Friday, July 21, 2017

Hang Your Hammock

You may not believe this, but tomorrow, July 22, is National Hammock Day. It appears to be the ultimate celebration of the lazy days of summer. One might think that Hammock Day occuring on a Saturday is the ultimate fortuitous combination, what better way to enjoy the “day of rest” than by relaxing under the shade of the trees while gently swaying in a hammock. Today’s  Jewish Treat, however, will take this as an opportunity to discuss some interesting issues concerning trees and hammocks on Shabbat.

One of the 39 m’la’chot (prohibited acts of creative labor) is kotzair, reaping (cutting for harvest). From a modern day perspective, this m’lacha includes plucking flowers and picking fruit, as well as inadvertently tearing off leaves and flowers as one passes. In order to protect people from accidentally violating this m’lacha, the great sages expanded this prohibition to include using a tree for any purpose on Shabbat, lest one come to snap off a branch or a flower. (“One may not climb a tree, it is a preventive measure lest he pluck [fruit] - Talmud Beitzah 36b.)

This prohibition makes it so that certain enjoyable outdoor activities require a bit of creativity, most notably, the question of a hammock or a child’s swing. To be “kosher” for Shabbat use, the hammock may not be directly attached to a tree, whether by nail or by rope. If, however, the hammock or swing is attached to a peg that is attached to the tree, this one degree of separation will make the swing or hammock acceptable for use on Shabbat, since placing one’s weight in the hammock has only an indirect effect on the tree.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Outside Rest

If the weather is pleasant where you live, spend part of Shabbat day outside enjoying the miracles of God's natural world.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Grandmaster R

When Szmul Rzeszewski (1911-1992) was five years old, his father showed him how to play chess. Three years later, the boy was a recognized child prodigy who gained acclaim giving simultaneous chess exhibitions against multiple opponents. That same year, his family moved from Poland to America.

Young Sammy began touring the county playing exhibition games in places such as West Point Military Academy, Hollywood (playing against Charlie Chaplain) and even Washington, D.C. In November 1922, however, the grand tour came to an end when a late-night exhibition drew the attention of child welfare authorities, who were not at all pleased that Reshevsky (as he later Americanized his name) was not attending school. Julius Rosenwald, co-owner of Sears, agreed to be his benefactor if Reshevsky agreed to complete his education. Reshevsky went on to graduate from the University of Chicago School of Business with a degree in accounting, the profession by which he would later support himself and his family while still competing in chess.

When Reshevsky returned to competitive chess, he immediately began placing in the top tier of international chess players. In 1936, he won the U.S. Chess Championship, which he also did in ‘38, ‘40, ‘41, ‘42, ‘46 and ‘69 (and tied in ‘72!). In 1948, Reshevsky was one of five hand-picked competitors to replace the late World Champion, Alexander Alekhine. Although he did not win, it was a special distinction to even compete for the title. Reshevsky never succeeded in attaining an international title, but was continually recognized as one of the world’s most talented players.

In the history of chess there have been many outstanding Jewish players (including his later great rival, Bobby Fischer). Reshevsky, however, was unique. Devout in his observance, Reshevsky never once competed on Shabbat.

Samuel Reshevsky, who was also known for his chess writing (column and books) competed far later than many other chess grandmasters. His last competition was in 1988, four years before he passed away at age 80.

Today, July 20th, is International Chess Day.

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Participate for Good

If you are athletic, use your abilities to help raise money for important causes (marathons, bikeathons, etc).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Defining Accidental

The taking of a human life is always a tragedy, and there is never a way to actually make it alright for the loved ones of the victims. In situations of unnatural death, there are several layers of culpability. In contemporary terms, there is murder, which is the deliberate taking of another’s life, criminally negligent manslaughter, which is an act that was not intentional but for which someone is responsible, and unforeseen death, which is an unintended act that could not have been prevented.

The Torah has a unique system for dealing with manslaughter. The person who caused the accidental death immediately flees to one of six special cities known as arei miklat, cities of refuge (click here to read more), or to one of the other 42 cities of the Levites.

To clarify who is required to be exiled to the ir miklat, the Talmud states:

The following go into banishment: He who slays in error. If, while he was pushing a roller [on the roof], it fell down and killed somebody, or while he was lowering a cask, it fell down and killed somebody...He goes into banishment. But if, while he was pulling up the roller, it fell back on someone, killing him, or while he was raising a bucket the rope snapped and the bucket killed somebody in its fall...He doesn’t go into banishment...This is the general principle: whenever the death was caused in the course of a downward movement, he goes into banishment, but if it is caused not in the course of a downward movement, he does not go into banishment (Talmud Makkot 7a-b).

The general idea is that there are different levels of culpability involved in an accident. The subtle nuance of a person’s movements at the time of the incident can determine whether the person should take refuge in an ir miklat or not. Needless to say, each case needs to be considered individually. It is, however, fascinating to note the subtle parameters set in this passage of the Talmud, which continues on through a series of very complex situations and discussions, as the sages sought to ensure justice for all.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No Trouble with Tools

When using large tools, always make sure the safety features are set and make certain to put the tools safely away when finished.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What You Say to the King

Is it okay to malign the leader(s) of the country? In the United States, the concept of freedom of speech allows for a great range of political commentary and criticism. Whether this is good or bad for American society is a question best left to private opinion, but the narrative in today’s Treat demonstrates that even the greatest leaders of Israel faced challenging criticism.

There is an interesting correlation to this issue in the Tanach. In the Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 16, the Torah describes a disturbing incident in which a man named Shimei ben Gera angrily maligned King David. Shimei was from the House of Saul, the king whom David succeeded. King David was traveling through the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin and “as he (David) came, he (Shimei) cursed him continually. And he cast stones at David and at all the servants of King David” (II Samuel 16:5-6). Shimei’s words were harsh and angry: “Come out, come out you bloody man, you wicked man. God has returned on you all the blood of the House of Saul in whose stead you have reigned. God has delivered the kingdom into the hands of Absalom your son, and, behold, you are taken in your mischief because you are a bloody man!” (ibid. 8).

David’s companion, Avishai, took great umbrage for him. He wished to punish Shimei immediately, but David stayed his hand, stating: “Let him curse, for God has bidden him to do so” (ibid. 16:11).

This incident occurred in the midst of the attempted coup of David’s son Absalom. When David was returned to his throne, Shimei came and begged forgiveness, and David let him live. According to tradition, Shimei went on to become a teacher of David’s son and heir, Solomon.

However, the fact is that Shimei’s cursing of God’s anointed king was a grave transgression, and before he died, David instructed Solomon to “hold him not guiltless; you are a wise man and you know what you ought to do” (II Kings 2:9). Solomon put Shimei under house arrest, which he violated. His disobedience of the king’s order lead to his death by execution.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Speak politely when arguing your point.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Day to Firgun

In the age of the internet there are an incredble number of new “holidays.” This week alone we “celebrate” National Caviar Day (18th), Moonday (20th) and National Junk Food Day (21st). In 2014, an Israeli non-profit organization, Made in JLM (which works with Israeli start-ups) decided to create a new international holiday that they named International Firgun Day. The chosen date was July 17th.

Firgun, according to several internet definitions, means: "(pronounced feer-goon, from modern Hebrew) a genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of someone else; giving credit where it is due, fairly and without jealousy." A firgun is the ideal of a compliment as it looks fully at the other person with no ulterior motive and with a depth of recognition of the other person’s character  (as opposed, for instance, to “I like the shirt you are wearing”).

Firgun is not a native Hebrew word, but rather a slang that evolved from the Yiddish word firgenun. As with so many cross language words, there is no singular English term that translates either firgenun or firgun, but that does not mean that International Firgun Day cannot be celebrated by all.

At the heart of the concept of firgun is the idea of an ayin tova, a good eye. Having a “good eye” means looking to see the positive, and it is a trait listed as one of the basic attributes a good person should have (Pirkei Avot /Ethics of the Fathers 2:10).

Seeking joy in other people’s lives inevitably makes multiple people happy, thus bringing peace, shalom, to the world.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

See Them

Make an active effort to look positively at the actions of your coworkers.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Not One, Not Two

Ever hear someone count out loud in the negatives: "Not one, not two, not three..." It may seem, strange, but in many traditional Jewish communities this is a common method for counting the number of people present. Counting in this seemingly awkward manner avoids the prohibition of conducting a census of individual Jewish people.

Rabbi Eleazar said: Whosoever counts Israel, transgresses a [biblical] prohibition, as it is said (Hosea 22:1): ‘Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured’” (Talmud Yoma 22b). Despite the verse, throughout the rest of the Torah there are a number of references to Divinely ordained censuses of the Children of Israel. The most well-known census, and the most informative of proper process, is that of the half-shekel (Exodus 30:11 - 16), when every male above the age of twenty each gave identical half-shekel donations which were then counted in order to know the number of Israelites. Additionally, any type of census can only be done for a valid reason, such as counting those of age suitable for service in the army (Numbers 1:2-4).

Counting individuals singles them out, and numbering people focuses attention on them. The Medieval commentator Rashi explains that “ayin harah (literally the evil eye link) has power over numbered things” (on Exodus 30:12), which is an expression of a fear of consequences in the higher worlds because of undo attention. The custom, therefore, is to try to avoid spotlighting individuals whether counting them as a nation or even counting to achieve the requisite quorum for prayers.

Sometimes, however, it is necessary to count a group of Jews. Most frequently, this is true when trying to assess whether one has a complete minyan (quorum of ten) to allow communal prayers to take place. A common method for counting a minyan is to recite a Torah verse of ten words (often Psalms 28:9: "Hoshee’ah et am’echa u'varech et nachalatecha ur'em venas'em ad ha'olam/Save Your people and bless Your inheritance, and tend them and elevate them forever–associating each of the ten words with a person.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Merry More

Enjoy Shabbat with friends and family.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fate of Babel

Born on July 13, 1894, in Odessa,  Isaac Babel’s life spanned a tumultuous time in Russian history. Raised in a middle class Jewish home, Babel had both a full Jewish education and a robust secular education. However, in two separate instances he was unable to attend the school of his choice because of quotas on Jewish students.

In 1915, Babel moved to St. Petersburg, although this was against the law restricting Jews to live only in the Pale of Settlement. In St. Petersburg, Babel met the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who had a tremendous impact upon his life. After the October Revolution, Gorky gave him a job at his Menshevik newspaper.

Babel’s first collection of short stories, The Story of My Dovecoat, was published in 1925. Its eponymous story is an autobiographical narrative of surviving a notorious pogrom. His fame was sealed with his next book, The Red Cavalry, which was an honest look at life in the military. His writing was praised for both realism and simplicity of language.

Babel’s third book of short stories, Odessa Tales, presented an array of interesting residents of a ghetto in Odessa. The characters were complex, perhaps because they were far from perfect. One of his most notable characters from this collection was Benya Krik, the chief gangster of the ghetto.

While Socialist Realism was in vogue at the beginning of the Soviet Union, the ascension of Joseph Stalin to the head of the Politburo left little room for the possibility of subversiveness. Babel continued to write, and Maria, his play about both sides of the October Revolution, drew particular attention from the Soviet secret police and was pulled before ever opening.

In 1936, Maxim Gorky died mysteriously, and Babel recognized that his own safety was now also in question. In 1939, the secret police arrested him and he was executed as part of Stalin’s great purge.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Bring kosher snacks to share with your coworkers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stolen Lives

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the independence of the islands of Sao Tome and Principe from Portugal. The islands, which are located off the western coast of Africa, were mostly uninhabited until the Portuguese arrived in the late 1400s. Their tropical climates made them ideal for growing commodity crops such as sugar but also made them unattractive to ordinary settlers (crocodiles and all that). In 1492, as Jews poured across Portugal’s border, driven by the expulsion order from Spain, Portugal’s King Manuel had a creative and horrific solution to his problem –  populate the islands of Sao Tome and Principe with Jews.

Not long after the refugees arrived, King Manuel placed a tax upon them. Many of these Jews had been forced to leave Spain without any assets and could not pay. In lieu of taxes, the king took their most precious possession:--their beloved children. Over 2,000 children between the ages of 2 and 12 were taken from their families, forcibly converted to Christianity and sent to serve as slaves on the remote islands. The sea journey was difficult and life on the island was harsh. A year after transport, only 600 of the Jewish children survived.

Little is known about the individual lives of the kidnapped children but it appears that, although they intermarried, their descendants remained a distinct group among the island’s population. As in many places where the conversos settled, Jewish rituals were subtly integrated into the dominant culture. While most of the descendants are no longer on the island, an international conference on the transported children was held on July 12, 1995, the country’s 20th anniversary.

This act is sometimes attributed to his predecessor, King Joao II.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For the Children

Dedicate some of your philanthropic funds to supporting orphans and chldren in need. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The End of the Tamid Offering

In the year that the Israelites left Egypt, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Moses descended from Mount Sinai to find the Jewish people dancing around the Golden Calf. In exasperation, Moses threw down the two tablets of law given to him by God, smashing them.

During the centuries that followed, the 17th of Tammuz continued to be an inauspicious day for the Jewish people, a day on which great tragedies occurred. It therefore became a day of fasting and repentance from sunrise to sunset.

One such tragedy that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz was the cancellation of the daily offerings in the First Temple. This offering, known as the Tamid (constant), is mentioned in Numbers (28:3-4,6): “This is the fire offering that you will bring for God: unblemished he-lambs in their first year, two each day, for a continual burnt-offering. One lamb you will offer in the morning, and the other lamb you will offer at dusk ... It is a constant burnt-offering, which was offered on Mount Sinai, for a sweet savor, an offering made by fire for God.”

As described by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov in The Book of Our Heritage, when the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem, the Jews still had enough livestock within the walls to maintain the tamid offering. As the siege continued, however, the priests of the Temple struggled to maintain the Temple service. They even sent baskets of silver and gold over the Temple wall to buy sheep for the offerings from the Babylonians. On the 17th of Tammuz, however, the basket was returned to them empty - there were no more sheep to be purchased, and so the daily offerings came to an end. Needless to say, the cessation of the daily offering was a significant blow to the morale of the people of Jerusalem and the entire nation.

This Treat is reposted semi-annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

In truth, however, this period of "sadness" begins on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (observed today) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh'heh'cheh'yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

From the first day of the month of Av onward (July 24, 2017), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, we customarily avoid the following activities (along with all of the above):

 1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

 2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

 3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for just a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

 This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast Well

NJOP wishes you an easy and meaingful fast.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days on the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known, including the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which will be observed tomorrow. 

As mentioned in the Talmud, five events are commemorated on this solemn day:

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the First Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the First (actually occurred on the 9th of Tammuz) and Second Temples.
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the First Temple era.
5. Apostamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

Based on the biblical verses found in Zachariah, Chapters 7 and 8, it is our practice to fast from dawn to nightfall.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Get Ready

Eat sensibly to prepare for tomorrow's fast.

Friday, July 7, 2017

More Than A Braid

Since the earliest days of record, women have spent time “doing” their hair. While some generations have favored simple styles (like the “bob” of the 1930s), others relished incredibly intricate “dos.” Throughout every phase, however, the braiding of hair has always been both practical and popular.

For Jews observing the laws of Shabbat, hair care can require a little more thought. For instance, one must be careful about pulling hair out, which is considered similar to the prohibited act of shearing. Therefore, when brushing on Shabbat, one should use a soft-bristle brush.

Braiding, likewise, may also be an issue.  While most people associate braiding one’s hair with weaving, the sages of the Talmud actually connected the act of braiding hair to the m’lacha (creative labor prohibited on Shabbat) of building (boneh):

“She who plaits [on Shabbat, is liable for violating] the prohibition of building. Is this then the manner of building?-Even so, as Rabbi Simeon ben Menassia expounded (on Genesis 2:22): And the Lord God built (yee'ven, from the same root as boneh) the rib [. . . into a woman]: this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, braided Eve[’s hair] and brought her to Adam, for in the sea-towns braiding is called ‘building’” (Talmud Shabbat 95a).

While this may seem like a fanciful interpretation, it actually presents several important concepts. The first, in relation to Shabbat, is the connection of braiding to building on Shabbat. The second, however, is the importance of shalom bayit (peace in the house), for God took the time to help Eve prepare herself before being introduced to Adam.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Garb

Distinguish between Shabbat and weekday by the way you dress.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

After an Incident

If you have ever had a life-endangering moment - a car accident, a severe illness, etc. - then you will remember the flood of emotions that come with the knowledge that you were saved from death or great harm. Chief among these emotions is gratitude, and the sages instituted a specific blessing, known as Birkat Hagomel (Bentching Gomel in Yiddish), to be recited after just such an event.

“Rav Judah said in the name of Rav, ‘There are four [types of] people who have to offer thanksgiving: those who crossed the sea, those who traversed the wilderness, one who has recovered from an illness, and a prisoner who has been set free’” (Talmud Brachot 54b) These four categories are each connected to a quote concluding with an instruction to give thanks to the Lord for His mercy (Psalms 107: 23-31, 4-8, 17-21 and 10-15). These four types of people are known in the Jewish literature by the acronym “Chay’yim” (which in Hebrew literally means life): Ch’avush - a former prisoner, Yam - one who crossed the sea, Y’isurim - one who suffered illness, M’idbar - one who crossed the desert.

The Talmud states that one should declare a brief blessing, “Blessed is He Who bestows loving kindness” (ibid.), but the actual blessing that is recited is, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who bestows good upon the guilty, even as He has bestowed to me every good.” This blessing is recited with a minyan (a prayer quorum), and it is best if that minyan includes two Torah scholars. The prayer itself is usually recited during the Torah reading service.

Defining Chay’yim (the four categories) in the modern age has a lot to do with the traditions of one’s community. In some communities, a single day in a sickbed is considered ill enough to recite Birkat Hagomel, in others it is three days. Some make the blessing after any travel, others have very specific specifications. If one thinks that they have a reason to recite Birkat Hagomel, they should consult their local rabbi.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Smart Safety

Use common sense and follow safety instructions.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Curses Turned To Blessings

“How glorious are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel. As valleys stretched out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes planted by God, as cedars beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5-6).

These words of praise came from one of history’s most notorious enemies of the Jewish people: Balaam son of Beor.

Balaam was known throughout the ancient world for his great spiritual powers. Able to “tap into” the supernatural forces of the world, he knew the most auspicious times to make Divine requests. Anyone cursed by Balaam was firmly cursed.

Balaam was approached by Balak, King of Moab, to curse the Israelites who were camped at his border. Balaam hesitated, knowing that God favored the Israelites. But when asked a third time, he agreed.

On his way to Balak’s palace, an angel of God tried to block Balaam and dissuade him from his task, but Balaam’s mind was set. On a cliff overlooking the camp of Israel, Balaam warned Balak that, try as he might, he could speak only the words that God put in his mouth.

Balaam tried three times to curse the Jews, moving from one place to another and failing each time. Each curse that he tried to utter turned into a blessing.

One might think that Balaam’s failure to curse the Jews indicates that he was not so wicked. However, after failing in his attempted curses, Balaam (according to the tradition recorded in Talmud Sanhedrin 106a) recommended to Balak that he send out beautiful Moabite women to seduce the Jewish men, for only when the Jews degraded themselves morally could they be defeated on the battlefield. This time, Balaam’s wicked strategy resulted in many Jewish casualties.

This Treat was last posted on July 2, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Out of the Mouth

When dealing with a confrontation, think carefully about the words you speak.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Solomon Bush and the Revolutionary War

What was the highest rank obtained by a Jewish soldier during the Revolutionary War? The answer is Lieutenant-Colonel, by order of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, to Solomon Bush. Born in Philadelphia in 1753, Bush was an ardent patriot (as was his father, Mathias, who signed the 1765 Non-Importation Agreement following Britain’s Stamp Act). Bush’s contribution to the war effort was to join the Pennsylvania militia, where he was appointed Deputy Adjunct-General.

In September 1777, at the Battle of Brandywine, Bush was severely wounded and, briefly, taken prisoner by the British. He was paroled and brought to his father’s house to recuperate. His wounds were serious enough that he could not return to battle and even had trouble earning a living. In October 1779, the Executive Council of Pennsylvania promoted him to Lieutenant-Colonel to grant him that rank’s pay and rations.

Following the war, Bush appears to have been eking out a living, sometimes as a doctor. It is known that he spent some years in London, from where he sent several petitions to President George Washington asking to be appointed to a diplomatic position. In some of his communications, he offered information on political acts, such as Britains impressment (forced service) of American sailors. He was never given an appointment.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Revolutionary Reflection

Take a moment and reflect on the positive history of Jews in America.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Jews of St. Estatius: A Story of the American Revolution

The story of St. Estatius, a small Caribbean Island, brings together a remote location, the American Revolution and Jewish history. It is one of those strange tales Jewish Treats loves to share.

St. Estatius (a Dutch holding) was a free port (no customs duty) and major shipping hub, as well as a notorious point for contraband. It was also the source for munitions-trading for the colonists. As a mercantile center, St. Estatius also had a significant Jewish population of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Their synagogue, Honen Dalim (“The One Who Is Charitable To The Poor”), was completed in 1739. 

Both the British and the Americans recognized that the St. Estatius supply line was critical, In 1781, after Britain declared war on the Dutch, Britain ordered Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney and Major-General Sir John Vaughan to attack St. Estatius and St. Martin. When Admiral Rodney appeared with 15 heavily armed ships, the island surrendered and the looting began. 

Immediately, Rodney confiscated all the merchandise stored in the island’s warehouses. He also ordered all foreign merchants to return to their native lands. All male Jews, however, were deported back to England with one day's notice and without their families. Rodney even had each man’s jacket torn open to make certain that no gold had been hidden in the lining. Additionally, Rodney burned down Honen Dalim, the synagogue--the walls of which remain standing to this day. 

Rodney remained on St. Estatius until the end of 1781. It has been suggested that he was so busy looting the island that he neglected to prevent the French Fleet from attacking the British Navy, which hindered General Cornwallis from receiving the support he needed at Yorktown...and thus we have a piece of history about a Caribbean island, the American Revolution and the Jews.

This Treat was last posted on July 5, 2010.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

History History

Don't be surprised when Jewish history and American history overlap.

Friday, June 30, 2017

In Celebration of Nine Years

Every person has special days in their life that they remember and mark from year to year, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Judaism also marks dates on an annual cycle such as holidays and yahrtzeit/hilulas (the date of a person’s death). Today marks the magnificent ninth anniversary of Jewish Treats.

Over the last nine years, Jewish Treats has covered a wide range of topics, from the history of different Jewish communities to holiday customs, from fascinating Jewish personalities to Jewish law, and more. Some Treats have had humorous connections to new-fangled holidays, while others have reminded us of the challenge of Jewish history. (If you have a particular topic of interest, please search for it on the Jewish Treats website or write to us.)

Why are Jewish Treats important? In this age of infinite information, people have the ability to instantly investigate everything under the sun. At the same time, the process of Jewish transmission has been greatly diminished and basic Jewish education is not the same as it was even 25 years ago. Learning about Judaism through Jewish Treats offers readers the opportunity to connect, or reconnect, with their history, to be inspired by their heritage, to become familiar and comfortable with ideas and rituals that seemed foreign and to gain an even greater sense of Jewish pride.

Some of you who are reading this now have been reading Jewish Treats since the beginning, while others are more recent subscribers. Today, on Jewish Treats' ninth anniversary, we make two requests: 1: Share Jewish Treats with your Jewish friends, family and co-workers and keep our family growing, and 2: Let us hear from you more often, as we love to hear from our readers about the individual Treats and to write about your interests.

Thank you, dear readers, for nine wonderful years!

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Candle Prep

Set up your Shabbat candles early in the day. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Children of Abraham and Sarah

“Children of Israel,” an often used title for the Jewish people, is a name defined by the familial relationship of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. This familial relationship (which even DNA studies have confirmed) plays a strong role in both Jewish identity and Jewish life in general. For instance, one of the common forms of addressing God in Jewish prayer is “Eh’loh’haynu vay’lo’hay avotaynu,” our God and God of our ancestors.

At the same time, the Jewish people have always welcomed sincere converts and permitted them (after a detailed process of learning and commitment) to join the ”family.” The question now arises: Is Abraham the great-grandfather of converts also?

Genetically, perhaps not. Spiritually, however, there is no doubt.

Rabbi Zerikan said: Rabbi Z'eera asked, Does not “our fathers” refer to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? ...It has been taught in the name of Rabbi Judah:...because it says ‘”you shall be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4)” In the past you [would have been] the father of Aramea [those of Aram, Abraham’s birthplace] but from now on you shall be the father of all nations (Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim, Halacha 4).

When a person chooses to become a Jew, and goes through the necessary conversion process, he/she is considered spiritually reborn. This rebirth is physically manifested by immersion in the mikveh (ritual pool). At the same time that a person completes the conversion process, he/she chooses a Jewish name by which he/she will be known for all matters Jewish. To that name is attached “ben/bat Avraham Avinu v’Sarah Eemaynu” – the son/daughter of Abraham our father and Sarah our mother.

Welcome to the family!

This Treat was last posted on August 26, 2010.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Don't ask invasive questions about a person's background.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Effect of the Dead

“All life is sacred!” It’s an important statement that is frequently bandied about for political causes. The “Sanctity of life,” however, is a very real and very tangible concept in Jewish life and law, and this is not just limited to pikuach nefesh (saving a life).

In Torah law, a person is greatly affected by being in physical contact with or even near a dead body. “One who touches the corpse of any human being shall be impure seven days...If a person dies in a tent, any one who comes into the tent and everything that is in the tent shall be impure” (Numbers 19:11,14).

The Torah’s concept of pure and impure suffers in translation because it sounds like good verses bad. The status of pure or impure, however, does not necessarily have to do with behavior (though it can). For example, a person can become impure while fulfilling an important mitzvah, such as someone involved in a chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) and is perparing a body for burial.

Since the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish dispersion, every Jew has the same status (impure) and cannot be purified (which requires a special ceremony that can no longer be performed). However, the fact remains that Judaism is very conscious of the concept of the sanctity of life and the finality of death.

One of the more practical applications of this connection to both death and impurity is washing hands after visiting a cemetery. This is done once outside the graveyard area and requires water to be poured over each hand from a cup three times, alternating hands. This washing ritual affects a basic level of recognizing the impurity of having been surrounded by death.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Big Mitzvah

Find out what you can do to help your local Jewish burial society.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Autonomous Oblast

It might be surprising to learn that the first Jewish “state” was not Israel. It might be more surprising to find out that the first attempt to create an autonomous Jewish region occurred in the Soviet Union, which also went to great lengths to suppress Judaism. The region, which still exists today, although the Jewish community there is quite small, is known as the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. It’s capital is the city of Birobidzhan.

The idea of a “state” for the Jewish people originated with Lenin, who felt that the Jews might assimilate better if they felt like all other nations, and all other Soviet nationalities had their own autonomous regions. These “republics,” as they were known, allowed their nationalities to use their own language and organize their own organizations. In the case of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, the language was Yiddish, which was to be taught in the schools there as well as used for publications.

The land dedicated for the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was in southern Siberia. It was hoped that the plan would encourage population resettlement and thus strengthen the border in the area. It being part of Siberia, the climate and land conditions were less than hospitable.

As the program went into effect around 1928, the government (now lead by Stalin) made an active campaign to promote Jewish migration to Birobidzhan. They dropped pamphlets, published novels and even produced a Yiddish film called Seekers of Happiness. And tens of thousands of Jews did respond. Some American Jewish Communists even came. For a while things even looked hopeful. They managed a Yiddish theater, newspapers and Yiddish was taught in school. However, the actual living conditions and lack of economic and social support were discouraging and a large majority left.

While Stalin had initially supported the plan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was greatly affected by his murderous purges of the 1940s. It never recovered, and, today, fewer than 1,000 Jews are believed to live in the area even as it retains its Soviet-era Jewish designation.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Older Wisdom

Ask your parents or closest "guardian" for advice on major life decisions.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Filene’s Credit Union

On June 26, 1934, Congress passed the Federal Credit Union Act, allowing for the creation of what is now known as CUNA (Credit Union National Association). While there were many factors that led to this Act, one of its most influential advocates was Boston businessman Edward Albert Filene (1860 - 1937).

The name Filene is most familiar to people in connection with the retail chain established by his father William (who changed his name from Wilhem Katz). Edward Filene, along with his younger brother Lincoln, took over the running of the business in the early 1890s and were responsible for numerous retail innovations - most notably their Automatic Bargain Basement store at which clothes purchased as seconds (overstock, warehouse clearance, etc) were priced down every six days. They also ran their business with a wide range of uncommon-at-the-time employee benefits.

In 1907, not long after the Filenes chain was acquired by Federated Department Store, Filene decided to become a world traveler. While visiting India, he became intrigued with the Agricultural Cooperative Banks that were becoming popular in the country's small villages. With government support, these cooperatives offered small business loans that would normally be denied by larger banks. He came home and began researching the principles involved and discovered that his interest was widely shared, particularly among a large group of fellow descendants of German Jews (who are said to have wanted to banish the concept of the Jew as userer). The support in his home state was so strong that the Massachussetts Credit Union Association opened in 1914.

Filene traveled from state to state speaking about credit unions. When CUNA was established in 1935, Filene, through the Twentieth Century Fund foundation, appropriated $25,000 to support it. Throughout his career, Filene had found ways to make the lives of those less fortunate just a little better (affordable quality clothes, employee benefits), and he strongly believed that credit unions would offer a chance at success to a whole new segment of American society.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Healthy Lending

If you have the ability to lend money to someone in need, don't hesitate.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Serving the Public

As proclaimed by the United Nations, June 23rd is “Public Service Day.” In honor of this designation, today’s Jewish Treat introduces Sherut Le’umi, the national Public Service system of the State of Israel.

Since the state’s founding in 1948, Israel has had a national draft for all citizens 18 years or older. The fact that the Israeli Defense Force included both genders, however, was highly problematic for more traditionally observant Israelis. Life in the military was a great deviation from the standards of modesty with which their daughters were raised. Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis at the time (Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Benzion Uziel, respectively) actively opposed female military conscription.

In 1953, a positive alternative was proposed: The establishment of a compulsory national service corps for those young women who had obtained a religious exemption from military service. While the idea was accepted, the actual program did not come into existence until 1971. At first, the program was specific to young women from religious homes, but, in time, the program expanded to include others: conscientious objectors, those with medical exemptions, etc., as well as Arab youth who wished to serve the country but not be part of the Israeli Defense Force.

While serving in Sherut Le’umi, these young women and men receive housing, a small living stipend, classes/programming and a number of other small benefits. They work in a wide variety of areas, including schools, hospitals, nursing homes, absorption centers, and more. Many of the Arab participants are allowed to work within their own community.

As has been found in other countries with similar programs, Sherut Le’umi offers several important benefits to the country beyond resolving the disagreement about female conscription. The B’nei Le’umi (“Children of Service”) often provide assistance to underprivileged citizens. Additionally, the participants receive potential vocational experience while learning about “giving back” and about the diversity of their country.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Double Day

Choose something special to wear in honor of the double celebration of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Swim Baby Swim

Today, June 22, 2017, people around the world are learning to swim as part of the "World’s Largest Swimming Lesson" event. Today's Treat focuses on just how important it is to know how to swim:

Hot summer days and dramatic Olympic competitions bring to mind the joy of swimming. But swimming is more than a sport or a relaxing pastime; swimming is a skill that is specifically mentioned in the Talmud.

Kiddushin 29a lists those things that a parent is obligated to do for his/her child: “The parent is obligated to circumcise and redeem his [first-born] child (via a pidyon haben), teach him Torah, find him a wife and teach him a craft. Some say, also to teach him to swim.”

Circumcision and pidyon haben are specific religious rituals that intimately connect a child to the Jewish people. Teaching a child Torah is teaching him/her the rules of life--the paths of morality, and the laws of justice. More than that, teaching a child Torah gives the child tools for spiritual growth. Finding a spouse and learning a craft are the foundations for successful adulthood. Starting a family and having a means of supporting a family are the fundamental building blocks of civilization.

But why swimming? Our rabbis maintain that the instruction to teach a child to swim is to be taken both literally and figuratively. To teach a child to “swim” really means teaching a child to survive in a world that abounds with spiritual and physical dangers.

Raising a child means preparing him/her to face all of the challenges and joys of life, be they spiritual, physical or societal.

This Treat was published on August 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ease On In

If you did not learn to swim as a child, make arrangements to do so this summer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Strong and Gentle

It is not uncommon to hear facetious comments about the fractious nature of the Jewish people and how challenging it is to be a community leader. Many have heard the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions!” Even a cursory familiarity with Jewish history going back to Biblical times leads to the conclusion that this is not a new thing. Being a Jewish leader has never been easy, and even the most famous leaders in Jewish history faced derision, unrest and mutiny from the people.

The first king of Israel, Saul, was actually appointed under contentious circumstances after the Israelites grumbled to the prophet Samuel and demanded a king like all the other nations. Samuel, with God’s approval and guidance, appointed Saul to be king. No sooner had he been anointed, however, when “certain base fellows said: 'How shall this man save us?' And they despised him, and brought him no present. But he was as one that held his peace” (I Samuel 10:27).

Not long thereafter, the Ammonites led an attack against a group of Israelites, sending an ultimatum to the entire nation. When Saul heard their threat, he immediately rallied soldiers from all of Israel, laying down a hard line and demanding that they come and fight.

After the fight, when the people demanded to know which men had spoken out so disrespectfully toward him, Saul magnanimously declared “‘There shall not a man be put to death this day; for today God has brought deliverance in Israel.’ Then Samuel said to the people: ‘Come and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there’” (ibid 11:13-14).

In his first act of leadership, King Saul ignored his detractors and focused on bringing the nation together to defend their fellow Israelites.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Speak with Care

Be careful of the words you speak about others, even public figures.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The “Big Day”

Popular culture refers to one’s wedding as “The Big Day,” and it is, indeed, the beginning of an entirely new stage in one’s life. According to Jewish tradition, “there are three people whose iniquities are forgiven...[the third is] one who marries” (commentary of Rashi on Genesis 36:3).

Because the wedding day is considered a day of renewal on which one receives atonement, many communities have customs for the bride and groom that are similar to Yom Kippur. For this reason, it is customary in many communities for the bride and groom to fast from waking in the morning until after the chuppah (the wedding canopy, used to refer to the whole ceremony). However, there are numerous days on which fasting is not permitted, and the bride and groom may eat. These are Rosh Chodesh* (new month), Isru Chag (the day after a festival), Chanukah, Purim, Shushan Purim and the 15th of the months of Av and Shevat (Tu B’Av and Tu B’Shevat).

It is interesting to note that another reason given for the pre-wedding fast is to prevent having an intoxicated groom (or bride). If the formal marriage ceremony were to be completed while one of the parties was inebriated, the marriage could be questioned.

Additionally, in most traditions the bride and groom recite the same prayer service as is recited on the afternoon before the Day of Atonement, which includes the Vidui (confessional) service.

*with the exception of Rosh Chodesh Nissan

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

May I Help

If you know a couple preparing for their wedding, offer to assist them in anyway possible.

Monday, June 19, 2017

What A Player!

Today marks 171 years since the first official game of baseball was played on June 19, 1846. In honor of this anniversary, today’s Jewish Treat presents a brief biography of a unique Jewish baseball player: Moe Berg.

Berg, who was born in Manhattan and raised in Newark, NJ, began playing baseball as a kid (when he assumed a fake name, Runt Wolfe, because most of the other kids were not Jewish). But Berg was also a scholar who earned a place at Princeton University, where he studied modern languages. A true polymath, Berg was fluent in Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit. He later learned Japanese.

On the field, Berg was an unexceptional player who had some exceptional moments, such as the Yale-Princeton Game of 1923, in front of the scouts from the Big Leagues. Berg graduated and joined the Brooklyn Robins (predecessors to the Dodgers).

Berg could catch. Berg could throw. But, Berg was not particularly good at hitting. This, and the fact that he frequently skipped spring training for other pursuits such as studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and getting his law degree from Columbia, made Berg a very dispensable player. Over the course of his professional career, he was frequently traded, and played for six different major league teams.

While passionate about his baseball playing, Berg had a second secret career as well. Moe Berg was working as a spy for the American Government. While some surmise that this began during his 1934 All-Stars trip to Japan (when he managed to make a film of Tokyo harbor), Berg said that he gave that info to the government only after he was recruited in 1942. Working for the agencies that would eventually become the CIA, Berg was sent to Yugoslavia to assess the resistence there. His report encouraged the United States to support Tito. His other major assignment was trying to lure Axis scientists to America, as well as determining how close Germany was to “building the bomb.”

After World War II, Berg remained with the CIA until 1954, during which time he tried to get assigned to Israel stating: “A Jew must do this.” The CIA disagreed. After the CIA, Berg seems to have become a recluse who lived with his brother and then his sister. He passed away on May 29, 1972.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Store in Kosher

Shop at and support grocery stores that carry a large supply of kosher products.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Let’s Talk About Sin

What is sin? To a native English speaker, the word “sin” is laden with concepts of Christian theology. In Judaism, a sin is more appropriately called an aveira, which means a transgression (based on the root for the Hebrew verb “to cross over”). However, even that term is an oversimplification, as there are several different types of transgressions.

An avon is, perhaps, best described as an action driven by desire. A person wants the pleasure of an forbidden item or act so much that they ignore their knowledge that the action is prohibited.

A pesha, on the other hand, has deliberate intention that is rooted in an urge to rebel. For this person, the action can have dire spiritual consequences. The Torah notes: “But the soul that does so [the forbidden act] with high handedness, whether he be home-born or a stranger, the same blasphemes God, and that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:30).

A chayt*, however, is an unintentional act to transgress a commandment. For instance, a person forgets to check that the snack they grabbed is kosher, or a person leans against a light switch and opens the light on Shabbat. One could refer to these types of acts as “oops,” since they were certainly not intentional. However, the Torah makes it clear that even unintentional acts have consequences. “And if one person sins through error, then he shall offer a she-goat of the first year for a sin-offering. And the priest shall make atonement for the soul that errs, when he transgresses through error, before God, to make atonement for him; and he shall be forgiven” (ibid: 27-28).

A “sin-offering,” as it is most often translated, was offered not for deliberate acts but only for unintentional transgressions. Commentaries throughout the ages have commented as to why this is so: perhaps to remind a person to be more aware of their actions, or to serve as a statement that even an accidental act has an effect on one’s soul.

*The Vidui confessional service uses the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” implying that Jews as a collective did not deliberately transgress the commandments.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Pay attention to the little details to enhance you Shabbat celebration.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Arkansas

Jewish life in Arkansas began in 1825 with the arrival of Abraham Block to the town of Washington in Hempstead County. For Block and his family, however, it was a very lonely Jewish existence, as it was several decades until there were enough Jews in the area to form a community. When the Civil War began in 1861, there were approximately 300 Jews in the state, 70 of whom fought for the Confederacy.

 The first two Jewish congregations in the state were founded in 1866, within a few days of each other: Bnai Israel in Little Rock and Anshei Emet (which held its final service on June 11, 2016) in Pine Bluff. The state had one particularly interesting legislative impediment for Jews.. When the first rabbis moved to Arkansas, they discovered that they were unable to perform weddings due to a law requiring that a Christian minister officiate at all nuptials. The Jewish community successfully lobbied the legislature, and the law was changed to include rabbis.

 In the 1930s, the scattered Arkansas Jewish communities decided to coordinate and consolidate. They created the Arkansas Jewish Assembly, which helped to provide Jewish education and to connect unaffiliated Jews with Jewish organizations. It lasted for nearly two decades, but ended abruptly upon the death of its president, Jack Botnick, in 1951. Local Jewish Federations took over most of the Assembly’s services.

The Jewish population of Arkansas in 2016 was, according the Jewish Virtual Library, just over 2,000. Today, is the anniversary of Arkansas becoming the 25th state of the United States in 1836.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Family Honor

If you can, call your grandparents as a demonstration of honoring one's parents and elders.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stop and Smell the Roses

There is no common word for people with an impaired olfactory system (anosmia, for those who wish to know) such as there is for one with impaired vision or impaired hearing. Smell, however, is just as important and pleasurable a sense as sight or sound. 

Rabbi Zutra ben Tobiah said in the name of Rav: Whence do we learn that a blessing should be said over sweet odors? Because it says, ‘Let every soul praise the Lord’ (Psalms 150:6). What is that which gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body?--You must say that this is a fragrant smell (Brachot 43b). 

Just as various categories of food require different blessings (bread, cake, fruit, etc), there are different blessings for fragrances, which are determined by the source of the smell. Here is a basic overview: 

(Note: Each blessing begins with Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam/ Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe.) 

1) Asher natan ray’ach tov b’payrot/ Who gave a fragrant scent to fruit is recited when smelling any fruit, whether on or off the tree. This blessing is only recited if one intends just to smell the fruit. If one happens to smell it while eating it, cooking or just handling it, the blessing is not necessary. 

2) Boray ah'tzay v’sameem/ Who created fragrant woods is recited on fragrances from a tree or tree-like plant. Tree-like is defined as a perennial with a hard stem and includes plants such as myrtle and roses. 

3) Boray eesvay v’sameem/Who created fragrant herbs is recited over scents from soft plants. 

4) Boray meenay v’sameem/ Who created various kinds of fragrances is recited over non-plant fragances. Boray meenay v’sameem is the most familiar of these blessings since it is included in the Havdallah ceremony after Shabbat. Like the Sheh’hah’kohl blessing over food, Boray meenay v’sameem is used when one does not know the proper blessing over the scent. 

This Treat was last posted on August 28, 2011

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Ahh Beautiful

Appreciate the beauty of the world with an expression of gratitude to its Creator.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bnei Brak: A Unique City

In Israel, there are any number of towns that identify themselves as primarily religious. There are none, however, that are as distinct or well-known for being as intensely religious as Bnei Brak. 

Bnei Brak is actually a historic location. A city of this name is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (19:45) as part of the territory of Dan. Additionally, the location is also mentioned in Haggadah.

Bnei Brak today is a city that is almost entirely Chareidi (the term used in Israel to designate the "ultra-Orthodox), and this actually fulfils that nature of the settlement as it was when Bnei Brak was first founded. The year was 1924 (June 13th), and the settlement was founded by a man named Yitzchok Gerstenkorn. Established as an agricultural settlement, the Polish chassisim who settled there built their lives around Jewish tradition. It was even noted that one of the first buildings that was built was a Beit Midrash, a house of study, because after a full day’s labor, the men wanted to resume their learning immediately.

Although its original settlers were traditional, Bnei Brak’s transformation into a the center of religious Judaism was not immediate. An important role, however, was played by some of the significant leaders who took up residence there. Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karlitz (the Chazon Ish), one of the most influential rabbis of the early 20th century Israel, moved to Bnei Brak from Vilna in 1933. In 1944, after the original Ponevitch Yeshiva in Europe was destroyed, the yeshiva was brought to the city by Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman. Drawn by the Torah leaders and the yeshiva, by 1950 the population of Bnei Brak was large enough for city status. Shortly thereafter, chassidic communities began to settle there along side the yeshivot. The first was the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and his chassidim, who came in the 1950s. The next decade saw many chassidic groups from the Ukraine and elsewhere settle in Bnei Brak.

 Located to the east of Tel Aviv, many of Israel’s most influential religious figures today live in Bnei Brak.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

On Your House

Make certain that the mezuzahs on your house are kosher (properly written).

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Disputation of Paris

The month of June in the year 1240 C.E. was not a good time for the Jews of Europe. The trouble began with a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin. Wanting, perhaps, to prove his loyalty and faith to the church, he sent a letter listing 35 charges against the Talmud, many of them details of texts reputedly belittling Jesus or Mary, telling seemingly lewd stories or relaying other “offensive” messages. The letter went to Pope Gregory IX and a debate was arranged at which Donin would argue his charges against four prominent French rabbis: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel the son of Solomon of Chateau-Thierry.

The “Disputation of Paris,” as the debate came to be known, was a dispute with a foregone outcome. Although the rabbis were guaranteed their safety by the queen so that they would be free to respond, there were strict limitations on what they were allowed to say about Christianity and the Church.

The Chief Jewish spokesman, Rabbi Yechiel, responded well during the Disputation and was able to reply to and reframe the derogatory accusation of Donin. For instance, he argued that in the points brought up referring to Jesus, it was simply a matter of two men with the same name, and that these passages that they found derogatory were discussing a different man named Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the Disputation ended with a condemnation of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It was determined that these holy Jewish texts should be confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, 24 cartload of Hebrew books, including many volumes of the Talmud, were brought to Paris and burnt, this at a time before the printing press, when every volume was copied by hand! So great was the loss that the date of the burning of the Talmud was subsequently marked as a fast day that was observed by many European Jewish communities in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

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Ask Away

If you are challenged about Jewish belief and don't know the appropriate answer, don't hesitate to ask a local rabbi.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Kugel Connection

A traditional Ashkenazi Shabbat table will often be graced with at least one kugel. Whether that kugel is noodle, potato or a more modern vegetable version will depend on the chef.

Often translated as “Shabbat pudding,” kugels are not only delicious, they also represent a taste of tradition, the origin of which is based on the specific needs of the Jewish community. At its most basic, a kugel is a baked combination of a carbohydrate (potato or noodles) with fat (oil or shmaltz) and eggs. Historically, kugels needed to be able to withstand a long and slow heating process, as they were often placed in the local baker’s oven before Shabbat and remained there until the afternoon meal the next day. In this way, Jews avoided any prohibited cooking on Shabbat.

The word “kugel” is actually German in origin. It means “ball” and is an allusion to the types of round pans that were commonly used to make kugel. Sometimes the small kugel pan was placed inside a larger pot containing cholent. Many kugels today are square.

Before the appearance of more modern variations such as broccoli kugel, cauliflower kugel and even onion kugel, which are all more like souffles, traditionally, most kugels were made with either potatoes or noodles (lukshen in Yiddish). Lukshen kugels were often sweetened with cinnamon, raisins and apples. A separate type of kugel is made with sweet cheese. These are served after Yom Kippur, when a dairy meal is often eaten.

Any discussion of kugel would be incomplete without mentioning Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) kugel. This kugel, which is still made in its original round shape, is unique in both taste and appearance. Made with thin lukshen, the secret of Yerushalmi kugel’s sweet and savory taste (as well as its color) is the combination of caramelized sugar and pepper--the essential ingredients.

There are those that say that the origin of kugel goes back to the days of the Israelites in the wilderness. When the manna came down, there was always a layer of dew below and above the manna. Similarly, a kugel is made with crust on top and bottom with filling in between.

This Treat was last posted on January 7, 2011.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.