Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Visiting Graves

Graveyard tours are often promoted in the month of October as an opportunity for spookiness. Judaism, however, encourages visiting the burial sites of relatives and holy people at all times of the year. Such visits are seen as opportunities for prayer, reflection and inspiration. Certain sites, such as the Tomb of Mother Rachel (whose yahrtzeit is observed today) and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, are considered particularly auspicious for supplication.

The Jewish view of the afterlife is of an existence that is complex. In life, a person has the opportunity to perform mitzvot and grow spiritually (or the opposite). This opportunity ends at death, but the soul lives on in its appointed place in Heaven. There it remains attuned to life on earth while in the embrace of the Divine presence (for more on the afterlife, click here). Praying at a grave connects the petitioner to the departed, calling for their spiritual advocacy on behalf of those who live.

The Talmud records that when the 12 spies went into the Land of Israel (click here), Caleb, who was one of the scouts, visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and prayed, “My fathers, pray on my behalf that I may be delivered from the plan [to discourage entering the Land of Israel] of the [other] spies” (Talmud Sotah 34b).

Rachel’s Tomb is a particularly popular location for prayers. The Midrash Rabbah mentions that when the Babylonians drove the Jewish people out of the Land of Israel, they passed by the very same road where Rachel lay buried. Upon seeing her weeping descendants, the soul of Rachel presented herself before the Heavenly Court and successfully advocated for Divine mercy that her children be allowed to return to the Holy Land. (Click here to read more.)

While others may go to graveyards to see what goes “bump in the night,” a Jewish visit to a graveyard is an opportunity to demonstrate respect for those who have passed, to find inspiration in the deeds of the departed and to have a few words with the Giver of all life.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Grave Visit

If you are nearby, visit the graves of your relatives.

Monday, October 30, 2017

But Mom, You Promised

Parenting is no easy task. From a very early age, children demand and seek gifts and concessions from their parents. And particularly in our overly-materialistic society, children want a lot of things. Far too often a parent finds him/herself placating a crying or misbehaving child by promising them a special treat or a toy, or some other reward, if they’ll just behave.

Whether or not this is the appropriate way to handle the rearing of one’s child is not Jewish Treats' place to judge. However, it is interesting to note the importance of what one does with those promises made in the middle of the grocery store.

The Talmud states (Sukkah 46b): “Rabbi Zeira said: One should not say to a child, ‘I will give you something,’ and then not give it to him/her, because that teaches the child to lie, as it is stated: “They train their tongue to speak falsehood’ (Jeremiah 9:4).” This is not only a problem because one is teaching a child that it is okay to tell a falsehood, but because it could actually involve several other prohibitions as well.

For instance, just as one must pay a worker on time, so too one must pay one’s child on time for mowing the lawn, or reward one’s child with the promised treat that same day--unless otherwise specified. And if one fails to fulfill the promise...alas, it could be considered a form of stealing!

So, to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and all other adults who spend time with kids...watch what you say and be careful of any promises. ( “Maybe,” “I’ll think about...,” “later,” etc. are ambiguous enough to avoid such problems!)

This Treat was last posted on October 29, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Greatest Effort

Always try to fulfill the words that you speak.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Jews of Amsterdam

October 27, 1275 is noted as the first time the name “Amsterdam” was recorded as the name of a settlement near a dam on the Amstel River. That small fishing village grew into a vibrant city that became a safe-haven for both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews in the late Middle Ages.

During its early years, Amsterdam came under the influence of several different rulers, including Phillip II of Spain. As part of the Union of Utrecht in 1579, the citizens of Amsterdam left Spanish rule, which they resented due to its high taxes and religious intolerance of Protestants. This treaty included a prohibition of persecuting a person for their religious beliefs, a rule that was particularly note-worthy for the Portuguese Jews who were living their public lives as Christians to avoid persecution by the Inquisition. In Amsterdam, they could shed their converso personas and live as Jews.

It is believed that Sephardi Jews began arriving in Amsterdam in the late 1500s and that their first organized service took place in 1596, which led to the formation of Congregation Beth Jacob. By 1608, the community was large enough to support a second synagogue, Neweh Shalom, and a third, Bet Yisrael, in 1618. The three consolidated into one in 1638.

Amsterdam was also a haven for Ashkenazim. The first Ashkenazi Jews to settle in Amsterdam were Jews fleeing the Thirty Year War in Germany. By 1635, they established the first Ashkenazi synagogue. In 1648, there was an influx of Polish Jews fleeing the Chmielnicki pogroms and, in 1655, Lithuanian Jews took refuge there from a Russian invasion. The numerous different communities led the government to require a unified community.

Like most cities in the Middle Ages, Jews were restricted in their professions and interactions with non-Jews. However, their protection from overall persecution allowed Amsterdam’s Jews to flourish. The city became a center of Jewish printing and an oasis of Jewish scholarship and accomplishment.

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Resting Time

Schedule in a Shabbat nap for Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Women of Vision

Our sages teach that there were seven women famed for their prophecy. (Talmud Megilla 14a states that only prophecies with a message for the future were recorded. In reality, there were many more than the 55 prophets listed in the Bible.) Jewish Treats presents the female prophets to you, accompanied by short commentaries of who they were:

1) Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had her request for the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael supported by God Himself, who told Abraham to listen to her, as she was a greater prophet than her husband.

2) Miriam, the older sister of Moses, was actually blessed with prophecy at an early age. It was Miriam who encouraged her parents to reunite after separating so that Moses might be conceived.

3) Deborah was both a prophetess and a Judge over Israel. She led the nation into war, and victory, against the Canaanite General Sisera.

4) Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was barren for over 10 years. Hannah’s near-silent prayers, challenging God on her very essence of being a woman, became the model for Jewish prayer.

5) Abigail interceded with the-not-yet-king David on behalf of her stingy husband, Nabal, who refused to pay David for guard work. Abigail stepped in to diffuse the future king’s rage. When, shortly thereafter, Nabal died, David and Abigail were wed.

6) Huldah, a cousin of the prophet Jeremiah, prophesied in one of the gates of the First Temple. Her consultation with King Josiah is recorded in the Second Book of Kings.

7) Esther, the heroine of Purim and wife of the Persian King Ahashverosh, was the only person who could persuade the king to revoke the order that he had issued calling for the destruction of all the Jews of Persia.

This Treat was originally posted on January 8, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your House

Place mezuzot on all the doorposts of your house (except the bathroom).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Great Historian

Author of over 80 different works, the Right Honorable Sir Martin Gilbert is best known in the Jewish world for his numerous volumes on Jewish history.

Born in London on October 25, 1936, Gilbert was one of thousands of children evacuated to Canada during the war. He returned to England in a transport arranged by Sir Winston Churchill, a fact that made Gilbert greatly admire Churchill and had a tremendous influence on his life.

After spending two years in Britain’s intelligence corps as part of his national service, Gilbert studied history at Oxford. He received his BA in 1960 and continued on as a research fellow. In 1962, he was chosen by Randolph Churchill to join the team working on the biography of his father, Winston. When Randolph Churchill passed away in 1968, with only two volumes published, it was decided that Gilbert would take over the project. Over the next 20 years, he wrote six more volumes to complete Churchill’s biography as well as several related volumes such as Churchill and the Jews.

At least 20 of Gilbert’s books have focused on Jewish life. Having visited concentration camps in the late 1950s, he felt it particularly important to record this history. In the 1980s, he took particular interest in the movement to free Soviet Jews. Throughout his life, he was an active member of the Jewish community and regularly attended Shabbat services.

Gilbert had an acclaimed career and was close with numerous national leaders, both in Britain and in Israel. In 1990, he was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and he was knighted, in 1995, for services to British history and international relations. In 2009, he was appointed a member of the Privy Council so that he could sit on the Chilcot Committee inquiring into the Iraq war.

Gilbert’s last book, In Ishmael’s House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands, was published in 2010. He passed away on February 3, 2015.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Simple Kindness

Share your umbrella.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Abraham in the Idol Shop

According to Jewish tradition,  Abram was very young when he came to the conclusion that the world had One Creator. Although it is often said that Abraham discovered monotheism, the fact is that he was not the first personality in the Torah to recognize God. He was, however, the first to try to actively share his world view with others. It wasn’t easy, since few people want to have the basic principle of their life questioned. But Abraham did so anyway. For Abraham to promote belief in one God was particularly challenging, as his father, Terach, specialized in making and selling idols.

The Midrash records two incidents that occurred in Terach’s workshop. The first provides a snapshot of how Abraham would dissuade customers from buying his father’s wares. He would tell middle-aged customers: “Woe to him who is sixty years old and worships something made today...” (Genesis Rabbah 38:13). The second incident was his “last stand” with his father. A customer delivered a plate of food for the statues and instructed Abraham to feed the idols. After the customer left, Abraham took a club, broke all of the idols, and placed the club in the hands of the biggest idol. When Abraham’s father returned, he asked: Who did all of this? Abraham responded that when he put the offering of food before the idols, they began fighting who would eat the food first. Then the biggest idol smashed the others. Terach responded: “What? Do you think you can trick me? Idols don’t have cognition!” Abraham said: “Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?” (ibid).

Like most parents, Terach was less than happy at what he likely saw as his son’s rebellion.
As obvious as Abraham’s response seems to us today, he was boldly declaring that the foundations of the very society in which they lived were false. That accusation would lead him to the court of Nimrod and, eventually to the Land of Canaan.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Strength in Understanding

Study Midrash (extra-Biblical legends) to better understand the narrative of the Torah.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Two Mondays and a Thursday

The Jewish calendar includes two week-long, Torah-ordained holidays: Passover and Sukkot (the latter of which ended a little over a week ago).* These holidays fill our spiritual needs with beautiful prayers and customs meant to help us connect with the Divine. The holidays are also replete with worldly pleasures such as festive meals that are often like banquets and  feasts, and days full of abundant socializing.

These week-long celebrations are also connected to a custom known as BeHaB. BeHaB is not a word but rather an acronym representing “Bet” (Monday, the second day of the week) - “Hey” (Thursday, the fifth day of the week) - “Bet” (again, Monday, the second day of the week). It refers to an ancient Ashkenazi tradition of fasting (voluntarily) on the first Monday-Thursday-Monday of the months of Iyar and Cheshvan, the months that immediately follow Passover and Sukkot, respectively. Additionally, Selichot (special penitential prayers) are added to the morning service. The fast, however, is not observed on a day that a simcha, a happy occasion such as a brit milah (circumcision), is celebrated.

BeHaB is not mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud, but it is a custom that has been observed by Ashkenazi Jews for centuries. While the actual origin of this tradition is obscure, there are several common suggestions as to its purpose. Many believe that the BeHaB fasting and prayers are meant to starkly contrast with the recent days of holiday revelry when one might have conducted themselves more freely than they should have. Fasting leads to penitence. Similarly, some have correlated BeHaB to the fact that only Passover and Sukkot have chol hamoed, the interim days of the holiday during which one may perform some, but not all, of the creative labors generally prohibited on a festival days. The fasts of BeHaB are meant to atone for the frequent, unintended chol hamoed transgressions. These are just two of the ideas connected to the fasts.

*Chanukah, which is 8 days long, is rabbinically ordained.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Be supportive of others who are trying to add Jewish practice and spirituality into their lives. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

White Papers

For those who have studied the history of the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the term “White Paper” is at once familiar and ambiguous. It is commonly understood that the issuance of “The White Paper” by Great Britain hampered the Zionist movement by limiting Jewish immigration into the British Mandate of Palestine.

The fact of the matter is that in relation to Palestine, the British government issued three White Papers, all of which were, in their own way, reactions to the Balfour Declaration and limited the Jewish benefits. Issued in 1917, not long after the British took over the Ottoman territory, the Balfour Declaration was a statement of the British Foreign Minister declaring Britain’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

The first White Paper, known as the Churchill White Paper, was published on June 2, 1922, as part of the conclusion into an investigation of an Arab riot that had taken place in Jaffa in May 1921. While this White Paper affirmed Britain’s support of creating a Jewish homeland, it also emphasized that Jewish immigration would be permitted only in correlation to the land’s economic absorptive capacity.”

On October 20, 1930, following the particularly violent riots in 1929, the British government issued the Passfield White Paper. This document downplayed Britain’s commitment to a Jewish homeland and limited the ability of Jews to buy land. It restricted Jewish immigration as a means of avoiding “overcrowding.”

The final White Paper was issued in 1939 and was created after the Peel Commission recommended partitioning the land into two separate territories. The 1939 White Paper rejected the partition plan. While it contained statements supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine, tragically it also set a limit of 75,000 Jewish immigrants over the next five years (a period when a safe haven was most needed by the victims of the Holocaust).

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Wine

If you enjoy wine, check out the collection of kosher wines available at your local kosher wine vendor or online.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Honoring Those Who Have Passed

Sometimes the world seems a bit like alphabet soup. There are the ever increasing abbreviations that are being made popular via texting (e.g. “ttyl”-talk to you later, and “imho”-in my humble opinion). And one can hardly ignore the various titles that appear in abbreviated form following a person’s name (e.g. PhD, MD, JD, MBA).

Judaism also has a range of abbreviations that follow a name. Many see these abbreviations all their lives without ever knowing exactly what they mean. Perhaps the most common are those abbreviations that are used to honor the dead.

The three most frequent honorific abbreviations are: Z”L, O.B.M. and A”H. Z”L is an acronym for the Hebrew words zichrono/zichrona liv’racha (male/female), most often translated as “May his/her memory be blessed.” “Of Blessed Memory” is succinctly abbreviated as O.B.M. A”H is the abbreviation for alav/aleha hashalom, which is translated as “May peace be upon him/her.”

For righteous individuals, such as great rabbis and leaders, the abbreviation ZT”L, zecher tzaddik liv'racha, is often used. It means, “May the memory of this righteous person be a blessing.”

These terms are added both when writing and/or talking about an individual. Not only does it inform people that the person is no longer living, but is also a way of bringing blessing upon the memory and the soul of the deceased.

This Treat was originally posted on December 11, 2008.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Respectful Memory

Speak respectfully of those who have passed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Jews of Puerto Rico

On October 18, 1898, the “Stars and Stripes” flag of the United States was raised over Puerto Rico, announcing that the island was now under American sovereignty. Today’s Treat presents an overview of the history of Puerto Rico’s Jewish community (and is dedicated to the island’s speedy recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria).

Although there is a great deal of speculation about Jews arriving on the island when Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Western Hemisphere -- which was the same time that Jews were expelled from Spain -- there is little known Jewish history there before the 20th century. It is believed that “Crypto Jews” (Jews living as Christians, also known as conversos/annusim /marranos) who came to settle there are believed to have moved to more remote, mountainous areas in order to avoid any possible attention from the Inquisition. Even after the abolishment of the Inquisition and Spain’s 1870 Acto de Culto Condicionado – issued after a failed uprising -- allowing freedom of religion in Puerto Rico in hopes of encouraging loyal settlement, few Jews settled there.

The origins of the modern Jewish community, which began in the 1930s and 190s, was primarily composed of refugees from Europe and some U.S. servicemen who chose to remain on the island after the war. Puerto Rico’s Jewish Community Center opened in 1942. Shaare Tzedek synagogue, a Conservative congregation, was established ten years later. Today, Puerto Rico is noted for having synagogues representing the range of Jewish denominations: Reform Temple Beth Shalom was established in 1967 and the Orthodox Chabad of Puerto Rico in 1999.  Additionally, in 2005, a Satmar community opened a synagogue in Mayaguez.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Season's Change

Prepare for the coming winter by helping others and donating food/clothing/money to a local shelter.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Look at the Raven

With its sharp black feathers and piercing ebony eyes, the raven could be seen as a much maligned bird. It is often considered a harbinger, or even a minion, of evil. The root of the raven’s reputation is quite probably Genesis 8:6-7. Two seemingly simple verses: “At the end of 40 days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. He sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from the earth.”

On a basic reading, it seems quite puzzling that what the raven did could be seen as wrong. According to one understanding of the text, Noah sent the raven to test the living conditions of the world, and, upon finding it uninhabitable, the raven stayed outside of the ark waiting to fulfill its mission. Its mission is clarified by the next verse: “Then he [Noah] sent the dove to see whether the water had decreased from the earth” (ibid 8:8). The dove went out, found no place to perch and returned to the ark until it was sent out again and then returned with the olive branch. The dove and its olive branch became an eternal symbol of peace.

The Talmud, however, includes an aggadic (non-legalistic, legendary) passage that sheds a very different light on the verse concerning the raven. According to Resh Lakish, the raven concluded that Noah was sending him out of the ark as a sign of hatred. “You hate me, since you are sending me, instead of one of the species of which there are seven. If I die, there will be no more of my kind.” Next, the raven actually accused Noah of desiring his mate. (Talmud Sanhedrin 108b).

The Talmud further states that the raven was one of three creatures that had relations while on the ark (which was forbidden while humanity was drowning).

This anthropomorphic dialogue is meant to demonstrate how deeply the raven identified with the corrupt creatures of society. According to tradition, civilization has been wiped out because of reckless self-absorption. People not only took what they wanted, but they presumed that everyone around them must have the same deprivations that they did. Deep selfishness is the behavior that facilitates evil, and thus the reputation of the raven was affected “evermore.” (Reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, "The Raven")

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kind Judgement

Judge others favorably.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Connecting the Words

In honor of “Dictionary Day,” Jewish Treats looks at a renowned Jewish dictionary that has served scholars and students since the turn of the 20th century.  A Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, was authored by Marcus Jastrow. Known popularly as The Jastrow Dictionary, it was a unique project that demonstrated the connection of the Aramaic language of the Talmud to the Hebrew of the Torah. Although other lexicons of the Aramaic language have been created, almost none cover the breadth of language researched and charted by Jastrow.

Born in Prussia in 1829, Marcus Jastrow had a diverse education that was rich both in religious study and secular academics. He completed his studies at the University of Berlin and received a PhD from the University of Halle while also completing his studies for rabbinic ordination.

His first rabbinic position was in Warsaw, where he was quickly swept up in national politics, supporting the “revolutionaries” and ending up in jail before being sent back to Prussia. He then took a position as the District Rabbi of Worms.

In 1866, Jastrow accepted the pulpit at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and quickly became an active member of the American Jewish community. He taught courses at Philadelphia’s Maimonides College and helped found the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Jastrow began working on his dictionary, which took nearly twenty years to complete, in 1876, while he was recovering from an illness. During this time, Jastrow also worked on several other projects, including the Jewish Encyclopedia, for the Jewish Publication Society of America (now JPS International).

Dr. Jastrow, who received an additional doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1900, retired from the pulpit in 1892, when Rodeph Shalom voted to join the Reform Movement. He passed away on Simchat Torah (October 13) 1903. His dictionary, with its alphabetical organization, cross-referencing and root charting, and index of scriptural references, is still in popular use today.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Purchase Jewish texts in the language that you find easiest to use. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (TractateSukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility. The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 bulls were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests brought sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is neverending.

On the night of Simchat Torah (which is the second night of the holiday outside of the land of Israel), all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark, and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously. Shortly thereafter, the beginning of the Book of Genesis is read, signalling that the Torah reading cycle has begun anew.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate and Enjoy

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you a meaningful and fun Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (3:31b): "This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King."

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor.

On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around the bimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabbah 5778 begins tonight (Tuesday night).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Some people have a custom to eat kreplach,
meat dumplings, on Hoshana Rabba.

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.

Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all. 

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shake, Shake, Shake

If you haven't yet had the chance, try to find a way to fulfill the mitzvah of shaking a lulav and etrog.

Monday, October 9, 2017

More Than A Harvest Festival

Few people refer to Sukkot by the name Chag Ha'Asif, Feast of the Ingathering, but the Torah specifically states: "And you shall observe...the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22). Perhaps this term is avoided lest the holiday be mistaken as a simple agricultural celebration. But, Sukkot is indeed an agricultural festival celebrated at the time of the harvest, when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor, and everyone prepares for the onset of winter. There is no question that, as a result of witnessing the miracle of harvest in the field, people are moved to be thankful to the Creator of all things. 

Sukkot, however, is more than a harvest festival, because it isn’t actually about the crop. It is a festival meant to help Jews focus on the Source of those crops. This is why Jews move out of their comfortable homes and into their temporary dwellings (the sukkah) just as the weather grows chilly. It is a striking reminder that there is a more powerful Force in charge of one’s success. One can plant and sow and fertilize at all the right times, but one can only reap if God provides all of the right natural factors (good soil, proper amounts of rain at the right time, the farmer’s health, etc.).

While we today may not live in agricultural settings, that does not mean that we are not constantly dependent on a force greater than ourselves. No matter what profession one practices, one’s success is affected by thousands of different factors each day. While we may not personally gather our crops, we must always celebrate and be grateful for, and aware of, the Source of our sustenance.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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The Sukkot Hoshanot Service

Walk into a traditional synagogue in the middle of morning services during the week of Sukkot and you might have to take precaution not to be trampled upon by the circle of attendees walking around the bimah (central table where the Torah is read) holding their lulavim.

The Hoshanot service has been part of the celebration of Sukkot since the days of the Holy Temple, when, according to the Mishna: “It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day” (Sukkot 4:5).

In the Talmud, the later sages debate whether the original Hoshanot service was performed with the lulav and etrog or with willow branches alone. Today the entire lulav (four species) is held throughout the service. Each day a different piyut, religious poem, is recited as the congregants circle the bimah on which the Torah is held. (On Shabbat-Sukkot, the piyut is recited, but there are no lulavim and the bimah is not circled.)

The name of the service, Hoshanot, is derived from the opening word that is repeated throughout the first prayer: Hoshana. This word is actually a contraction of two separate words and means “Please save!” The congregants open the ceremony by beseeching God to save His people “For Your sake, Our God!”; “For Your sake, our Creator!”; “For Your sake, our Redeemer!”; and “For Your sake, our Attender!” Each cry is preceded and followed by “Hoshana” (Please Save!).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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More Than Material Reflection

Take time during the holiday of Sukkot to reflect on God's hand in your life. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which the priests ceremoniously drew water from the spring of Shiloach and poured it into the designated bowl attached to the altar. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, the Celebration of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the spring of Shiloach and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah party, which generally takes place in the sukkah. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in Western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the seventh in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed--weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Mundane chores such as laundry are postponed. If possible, people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read andHallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz (leaven) but is not required to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed, people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday!

Celebrate in the sukkah throughout the interim days of the Sukkot holiday.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Shechina (Divine Presence) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..." and so on throughout the week.

*The order of the Ushpeezin may vary depending on community.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Everyone Does the Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we can reach our full potential once again.

For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot,click here.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Sukkot Sameach

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you and yours a very joyful Sukkot holiday.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Room for Creativity

A few years back, The Atlantic Magazine featured a story about a project that came to be known as “Sukkah City” held in New York. Sukkah City challenged architects to create unique sukkot with only one guideline: halacha, Jewish law.

A basic sukkah is really quite simple: three walls and a bunch of branches overhead. (For a more detailed review of the laws, click here.) However, many of the Sukkah City architects who looked to the Talmud for design inspiration must have been quite surprised by the creative sukkot described therein. For instance, while a sukkah’s roof must be made of detached tree branches, can the sukkah itself be built in a tree? The discussion, which begins on page 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, presents different rulings, depending on the nature of the walls.

Also on page 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, the sages discuss a sukkah built on a wagon or on a ship - the issue being whether it can withstand a normal wind. It is easy to understand why they ask about a wagon or a ship, since these common means of transportation would have an obvious place to build a sukkah. But, the Talmud also discusses building a sukkah on the back of a camel. (And people were impressed at the innovation of the modern day pop-up sukkah, which works like a tent!)

Speaking of animals, the sages ruled that a securely-bound elephant would be valid as a sukkah wall. This was due to the elephant’s size, so this rule applies to no other animal. No one in this day and age would ever contemplate such strange building materials (indeed, most probably, no one ever used an actual elephant as a sukkah wall), but these passages demonstrate the flexibility and creativity that are inherent in Jewish tradition.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Perfect Species

At this time of the year, Jews around the globe head out in search of the perfect lulav and etrog (Lulav refers to the grouping of lulav, hadassim and aravot, which, together with the etrog are referred to as the four species.) Since the lulav and etrog are used for the mitzvah of waving the four species, it’s important to find a set that is as perfect as can be.

So what makes a lulav and etrog “perfect”?

Lulav/Branch of a Palm Tree: A lulav is actually the closed frond of a date palm tree. A nice lulav is green, with no signs of dryness. It should be straight, without any bends or twists near the top. The tip and top leaves of the lulav must be whole, and not split. It is placed in the center of the hadassim and the aravot with its spine facing inward.

Hadassim/Three Myrtle Branches: The hadassim, which are bound on the right side of the lulav's spine, should have moist, green leaves grouped in level rows of three. There should be no large, uncovered section of stem. The stem and the leaves should be whole, without any nips at the top and the leaves should cover the entire branch to the top. There should not be more berries than leaves and there should be no large twigs.

Aravot/Two Willow Branches: The aravot, which are bound to the left side of the lulav's spine (slightly lower than the hadassim) should have reddish stems with green, moist leaves. The leaves should be long, narrow and smooth-edged, with no nips or tears.

Etrog/Citron: The Torah describes the etrog as “the fruit of a beautiful tree” (Leviticus 23:40). Ideally, the skin of this yellow (or green when not ripe) citrus fruit must be clean of spots and discolorations. It should be bumpy, not smooth like a lemon, and should be broad at the bottom and narrow toward the top. (Please note that the etrog is very delicate and should be handled with care. If dropped, the etrog can be damaged and rendered unfit for use!)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Somewhere a Sukkah

If you can't make a sukkah of your own, ask the local synagogue if there is one to which you can bring food.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Four Species

The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year.

Indeed, there is a special commandment (Leviticus 23:40) that one make a specific effort to enhance and beautify this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of taking the four species is performed by taking a frond of a palm branch (lulav), 3 myrtle stems (hadassim) and 2 willow branches (aravot) in one's right hand and the citron (etrog)--held upside down--in one's left hand [some say lefties should reverse hands] and reciting the blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech Ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b'mitz’vo’tav v'tzee’va’nu al n'tee’laht lulav.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to take the four species.

(Those performing the mitzvah for the first time this year should recite the blessing of Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu.)

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times* in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down. (The order may differ depending on custom.)
Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: "It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth."
Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

*Some customs may vary.
This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Decorating

During the holiday of Sukkot, Jews live in sukkot (temporary dwellings with a roof of branches or wooden boards) for seven days. Although the bare minimum required for a kosher sukkah is a few walls and a roof of branches through which one can see the stars, there is, as with all Jewish rituals, the practice of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah. There are several ways in which one might beautify one’s sukkah. The simplest beautification, of course, is using quality materials in building the sukkah and setting a beautiful table therein for the holiday meals. The more elaborate means of beautifying a sukkah, however, is through attractive decorations.

Some might think that decorating a sukkah is child’s play. Paper chains and school art projects are often the mainstay of a family’s sukkah. But, the adornment of the sukkah can be far more sophisticated. In the oldest records of Jewish life, the sages took for granted that a sukkah will be decorated: “...with embroidered hangings and sheets, and hung therein nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, bunches of grapes, wreaths of ears of corn, [vials of] wine, oil or fine flour...” (Sukkah 10a). The specific decorations noted by the sages all celebrate the bounty of the harvest season, which is appropriate as Sukkot is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif (the holiday of the ingathering of the harvest).

The choice of sukkah decorations is often a reflection of one’s heritage. Persian Jews traditionally adorned their sukkot with Persian rugs. Jews who follow the Judeo-Spanish heritage might continue the custom of hanging bisochos, sweet, sesame seed-covered cookie rings. The most common decorations, however, remain agricultural in nature and often feature the seven species for which God praises the Land of Israel: wheat and barley (often hung in glass jars), grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Purchase Point

Contact your local synagogue to ask where you might be able to purchase a lulav and etrog set.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

But Wait...There's More

Now that the Jewish people have repented on Yom Kippur and, hopefully, received Divine forgiveness, it is time to sit back and relax...

Just kidding!

It is time to celebrate! Just five days after Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot begins. On this most festive of holidays (it is known as "Z’man Simchataynu," the time of our rejoicing), Jews live in temporary dwellings called sukkot (singular - sukkah) with a roof of branches or wooden boards. This temporary "hut" becomes the Jew’s home for seven days, and, therefore (weather permitting), everything that we would do in our homes, such as eat, sleep or study, is done in the sukkah.

The sukkot are a reminder of our origins, of our wandering in the wilderness after being redeemed from slavery. In fact, this reminder is both of the physical state in which we lived and the spiritual environment in which we sojourned. Symbolically, the sukkah represents the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, in which God enveloped and protected the wandering nation after the Exodus from Egypt.

A strange holiday? Perhaps, but by moving out of our permanent domiciles, especially at the beginning of the rainy/cold season, we demonstrate our faith in God as the provider and sustainer of all life.

So if you thought you had nothing to do next week, take a look around and find the nearest sukkah in which to dwell. Or, of course, you can always build your own! 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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Build Your Own Sukkah

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28") and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40") tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be "kosher," there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It should not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate. 

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree).  If there is a small area within the sukkah that is covered by something overhead, one should avoid sitting beneath it.

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Wednesday night at sunset. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

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