Monday, May 22, 2017

Rav Saadia Gaon

Rabbi Saadia ben Joseph, known by the appellation Rav Saadia Gaon (Gaon was the title of the religious leader of the Jewish community in Babylon) is best known in history as a philosopher and as a powerful opponent of Karaitism.* These were, however, simply a part of his monumental scholastic achievements.

Born in the Fayyim region of Northern Egypt in 882 C.E., Rav Saadia published Ha’agron, a Hebrew reference dictionary, when he was just 20 years old. Three years later, in addition to moving to Palestine, Rav Saadia wrote his first work disputing the Karaite movement.

Rav Saadia Gaon’s rise to leadership came after he successfully refuted Rabbi Aaron ben Meir, the leader of Palestinian Jewry, when Rabbi Aaron tried to alter the calendar and have Passover observed three days earlier than determined by the calendar established by the Men of the Great Assembly. Following this incident, Rav Saadia became the head of the Talmudic Academy in Sura, Babylonia. Two years into his tenure, however, Rav Saadia had a falling out with the Exilarch (the political leader of the Babylonian community) and moved to Baghdad for seven years. While living in Baghdad, Rav Saadia continued his prolific writing and scholarship. During this time he completed his philosophical and theological masterpiece Emunoth v’Deoth,  Book of the Articles of Faith and Doctrines of Dogma. After Rav Saadia and the Exilarch were reconciled, Rav Saadia returned to Sura and remained there until his death in 942.

Rav Saadia was an important figure in Jewish history for many reasons. He lived at a time when the world of learning focused on philosophy and so he wrote about Judaism in philosophical terms. Additionally, his use of Arabic as a language of Jewish scholarship made Torah accessible to Jews across the Medieval world both in his day and for centuries to come.

Rav Saadia Gaon’s yahrtzeit is today, 26 Iyar.

*Karaitism: a Jewish religious movement that repudiated oral tradition as a source of divine law (Encyclopedia Britanica)

Philosophical Exploration

If you enjoy studying philosophy, take the time to explore works by Jewish philosophers such as Rav Saadia Gaon and Rabbi Moses ben Maimon.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The New Month is Coming

In many synagogues around the world, the monthly calendar contains a special notation marking the last Shabbat of the Hebrew month as Shabbat Mevarchim (The Shabbat When They Bless). It is called this in honor of the special extra prayer that is added in honor of the coming Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month).

Birkat Hachodesh, the blessing of the new month, begins with a supplication based on a prayer of the Talmudic sage Rav that is recorded in Tractate Brachot 16b. It requests a life of peace, goodness, blessing, sustenance, health, fear of heaven and fear of sin, free of shame, with wealth, honor and a love of Torah and a fear of heaven.

Birkat Hachodesh is recited while standing, in commemoration of the pronouncement of the new moon in the Sanhedrin in the days of the Temple. Because the calendar is now calculated, the congregation is informed of the molad, the exact time the new moon will appear over Jerusalem. This is followed by a request for God to fulfill His promise to gather all the exiles to Israel.

The prayer for the new month continues when the prayer leader, followed by the congregation, declares the new month and the day or days* on which it is to be observed. Then, finally the congregation followed by the prayer leader call upon the Holy One to renew the month for Israel “for life, and for peace, for joy and for gladness, for salvation and for consolation

*Depending on the number of days in the previous month, Rosh Chodesh is observed on either one or two days.

Coming Up

Try to attend services to hear the Blessing of the Month.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Around the World in One Place

In honor of International Museum Day, Jewish Treats presents Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People (often referred to as the Diaspora Museum).

In 1959, at the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, the organization’s president, Nahum Goldmann, suggested the creation of a museum in Israel that would explore the history and life of the Jewish diaspora. His vision came to fruition when Beit Hatfutsot opened its doors on May 15, 1978.

The Museum has a three-fold mission:

1) To present and display the unique and ongoing 4,000 year-old story of the Jewish people – past, present and future.
2) To nurture a sense of belonging among Jewish visitors and to strengthen Jewish identity.
3) To serve as the central address for Jewish discourse, engagement and learning for Jewish individuals, families, communities and organizations from Israel and around the world.

This unique museum fulfills its mission with interactive displays and inclusive storytelling. In fact, it is notable that while the museum has many replicas, it has almost no actual original artifacts, highlighting the fact that it is not a museum of things, but rather it is the collective narrative of a people.

Beit Hatfutsot was designed around six gates: 1) family, 2) community, 3) faith, 4) culture, 5) the Jewish people among the nations, and 6) the return to the land of Israel. Included among its most renowned exhibits, in the Gate of Faith, is a collection of 18 model synagogues, many of which are no longer standing. Another fascinating exhibit at the museum is the Feher Jewish Music Center, where visitors can explore the music of Jewish communities around the world. Additionally, before leaving Beit Hatfutsot and exiting onto the modern campus of Tel Aviv University, guests of the museum are offered the unique opportunity of accessing their own personal history at the Jewish Geneology Center.

History is Yours

Take actions to preserve your family history for posterity.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Students, Teachers, Honor and More

Across the country, students are preparing for the end of the year. Young children happily count the days until there are “no more teachers, no more books,” while older students take to their books in anticipation of exams. In Jewish life, however, one is, in many ways, a perpetual student. The constant study of Torah is not just encouraged, but obligatory*, and even the greatest teachers are often students of another scholar.

Judaism’s culture of ongoing studies succeeds because of a shared value among each member of the community. The relationships between students and their colleagues and between students and teachers have to be relationships built on respect, an ethos beautifully expressed by Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua: “Let the honor of your student be as precious to you as your own; and the honor of your colleague as the reverence due your teacher; and the reverence toward your teacher as your reverence for God” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Father 4:15).

This Mishna appears, at first glance, like a fairly common-sense guideline to the hierarchy of learning institute, but there are several very interesting details. First of note is the order of the Mishna, which begins by directing teachers to protect the honor of their students. The teachers’ position of authority makes it easy for them to embarrass or disrespect a vulnerable student/students. The most basic job of an educator is to encourage the student to achieve.

The second interesting detail about this Mishna is the shift in language. There are two words used for relating to another person’s honor (kavod) and reverence (yirah). Looking after the honor of another means treating them with respect, but reverence infers a level of deference. Rabbi Elazar is advising scholars that they should go above and beyond honor when interacting with their fellow scholars and that the deference shown to their colleagues should be far less than that which they show to their teacher.

*The obligation to study Torah is for men.

Every Student

Teach the children in your life to always treat teachers with respect.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bowing Down

Because it was customary for idol worshippers to bow fully to the ground before their idols, Jews refrain from bowing down (with the exception being during the Yom Kippur service). According to the sages, there are several ways a person might bow:

"Kidah means falling upon the face, as it says (I Kings 1:31), ‘Then Batsheva bowed with her face to the earth." Keri’ah means going down upon the knees, and so it says (I Kings 8:54), ‘[Solomon rose] from kneeling on his knees.’ Hishtachavayah is spreading out the hands and feet, as it says (Genesis 37:10), ‘Shall I and your mother and your brothers come to prostrate ourselves before you to the earth?’" (Megillah 22b).

The Jewish aversion to bowing stems from two Biblical sources. The first is Leviticus 26:1, which states : "...neither shall you place any figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it..." The second traditional source is Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to Haman in the Book of Esther.

In the daily prayer services, however, Jews not only bow four times during the Amidah (silent, standing prayer), but at several other points in the daily service as well (Barchu, Aleinu). It is therefore important to note that the Hebrew term specifically prohibited in Leviticus 26 is Hishtachavayah, full prostration of hands and feet. Nevertheless, Jews tend to refrain from bowing in any other manner as well.


Practically, there may be exceptions where bowing (other than full prostraton) is permissable. One might bow in front of a king or queen if that is the customary way of paying respect to royalty. If one were in Japan, one might bow when greeting others, as is the custom of the country. One might not, however, bow to any animal, in front of a statue or any other inanimate object.


This Treat was last posted on October 15, 2012.


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

Awareness

Be aware that some items that appear as art are really considered statues in Jewish law.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Her Name Means Mother of All

If there is one Biblical story that most everyone in Western society knows, it is that of Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve is truly fascinating, and there are many details that are fleshed out in the Oral Tradition. However, the basics are: God tells Adam not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent seduces Eve into taking a fruit, and Eve gives Adam a bite. As a result, God banishes humans from the Garden of Eden. God must punish Adam and Eve for transgressing the one rule that he has given them. He exiles them from the Garden of Eden, and mortality becomes part of the human destiny.

Throughout the entire incident, the “helpmate” of Adam remains without a name. Upon her creation, “Adam said, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (eesha), because she was taken out of Man (eesh)'” (Genesis 2:23).

When God announced their punishments, He said to the woman: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16). The curse did more than just punish Adam and Eve, it defined them in their own eyes as well. Adam, the man, is the one who “by the sweat of your brow you [all] shall eat bread,” while the woman is the one who bears (and raises) the children.

Once Adam recognized that Eve was far more than an extension of himself, that she had a different role in the world, he named her (as he had all other living creatures): “Adam called his wife's name 'Eve' (Chava comes from the root of the Hebrew word chaya, meaning life), because she was the mother of all living creatures” (Genesis 3:29).

This Treat is based on "The Hebrew Name Ava" (November 9, 2011) on the Jewish Treats sister site, TwebrewSchool.org

Encourage

Don't hesitate to introduce two people you feel might be a good match. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"The Splendor"

While the study of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) has always been a part of Torah study, it only gained public prominence in the early 14th century when a Spanish rabbi, Moses de Leon, published the Midrash de Shimon bar Yochai, better known today as the Zohar.

According to Rabbi de Leon, the Zohar was a compilation of the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) that were recorded by his son Elazar and his disciples shortly before the great sage’s death. Jewish tradition believes that these teachings were given to him by the prophet Elijah while Rashbi and his son lived in a cave for 13 years, hiding from the Romans.

The origin of the Zohar was, and remains, a controversy. Many believe that it was actually written by Moses de Leon, while others firmly accept de Leon’s attribution of the text to an ancient manuscript by Rashbi.

The Zohar, which means "The Splendor" or "The Brilliance," contains a mystical discussion of God, the structure of the universe, the nature of souls, sin, redemption, good and evil and related topics. It is written in Aramaic and Hebrew, and is structured around the weekly Torah portions. Numerous commentaries have been written that are studied alongside it.

Kabbalah, and thus the Zohar, views the world from a spiritually-oriented perspective. Every action in the world has an equal spiritual reaction that affects the world. Each person has the ability to bring the Divine closer, or to push the Divine away. The mystical allegory in the Zohar is based on the principle that all visible things, including natural phenomena, have both  common reality and an esoteric reality. (If you cannot understand the last few sentences, not to worry, you’re in good company - after all, it’s mystical!)

This Treat was last published on May 6, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Who Was Rabbi Akiva

Akiva ben Yosef was once an ignorant and illiterate shepherd. So poor and downtrodden a figure was Akiva that his extremely wealthy father-in-law disinherited Akiva’s wife, Rachel, for marrying him.

At the age of forty, Akiva's life changed. According to legend, while tending his flocks, Akiva noticed a rock with a hole going straight through it. This hole was created by constantly dripping water. Akiva decided then and there to go and study Torah. If dripping water could bore a hole into solid rock, then even he, a forty year old man, could learn Torah through constant effort. He had to start from scratch, for Akiva ben Yosef did not even know the aleph-bet!

Strongly encouraged by Rachel, he went to study Torah for 12 years. When he returned he overheard his wife saying that she would gladly let him learn for another 12 years. And he did. When he finally returned, he had become Rabbi Akiva, the great sage, and had acquired over 24,000 students. (The majority of whom died of plague during the period of Sefirat Ha'omer.)

Sadly, Rabbi Akiva was one of 10 sages whom the Romans brutally executed for teaching Judaism. They tortured him by scraping his flesh with a large iron comb. Yet, Rabbi Akiva called out joyfully: "All my life I've been waiting to fulfill the concept, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.' Now I finally have the chance to fulfill those words.” With his last breath, he cried out the words of Shema (Talmud Brachot 61b).

Like Moses, Rabbi Akiva started as a shepherd. He became one of the greatest sages of the Jewish people with enough wisdom to unravel the intricacies of the law, guide the populace and inspire future generations.


This Treat was last posted on May 6, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Simply This

Happy Ba'Omer

Friday, May 12, 2017

Thank You, Mom

In honor of all our favorite Jewish Mothers, we've decided to re-Treat this special Mother's Day edition of Jewish Treats!

Don’t forget to call your mother today, or send her flowers or a card. For those very, very out of the loop, today is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day set aside to show the moms in our lives how much we appreciate them. It’s a sweet and wonderful idea...but according to the Torah, every day is Mother’s Day.

The very first commandment that God gave to Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply.” Traditionally, this mitzvah is only considered obligatory upon men, not women.

This seems strange. After all, women are the ones who carry the children in the womb, nourish the infants from their breasts, and, traditionally, take the brunt of the child-rearing responsibility. If anything, “peru oo’revu,” be fruitful and multiply, should be a woman’s mitzvah!

According to the sages, however, the mitzvah of “peru oo’revu” is not obligatory on a woman because of the inherent dangers in childbirth. It has only been in the last 100 years or so that the number of fatalities during birth has become minimal, and Torah law does not command people to put themselves in life-threatening situations.

Perhaps, however, the danger inherent in motherhood is not just physical. Motherhood changes a person, restricts her and demands that she sacrifice many of the things she most values in life (sleep, independence, etc.). At the same time, through motherhood, a woman has the chance to not only experience the immense power of creation, but also to emulate God's endless ability to give.

Motherhood, therefore, is both a choice and an opportunity. And it is because of this choice, and the sacrifices inherent therein, that one should give his/her mother honor, respect and even gratitude, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

For more on the mitzvah of honoring one's mother and father, please click here


This Treat is repost annually for Mother's Day.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

The Tragedy of Jealousy

The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) relates that “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students...and all of them died in one period of time because they did not act with respect toward each other...they all died between Passover and Shavuot...and they all died a terrible death.” The Talmud then goes on to explain that, according to Rabbi Nachman, the deaths were caused by a croup-like illness that resulted in the victim’s suffocation.

Think of it: 24,000 students! And all but 5 of them (as stated elsewhere in the Talmud) succumbed to this horrible plague.

Unfortunately, love of God and love of God’s Torah, does not always translate into proper moral comportment. Instead of encouraging each other’s pursuits in learning, the students busied themselves with showing off their own Torah knowledge in order to “one-up” their fellows. As punishment for this great failing, the students were struck by the plague.

As the Talmud notes, this great tragedy occurred during the time period between Passover and Shavuot and lasted until Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. For this reason, 33 days of Sefirat Ha’omer (the Counting of the Omer) are considered days of mourning.

Communal mourning in Jewish tradition is expressed by the Jewish people by refraining from certain activities. During the 33 days of Sefirah, the precluded activities include: 1) cutting hair, 2) going to live performances of musical entertainment and 3) getting married.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Lag Ba'Omer

The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha’omer is not observed on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba’omer. In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. "Lamed" equals 30, and "Gimmel" equals 3, thus Lag (spelled "Lamed Gimmel") Ba'omer, literally means 33 (days) in the Omer.

Because the mourning period is now over or suspended for the day, Lag Ba’omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during most of Sefirat Ha’omer) and haircuts.* Some have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which the child first begins to learn Torah. Since haircuts are delayed until after the period of mourning, and because there is Kabbalistic significance to hair, many put off the hair-cutting ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba'omer.

Lag Ba’omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famed Talmudic Kabbalist whose teachings are revealed in the Zohar. In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron (near Safed) to observe his yahrtzeit near the cave in which he was buried. As per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated rather than mourned.

It is also common for families and friends to gather together for a bonfire and/or picnic on Lag Ba'omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the word Zohar translates to “shining light,” and bonfires bring light to the world.


*Some people observe 33 days of mourning starting from the beginning of the month of Iyar until three days prior to Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

This Treat was last published on May 25, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Plan Ahead

Plan something special for Sunday's Lag Ba'Omer celebration.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Jews in Early Minnesota

It is often surprising to realize just how recent it was that the majority of the United States was wild, unsettled territory. Minnesota, which became the 32nd state on May 11, 1858, was a well-forested base for the fur trade. Thus the territory drew the attention of men such as Maurice Mordecai Samuel, a London born merchant who worked a peddler’s path in this sparsely populated area and watched as the territory transformed into a state. While the fur trade brought Samuel to the St. Croix Valley in Chippewa County, his name is recorded in history for his participation in the Civil War as part of the St. Croix Rifles.

St. Paul, which is the capital of Minnesota, drew many of the Jews who headed into the Minnesota territory. Situated on the Mississippi River, it was an easily accessible trade route. The Jewish community grew swiftly, and by 1856, Minnesota’s first Jewish congregation, Mount Zion Congregation, was formed. Founded by Jewish immigrants from Germany, it was supported by families who were actively involved  in the growth of the city:


  1. The Elfelt brothers, who arrived around 1850 and entered into mercantile ventures - one brother (Abram) organized the city’s Board of Trade, while another (Charles) helped establish the city’s first theater. Abram also helped found the city’s Bnai Brith Lodge.  
  2. Jacob Jackson Noah, son of Mordecai Manuel Noah, was a lawyer who participated in the Constitutional Convention preparing Minnesota for statehood. 
  3. Joseph Ullmann ran such a successful fur trade that he opened branches in Chicago, New York and Leipzig, Germany. The diary of his wife, Amelia, is an important document recording life for those settling the area.


Mount Zion Congregation recently celebrated their 160th anniversary! A second congregation, Chevrah Bnai Yaakov, was founded in 1875. Over the course of history, it merged with several newer congregations and is now known as Beth Jacob Congregation.

Local Activist

Become an active member of your local community.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Second Passover

On the first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel prepared to celebrate their first Passover as free people. God decreed that they should eat matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in commemoration of the great event, and, most importantly, that the Israelites should all partake of the Passover sacrifice (lamb).

On the eve of the second Passover, Moses was approached by a group of distraught men. “We are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering to God in its appointed time among the children of Israel?” (Numbers 9:7).

Contact with the dead renders a person tamei, spiritually impure, and any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Paschal lamb.

In response to their plea, Moses sought instruction from God. God responded that anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a far-away journey at the time of the Passover offering (14th of Nisan), would then offer the Pascal lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Those celebrating “Pesach Shaynee” (Second Passover) had to eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Passover.

Today, without a Temple, no one is able to bring a Passover sacrifice. Thus the laws of Pesach Shaynee have little practical effect in day to day Jewish life. However, there is a custom to eat some matzah on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Shaynee for ourselves and for future generations.

This Treat is retreated annually.

A Bite or Two

This afternoon, enjoy a piece of matzah in honor of Pesach Shaynee.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Oh Goodness

“He [Rabbi Akiva] said:... The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 3:19).

God judges the world with goodness by always  looking for the positive, for reasons to sustain His creation. God wants people to emulate the Divine, to judge others favorably and to seek out ways of helping those in need. The more good deeds that people do, the easier it is for the world to be judged with goodness. This is important, since the Midrash, as explained by the great Medieval commentator Rashi, infers that the reason God destroyed the world in the days of Noah and the flood was because the people of that generation did not “do good” to each other. Rashi explains that the former [generation of Noah] were drowned, while the latter [generation of the Tower of Babel] did not perish from the world, because the Generation of the Flood were robbers and there was strife between them, and therefore they were destroyed. But these [the Tower of Babel generation] behaved with love and friendship among themselves.... Thus you learn that discord is hateful, and that peace is great (Rashi on Genesis 11:9).

Sometimes people delude themselves into thinking that good deeds must be actions that make a noticeable impact. But, the fact is that there are constant opportunities for good deeds. Small actions, such as complimenting a stranger, can have a tremendous, and often unrevealed, impact on the other person, as can sending a meal to a friend during a hectic time, giving charity to the begger you pass every day, or visiting the sick.

Little Good Deeds

Find small ways of doing kind things for others.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Watch Your Language

Once upon a time in American culture, defiant children who uttered certain improper words would have their mouths washed out with soap. Sadly, that time is no more, and profanities litter the world of common media. But just because society has allowed the vulgar to become the norm does not mean that this is the proper way for one to speak.

Crass language, referred to in Jewish sources as nivul peh, is discussed in several places in the Talmud. For instance, “Rabbah ben Shila said in Rabbi Chisda’s name: He who puts his mouth to folly, Gehinnom [Hell] is made deep for him, as it is said (Proverbs 22:14), ‘A deep pit is for the mouth [that speaks] perversity.” (Talmud Shabbat 33a).

It is the ability to speak that defines humanity from the rest of the “animal world,” and how one uses that gift often reflects how a person views him/herself and the world. Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi said “one should not utter a gross expression from one’s mouth” (Talmud Pesachim 3a) while the School of Rabbi Ishmael taught: one should always discourse in decent language... and it is said (Job 15:5), ‘and you shall choose the tongue of the subtle,’ and it is said (Job 33:3), ‘and that which my lips know they shall speak purely’” (Talmud Pesachim 3a).

Maintaining a purity of speech is not limited to simply refraining from cursing, but should also include being conscious of all the words that one uses. It is interesting to note that most expletives in English are based on body functions, particularly “romantic” functions. Jewish texts, however, are filled with euphemisms. “Said Rabbi Chanon the son of Rab, ‘All know for what purpose a bride is brought into the bridal chamber, but whoever disgraces his mouth and utters a vulgarity, even if a [Divine] decree of 70 years of happiness were sealed for him, it is turned for him into evil” (Talmud Ketubot 8b).

Think First

Think about your words before you say them.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Rabbi in Mexico

Mexico, which is celebrating Cinco de Mayo today, does not have a particularly long Jewish history due to the presence of the Inquisition, and its lingering influence. Today’s Mexican Jews are, in great part, the families of European Jews who arrived during or after World War II.  Among those Jews who made Mexico their home was Rabbi Moshe (Moises) Kaiman, who arrived in the northern city of Monterrey in 1944 and served that community for 68 years.

Born in Szczuczyn, Poland in 1913, Rabbi Kaiman was ordained when he was 18. In 1941, he was lucky to be offered a position in Cuba and thus escape from Europe. His parents, siblings and the family of his wife all perished at Auschwitz.

Serving Monterrey’s Jewish community meant far more than just leading a synagogue. Rabbi Kaiman was also a shochet (kosher butcher), a mohel (performs brit mila/circumcision), a teacher and did everything else that was necessary. Additionally, he represented the Jews among the larger community, and Rabbi Kaiman was well-accepted among his clerical colleagues. He was even invited to a reception for the Pope.

In addition to his clerical duties, Rabbi Kaiman was also the author of six books, as well as a local newspaper column and, toward the end of his life, wrote articles that ran in New York’s Algemeiner newspaper.

Rabbi Moshe Kaiman passed away on September 22, 2012.

Shabbat Joy

Infuse your Shabbat celebration with joy.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Top of the Class

Among the scholars quoted in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, are clusters of sages who are interconnected whether due to being from the same city, are part of the same generation or share the same teacher. Such was the case of Rabbis Eliezer ben Hyrkanos, Joshua ben Chanania, Jossie the Kohain, Simon ben Netanel and Elazar ben Arach, who were all students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (Pirkei Avot 2:10).

Discussions in the Talmud do not usually involve ranking the sages, but in each of Pirkei Avot’s discussions of these five scholars (and there are several), Rabbi Elazar is singled out for praise.

1) Rabbi Yochanan comments on each scholar: He compared Rabbi Eliezer to a cistern that never loses water. About Rabbi Joshua, he said “praiseworthy is the woman who bore him.” He called Rabbi Jossie scrupulously pious and noted that Rabbi Simon feared sin. Rabbi Elazar, however, was compared to a spring that flows stronger and stronger” (Pirkei Avot 2:11).

2) In the next Mishna, Rabbi Yochanan stated that if Rabbi Elazar were set on a scale opposite all the greatest sages of Israel, Rabbi Elazar would outweigh them all (2:12).

3) When Rabbi Yochanan asked his five students to discern the proper path in life, Rabbi Elazar said “A good heart.” Rabbi Yochanan prefered this answer because it encompassed all of the other answers: a good eye, a good friend, a good neighbor and “one who considers the outcome of a deed.” (The Mishna that follows is the opposite, explaining what is an evil path.) (Pirkei Avot 2:13-14).

4) This section of the Mishna concludes with five separate Mishnayot, one for each of Rabbi Yochanan’s disciples quoting three of their teachings: “Rabbi Elazar says: Be diligent in the study of Torah and know what to answer a heretic, know before Whom you toil and know that your Employer can be relied upon to pay you the wage of your labor” (2:19).

As great as Elazar’s scholarship was, other inferences in the Talmud teach us that without his companions, Rabbi Elazar was unable to maintain his high level of scholarship. When the rest of the scholars moved to Yavne, he moved to Emmaus, and his learning declined (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:7).              

Community Ties

Become an active part of your community. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today I am a Man, Sort Of

In today’s day and age, it is difficult to fathom how the rabbis could deem a twelve or thirteen year old child even remotely mature enough to be considered an adult. In truth, however, reaching the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah has never meant that one was a full-fledged grown-up, but simply that one was now responsible for his/her own actions. Becoming "responsible" is an important part of human development.

In laying out the course of a man’s life, particularly in relation to study, Rabbi Judah ben Tema said (Ethics of the Fathers 5:25): "A 5 year old begins [learning] Scriptures, a 10 year old begins Mishna, a 13 year old becomes obliged to observe the commandments, an 18 year old goes to the marriage canopy, a 20 year old begins earning a livelihood, a 30 year old attains full strength, a 40 year old attains understanding, a 50 year old can offer counsel..." Rabbi Judah’s statement continues until 100 years old, noting the characteristics of different ages.

As Rabbi Judah ben Tema pointed out, there is an appropriate order of development. A boy/girl must learn to be responsible for his/her own actions in his/her parents’ home before becoming fully independent (around age 18 or 20). This process begins, in earnest, at the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

Perhaps the classic celebration speech should more correctly read: Today, I am learning to be a man/woman.

This Treat was last posted on October 28, 2008. 

Community Celebration

Wish mazal tov to families making a simcha (joyous celebration).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Tale of Tel Aviv

In honor or Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, Jewish Treats presents a very brief history of a very well-known city: Tel Aviv. Known as the first all-Jewish city of modern times, it was founded in 1909 by sixty Jews looking to leave the over-crowded streets of Yafo (Jaffa). They succeeded in creating not only a pleasant new residence for themselves, but in laying the foundation of a city that would grow so large that it overtook the settlers’ original home, leading to a municipal merge in 1950 (officially it is Tel Aviv-Yafo).

The original settlement was known as Ahuzat Bayit, but within a year it was renamed Tel Aviv as a reference from Theodor Herzl’s novel Altneuland. Ahuzat Bayit was not the first Jewish settlement in the area, that was Neve Tzedek (established 1886), but it was the first with a specific plan for the future.

The city’s growth was rapid, disrupted only by an Ottoman imposed evacuation of all Jews from Tel Aviv in 1916 (World War I turned control of the area to Britain). Rioting in Yafo in 1921 gave a significant boost to the population as thousands of Jews relocated. By 1947, there were close to 200,000 residents of the young city.

During the 1948 war, when Jerusalem was first occupied by the Jordanians, Tel Aviv served as the nation’s place of government. Even after the government moved back to Jerusalem, many foreign governments maintained their embassies in Tel Aviv (including the United States). While no longer the political center, Tel Aviv remains Israel’s center of business and arts. It is home to a number of important cultural sites such as The Diaspora Museum and Ben Gurion’s House, as well as its unique World Heritage Site “White City” - the designation of the city’s prominent Bauhaus architecture.

Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel's Independence Day

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. On that day, the British Mandate was terminated and David Ben-Gurion declared:

...This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly, we, members of the people's council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.


Within minutes, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish state. The Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel.

Within hours, five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) declared war and launched an attack. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence. Israel had no established army, no central command, no air force of which to speak and not enough weapons to arm its fighting force, which was composed of both sabras (native born Israelis) and refugees.

Miraculously, the Israelis gained the upper-hand in battle and, in 1949, the attacking nations signed armistice agreements with Israel.

The celebration of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, begins at sunset immediately following Yom Ha’zikaron (Memorial Day). Yom Ha’atzma’ut is marked in Israel by a special ceremony on Mount Herzl, a general atmosphere of celebration, and the bestowal of the Israel Prize upon Israeli citizens or organizations that have demonstrated excellence in their field(s) or have made vital contributions to Israeli culture.

Proud Of

Be proud of the accomplishments of the State of Israel.

Monday, May 1, 2017

In the Negev

Today is Yom Hazikaron, the State of Israel’s official day of remembering the men and women who gave their lives to build and protect the Jewish homeland.

All wars are tragic and dramatic, but the battles fought in 1948 were all the more so given the differing sizes of the two warring parties. The day after Israel declared its independence, seven Arab countries attacked. Israel, at that time, was a country of tiny settlements filled with people trying to bring the land back to life. This was particularly true in the south, where several communities were trying to develop the Negev Desert. Unfortunately, these villages, which were populated with new immigrants, many of whom had come from war-torn Europe, were in direct line of the Egyptian army’s march north.

The fate of Kibbutz Nitzanim is typical of what these settlements faced. Founded in 1943, it was an agricultural community built around an old mansion (known as “The Palace”) on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund. By 1947, Nitzanim’s population was less than 200 people. On May 15, 1948, it was included in Operation Tinok (Baby), which evacuated children from several southern settlements.

The battle of Nitzanim began on July 7, at midnight, with a bombardment by the Egyptian troops encamped to the east. The kibbutz was defended by 141 combatants, 74 of whom were from the Givati Brigade’s 53rd Battilion. Try as the defenders did, the Negev’s small isolated settlements were almost impossible to defend. By the end of one day, Nitzanim was controlled by the Egyptians and nearly a quarter of its defenders had been captured or killed.

After the war, Kibbutz Nitzanim was reestablished 4 kilometers south. The site of the battle, used as a youth village from 1949 - 1990, is now a memorial tourist attraction and includes The Women of Valor Center, honoring Israel’s lost female soldiers, 3 of whom perished at the Battle of Nitzanim.

Israel's Memorial Day

The State of Israel's independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. (There have been over 24,000 fallen soldiers since the State of Israel was founded.) Therefore, before Israel celebrates its independence, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar,* Yom Ha'zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country for one minute, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

*When the 4th of Iyar begins on Saturday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is delayed until the 5th, and the celebration of its independence is delayed until the 6th.

Memorial in Mind

Take a moment out of your day to remember those fallen trying to build a future home for all Jews.