Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Annulment of Vows

"I swear that this time I will lose weight"

"I am going to pray every day..."

We make promises all the time. We swear that we are going to do something, and then hope that we will be in a position to fulfill the vow.

But did you know that according to the Torah, words often have binding force and may not be taken lightly? The Jewish legal view on oaths and vows is based on the verse, "He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that he has uttered" (Numbers 30:3).

When you swear to do something, you’ve made a serious commitment. Words, from a Torah perspective, can be binding. (It is for this reason that many people, after promising to do something, will append the caveat "bli neder" - without intending to vow, to prevent themselves from vowing falsely.)

According to the Torah, vows and oaths, however, can be retroactively nullified, by a "court" of knowledgeable people.

It was considered particularly important by the sages that, as the High Holidays approach, people ensure that they have not violated their previous year’s vows. They therefore created a formal nullification of vows that all are urged to perform before Rosh Hashanah. Known as "Hatarat Nedarim," the traditional "annulment of vows" takes place in front of a Jewish court of at least 3 knowledgeable men. In addition to nullifying past vows made "in error," the Hatarat Nedarim also declares that any such statements made in the coming year should be considered null and void.

(Of course, the nullification only covers those vows that are allowed to be nullified - not vows such as those regarding owing someone money - and vows that are made by one individual to another.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Day Without Sleep

While Rosh Hashana is frequently translated as “new year,” the literal meaning of the Hebrew words is “head of the year.” According to Jewish tradition, one’s actions on these auspicious days serve as templates for one’s actions in the year to come. For this reason, people make a conscious effort to be especially careful of the words they utter on Rosh Hashana, they pray with proper awareness and are careful to recite blessings over the foods they eat. 

The impact that one’s actions on Rosh Hashana have on the year to come is reflected in the statement made by the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud: “If one sleeps at the year's beginning, his good fortune likewise sleeps.” 

There is much discussion about what “sleep” is referred to in this Talmudic dictum, given that Rosh Hashana is celebrated over a two day period. It is generally understood that sleeping overnight is completely acceptable and that the sages of Israel were referring to sleeping during Rosh Hashana day itself, since that is the time of judgment. Napping, on the other hand, is avoided by many people so as not to set a “sleepy tone” for the rest of the year.

While the custom not to nap is a literal understanding of the sages’ words, the statement actually presents a philosophical insight into the importance of Rosh Hashana. The Day of Judgment is a precious opportunity granted to the Jewish people to make a fresh start for the year to come, an opportunity through which one would certainly not wish to sleep.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Promise Particulars

Always be careful of how you express a promise so that it is not an oath.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’etz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.

Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.

Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).

There is a custom to avoid nuts on Rosh Hashana since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is connected to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we declare: "Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!" In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts: Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

Teshuva (repentance), a central theme of the High Holidays, means more than just saying "sorry." Teshuva means recognizing one’s errors and making an effort not to repeat them. In many ways, teshuva is a private act because one must be introspective in order to recognize one’s own mistakes.

Tefila (prayer) is the acknowledgment of God as the King and Ruler of the universe. Tefila is almost private, but not quite. It is a conversation between the person and God.

Tzedaka (charity) is a critical step necessary to reverse an evil decree simply because it constitutes an action. The performance of this mitzvah affects the person giving, the person receiving, and its benefits often extend to others as well. Tzedaka is reaching out beyond one’s self, and is thus a public act.

Everything that a person does affects the world in multiple ways. It affects the person’s relationship with him/herself, his/her relationship with the Divine and his/her relationship with his/her fellow human beings. The path to reversing an evil decree must therefore involve the private, the spiritual and the public spheres of our lives.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Prepare for Rosh Hashana by planning your holiday meals in advance.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Shofar Shorts

The shofar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rosh Hashana. Although it is preferable that a shofar be fashioned from a ram’s horn, the horn need only come from a kosher animal.* However, not all the horns of a kosher animal are usable. For instance cows’ horns and deer antlers are solid bone and cannot be fashioned into a shofar, whereas the horns of animals such as rams are made of keratin and can be hollowed out to become a shofar.

Shofars are prepared by applying heat. They are cleaned in boiling water, and heat is applied in order to either straighten or bend the horns. A shofar may be engraved or decorated with metal as long as the weight does not alter the shofar’s sound. However, extra material may not be placed near either end of the shofar.

On Rosh Hashana three distinct sounds are blown on the shofar:

Tekiah - The tekiah is a long, solid blast like the blowing of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. This sound reminds us that God is the King of Kings.

Shevarim - The shevarim are three medium-length blasts, reminiscent of deep sighs or soft crying, (where one is gasping for breath). The shevarim represents the first step in recognizing all that God does for us, and all that we could be doing, thus the sighing sound.

Teruah - The teruah are nine quick staccato blasts which evoke the feeling of short piercing cries of wailing. It represents the recognition that the new year is upon us, and the time for repentance will soon pass.

--A combination of Shevarim-Teruah is also sounded during the shofar service.

Tekiah Gedolah - The tekiah gedolah, the final blast, is a long solid note. It is a triumphant shout that reaches out to the hearts of all to assure them that their prayers have been heard.

(*If one has absolutely no other option, one may use the horn of a non-kosher animal, but cannot recite the blessings over hearing the sounds.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Birthday of the World

According to Jewish tradition, this Wednesday night, when Rosh Hashana begins, the world will be 5778 years old. This claim easily stirs up sharp debate. How, it is often asked, can one say that the world is only 5778 years old when carbon dating records certain fossils as being millions of years old? Science and religion often seem in conflict with one another, but only at first glance.

While Rosh Hashana is considered the first day of the year, it is actually only the beginning of the counting of the years of the world. The Bible recounts that it took "six days" to create the world, and on the sixth day God created Adam. According to the midrash, until Adam was formed, the world was static. Only after Adam was created and prayed for rain, did the world come to life.

Think of it like conception and birth. Six days before Rosh Hashana, the world was conceived...that was "Day One" of Creation. The next five days were a gestational period, when the world was formed and developed. Birth, the completion of the world, only occurred on the sixth day with the introduction of Adam.

More that just the world "came to life" with the creation of Adam, the world acquired time then as well. Prior to Adam, no one noted when the sun rose or set, or the moon waxed and waned or whether there were seasons. No one can say with certainty how long the days of creation were because there were no human beings to mark the beginning and end of a day.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


If you know how to blow the shofar properly, volunteer to do so for those who cannot make it to synagogue on Rosh Hashana.

Friday, September 15, 2017


In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).

Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).

Ayl: He is powerful.

Rachum: He is compassionate.

V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.

Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.

V’rav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.

V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.

Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.

Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.

Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.

V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.

V’nah'kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are usually recited prior to the morning service.

--Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Five Names of Rosh Hashana

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana has several names that can help us understand the importance and power of this holiday.

Rosh Hashana literally means "Head of the Year" because Rosh Hashana marks the point when we begin the new calendar year (e.g. from 5777 to 5778).

Yom Harat Olam is translated as "The Birthday of the World."

Yom Hazikaron is translated as "The Day of Rememberance."

Yom Hadin is translated as "The Day of Judgment."

Yom Teruah is translated as "The Day of Sounding (the Shofar)." This is the actual name that the holiday is called in the Torah.

Ok, so there are five different names for the holiday. What is the significance of that? How do these different themes relate to each other?

The Teruah is the staccato sound blown on the shofar. Yom Teruah serves as a call to attention because this day is Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and it is imperative that one be cognizant of the importance of the day.

It is the Day of Judgment because it is Yom Hazikaron, the day on which God looks back and "remembers" our deeds, individually, collectively and historically (a record of over 4,000 years of Jewish history).

Why is this the Day of Remembrance? Because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world (Yom Harat Olam). Since the annual cycle is closing, it is the perfect time for reflection and judgment. This new beginning allows us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

And since the old year and the new year are seamless, this day is also Rosh Hashana, the head of the year.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kindness Complete

Emulate all of God's traits of kindness.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King."

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, "Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!" Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana* includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us."

By addressing God as both "our Father" and "our King," we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product of his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashana and throughout the days that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

*It is also recited during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and on fast days. When Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Relationship Talk

Talk to the children in your life about having a relationship with God.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year three books - a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle - are opened. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balancedbetween extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked...in other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhvu v’taychataymu (that’s the plural form).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 201y NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friends, Friends, Friends

Use this time of year as a reason to get in touch with old friends.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Day for Publishers

The American world of books and letters owes a great deal to the date of September 12th, for on this date, in 1891 and 1892, two giants of the American publishing industry were born: Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Alfred Abraham Knopf, Sr.

Arthur Sulzberger was not, by nature, a literary man. In fact, he studied engineering at Columbia College. He entered the world of publishing when he married Iphagene Ochs, whose father, Adolph Ochs, only agreed to the union if Sulzberger would join his staff at the New York Times.

Sulzberger proved himself an astute businessman and helped the Times grow by implementing such creative strategies as commissioning an exclusive on Charles Lindbergh’s cross-Atlantic flight. In 1935, upon the death of his father-in-law, Sulzberger took over leadership of the paper. As a voice in journalism, Sulzberger found himself torn by his Jewish identity. He was the proud descendant of both German and Sephardic Jews, and, in 1929, was the founder of the Jewish Advisory Board (later Columbia-Barnard Hillel) at his alma-mater. This very same pride in his Jewish heritage, however, made him feel conflicted about seeming to be biased in his presentation of the Jewish situation in Europe and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s (he is often criticized for downplaying the situation). It is also often noted that, following the lead of the Reform Movement of the time, Sulzberger was opposed to Zionism.

Arthur Sulzberger passed away on December 11, 1968.

Albert Knopf was a true literary man. He too was drawn to the publishing profession while studying at Columbia College. A year and a half after graduating, following a short stint at Doubleday and working for Mitchell Kennerley, Knopf opened his own eponymous publishing house.

Knopf books, which were known for their physical and literary quality, published many Russian and European authors who were completely unknown in America, including Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, as well as publishing a host of now well-known American authors such as Willa Cather. At the time of his death, on August 11, 1984, authors of Knopf books had been awarded 16 Nobel and 27 Pulitzer prizes.


Pay attention to what is needed to assist people in the areas recently devastated by severe weather.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Both Oral and Written

The development of the printing press had an incredible impact on Western civilization. Prior to the printing press, all documents were hand-written, limiting their dissemination and leaving large swathes of the population illiterate.

There is a mitzvah derived from Deuteronomy 31:18 (“Now therefore write this “song” for yourselves”), which is interpreted to mean that one should write one’s own Torah scroll. It is a mitzvah that few have the privilege of fulfilling unless they have the resources to hire a professional Torah scribe. Due to the printing press, however, the Torah is now printed in a wide variety of published editions, in a multitude of languages and with a wide assortment of commentaries. However, the scroll written by a trained scribe remains the holiest document of the Jewish people.

Given the strong emphasis of Judaism on literacy, it is interesting to note that there is also a mitzvah that empowers those who cannot read or own a copy of the Torah to engage in an intensive learning experience. Moses commanded the Jewish people that every seven years (the year after shmittah), on Sukkot, the Jewish people should assemble “the men and the women and the little ones, and your stranger that is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn and fear the Lord your God and observe all the words of this law” (ibid. 31:12). It was this mitzvah of “Hakhel,” with the king of Israel himself reading from the Torah, that served as a massive communal celebration of religious education.

According to the Talmud, in order to make certain that Torah was studied regularly, it was decreed during the days in the Wilderness that there should be a partial reading of the Torah every Shabbat, Monday morning and Thursday morning. A Mincha (afternoon) Shabbat Torah reading was later added, and it became customary to assign one (sometimes two) portion of the Torah to each week (Talmud Baba Kama 82a).

Today we are blessed with a plethora of options for reading and studying the Torah, as well as opportunities to discuss the commandments and listen to the Torah read aloud. The Mitzvah to write one’s own Torah serves as a reminder of the importance of acting on these options.

Jewish Library

Strive to acquire a complete Jewish library (Pentateuch, Prophets, Writings, Talmud and Code of Jewish Law), which, according to some opinions, is a fulfillment of writing a Torah scroll.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Forgiveness: An Elul Treat

Many feel that the three hardest words to say are: “I am sorry.” Yet, we all know how very important those words are. Indeed, saying one is sorry, or at least admitting one’s guilt, is a critical part of the process of teshuvah, repentance.

Equally important, however, is the ability to hear someone else’s apology and to accept it. Even greater is the ability to forgo an apology altogether and simply forgive the person for hurting you.

Jewish tradition teaches that one is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for their misconduct, as he/she has demonstrated true regret. The one who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

What is wrong with bearing a grudge against a person who really hurt you? Beyond the fact that it is a violation of a Torah prohibition (Leviticus 19:18), bearing a grudge affects the person psychologically. A person bearing a grudge is, in general, less happy with the world and with other people because he/she cannot get past the feeling that he/she was wronged.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is rather easy to bestow. And when it is done with sincerity, it is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to the person we forgive.

*This Treat was last posted on August 31, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Honest Within

Sit and think about any people to whom you might have caused harm during the last year, and make an effort to apologize.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Synagogue in Mozambique

Mozambique is not the first place one would expect to find a stately Portugese-Baroque synagogue. Nevertheless, there is. And while for many years it was used for other purposes, there has been a small revival of Jewish life on the island because of this synagogue.

Jewish life in Mozambique began in the late 19th century, when the island came under Portuguese control. Jews came from many places, creating a mix of both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In the late 1890s, Reverend Dr. Joseph Herman Hertz was exiled from Johannesburg for his pro-British sympathies. He spent one week in Mozambique and, during that brief time, he convinced the community to organize. In 1899, Congregation Honen Dalim was created. Soon after,  a cemetery with a small chapel was created. Building a synagogue was next, which was consecrated in 1926, when Laurenco Marques (now Maputo) had fewer than 50 Jews. The 1920s and 1930s saw a steady increase in Mozambique’s Jewish population. It peaked in 1942 at close to 500. After the war, Jews were fairly quick to move on.

The Portuguese left Mozambique in 1975, and the new government was headed by anti-religion Marxists who took possession of the Honen Dalim Synagogue. By then, the synagogue was rarely used and its Torah scroll had been sent to South Africa for safe keeping.

This could easily be the end of the story for Jews in Mozambique. In 1989, however, a man named Alkis Macropulos (not Jewish) organized a campaign to reinvigorate the Jewish community and, as a result, the few Jews living in Mozambique began to get involved. The synagogue was restored (rededicated in 2013). Their original Torah scroll was found but discovered to no longer be kosher, and a new Torah was gifted to them by the South African Jewish community.


Volunteer in your local Jewish community.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Paying the Pledge

It is easy to pledge money to an organization. There are an astounding number of well-intentioned non-profits that send mailings, or solicit donations over the phone. There are also pledges that are made “casually” on certain occasions, such as in synagogue after being given an honor during the service.

It is not always so easy to remember to fulfill such pledges. Donor based non-profits all have specific pledge reminder mailings designed solely to help donors remember to send the money they promised.. It is generally assumed that most people are sincere when they promise to donate. People get busy and just forget, and that is totally understandable.

Charity is very important in Jewish life. In fact, in addition to the general concept of doing a kind act to help another person, Judaism also has specific, required tithes that Jews must fulfill that are spread out over a period of three years. These include Maaser Rishon (the first tithe, given to the Levite and the Kohain), Maaser Shaynee (the second tithe set aside for consumption at the Temple) and Maaser Oni (the tithe for the poor).

In Deuteronomy 26, the Torah notes an interesting law related to the giving of the Maaser tithes: “Then (at the end of the three year tithe period) you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Your commandment which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, neither have I forgotten them” (Deuteronomy 26:13). This declaration continues on to state that nothing pledged for Maaser was taken or used improperly and expresses a desire for God to bless the land.

Although, the Jewish people are no longer able to tithe in the proper fashion as was done in the days of the Temple, nevertheless, giving charity remains a priority and fulfilling our pledges is immensely important.

Pledge Posts

Take stock of any outstanding pledges which you might owe.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Seeking God in Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Morning Moment

During the rest of the month of Elul, add some personal reflection time into your morning schedule.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Samuel Gompers, Labor Leader

In honor of Labor Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Samuel Gompers, a man who helped transform the early American Labor Movement.

Born in London, England, in January 1850, Gompers was the son of a family of Sephardic Jews whose families had settled in Amsterdam. He was educated at the Jewish Free School until he was ten years old, when he began learning the skills of cigar making from his father. In the evenings, he continued his basic Jewish education, learning Hebrew and studying Talmud.

In 1863, the Gompers family came to America and settled on the Lower East Side. Gompers worked at home with his father until he secured a position in a shop. Once employed (at age 14), he joined the Cigarmakers Local Union #15. Several years later, he received a unique education in politics and labor from his new coworkers when he began working at the more upscale David Hirsch & Company These cigarmakers were mostly German Socialists who introduced him to the works of Karl Marx and explained to him the significance of labor unions.

Gompers political career began in 1875, when he was elected president of his local Cigarmakers Union. Over time, he introduced a high dues structure along with special benefit programs for loss of work, illness and death. In 1886, he was elected Second Vice President of the International Cigarmakers Union, and, ten years later, First Vice President, a position he held for the rest of his life.

In 1881, Gompers helped create what would become (in 1886) the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a coalition of like-minded unions. The AFL, which became one of the largest and most influential organizations in the American Labor Movement, smoothed over union disputes and was able to advocate for the collective good of all workers. Gompers himself was not a Socialist, Communist or Anarchist. In fact, he tried to keep the AFL politically neutral in order to work better with government agencies.

Samuel Gompers passed away on December 13, 1924, a few days after falling ill at a Pan-American Federation of Labor meeting in Mexico City.

Calm Compromise

Look for ways to compromise with others.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Keep it Fair: Ox and Donkey

“Fair” is a word we hear very often. From our earliest years, human beings have a seemingly innate desire for things to be, or at least appear to be, fair. When children use the word, it is usually to insist that they should have equal to what others have. When adults use it, it is (in the best of circumstances) in the hope of achieving a better society that they often presume means more balanced or equal.

Within the framework of Jewish law, however, fair has nothing to do with equal. One interesting lesson about the Torah’s concept of fairness can be found in Deuteronomy 22:10: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” A pair of oxen are capable of pulling a plow. A pair of donkeys are also capable of pulling a  plow. But putting an ox and a donkey together is inherently “unfair.” The ox will have to bear the greater burden of the work simply because its strength and build is so much greater than the donkey’s. The donkey, on the other hand, is yoked to an animal that seems to be eating at all times (since the ox constantly chews its cud) while the donkey has no food.  While the verse specifically mentions an ox and a donkey, the rule applies to any two animals of different kinds.

At face value, the verse appears to be about husbandry and agriculture, but no verse in the Torah should be read without seeking a deeper understanding. Deuteronomy 22:10 is one of many verses that provide fascinating insights into the Jewish values of a just society.

Strength and Talent

When working with people be aware of their unique strengths and talents.