Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. When they reached Israel, however, Naomi urged them to go back to their fathers’ homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi]  go, I shall go, your people will be my people...your land will be my land, and your God will be my God" (1:16).

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s family had fled the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

In the meantime, the elders of Bethlehem debated whether Ruth was a true convert and whether she could marry a Jewish man. Naomi, however, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere. She directed Ruth to go to the ceremony at the close of the threshing and seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David.
The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot.

This Treat was last posted on June 10, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

King David's Day

According to tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot. To try and summarize the life of King David in a 300 word Treat would be impossible. In the annals of Jewish history, David was more than a king. He was a shepherd, a warrior, a scholar and a poet -- and these descriptions do not even begin to describe the complex personal life of David and his family. 

There are many reasons given to explain why King David was considered so extraordinary, but the Midrash reveals that he was unique even before he was born. According to The Midrash, God showed Adam the entire future of humankind. Adam noticed one particularly bright soul that was full of potential but had no years of life attached to it. Adam offered to give  this soul 70 years of his own life. Thus it was that David lived exactly 70 years, and that Adam lived 70 years short of a complete millennium.

David was born the eighth son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. He was born under what seemed to be questionable circumstances (click here to read more). In addition, according to Talmud Sotah 10b, he had the unusual distinction of being born circumcised.  

The Midrash also notes that King David's death was unusual. The Talmud, Shabbat 30a, relates that David was aware that he would die on Shabbat and wished to die on Sunday instead so  that he could be buried without any delay. God told him that this was not possible, but David took matters into his own hands. He spent every Shabbat immersed in Torah study so that the Angel of Death would have no power over him. Not to be put off from his Divine mission, the Angel of Death caused a great noise in the orchard beside David's study. David continued to study as he went to see what the noise was, but paused momentarily when a step broke beneath him. In that moment, the Angel of Death completed his mission.

This Treat was last posted on May 17, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shavuot Wishes

NJOP wishes you and yours a beautiful and meaningful Shavuot.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Littlest Mountain

When the Israelites were gathered at Mount Sinai, God gave them the Torah.

Scholars and academics have spent lifetimes debating the exact location of Mount Sinai. The Sinai peninsula is covered with mountains, some wide and flat, others tall and rugged. Trying to establish which mountain is actually Sinai based on the fact that the Jews converged on Mount Sinai just short of 7 weeks after leaving Egypt, is almost impossible given the many different factors such as speed, route taken and stops made.

There is a mountain on the Sinai peninsula that is called Mount Sinai (in Arabic Jebel Musa, the mountain of Moses), but many doubt that this is the true location.

What do you picture when you think of Mount Sinai? Given the important event that occurred there, most would assume that it was a tall, grand mountain when, in fact, it was just the opposite: The Midrash relates that all of the tall mountains fought to be chosen as the location for the giving of the Torah. Mount Sinai, knowing that it was the smallest of the mountains, remained silent, and God chose Sinai because of its simple humility.

The allegories of the Midrash are not whimsical fancies, but are an important means of teaching critical life lessons. Judaism considers humility to be a most important character trait. Moses is described as the most humble human who walked the earth. However, being humble, according to the Torah, does not mean making one’s self a doormat. Rather, a humble person will know his/her own strengths and self-worth (as well as his/her weaknesses), and will not need others to acknowledge his/her significance.

This Treat was last posted on June 6, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Whose First Fruits

When the Oral Law was first codified, most Jews lived in agrarian settings. Today, being less familiar with agrarian culture, some people find it difficult to relate to some of the discussions in the Mishna (Oral Law) regarding planting or livestock. Although we may no longer farm or herd flocks, the importance of responsible land ownership and use is a value that has remained throughout time.

For Jewish farmers in the land of Israel, one of the mitzvot that is part of the cycle of crop production is that of bikkurim, the first fruit offering. The first fruit to blossom on each plant of the seven species of the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) is marked (with a string) to be set aside for an offering at the Temple. One might assume that this mitzvah would apply to all farmers, but, in fact, the rabbis understood the pronouns in this commandment to be very specific: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land” (Deuteronomy 26:2).

The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:2) states that “tenants, lessees, or occupiers of confiscated property--or a robber--may not bring them...because it says, ‘the first-fruits of your land.’” As significant as the first fruits are, the relationship of the farmer to the land upon which the plant grows is also important.

But ownership of the land is not the only criteria. “These may not bring them [bikkurim]: He who plants on his own soil, but sinks [a shoot] so that [it] nourishes from the territory belonging to an individual or to the public...[or similarly]...so that it grows on his own property”(Bikkurim1:1). In other words, this mitzvah can only be performed by one who makes certain not to infringe on the property rights of others or the public.

This Treat was last posted on June 8, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Fruits of Labor

When you eat produce, take a few moments and think about the incredible process necessary to grow that fruit or vegetable.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Tuesday night (May 30th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their normal human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

This Treat was last posted on  June 7, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for the Torah

Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves. 

There is no way to describe the effects of being in the presence of God because there is no human being alive today who has experienced this level of holiness. In fact, Moses was the only prophet who had direct interaction with God, and God’s Presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given was a one-time-only event. 

However, it is understood that being in the Divine Presence requires preparation, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses, prepared themselves for three days. They washed their clothes and prepared their souls. 

It was not just the people who needed to be prepared. God’s presence affected the inanimate earth as well. The Israelites were instructed, under threat of death, not to go up, or even draw close to, the mountain until the shofar was sounded. 

The three days preceding Shavuot (Sivan 3, 4 and 5) are known as Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of boundaries. These three days were, and still are, days of preparation. Today, while we do not stand at the physical base of Mount Sinai, we can, and should, prepare ourselves to ascend to a higher level of spirituality and religious commitment on Shavuot. 

Today is the first day of the Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of preparation. The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah, begins on Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat.  

Treat was last posted on June 9, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Cheesecake Tryout

Prepare for Shavuot by trying your hand at preparing some cheesecake.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Give Them A Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder...and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. Perhaps this is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

This Treat was last posted on May 22, 2015.

Take Two Tablets

Most artistic representations of the Ten Commandments present two rectangular tablets rounded off at the top. As pleasing to the eyes as this rounded design may be, tradition suggests that the luchot (tablets) were “six handbreadths in length, six in breadth and three in thickness” (Baba Batra 14a). To clarify, the luchot were large, thick and square (and incredibly heavy).

Two large, square chunks of carved stone may not appear to be particularly artistic, but the Torah itself provides some interesting details that allow us to imagine just how magnificent the luchot were. The Torah records that Moses stood on Mount Sinai for 40 days and, at the end of that time, God gave Moses “the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18). Similarly, it is written “Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:15-16).

The tablets of the Ten Commandments were not fashioned with a hammer and chisel, but rather “carved” with the finger of God. The luchot had the miraculous effect that “The writing of the Tablets could be read from within and without” (Shabbat 104a). According to tradition, this does not mean that God wrote the same words on both sides, but that, although God carved straight through the stone, the writing was legible from which ever direction one looked. 

This Treat was last posted on May 20, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Our Heritage

Take a few moments to contemplate your relationship with Torah and the experiences of your ancestors.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Green Cheesecake At Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The First Ten

If the children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai, why did Moses come down bearing only “the two tablets of the testimony” luchot ha’aidoot (Exodus 32:15), on which the Ten Commandments were written rather than a complete scroll of law? 

The Biblical narrative states that God brought the Israelites to Mount Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments, beginning with “I am the Lord your God!” Some commentators argue that the people were so intimidated by God’s voice, that they could only tolerate hearing the first two commandments as they rang out from the heavens. The people then beseeched Moses to intercede and deliver the remaining eight commandments. Moses then ascended Mount Sinai and did not return to the Israelites for 40 days.

Ten Commandments...forty days? Obviously, something more than Moses reviewing Ten Commandments was happening on that mountaintop. Tradition tells us that during the time Moses remained on Mount Sinai he received all of the written and oral Torah.

Moses was uniquely endowed and capable of learning all of halacha (Jewish law), as well as the methods of deriving halacha, in just over a month. However, it was not possible to teach what he learned to the entire nation in less than 40 years 

God therefore began with the Ten Commandments, which could be understood and followed on a simple as well as a complex level. For example, honoring one’s mother and father (#5), on the simple level, means giving respect to one’s parents. When studied further, however, one discovers that this commandment is also about gratitude to God, the ultimate Creator.

Thus, the Ten Commandments are seen as the cornerstone of the Torah, containing both the religious (“I am the Lord your God”) and legal elements (“Do not steal”) of the Torah. 

This Treat was last posted on May 29, 2014.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shavuot is Coming

If you have not yet done so, make preparations for your celebration of Shavuot, which begins at sunset on Tuesday, May 30th, and ends after nightfall on Thursday, June 1st.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jerusalem Day

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine (Israel) into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an "international city" for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the Partition Plan).

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall,  the only accessible point (at that time) to the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the retaining wall that supported the Holy Temple, and nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.

On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. The war itself lasted six days, but on June 7, 1967 - 28 Iyar 5727 - Israeli paratroopers took the Old City and, for the first time in almost twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.

This Treat was last posted on June 3, 2016.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Western Wall History

The Western (Wailing*) Wall is the most accessible holiest location in Jewish life. With 28 rows of massive stones above ground (and 17 below), the wall itself is physically breathtaking. Its holiness stems from the fact that it is the closest location to where the Holy of Holies was located in the Temple.

When the Western Wall was first built by Herod as part of a retaining wall for the expanded Second Temple (c. 13 CE), it was 24 rows of stones shorter and remained that height for nearly seven centuries. The other rows have been attributed to later sources. The Second Temple fell in 70 CE, and after the quelling of the Bar Kochba’s uprising in 135 CE, the Jews were fully exiled from Jerusalem. They were not allowed to live in Jerusalem or worship at the Wall until the early 5th century, when permission was granted by Aelia Eudocia, the Byzantine Empress.

It seems, from the sparsely recorded data, that Jews continued to be allowed to come to the Western Wall throughout much of the Middle Ages. Alas, after Saladin’s overthrow of the Crusaders (1187), Saladin’s son established a “Moroccan Quarter” to create housing for his loyal followers--who regularly dumped their waste in the 13 foot gap left between the houses and the holy wall.

In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered Jerusalem. Under the Ottomans, several legal rulings were issued, both allowing Jews to come to the Wall to pray and, at the same time, prohibiting them from paving the narrow walkway in front of the wall, making noise and setting up tables.

When the British took control of Jerusalem from the Turks (1917), the Jews had to constantly fight for their rights to pray at the wall. After the 1948 war, the Jordanians took control of the entire Old City. Although the 1949 Armistice Agreement stated that Jews would be permitted access to the Wall, the Jordanians never actually allowed them to do so.

During the Six Day War of 1967 (on the 28th of Iyar), the Israeli Defense Force took back the Old City. Shortly thereafter, they demolished the “Moroccan Quarter” and greatly expanded the plaza in front of the Wall, allowing access to anyone who wished to come to the holy site.

*The term “Wailing Wall” is actually a modern term that appears only in the late 1800s/early 1900s. It may be based on the ancient Arabic name for the Wall, El-Mabka, which means “the place of weeping.” Both El-Mabka and Wailing Wall refer to the Jews who have, throughout history, come there to cry for the lost Temple.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


As it is customary for Jews to pray toward Jerusalem, discover which way Jerusalem lies from where you live.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Charleston Synagogue(s)

Charleston, South Carolina is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the United States. The 1669 charter for the Carolina Colony explicitly included liberty of conscious for "Jews, heathens and dissenters." It is believed that the first Jew came to the area in 1695 as an interpreter for Governor John Archdale. Records indicate that several Jews voted in the 1702 general election.

As in most of the colonial cities, the majority of Jews in Charleston were Sephardic, and the first synagogue in the city followed traditional Sephardic rites. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim built its first building with a capacity of 500 people in 1794. Its opening attracted attention and praise from both the Jewish and non-Jewish community.

By the turn of the century, Charleston had the largest Jewish population of any American city. With growth, however, came division. Beth Elohim maintained strict rules on its congregants and expected every Jew in the city to become a member when they turned 21. In 1824, a sizable number of congregants decided to leave Beth Elohim and formed "The Reformed Society of Israelites." Although the society failed to thrive after its organizer, Isaac Harby, left for New York in 1827, it was the first Reform congregation in America. By 1833, Beth Elohim was whole again, but not for long. In 1838, a fire destroyed the synagogue and division returned when the congregation began to plan for the new building. By the end of the 1840s, after a court battle over the installation of an organ, Beth Elohim identified as a Reform congregation, while Shearith Israel was established as the new Orthodox synagogue.

In an interesting turn of events, the two congregations, both of which had suffered from the Civil War, were reunited afterward. As a result of the war, Beth Elohim's membership was greatly affected, and its Torah scrolls and organ, which had been sent to Columbia for safekeeping, had been destroyed in General Sherman's march. Shearith Israel's building had been severely damaged. After a lengthy negotiation, the two congregations merged once more as Beth Elohim, which exists until today.

It should be noted that Beth Elohim and Shearith Israel were not the only congregations in Charleston at the time of the Civil War. The Ashkenazic immigrants who arrived in the early 1800s had organized Congregation Brith Shalom in 1854, which is today one of several other synagogues in Charleston.

Today is the anniversary of South Carolina becoming the eighth state of the Union in 1788.

Prominent Jews associated with South Carolina:

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Right Way to Talk

Speak respectfully about all parts of the Jewish community, even if you disagree with their perspective.

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)

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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.


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

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


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.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 that 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).

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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.

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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).              
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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. 

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