Friday, December 30, 2016

The Challenge of Fitting

The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which almost always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph, the son of Jacob, from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah.

The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in a non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him by the name Tzaphenath Pa'nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him.

Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, he declared: “...for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).

Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession.

Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks--their dress, their language, their names--they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle.

Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Beauty and the Greeks

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Times to Remember

Remember to light your Chanukah lights before your Shabbat candles on Friday night and after Havdallah on Saturday night.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Chanukah and Divine Order

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

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

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. The commandment of Shabbat states: "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hannah and Her Sons

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

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

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

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

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

When the young boy refused to yield, he too was put to death. As her child lay dying, Hannah requested that, when he arrived in heaven, he remind Abraham of how he (Abraham) had been willing to sacrifice one son to prove his loyalty to God, while she had sacrificed seven; for Abraham it had been a test, for her it was reality. Pleading with God that she should be considered worthy to join her children in the World to Come, Hannah, fearing torture, jumped from a roof and died.
By teaching her sons that there are times one must give up even life itself for the sake of one's beliefs, Hannah made a stand that resonates with all who hear her story.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Chaukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Tonight

Rosh Chodesh Tevet begins after sunset tonight, celebrate with a special meal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Maccabee's Who's Who

Mattityahu (Mattathias): A High Priest descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and then slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.

Yochanan (John) Gaddi: The oldest son of Mattityahu fought alongside his brothers. His death at the hands of the sons of Jambri from Medeba (in Moab, now Jordan) is recorded in the first Book of Maccabees.

Shimon (Simon) Thassi: The second son of Mattityahu, Shimon fought alongside his brothers. He was the first ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty, who came to power around 142 B.C.E, and also served as the High Priest.

Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee: The third son of Mattityahu, Yehuda was the recognized leader of the revolt after his father’s death (about a year into the revolt). He is considered one of the greatest Jewish warriors in history. After the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple, Judah continued to lead the battle against the still occupying Syrian-Greeks. The battles continued even after Yehuda’s death in battle in 160 B.C.E.

Elazar Avaran: The fourth son of Mattityahu was killed during the initial rebellion. The Syrian-Greeks had a cavalry of elephants. Elazar ran under one elephant and cut open its belly, but was unable to escape from under the animal before it collapsed on top of him.

Yahonatan (Jonathan) Apphus: The youngest son of Mattityahu, Yahonatan led the Jewish army after Yehuda’s death in 160 B.C.E. and also served as the High Priest. He was taken captive and killed by the Seleucid King Diodotus Tryphon in 143 B.C.E. (According to the historian Josephus, who claimed descent from Yahonatan’s daughter.) 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Yum

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Chanukah. Now get out the griddle and enjoy!

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fry It

Enjoy a delicious fried treat in honor of Chanukah and the miracle of the oil.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Spin the Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!

The dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When it falls, depending on which Hebrew letter is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday?

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 B.C.E.), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the word Poh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt. 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Fun

Add an element of fun to your Chanukah celebration.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Al Hanisim, For The Miracles

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

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

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

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

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pure Olive Oil

While a large number of Jews today light Chanukah candles, the more traditional custom is to light the Chanukah menorah with olive oil. This is done in order to most accurately recreate the original miracle.

When God instructed Moses on the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (the vessels of which were eventually placed in the Temple in Jerusalem), he specifically stated: “And you will command the children of Israel, to bring to you pure olive oil, pressed for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually” (Exodus 27:20).

Pure olive oil, known in Hebrew as shemen zayit zach,* is the first drop of oil when the olive is first squeezed or pressed. The Mishna states that the there is nothing better that the first oil of the first crop, and the sages of the Talmud described the process of how this oil was produced:

“The first crop is when the fully ripe olives are picked  from the top of the tree; they are brought into the olive-press, are ground in a mill and put into baskets. The oil which oozes out is the first kind [of oil]. They are then pressed with the beam, and the oil which oozes out is the second kind” (Talmud Menachot 86a).

Olive oil, which burns slowly, cleanly and without an unpleasant odor, has many uses both in daily life and in Jewish rituals. Indeed, oil is one of the items that was offered with the sacrifices in the Temple. However, only the menorah required the purest shemen zayit zachfrom the first pressing.

“If the candlestick, which does not need [the oil] for eating [but as fuel], requires pure olive oil, how much more do meal-offerings, which [need the oil] for eating, require pure olive oil! But the text states, pure olive oil beaten for the light, but not ‘pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings’” (Menachot 56b).*It is interesting to note that the words shemen zayit zach, when written in Hebrew, are composed of eight letters, one of the many interesting allusions to Chanukah that are hidden in the Torah  (as found on

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

Miracles All Around

Look for the miracles that occur in our every day lives.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

On the 25th of Kiselv

It is not uncommon to find that significant events in Jewish history occurred in different years but on the same day on the Jewish calendar. For instance, Tisha B'Av (9th of Av), the day on which we mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temple, occurred on the same calendar day on which the Israelites in the wilderness listened to the spies and cried out in fear that God was leading them to their deaths. This resulted in 38 additional years of wandering in the wilderness before the next generation was allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Today is the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the first day of Chanukah. Chanukah is celebrated on the anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple by Judah Maccabee and his loyal followers. According to Jewish tradition, however, it is not a coincidence that this event occurred on the 25th of Kislev.

According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina, the construction of the Mishkan (temporary Tabernacle that was used before the permanent Temple was erected) was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Once the Mishkan was completed, however, Moses waited until the 1st of Nissan for its official dedication. The postponement, according to the Midrash, was because "God wanted to celebrate the rejoicing of the Tabernacle in the month in which Isaac was born (Nissan)...Kislev thus forfeited [the honor] though the work had been completed [during that month]. God therefore said: 'I will make restitution.' How did God repay Kislev? With the Chanukah (inauguration) of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees)" (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 184).

Because the Chanukat Ha'Mishkan, the dedication of the Tabernacle, did not occur on the day it was completed, the great honor of the miracle of Chanukah was reserved for the 25th of Kislev. 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rock of Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

More Together

Invite friends and family to celebrate Chanukah together.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Light One Candle

“Light one candle for the Maccabee children, with thanks that their light didn’t die...”

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary wrote these words in a song that cried out for the pain of his ancestors. He could not have drawn upon a more beautiful or pride-enhancing symbol.

Tomorrow night, the first night of Chanukah, Jews around the world will light one candle on their menorahs to commemorate the Maccabee victory over the Syrian-Greek Hellenists and the miracle that occurred with the rededication of the Temple (one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days). And while publicizing the miracle through the light of the Menorah is the definitive mitzvah of Chanukah, lighting candles has far greater significance in Jewish life than just this holiday.

Tonight, as on every Friday night, Jewish homes worldwide will be illuminated with the beautiful light of the Shabbat candles. The Hellenists tried to prevent the Jews from sanctifying Shabbat. But, as Hellenization (read assimilation) became an increasingly greater threat, some of the Jews (Maccabees) fought back.

On Chanukah we place the menorah in a window or doorway facing the street, to announce to the world that not only have we survived as a nation (a miracle of history, in and of itself), but that our beliefs and our values have survived as well.

This post is retreated in honor of Chanukah.

The Chanukah Blessings

The Jewish people have said this prayer daily for thousands of years.On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/wick in oil is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.

Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:

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

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

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

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

The third blessing is recited only on the first night.

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

Saturday Night

Remember to recite havdallah before lighting the menorah on Saturday night. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

These Lights We Kindle

While the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is an outward-focused mitzvah - the menorah is lit in a window or doorway - it is also an opportunity for personal reflection on the deeper meaning of the holiday. Recognizing this, a special paragraph was added to the menorah lighting ritual. Ha’nayrot Halalu, as it is called, is recited immediately after the Chanukah blessings:

These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and on the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days in this season, through Your holy priests. During all eights days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred. We are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them, in order, to express thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

Ha’nayrot Halalu reminds us that there are many extraordinary events within the celebration of Chanukah. There are the miracles, such as the single flask of oil lasting eight days instead of one. There are wonders, such as the fact that there remained even one single flask of pure olive oil still sealed by the High Priest. And there are salvations, such as the incredible courage of the small Jewish army to go into battle while so severely out-manned and their ability to overthrow the soldiers of the mighty Syrian-Greek empire.

Additionally, Ha’nayrot Halalu contains a reminder, that while there are no restrictions on one’s actions on Chanukah (as there are on the Biblical festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), one must not forget that the days of Chanukah are holy as well. Thus it is that one may not use the Chanukah candles for any purpose other than as a reminder of the many ways of God’s salvations.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved

The Story of Chanukah

Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modi'in sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who volunteered. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greek forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, scrubbing the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure oil, and finally found a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But it was only one flask of oil, good for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared and delivered. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, announcing to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Print out the words of Ha'nayrot Halalu and recite them while lighting the menorah each night of Chanukah. (Click here for Hebrew, English and transliteration.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Chanukiyah

The term menorah is used for both the classic symbol of the holiday of Chanukah and the great seven-branched candelabra that was built in the wilderness following explicit Divine directions and used first in the Tabernacle and later stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In order to make a distinction between these two menorot, the term chanukiyah is sometimes used in reference to the Chanukah menorah. It has nine branches - eight lights for Chanukah and a shamash, a "helper" candle to light the other candles.

In preparation for the holiday and to make Chanukah truly shine, Jewish Treats presents some “things to know” about the chanukiyah:

1) You really don’t need a chanukiyah (or a menorah)! That’s right, one could technically light a series of tea lights (for example) one next to the other and still properly fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah lights.

2) The lights should be in a straight line without any difference in height between any of the Chanukah lights. They may be in a semi-circle as long as all the lights are visible at the same time. The place for the shamash on the chanukiyah, however, should be differentiated from the other lights. Usually it is higher, lower or out of line with the others.

3) There should be enough space between lights so that none of the flames merge with their neighbor. Also the candles must be far enough apart that one candle does not cause the candle next to it to melt.

4) It is preferable to use olive oil for the Chanukah lights since the miracle took place with olive oil. One may, nevertheless, use wax or paraffin candles or other types of oils as long as they produce a steady, clean light.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Let your chanukiyah express your own personal style.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chanukah - What's the Mitzvah?

Here's a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the oil in the menorah in the Holy Temple burned for eight days instead of one.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after dusk. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used so that the Chanukah lights remain lit after nightfall.

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

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

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Mitzvah Safe

Check your smoke detectors.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Book(s) of Maccabees

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

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

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

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

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

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Thinking Holiday

Chanukah is in less than a week. Make certain you have everything you need to celebrate. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Wearing White for Shabbat

It is a well-known custom that Jews wear white on Yom Kippur in order to reflect the purity of angels on that holy day. It is a lesser known custom that Jews wear white at the Passover seder (among Ashkenazim, it is often only the head of the household who does so).  It is a far less known custom for Jews to wear white to honor Shabbat.

The custom of wearing white is kabbalistic in origin. It was a teaching of Rabbi Isaac Luria (The Arizal, 1534-1572), who taught that the color that a person wore on Shabbat would be the color that person wore in the World to Come. The Arizal also specifies that at least four of the regular garments of Shabbat (based on 16th century clothing) should be white. The Arizal strongly suggested that one should not wear black, a color associated with exile and mourning, on Shabbat.

Dressing in white on Shabbat, never seems to have gained universal acceptance. The custom was, however, popular among many Sephardic and Chassidic communities, and some still maintain this custom today. There are many individuals who have made it their own custom to wear at least one prominent white garment on Shabbat. As for black garments, over time the color has lost its negative implications, and many Torah scholars of the modern age specifically wear black suits. Others, keeping in mind the kabbalistic implications taught by the Arizal, make it a point to wear dark blue or dark grey suits instead of black.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Special Garb

Wear something special in honor of Shabbat.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

An Extraordinary Run

When Harold Maurice Abrahams was born on December 15, 1899, movies were short, silent and black-and-white. It would have been impossible to imagine that this newborn baby boy would one day be the subject of a full-length color film that featured an Academy Award winning score. Chariots of Fire (1981) brought to the screen the story of a young Jewish athlete whose perseverance and determination overcame anti-Semitism and class bias to bring him to Olympic gold.

After serving in the British Army during the First World War, Abrahams attended Cambridge University. The child of an athletic family, he joined the track team and excelled at sprinting and high jump. In 1920, he attended his first Olympics (Antwerp), but did poorly. At home, however, he continued to demonstrate athletic prowess. In a highly controversial move, Abrahams hired Sam Mussabini, a professional coach, to help him improve his skills. This was unheard of among British amateur athletes at the time, but Abrahams ignored the remarks of others. At the 1924 Olympics, he won gold for the 100 meter sprint and silver as part of the 400 meter relay team.

The next year, Abrahams broke his leg on the high jump, and his physical athletic career came to an end.

Trained as a lawyer, Abrahams turned to sports journalism and became a well-known sports writer and broadcaster. Abrahams’ full influence came, however, as chairman of the British Amateur Athletic Board (1968-1975). In this capacity he was able to guide young athletes to follow his success.

It is interesting to note that Abrahams' two brothers were both honored for their involvement in athletics. His brother Sir Adolphe Abrahams was considered the founder of British Sports Medicine. His other brother, Sir Sidney Abrahams competed in the long jump and served as the 26th Chief Justice of Ceylon.

Harold Abrahams passed away on January 14, 1978.

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Health Tip

Take time to take care of your body. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Power of a Pronoun

The Book of Genesis contains many genealogical lists–the descendants of Adam and Eve, the descendants of Cain, the descendants of Noah, etc. In addition to chronicling the complete family tree of the Jewish people, the Torah also includes genealogical charts for Ishmael and Esau, children of the forefathers who did not become part of the Jewish people.

At the end of the chapter dedicated to the children of Esau, there is a seemingly strange concluding sentence: “He is Esau the father of the Edomites” (Genesis 36:43).  The peculiar use of this defining pronoun “He” (Hu in Hebrew) is noted and commented upon in the Talmud: “He is Esau, the same in his wickedness from beginning to end” (Megillah 11a). This grammatical structure - he is so-and-so - implies an unyielding personality trait. There are several examples of other wicked people for whom this structure is used: Achashverosh, the king during the time of Esther (Esther 10:1), Datan and Aviram, the rebellious Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt (Numbers 26:9), and King Ahaz, a king of the southern kingdom of Judah who turned to idolatry and sacrificed one of his sons to Moloch (II Chronicles 28:22).

“He is,” however, is not used only for bad people. The same passage in the Talmud records where this phrase is used to imply righteousness: Abraham (I Chronicles 1:27) and Aaron and Moses (Exodus 6:26). About King David, the Talmud actually explains the verse “And David, he is the youngest” (I Samuel 17:14): “He (David) persisted in his humility from beginning to end; just as in his youth he humbled himself before anyone who was his superior in Torah, so in his kingship he humbled himself before anyone who was his superior in wisdom” (Talmud Megillah 11a),

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Life Goal

Strive to fill your life with kindness.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What's In the Book: Judges

Once in the promised land (Book of Joshua), the Israelites formed a commonwealth of 12 tribes loosely ruled by judges and elders. After the first generation, the Israelites fell into a pattern of idolatry, subjugation by foreign power, repentance and deliverance by a Judge/leader appointed by God.

The Judges were:

1) Otniel defeated Chushan-Rishatayim king of Aram.

2) Ehud defeated King Eglon of Moab by tricking him into a private meeting and then attacking him with his left hand. Returning to the territory of Ephraim, he led a victory over 10,000 Moabite soldiers.

3) Shamgar ruled with Ehud at the end of the latter’s leadership. When the Philistines oppressed the Israelites, Shamgar killed 600 Philistines with a cattle prod.

4) Deborah was both a prophetess and a Judge. Together with Barak, she led the nation into war, and was victorious over the Canaanite General Sisera.

5) Gideon defeated the Midianites with 300 men, a deliberately small number meant to prove that God was with the Israelites.

6) Avimelech the son of Gideon declared himself his father’s heir. His three year rule ended in insurrection.

7) Tolah led Israel for 23 years.

8) Yair led Israel 22 years.

9) Jephthah of Gilead is most famous for his terrible vow that, should he defeat the Ammonites, he would express his gratitude to God by sacrificing the first thing that emerged from the doors of his house. Tragically, it was his beloved daughter.

10) Ibzan led Israel for 7 years.

11) Elon led Israel for 10 years.

12) Avdon led Israel for 8 years.

13) Samson is famous for his Herculean strength attributed to his uncut hair. A Nazirite from birth, he was betrayed by Delilah, who cut his hair and thus allowed his capture. Samson led Israel for 20 years.

This Treat was last posted on October 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Don't hesitate to stand up for Jewish beliefs.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Lancaster Jews

Many people do not realize that Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home to the famous Amish community, was one of the few active Jewish communities during the colonial era and has the fourth oldest Jewish cemetery in the United States.

The Jewish cemetery, which is now owned and cared for by Congregation Shaarai Shomayim (established 1856) has at least five tombstones that date back to the earliest days of the nation. One of these early tombstones belongs to Joseph Simon, who appears to have been the leader of the community. Simon was a merchant who dealt in trade with the Native American tribes in the area. He arrived in Lancaster sometime before 1735. Although it is not known exactly when he came to prominence, he is noted for his dedication to the Jewish community, opening his home for regular services. He owned two Torah scrolls and a portion of the ark (cabinet) in which he housed them now belongs to the American Jewish Historical Society. In 1747, Simon and Isaac Nunas Ricus were granted a deed in trust for the Jewish community for the land that would become the cemetery.

The Jews of Lancaster sided with the colonial army. They provided supplies, weapons and provisions. What became of the community after the war, however, is a little less clear. After Joseph Simon’s death in 1804, the community disappeared until the mid 1850s, when new Jewish settlers arrived. The close relationship of the Lancaster Jews with Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia lead many to speculate that many moved there. The new settlers who arrived founded Shaarai Shomayim and took custodianship of the cemetery. Degel Israel Congregation was established in 1895 and Temple Beth El was established in 1945. These congregations continue until today.

On December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Touring the States

When travelling in the states, make it a point to visit Jewish historical landmarks.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Against Corruption

Today, December 9th, has been designated as International Anti-Corruption Day. Corruption is a terrible blight on organized civilization. Anyone with even a small amount of power, can misuse that power to cause great harm. Using one’s position to improperly influence others is especially common. Corruption, such as placing an unqualified relative or a friend in a job without proper authority or oversight or accepting bribes, undermines the society in which we live.

Corruption is not a recent problem of the modern world, but a problem that has impacted every era of history and almost every culture. The words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke out against the corruption of Jerusalem during the era of the First Temple, powerfully capture how far society can fall: “How is the faithful city [Jerusalem] become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become worthless, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loves bribes, and follows after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow come before them” (Isaiah 1:21-23).

Throughout both the written and the oral Torah there are numerous laws and strictures meant to warn against corruption. The Torah particularly stresses the issue when it pertains to judges. Indeed, even complimenting a judge on the day of one’s trial is reason for the judge to recuse himself from the judgment. Additionally, there are a host of laws against corrupt business practices and laws against those who try to corrupt the Jewish faith.

While many of us may not be in positions of power or authority, there are many ways that we can become more sensitive to our improper actions and prevent corruption. Of primary importance is to always follow the law precisely and never allow yourself to rationalize why you or someone close to you deserves to be above the law.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Put It Aside

Put aside all thoughts of politics or business and enjoy Shabbat.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reuben, Son of Jacob

Our forefather Jacob’s departing words to his firstborn son were: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity -- you cannot be foremost, because you mounted your father’s bed ...” (Genesis 49:3-4).

Reuben's history is marked by his impetuosity.

Reuben was the first son of Jacob and Leah. Rachel, Jacob's other wife and Leah's sister, died when Reuben was 14. Without permission, he moved his father’s bed into Leah’s tent to assert his mother’s primary position (Genesis 35: 19, 22). This was considered to be a great insult, for which Reuben would never be fully forgiven.

Eight years later, it was Reuben who suggested that Joseph be thrown into a pit rather than killed, intending to rescue him later. But, Joseph was sold without Reuben’s knowledge. Reuben later found an empty pit, “tore his garments,” and cried out to his brothers: “The boy is gone! And I - where can I go?!” (Genesis 37:21,22-29,30).

Reuben strove to do right, but somehow missed the mark: The brothers’ first journey to Egypt to buy food during the famine resulted in Joseph’s demand that Benjamin be brought to Egypt. Trying to convince Jacob to send Benjamin with them, Reuben, said: “You may slay my two sons if I fail to bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will return him to you” (Genesis 42:35-37).

Reuben showed a desire to do the right thing, but took the wrong approach to achieve this end. Because Reuben was not qualified to lead, Jacob divided the rights of the firstborn (leadership - Judah, priesthood - Levi, and monetary rights - Joseph). However, by blessing him first and calling him “my firstborn,” Jacob stressed Reuben’s permanent right to be honored as the firstborn.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Big Sibs

Be respectful to your older siblings. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Song of Nature

According to the introduction of Perek Shirah (A Chapter of Song), after King David finished composing the Book of Psalms, he cried out to God: “Is there any creature that You have created in Your world that says more songs or praises than I do?”  He received his response from a frog, who responded that he recited more songs and praises than David. While the introduction does not say it, one can imagine that King David was thus humbled and set his spiritual ear to nature and composed the 85 sections of Perek Shirah quoting nature praising God. (Many of the verses attributed to nature are from Psalms.)

The different clusters of verses are each attributed to a specific aspect of nature. The first chapter expressed the feelings of the heavens, earth, gehinom, etc. Chapter two quotes day and night, sun and moon, winds and rain, etc. The third chapter focuses on things that grow - trees and produce. Chapters four and five are filled with the praises of animals. Here are two examples:

The Seas say: "More than the voices of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, God is mighty on high" (Psalms 93:4).

The Snake says: "God supports the fallen and straightens the bent over" (Psalms 145:14).

Perek Shirah was printed early in the printing revolution, around 1576, when it was included in the liturgy.* There are references to it as far back as the 10th century. Many rabbis attribute great merit to reciting Perek Shirah, and some believe that reciting it for 4 consecutive days can help change a negative decree into a positive one.

*It is not generally included in the liturgy anymore.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Express It

When admiring nature, take the time to express gratitude to God for the world's beauty. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Jews of Ecuador

While Ecuador does not have a large Jewish population, (there are fewer than 400 active members of the community), its history mirrors that of many South American and Central American Jewish communities.

The first Jews who lived in the region now know as Ecuador arrived with the Spanish and Portuguese settlers. These Jews, however, kept their identities secret, living as conversos in fear of the Inquisition. Many of them settled in remote villages, far away from prying eyes.

By the beginning of the 20th century, there were only four families in the country who publicly identified as Jews. This increased to 14 families by 1917. By 1950, however, there were close to 4,000 Jews, as European Jews fleeing rising anti-Semitism started arriving in large numbers in the 1930s. Ecuador was one of the last South American countries to close its doors to immigrants.

Eventually, however, Ecuador determined that it could not accept any more foreigners. It was particularly problematic to the government that many of the Jewish refugees arrived on visas specific for agricultural occupation but ended up as merchants, businessmen and industrialists. To be fair, many did try to fulfill their agricultural obligation but failed in their endeavors. In the early 1950s, when the Jewish population of Ecuador was at its largest, the Ecuadorian government passed a law requiring all foreigners to prove that they were working in the occupation listed on their visas.

While the community is small, and struggles with high rates of assimilation and intermarriage, their community infrastructure remains strong. The majority of Jews live in the city of Quito and are connected to the Asociacion de Beneficencia Israelita. Most of their children attend the Colegro Experimental Alberto Einstein, a college preparatory school that includes Hebrew and Jewish studies. The school is so well regarded that many upper class, non-Jewish Ecuadorians choose to attend as well.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Schedule time to visit elderly relatives.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rabbi Ashi

Every generation needs a leader. The Talmud notes that “a righteous man does not depart from the world until [another] righteous man like himself is created, as it is said (Ecclesiastes 1:5), the sun rises and the sun goes down’” (Talmud Kiddushin 72b). As if this statement needed confirmation, Rabbi Ashi, who was born in Babylonia in 352 C.E., was born on the same day that the great sage Rava passed away.

Babylonia, at that time, was a center of Jewish life and Rabbi Ashi had the opportunity to sit and study with many of the great sages of the generation. He studied in the academies of Pumbedita and Nehardea, then in the academy of the leading sage Rabbi Pappa, and in many small academies as well.

Rabbi Ashi moved to the town of Matha-Mehasia, which is a suburb of the city of Sura. His presence and actions revived Jewish learning in the town. Finding the synagogue in disrepair, he forced the townsfolk to renovate it. “Rabbi Ashi, who, observing cracks in the synagogue of Matha-Mehasia, had it pulled down. He then took his bed there and did not remove it until the very gutters [of the new building] had been completed”(Talmud Baba Batra 3B).

Rabbi Ashi is frequently quoted throughout the Talmud, which might be less surprising in that he and the sage Ravina were the ones who compiled and edited the rabbinic discussions that form the Talmud.  He was so dedicated to his task that he bargained for more life in order to complete it: Rabbi Ashi caught sight of him [the angel of death] in the market place. He [Ashi] said: “Grant me thirty days’ respite and I shall revise my studies, inasmuch as you say [in Heaven above]: ‘Happy is he that comes here [to Heaven] bringing his learning ready with him.’” He [the angel of death] came [again] on the thirtieth day; Said [Ashi], “What is the urgency?” He replied: “Rabbi Huna ben Nathan is close on your heels [and is ready to succeed you]” (Talmud Moed Katan 28a).

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