Wednesday, August 31, 2016

B'sha'a Tova

“Mazal Tov!” This Jewish expression has, without question, crossed the societal divide and is a well-known phrase throughout the western world. And while many popular entertainers and media figures may mispronounce it, it is no longer considered a foreign phrase to Americans.

While “Mazal Tov” is used in lieu of congratulations, it is most accurately translated as “good fortune.” But the Jewish faith does not believe that fickle fortune, otherwise known as “fate” or “destiny,” rules the lives of Jews, and so this too is an inaccurate translation. Rather, Mazal Tov is a means of declaring that God has brought good fortune upon a person. (For more see Rabbi Buchwald's comments on parashat Balak 5768)

Mazal Tov has come to be used as a means of congratulations for virtually every event--from getting married to getting a raise. For some situations, however, there is a far more appropriate term: “B’sha’a Tova,” which figuratively means “in a propitious time.”

What is the true meaning of the term “B’sha’a Tova”? In actuality, it is a blessing calling for the good tidings to come to a fortuitous conclusion. Most often it is said to an expectant mother, although it can be applied to any good news that has not yet come to a full conclusion, such as an engagement.

This Treat was last posted on November 4, 2010.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Well Wishes

Be happy for other people's special moments.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Houston Healthcare

Many cities have Jewish hospitals, but only Houston has a Jewish Institute of Medical Research.

In the 1950s, Houston’s Jewish community sought to create a medical facility that had a specific Jewish feel, but found that they did not have a large enough population to support the endeavor. When, in 1958, Dr. Bernard Farfel learned that the federal government was offering matching funds for the creation of medical research facilities, it was the perfect opportunity for the Jews of Houston to contribute to the city’s famed medical community.

The Jewish community raised over $450,000, which they donated to Baylor College of Medicine.  The building for the Jewish Institute for Medical Research was designed with a beautiful Star of David on the exterior and a mezuzah on the doorpost. Since its creation, the Institute has not only drawn outstanding medical professionals to the area,  its doctors have been involved in key research that has benefited all humanity.

While the Jewish Institute for Medical Research was created as a communal effort, one member of the local Jewish community had already become well-known for his philanthropic support of Houston’s medical institutions. Ben Taub (1889–1982), the son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary, was born and raised in Houston. A successful businessman and real estate developer, he dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort serving on the boards of important city organizations and particularly on medical facilities. He donated land and money to so many worthwhile city institutions that when the city opened a new charity hospital in 1963, they named it the Ben Taub General Hospital in his honor. In 1986, Baylor College of Medicine opened the Ben Taub Research Center.

This Treat was written in honor of the founding of the city of Houston on August 30, 1836.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Time

If you have time available, volunteer at your local hospital.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Walk This Way

If God has no corporeal form, which is a basic Jewish belief, then why are there so many physical references to God in the Torah? There are references to God hiding His face (Deuteronomy 31:17), to His feet (Exodus 31:17) and even to His enjoying the aroma of certain offerings (Genesis 8:21).   

The simplest explanation for these anthropomorphic terms is that the Torah is written in a language that humanity can understand and relate to. One can, however, see a more meaningful explanation by noting that the Jewish people are commanded “After the way of God shall you walk” (Deuteronomy 13:5).

Rabbi Chama ben Rabbi Chanina wondered what is actually meant by this verse.  “Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Divine Presence... But rather, [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. Just as He clothes the should you also clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, visited the should you also visit the sick. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, comforted should you also comfort mourners. Just as the Holy one, blessed be He, buried the should you also bury the dead” (Talmud Sotah 14a).

The narrative of creation describes God as creating Adam in God’s image. One way this can be understood is that each person has the ability to be Godlike by emulating God. The world is full of opportunities to walk in God’s way, we just have to see them.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be On The Lookout

Be on the lookout for opportunities to do something helpful for another person.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Conscripted for Life?

On August 26, 1827, Czar Nicholas I set into motion the terrible ordeal of the cantonists. Cantonist schools, which had originally served as pre-military boarding schools for military sons, were transformed into conscription centers.  

While the cantonist laws affected all Russian citizens, and was harder on minorities such as Polish Catholics, Romani and Muslims, the decree was particularly harsh on the Jews. Whereas conscription for non-Jews began at age 18 (and lasted until 35), Jewish conscription was set for the ages of 12-25. However, often times, boys as young as 8 were sent to serve. They remained in the cantonist schools until 18, at which time they began their 25 years of army service. 

At first the conscription order was for 2 out of every 1000, the same as among other populations. However, the required quotas changed and a disproportionate number of Jews served as cantonists. 

The responsibility for recruitment was placed on the Jewish community leaders. With restrictions limiting the recruitment of adults, the recruits were often children from the poorest families. Many boys eligible for conscription fled the country, while others disfigured themselves to become ineligible.

Beginning in 1844, the Russian government decided to increase the missionizing pressure already in place on the Jews (and, to some extent, other minorities) in the military. Many boys lost all knowledge of their heritage. However, it is significant to note that only about 1/3 of the youth succumbed to baptism (and not a few of them tried to return to Judaism later in life). Only about 2% of the adult conscripts converted.

After Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (a period of time during which the conscription efforts were significantly increased), Czar Alexander II realized that he needed to modernize the army. One means of doing this was to abolish the Cantonist Decree and to order the return of all unconverted cantonists under the age of 20 to their families. (Unfortunately, youth who had accepted baptism had to stay with their government assigned “godparents”). 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Shabbat L'Chaim

Enjoy a nice wine in honor of Shabbat.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


“If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, sows in the sowing season, reaps in the reaping season (and etc.)...what is to become of the Torah?” (Talmud Brachot 35b). 

This question, asked by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, is one that has been pondered by dedicated Jews for generations. While the mitzvah of studying the Torah is compared in greatness to all other mitzvot, one must stll earn a livelihood.

Rabbi Shimon’s question is derived from a conversation about a verse in Deuteronomy 11, in which God promises that if the Jewish people keep His commandments then God will send the right amount of rain in the proper seasons so that “you (the Jewish people) will gather in your grain” (Deuteronomy 11:14).

Rabbi Shimon proposed his own answer, suggesting “that when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others.” It is, however, important to note Rabbi Ishmael’s understanding of the verse: “And you shall gather in your grain.” Rabbi Ishmael sees in this verse an implication that one is to combine the study of them [the words of Torah] with a worldly occupation (Brachot 35b). The ability to combine these two vocations is part of the blessings of following God’s words. 

There are, of course, some for whom studying Torah is their profession. In fact, when the 12 tribes were complete, the Tribe of Issachar dedicated itself to studying Torah while the Tribe of Zebulon worked to support them. Today, there are many Jews who have been able to follow Issachar’s path thanks to those who fulfill the role of Zebulon. Many others, however, live by Rabbi Ishmael’s ideal and choose to dedicate time for Torah study while working in other fields.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn at Lunch

If there are several interested Jews in your office, see if you can arrange a "lunch and learn" once a week.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Changing Ukraine

Kiev, Odessa, Zhitomyr, Uman...the cities of Ukraine are places marked in Jewish history for both horror and hope. Jews have lived in Ukraine for well-over a thousand years, and there is even mention of a Jewish Gate as one of the three gates into Medieval Kiev. 

By the 15th century, Ukraine was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe and was the region where, in the 18th century, the chassidic movement developed. Unfortunately, Ukrainian nationalism often led to tragic violence against the Jewish people, including the Chmielnicki Pogroms in the 17th century. Needless to say, the Holocaust was particularly horrific in Ukraine, and its Jewish population was persecuted brutally during the Communist era that followed World War II.

By 1989, there were approximately 840,000 Jews left in Ukraine (where once there had been close to 1.5 million).

Twenty five years ago today (August 24, 1991), the people of Ukraine declared their independence from the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, in the new era of freedom, a large percentage of the Jewish population chose to leave Ukraine, and many moved to Israel.

Although anti-Semitism certainly still exists anti-Semitism in the country, Ukraine has made efforts to recognize the role played by Jews in its history and to show deeper appreciation for its current Jewish population. Organizations have been created to look after Jewish interests, and there has been a religious revival since communist restrictions were lifted. Beginning in Fall 2007, Ukrainian government has periodically released Torah scrolls from the government archives that had been confiscated by previous Ukrainian regimes. 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Orderly Accounts

Create a separate bank account from which to donate to charity.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Something Extra In Your Lettuce?

Here’s a delicious-sounding salad: romaine lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, red onion, red cabbage, chickpeas and strawberries. At first glance, this combination of fresh vegetables, chickpeas and berries sounds like the perfect easy kosher lunch. All of the ingredients listed are, by their very nature, kosher. However, five of the seven items are also natural habitats for a variety of tiny insects.

The Torah states that eating insects, referred to in scripture as “swarming things,” is not just prohibited, but detestable. “And every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:41).

The sages clarify: “Said Rab Judah: If one [knowingly] eats a worm in a cabbage, he incurs flogging. A certain fellow [once deliberately] ate a worm in a cabbage and Rab Judah had him chastised” (Talmud Maakot 16b).

Most people would not deliberately eat a worm or a gnat but do not think beyond these common insects. They certainly are not concerned about tiny mites and aphids that are the most frequent infestations. But if one knows that spinach leaves are often the home to these tiny creatures, does that not make eating unchecked spinach a deliberate violation?

Don’t worry, Popeye can still have his spinach, but only after the spinach leaves have been thoroughly cleaned and checked for bugs. Kashrut experts around the world have compiled, and continue to compile, the different methods for extracting the bugs. Some produce must simply be rinsed, while others must have their leaves individually inspected with a bright light, and still others (such as dried fruit) must be cut open in order to be checked. For more information on how to eat bug-free produce, most major kashrut organizations have detailed instructions available online for many varieties of produce, and it is best to check the necessary method for each food item.

This Treat was last posted on June 17, 2013,

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Good Food

Maintain a healthy, well-balanced and kosher diet.

Monday, August 22, 2016

All Generations

According to recent reports, Western civilization is a rapidly aging society. The elderly, the reports warn, will soon outnumber the youth, and society will have to come up with new ways to support those who are no longer able to provide for themselves. This seems like a great burden for the younger generation, particularly when they themselves face significant challenges trying to make ends meet. 

According the Jewish tradition, respecting and showing concern for seniors is not just nice, it is a specific mitzvah:  “You shall rise up before the hoary [aged] head and honor the face of the old man...” (Leviticus 19:32). Fulfilling this mitzvah even with one’s own parents or extended family is not always easy. The mitzvah, however, is far broader than one’s immediate relatives and extends to all seniors. 

Being aware of the need to care for and include the elder generation has an interesting historical basis in the Torah. Just after the plague of hail, Pharaoh contemplated allowing the Children of Israel to go and worship God. He then asked Moses whom he would take with him into the wilderness. Moses responded, “With our youth and with our elders we will go...” (Exodus 10:9). Moses thus informed Pharaoh that everyone was included. While there was no question that the youth, the future, needed to go with Moses, one could have thought that it would be more sensible to leave the elderly behind lest they become a burden on the journey. Moses, however, makes no distinction in importance because no matter one’s age, every Jew is important to the nation.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Make an effort to spend time with older family members.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Shabbat L'Chaim

Enjoy a nice wine in honor of Shabbat.

No Holiday As Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, the Talumud states that: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av...” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised...’” (Proverbs 31:30).

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu B’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Today is Tu B’Av.

This Treat was last posted on July 31, 2015.

On the 15th of Av: What Hoshea Did

How can one action be both praiseworthy and unacceptable at the same time? Such was the conundrum of Hoshea ben Elah, the last King of Israel (the Northern Kingdom of Ten Tribes).

After the unified Kingdom reigned over by David and Solomon split in two, Jereboam ben Nevat, the northern king, set up two golden calves (one in Bethel and the other in Dan) as roadblocks to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem, announcing to the people, “Here is your God!”

The two kingdoms were separated for more than two centuries, and throughout that time, roadblocks prevented access between them. The Jews of the Kingdom of Israel could not go down to Jerusalem to partake of the festivals or to offer sacrifices. The Talmud describes the situation thus: “Jeroboam had stationed guards on the roads to prevent the Israelites from going up [to Jerusalem] for the festivals, and Hoshea disbanded them, and for all that time the Israelites did not go up to the festivals. Thereupon God decreed that for those years during which the Israelites had not gone up to the festival they should go a corresponding number into captivity” (Talmud Gittin 88a).

Hoshea’s action of removing the roadblocks was praiseworthy and is noted as one of the positive actions that occurred on Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av. However, the sages also note that, upon removing the roadblocks, Hoshea said: “Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire” (Talmud Taanit 31a). He did not tell them to go to Jerusalem as he should have, and therefore the Israelites continued to follow false gods. The fact that they did not choose to return to tradition led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians.

This Treat was last posted on July 22, 2013.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Comforting Shabbat

Try to go to synagogue and hear the comforting words of the Haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Athlete and Architect

When Arnold Guttmann was 13 years old, his father drowned in the Danube River, and Arnold decided that he needed to learn how to swim. Six years later, after changing his name to Alfred Hajos (which is Hungarian for sailor), he won two gold medals at the very first Olympics in Athens. He came in first in both the 100 meter and the 1200 meter freestyle in races that were conducted in cold and choppy ocean waters.

Although swimming was the only sport in which Hajos competed in the Olympics, he won national tournaments in Track and Field (sprinting, hurdles and discus) as well. Additionally, Hajos was a member of Hungary’s national football team for several years, later serving as the team’s coach.

Hajos was able to meld his love of sports into his professional life. At the time of the first Olympics, Hajos was studying architecture at the Polytechnical University (where the dean was not particularly supportive of his frequent absences to compete!) As an architect, Hajos specialized in designing and building sports facilities. Some of the arenas that he built are still in use, as is the well-known Hotel Aranybika in Debrecen, Hungary.

Hajos’ architectural skills won him another Olympic medal in 1924. From 1912-1948, the Olympic Games included several artistic categories (architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture). All entries had to be inspired by sports. Hajos who partnered with Hungarian colleague Dezso Lauber, won a silver medal for a stadium design. It is interesting to note that no gold medal was awarded that year.

Imprisoned briefly in the Budapest ghetto during World War II, Hajos’ connections were able to keep him and his family safe from the Nazis. In 1953, the International Olympic Committee awarded him an Olympic diploma of merit. He passed away in 1955 in Budapest.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.



As the school year begins anew, make sure the children in your life are receiving a Jewish education as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

King and Queen of Hearts

In Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (a book of Midrash attributed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus), it is stated: "Chatan domeh l’melech", a groom is similar to a king.

While this statement is the source of many of the customs that are practiced by those attending to a bride and groom (as to how they are treated like royalty, particularly at the wedding, and during the week after the wedding), it is also a key idea in the Jewish attitude toward marriage.

Ideally, marriage is a union in which two people become one. This does not mean that either person is subsumed into the other, but that they together form one complete unit. And yet, at the same time, this often feels contrary to human nature. That is because marriage, like all things valuable, requires work--working together and working on improving one’s self.

One of the most important tools in this process is gaining the understanding that, according to Jewish tradition, one can only come to love another by giving to them. And it takes the right attitude to be able to give in a marriage (especially when things don’t always go the way one wants).

So one might ask: For how long after the wedding is a groom similar to a king? The answer, of course, depends upon how long the husband treats his wife like a queen! Jewish wisdom teaches that if a man treats his wife like a queen--puts her ahead of himself, seeks out ways to make her life easier, buys her little presents to show that he is thinking of her--then she will naturally desire to do the same for him. 

This Treat was last posted on February 13, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Alone Time

Spend time with the people you love without electronic devices.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

No Chance to Compete

The International Olympics were conceived as a competition meant to foster peace and comradery. Alas, that lovely ideal has often been too difficult for people to live up to. 

One of the most contentious Olympic Games was the 1936 Berlin Olympics. By the summer of 1936, Hitler’s hold on power was clear and the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazis was rapidly becoming apparent. That year, many Olympic dreams were shattered by the vile behavior of the host nation.

After the American Olympic Committee rejected a petition for a national boycott of the Games, individual athletes had to choose between taking a stand and fulfilling their personal dreams. For some athletes, it was the end of their athletic career.

Syd Koff (Sybil Tabachnikoff 1912-1999) had followed her Track and Field dreams against her parents’ wishes. A native of the Lower East Side, NY, she used to sneak out to train. Her natural talent caught the attention of other athletes and she began to compete. In 1932, Koff traveled to Tel Aviv - a three week ocean journey - and won four gold medals at the Maccabia Games. She earned two more at the 1935 Maccabia Games.

Although she greatly desired the chance to compete at the Olympics, Koff decided that she could not participate in a country that was persecuting her fellow Jews. Perhaps she imagined that she would compete in 1940, but those Games were cancelled due to war. While Syd Koff never had the opportunity to go for Olympic Gold, she certainly earned gold in standing up publicly, at great personal cost, against anti-Semitism.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Make a Stance

Do not look the other way at anti-Semitism, racism or even individual bullying.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The First Neighborhood

Until the end of the 19th century, the barren hills outside of the 16th century walls of Jerusalem’s Old City were the territory of marauders and wild animals. Inside the walls, overcrowding and poverty were the challenges faced by the Jewish, Muslim and Christian residents.

When American Jewish businessman and philanthropist Judah Touro passed away in 1854, his will appointed British philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore and New Orleans activist Gershon Kursheedt as co-executors of the $50,000 he bequeathed to the Jews of the Holy Land (approximately $1.34 million in 2016 dollars).

Montefiore and Kursheedt traveled to Jerusalem with the intention of using the funds to build a hospital. They purchased a plot of land just outside the walls facing Mount Zion, and on August 15, 1855, with great fanfare, the cornerstone for the future building was laid.

Back in England, Montefiore arranged for a windmill to be built on the land to serve as a means of providing food and livelihood for future residents of the area.  He returned to Jerusalem with Kursheedt in 1857, but with a new plan after discovering that a hospital had just been built by the Rothschilds of Paris. Montefiore proposed an Almshouse instead.

Completed in 1860, the long rowhouse contained 16 small apartments. There was a modern iron pump, a mikveh and a community oven. Montefiore named the community Mishkenot She’ananim, taken from Isaiah 32:18, which means “pleasant dwellings.” The house and the windmill were the only buildings outside the Old City.

Although living conditions in the Old City were painfully challenging, finding residents for the new building proved incredibly difficult. In fact, even with a financial incentive, those who came to the neighborhood preferred to return to the walled city at night to sleep in safety. Eventually, however, proper residence was established, and in 1866, Montefiore added a second, smaller complex.

Today, the buildings and the windmill of Mishkenot She’ananim are a popular Jerusalem tourist site. Although it went through rough times (bordering on Jordanian territory from 1948-1967 and deteriorating into a slum), the first neighborhood of the new city of Jerusalem was refurbished in 1973 and is now an elegant international cultural institute and conference center.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Stay with the Honest

Donate to causes that you know to be honest.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

Today, Jews all over the world are observing the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,946 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

*This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple.

While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including the Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.

By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. Around 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.

Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zechariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)

This Treat was originally posted on August 7, 2008.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Have a meaningful, healthy and easy fast.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tisha B'Av is Tomorrow*

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is tomorrow.*

(*)This year the 9th of Av is Shabbat so the fast is observed from sundown Saturday until nightfall on Sunday. Havdallah, the ceremony concluding Shabbat, is postponed until Sunday evening.

The restrictions of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. 

Aside from the differences in synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).

 Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

2. The destruction of the First Temple.
3. The destruction of the Second Temple.
4. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.
5. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar (see below).

Click here for later events on this date 

*This Treat was last posted on July 24, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Elegies (Kinnot)

An elegy is defined as a mournful poem or a lament. In Hebrew, an elegy is known as a kinna. On Tisha B’Av, when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, it is customary for kinnot to be read at both the evening and morning services. Kinnot traditions may vary according to one’s community, specifically as to which kinnot are recited, by whom and using which type of chant or tune. 

The majority of the kinnot are lamentations over the loss of the Temple - odes to that which was lost and to the horrors that occurred in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. Some kinnot are poetic reiterations of chapters from the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Ezekiel, and others express a longing to return from exile to the Promised Land. Although the majority of the kinnot focus on the loss of the Temple, later authors added elegies for other tragic events such as the First Crusade (1096), the burning of the Talmud in Paris (1242) and the expulsion from Spain (1492). More recently, several kinnotlamenting the tragedy of the Holocaust have been included in the Tisha B’Av service. 

Of the kinnot whose authorship is known, many were written by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir (c. 600 C.E.), whose poems often include complex patterns of acrostics, rhyme and repetition. Other well-known authors of kinnot are Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141), Rabbi Meir ben Baruch(Maharam of Rothenberg 1220-1293) and Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam(Bobover Rebbe 1908-2000).

This Treat was last posted on August 5, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pleasant Shabbat

Although Shabbat is the 9th of Av, mourning is pushed off until the 10th. Enjoy your day of rest.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

It Happened In Argentina

Aside from the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, many tragic events in Jewish history are associated with Tisha B’Av (technically the 9th of Av, but some of the associated events took place shortly before or after the 9th). One of the most recent tragedies occurred on the 10th of Av 5754 (July 18, 1994), when a bomb exploded at the AsociaciĆ³n Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. Tragically, 87 people were killed and over 100 were injured. It was the city’s second terrorist attack directed at Jews in two years, the first of which was a car bomb that was detonated outside of the Israeli embassy on March 17, 1992.

The AMIA originated as the city’s Chevra Kaddisha (burial society) in 1894. As the Argentinian Jewish community grew and developed, AMIA became a multifaceted organization, and, at the time of the bombing, the five story AMIA building was a community center that housed not only offices, but recreational space and a healthcare cooperative as well. 

In an era of complicated international relations, the investigation turned into a multi-decade story of intrigue, cover-up, bribery and mismanagement. To this day, the case is still open, even though it is commonly acknowledged that the bombing was carried out by Hezbollah, just as the 1992 bombing was the work of Islamic Jihad – both organizations supported by Iran.

The AMIA is now housed in an 8-story building and serves a vibrant community of approximately 200,000 Jews.

This Treat was last posted on August 6, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Get Out!

The history of the Jews in Europe can almost be read as a timeline of expulsions. At one time or another, Jews have either been expelled from, or prohibited to settle in, almost every country in Europe, both eastern and western.

While the Spanish expulsion is by far the most famous, the expulsion of the Jews from England was one of the longest legal expulsions on record. The initial Edict of Expulsion was issued by King Edward I on July 18, 1290 and was not removed from the books until 1656 (although individual Jews were sometimes given permission to visit, while others entered as conversos fleeing the Spanish Inquisition).

Many historians believe that a majority of European expulsions had, at the heart of the matter, a financial incentive. More often than not, the expelled Jews were forbidden from taking their wealth with them, and their possessions greatly enriched the crown. In the case of King Edward I, however, the financial incentives were minimal. The Jews of England had already been drained dry through extensive taxation and by the 1275 Statute of Jewry, which outlawed all usury/money-lending, a primary Jewish occupation. The Statute also mandated other anti-Semetic measures such as restrictions on Jewish settlement and a law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge. While the Statute of Jewry was meant to encourage Jews to enter other professions, the local population was not receptive to Jews entering their guilds and crafts.

Religious zeal and political maneuvering were also strong motives for the European expulsions. Edward I had already fought in one crusade in the Holy Land and was politically supporting another.The Edict of Expulsion and ban on Jewish settlement is often examined by Shakespearean scholars. After all, if no Jews lived in England, on whom did Shakespeare model his infamous Shylock

This Treat was last posted on August 1, 2014.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn From It

Make yourself aware of Jewish history.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Unique Olympic Record

The story of Otto Herschmann is one of triumph and tragedy. One of the few Olympic athletes to ever win medals in two different sports, Herschmann was also the only athlete to receive a medal while serving as president of his country’s Olympic committee. Unfortunately, his status as a national hero of Austria meant nothing to the Nazis.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Herschmann was 19 when he competed as a swimmer in the very first Olympics (Athens 1896). Competing in the open ocean, on a course marked out by floating pumpkins, Herschmann earned a silver medal in the 100 meter freestyle.

Although Herschmann earned a doctorate in Law, his real passion was sports. After publishing a book on sports (Wiener Sports, 1904), he returned to Athens to compete as an individual fencer but did not win a medal. In 1912, Herschmann became the president of the Austrian Olympic Committee and competed in the team sabre fencing competition, earning his second silver medal.

Following the 1912 Stockholm Games, Herschmann traveled throughout the United States to study the American methods of training. He noted that in America, all athletes received intense training, whereas in Europe, only those not naturally gifted received training. He vowed to change this system in Europe. Perhaps with this in mind he next served as the President of the Austrian Swimming Federation, from 1914 until 1932.

There is no record of Herschmann being connected to Jewish life, but that mattered little to the Nazis. In 1942, Herschmann was sent to the Izbica Concentration Camp. Shortly thereafter he was sent to Sobibor, where he was murdered by the Nazis.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Extra Time

Develop a hobby that helps you stay healthy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mitzvah With A Shovel

The Jewish customs surrounding death, burial and mourning are woven together to provide both respect for the departed and comfort for the mourners. One such custom that may seem startling or harsh at first glance is the involvement of the mourners in the actual process of burying the deceased. At a traditional Jewish funeral, it is customary for those in attendance to shovel dirt into the grave until it is full. Filling in the grave is so important that until it is done the immediate family does not begin its official period of mourning, remaining in a state known as aninut.

During the funeral, when the graveside service has concluded, members of the mourning family* are invited to take a shovel and place dirt upon the coffin. After each member of the immediate family (if they so wish) has participated in the mitzvah, the shovels are customarily placed back in the ground so that other family members can participate in covering the grave.

One reason for this custom, is connected to the relationship of the neshama (soul) and the body. When a person passes away, the neshama does not hurry to leave this world, but rather hovers near the body. According to the opinion of Rabbi Abahu, the neshama remains nearby until the grave is closed (Talmud Shabbat 152b). The neshama, therefore, bears witness to the relatives’ desire to complete the mitzvah of escorting the dead.

While some mourners may hesitate to perform this practice, the act of burying the dead greatly benefits the mourners as well, since this physical activity often gives the mourners’ a sense of closure, allowing the mourners to prepare to go on with life.
*This varies by community. In some communities, immediate family members do not participate in filling in the grave.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Respect Never Ends

Remember to always be respectful of those who have departed this world.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Jewish Judo

If you have tuned in to the Olympics, you have possibly glimpsed scenes from the numerous levels of the women’s Judo competition. While Judo has been part of the Olympic games since 1964, a women’s division has only been included since 1988 - and then only because of the dedication of Judo’s Jewish mama.

Brooklyn born Rusty Kanogoki (Rena Glickman 1935-2009) discovered Judo in her early adulthood. Life so far had not been easy for her, and she found order for herself through the disciplined focus necessary to master this martial art. And she was good at it.

In 1959, Rusty discovered that as successful as she was at her local dojo (training studio), women were not particularly welcome at tournaments. She won a YMCA competition without having revealed her gender, but the gold medal was rescinded when it was discovered that she was a woman.

In 1962, Rusty traveled to Japan to further her Judo studies at the Kodokan Institute and became the first woman allowed to train on the men’s level. When she returned to the United States, Rusty began training others and directing tournaments. She organized the first female world championship, held in Madison Square Garden in 1980, by mortgaging her home.

By now Rusty was aiming to include women’s Judo in the Olympics. Her first success was the inclusion of women’s Judo as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic. It became an official sport at the 1992 Barcelona games.

Rusty Kanokogi was the first woman to reach the 7th dan (advanced level) in Judo. She was awarded Japan’s highest civilian honor: the Order of the Rising Sun (4th class) and was inducted into both the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. She passed away in November 2009, a few months after the New York State YMCA awarded her a gold medal for her lifetime achievements - a replacement for the one they had refused to give her at her first competition.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Watch With Awe

If you are watching the Olympics, take a moment and contemplate the incredible abilities God gave the human body.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Powerful Months

“Rab Judah the son of Samuel ben Shilath said in the name of Rav. ‘Just as with the beginning of Av rejoicings are curtailed, so with the beginning of Adar rejoicings are increased” (Talmud Taanit 29a).

While this Talmudic passage can be a reference to the way people behave in light of the holidays connected to those months (Tisha B’Av is the 9th of Av, Purim is the 14th of Adar), Jewish tradition infers an actual change in the emotional atmosphere during those times of the year.

It is interesting to note that these months are also the months in which two of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people passed away. The first of Av is Aaron’s yahrtzeit. In addition to being the first High Priest and the brother of Moses, Aaron was renowned for his pursuit of peace between individuals. Pursuing peace is particularly important during the month of Av, because it is stated that the Second Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred.

Moses, on the other hand, passed away on the 7th of Adar (which was also his birthday). Raised in the palace of Pharaoh, Moses turned the world upside down by rescuing the Children of Israel from slavery when the situation seemed hopeless for them. This is the optimistic power of the month of Adar that we celebrate with joy during the holiday of Purim, when the evil plans of Haman were overturned.              

During Av we curtail our rejoicing so that we can focus on more serious matters, and in so doing repair our relationships others. During Adar, however, we increase rejoicings, because it is a time when we acknowledge that we can be saved from any situation, no matter how dire.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Beginning Av

Over the next nine days, be extra conscientious in how you interact with others.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Judge Fairly

The Sixth Amendment in the United States’ Bill of Rights (requiring a speedy trial, impartial jury, confrontation of witnesses, council, etc) is, perhaps, one of the most difficult to properly observe. After all, a judge is a human being with set opinions and subconscious biases. While the sixth Amendment addresses the practical logistics of a fair trial, Torah law addresses the behavior of the judges themselves.

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, the Torah commands: “Hear [disputes] between your brothers and judge justly between a man and his brother, and between his litigant. You shall not favor persons in judgment; [rather] you shall hear the small just as the great; you shall not fear any man...”(Deuteronomy 1:16-17).

According to Rabbi Hanina, a Talmudic sage, this verse serves as “a warning to the court not to listen to the claims of one litigant in the absence of his opponent; and to the litigant not to explain his case to the judge before his adversary appears” (Sanhedrin 7a).

And while Rabbi Hanina includes the litigants’ responsibility to refrain from taking advantage of being alone with the judge, the sages place a much greater focus on reminding the judges of the level of impartiality necessary to judge fairly. For instance, Reish Lakish reads the admonition “You shall judge righteously” (Deuteronomy 1:16) to mean, “Consider rightly all the aspects of the case before rendering the decision” (Sanhedrin 7a).

How far-reaching is the judge’s responsibility? The Talmud cites the case of Rav who was approached by a man at whose house he had once stayed. Upon hearing that the man had a lawsuit he needed adjudicated, Rav immediately disqualified himself and turned the case over to Rabbi Kahana (Sanhedrin 7a-7b).

This Treat was last posted on July 14, 2010.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What's Fair

Try to remain impartial when hearing the disputes of others.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Jews of Kaifeng

Until the late 19th century, the Chinese city of Kaifeng was home to an active and dedicated Jewish community that had been there for hundreds of years. The Jews that formed the Kaifeng community are believed to have arrived as merchants on the Silk Road trading route, perhaps as early as the tenth century.

The Jewish merchants were welcomed by the Song Dynasty and settled in the capital city (Kaifeng). They were free to practice their religion and seem to have become a unique part of Kaifeng society.

Located on the flood plain of the Yellow River, Kaifeng underwent numerous conquests. When the city fell to the invading Jin Dynasty in 1127, many of these Jews fled with the Imperial family to Hangzhou. However, a core community remained in Kaifeng to rebuild, and by 1163 they were enough of a presence to built themselves a synagogue. In 1232 the Mongols overtook the city, and in 1368 the Ming Dynasty took control of Kaifeng. Through all of these changes in control, the Jewish community remained. Several times they requested and received permission to either rebuild or expand the synagogue, the latest rebuilding taking place in 1663.

With little pressure to convert, the Kaifeng Jews were able to maintain their culture, and it is believed that they maintained a relatively high level of observance. It is known that they maintained the rules of kashrut because the Chinese referred to them as “The Sect that Plucks out the Sinews.”

The changing dynamics of the city as it flooded or was conquered, as well as China’s isolationist policies, slowly lead to the decline of the community. The last rabbi of Kaifeng died in 1810 and a flood destroyed the synagogue in 1860. By then, however, the community had lost its ability to read Hebrew and had even sold off their Torah scrolls.

Much of what is known about the ancient community comes from steles, an upright stone slab bearing an inscription, that survived from the years 1489, 1512, and 1663.

Many residents of modern day Kaifeng are aware of their biological connection to the ancient Jewish community, and there is an active movement to reignite the community. Because the community married into the general populace, those choosing to return to their roots are undergoing conversions and several locals have moved to Israel.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Summer Smart

Protecting your health is a mitzvah so remember to put on sunscreen if you are spending time in the sun.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Uprising At Treblinka

The heinous plans of the Nazis seemed too horrible to be credible. Who could imagine “civilized” men conceiving of Operation Reinhard, a plan to oversee the building of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka (II)*, camps whose sole purpose was mass murder? At these camps, the only prisoners who were kept alive were those who worked in the death camp operations.

Treblinka began operating in July 1942, when trains full of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto arrived. The Jews were immediately prepared for the gas chambers. To maintain calm, the twisted commandant created the veneer of a regular train station, giving the prisoners a sense of false hope.

Noticing that the frequency of the transports of Jewish victims was slowing down and aware of the rumors that the Allies were winning, an “Organizing Committee” of Jewish prisoners was formed to plan a mass escape from the camp. Some of members of the committee had military backgrounds, while others had positions of access (such as Zev Kurland, a kapo at the camp’s hospital). In April 1943, one of the leaders of the committee, Dr. Julian Chorazycki (who was a former Polish Army officer), was caught with money intended to buy weapons. After Dr. Chorazycki poisoned himself, rather than risk torture and confession, the Committee focused on finding weapons within the camp. They made a spare key to the weapons’ storeroom.

On August 2, 1943, the Organizing Committee led an uprising at Treblinka. They attacked the guards and set fire to several buildings. The Committee fought valiantly so that prisoners could escape. While several hundred managed to leave the camp, sadly fewer than 100 actually survived.

The damage caused by the uprising only delayed Treblinka operations for a few days. However, since the Germans were losing the war they wished to erase all evidence of their nefarious deeds. They began dismantling Treblinka in October 1943. By January, nothing remained except a “farmhouse” in which a Ukrainian guard pretended to farm while keeping away anyone who tried to learn the truth.

*Treblinka I was a small work camp that was already in existence.

At Your Assistance

Pay particular attention to show respect and assist senior members of your community.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Parsing Pilpul

In the world of academia, there is a constant pressure to “publish or perish,” which serves as motivation for scholars to look at their particular specialties in new and innovative ways. While there is no such imperative to publish among Torah scholars, there has always been a quest to look at every aspect of Jewish life and law from many different angles.

One of the best-known forms of traditional scholarship is called pilpul. It is defined (by Websters) as “penetrating investigation, disputation and drawing of conclusions, especially in Talmudic study” (Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary, Published 1913 by C & G Merriam, Co.).

Pilpul is often used to reconcile different sources and view points in order to explain ideas that seem to contradict themselves within Jewish law and Jewish texts. These types of dialectics were reserved mostly for the highest level of Jewish scholarship. It is often considered a tool for those who are particularly sharp-witted. It is interesting to note that the word pilpul is connected to the Hebrew word pilpel, which refers to black pepper, hence sharp analysis.

Different generations and different communities have placed more or less emphasis on pilpul. The period of the Tosafists, scholars in France and Germany around the 14th century, is one era particularly noted for its use of pilpul. A century or two later, however, pilpul itself became the end, not the means, so that those engaged in pilpul were accused of improperly placing greater importance on the building of intricate arguments at the expense of the actual, essential points of law.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Find a Partner

Find a partner with whom to study Jewish texts and thought.