Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Out of the Narrows

The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the observance of Shabbat. In Exodus, the Jews are commanded: “Remember (zachor) the Sabbath day” because “in six days God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested.” In Deuteronomy, on the other hand, Jews are instructed to “Guard (shamor) the Sabbath day” because “you were a slave in Egypt, and God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”

In a society of near-absolute freedom, such as ours, where most people that one meets seem not to care about your heritage or how you choose to observe your religion, one might feel conflicted with the Torah. How then can Jews today relate to the understanding of Shabbat as a release from bondage and as a celebration of freedom?

Most people expect a conversation about Jews and freedom to be tied to Passover, but the fact that this is an essential element of the Shabbat experience every week clarifies that the release from Egypt is meant to be part of one’s essential Jewish consciousness. 

In Hebrew, the name of Egypt is Mitzrayim, which can be translated as “from the narrows.” Each generation’s narrow place is different. In the earliest generations, it was the actual physical slavery, but for later generations the connection to a narrow place from which they were redeemed by God might simply have meant surviving a time of great persecution. 

The current generations who live in a free and "enlightened" society, have a new and unique understanding of the concept of Mitzrayim. God took the Jewish people out of the confining restrictions of what was, until recently, almost always an anti-Semitic society. Now, more than ever, as we find ourselves in a wide-open society, the Jewish people must guard Shabbat. Society is no longer forcing Jews to be Jews...now it is up to the Jews to demonstrate their own desire to remain a part of this unique people. And as the great Hebrew philosopher Achad Ha’am once wrote, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. Join us in this great Shabbat event on Friday night, March 3, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Invite Your Friends

If you are already planning to attend a SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA program, invite some friends to join you.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Five Ways to Prepare

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy (Zachor et yom HaShabbat l'kadsho - Exodus 20:8). This commandment alludes to all the positive mitzvot of Shabbat, such as reciting kiddush, eating a festive meal, etc. But “Remembering Shabbat” also refers to the constant focus of the Jewish people on Shabbat - underscored by the fact that in Hebrew the days of the week are called: The First Day of Shabbat, The Second Day of Shabbat, The Third Day of Shabbat....Shabbat. The days of the week count up to Shabbat, just as Jews spend their week looking forward to, and preparing for, Shabbat.

Jewish Treats therefore presents five things that you can do during the work week to prepare for Shabbat:

Monday--Dry Cleaning - Sounds mundane, but it is customary to wear nicer clothes in honor of Shabbat. Finding stains on Thursday can add unnecessary stress to the end of the week.

Tuesday--Invite Guests/Make Plans* - Whether you plan to host or to be hosted, it’s good to make arrangements early in the week.

Wednesday--Food - Shopping on Wednesday leaves ample time for special Shabbat food preparation.

Thursday--Parasha Prep - Take a few minutes to review the week’sparasha (Torah portion) so that you will have an interesting D’var Torah to share at the Shabbat table.

Friday--Table Setting - Set the table early in the day so that the aura of Shabbat is apparent to all who enter.

*Look ahead to March 3, 2017, and make plans to attend Shabbat Across America and Canada at a location near you.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shabbat Across America and Canada.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

This Shabbat

Make plans to celebrate Shabbat in honor of Shabbat Across America and Canada.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Just a Half Shekel

This Shabbat is Parashat Shekalim (shekels). The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to God's commandment that a census of the Jewish people be taken by the donation of a half-shekel coin, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less..."

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. (This year, Rosh Chodesh is celebrated on Sunday and Monday.) In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (14 Adar - this year, March 11/12). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

*The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.

This Treat was last published on February 13, 2015.

Related Treats:
Parashat Parah
Parashat Zachor
Parashat HaChodesh

A Shabbat of Value

Spend time with your family on Shabbat and let them know how valuable they are to you.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Talk with Knowledge

Don't hesitate to speak honestly and respectfully about Jewish beliefs.

The Trouble with Casual Blasphemy

On February 23, 1658, Jacob Lumbrozo was brought before a judge in the colony of Maryland and tried for blasphemy. In a world such as ours today, it is hard to imagine someone being taken to court on a charge of blasphemy. In the early days of the colonies, Jews always had to be careful with what they said.

Lumbrozo, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal, was raised as a converso, hiding his Jewish faith from the world. When he moved to Maryland in 1656, he began living openly as a Jew and is considered the first Jew in that colony. Lumbrozo was a physician and a businessman.

The case against Lumbrozo derived from the 1649 “Act Concerning Religion” that guaranteed equal rights in Maryland for anyone who believed in Jesus. Denying Jesus’ divinity or blaspheming God was punishable by death. In the course of casual conversation, Lumbrozo was a little too honest in explaining his Jewish beliefs. During the trial, witnesses testified that Lumbrozo had described the Resurrection as an act of deception, that the disciples had taken the body. The witnesses also claimed that Lumbrozo had suggested that Jesus performed magic or necromancy.

After his initial court hearing, Lumbrozo was held over for a hearing and had to remain in jail. This was actually beneficial as it guaranteed his inclusion in a large general amnesty that was issued at that time in celebration of the ascension of Richard Cromwell to the English Protectorate.

Lumbrozo’s name is recorded in several other court cases, but most of the facts about his life are less clear. He received a commission to trade with the Indians in Fall 1665, but he passed away shortly thereafter and his will was probated in May 1666.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Little Lox

A bagel with lox and a nice schmear of cream cheese may be, to some, the essence of Ashkenazi food, but it is actually more of what one might call nuevo-Jewish cuisine. It’s not all that traditional, and it’s not all that old because most Jews in Europe did not have access to salmon. The Jews of the shtetel were much more likely to have eaten carp (think gefilte fish) or herring.

For Eastern European Jews, many of whom were poor, fish was an important part of their diet because it was inexpensive. Fish had two other significant benefits. One, that it was pareve and could be eaten at a milk meal or a meat meal (although it is customary not to eat meat and fish together). Second, fish, when cured rather than cooked, does not need the same strict level of supervision as does meat.

Lox became popular in the United States, where the Pacific Northwest offered an abundant supply of salmon. The best way of transporting the salmon was by curing it in a salt brine...and thus Lox (which is “lachs” in German and “laks” in Yiddish). With the invention of refrigeration, the demand shifted from lox, which is heavily salted, to smoked salmon, which is similar, but different.

There are several different types of cured salmon that the general public refer to simply as lox. Real lox is salted in brine and not smoked. Nova Lox originally referred to lox made with fish from Nova Scotia, but is not a reference to lox made with a milder brine. And finally, smoked salmon, which is less salty and more popular, is slowly smoked at low temperatures.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fresh Fish

Remember to check fish for fins and scales before purchasing to eat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Story of Kurt Eisner

Did you know that there was a Jewish head of a German State in early 20th century. From November 8, 1918, until February 21, 1919, the Premier of Bavaria was Kurt Eisner, a Jewish republican who had helped overthrow the 700 year old Bavarian monarchy the day before.*

Born in Berlin on May 14, 1867, Eisner was actually a professional journalist, not a politician. Between 1890 and 1917 he worked on a wide variety of newspapers, including Vorwärts, the central organ of the German socialists. Eisner was drawn to the liberal politics in reaction to living under a rigid monarchy.

In 1917, Eisner joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. Later that year, even as Germany was at war, he was concerned about human rights. He incited the munition workers to strike, which was considered an act of treason and for which Eisner spent nine months in jail. He was later released as part of a general amnesty.

Following World War I, Eisner led the movement to move Bavaria toward democracy. Eisner believed that the German monarchies, influenced by the culture of Prussia, were at fault for the War. In fact, while Premier, he leaked documents demonstrating Prussian culpability.

Eisner was not a Communist. The revolution he started conducted elections almost immediately, and, in fact, his Social Democratic party was defeated in January 1919, just two months into his Premiership. Tragically, on February 21, 1919, as Eisner was heading to the parliament to officially resign, he was shot in the back by Anton Graf con Arco auf Valley, an angry German nationalist and anti-Semite (which was all the more tragic as Arco auf Valley’s mother was from the Jewish Oppenheim family). Eisner’s death was just one part of the post-war political upheaval that eventually allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power.

*Germany was a federation of smaller kingdoms.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 20, 2017

President Woodrow Wilson and the Jews

In honor of Presidents Day, Jewish Treats presents a quick look at the relationship of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and the Jews.

Wilson’s most famous connection to the Jewish people is his appointment of the first Jewish Justice on the United States Supreme Court, Louis D. Brandeis. During the nomination process there was a great deal of reluctance, indeed outright opposition, to the appointment of a Jew to the Court. Wilson, however, worked many political angles to push people beyond their prejudices to pass the nomination.

A lesser known piece of history was Wilson’s approval of a proclamation of a National Jewish Relief Day shortly before the United States entered World War I.  National Jewish Relief Day was born of the efforts of the Central Committee for the Relief of Jewish Suffering (also known as Central Relief Committee). The proclamation recognized that within the countries waging war in Europe there were “nine million Jews the great majority of whom are destitute of food, shelter and clothing.” With the proclamation of the day (January 27, 1916) in hand, the Jewish relief agencies of the Central Relief Committee were able to rally other organizations to work for the cause and were thus able to create a highly successful campaign.

It has also been recorded that after the outbreak of World War I it was brought to Wilson’s attention that the Army Manual of Instructions for Medical Advisory Boards included the statement: “The foreign born, and especially Jews, are more apt to malinger [in order to avoid service] than the native-born.” When the Anti-Defamation League brought this manual to President Wilson’s attention, he ordered the manual recalled and revised.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time Off

Use some of your time off to help others.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Um, What Day Is It?

Living in the “Age of Information,” it is hard to imagine a person not being able to find out what day of the week it is. But in the days before data flowed across the airways, a person alone in the wilderness could easily lose track of time. To many of us, not having a digital device or a calendar to consult might sound extremely relaxing, but it presents an extraordinary challenge for the celebration of the Day of Rest.

The Talmud actually discusses what to do if one is uncertain which day of the week it is: “Rabbi Huna said: If one is traveling on a road or in the wilderness and does not know when the Sabbath is, he must count six days and observe one. Chiya bar Rab said: He must observe one and count six [weekdays]” (Shabbat 69b).

The question remains, does one begin observing Shabbat immediately or counting immediately? The Talmud explains further the rationale behind each of these opinions.

“Wherein do they differ? One Master holds that it is like at the time of the world's Creation; the other Master holds that it is like [the case of] Adam” (Shabbat 69b).

Since Adam, the first human being, was created on the afternoon of the Sixth Day of Creation, a short while before God rested (the first Shabbat), acting like Adam would mean celebrating the Shabbat at the first sunset. Counting seven days, on the other hand, emulates God, and the idea that is at the heart of the celebration of Shabbat.

So what should one do if one has no means of knowing what day of the week it is? According to halacha (Jewish law), one should emulate God and begin counting six days, and only then begin to celebrate Shabbat.

This Treat was last posted on February 28, 2013.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Weekly Knowledge

Keep a Jewish calendar in a convenient place to check what time Shabbat begins each week.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

It’s All In How You Go

Living a Jewish life does not just happen on holidays or Shabbat or when looking for a good, kosher snack. Judaism is a way of life that is meant to influence everything one does, every step one takes, and the Torah serves as an instruction manual on how to do this.

In Exodus 20, God instructs the Israelites on the proper way to make an altar to Him. “And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift your tool upon it you have profaned it. Neither shall you go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness is not uncovered thereon” (Exodus 20:22-23).

Although these verses refer to how one should act while bringing an offering, it is a cogent example of the subtle lessons found in the Torah that actually apply to everyday life as well. In this case, the lesson reflects the necessity of modesty. The concept of modesty is often discussed in the context of religious life, usually in reference to a dress code. Modesty, however, goes beyond dress. It is a way people carry themselves, the way they interact with the world.

Being aware that walking up steps might reveal one’s nakedness reflects a general awareness of one’s surroundings and the necessary appropriate behavior in those surroundings. There is a time for laughter and a time for seriousness. There are places where it is appropriate to dress casually and places where formal dress is necessary.

Being a modest person means knowing when it is the right time to walk up the ramp rather than take the stairs.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Modest Approach

Be conscientious to behave with appropriate modesty in every situation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Story of Irena Sendler

Despite the fact that Irena Sendler was recognized in 1967 by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, her story was mostly unknown until 1999. That year, four students took on a special year-long project for National History Day and transformed Irena Sendler’s life story into a play. The project, Life in a Jar, took on a life of its own and the play has now been produced hundreds of times and been brought to life on film as well.

The story of Irena Sendler, who was born on this day in 1910, is rooted in the exalted concept of “concern-for-others,” taught to her by her physician father, who died when she was young but left a powerful impression  on her. Many years later, when she and her husband moved to Warsaw shortly before the war, Sendler took a position as a social service director. Through her job, she worked with many Jews and, even after the creation of the ghetto in Warsaw, she still had access to the community. Soon, she and her coworkers began forging documents for Jewish residents of the Ghetto.

As persecutions increased, so did Sendler’s efforts. One of the first members of Zegota (Council for Aid to Jews), she was assigned to head its children’s department. In this capacity, she helped smuggle 2,500 babies and small children to safety, placing them with Christian families or orphanages. Most significantly, even though she had to give the children new names and teach them Christian prayers, her long-range hope was to return the children  to their families, so she kept detailed records of their real names in jars that she buried.

Sendler was caught, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis in 1943, but the guards were bribed to let her escape. She returned to Warsaw and continued rescuing children.

Following the war, Sendler was considered suspect in her loyalty by the Polish communist authorities. For this reason, she was unable to attend the ceremony honoring her at Yad Vashem or to receive any distinction until the communist government fell and her story slowly became known.  She has since received many honors and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Irena Sendler passed away on May 12, 2008.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Protecting History

Share stories of Holocaust heroes and survivors that you know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

With This Ring...

The traditional Jewish wedding band is remarkable only in its particular simplicity. The ring used in the marriage ceremony is customarily made of a single solid band of metal that contains no gemstones and is not carved through. It can be platinum, gold or even silver as long as it is worth at least a p’rutah (a coin of small value).

The minimum monetary value of the ring is necessary, since it serves as a means of affecting the marriage contract. In fact, before it became a tradition for a ring to be given, the groom gave the bride an actual coin. The use of a ring in the wedding ceremony is traced back to the 10th century, although many scholars believe it started several centuries earlier.

Perhaps it was during the transition from coin to ring that there developed a unique custom now often referred to as House Rings. These often ornate rings featured a miniature house or temple on the top of the ring. Some had Hebrew engraving, ornate fillagree and even movable pieces such as roofs that opened to reveal a tiny compartment. Most historians believe that, given the extreme detail and costly materials, these rings were actually owned by the community and were used as ornaments only during the actual ceremony. The persecutions that the Jews faced during the Middle Ages led many of these rings to be either stolen or hidden, and thus lost to history.

Additionally, the ring must be owned by the groom, who places it on the bride’s index finger in front of two witnesses and declares “Behold you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and [the People of] Israel.”

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Simcha Happy

When attending a wedding, remember to focus on bringing joy to the bride and groom.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What’s Yiddish for Radio?

World Radio Day (February 13) was created by UNESCO in order to honor the incredible and diverse contribution radio has made to the world. Not only has radio broadcasting allowed for the greater and faster dissemination of information, but it has created a vital network of connection between people around the world.

In the United States commercially licensed radio broadcasts began in 1920. Along with larger national networks, like NBC and CBS, smaller, local stations sought out niche markets by focusing on particular ethnic groups. Among these many stations vying for bandwidth were a small but hardy group of Yiddish radio stations.

The first steady Yiddish Broadcast was Brooklyn-based WLTH (Broadcast from Leverich Towers Hotel), whose general manager, Sam Gellard, brought in popular Yiddish performers such as Sholom Secunda, in order to attract a Brooklyn listener audience. They offered a wide range of programming, such as their Sunday Examiner, which hosted local rabbis repeating their Shabbat sermons. One of WLTH’s greatest assets was radio host Victor Packer, who broadcast four hours a day with a range of entertainment, including man-on-the-street interviews, game shows, music programs and comedy slots. He even read his own Dadist Yiddish poetry about everything and anything.

Another important Yiddish radio station was WEVD, a socialist station that was purchased by The Forward newspaper in 1932. One of WEVD’s most popular Yiddish programs was The Forward Hour, a Sunday morning variety show. The station broadcast lively programs of Jewish interest until it was sold in 1981.

Smaller Yiddish stations fought for audiences as well. Both WCBW and WBBC had popular Klezmer music programs. Many of these micro-stations were merged to form WBYN by the FCC in January 1941. By the 1950s, however, the heyday of radio was fading fast. Like small stations nationwide, the Yiddish radio broadcasts could not compete with larger stations or the rising popularity of television.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listen Jewish

Support local Jewish radio or television stations.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it may seem as if winter has just begun, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit www.njop.org

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tu B'Shevat.

What Is the Tree of Life?

In the Garden of Eden, which was teeming with all the wonderful flora of creation, God placed two special trees:  Etz Hada’at  (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and  Etz Hachaim  (the Tree of Life). Humankind ate from the Tree of Knowledge and was expelled from the Garden of Eden, cut off from the Tree of Life.

It is interesting then that this same term, “tree of life” (minus the definite article), is used as a metaphor for Torah, as it says in Proverbs 3:18, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, those who support it are happy.” Is there a connection between the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden and the Torah?

According to the biblical text, if humankind had eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have gained immortality: “And the Lord God said: 'Behold, the human has become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever.'
Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken (Genesis 3:22-23). While involving oneself with Torah does not gain a person actual immortality, it does earn a person eternal life in the world to come.

The life force of Torah, however, are mitzvot, often translated as good deeds or commandments. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-1888) commented on Proverbs 3:18: “For the righteous person, everything he does is a tree of life. Out of his every deed grows something beneficial and lifegiving to his surroundings.”

Tradition says that one mitzvah begets another (Ethics of the Fathers 4:2). Following the mitzvot of the Torah brings continual reward to its followers, just like a fruit tree that constantly replants itself through its seeds and thus continues to provide fresh air and nourishment to the world.

This Treat was last posted on February 4, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Shabbat of Song

Music speaks to the heart, and, not surprisingly, the heart often speaks through music. Thus, when the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds (aka the Red Sea) and witnessed the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army, they burst into spontaneous song (led by Moses). 

Az Yashir Moshe U’v’nei Yisrael... Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel...(Exodus 15:1). The song, which is recorded in Exodus 15:1-19, is known as the Shirah (the song). The Shabbat on which this Shirah is chanted in the synagogue (Parashat B'shalach) is known as Shabbat Shirah.

The lyrics of the Shirah constitute exalted praises of God, Who saves the Jewish people. Recounting the miraculous event, the Shirah calls out: “For the horses of Pharaoh went into the sea with his chariots and his horsemen, and God brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” (15:19).

Why is a special name given to this Shabbat? Because the Shirah inspires us to remember the heights that our people can reach.

Those who have read the Bible cannot help but notice that such spontaneous praise and gratitude from the Israelites was rare. The Israelites spent much time complaining. They wanted meat (Exodus 16), worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32), sinned with the Moabite women (Numbers 25), etc. But when the Israelites reached the far side of the Sea of Reeds, their faith in God and in their own significance was at an all time high. There was no restraint in their praise of God.

This Treat is reposted each year for Shabbat Shirah.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

SIng for the World

This Shabbat, sing praises to God and the majesty of this world.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Foods of Tu B'Shevat

This Shabbat, Jews around the world will celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the new year of the trees. Tu B'Shevat is often celebrated with the 7 species for which the Torah praises the land of Israel: “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (from dates)” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Wheat (chitah): The Sages noted the importance of wheat in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21): “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no Torah, there is no flour.”

Barley (seh’o’rah): At Passover time, the Omer offering (a measure of barley from the new harvest) was brought to the Temple, symbolic of the start of the spring harvest.

Grape (gefen - literally grape-vines): The transformation of grapes into wine reflects humankind’s ability to choose to uplift itself or debase itself depending upon how they use the grape.

Fig (t’aynah): “... All the figs on one tree do not ripen at once, rather a few each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs one finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds" (Eruvin 54a).

Pomegranate (rimon): According to the Midrash, the pomegranate has 613 seeds equivalent to the number of commandments in the Torah.

Olive (zayit): “...Just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter, so too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off--neither in this world, or in the World to Come” (Menachot 53b).

Date (tamar): While the Torah uses the word d’vash, honey, it is understood as referring to date-honey because the date is frequently boiled to make a type of honey. “The righteous shall flourish like a date-palm tree” (Psalms 92:13), for those who act holy are sweet in God’s eyes.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Tu B'shevat.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fruit Stop

Stop by the store and pick up some special fruit for celebrating Tu B'Shevat this Shabbat.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What’s the Complaint?

People always like to complain. It is a fact. Sometimes they have legitimate complaints, and sometimes they don’t. Suffice it to say, however, that most often the reaction to the complaint is proportional to the legitimacy of that complaint.

When the Israelites, fresh out of Egyptian slavery, saw themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the sea, they cried out to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, you’ve taken us to die in the wilderness...” (Exodus 14:11-12). God responded to this outcry from the recently redeemed Israelites by instructing Moses to split the Sea.

On the other hand, the ungrateful Jews complained a second time (even though they had crossed the Sea and sang praises thanking God) when they “walked three days in the desert but did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter” (Exodus 15:22-23). In response to this complaint, the Israelites were given both a solution (Moses threw a special piece of wood into the water that turned the water sweet) and some behavior guidelines: “If you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, and you do what is proper in His eyes, and you listen closely to His commandments and observe all His statutes, all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you, for I, the Lord, heal you” (ibid. 26).

At Marah, the peoples’ complaint was based on supposition. The text doesn’t say that they did not HAVE water, but that they did not FIND water. The first water that they found was not potable, and they reacted. However, unbeknown to them when they complained, they were on a path to “Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters” (ibid. 27). God gave them what they felt they needed, but He also reminded them of the importance and need for trusting Him.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Without Complaint

Find positive ways to express the need for something to be changed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Never Too Late To Educate

It is a well-known fact that Judaism places tremendous emphasis on education. Thousands of years ago Rabbi Simon ben Shetach (75 B.C.E.) instituted compulsory school attendance. The earliest “public school system” was established less than a century later, in the era of the Talmud, when the great sage Joshua ben Gamala “came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town” (Talmud Baba Batra 21a).  “Resh Lakish also said to Rabbi Judah the Prince: I have this tradition from my fathers — others state, from your fathers: Every town in which there are no school children shall be destroyed” (Talmud Shabbat 119b).

For centuries, Jewish boys were sent to master basic Hebrew literacy. Familiarity with all of Jewish tradition was expected from a young age and continuing advanced education was seen as ideal. It should be noted that female education was mostly home-based, as was customary at that time in most of the world. Although there were always educated Jewish women, women’s education was not standardized until the early 20th century when Sarah Schenirer founded the Beth Jacob girls school movement.

In the last century, while Jews have continued to greatly revere education, the emphasis has shifted from Torah education to secular studies. For many Jews, learning Hebrew, if it was learned at all, was relegated to an after-school activity. Therefore, the ancient mission stated by Joshua ben Gamala has had to shift from children to adults.

Obviously, true education must extend beyond learning the aleph-bet. For some in the modern world, it means mastery of the rituals of Shabbat and Jewish holidays, as well as the fundamentals of Jewish law and community customs. For others, Jewish education needs to begin with simple Jewish pride. The onus to fulfill the obligation of teaching those Jews now falls upon every Jew who cares enough to share their knowledge with those who never had the opportunity to learn.

Support Education

In honor of NJOP's Annual Dinner tonight, make a donation to support its work of providing Jewish education to Jews across North America.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Irish in Fairbanks

In 1910, while visiting her family in her native town of Dublin, Jessie Spiro was introduced to her second cousin, Robert Bloom. He was eight years her senior and had spent the last decade in Alaska, starting out as a prospector for gold but finding prosperity after opening a hardware store in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Although born in Lithuania, Bloom’s family had moved to Dublin when he was a child.)

Jessie Spiro was not daunted by Robert Bloom’s unusual residence. She herself had chosen an independent path by moving to London (2 years earlier, at age 21) and becoming active in the suffragette movement.

In 1912, Robert and Jessie were married and, shortly thereafter, set off for Alaska. They settled in what was then the fledgling town of Fairbanks (established in 1901) and became actively involved not only in the city’s development but also in the development of the greater state of Alaska as well.

In 1918, Jessie opened the city’s first kindergarten. Several years later, she formed the first girl scout troupe in Alaska. Robert was a founder of the Alaska Agriculture College and School of Mines, a forerunner of the University of Alaska, and a charter member of Igloo Number 4 of the Pioneers of Alaska fraternal organization.

In the early 1920s, the Blooms founded the Fairbanks Aeroplane Company. Their affinity for airplanes was not limited to business. Robert was actively involved in establishing the Eielson Air Force Base. During World War II, the Blooms provided outstanding support for the Jewish servicemen stationed in Alaska. They opened their home for services and invited soldiers to their Passover seders.

Bloom actually had a long history of assisting his coreligionist, acting as a lay rabbi in his early years in Alaska and helping to establish Congregation Bikkur Cholim, which met in his home in its early years. Bloom was also chairman of Alaska’s Jewish Welfare Board.

In addition to helping build Alaska and foster the small Jewish community there, the Blooms raised four daughters. The Blooms eventually retired to Seattle, Washington. Robert passed away in 1974, Jessie in 1980.

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Community Abroad

When travelling to an unfamiliar place, research the local Jewish community first.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Don't Pretend

Has someone you know recently emailed you from their overseas vacation pleading for assistance after being mugged? Have you received a phone call from a tax agent warning you of impending dire consequences? Get any mail from a remote foreign country? Today’s common scammers may be tech savvy, but they are simply modern versions of ancient swindlers.

“Our Rabbis taught: If a man pretends to have a blind eye, a swollen belly or a shrunken leg, he will not pass out from this world before actually coming into such a condition. If a man accepts
charity and is not in need of it, his end [will be that] he will not pass out of the world before he comes to such a condition” (Talmud Ketubot 68a).

While we may not be able to see exactly how this comes to pass - sadly, too many dishonest people seem to get away with fraud and deception - it is a solid warning against these vile actions. Pretending to be in need is not only an outright act of theft, but it also undermines society by creating constant distrust. Those who are normally open-hearted and generous feel as if they are constantly being taken advantage of and may become hesitant and start to question the integrity of those who are truly in need.

Although the Torah does not support any particular socio-political ideology (like communism or socialism), the Torah society is based on people helping one another whenever the need is genuine.

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Honest Shabbat

Put your heart into the celebration of Shabbat.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Blue Laws and the Supreme Court

In honor of the first session of the United States Supreme Court (February 2, 1790), Jewish Treats looks at one of the first Jewish issues brought before the Supreme Court Justices: Blue Laws.

Blue Laws regulate what activities are allowed on Sunday. The term Blue is connected to an out-of-date language usage suggesting a rigidly moral outlook. While most of the original Blue Laws were designed to protect the Christian Sabbath and included restrictions on business, entertainment and even personal activities (one Connecticut law prohibited mothers from kissing their children!), by the mid-twentieth century it was mostly businesses that were affected.

In 1961, the United States Supreme Court ruled on four different cases that sought to declare the Blue Laws unconstitutional. Two of the four cases involved Jewish litigants: Gallagher vs. Crown Kosher Super Market and Braunfeld vs. Brown. In all four cases, the Supreme Court upheld the existing laws.

Abraham Braunfeld’s suit challenged Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws on the grounds that they violated his ability for economic sustainability because, due to his religious beliefs as one who observes Shabbat, he was unable to do six days of business as his competitors were. Braunfeld owned a retail clothing and home furnishing store in Philadelphia.  Crown Kosher of Springfield, Massachusetts, sought relief from the state laws prohibiting stores from being open on Sunday. They had tried opening their store on Saturday nights, but had found it economically unfeasible. Their case was based on the fact that neither they nor their customers could do business on Saturday and so the enforcement of the Blue Laws violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits legislation preferring one religion over another.

By the 1960s, however, the states that still had Blue Laws had all asserted, and demonstrated, that the purpose of those laws was to create a civil day of rest for the betterment of society. For this reason, in each of these cases, the majority of the Justices ruled that the states’ Blue Laws were constitutional.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Quiet Weekend

Make the Sabbath a day of rest from electronics.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Real Thing

With a bit of creativity, one can easily think of reasons why a person might assume a new identity. Sometimes it is a need for safety, such as those who enter the Witness Protection Program. Sometimes it is for more nefarious reasons, such as the fugitive criminal who took on a false identity and moved into the Orthodox community of Lakewood, New Jersey, observing Jewish law and custom even though he was not actually Jewish. (He was arrested in 2008.)

As strange as it may sound, this type of identity theft is even mentioned in the Talmud: A certain [non-Jew] used to go and partake of the Passover sacrifices in Jerusalem, boasting: “It is written (Exodus 12:43, 48), ‘There shall no stranger eat thereof. . . no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof,’ yet I eat of the very best” (Talmud Pesachim 3b).

He mentioned this to Rabbi Judah ben Batyra, who was upset that this scoundrel was violating the sanctity of the Temple. Rabbi Judah told the [man] that the next time he should request the best part, the “fat-tail.” Since this part of the sacrifice is always burnt on the altar and never eaten, the man's request to eat the fat-tail aroused the suspicion of the priests, and “they investigated his pedigree and discovered that he was a [non-Jew] and killed him” (ibid.)

In an era that values experimenting with the cultures of others, it may seem shocking that the man was killed for this trespass. But there is also a reminder here that some things, such as the Passover offering, are particularly sanctified for the Jewish people, and no one else.

However, it is also interesting to note how very inclusive the right to eat of the Passover offering is. Exodus 12 declares that while no alien may eat of it, every person who is part of the household, even non-Jewish servants (as long as the males are circumcised) has the possibility of being included.  “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:49).

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


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