Monday, February 29, 2016

A Hero in Hollywood

Like many of the Jews who found success in the early decades of Hollywood show business, Ben Hecht (1893 - 1964) was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. When Hecht was born, the family lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan but moved to Racine, WI, a decade later.

Hecht was a man of incredible talent and diverse interests. At 10, he appeared to be on his way to a career as a concert violinist. As a teenager, he worked as a circus acrobat. And, as a young man, he moved to Chicago and began a career as a journalist, serving as a war correspondent during World War I for the Chicago Daily News. At this time, Hecht was also working on his own literary pieces, including his first Novel, Erik Dorn (1921). In 1923, he started the Chicago Literary Times. Hecht began his Hollywood screen-writing career in 1927, and proved himself to be astoundingly prolific and successful. His first screenplay, Underworld, won the first Academy Award for best screenplay. His first play, The Front Page (in collaboration with Charles MacArthur), was a Broadway success in 1928.

Jewish Treats, however, wishes to salute the memory of Mr. Hecht for his actions on behalf of the Jewish people. After learning of the dire situation facing the Jews in pre-World War II Europe, he wrote full page newspaper advertisement articles announcing the Nazi actions and created (with Moss Hart) the We Will Never Die pageant.

Following the war, Hecht continued his Jewish activism by supporting the Irgun’s fight for a Jewish state. For this cause, Hecht wrote A Flag Is Born, which was a highly successful Broadway play starring Marlon Brando.

One of the “illegal” immigration ships of the Aliyah Bet movement was named for Hecht. However, his activism on behalf of Israel ended after the Altalena, a ship full of immigrants and weapons that he had assisted in organizing, was sunk (after the immigrants disembarked), along with the weapons, by the new Israeli government when the Irgun refused to turn them over.

When Hecht died in April 1964, Menachem Begin was among those who eulogized him.

Note: This Treat is an extremely abbreviated summary of Ben Hecht.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Almost There

Spread the word about Shabbat Across America and Canada, this Friday night. Find a location near you!

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Master Craftsman

There are people who are born with incredible natural talents - athletes who excel at every sport, inventors who innately know how to create and artists who are able to transform the mundane into the beautiful. Betzalel, the great-grandson of Miriam and Caleb, was such an artisan.

See, I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the Tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship to devise skilful works, to work in gold and in silver and in brass and in the cutting of stones for setting and in the carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship... (Exodus 31:1-5).

Because of his natural abilities, Betzalel was appointed by God (along with an assistant, Oholiab the son of Ahisamach) to head the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

The Talmud mentions that at the time that Betzalel was given this great task, he was 13 years old (Sanhedrin 69b).  Perhaps this is why the Talmud records that God asked Moses if he felt that Betzalel was acceptable. When Moses said that he was acceptable since he was God’s choice, God told him to check with the nation. The Children of Israel responded positively, as had Moses (Talmud Brachot 55a).

Betzalel’s name means “In the shadow of God.” According to the Talmud, God told Moses to ask Betzalel to make the Mishkan (Tabernacle), ark and vessels. When Moses relayed these instructions to Betzalel, he reversed the order. Betzalel actually questioned why one would build vessels without the Mishkan to put them and then said to Moses: “‘Can it be that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to you, Make the Mishkan, an ark and vessels?’ Moses replied: ‘Perhaps you were in the shadow of God and knew!’” (Ibid.)

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Get Ready!

Get ready for Shabbat Across America and Canada, which takes place next Friday night! Find out more about this acclaimed program of Jewish unity and inspiration. (Click Here!)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The February Strike

February 25th marks the anniversary of the Februaristaking, the 1941 February Strike that took place in the Netherlands. The strike, which was initiated by the Communist Party (banned by the Nazis), was the first direct action against Nazi anti-Semitism.

In May 1940, the Nazis conquered the Netherlands and it did not take long for the first discriminatory laws to be implemented. The first of these regulations barred Jews from the air-raid defense service. Then, a few months later, Jews were removed from all public positions. In early February 1941, the tension turned violent. When Nazis attacked some Jewish and non-Jewish workers in the Waterlooplein district, it ended in the death of a local fascist leader. The next day, on February 12, the Nazis cordoned off the Jewish neighborhood, surrounding it with barbed wire and prohibiting non-Jews from entering. Things quickly deteriorated until the weekend of February 22, when 400 Jews were arrested, publicly tortured, and later deported to concentration camps.

In response to these actions, on Tuesday morning, February 25, the workers of Amsterdam spontaneously went on strike. While they were also protesting forced labor and general Nazi oppression, their primary voice was against the brutal treatment of the Jews.

The next day, the strike spread to other towns, including the Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem...and even to Belgium. The Nazi power-hold, however, was too strong. The S.S. retaliated against the protestors, and the strike was broken.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If It's Right

Don't hesitate to join in a movement to stand up for what's right.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hands Upon Waking

Everyone has their own particular morning routine. However, whether one has a preference for brushing one's teeth before breakfast or after breakfast, there is one morning routine priority set down in Jewish law - washing one's hands.

Like all hand washing rituals in Jewish tradition, one is supposed to use a wide cup filled with clean water. Unlike the way one washes one's hands for bread or other food items, the morning washing is done three times while alternating hands: right, left, right, left, right, left. Some people have the custom to repeat the washing pattern a fourth time as well. After the hands are washed, they should be thoroughly dried.

Tradition notes several reasons for washing one’s hands immediately upon waking (after reciting Modeh Ani). One of the most commonly cited reasons is to remove the impurity of having come in contact with partial death that lingers after sleep, since sleep is considered to be like 1/60th of death.

There are different opinions regarding how quickly one must wash one’s hands in the morning, but it is generally considered that one should not walk more that 4 amot (6 - 8 feet) without washing. Many, therefore, have a custom of keeping a washing cup and bowl by their beds. There are, however, numerous rabbinic opinions that permit a person to walk to the nearest sink, if it is not too far from one’s bed.

As with all points of Jewish law and ritual, there are basic parameters and different customs that define how the ritual is performed. It is therefore best to discuss the subject with your local rabbi.

In the Morning

Integrate morning hand washing into your daily routine. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Purim Katan

In a Jewish leap year, a second month of Adar is added to the Jewish calendar, creating Adar I and Adar II. The question that arises is, in which Adar does one celebrate the important events that occur in that month? On a communal level, this question refers to the holiday of Purim. On a personal level, this affects the observance of yahrtzeits and bar/bat mitzvahs.

The holiday of Purim marks the anniversary of God’s overturning the wicked plot of Haman (read the full story) on the 14th of Adar. According to tractate Megillah 6b, during a leap year Purim is observed in Adar II. However, during Adar I, the importance of the 14th of Adar must also be acknowledged. Purim Katan, “Little Purim,” as 14 Adar I is called, is therefore observed as a minor holiday. On Purim Katan certain aspects of the prayer service are omitted, fasting is forbidden and eulogies are generally prohibited. Additionally, it is considered praiseworthy to mark the day with a small festive meal (perhaps ordering a nicer lunch). 

Aside from Purim, individual life cycle events may also be affected by the extra month of Adar. A child born in Adar during a regular year celebrates his/her bar or bat mitzvah in Adar II, if it occurs during a leap year. During a leap year, a bar or bat mitzvah celebration is only celebrated in Adar I if the child was born in Adar I. (This leads to the possible interesting anomaly that a child born on the first day of Adar II celebrates his Bar Mitzvah one month before a child born on the 30th day of Adar I, if the Bar Mitzvah year is not a leap year.)

With respect to yahrtzeit observances, however, there is a difference of opinion. The Ashkenzi custom, which follows the Rema, is to observe the yahrtzeit during Adar I (but there are those who observe in Adar II, and even those who observe both Adars). According to Sephardi custom, which follows Rabbi Joseph Karo, the nachala is observed during Adar II. However, the yahrtzeit of one who passes away in either Adar of a leap year is observed only in the Adar in which they passed.

This Treat was last posted on February 14, 2014.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Purim's A Month

Purim is officially one month away. Begin preparing now.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Day Celebrating Humility

You probably won’t find “Be Humble Day” listed on most commercial calendars, but the concept of the day highlights a core value in Jewish life. The Book of Proverbs declares that “A person’s pride shall bring him/her low, but a person that is of a lowly spirit shall attain honor” (29:23).

Human nature desires honor, and maintaining a humble spirit can be tremendously challenging. When a person has an area that they feel is their expertise, it is easy to presume that they know more than others. This is precisely the attitude against which the Book of Proverbs warns: “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the lowly is wisdom” (11:2), A prideful expert will believe that he/she has nothing more to learn. A humble expert, on the other hand, will be confident in his/her knowledge yet open to hearing the opinion of others.

It is interesting to note that Judaism’s aversion to pride may be most applicably true in the context of religion itself. A person who has a holier-than-thou attitude is actually acting contrary to multiple Biblical verses. For instance, in the Book of Proverbs it says:

“Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; my hand upon it! he shall not be unpunished” (16:5).

“The reward of humility is the fear of the Lord, even riches, and honor, and life (22:4).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Daily Humility

Incorporate humility into your daily life.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Multi-Wick Candle

Enter a Judaica shop in search of a Havdalah candle and you might be surprised at the incredibly diverse selection: from the traditional three-braided candle, to candles woven together with a multitude of wicks to a pillar built around several wicks together. Havdalah candles can be astoundingly beautiful, but Havdalah can also be made by simply using two candles held together.

According to the Midrash, “Samuel said: Why do we recite a blessing over a lamp [flame] at the termination of Shabbat? Because it [fire] was then created for the first time” (Genesis Rabbah 11:2). It was Adam’s first experience with darkness, and, when it frightened him, God “made him two flints that he struck against each other; light came forth and he uttered a blessing over it” (Ibid.).

Describing the Havdalah ceremony, the Talmud records a debate about the candle that explains why a multi-wick candle is used: “The School of Shammai says ‘Who created the light of the fire,’ while the School of Hillel says ‘Who is creating the lights of the fire’” (Talmud Brachot 51b). It is a difference between singular and plural, and the reasoning of the School of Hillel is that “there are several illuminations in the light” (Ibid. 52b). The rule follows the School of Hillel--hence the use of the multi-wick candle.

In order to distinguish the light of Havdalah, it is necessary to derive some benefit from the Havdalah light. For this reason, it is customary to lift one’s fingers toward the flame and observe the distinction between the fingernail and the flesh.

Click here for NJOP's Spirituality at Your Fingertips Guide to Havdalah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time Left

Buy a new havdalah candle before the old one is too small to hold.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Meaning of an Olive Tree Metaphor

Biblical texts are rife with metaphors, particularly metaphors that are connected to nature. Throughout the Biblical canon, many such “nature” metaphors are used for the Children of Israel, and each one has specific meaning behind it.

Jeremiah the Prophet referred to the Jewish people as “a leafy olive tree, fair with goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11:16). In a discussion about the significance of God’s command to bring pure olive oil for the menorah (Exodus 27:20), the Midrash provides several explanations for Jeremiah’s metaphor, that have had an astounding resonance throughout history. Here is just one example:

In truth, [he comes to teach us] that just as the olive is marked out for shrivelling while it is yet on its tree, after which it is brought down from the tree and beaten, and after it has been beaten is brought up to the vat and placed in a grinding-mill, where it is ground,  then tied up with ropes, and then stones are brought and then at last it yields its oil, so it is with Israel: the nations come and beat them about from place to place, imprison them and bind them in chains, and surround them with officers, and then at last do Israel repent [of their sins] and God answers them (Exodus Rabbah 36:1).

The language may seem archaic on first read, but if one looks at the resurgence of anti-Semitism time and again throughout history, and particularly of late when one may presume that widespread democracy would make anti-Semitism anathema, it’s applicability is eerie.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Remember to check basic household staples, like olive oil, for kosher certification.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mathematics Plus

Today, February 17, is the birthday of Adolf Abraham Halevi Fraenkel, a mathematician best-known for his work on set theory. However, Fraenkel, who was born in Munich in 1891, also published work on the history of mathematics and on Judaism. Additionally, he was known for his ardent Zionism, which led to his eventual prominence as Hebrew University’s first Dean of Mathematics (and acting as Rector of Hebrew University from 1938-1940).

Like many Europeans, Fraenkel attended several universities and eventually received his doctorate summa cum laude from the University of Marburg in January 1914. Although he intended on entering an academic career, the outbreak of World War I delayed any such action. Instead, Fraenkel served in the German army for the duration of the war, most of the time in either the medical or meteorological corps. He then began teaching at the University of Marburg and eventually switched schools in 1928 when he accepted a professorship at Christian-Albert University of Kiel.

One year later, Fraenkel decided to accept an invitation for a professorship at Hebrew University, which had opened four years earlier. Due to numerous challenges, especially financial, Fraenkel returned to Kiel in 1932. But, it was not long before the Nazis began moving into power. Fraenkel took a leave of absence and returned to Jerusalem - permanently.

In addition to his straight mathematics, Fraenkel was excellent at using his knowledge. He wrote books making complex concepts approachable and applied his skills to helping assess Jewish calendar issues (like the international dateline). He also wrote and talked about Jewish thought and philosophy.

Fraenkel also involved himself in politics. During the British Mandate, he was a member of the Jewish National Council and the Jewish Assembly of Representatives. Within Israeli politics, he was a member of the Mizrachi religious party.

Abraham Fraenkel passed away unexpectedly on October 15, 1965.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Special Connection

Explore how your special interests connect to Judaism.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Until 120!

According to Wikipedia, "The oldest verified person on record was French woman Jeanne Calment (1875 - 1997), who lived to the age of 122 years." This fact is an excellent source of contemplation for why it is customary for Jews to wish each other “ad meah v’esrim” - until 120.

One hundred and twenty years is considered the ideal human life-span, as stated in Genesis (6:3): “G-d said: ‘My spirit shall not abide in a human forever, since a person is also flesh; therefore a person’s days will be 120 years.’”

Adam, the first man, lived 930 years. And Methuselah, seven generations later, is renowned for his extraordinary longevity: 969 years. But by the era of the patriarchs, the normal human lifespan had apparently dropped closer to a biblical life-span of 120 years. (Abraham lived 175 years, Sarah lived 127 years, Joseph lived 110 years, etc).

Only one person in the Torah lived exactly 120 years--to the day. According to the Midrash, Moses was born and died on the 7th day of Adar (which is today). Many understand the significance of his death at precisely 120 years to be a statement attesting to the fact that he had, without question, completed his life’s work.

One might ask how this could be true, since Moses did not merit to enter the “promised land.” While entering the land of Canaan was his life’s dream, it was not his life’s work. For the benefit of the Children of Israel and their future generations, it was necessary that the leadership be transferred. Moses, however, had led the Jews out of slavery, received the Torah for them at Sinai and judged and defended them throughout their journey in the wilderness. Through all this, Moses attained a height of communication with the Divine that had never been reached before, and never since. That was his life’s true work.

This Treat was last posted on March 3, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Your Elders

Schedule a visit to a local nursing home facility.

Monday, February 15, 2016

President William Howard Taft - Friend of the Jews

In honor of Presidents Day, Jewish Treats presents a quick look at the relationship of President William Howard Taft (1857 - 1930) and the Jewish people.

Taft’s presidency (1909 - 1913) overlapped the era of massive Jewish immigration, when Jews from Eastern European and Russian Jews came to America seeking freedom and fortune. Familiar with the Jewish community from his Cincinnati (Ohio) childhood, Taft was very receptive to the community’s needs.

Early in his presidency, Taft made his first mark on American Jewish history when he spoke during a synagogue service at Rodef Shalom Temple in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 29, 1909 (and accidentally referred to the building as a “beautiful church”).

Taft’s most significant contribution to Jewish history was the abrogation of a treaty with Russia because of Russia’s treatment of Jews. Not only were Russian Jews being persecuted, but Russia was prohibiting American Jews from entering Russia, which was contrary to the Russo-American Treaty of 1832. Taft’s decision came after significant lobbying. In November 1911, Taft met with a delegation of the American Jewish Committee, and he signed the bill abrogating the treaty on December 20, 1911.

While in the White House, Taft had several significant meetings with influential representatives of the Jewish community, including Sears chairman and renowned philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and the leading contemporary Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Silver.

In January 1913, Bnai Brith presented Taft with a gold medal, and one week later he spoke at the organization’s 70th dinner anniversary at Temple Beth-El in New York City.

Following his time in office, Taft (who later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) remained an advocate for, and admirer of, the Jewish people.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Friday, February 12, 2016

The Beauty of Blue

If you’ve never heard of a chilazon, the creature from which the ancient techelet dye was extracted, that’s because the exact identity of the creature has been lost due to time and dispersion. While in recent years, some believe that they have rediscovered the chilazon, this discovery is not universally accepted. It is interesting, however, to look at what the Talmud says about the mysterious source of this holy techelet color that is necessary for the strings of the tzitzit (fringe on a four corner garment):

The color produced by the chilazon is compared to what today is called indigo. “Rabbi Meir used to say, Why is blue specified from all the other colors? Because blue resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of [a sapphire], and a sapphire resembles the color of the Throne of Glory” (Talmud Menachot 43b). The blue dye could be synthesized, but God warned that He would distinguish the dishonest people from the honest ones, including one “who [attaches to his tzitzit (threads) dyed with] vegetable blue and maintains that it is [real] blue” (Talmud Baba Metzia 61b).

The sages provide a few descriptions that can help identify the chilazon creature, including where they can be found:

1) “The chilazon resembles the sea in its color, and in shape it resembles a fish; it appears once in seventy years, and with its blood, one dyes the blue thread, therefore it is so expensive” (Talmud Menachot 44a).

2) “He who captures a purple-fish (chilazon) and crushes it [on Shabbat] is liable to one [sin offering] should be alive so that the dye should be clearer” (Talmud Shabbat 75a). Because the sages describe crushing the fish, there are those who believe that the chilazon is a creature with a hard outer shell.

3) The chilazon was native to the region of Israel that was given to the tribe of Zebulun. When the Tribe of Zebulun worried that their lands were comprised of many lakes and rivers, God responded that the other tribes “will all require you for the chilazon” (Talmud Megillah 6a).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Fine Color

Choose something blue to decorate your Shabbat table.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Inventor Edwin Land

In honor of National Inventor’s Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Jewish inventor Edwin Herbert Land (1909 - 1991). Although Land is best known for his Polaroid camera, he actually held well over 500 patents.

The son of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, Land was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where his father owned a scrapyard. Land began studying chemistry at Harvard University in 1927, but left after his freshman year to work on his own scientific experiments. In New York City, he spent his days in the Public Library and his nights “borrowing” a lab at Columbia University. That year, he invented the first useable polarizing filter. He returned to Harvard for three years, but dropped out again and opened the Land-Wheelright Laboratories. In 1937, the company was renamed Polaroid Corporation. Land’s polarizing technology was used in a wide range of inventions, including night-vision goggles, 3-D glasses, liquid crystal displays (LCD) and even the U-2 spy plane.

In 1947, Land introduced his instant camera. The first commercial offering, at Christmas 1948, sold out immediately.

While running Polaroid, Land continued to experiment. He was known for spending days on end finessing an idea, and he once went 18 days without even changing his clothes! Land remained the head of the company until 1981, when he stepped down following the very negative reception to his Polavision instant movie system. He later founded the Rowland Institute for Science.

Land was also renowned for being ahead of his time in prioritizing hiring women and African-Americans at his labs. He received numerous awards throughout the years and, in 1957, Harvard University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

On March 1, 1991, Land passed away. A street was named in his memory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, his personal assistant shredded his papers, so most of his notes and personal reflections were lost.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


On Film

If you enjoy photography, use your hobby to record Jewish life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Leap Year

The Gregorian solar calendar used by the Western world, is based on the cycle of the sun. Technically, the tropical (solar) year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds. Therefore, for three years the calendar is 365 days long and on the fourth year an extra day is added at the end of February in order to compensate for the 5 3/4 hours not calculated into the other years. 

Unlike Western society, Jews, Muslims and the Chinese all follow a lunar calendar. Like the solar calendar, the lunar calendar has 12 months, with each month measured by the waxing and waning of the moon.

Because the lunar calendar is only 354 days long and does not correspond to the solar cycle, the lunar calendar will not relate to the seasons unless the extra days on the solar calendar are accounted for. If not, a lunar month might occur in spring one year and in winter the next. The lack of coordination between the lunar months and the seasons would not be such a problem for the Jewish calendar, except that it results in a direct contradiction to a Biblical command: “Observe the month of Aviv (Spring), and keep the Passover for the Lord your God; for in the month of Aviv, the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night” (Deuteronomy 16:1).

Consequently, the holiday of Passover must be observed in the Spring. To accomplish this, the month of Adar is doubled during a leap year (Adar I and Adar II). Why Adar? Before the Jewish calendar was fixed by mathematical calculation circa 350 C.E., the new month was determined by the Sanhedrin based on the testimony of witnesses who had seen the new moon. The Sanhedrin declared the leap year based on their observations of the season. Adar, the last month before Nisan (the month of Passover), was the deadline for the declaration of a leap year. 

According to the current calendar, a Jewish leap year occurs seven times within every 19 years. This year, 5776, is a leap year. (Today is the first day of Adar I.)

This Treat was last posted on January 31, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For the New Month

Prepare something special for dinner in honor of Rosh Chodesh.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Hampshire’s Jewish History

As Americans await the outcome of today’s New Hampshire primary, Jewish Treats takes a look at Jewish life in the ninth state of the Union. While the Jewish population of New Hampshire has never been particularly large (only about 10,000* in the 21st century), the state’s Jewish history attracted attention when, in 2014, a mikveh (ritual immersion pool) was excavated in Portsmouth by the Strawbery Banke Museum.

The mikveh was most probably built in the early 20th century, but had become nothing more than a piece of oral history after the house in which it was built was demolished in the 1960s. The excavation was exciting because it demonstrates the tireless commitment of Jews to observe their traditions and rituals no matter where they are.

The mikveh is not the Strawbery Banke Museum’s first Jewish historic landmark. In the city’s Puddle Dock neighborhood, the Shapiro House highlights the experience of Russian Jewish immigrants. The family history of Abraham and Sarah Shapiro and their daughter Molly highlights how hard these Jews worked to better themselves and to balance living both a Jewish and an American life.

Abraham Shapiro -- and the working class immigrants like him -- helped found New Hampshire’s third synagogue, Temple Israel, in 1906. In 1912, the Temple Israel Congregation dedicated its building with a grand parade featuring the Navy Band.

New Hampshire’s first two synagogues were located in the city of Manchester. Congregation Adath Yeshurun was formed in 1890. Seven years later, a breakaway group formed Anshei Sefard (which is now known as Temple Israel). The first congregation erected a synagogue edifice in 1911. The second built one in 1917. The Manchester Jewish community was fully divided until 1946, when the two congregations built one memorial chapel together on the dividing line between the city’s two Jewish cemeteries.

*According to Jewish Virtual Library...

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Pool Support

Find out how you can support your local community mikveh. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Grape Clusters and Rabbi Jossie

Rabbi Jossie (Joseph) ben Joezer was a Talmudic sage whose life marked the transition of one era to the next. According to the Talmud, when Rabbi Jossie and his colleague Rabbi Jossie ben Jochanan died, "The grape clusters came to an end. ['Grape clusters' refers to] a man in whom all is continued. Rabbi Judah reported in the name of Samuel: 'All the grape clusters who arose from the days of Moses, until Joseph ben Joezer learnt Torah like Moses our Teacher. From that time onward, they did not learn Torah like Moses our Teacher" (Talmud Temurah 15b). Following the end of the era of the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset Hagdolah), Jossie ben Joezer and Jossie ben Jochanan of Jerusalem were considered to have been the first of the era of the zugot - partnership leaders, wherein the first mentioned was the head of the Sanhedrin (Nasi) and the second was the head of the Court (Av Beit Din).

Jossie ben Joezer had several names/titles that described who he was. Jossie eesh Tzaredah indicates that he was from the town of Tzaredah. He was called Jossie Sharaya (one who permits) because several of his opinions on the laws of purity were considered extremely liberal. He was also called Chasid She'b'kehuna, the Righteous of the Priesthood, because he was a kohain (priest) of exceptional piety.

Jossie ben Joezer lived when the Syrian-Greeks ruled over Judea and served as Nasi shortly before the Maccabees revolted. He was noted for his strong opposition to all aspects of Hellenistic culture, a position that led to his tragic martyrdom. Jossie ben Joezer was one of 60 sages executed by the Syrian-Greek General Bacchides. He was handed over by his own pro-Hellenist nephew, Jakum of Zeroroth (also known as Alcimus). According to the Midrash, Jakum even taunted his uncle just before the execution. The great sage responded to the taunts by saying: "If such is the end of those who accomplish His [God's] will, what awaits those who anger Him?" (implying the terrible punishment that awaited Jakum in the World to Come). Moved by Jossie ben Joezer's deep belief and powerful words, Jakum was so remorseful of his nefarious actions that he committed suicide (Genesis Rabbah 65:22).

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Beyond Atitude

Don't let someone else's attitude keep you from doing what you know is right.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Shabbat Shabbaton

In Exodus 31:14-17, the Torah once again reminds the Jewish people to keep Shabbat. In this section, however, Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Shabbaton, which is translated as a complete rest. According to the great Biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki - France, 1040 – 1105) as understood by the Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter - Poland, 1847–1905), this means that "rest" on Shabbat is not supposed to be a rest because one has nothing else to do, but a deliberate rest during which one refrains from even thinking about the mundane activities of the week.

Hey, great! A deliberate period of "chilling out." In truth, however, the state of rest described by the Sfat Emet is not easy to attain. After all, a person’s professional life is often intricately tied up with a person’s self--and talking business is second nature.

To help you create a Shabbat Shabbaton, Jewish Treats presents five tips for resting:

A) Spend time with those who have no business cares – kids. Enjoy time with your own children, nieces/nephews, grandchildren or the children of your friends.

B) Get together with one's friend on a regular basis (every Shabbat or every other Shabbat) and talk about something you find spiritually uplifting.

C) Choose a special book to read or study on Shabbat that has nothing to do with your weekday life.

D) Play a game with friends, but keep it light and keep out the competitive edge. Play for the sake of playing.

E) And of course, one can always enjoy a Shabbat nap.

This Treat was originally published on November 30, 2012.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Create Shabbat traditions with your family and friends.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Shirt Off The Back

There are two common, related idioms that have distinct and opposite meanings: 1) giving the shirt off one’s back and 2) taking the shirt off one’s back. The former refers to an act of outstanding generosity; the latter is often regarded as an act of greed.

The origin of these related phrases, more specifically the latter phrase, might just be Exodus 22:25. Referring to a lender, the Torah states: “If you take your neighbor’s garment as security, you shall return it to him until sunset, for it is his only covering. It is his garment for his skin. With what shall he live? And it shall be [that] if he cries out to Me [God], I will hear because I am gracious” (Exodus 22:25-26).

When a person is owed money, and the debtor is slow to pay, it is easy to understand why a creditor can become angry. The Torah does not deny the creditor the right to claim an article deposited as security for the debt. It does, however, deny the creditor the right to humiliate the debtor, or to hinder his/her ability to earn enough money to repay the debt.

In a related discussion, the sages clarify why there are two similar verses on the same topic in the Torah. Exodus 22:25 refers to an article worn by day, which can be held by the creditor during the night. On the other hand, the verse in Deuteronomy 24:13 - “You shall surely restore to him the pledge when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his garment, and bless you” - refers to a garment normally worn at night.

In Western society, being in debt is often seen as a negative reflection of a person’s character. However, in Judaism, being in debt is simply regarded as a person’s financial situation. These biblical injunctions demonstrate the importance that the Torah places on upholding the dignity of every person.

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Refrain from judging the financial situations of others.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Donated By

Have you ever wondered why there are so many plaques and nameplates in synagogues and Jewish Community Centers? The plaques often note that this artwork was donated by so-and-so, in honor of so-and-so, or that this mezuzah was donated in memory of the mother of so-and-so. It seems as if sponsorships and honorifics are intertwined with charitable giving.

The reason for this is deeply rooted in the Jewish belief in the ability to bestow personal blessings on others. In Jewish tradition, a person can merit from their own good deeds and from good deeds performed in their name. This is true for both the living and the dead, as deeds done in the name of one who has passed on, still benefit the deceased’s neshama (soul). When someone dedicates an object to charity, or a room in a synagogue, every time that object is used, it is regarded as a merit to benefit the person or the soul of the person in whose name it was sponsored.

Making a charitable dedication is also an excellent means of demonstrating hakarat hatov, recognizing the good that another has done for your benefit. Sponsoring an object in someone else’s honor creates a long-lasting expression of gratitude to that person, which is also why many organizations make a point to list their donors’ names or offer plaques to the sponsors themselves. Although it may be natural to assume that the donor plaques are all about honor and pride, most often it is best to view them as a way of continually participating in the initial act of giving. The sages say that even an act of charity done only for self glorification is still considered a noble act (Mishna Brurah 154:59).

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Make it a point to express appreciation for big things and everyday things.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Making it Kosher

If you have ever researched how to make a kitchen kosher, you might have noticed a lot of references to blowtorches and boiling water. Many items in a kitchen can be made kosher, even if they have have been used to cook a bacon double cheeseburger. Usually, all it takes is some know-how and a lot of heat!

Jewish dietary laws go beyond the particular choice of foods. The surfaces and objects that come in contact with the food are also affected by a food’s kosher or non-kosher status. According to Jewish law, the ta'am (literally, flavor) of a food is transferred through heat, with heat meaning both high temperatures and foods that have a certain level of natural heat (spicy, pungent or sharp foods). For instance, if one melts a stick of butter in a new pan, that pan becomes dairy because of the hot butter. Similarly, a bowl that contains hot clam chowder cannot be used to serve kosher food without first being made kosher.

Since heat plays a role in the transfer of the ta'am (taste), heat is also necessary for the kashering process. In fact, the rule is that an item is koshered by the same process by which it absorbs. Thus, a pot that was used to cook non-kosher liquids can be kashered by boiling it in water.

There are four basic kashering methods: Libun Gamur - red hot heat (such as a blow torch); Libun Kal - "light" heat (still hot enough to scorch a piece of straw or paper); Hagalah- boiling water (either immersed in or overflowing from); and Irui - poured boiled water (for really big items like counter tops).

In order to ensure that an item is properly kashered, as well as  for safety reasons, one who wishes to transform a non-kosher kitchen into a kosher kitchen should consult their local rabbi. Those wishing to kasher individual items should also speak to a local religious authority.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

National Freedom Day

Not many people are aware that today, February 1st, is National Freedom Day in the United States.

National Freedom Day was initially advocated for by Major Richard Robert Wright Sr (1855-1947), who had been born into slavery and, following emancipation, had a successful military and business career. Wright chose February 1st because it is the day on which Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. The first observance consisted of a wreath-laying ceremony and took place at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA, in 1942.

National Freedom Day only received recognition in 1948, after World War II. President Harry S. Truman officially proclaimed the day in 1949, and, in  doing so, referenced the newly composed Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the proclamation, Harry Truman called “upon the people of the United States to pause on that day in solemn contemplation of the glorious blessings of freedom which we humbly and thankfully enjoy.”

According to the Library of Congress’ America’s Stories website, National Freedom Day’s purpose is to “promote good feelings, harmony and equal opportunity among all citizens and to remember that the United States is a nation dedicated to the ideal of freedom.”

While the Jewish community tends to focus on the significance of freedom during the Passover holiday, taking a moment to contemplate what the rights and freedoms of American life have given to the Jewish people is always beneficial. For over 200 years, Jews have felt safe to live a Jewish life, to build Jewish communities and, at the same time, become significant contributors to society at large. This freedom, especially the freedom from fear, has allowed the Jewish people to uniquely flourish in the “land of the free, and the home of the brave...”

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Free To Thank

Articulate the gratitude you feel living in a country that values freedom.