two hundred years, a few other cities such as Marrakesh and Meknes followed suit. These Mellahs were still seen as quarters of privilege and protection. The 19th century, however, saw a change in nature of the Mellah. By decree of the sultan, Jews were forced to live in these restricted quarters in all of the coastal towns. The stately gates that once suggested the protected status of the Jewish population became symbols of restriction. The Mellahs were transformed into zones of confinement that were often described by travelers as being poverty-ridden and over-crowded.

Beginning around the turn of the twentieth century, the more affluent Jews were able to leave the Mellah and settle into new neighborhoods. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, a large portion of the Jewish population of Morocco moved to Israel. Many of these former “Jewish Quarters” are now popular sites for Jewish tourists.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Well Wishes

If a friend is ill, send them a message letting them know that they are in your thoughts. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Might of the Pen

The fact that today is National Ballpoint Pen Day offers Jewish Treats the opportunity to introduce Lazlo Biro, the Hungarian-Jewish inventor of the now ubiquitous ballpoint writing implement.

Born on September 29, 1899, in Budapest, Hungary, Biro found his first calling in journalism. As a journalist, he was frustrated by the constant smudging of his written notes. Noting that the ink used for newspaper printing dried quickly, Biro attempted to use the same ink in his fountain pen. While the newspaper ink did not flow properly from his fountain pen, Biro knew that he was on to something.

Working together with his brother Gyorgy, a chemist, Biro developed a fluid ink that worked with a ball tucked into the tip, an idea he perfected based on previous attempts at pen improvement. The ball blocked the ink from draining out of the pen while, at the same time, constantly picking up fresh ink from the interior cartridge as it rolled.

Although the Biro brothers invented their pen in Budapest, they patented it in Paris in 1938. Paris was the city to which they fled just one day before Hungary implemented anti-Jewish laws. Feeling (rightly) that Paris would not be a safe refuge, Biro emigrated to Argentina, where he continued developing and refining his pen. On June 10, 1943, he obtained a new patent in Argentina.

There was a great deal of international interest in Biro’s pen. In fact, the British government invested in his work because they needed a pen that could be used by their airplane navigators in the air pressure at high altitudes. In 1945, Biro sold the patent rights to his invention to Frenchman Marcel Bich, who created the Bic pen company.

Biro continued to live in Buenos Aires. None of his other inventions, however, gained the renown that his ballpoint pen achieved. He died in Argentina on October 24, 1985.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Don't hesitate to follow your natural creativity.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Camp

The end of the school year is upon us, and across the country, many parents are packing their children’s trunks for summer camp. The world of Jewish camping began as a reaction to urbanization. Those interested in “social welfare” and the health of the children, promoted summer getaways so children could experience nature and fresh air. Such was the goal when, in 1893, the Jewish Working Girls Society of New York opened Camp Lehman (later called Camp Isabella Friedman). 

Originally, Jewish camps were only for Jews simply because society at that time was more culturally segregated. However, the positive potential of these all-Jewish environments was soon recognized. For instance, in 1927, Camp Achvah opened as the first Hebrew-speaking camp. Other camps, such as Camp Cejwin, surrounded children with the Jewish culture that was being lost in the American “melting pot.” One of the most famous of these Jewish cultural camps was Camp Massad in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

In the middle of the 20th century, the trend in Jewish summer camps began to separate along denominational lines. The first Camp Ramah, the camp of the Conservative movement, opened in Wisconsin (near Chicago) in 1947. The first official camp of the Reform movement, UAHC Camp-Institute opened in 1950, also in Wisconsin. Both of these camp movements continued to grow. There are currently 8 Ramah camps in North America and 13 URJ Camp-Institutes. In the late 1950s, Chabad joined the camping world when it opened Camp Gan Israel, which has grown into the largest chain of Jewish camps in the world. Summer camps are also very popular among the Orthodox, but as there is no umbrella organization within Orthodoxy, they remain mostly independent institutions. 

In addition to the overnight camps, the Jewish camping world includes many independent Jewish summer camps, as well as hundreds of day camps (often affiliated with Federation-JCCs). Jewish camping has proven so powerful a tool in giving children positive Jewish identities that the Foundation for Jewish Camp was created in 1998.

This Treat was last posted on June 11, 2012.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Summer Memories

If you have fond memories of Jewish day camp, make the effort to reconnect with your camp friends. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Oh Evil Tongue

“Come and see how great the power of an evil tongue is! Whence do we know [its power]? From the spies: for if it happens thus to those who bring up an evil report against wood and stones, how much more will it happen to he who brings up an evil report against his neighbor!”
Rabbi Eleazar ben Perata
Talmud Arachin 15a

According to Jewish tradition, many of the unfortunate events that befell the Jewish people were a result of the sin of the spies who scouted the Promised Land and then reported to the people that it was a dangerous place. One reason given for their actions was that they distorted the truth because they were afraid of change, and slandered the Land of Israel.

Slander, which is one of the most devastating sins that a person can commit, is known as lashon harah, the evil tongue. Few other sins are referred to by such euphemisms, so what is the symbolic significance of the tongue? “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Joseph ben Zimra... “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the tongue: All members of the human body are standing, you are lying; all members of the human body are outside, you are guarded inside; not only that, but I surrounded you with two walls, one of bone and one of flesh” (Arachin 15b).

Not only is the tongue one of the most visible organs of speech, it is, as any speech therapist will tell you, one of the easiest muscles to retrain.  A person who speaks ill of others can, with relative ease, reverse course and learn to refrain from lashon harah. In fact, in the same section of the Talmud, Rabbi Hama ben Hanina is quoted as saying: “What is the remedy for slanderers? If he be a scholar, let him engage in the Torah...If he be an ignorant person, let him become humble” (ibid)

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Word Wise

Be aware of the power of the words you choose.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Resource Sharing

June 5 has been declared World Environment Day by the United Nations. In honor of this year’s theme, “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care,” Jewish Treats presents a brief review of how Torah law views “resource sharing.”

It goes without saying that in Biblical times the idea of a world population surpassing seven billion people was unthinkable. However, this incredible number attests to the fulfillment of the very first Divine commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land” (Genesis 1:28). At the same time that God commanded humankind to multiply, He gave them dominion over the earth. Simultaneously, however, He placed upon humankind the responsibility of taking care of the world. Within this formative time for humankind came the instinct to populate the world and the innovative abilities to make the world liveable for all creatures. While it is up to humankind to utilize that innovative ability, it does not guarantee an equality of resource distribution.

Clearly, the Torah does not advocate for a communist-like equality, yet it includes many measures to ensure that everyone has access to their basic needs. For instance, a farmer is instructed not to harvest the corner of the fields so that the poor and the stranger might reap their needs from the unharvested corners (Leviticus 19:9-10). Similarly, a fallen sheaf of wheat that was missed by the harvesters during the harvest becomes ownerless so that it may be collected by “the stranger, the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

On the other hand, there is the Torah prohibition of bal tashchit ("dare not waste"), which is derived from the commandment not to destroy fruit bearing trees, but is understood within Jewish law to refer to any situation of waste or wanton destruction.

These are just a few examples of the way resource sharing was built into the framework of biblical society.

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Being Sensible

When preparing for Shabbat, don't prepare extras if you know they will not be eaten as leftovers. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

All About Abaye

Students of the Talmud, who wrestle with legal arguments and explore Jewish legends and traditions, are also introduced to a myriad of rabbinic personalities, each of whom brings his own unique perspective and argument style into the beautiful mosaic of the Oral Torah. Today, Jewish Treats brings you a brief introduction to one such sage, Abaye.

Actually, Abaye (meaning little father) was his nickname. His actual name was Nachmani, after his grandfather. It is recorded that Abaye was an orphan whose father died before he was born and whose mother died during childbirth (Talmud Kiddushin 31a). There are, however, many references of Abaye quoting his mother (generally on food-related topics). These references actually refer to his foster mother, the wife of his uncle Rabbah bar Nachmani (also a noted sage). Abaye, who was born and raised in Babylon, succeeded his uncle as the head of the Talmudic Academy of Pumbedita.

While much of what is included about Abaye in the Talmud is in reference to his legal arguments and his interchanges with the sage Rava, there are some interesting notes that provide insight into his personal character. Two such example are:

“Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar said: How do we know that the sage must not trouble [the people]? ...Abaye said: We have it [on tradition] that if he [the sage] takes a circuitous route, he will live [long]. Abaye took a circuitous route (to avoid the people so they would not have to stand for him out of respect)...” (Talmud Kiddushin 33b).

“A favorite saying of Abaye was: A man should always be subtle in the fear of heaven. A soft answer turns away wrath, and one should always strive to be on the best terms with his brothers and his relatives and with all men and even with the heathen in the street, in order that he may be beloved above and well-liked below and be acceptable to his fellow creatures” (Talmud Brachot 17a).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sage Advice

When someone speaks to you in anger, remain calm.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Joy to the Bride and Groom

Have you ever been to a traditional Jewish wedding? At traditional weddings there are, of course, the normal, wonderful things that may be found at all weddings: the beautiful bride and handsome groom, the happy sound of friends and family coming together, the delightful celebration feast, the music, etc...but at a traditional Jewish wedding there is one additional element: the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah, the mitzvah of rejoicing with the bride and groom!

The mitzvah of gladdening the bride and groom is found in the Talmud, in Brachot 6b.

What does it mean to gladden a bride and groom? Really, this answer varies greatly, depending on a number of factors - such as one’s relationship to the bride and groom. For instance, the mere presence of a close friend who has traveled a great distance may give the bride or groom immense joy. Many people, however, take this mitzvah quite seriously and work hard to make certain that the dancing during the reception is leibadik (Yiddish, meaning heartfelt, but is often used to imply high-spirited and energetic). Thus, at a traditional wedding one might see people dressing up in costume to make the bride/groom laugh, jumping rope, performing amateur acrobatics and even lighting their hats on fire.

The tradition of happily making a fool of one’s self to bring joy to the bride and groom is an ancient one. Indeed, the Talmud (Ketubot 17a), mentions Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Isaac who was known for juggling myrtle twigs before the bride. While his peer, Rabbi Zeira, felt that this debased the scholar’s honor, Rabbi Shmuel was greatly honored for his efforts to fulfill the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah.

This Treat was last posted on January 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Joy for the Couple

When attending a wedding, focus on the bride and groom enjoying their special day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Anomalies and Interpretations

The writing of a Torah scroll is an incredibly intricate process. To write a Torah, the scribe must not only be meticulous and devout, but must know all of the many laws associated with writing a Torah. Additionally, there are numerous places where traditional anomalies are built into the text. Sometimes this means a letter is written larger than others, and sometimes smaller. For each of these apparently odd letters, however, Jewish tradition has a reason and a meaning.

An excellent example of a Torah anomaly and its interpretation can be found at the end of the tenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. Verses 35 and 36 are offset by the Hebrew letter nun written backward. In the Talmudic Tractate Shabbat (115b - 116a), two separate but fascinating reasons are offered as to why these nuns are inserted into the text.

The sage Rabbi declared that these verses were set apart because they constitute a book unto themselves. (He thus divides the Torah into Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and three separate books from the Book of Numbers.) As a proof text, Rabbi cites Rabbi Samuel ben Nahamia in the name of Rabbi Jonathan, who explained the verse "She [wisdom] has hewn out her seven pillars" (Psalms 9:1) as referring to seven Books of Law.

Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel, on the other hand, explained that these verses were offset because they were deliberately written in the wrong place in order to separate two shameful incidents where Israel deserved punishment. The first incident is Numbers 10:33, when the Israelites “moved away from the mount of the Lord,” which Rabbi Hama ben Rabbi Hanina explained as reference to the Israelits turning away from God (Talmud Shabbat 116a). The second incident is recorded in Numbers 11, which begins, “And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the Lord” (11:1).

According to Rabbi Hama benHanina, Numbers 10:35-36 should be part of the earlier section dealing with the banners of the Israelites and the way in which the large camp moved (Numbers 2).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Think First

Before you complain, think about all the blessings you have in your life. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Living in The Pinch

In honor of the anniversary of Tennessee becoming the 16th state of the United States in 1796, Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the Jewish community of Memphis.

American Jewish culture thrives upon the communal memory of New York City’s famous Lower East Side, the neighborhood that was the heart of early twentieth century Jewish America. But New York was not the only city to which Jews immigrated, nor was the Lower East Side the only Jewish city-within-a-city.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the primary location to which the Eastern European Jewish immigrants moved was known as The Pinch. The area, which was one of the earliest sections of Memphis settlement, acquired this name from the near-starving Irish immigrants who had previously dominated the area.

While The Pinch became the primary Jewish area in Memphis in the late 1800s, the Jews who arrived at that time were not the first Jews to settle in Memphis. Jewish settlement began as early as the 1840s. As was the case across the United States, most of the mid-nineteenth century Jewish settlers were merchants and peddlers who had immigrated from Germany. A large portion of the original Jewish community was lost to Memphis, however, after the devastating outbreaks of Yellow Fever in 1873 and 1874. Many died and many fled, and of those who left the city, many did not return.

Jewish life in The Pinch has been compared to Jewish life on the Lower East Side. There were pushcarts and peddlers, kosher bakeries and delis. Community life did not center on one or two large congregations, but on numerous small synagogues catering to specific landsmen (people from the same area of Eastern Europe) grouped in neighborhoods.

It should be noted that The Pinch was also home to the famed Baron Hirsch Synagogue. Established in the 1860s, it remained in The Pinch area until around 1952. The Baron Hirsch Synagogue, which remains a vibrant and active congregation today, was considered the largest Orthodox congregation in the United States in the 1950s.

The Pinch remained an area of vibrant Jewish lifetime until the late 1940s, when the community moved out of the city. The area, with its many Jewish landmarks, went through an era of decay and is now experiencing a period of resurgence.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spring Dress

Dress for spring, but remember the Jewish value of modesty (for both sexes).