Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's in the Book: I Samuel

The First Book of Samuel concerns the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. It opens with Samuel the Prophet, the last Judge, who was raised under the tutelage of Eli, the High Priest.

When Samuel grew old, his sons’ corrupt behavior caused the elders to request that he “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (8:12) Samuel was not pleased with their request because the Israelites should have recognized that God was their King and that their desire to be like other nations was improper.

God, however, led Samuel to Saul, who was anointed as the first King of Israel. Saul’s extraordinary military prowess won the loyalty of the people.

Saul’s “downfall” began at the end of the war with Amalek. Although he was under strict orders to fulfill the Torah commandment to wipe out Amalek, he allowed the Amalekite king, Agag, to live. For his failure to follow God's command, Saul was informed by Samuel that his kingship would end and not become a dynasty.

The other major theme of I Samuel is Saul’s relationship with David, who was secretly anointed by Samuel to be Saul’s successor (chapter 16). David first came to Saul’s court to serve as a harpist in order to ease the king’s troubled spirits. When the Philistine giant, Goliath, challenged the Israelites to one-on-one combat, David achieved fame by killing Goliath with a sling shot.

Saul suffered from a paranoid hatred of David, whom he tried to kill. David was extremely close to Saul’s family--his best friend was the king’s son, Jonathan, and his first wife was Saul’s daughter, Michal.

The First Book of Samuel ends with the death of Saul and Jonathan during battle with the Philistines.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Appreciating a Blanket of Snow

If you live in a northern climate, then the end of January might just be the beginning of the seasonal period when your attitude becomes “I’ve had enough snow, thank you.” And yet, while almost every inhabited spot on earth receives at least some rain, there are millions of people who live in places where they will never see a single snowflake.

Fresh snow, with its startling whiteness and bright reflection of sunshine, can be quite beautiful. It blankets the earth with a sense of newness, which is why, perhaps, the color of snow is frequently used as a reference to purity: “If your sins will be like scarlet, they will become white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

While snow day after snow day may not make one smile, that is because part of the modern condition of looking at snow is to see snow as an impediment to one’s will. The sages, however, noted that snow, particularly in higher altitudes, is a tremendous blessing. “Raba said snow is of equal benefit to the mountains as fivefold rain to the earth, as it says (Job 37:6): ‘For He says to the snow: Fall you on the earth, likewise to the shower of rain” (Talmud Taanit 3b).

Why is snow more beneficial than rain? Firstly, snow blankets the ground and actually insulates the soil from the damaging cold. This, perhaps, is why God is praised as “He who gives snow like fleece” (Psalms 147:16), since fleece is also a lightweight material that provides insulation. Secondly, since snow often melts slowly, it provides easier-to-absorb hydration for the soil, whereas rain, especially rain showers, pounds the earth, causes soil erosion and a great deal of water is lost due to run-off.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Ride

Offer rides to friends or neighbors who are waiting for the bus.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Memorial in the United States

When the cornerstone for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was laid in October 1988, there were those who wondered why the country needed a Holocaust museum. Over forty million visitors later, it has become a fundamental part of the nation’s museum infrastructure.

The concept of a national memorial to the Holocaust was conceived of by President Jimmy Carter, who established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust on November 1, 1978, and appointed Holocaust survivor and noted author Elie Wiesel as its chair. A little under a year later, the commission recommended the creation of a museum, a recommendation that was approved unanimously by Congress on October 7, 1980. Government-owned land was given and private funds were raised. The museum opened on April 26, 1993.

The naturally emotional displays on the Holocaust are presented in a thoughtful and evocative manner that is enhanced by the museum’s unique architecture. Within the stark brick and limestone exterior are rooms of disquieting asymmetry. Visitors are encouraged to make their visit more than just a review of historical facts by connecting to a specific individual via a passport of an actual victim of the holocaust they carry throughout the three floors of the exhibit. The Permenant Exhibit is divided by floors: Nazi Assault - 1933 to 1939, The Final Solution - 1940 to 1945, and Last Chapter. Additionally, the museum has a special interactive child-friendly exhibit called “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is also a major research hub and maintains one of the largest collections of Holocaust artifacts. Additionally, the museum provides education on the Holocaust in order to prevent future tragedies of genocide. To this end, the museum’s National Institute for Holocaust Education provides ethics education based on the lessons of the Holocaust to a wide range of public service professionals. It also maintains the Committee on Conscience, which watches for, and suggests, action on contemporary hot spots for crimes against humanity.

January 27th is International Holocaust Memorial Day.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Family Shabbat

Include your family in your Shabbat celebration.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hong Kong Jews

On January 26, 1841, Commodore Gordon Bremer claimed the territory of Hong Kong as a British colony. Along with British control came settlement of the island and the development of trade. Among the earliest developers were the Sassoons, an Iraqi Jewish family whose financial base was Bombay and who were sometimes referred to as the “Rothschilds of the East.” (David Sassoon, the patriarch, had eight sons who were dispersed to different cities to establish additional branches of the family business.)

Beyond their multifaceted business dealings, the Sassoons were the backbone of the small but growing Hong Kong Jewish community. In 1855, the Sassoons purchased a tract of land for a Jewish cemetery. The first actual burial, a man named Leon Bin Baruel, took place in 1857. The Sassoon residences and business also hosted religious services until there were enough Jews to warrant a synagogue. The first synagogue, Ohel Leah, was built by Sir Jacob Sassoon in 1902.

The Kadoorie family first came to Hong Kong while working for the Sasoons. The Kadoories built  a large business empire of their own, split between Hong Kong and Shanghai. This connection proved incredibly important when refugees arrived in Hong Kong on their way to Shanghai during World War II. While Horace Kadoorie took care of the bureaucratic necessities in Shanghai, Lawrence Kadoorie took care of the refugees’ immediate needs, even housing them in his Peninsula Hotel.

Until the 1960s, the Jewish community in Hong Kong remained rather small. However, as Hong Kong became a thriving financial hub, the community began attracting business-people from around the globe. Today there are several thousand Jews, two Jewish schools and seven synagogues, including Ohel Leah, which is still in use.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Community Assist

Pay attention to the happenings in your local community and offer to help where needed. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Couldn't Hear The Hope

"Don't worry, it will get easier. Don't worry, I'm sure things will get better."

As heartening as these words may seem, most people who are in a difficult time of their life often hear these would-be comforting words as pedantic banter, a hollow promise of a future they just can't envision.

This is precisely what happened to the Children of Israel. Enslaved to the Egyptians, they struggled to envision a different future for themselves. Thus it is recorded that their reaction to Moses' declaration of God's promise to redeem them from slavery and take them up to the Land of Israel was less than enthusiastic. The Israelite's reaction is recorded in one verse: "And Moses spoke so [all that God had told him to say to the Children of Israel] but they did not listen to Moses because of cruel bondage" (Exodus 6:9).

The commentaries explain Israel’s strange response as reflecting how weary the Israelites were from their enslavement, so weary that they could not even spare the energy to think about the hope they carried deep within them. But that is all that the Torah records of their reaction, or lack thereof. The very next verse reports God speaking once again to Moses and instructing him to go directly to Pharaoh. The Israelites who had groaned in their oppression no longer had the ability to hear words of hope for the future and so it was finally time for action.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Listen Well

Be a good listener by not assuming you know someone else's pain.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Great Sea Monster

For most of history, sea monsters were considered among the greatest perils of sea travel. Most probably, the “monsters” that they feared were simply whales, sharks and giant squid that have now been thoroughly researched by modern science and are no longer considered “sea monsters.” However, the Midrash (Jewish legend) does record the existence of one “sea monster,” the mighty Leviathan.

On the fifth day of creation, the Torah states in Genesis 1:21, “Va’yivra Eh’loh’him et ha’taneeneem ha’g’doleem - God created the giant sea creatures.” The meaning of taneeneem has been much debated (sea monster, whale, crocodile, etc.). In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan said (Baba Batra 74b): “This refers to Leviathan the flying serpent [male] and to Leviathan the twisted serpent [female], for it is written: ‘In that day God . . . will punish Leviathan the flying serpent, and Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea’ (Isaiah 27:2).”

So why have scientists not found Leviathan? According to the Midrash, only a single Leviathan still exists: “Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in his world he created male and female . . . and had [the male and female Leviathan] mated with one another they would have destroyed the entire world . . . What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He castrated the male and killed the female, preserving it in salt for the righteous [to eat] in the world to come . . .” (Baba Batra 74b). Additionally, Rabbi Yochanan points out that God “will, in the ‘time to come,’ make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan” (Baba Batra 75a).

There are numerous other places in rabbinic literature where Leviathan is mentioned and described as enormous, multi-headed, fire-breathing . . . apparently Leviathan is the original sea monster.

This Treat was last posted on December 7, 2009.

Amazing Feedbags

Do not take the wonders of nature and the diversity of creation for granted.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Woman of Chemistry

If you or someone you love has ever been treated for leukemia, lupus or gout (or a host of other ailments) then you quite likely owe a debt of gratitude to Gertrude Elion (1918-1999), who would have been 99 years old today. This Nobel Prize winning chemist overcame the blatant chauvinism and anti-Semitism of her day to achieve her dreams of helping to fight cancer. (She set her mind on finding a cure for cancer after her grandfather died, painfully, from stomach cancer.)

Born in New York City, Elion graduated high school at 15 and went on to Hunter College. While working full-time in various other jobs, she attended New York University. After earning her Masters in chemistry, however, she struggled to find a position, finally joining the Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceutical company working with Dr. George Hitchings, with whom she would continue to work for many more years. The work was intense and exciting and, in 1950 she had her first breakthrough with 2 cancer drugs. At the same time, Elion was studying for her PhD, but was forced to choose between work and her doctorate. She chose work. Later, Elion would be awarded over a dozen honorary doctorates from a wide variety of institutions.

In addition to her position at Burroughs Wellcome, Elion held numerous positions in prestigious medical organizations and taught at Duke University. She officially retired in 1983, but continued working in her field and was part of the larger team that developed AZT, the first effective HIV medication.

In 1988, Elion and Hitchings, along with Sir James Black, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicie for “important principals in drug treatment.” Among the numerous other awards and honors she received, Elion was the first woman admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

A Better Place

Use your skills to try to make the world a better place.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hail to the Chief

“A blessing for the czar? Of course. May God bless and keep the czar... far away from us.” So jokes the rabbi of Anatevka during the opening number of Fiddler on the Roof. This was a real feeling among Jews, for many of their rulers were cruel to them.

And yet, there is an interesting law stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) requiring that a special blessing be said upon seeing a gentile king: Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood [man]. (Baruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, sheh’natan mee'kvodo l'vasar vah'dam.)

Not only is one supposed to recite this blessing, but a person is supposed to go to great lengths to be able to do so, even traveling long distances to see a gentile king.

Western democratic society in the 21st century is, for the most part, far-removed from the concept of royalty. Those countries that still do have a royal family view them more often as celebrities or figureheads rather than as leaders. Relating to the concept of a powerful monarch is therefore difficult, particularly for Americans who have never had a king or queen.

In fact, America’s lack of a monarchy makes the idea of running to see a king even more important. We are all subject to the ultimate King: God. Upon seeing a mortal king or queen, we can, perhaps, enhance our personal appreciation of God, the King of kings. And that is why the blessing states that God gave of His glory to flesh and blood. God allows these select men and women to radiate the glory of royalty so that everyone might better understand God’s own Divinity.

Let us know your thoughts: Do you think this comparison holds true for a President?

This Treat was last posted on January 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Calm

Don't let political conversations disrupt your Shabbat rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Significant Seventy

Nothing in the Torah is by chance, and so it is not without significance that the Torah reports: “All those who descended from Jacob were 70 soul” (Exodus 1:5), using a singular word, soul, for the unified group. These 70 souls were the foundation of a nation that was to become a separate and unique force in the world.

Within Jewish tradition, the number 70 is very significant when discussing nationhood. Traditional texts discuss that there are 70 core languages and that the greatest sages, and those who were members of the Sanhedrin, were required to know them all (Talmud Megillah 13b). These 70 languages correlate to the 70 nations of the world (listed as the descendants of Noah in Genesis 10 - 11).

The nation of Israel, created generations later when Abraham sought out a relationship with the Divine, is outside of the these 70 and has been instructed to be “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 60:3). In the time of the Temple, the Jewish people brought sacrifices for each of the 70 nations during the holiday of Sukkot.

The number 10 represents completion, while 7 is a number that symbolizes nature perfected. God structured the world with 70 nations, and brought down 70 souls to Egypt to serve as the foundations of the nation of Israel.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Family Units

Stay in contact with your extended family.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Connecting Words

According to the internet’s fun holiday websites, January 18th is Thesaurus Day.  The date is in honor of the creator of the first modern thesaurus, [Peter Mark] Roget’s Thesaurus.

A thesaurus is a reference work that lists synonyms and antonyms of words and is particularly useful in a language such as English that is really a combination of many different languages. Hebrew, on the other hand, is a language that is built on a root system. Words, both nouns and verbs, are built on 3 (sometimes 4) primary letters - although Hebrew has, by necessity, also absorbed certain unique foreign words that do not use a root system.

Like all languages, Hebrew is complex, and the interaction of different works build on the same letters in different order can be fascinating in their connections. Here are a few examples:

The word for intuitive understanding is binah, which shares the bet - nun - hey root in the same order with the word for building–boneh.

Words related to getting dressed are based on the root of lamed - bet - shin, but when one removes the lamed, one finds boosha, embarrassment!

And perhaps there is a connection to a first born son, a bechor (bet - chet - reish) getting a double blessing (bracha: bet - reish - chet).

Language analysis can often provide great insights into a nation’s culture and mindset. From this perspective, one could say that the root system of Hebrew is an expression of the Jewish understanding of how everything in the world is somehow connected to everything else and how everything in existence is built upon the “creating words” of the Ultimate Creator.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Complex Connections

Open your eyes and look for the many ways the world amazingly connects.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Say It with Satire

Politicians - love them or hate them, they have been inescapable over the last several months.

 There are many ways to stay on top of the latest political news, but perhaps the most subtly eye-opening is through satire. Political satirists turn modern day politics on their head, making their audience laugh as well as think. Few political satirists were as well known for this as Art Buchwald (1925-2007).

Born in Mount Vernon, NY, Buchwald had a difficult childhood. His mother was institutionalized for a mental illness, and his father, a curtain manufacturer, whose business failed during the Great Depression, sent Buchwald and his three older sisters to an orphanage.  They were bumped around in foster care for several years before returning to their father.

In 1942, at age 17,  Buchwald dropped out of high school and illegally joined the Marines. (He paid a drunk stranger to pose as his legal guardian.) He spent two years fighting in the Pacific. After three years at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (he did not receive a degree since he had not finished high school), in 1948, Buchwald went to Paris to develop as a writer. His first job was as a correspondent for Variety magazine. Shortly thereafter he began his career as a columnist producing social columns for the International Herald Tribune.

After 15 years in Paris, Buchwald decided to return to America. He moved to Washington, D.C., and began writing a political column for the Washington Post. While many had thought him crazy to leave the Tribune, his new syndicated column for the Washington Post was a tremendous hit that was, for many years, carried in 550 newspapers nationally. As a political satirist, Buchwald took aim at all political situations and politicians of all parties.  He received the Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Commentary in 1982.

Beyond politics, Buchwald’s column became noteworthy as the prolific writer struggled with his impending death from kidney failure, his unexpected recovery (during which he wrote a book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye) and his passing in January 2007.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Words, Words

Be careful that the words you write don't hurt someone else.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Freedom Caps

While an internet search can bring up many different statistics about the number of Jews involved in the civil rights movement, it is fair to say that it was a significant percentage when compared to the actual percentage of Jews in the national population.

At the grass roots level, young activist Jews joined the fight by riding buses south and volunteering to register black voters. Not only was there a lot to do, but it had to be done under threatening and dangerous conditions. As part of the civil rights legal team, there was a disproportionate number of newly graduated Jewish lawyers, many of whom had probably faced prejudice and persecution of their own.

Few people realize that among the many Jews participating in these historic marches there was quite a significant number of rabbis. Some, like Abraham Joshua Heshel, were well-known leaders, but most were passionate pulpit rabbis from every denomination.

One small but fascinating outcome of the rabbis participation in the civil rights marches was the "freedom cap." Although in the 1960s it was most common for rabbis in the Reform movement not to wear yarmulkes (kippa/skullcaps), almost all of them did so as a statement of identity during the March. According to several news reports, many of the other marchers chose to also wear them. In fact, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, "The demand for yarmulkes was so great that an order has been wired for delivery of 1,000 when the marchers arrive in Montgomery later this week..." (March 22, 1965). The marchers referred to their special caps as "freedom caps."

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Changed Country

Take a moment to contemplate and appreciate how much the country has changed in the last 60 years and how that has benefitted the American Jewish community.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Brilliant Mind

In an era when most young women were encouraged to find a proper husband, Rita Levi-Montalcini (a combination of the last names of her father and mother) dreamed of a career in medicine. Her choice of medicine stemmed from witnessing the death of someone close to her from stomach cancer. After her father, a firm believer that too much education was not good for women, finally acquiesced, Levi-Montalcini gave herself a crash course in all the things she hadn’t learned at her girls high school.

Levi-Montalcini was not certain if she wanted to go into practical medicine or medical research when she entered the University of Turin Medical School in Italy in the early 1930s. She graduated summa cum laude with degrees in medicine and surgery in 1936 and then began studying neurology and psychology.

Unfortunately, the fact that she was a Jew soon forced her to choose research, and much of the research that she did was performed in an at-home lab. In 1938, race laws implemented by Mussolini’s fascist government barred Jews from academic and professional careers.

Levi-Montalcini went to Brussels to continue her studies, but returned shortly thereafter when German forces began moving toward Belgium. Since she could not get a professional position, Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in her bedroom and began doing research on chick embryos and the development of the nervous system. She was joined by her former teacher Giuseppe Levi.

In 1941, Levi-Montalcini and her family (parents and twin sister) fled Turin and went to the countryside near Florence, where they lived in hiding. During this time, Levi-Montalcini would get fertilized eggs from local farmers for her research.

After the war, Levi-Montalcini published her findings, which drew the attention of Viktor Hamburger who invited her to do research at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. This turned into an associate professorship and then a full professorship. During this time she continued her research on nerve development. Beginning in the 1960s, Levi-Montalcini split her time between St. Louis and Rome.

In 1986, Levi-Montalcini received a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine along with her co-researcher Stanley Cohen. She returned to Italy full time after retirement and continued to do research and create institutions for further scientific discoveries.

Levi-Montalcini passed away on December 30, 2012 (17 Tevet)  at age 103.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

A Delicious End

Enhance your Shabbat meal by serving a delicious dessert.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

For Whom Do You Mourn?

In an era when media and entertainment are strongly integrated into personal lives, many people feel as if they have a connection to the celebrities they most admire. It is human nature to be drawn to people we relate to or to those who we feel have made an impact on our lives, even when we do not actually know them. This seemingly modern phenomenon can, perhaps, help one understand how it was that the people of Egypt mourned the passing of Jacob for 70 days.

When Jacob came to Egypt, he was already an old man. He had children and grandchildren, and, as far one can tell from the text of the Torah, his 17 years in Egypt do not seem to have been active.  On his deathbed, Jacob had his sons swear that they would bury him in Hebron, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah were buried.

After Jacob’s passing, Joseph ordered his father embalmed. The Torah records the burial and the mourning: “And 40 days were completed for him, for so are the days of embalming completed, and the Egyptians wept over him for seventy days...So Joseph went up [to the Land of Canaan] to bury his father, and all of Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house and all the elders of the land of Egypt went up with him” (Genesis 50:3,7).

One could think that Egyptian people’s outpouring of emotion for 70 days was to show respect for Joseph, who was second only to Pharaoh. But, the Midrash explains that it was “because a blessing had come to them when he [Jacob] arrived, the famine ended and the waters of the Nile increased” (Rashi on Genesis 50:3).

Jacob was not a celebrity. He was more than that. Like his grandfather Abraham, whom God blessed the “He who blesses you shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), Jacob was a source of blessing. Most of Egypt did not know Jacob, but they were aware of him, of who he was and of what he meant to their country. When Jacob passed away, it affected them all profoundly, and thus they mourned him for 70 days.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Condoelences

Be warm but understanding in giving those who have lost someone the time and space they need to mourn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Simeon, the Son of Jacob

Leah named her second son Simeon* (ben Jacob), saying “Because God has heard that I am unloved, He has given me this one also.”

Simeon, a zealous youth, often reacted quickly and physically, especially when paired with his brother Levi. When their sister Dinah was kidnaped by the prince of Shechem, Simeon and Levi slaughtered the men of the city, ignoring the fact that Dina’s other brothers had already convinced the residents of Shechem to circumcise themselves and live in peace with Jacob’s family (Genesis 34).

Jacob scolded their reckless behavior, saying, “You have brought trouble upon me, making me odious among the land’s inhabitants...I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated - I and my household!” Simeon and Levi, however, challenged their father, demanding: “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?!” (The Midrash notes that, thenceforth, Dinah dwelt in the tents of Simeon, her brother-protector.)

This “righteous temper” remained with Simeon. The Midrash identifies Simeon as the one who calls out “That dreamer is coming!” when the brothers see Joseph approaching (Genesis 37:19) and also as the one who threw Joseph into the pit. Many years later, when the brothers went down to Egypt, Joseph demanded that Simeon be imprisoned while the others returned home to get Benjamin (Genesis 42:18-24).

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. In their secret counsel let my soul not come and my honor not be included in their congregation, for in their anger they killed a man, and deliberately crippled an ox. Cursed is their anger, for it is powerful, and their rage, for it is callous. I shall separate them within Jacob and disperse them among Israel” (Genesis 49:5 -7). On his deathbed, Jacob rebuked the brothers so that their descendants would learn that outright cruelty is a behavior foreign to our people.

*Hebrew Shimon, alternate English version is Simon

This Treat was last posted on August 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What Causes

Choose carefully what causes to be zealous about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Rav with the Golden Carriage

The Talmud, which is the written compilation of the Oral Torah, records the discussions and decisions of the scholars who codified Jewish law. Without question, the scholastic scope of the sages is incredible, but the Talmud also records some of the fascinating facts concerning the sages’ lives.

One interesting persona was Rav Huna, a scholar who lived in Babylon and who studied under the great sage Rav. He was an incredible student and eventually succeeded his teacher as the leader of the Babylonian scholars and head of the Academy at Sura. Rav Huna was held in tremendous esteem throughout his 40 years as the Rosh Mesivta (Head of the School).

Beyond his scholarship, however, the Talmud also records more personal information about Rav Huna. He was extremely wealthy - so wealthy that he traveled in a golden carriage - but had actually grown up poor.

His wealth appears to have been achieved after a blessing he received from his mentor Rav: “Rav Huna once came before Rav girded with a string. He said to him, What is the meaning of this?
He replied: I had no [wine for] sanctification, and I pledged my girdle so as to get some. He [Rav] said: May it be the will of heaven that you be [one day] smothered in robes of silk (Talmud Megillah 27b).

Rav Huna was also extremely generous and active in caring for others. “He would survey every part of the city and he would order the demolition of any wall that was unsafe; if the owner was in a position to do so, he had to rebuild it himself, but if not, then [Rav Huna] would have it rebuilt at his own expense” (Talmud Ta’anit 20b).

When Rav Huna died at the age of 80, the sages followed his wishes and his body was transported to Israel for burial.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Insight Help

Try to seek opportunities to help people that don't require them asking for help. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Resurging Community of Basel

If you are a fan of fantastic beasts, then you might understand how appropriate it can be to compare Jewish communities to the incredible Phoenix bird, which is consumed by flames at its death only to be reborn in its ashes. Take, for instance, the Jewish community of Basel, Switzerland, which is best known among modern Jewish historians for Theodor Herzl's personal note: "I have founded the Jewish state in Basel."

Herzl was only a visitor to Basel, where he attend the first Zionist Congress, when he penned those words. Jews, however, had resided in Basel since the Middle Ages. The first recorded reference to a Jew dates back to around 1223 C.E. Sadly, as in so many places, the Jews were perceived as outsiders. When the Black Death devastated Europe, the people of Basel blamed the local Jews. Against the wishes of the town council, who tried to control the situation, rioters, led by the artisan guilds, rounded up 600 Jews and, on January 9, 1349, burned them in small huts that had  been specifically prepared.  There were no survivors. 150 Jewish children were forced to convert to Christianity. The town enacted a 200 year ban on Jewish residency (partially for the Jews’ own protection), but it was rescinded within a decade. There was a second exile in 1543, but it also did not last long.

In the late 18th century, reform swept through Europe and, by 1872, Jews had gained full civil rights. When Herzl arrived in Basel for the first Zionist Congress, he would have seen the beautiful Neo-Byzantine Dome of the Great Synagogue (built in 1868) and would have interacted with an active and seemingly secure Jewish community.


Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Before Bed

Before you go to sleep, take a few minutes to contemplate your day and thank God for all the unique moments of the day.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Nu, Don't Eat

A popular joke: Most Jewish holidays can be subsumed under the pithy phrase: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” For a nation obsessed with food, what’s with all the fasting?

While there are 5 main fast days on the Jewish calendar, only Yom Kippur is of Biblical origin, with the Jewish people commanded to “afflict your souls” (Leviticus 16:29). While some Jewish scholars have opined that fasting makes one more like the angels, it seems certain to all that fasting on Yom Kippur, is primarily a tool of repentance. And this sets the tone for all the other fast days.

But the 10th of Tevet,17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av are observed as fast days in mourning and remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples--how is that atonement? Judaism recognizes that different days have different “karma.” The day of Yom Kippur is holy in and of itself. We merely piggy-back the theme of repentance on the holiness of the day. So too, Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, is not a good day for the Jews. It wasn’t only the date of the destruction of both Temples, but a number of other calamities as well. On such an inauspicious day, Jews go to great lengths to demonstrate a desire to mend their ways.

Even the historic fasts, such as the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s request that all of the Jews of Persia/Medea fast for her as she approaches King Achashverosh, are focused on teshuva, repentance. Only when the Jews did teshuva did God nullify Haman’s evil plan.

One connection between fasting and teshuva is that it encourages people to focus on their spiritual self rather than their physical self. 
This special focus gives  their soul an opportunity to strengthen its connection with the Divine.


This Treat was last posted on June 25, 2013.



Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Think On It

Take a few moments and contemplate the significance of fasting in memorial of the destruction of the Temple. 

Friday, January 6, 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 on Sunday, January 8, 2017.

This Treat is posted each year before the fast. 

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Drink Up

Prepare for the fast by drinking extra water.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Closing Eyes

Can you murder a dying man? There is an interesting passage in the Talmud that states:“Our Rabbis taught, ‘He who closes [the eyes of a dying person] at the point of death is a murderer. This may be compared to a lamp that is going out: if a person places a finger upon it, it is immediately extinguished’” (Talmud Shabbat 151b). One cannot presume to know the fate of another person, especially at what seems like the moment of imminent death.

However, once a person does pass away, one should close the deceased’s eyes. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law - 1874) wrote about this idea: “The eyes of the deceased must be closed. If there are sons, it should be done by his son, as it says (Genesis 46:4), ‘Joseph shall pass his hand over your eyes.’ If there is a firstborn son, he should do it” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 194:7).

Closing the eyes of a person who has passed away represents the fact that one cannot behold both Olam Hazeh (this world) and Olam ha’Bah (the world to come) at the same time. Closing the eyes of the deceased is  also considered an act of respect, and treating the dead with respect is of primary importance in Jewish law. It is for this reason that the body of one who has passed away should be covered modestly and the body should never be left alone from the time of death until the burial.


Help at the End

Look into volunteering for your local Jewish burial society (Chevra Kadisha).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Jewish Ghost Town of Utah

As a dry wind blows across the dusty plains just south of Gunnison, Utah, a traveler might be shocked to stumble upon a small, gated Jewish cemetery. Indeed, the burial ground is so small that it is comprised of only two tombstones. This cemetery, along with the broken walls of an old water cistern and some foundation remnants, mark Utah’s Jewish ghost town, Clarion.

Clarion’s first settlers arrived by train from Philadelphia on September 10, 1910. The 12 colonists were part of the Jewish Agricultural and Colonial Association (JACA) and included the Association’s organizer and president Benjamin Brown. Along with Isaac Herbst, Brown was part of a group of co-religionists who felt Jews needed to leave their urban trades and begin working the land. They gathered potential settlers and began searching for the right place to start a settlement. When leads in states such as Wyoming and New Mexico did not work out, they heard that Utah was actively seeking settlers.

When Brown and Herbst arrived on their scouting trip, the Utah State Board of Land Commissions led them to a tract of land along the soon-to-be Piute Canal. With the prospect of a reliable water source and seemingly fertile soil, it seemed a perfect choice.

At its peak, Clarion was home to 156 Jewish residents. The Jews who joined JACA did so for a variety of reasons, and thus Clarion had a wide-range of Jews as residents - from Orthodox to political anarchists. Few of them had any farming experience.

Alas, as often happened with these small agricultural settlements, the initial success could not be sustained. While the soil was fertile, the growing season was short. Natural disasters and a lack of consistent water in the canal led to multiple crop failures. Soon the settlers of Clarion moved on. After the majority of Jews had left, other people moved in and tried to make the town work, but World War II (and the internment of Japanese citizens, a community of whom had moved into Clarion) put an end to further development.

Utah became the 45th state of the United States on January 4, 1896.

Mid-Winter

If you have recently acquired a new coat, hat or pair of gloves, donate your old one to those in need.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Jewish Connection to the March of Dimes

On January 3, 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was officially incorporated. The organization, which was run by Basil O’Conner, was based on an earlier effort run by O’Conner and Roosevelt, except now the organization was more effective because of the presidential backing. [Roosevelt actually contracted the disease as an adult, but the majority of polio victims were children.]

Today, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis is known by what was its catch-phrase: “The March of Dimes,” a term that was coined by famous Jewish performer and radio star Eddie Cantor. The March of Dimes was a play on the pre-movie newsreels titled The March of Time.  Once the March of Dimes promotional theme was agreed upon, Cantor used his influence with radio broadcasters to encourage them each to offer a 30 second spot promoting the March of Dimes the week before President Roosevelt’s annual Birthday Ball. The March of Dimes was a call for people, children in particular, to send in one dime to support the organization. The first two days, only $17.50 came in. By the end of the week, however, $268,000 had been raised.

Over the years, Cantor’s March of Dimes promotion raised millions in the fight against polio. When the vaccines of Jewish scientists Jonas Salk (1955) and Albert Sabin (1962) finally conquered the illness, the organization changed its focus to general birth defects. In 1979, the Foundation officially changed its name to The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and in 2007 it became simply, The March of Dimes.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

For the Good of All


Put your talents to use helping causes that benefit the world. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Jewish Foundation in Science Fiction

 In 1981, in his introduction to the science fiction anthology More Wandering Stars, Isaac Asimov pondered the question, “Can science fiction be part of Jewish culture?” As this was the second volume of this collection of Jewish science fiction, Asimov was drawn to the conclusion that, surprisingly, the Torah itself enabled Jews to reach for the imaginative stars.

January 2nd is National Science Fiction Day (unofficially, according to Wikipedia) because it corresponds to Asimov’s birthday. Asimov, who began writing science fiction when he was still a teenager, published an incredible number of science fiction books and stories. More significantly, however, many of his works (such as the Robot series and the Foundation series) are considered cornerstone pieces in the development of the genre. Additionally, Asimov published numerous non-fiction books. Many of these made science accessible to laypeople.  Others were works on an incredibly diverse range of topics such as history and literature, humor (he wrote a Treasury of Humor)  and even several volumes of limericks. Asimov also published a volume that took an historical look at Jewish and Christian scripture titled Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. In total, he published over 500 books.

Born in Russia in 1920, Asimov immigrated to Brooklyn, New York at age 3. His parents, who spoke both English and Yiddish in their home, owned a candy store in which many newspapers and magazines were sold, enabling him to become a prolific reader. While Asimov is known as a writer, he actually had PhD in biochemistry and was on the faculty of Boston University.

Isaac Asimov passed away on April 6, 1992, at age 72, in New York City.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Is it?

Look for Jewish themes in works by popular Jewish authors.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Putting Chanukah in 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.

The Next 365

Find new ways to connect to Judaism in 2017.