Friday, August 18, 2017

At the Rebbe’s Table

In a chassidic community, the Rebbe is far more than the decider of Jewish law and the head of the synagogue. A Chassidic Rebbe is the center of life for his community, a guide for their spiritual growth and religious practice. For many chassidim, there are few things more important than being in the presence of their Rebbe, for just being in his presence offers the chassid an opportunity to learn how to better serve God.

One unique custom allows large numbers of chassidim to join in the Shabbat and/or festival meals of their Rebbe. The tisch (which literally means table) varies from sect to sect, but does have some basic similarities. The Rebbe sits at a large head table. When the tisch meal starts, the Rebbe makes the requisite blessings (such as kiddush over wine and ha’mo’tzee over bread if it is a Friday night, or just ha’mo’tzee over bread if it is a third meal, Melave Malka, yahrtzeit or other type of special meal), allowing the chassidim to respond with an “Amen.” In many chassidic communities, all of the very large portions of food  from which the Rebbe takes a bite is divided into small pieces that are distributed to all those present. The food shared from the Rebbe is known as shirayim (leftovers). Some chassidic tisches are small, while others are so large that bleachers are arranged for the gathered chassidim.

More than just food, the Rebbe shares words of Torah and, perhaps, inspiring stories with his Chassidim. Additionally, the chassidic tisch is known for singing. Either the Rebbe himself or someone(s) designated by the Rebbe leads those gathered in zmirot (Shabbat songs) and/or niggunim (wordless songs articulated with repeated syllables such as “aye aye aye.”) In some communities there is dancing as well.

Something Different

While celebrating Shabbat, explore customs from other Jewish communities.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Thing to Say

It is a terrible thing to learn that someone you care about has died. Death, however, is a natural part of the cycle of life, and a person’s passing is as much a part of the Divine plan for the world as a good or bad harvest, winning the lottery or meeting a neighbor at the store just as you realize you forgot your wallet. This is one reason that the Torah prohibits extreme demonstrations of grief not once, but three times: Leviticus 19:28 prohibits cutting one’s flesh. Leviticus 21:5 instructs the priests not to make a baldness on their head, shave the corner of their beards, or cut their flesh. Deuteronomy 14:1 reiterates the prohibition of cutting one’s self and adds a prohibition of making a baldness between one’s eyes.

So what is the proper way to receive the tragic news of the loss of a loved one? The sages wrote “For good tidings one says the blessing for God, ‘Who is good and bestows good’ (Hatov v’hamativ). For evil tidings one says, “Blessed be the True Judge’ (Baruch Dayan Emet)” (Talmud Brachot 60b). These words help moderate one’s reaction and provide a gentle reminder that death is part of life, and is all part of a larger plan.

The sages noted the use of Baruch Dayan Emet (B.D.E. in the language of social media) for evil tidings, and it is most often used upon hearing about the loss of a life, even when one does not know the deceased personally. However, it is a phrase that can apply to a number of situations, since it serves as a reminder that the world, in all its good and in all its sadness, is in the most capable of hands--God’s.

Comfort and Condolences

Share the joys of your life with other people.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Jews of Cyprus

The history of the Jews in Cyprus is surprisingly "benign" given the island’s proximity to both Europe and the Holy Land.

The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus was home to a significant Jewish community during the Roman era, and several synagogues were established on the island. However, in 117 C.E., the Cypriot Jews participated in an uprising against the Romans, and, in response, the Romans banned the Jews from the island. The ban was not well-enforced, and the community returned and thrived with little record of any major anti-Semitism.

During the Middle Ages there are records of communities in Famagusta, Nicosia and Paphos. However, after Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, the community dwindled and the next recorded Jewish presence did not occur until the island was under British Administration (1878).

In 1883, a large party of Russian Jews created a settlement in Orides near Paphos. Two years later, 27 Romanians arrived on Cyprus, but their settlement failed to thrive. Another colony was attempted, with the support of the Jewish Colonial Association and Ahavat Zion of London in 1897 in the areas of Margo, Kouklia and Cholmakchi. Over two dozen Romanian Jews and their families came, but, as so often happened, these colonists were not properly prepared for the challenges of the land.

The most significant connection of Cyprus to Jewish history is the role the island played n the history of the settlement of Israel. The British saw Cyprus as the perfect solution for “illegal” Jewish immigration. Less than 300 miles away from the Israeli coast, Cyprus became host to an extensive detention center for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe who were stopped from reaching the Land of Israel. Ironically, several hundred Jews who had fled to Cyprus in the 1930s were relocated to Israel and Africa in 1941, before the Cyprus camps were created.

By 1951, there were less than 200 Jews on the island. That number continued to decline until recently, when the Jewish population grew enough through professional relocations to warrant the opening of a Chabad house.

On August 16, 1960, Cyprus declared it's independence.


If you know a family in need, anonymously drop off a gift card for school supplies to help them at this time of year. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cochin Jews of India

The Malabar Jews of Cochin*, India, claim to have existed as a community since the times of King Solomon’s trade missions for ivory and silver. It is most likely, however, that their ancient community “only” dates back to the destruction of the Second Temple. The most important artifact recording the Jewish presence in the area is the  “S√Ęsanam,” a set of copper plates on which it is recorded that Joseph Rabban was granted a small principality. 

Rabban’s descendants maintained their chieftainship of the Malabar Jews until the sixteenth century (until an argument between two heirs ended it). But, in truth, their rule would certainly have been threatened by the newest power in India: the Portuguese, who were no great friends of the Jews. At the same time, a new population of Jews appeared in the Cochin region--a community of Sephardi Jews fleeing the Iberian Peninsula. These Jews, who became known both as the Paradesi Jews and the White Jews, held themselves aloof from Malabar Jews (who became known as the Black Jews due to their more native skin tone).

Unfortunately, for most of the history of the Cochin Jews, the White Jews and the Black Jews refused to form a united community. Although it appears that the two communities observed many of the same customs, they had separate synagogues.  Additionally, there was a sub-community among the White Jews of remunerated slaves known as meshuchrarim, who were treated as second class citizens. Mirroring the surrounding Indian world, these Jews formed a caste system, with the meshuchrarim on the bottom. 

Physical remains of the Cochin Jewish community, such as the Paradesi Synagogue, can still be visited by tourists in the area still known as "Jew Town," but the community itself has dwindled to a mere handful of elders. While some left the community by integrating into the general Indian society, many chose to move to the State of Israel. 

Today, August 15, is India Independence Day. This Treat was last posted in 2012.

*The city's name was changed to Kochi in 1996.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved


Find opportunities to explore the customs of other Jewish communities.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Hungarian Schism

The history of the Jews of Hungary reads much the same as that of the Jews in other areas of Europe. They were ever at the mercy of the nobility, with their favor waxing and waning drastically from one era to another. By the late 19th century, however, Hungary, like many other European countries, had emancipated the Jews, giving them the same rights as their non-Jewish countrymen.

Unfortunately, the Jewish community was now divided between the "Orthodox" and the “Neologs,” who were proponents of more modern Jewish practices. (It should be noted that the Neolog movement was not the same as the German Reform Movement in that the modifications it sought were more aesthetic, such as the placement of the bima and allowing for indoor wedding ceremonies.)

Prior to the late 1860s, when Hungary became a semi-autonomous part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian Jewish communities had been loosely associated. In 1868, however, the government called for a Hungarian Jewish Congress to determine a communal leadership for the Jewish community. The Neologs then formed the National Jewish Bureau, which had the support of the government to guide communal affairs, but not the full backing of the Hungarian Jews. Shortly after its creation, the Orthodox community (based in less urban areas and including a large chassidic population) was given permission to open its own communal board - Orthodox Executive Committee. The Orthodox rabbis were ordained at the Yeshiva of Pressburg, while the Neolog rabbis studied at the Budapest University of Jewish Studies. The traditionalists who chose neither organization used the label “Status Quo.” This division, in which there were two governing Jewish boards, was a fairly unique situation. It continued well into the twentieth century when each of the communal boards received seats in the Hungarian legislature.

Work Ahead

Get involved in Jewish community organizations to strengthen the Jewish community for the future.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Pleasant Song Composed

The liturgy of the synagogue has developed over the span of Jewish history. Some parts of the service  – such as the Shema, which is a recitation of Biblical text - originate from Judaism’s most ancient sources. Others are from the age of the early sages - such as the Amidah, which was formulated by the Men of the Great Assembly. Many other liturgical pieces, however, were added more “recently” - such as Shir Hakavod, The Song of Honor, which was written in the late 13th century.

More commonly referred to by its opening words, An’im Zemirot (I Will Compose Pleasant Songs), Shir Hakavod is generally attributed to Rabbi Judah Hachasid. The acrostic poem’s purpose, as expressed in its opening lines, is to “speak about You [God] and Your glories. I will honor Your Name with songs of love. I will tell of Your glory, though I cannot see You. I will describe You metaphorically though I cannot truly know You.”

The poem was added to the liturgy, and many rabbis felt that the words were so inspiring and, indeed, holy, that its actual recitation should be limited so that they do not become mundane. Thus it is that while An’im Zemirot is recorded in some prayerbooks as part of the daily prayer service, it is generally recited on Shabbat and holidays, often before the Torah reading service or at the end of Mussaf (the additional service). Some opinions state that it should only be recited on the High Holidays. Because it is considered particularly inspired, it is customary for the ark housing the Torah scrolls to be opened while it is recited. It is interesting to note, one additional custom: many synagogues choose a youth or call on interested youths to lead the call-and-respond recitation as a way of involving and encouraging the participation of the younger synagogue attendees.

Words Alive

Use your own words to praise God.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Midwestern Sour Cream

There are a host of Jewish foods that are associated with the American Jewish experience. Most of these, such as blintzes with sour cream, sour cream and bananas, and (of course) bagels-cream cheese-lox, are generally associated with the Jews of the Northeast, particularly New York. It might, therefore, come as a surprise to learn that during the early 20th century one of the largest kosher dairy producers in the country was located in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Missouri.

St. Louis is home to one of the Midwest’s biggest Jewish communities, and its earliest communal organizations date back to the 1830s. There were already three existing synagogues in 1882, when Sholom Isaac and Rivka Raskas arrived there from Kovno, Lithuania, and opened a small business delivering milk door to door. This business developed into Raskas Dairy, which opened in 1888. St. Louis, however, did not have a means of providing their boys with a traditional Jewish education, so the Raskases sent their two eldest sons, Julius and Louis, back to Europe, where they studied at the yeshivas of Slabodka and then Radin. Shortly before World War I, Louis returned to join the growing business. (His wife, Ruth, and their two sons were stuck in Europe until 1920.)

After the war, the Raskas’ business began to grow beyond their St. Louis market. They became popular across the nation, particularly for their patented Smetina cream dressing. Observant Jews were particularly good customers because of the family’s reputation for maintaining strict oversight of the kashrut of their products.

With the success of the dairy, the Raskases were able to support the growth of the St. Louis community, particularly the Jewish educational institutions that permitted families to give their children a traditional Jewish education. Louis Raskas passed away in April 1974. Raskas Dairy was purchased by Schreiber Foods in 2002.

Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821.,204,203,200_.jpg


Provide a Jewish education to the children in your life.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Fearing God

“The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge...” (Proverbs 1:7)

The idea of “fearing God” carries with it overtones of fire and brimstone, a puritanical flavor that seems foreign to our 21st century mentality. With humanity (especially Western society) feeling secure in its understanding of the universe, most people no longer fear the so-called “wrath of God.”

The Jewish concept of “Yirat Hashem, Fear of God, is not meant to serve as a threat to force people to obey the Torah. If that were the case, it would not be stated in Isaiah " the fear of God, which is His treasure" (Isaiah 33:6). Serving God out of fear of punishment or fear of losing one’s reward is actually a rather primitive form of devotion (although valid). This fundamental type of fear of God, cannot explain why in Judaism fear of God is often viewed as a path to knowledge.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:11), “Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said, "Anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. And anyone whose wisdom precedes his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure." This sage advice implies that seeking knowledge should be the direct result of Yirat Hashem. Knowing, seeing and recognizing God’s infinite power should drive a person to want to better understand God. Each new discovery (each new revelation of the Creator’s magnificence) should encourage each person to desire to know more, while, at the same time, recognizing just how all encompassing God is.

It could be said that this was what Moses meant when he told the Israelites that all God wants of them is “merely to fear God you Lord in order to walk in His paths and serve God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

Learning to sincerely fear God is not easy, but it is attainable. As the sages say: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven” (Brachot 33b).

This Treat was last posted on August 31, 2010.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The World Around

Look at the world for opportunities to both love and fear God.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rabbi Judah The Pious

Unlike so many stories one hears about famous scholars (which usually reflect on their childhood brilliance), the tales regarding Rabbi Judah Hachasid (the Pious) describe him as a free-spirited youth who excelled at marksmanship with a bow and arrow. He was, however, the scion of a long line of renowned scholars of the Kalonymus family, and his adulthood proved that he absorbed much from the people surrounding him in his childhood.

Born (1150) in Speyer, Germany, Judah ben Samuel left his hometown in the wake of the havoc of the Crusades and made his new home in Regensburg, Germany. He established a yeshiva that attracted many students who would go on to make a name of their own, such as Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz and Eleazer Rokeach of Worms. In addition to his rabbinic studies, Rabbi Judah is reputed to have had an intellectual  relationship with the Duke of Regensburg and the city’s Bishop.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid is best known for his Sefer Hachasidim (Book of the Pious Ones), which is still studied today. It emphasizes piety, prayer and proper interpersonal relationships. It also discusses, at great length, the significance of one’s behavior with the general non-Jewish population, a necessary distinction in the Middle Ages. Sefer Hachasidim is also considered a fascinating historical document in that it presents a view of the ways and customs of the time and place in which it was written.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid was a leader of a movement called the Ashkenazi Chasidim (German Pietists, different from the modern chassidic movement that developed in Eastern Europe several centuries later). While their studies often focused on the esoteric and mystical , their moral philosophy had an important impact on Jewish culture in Germany.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid passed away on 9 Adar in 1217.


Always mind your manners.

Monday, August 7, 2017

No Holiday as Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, the Talmud states that: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av...” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised...’” (Proverbs 31:30).

In ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, but it is interesting to note that Tu B'Av is also the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Today is Tu B’Av.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Tu B'Av and the Offering of Wood

Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of Av, was celebrated in ancient times by unmarried maidens who went out on this day to dance in the vineyards hoping to be chosen by an unmarried youth to be his bride. However, this day was marked for celebration for several other reasons.

The fifteenth day of Av marked the final day of the calendar year on which wood could be cut for the Temple sacrifices. After the fifteenth, the sun's power, which has already begun to diminish, was no longer considered strong enough to dry out the wood sufficiently (Jerusalem Talmud,Taanit 4:7).

During the rebuilding of the Temple, a wood offering ceremony was introduced. When Ezra and Nechemiah brought the people to Jerusalem, they found that more than just the Temple had been destroyed...the land itself had been laid waste. In the process of destruction, almost all of the trees had been uprooted, creating a great shortage of wood. Anyone who was able to donate wood did so, and the “wood offering” became a tradition and a great honor.

This wood offering is associated with a story of the unique heroism of the Jewish people in their desire to serve God at the Temple. Once, during the times of the Second Temple, the people were prohibited from bringing wood to the Temple by the occupying power of the time. Rather than despair, the Israelites made ladders from the wood and, when asked at the roadblocks where they were going and for what purpose they needed ladders, the Israelites replied that they were taking the ladders to retrieve fledglings from their dovecotes (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 28a). After passing the roadblocks, the ladders were disassembled and brought to the Temple.

This Treat was published on August 11, 2014.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Just Joy

Share the joys of your life with other people.

Friday, August 4, 2017

One from David, One from Joseph

The belief in an ultimate redeemer, referred to as Moshiach (Messiah), is a central tenet of Jewish faith. But, almost all of the details about the coming of Moshiach and the Messianic age that will follow are shrouded in mystery. Except for some basic concepts, the study of Moshiach related topics is the realm of advanced scholars and kabbalists (mystics).

One interesting aspect of the discussion of Moshiach is that, according to many opinions, there will actually be two successive redeemers. The primary Moshiach is known as Moshiach ben David, a direct descendant of the greatest king of Israel. His predecessor, however, will be someone referred to as Moshiach ben Joseph.

The Talmud mentioned the idea of Moshiach ben Joseph when discussing the seemingly obscure verse concerning the vision of the Prophet Zechariah: “Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen” (Zechariah 2:3).  The sages ask, “Who are these ‘four craftsmen’? Rabbi Hana ben Bizna, citing Rabbi Simeon Chisda, replied: “The Moshiach ben David, Moshiach ben Joseph, Elijah [the Prophet] and the Righteous Priest” (Talmud Sukkah 52b).

The idea that there is a redeemer who descends from both of Jacob’s wives, Rachel and Leah, is interesting in that it mirrors the royal history of the Jewish people. The first king of Israel, Saul, was from the Tribe of Benjamin (Rachel’s son). The second king of Israel, David, from whom the royal line then descended, was from the Tribe of Judah (Leah’s son).

There are no definitive answers recorded for the exact role of Moshiach ben Joseph. Some scholars have determined that he will be a general in a terrible war, and some say that his tragic death will bring about the revelation of Moshiach ben David. For now, it is enough for the Jewish people to simply believe in the coming of Moshiach.

Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Av) is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, referring to the opening words of the haftarah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. It is the first of seven haftarot noted for their theme of consolation.

Having just emerged from the time of deepest mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, our despair is tempered by God’s constant optimistic promise--while our people may be laid low at times by our enemies, we shall be redeemed by God and our Temple will be rebuilt.

The haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu begins with the words: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eh’lo’hey’chem.” Be comforted, be comforted My people, will say your God. (Isaiah 40:1).

Isaiah lived and prophesied at the time when Israelite kingdoms were threatened by the Assyrians. This was more than 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple.

Through his prophecy, however, Isaiah was able to see that these great tragedies would be only temporary and that God would not only bring back the Jews from exile, but would also rebuild the Holy Temple. It is commonly understood that the double language of “Nachamu, nachamu” is an allusion to the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples and the redemptions that would follow.

This Treat was last posted on July 19, 2013.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Ahhh Shabbat

Remember that Shabbat is a time for peace and rejuvenation.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


For a high school drop-out who failed English three times, Leon Uris had an outstanding career as a best-selling author. The Baltimore born (August 3, 1924) son of a Jewish paperhanger from Poland who had come to America after a year in Palestine, Uris wrote epic novels of historical fiction that were well-researched and plot driven - making up for what critics notice as a tendency toward stock characters and blunt dialogue.

Uris joined the Marines at 17, in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His service as a radioman in the South Pacific was the foundation of his first novel, Battle Cry, which he published in 1953, several years after being discharged from service and working in the distribution department of a newspaper. Battle Cry was on the best-sellers list for a year and was snatched up by Hollywood, where Uris went to write the screenplay.

Exodus (1958), Uris’ most famous novel, followed months of research. It is the story of the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel focused around the dramatic story of the refugee ship Exodus. Both the book and the movie were incredibly successful.

While Uris wrote on a variety of subjects (WWII in Greece, conflict in Ireland, etc.), the Holocaust and the State of Israel were very significant themes in his canon. His 1961 best-seller, Mila 18, chronicled the harrowing uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. He returned to a Holocaust related topic in 1970 with QB VII, a courtroom drama about a libel case unveiling the horrible acts of a hidden former Nazi. The Haj (1984) presented Uris’ view of the Palestinian perspective of the events surrounding 1948, and Mitla Pass (1988) explored the 1956 Sinai campaign.

Uris was a celebrity writer who continued to produce popular novels throughout his life. His last book, O’Hara’s Choice (concerning issues facing the U.S. Marine Corps after the Civil War), was published in 2003, a few short months before he passed away at the age of 78.

Reading Light

If you don't like non-fiction, read Jewish fiction to learn about Jewish history.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Facing Adulthood as a Nation

Most governments recognize age 18 as the age of legal adulthood at which a person assumes full responsibility for his/her life. They no longer need a parent or guardian’s permission for anything. They can vote and are held fully accountable for any debts they may accrue or crimes they may commit. But, in truth, the process of becoming an adult is much more than reaching a particular age, it is a process of maturation. From a childhood of being taken care of through an adolescence of questioning and, sometimes, rebellion, a person not only develops an identity, but also the ability to understand and follow the rules of society.

Some Bible commentators view the history of the Jewish nation metaphorically as the process of maturation. The Children of Israel were delivered through the miracles of the Exodus. In the Wilderness, all of their basic needs - food, clothing and shelter - were met. But, like many adolescents, they also struggled through periods of questioning and rebellion. Continuing the metaphor, entering the Land of Israel was the beginning of adulthood. They would no longer be sustained through miracles, such as the manna (heaven-sent food), and they would have to live by the rules that were set down for them in the Torah.

In Deuteronomy, Moses, speaking to the Jewish people, declared:
You shall not test the Lord your God... You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies, and His statutes, which He has commanded you. And you shall do that which is right and good in the sight of the Lord; that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to your fathers (Deuteronomy 6:16-18).

The first verse of this statement,“You shall not test the Lord,” is like a declaration from Moses that the time has come to accept adulthood. No more rebellion. There is a proper way of addressing God, and there is a right path and a wrong path, and it is now time for the Children of Israel to grow up and become the Nation of Israel.

A Daily Review

Take a few minutes each day to look at the blessings in your life. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

Today, Jews all over the world are observing the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,947 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish spiritual life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

*This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple.

While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including the Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.

By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. Around 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.

Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zechariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

For the Fast

NJOP and Jewish Treats hope you all have a meaningful and easy fast.