Friday, December 29, 2017

A Tale from Texas

In 1968, the State of Texas decided to honor the deeds of Jacob Raphael De Cordova (June 6, 1808 - January 28, 1868) by reinterring De Cordova and his wife from their original burial place in Kimball, Texas,  to the State Cemetery of Texas in Austin. De Cordova’s claim to fame  resulted from the work he did to promote the settlement  of Texas. In the mid-1800s, De Cordova purchased large swaths of land that he sold out in parcels. Most notably,  he was one of the key developers of the planned city of Waco and actively brought settlers and businessmen to the city by developing infrastructure and giving concessions.

De Cordova did not start his career as a realtor, nor was he a native of Texas. Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, De Cordova was raised by an aunt in England after his mother died during his birth. At 17, he rejoined the household of his father, who had moved to Philadelphia. After learning the printing trade (in which his family had been involved with for generations), he returned to Jamaica and started the Kingston Daily Gleaner (a newspaper still in print) with his brother Joshua. Two years later (1836), however, he moved to New Orleans, where he began to trade with the Republic of Texas. He was drawn to the possibilities in what was then an independent territory and moved to Galveston in 1839 and to Houston shortly thereafter.

In Houston, De Cordova got involved in politics. In 1847, he was elected to one term in the Second Texas Legislature. Two years later, in conjunction with Robert Creuzbaur, he created a map of Texas. Through his travels working on this map, he saw the incredible potential of the territory.

In the 1850s, to promote settlement, De Cordova wrote several books and conducted a lecture tour to the northeast and to England. He also started two newspapers. De Cordova’s next project was planning a power project on the Brazos River, but it never developed due to the Civil War. De Cordova died in 1868. When a dam was built in the 1930s, the new reservoir was named in his honor.

This Treat was written in honor of the anniversary of Texas becoming the 28th state of the United States.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat La La

Express your love of Shabbat in song.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Sense of Guilt

At the end of the Book of Genesis, when Jacob passes away, his twelve sons journey together from Egypt to the Land of Israel to bury their father and then return to Egypt. After describing the funeral procession and burial, the Torah states: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him?!” (50:15). This is a strange question since Joseph had already assured them that he had forgiven them for selling him to the Ishmaelites, and he and his brothers had been living peaceably in Egypt for some time.

If one looks at this verse from the perspective of modern psychology, one might wonder if the brothers, after burying their father, were not experiencing a kind of unresolved guilt. The text itself shows no evidence that Joseph had demonstrated any change in his attitude toward them, and yet this was the issue that gnawed at them upon returning from the burial of their father.

According to the Midrash, Joseph did change his behavior toward them, but not from anger. The brothers worried that the kindness that Joseph had shown them while Jacob was still alive was only for their father’s sake. Apparently, according to the Midrash, after Jacob’s funeral, Joseph stopped inviting them to dine at his table. Joseph, according to the Midrash, did so because when their father was alive Jacob had assigned the seating, placing Joseph ahead of both Reuben (the first born) and Judah (the proven leader). Now that their father was not there, Joseph felt uncomfortable about inviting them to sit beneath him (which would have been the only politically correct choice).

In reaction to their fear that Joseph would be vengeful, the brothers sent a message to Joseph reiterating their repentance. In turn, Joseph repeated not only his forgiveness, but his firm belief that everything that had occurred had been part of a much larger Divine plan.

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For the Fast

Fast days such as today are meant for inspiring acts of teshuva (repentance). Think about how your actions may have affected other people and apologize or forgive if necessary.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Tenth of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Tammuz] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4). 

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (in 588 B.C.E.), it was also the beginning of the end. 

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah. 

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon 

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance). 

This year, the Tenth of Tevet is tomorrow, December 28, 2017.


This Treat is posted each year before the fast. 

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Drink Up

Drink water today to prepare for tomorrow's fast. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Painting Our People

Born on December 26, 1902, in Rahachow, Belarus (in the Pale of Settlement), Anatoli Lvovitch Kaplan was a Jewish painter who celebrated his Jewish heritage and the Jewish world in his artwork even at the risk of official disapproval. In  an era of dangerous and shifting politics, Kaplan managed to both express himself and remain accepted by the Soviet authorities.

The son of a butcher, Kaplan moved to Leningrad when he was twenty years old and got himself accepted to the Russian Academy of Arts, from which he graduated in 1927. Remaining in Leningrad, Kaplan found work as a stage designer while also exploring new art forms. In the 1930s, Kaplan was included in a group of artists instructed to create artistic works about the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Stalin’s attempt to form a “Jewish state”).

Although he was initially evacuated to the Ural Mountains during World War II, Kaplan returned to Leningrad early and therefore lived through the city’s blockade during the war. He captured his experiences during the blockade in his lithographic series: “Landscapes of Leningrad Series During the Days of the Blockade.” Pieces from the Leningrad series were displayed in numerous Soviet museums.

Kaplan’s work, which is often compared to the painting of Marc Chagall, also capture the life and lore of the shtetl. Included in his wide range of works are the designs included in his illustrated Passover Haggadah (printed in 1961) and illustrations for several of the stories of Shalom Aleichem, such as the Tales of Tevya the Milkman.

Anatoli Kaplan passed away in Leningrad on July 3, 1970.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lovely Home

Fill your home with Jewish art.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Board of Deputies

The contemporary Jewish community of England began to form in the late 17th century, after a nearly 400 year ban on Jewish settlement. While the majority of the Jews who initially came to England at that time were Sephardim, it did not take long for a second community of Ashkenazim to form. The two groups of Jews were, in many respects, independent of each other. This duality came to an end after the ascension of George III to the British throne in 1760. After the Sephardim sent a delegation to pay homage to the new king, the delegation became a standing committee to deal with political issues. The Ashkenazim then set up their own separate committee. On the 7th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet that year, the two groups united to form the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

While the Board of Deputies met only intermittently during its first several decades, it received official recognition to represent British Jewry in the 1830s after it adopted a constitution. One of its first presidents was Sir Moses Montefiore, who held the position from 1838 until 1874.

Since its establishment, the Board of Deputies has acted as a watchdog and advocate not only for the Jews of the United Kingdom, but for Jews throughout the British Empire. It also serves as a lobbying commission for the protection of Jews in foreign countries. Although there have been numerous controversies throughout its existence, whether it was the initial reluctance to include new congregations or its changing stance on Zionism, the Board remains as an important voice of British Jewry today. It is populated by deputies elected from synagogues and other established community organizations. The Board of Deputies of British Jews also represents the Jews of the United Kingdom at the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Organized Together

When you are able, participate in local Jewish organizations.

Friday, December 22, 2017

An Attitude for Living

People who love language, delight in discussing the nuances of word choice. And while it may seem trivial to some, the subtle difference in choosing one particular word over another may have profound implications. Two of the most important words in the study of Torah are words that could have the same translation, but, according to tradition, have very different meanings. The two words (in their infinitive form) are la’goor and layshev, both of which may be translated as “to dwell,” but are more specifically defined as “to sojourn” and “to settle.”

There is a famous statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) attributed to Rabbi Yochanan noting that whenever the verb layshev is used, trouble follows shortly thereafter. Rabbi Yochanan cites several examples, including Israel’s settling in the Land of Egypt when they had initially come down to escape the famine and to reunite Jacob and Joseph.

“Settling” is related to the word sitting, both of which reflect a similar lack of movement. Those who “settle” put down roots and assume a specific future. Those who “sojourn,” however, intend, sooner or later, to continue on to someplace else.

Although Rabbi Yochanan's comment was made regarding the scriptural use of the word “to settle,” one might see his comments as a message for every generation. From one point of view, those who settle have no need to try to grow spiritually, whereas those who only sojourn hope to move forward.  One might also compare the question of “settling” verses “sojourning” regarding the basic Jewish belief in the imminent arrival of the Messiah. While one need not shun acts of settling (establishing a career, buying a house, etc.), one should always remember that the Messianic era may be only a moment away.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Beautiful Shabbat

Wherever you go, make your Shabbat beautiful.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Leading Lady Computer

Over the last few years, much has been written about the importance of encouraging girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Because women have, historically, been a distinct minority in the math and science professions, learning about those women who have had a major impact on today’s technology is always inspiring. One such woman was Adele Katz Goldstine, whose work in computer programming was ground-breaking.

Born on December 21, 1920, in New York City, Adele Katz attended both Hunter College High School and Hunter College, from which she received a Bachelors in Mathematics. She then went on to receive a Masters degree in Mathematics from the University of Michigan, where she also met her husband, Herman Goldstine, who was one of the developers of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer).

The Goldstines moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Adele Goldstine joined the faculty of University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. Funded by the army, the Moore School included a pool of close to 80 female “computers,” mathematicians who manually performed complex differential calculations. During the war, they analysed ballistic trajectories.

In 1945, the army decided to try to use ENIAC to compute trajectories. Goldstine, who had already written one of the earliest computer programs, was charged with training six* of the school’s “computers” to use ENIAC. The machine was made up of 40 eight-foot panels that had to be manually manipulated to run different formulas and programs. Goldstine also wrote an operating manual for the machine. The ENIAC ladies took the giant computer to the next level by engineering it to store multiple programs.

 After the war, Adele Goldstine worked on programs to be run on ENIAC for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sadly, at the young age of 43, Goldstine, who was the mother of 2 young children, lost her life to cancer in 1964.

 * The six ladies were: Kay McNulty Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth "Betty" Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Day After

Clean your menorah before you put it away so you don't have to scrape the wax off next year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Putting Chanukah in Historical Perspective

The events of Chanukah took place about 150 years after the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE), which brought 40 years of civil war to his empire. Eventually, the empire was divided into 3 smaller empires: the Antigonid Empire in Greece, the Selucid Empire in Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Judea and Cyrenaica (Libya). By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes assumed the throne of the Selucid empire in 175 BCE, Judea was under Selucid control. He began his oppression of the Jewish people in 167 BCE, after his attempt to conquer Egypt was thwarted by threats from Rome. Antiochus's initial anger at the Judeans was for the ousting of Menelaus from the office of High Priest, to which Antiochus had appointed him.

The Maccabees redeemed Jerusalem and re-dedicated the Holy Temple in 165 BCE. While they won religious freedom, the Jews never completely regained their political independence. Jewish kings reigned but were often vassals to greater political empires. Sadly, the era following the great Maccabean uprising is one known for corruption and treachery.

The Maccabeans began their reign just as a powerful new empire was emerging: Rome. Julius Caeser was born in the year 100 BCE. Just 100 years after the Maccabean victory, Pompey brought the Roman army into Judea at the invitation of Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, the two Hasmonean brothers who were vying for the throne. It was the beginning of a very sad ending to an inspiring victory!

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Bringing It On

On this last day of Chanukah, contemplate the larger meaning of the holiday and how you can bring that into the rest of your year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

THIS is Chanukah

Tonight is the eighth and final night of Chanukah. After the flames die down, many people will pack up the menorah and think little of the holiday again until next year. However, the lighting of the menorah at nightfall is only the beginning of the eighth day, and, according to tradition, the eighth day of Chanukah is the essence of the holiday.

This final day of Chanukah is known as Zot Chanukah, which translates as “This is Chanukah.” The designation comes from the eighth day’s Torah reading, the final verse of which begins with the words “Zot chanukat hamizbeiach, This is the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:88), an allusion to the ceremony dedicating the altar of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Beyond the overlap of the term chanukah (dedication), the fact is that “eight” is a significant number in Jewish life as it represents that which is beyond nature. As Chanukah is a celebration of miracles, it seems to make sense that the eighth day, the day beyond the natural week, should encompass the essence of the holiday.

It is interesting to note that the only other specific eighth day celebration is the Torah command to observe Shemini Atzeret, the Gathering of the Eighth, which is an independent holiday connected to the festival of Sukkot that celebrates the unique relationship of God and the Jewish people (whereas Sukkot itself includes the other nations - click here).

Chanukah is a holiday that commemorates the Jewish people making the profound choice to remain loyal to their spiritual heritage rather than the more immediately rewarding lifestyle of the Hellenist Greeks. And the eighth day is, metaphorically, when the people’s dedication to their heritage shines brightest.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Chanukah Heroine

Have you ever heard of Yehudit (Judith), the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, who saved her city, Bethulia, from destruction at the hands of the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes?

As the Jews in the town of Bethulia neared starvation due to the enemy siege, Yehudit told the elders that she had a plan to deliver the enemy into their hands, but they must not ask her about it. They must simply have faith in her. Knowing her reputation for wisdom and piety, they agreed.

Accompanied by one maidservant, Yehudit managed to gain an audience with Holofernes and told him that, for the sake of those suffering from the siege, she wanted the city to fall. She proposed to report to him, daily, on the status of the town’s supplies and let him know when was the best time to strike.

After several days, Yehudit felt that she and her maidservant had gained the trust of the enemy. They came and went as they pleased.

When she told Holofernes that the city had no food left and that it would be a good time to strike, he invited her to come alone to his tent to celebrate. She agreed, insisting that he partake of her ‘renowned’ goat-cheese. As he ate the salty cheese, Yehudit quenched his thirst with the heavy wine that she had brought with her. When Holofernes finally fell into a stupor from too much food and drink, Yehudit cut off his head with his own sword. The two women wrapped the head in a cloth and returned to Bethulia.

Yehudit instructed the Jewish elders to attack the Syrian-Greeks immediately.

The Syrian-Greek soldiers awoke to find the Judeans attacking and their leader mysteriously dead. The Syrian-Greek army fled in confusion and panic.

In honor of Yehudit, there is a custom to eat dairy on Chanukah.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Oh Chanukah

Tomorrow, when there will be no more candle lighting to look forward to, do something to mark the last day of the celebration of Chanukah.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Chanukah Yum

While Jewish holidays are known for their food (except Yom Kippur, of course), most of these foods are not known for being particularly healthy. Chanukah is no exception. Forget matzah or apples, those are healthy in comparison--pull out your deep fryer, because Chanukah is a celebration of oil.

Soufganiyot (that’s Hebrew for doughnut): Did you know that Homer Simpson’s favorite treat is a traditional Chanukah delight in Israel? Deep fried dough, most often filled with an injection of jelly, is how Israelis celebrate the tiny cruse of oil found by the Maccabees. This tradition probably developed from the custom among some Sephardi Jews to celebrate Chanukah with bimuelos, which are best defined as a type of fritter.

According to, the Greek Sephardi community eat loukoumades, a popular, deep-fried Greek pastry comparable to a doughnut, coated with honey and cinnamon. “Romaniotes, the Jewish community in Byzantine Greece, called this pastry ‘Zvingous/Zvingoi.’... Today both Greek Jewish communities, Romaniotes and Sephardi--who immigrated to Greece five centuries ago--make these Chanukah treats.”

Latkes: (That’s Yiddish for pancake, in Hebrew they are called levivot): Read any children’s Chanukah book today and you’ll find descriptions of pancakes made of grated potato sizzling away in oil. But, potatoes were only introduced into European society in the 1500s (they originated in South America).

Prior to the introduction of the potato to the latke, Ashkenazi Jews celebrated Chanukah with cheese latkes. Same basic idea, yummy food fried into pancakes. Dairy, however, has its own special connection to Chanukah. Dairy foods were eaten as a reminder of Judith (Yehudit), who, according to tradition, was a beautiful widow who beheaded an enemy general by plying him with cheese and wine until he fell asleep (read the complete story here).

Happy Chanukah. Now get out the griddle and enjoy!

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book(s) of Maccabees

Chanukah is neither directly ordained in the Torah (like Rosh Hashana, Passover, etc.) nor mentioned in any other biblical text (as Purim is in the Book of Esther). The Books of Maccabees are not included in the Biblical canon, because these events occurred after the sages had declared the Tanach (complete Hebrew Bible) closed to further additions (around 250 B.C.E.). Writings, such as the Books of Maccabees, which have historical import but are not included in the Tanach, are often referred to as Sfarim Chitzonim (external books) or by the Greek term Apocrypha (hidden books).

While Maccabees I was originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek translation survives (although it has been re-translated from Greek into Hebrew). Maccabees I is a historical work that describes Antiochus Epiphanes’ assumption of the Selucid throne (175 B.C.E.), the actions of the Jewish Hellenizers, and, in detail, the revolt of the Maccabees. The book concludes with the death of Simon the Hasmonean (Maccabee) and the appointment of his eldest son, John Hyrcanus, as ruler (135 B.C.E.).

Maccabees II was written in Greek, and, in the style of Greek historians, is full of drama and rhetoric. Focusing mainly on the deeds of Judah Maccabee, the leader of the rebellion after the death of Mattitiyahu, Maccabees II also includes details of the actions of the Hellenizers (power-plays and bribery were a serious problem in the priesthood at the time) and acts of sacrifice and martyrdom by those dedicated to keeping the Jewish faith.

While Maccabees III and Maccabees IV are sometimes grouped together with the first and second books mentioned above, neither of them are accounts of the events of Chanukah, nor are they accorded the same historical veracity as Maccabees I and II.
This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Delightful Doughnuts

Buy doughnuts from your local kosher bakery or try making some at home.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spin the Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!

The dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When it falls, depending on which Hebrew letter is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday?

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 B.C.E.), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the word Poh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt.


This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

These Lights We Kindle

While the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is an outward-focused mitzvah - the menorah is lit in a window or doorway - it is also an opportunity for personal reflection on the deeper meaning of the holiday. Recognizing this, a special paragraph was added to the menorah lighting ritual. Ha’nayrot Halalu, as it is called, is recited immediately after the Chanukah blessings:

These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and on the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days in this season, through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred. We are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them, in order, to express thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

Ha’nayrot Halalu reminds us that there are many extraordinary events within the celebration of Chanukah. There are the miracles, such as the single flask of oil lasting eight days instead of one. There are wonders, such as the fact that there remained even one single flask of pure olive oil still sealed by the High Priest. And there are salvations, such as the incredible courage of the small Jewish army to go into battle while so severely out-manned and their ability to overthrow the soldiers of the mighty Syrian-Greek empire.

Additionally, Ha’nayrot Halalu contains a reminder that while there are no work restrictions on one’s actions on Chanukah (as there are on the Biblical festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), one must not forget that the days of Chanukah are holy as well. Thus it is that one may not use the Chanukah candles for any purpose other than as a reminder of the many ways of God’s salvations.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Friendly Festival

Gather friends together to celebrate Chanukah.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Challenge of Fitting In

The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which almost always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph, the son of Jacob, from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah.

The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in a non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him by the name Tzaphenath Pa'nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him.

Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, he declared: “...for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).

Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession.

Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks--their dress, their language, their names--they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle.

Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rock of Ages

“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower....” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as loosely translated from the original Hebrew by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s. And while tzur may mean rock, the rest of the verse actually means:

Refuge, Rock of my salvation/ to You is a delight to give praise
Restore my House of prayer/so that there I may offer You thanksgiving
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe/
Then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar's dedication.

Maoz Tzur is one of the best known Hebrew piyyutim (religious songs/poems). Most people, however, are only familiar with this first verse (there are 5 more verses--click here to read the entire song). Thought to have been written in the 13th century, it has become a near universal custom to sing Maoz Tzur after lighting the Chanukah candles.

Maoz Tzur is a song of redemption. Its paragraphs refer to the many different exiles the Jews have endured, but also reflect the fact that God is always present in Jewish history as our Savior. The exiles are treated in chronological order:

Verse 2 - “...when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule”
Verse 3 - “...Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved”
Verse 4 - “The Agagite, son of Hammedatha (Haman)...”
Verse 5 - “Then the Greeks gathered against me...”
Verse 6 - “...Thrust the enemy into the darkness...(the word admon refers to Roman exile)”

The author of Maoz Tzur, a man known only as Mordechai (the letters of his name serve as an acrostic of the first letters of the first five stanzas), focused on each exile in order to acknowledge the redemption that God has brought the Jewish people in the past and to pray for a speedy redemption in our own day.

*Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd. 

Rich Traditions

Celebrate Shabbat and anchor your Jewish identity in rich weekly traditions.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Beauty and the Greeks

What does Noah’s son Yephet have to do with the story of Chanukah and the mitzvah of circumcision?

When the Syrian-Greeks sought to force Hellenization on the Judeans, one of the first mitzvot they outlawed was brit milah, circumcision. In fact, performing a brit milah on one’s child became a capital crime. The Syrian-Greeks found circumcision particularly offensive because of their own culture’s devotion to the beauty and perfection of the human body. The ancient Greeks are renowned for their sculptures and naked athletics. From the perspective of Hellenistic culture, the male body represented perfection. It was, therefore, unconscionable that the Jews should alter it, or maim it, especially by Divine decree.

The Greeks are known in the Bible as “Y’vanim,” the people of Yavan. They are, according to the sages, the direct descendants of Yavan, the son of Yephet, the son of Noah.

Noah had three sons: Yephet, Ham and Shem. Very little is written about Yephet other than the fact that, following Shem’s lead, Yephet covered his father’s nakedness, which had been exposed by Ham. For this noble act, Yephet is praised. (See Genesis 9).There is, however, much one can learn about a biblical personality through his/her name. The name Yephet derives from the Hebrew root (y-ph-h), which is the base of the word Yafeh, beautiful. Thus, beauty, and the admiration of beauty, are part of Yephet’s nature. Consequently, Noah blessed him: “May God grant beauty to Yephet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).

Yephet is associated with beauty and adoration of the human body, the two cultural traits that came to define Yavan-Greece. Perhaps, then, it is not so surprising that they abhorred the dedication of the Jews to the mitzvah of brit milah. 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pure Olive Oil

While a large number of Jews today light Chanukah candles, the more traditional custom is to light the Chanukah candles using olive oil. This is done in order to most accurately recreate the original Chanukah miracle.

When God instructed Moses to construct the Tabernacle in the wilderness (the vessels of which were eventually placed in the Temple in Jerusalem), He specifically stated: “And you will command the children of Israel, to bring to you pure olive oil, pressed for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually” (Exodus 27:20).

Pure olive oil, known in Hebrew as shemen zayit zach,* is the first drop of oil when the olive is first squeezed or pressed. The Mishna states that there is nothing better than the first oil of the first crop, and the sages of the Talmud described the process of how this oil was produced:

“The first crop is when the fully ripe olives are picked from the top of the tree; they are brought into the olive-press, are ground in a mill and put into baskets. The oil which oozes out is the first kind [of oil]. They are then pressed with the beam, and the oil which oozes out is the second kind” (Talmud Menachot 86a).

Olive oil, which burns slowly, cleanly and without an unpleasant odor, has many uses both in daily life and in Jewish rituals. Indeed, oil is one of the ingredients that was offered with the sacrifices in the Temple. However, only the menorah required the purest shemen zayit zach from the first pressing.

“If the candlestick, which does not need [the oil] for eating [but as fuel], requires pure olive oil, how much more do meal-offerings, which [need the oil] for eating, require pure olive oil! But the text states, pure olive oil beaten for the light, but not ‘pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings’” (Menachot 56b)

*It is interesting to note that the words shemen zayit zach, when written in Hebrew, are composed of eight letters, one of the many interesting allusions to Chanukah that are hidden in the Torah  (as found on

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.


Judaism encourages enhancing all mitzvot by using beautiful items in their performance, for instance buying a menorah that you find beautiful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

On the 25th of Kislev

It is not uncommon to find that significant events in Jewish history occurred in different years but on the same day on the Jewish calendar. For instance, Tisha B'Av (9th of Av), the day on which we mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temple, occurred on the same calendar day on which the Israelites in the wilderness listened to the spies and cried out in fear that God was leading them to their deaths. This resulted in 38 additional years of wandering in the wilderness before the next generation was allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Today is the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the first day of Chanukah. Chanukah is celebrated on the anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple by Judah Maccabee and his loyal followers. According to Jewish tradition, however, it is not a coincidence that this event occurred on the 25th of Kislev.

According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina, the construction of the Mishkan (temporary Tabernacle that was used before the permanent Temple was erected) was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Once the Mishkan was completed, however, Moses waited until the 1st of Nissan for its official dedication. The postponement, according to the Midrash, was because "God wanted to celebrate the rejoicing of the Tabernacle in the month in which Isaac was born (Nissan)...Kislev thus forfeited [the honor] though the work had been completed [during that month]. God therefore said: 'I will make restitution.' How did God repay Kislev? With the Chanukah (inauguration) of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees)" (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 184).

Because the Chanukat Ha'Mishkan, the dedication of the Tabernacle, did not occur on the day it was completed, the great honor of the miracle of Chanukah was reserved for the 25th of Kislev.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

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Giving Gifts

"One who is diligent in lighting Chanukah candles will have children who are scholars" (Talmud Shabbat 23b).

The desire for scholarly children was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). In modern times, money has been replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights, intelligent children and gelt?

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah is so important that even a pauper, who has no money at all, is required to borrow money in order to buy oil for lighting. People therefore began to give a little money (gelt) to the poor so that they would not be embarrassed or forced to ask for assistance. Because the idea of "being diligent in lighting the Chanukah lights" is primary in both giving to the poor and meriting wise children, it became the custom to give children gelt as a reward for studying. Children who were diligent in their studies were rewarded with a shiny coin.

While gifts are an offshoot of the holiday, they represent an important element of Chanukah--chinuch, Jewish education.

The Maccabees fought so that their children and their children's children would be able to study Torah freely and be knowledgeable about their Jewish heritage. Jewish children are taught about Judaism not only for today, but for posterity as well, as it says in Proverbs 22:6: "Educate a young person in his/her own way, when he/she grows old he/she will not turn from it."

Over time, the simple practice of giving gelt (coins or presents) became a Chanukah custom - and not just for children. In truth, however, it is not surprising that gift giving has moved beyond just children. In our own day and age, we, the adults, also need encouragement to learn about who we are and what our Jewish heritage means.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Gifts for the Spirit

If you have a tradition of giving Chanukah gifts, try to think of gifts that imbue the spirit of Jewish dedication and education.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Al Hanisim, For The Miracles

Most Jewish holidays are marked not only by feasting and celebrations, but also by special prayers. On Biblical holidays, such as Passover and Rosh Hashana, these special prayers include an entire additional service (Musaf). On Chanukah and Purim, which are considered “post-Biblical” holidays because their observance was not commanded by God in the Torah, there is no additional service. However, to fulfill the desire to add further prayers of thanks and praise to these holidays, Al Hanisim is recited during the silent Amidah and Birkat Hamazon/Grace After Meals. (Additionally, on Chanukah only, Hallel is recited as part of the morning service.)

The opening stanza of Al Hanisim, which is the same for both Chanukah and Purim, reads: “For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.”

At this point, the prayers diverge. On Chanukah, the text continues with a description of life under the Hellenists, of how the government “rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will.” It then continues to describe how, with God’s help, the enemy was delivered into the hands of Matityahu and his sons, who then purified the Temple, kindled the lights and “instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

On Purim, the text describes Haman’s evil decree to “destroy, slaughter and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women.” Rather than describe the rest of the events narrated in the Book of Esther, the Purim Al Hanisim then praises God for the way in which he “foiled his [Haman’s] counsel and frustrated his intention.”
Click here to listen to a musical rendition of Al Hanisim.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Blessings

The Jewish people have said this prayer daily for thousands of years. On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/wick in oil is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.

Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, ah'sher kidishanu b'mitz'vo'tav v'tzee'vanu l'hahd'leek nayr shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'asah neesim la'avotaynu, bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.

The third blessing is recited only on the first night one lights.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.

The Time Is Here

Bring your whole household together to light the first Chanukah candle this evening. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Chanukah: What's the Mitzvah

Here's a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the oil in the menorah in the Holy Temple burned for eight days instead of one.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after dusk. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used so that the Chanukah lights remain lit after nightfall.

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah and Divine Order

Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Tevet. (Rosh Chodesh is celebrated Friday, 1 Tevet.) This is significant because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.

The very first commandment that the Jewish people received as a nation - "This month shall be yours as the first of months" (Exodus 12:1-2) - instructed the Jews to sanctify the beginning of each new month. The Syrian-Greeks felt threatened by the Jewish concept of Divinely ordained time, since the sanctification of the month was based on the sighting of the new moon, rather than by a humanly calculated number of days.

The Syrian-Greeks were against the observance of Shabbat, not because it sanctified time, but because it was a day of rest, a day of no creative labor. The commandment of Shabbat states: "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God. On it, you shall do no [creative] work" (Exodus 20:9-10). This contradicted the essence of Hellenistic culture, through which the Syrian-Greeks proclaimed their control over the world. The Jewish idea of taking one day off to demonstrate belief in God’s control of the world negated the Syrian-Greek belief in the ultimate power of the individual.That the Jews held fast to their belief in one unseen God who knows and controls the entire world infuriated the Syrian-Greeks, who wished to show that humankind was in control of nature. The Syrian-Greeks therefore prohibited the Jews, under penalty of death, from sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and keeping the Sabbath.

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Modern Miracles

Look for the everyday miracles in your life and let them inspire you for the upcoming holiday.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Chanukah

The Story of Chanukah
Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modi'in sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who had volunteered to make the offering. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greek forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, scrubbing the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden Menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure oil, and finally found only a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But the one flask of oil was sufficient for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared and
delivered. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the Menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, indicating to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

This treat is reposted annually in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Take It Out

It's time to take out your Chanukah menorah and make sure you have all you need to start lighting on Tuesday.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Biblical Story Familiar To Our Time

There are some Jewish commentators who state that the entire history of the world can be found in the Book of Genesis if one just knows where to look. The narratives of Genesis do indeed contain much of the good, the bad and the ugly of life.

One narrative that might strike a jarring chord with anyone following recent headlines is that of Potiphar’s wife. The story, as relayed through the written and the oral Torah, seems like a scintillating tale straight out of the tabloids. It begins with a simple statement: “Joseph was handsome and pleasing to look at” (Genesis 39:6). When Joseph became the head of Potiphar’s servants, his master’s wife took an interest in him and said, “Lie with me.” Joseph refused, attributing his refusal to his loyalty and devotion to his master. While the Torah states that Mrs. Potiphar “coaxed Joseph day after day,” the Talmud (Yoma 35b) explains that she changed her clothing often in order to entice him.

This case of basic harassment rose to the next level on a day when “none of the household was there in the house” (Genesis 39:11). The Midrash explains that Joseph expected the house to be empty since “It was the festival of the Nile. All had gone to the theater” (Genesis Rabbah 87:5).

Alone with Joseph, the mistress of the house grabbed him by his clothing and insisted that he lie with her. Joseph fled, leaving his garment behind. It was not, the Midrash explains, that Joseph was not tempted - after all, he was in the flush of his youth - but rather he overcame any thought of temptation by seeing a vision of his righteous father Jacob (Talmud Sotah 36b) and his departed mother Rachel (Genesis Rabbah 98:20).

The story ends with a further abuse of power. Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of trying to seduce her, and Joseph lands in jail. (In fact, according to the commentaries, Potiphar knew that his wife was lying, which is why Joseph was not summarily executed. Potiphar, however, did not want to be humiliated by his wife’s behavior, so he had Joseph sent to jail.)

Personally Connecting

Use the long Shabbat evening to relax and connect with your family and friends. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tooning Machines

There are not many people whose names appear as a dictionary entry, and even fewer whose names have become adjectives. As of 1966, however, the name “Rube Goldberg” took an official meaning when it was included in The Random House Dictionary of the English Language to mean “having a fantastically complicated improvised appearance.”

So who was Rube Goldberg, anyway?

Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California, on July 4, 1883. He demonstrated an early aptitude for creativity and started formal art lessons when he was eleven. Hoping to put his drawing skills to “practical” use, Goldberg studied engineering at the University of California at Berkley. After six months of working as an engineer, however, he quit to take a position as a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle.

By 1907, Goldberg was ready for the next step in his life. He moved to New York City and restarted his career as a cartoonist at the New York Evening Mail. Goldberg’s popularity as a cartoonist grew quickly, and by 1915, he was commanding a salary of $50,000 a year. Goldberg was responsible for several different cartoon strips, including “Mike and Ike (Look Alike),” “Foolish Questions,” and “La La Palooza.” However, he is probably best known for “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts,” a cartoon lampooning the incredibly inconvenient mechanisms people create in order to accomplish actual simple tasks. These were the original “Rube Goldberg machines.”

Goldberg also published political cartoons, and even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1942. However, some of his cartoons upset people causing his two sons to change their surname for safety. (Thomas decided to honor his brother by calling himself Thomas George, and George wanted family consistency so he renamed himself George George.)

When Rube Goldberg retired in 1964, he took up bronze sculpture. He passed away on December 7, 1970.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chanukah Rube

Get yourself ready for Chanukah...enjoy this Rube Goldberg machine Chanukah candle lighting: Click here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Put On a Happy Face

"When one shows his teeth [smiles] to his fellow man, it is better than giving him milk to drink" (Talmud Ketubot 111b).

How does the song go? “When you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you.” And it’s true. On the whole, smiling at another person makes them smile too (unless they are in a really bad mood).

Imagine passing a smile down a street, "infecting" one person and then another. Unlike a virus, smiling is believed to have great health benefits! A wide range of professionals now believe that smiling not only makes you look better, but actually makes you feel better, perhaps even releasing a small dose of helpful endorphins.

The sages, however, were not focused on the effect that smiling had on the one who smiled, but rather on the one who received the smile.

Aside from the fact that both a toothy smile and milk are “white,” one could say that they are both nourishing. Everyone knows the health benefits of milk – how our bodies need milk's calcium and vitamins. A smile, on the other hand, is most beneficial to the soul.

Receiving a smile can change a person’s entire perspective. More than just changing a passing mood, smiles (sincerely, as is implied by the reference of showing one’s teeth) build self esteem, they change how a person views the world and how a person feels that he/she is viewed by the world.

While a cup of milk is a temporary pleasure, a sincere smile can actually change the world!

This Treat was last posted on May 4, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.