Monday, March 19, 2018

Perception of the Eye

Within Jewish law there is a concept known as maarit ayin, which translates to “perception of the eye.” It is a shorthand term for the rabbinic prohibition of doing a permitted act that might appear to others to be a transgression. One classic example of maarit ayin is buying a drink at a non-kosher restaurant. The drink is fine, but it may be perceived by others as if one is there to eat non-kosher food. (Note that places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, where it is common for people to buy coffee, is not the same as a McDonalds.)

There are several issues associated with maarit ayin. One is the risk that someone seeing a person involved in an activity that looks prohibited might come to think that the prohibited activity is actually permitted. Thus seeing a person whom one knows maintains a strictly kosher diet ordering at a non-kosher restaurant might cause others to assume that the restaurant is, in fact, kosher.

Another issue associated with maarit ayin is protection from the negative judgment of others. The person ordering the drink may be perceived by an acquaintance as knowingly acting contrary to halacha (Jewish law). Of course, the observer should judge the person favorably and not make assumptions, but human nature tends to be judgmental.

Maarit ayin can apply to a wide range of halachic issues and is mentioned in several different instances in the Talmud. For instance: “If a splinter has got into a person’s [foot] while [he was standing] in front of an idol, he should not bend down to get it out, because he may appear as bowing to the idol” (Talmud Avodah Zara 12a). Today, one does not normally worry about happenstance idol worship. In fact, maarat ayin as a legal construct is fascinating in that it can change with the times. The Code of Jewish Law makes mention of cooking meat in “milk from almonds,” which looks like real milk, and rules that if one cooks in this manner one should place almonds on the table as a sign. Today, however, non-dairy milk-like products are so common that there is no risk of maarit ayin.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Choose to Think

Be conscientious to judge other people as having proper intent.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Synagogue Tour

Throughout history, synagogue architecture has been as varied as the latest styles and the laws of the land (for instance, many cultures prohibited building synagogues taller than churches). Whether a synagogue is a soaring tribute to the spirit or a simple house of prayer, there are certain items that are found in almost all of them:

The Platform: Commonly referred to as the bimah, it is also known as the almemor or the tevah in Sephardi communities. While it is often a raised platform set either in the center (traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardi) or at the front of the congregation (modern architecture), the term also refers to the angled reading desk (for the Torah reading, although in some congregations the table is referred to as the shulchan) that may or may not be on the raised platform. The reading desk is usually draped with a cloth. On Shavuot, it is often decorated with flowers.

The Ark: Known among Ashkenazim as the aron or the aron kodesh and among Sephardim as the heichal, the ark is the cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept. It is usually built into or placed long the wall closest to Jerusalem, the direction in which it is customary to pray. The ark is considered holy and is treated with respect. Its doors are opened at different times during the services and holidays.

The Covering Curtain: The ark is traditionally covered by a cloth curtain called a parochet, named after the curtain that separated the ark chamber in the Tabernacle and Temple. Ashkenazi and Mizrachi congregations hang the parochet in front of the ark doors. Spanish-Portuguese and Moroccan congregations hang it inside the ark, behind the doors. A special white parochet is often used during the High Holidays. Both the ark and the parochet are often decorated (carved or embroidered respectively) with meaningful Torah verses.

The Eternal Lamp: The ner tamid, as it is called in Hebrew, usually hangs in front of the ark. It is reminiscent of both the Menorah and the incense lamp from the Tabernacle and the Temple, and is a reminder of the holiness that permanently dwells among the congregation. Historically, the ner tamid was an oil lamp, but in modern times electric (and now LED) lights are built into the design.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Connection Point

When in synagogue, allow the unique details of the location to inspire you to connect to the Divine.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

For The Mothers And Their Children

Sophie Irene Simon Loeb had no children of her own, but she dedicated her life to fighting for government support for widowed mothers. Her passionate campaign, which started after she did an investigative piece for The New York Evening World about mothers placing their children in orphanages, was one that touched close to her own childhood.

Born in Rovno, Ukraine, on July 4, 1876, Loeb came to the United States when she was six. Her family settled in Mckeesport, Pennsylvania, where there was a thriving Jewish community. When Loeb was 16, her father passed away. While her mother insisted that she finish school, Loeb took an evening job in a local store to help her mother and five younger siblings. After graduation, Loeb began teaching but left the position to marry her former employer, storekeeper Ansel Loeb, in 1896. As married women were not permitted to teach in Mckeesport, Loeb began writing. Her articles on local issues caught the attention of larger papers, such as The World, which hired her after she and her husband divorced and she moved to New York in 1910.

Loeb’s writing brought more and more attention to the cause of widowed mothers. In 1914, she traveled throughout Europe examining their social service systems and the next year, the New York State Board of Child Welfare was established. Loeb was its president for eight years, during which time the available funds to aid mothers and children grew steadily. In 1924, four years after publishing a book called Everyman’s Child, she helped create the Child Welfare Committee of America. Making her living primarily with her pen, Loeb was also a sought after speaker - she addressed the League of Nations about blind children in 1926 - and served as a mediator - she ended a 1917 taxi strike in only seven hours. After visiting the Land of Israel in 1925, Loeb also became a Zionist and published Palestine Awaken: The Rebirth of a Nation in 1926.

Sadly, Sophie Loeb passed away in January 1929, a 53 year old victim of cancer.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Some Support

Be aware of people in your community who need assistance and try to find quiet ways to help them.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

OMG! Passover is Coming

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: "Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses..." (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one's possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye has come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer. To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to rid one's home, office and even one's car (any personal place where chametz may have been brought). It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be "turned over "-- the kitchen converted from chametz status to "ready-for-Passover" use. "Turning over the kitchen" includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops that come in direct contact with chametz.*

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed, given away, thrown out or otherwise removed 
before PassoverChametz may also be sold through a rabbi to a non-Jew. For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit NJOP's Passover Preparations page.

*Certain items, depending on the material, may be kashered or may not need to be covered.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Questions Before

Feel free to ask Jewish Treats any questions you have about Passover.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Educating American Girls

When Vichna Kaplan (1913 - 1986) arrived in America in 1937, her experiences confirmed the country’s reputation as a place where Jewish tradition was in danger. This was particularly true for Jewish girls, who received no Jewish education after primary school. Kaplan, who had fought for her own advanced education, knew exactly what she needed to do.

Born in Slonim (Poland) and orphaned while still young, Kaplan had been raised by an aunt and uncle who believed a woman’s place was in the home and education beyond the basics was unnecessary. When Kaplan was 16 years old, she had her heart set on joining Sarah Schenirer’s new Beth Jacob  (Bais Yaakov) Seminary for women in Krakow. She went to Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, a leading rabbi of the time, and received his approval, which swayed her uncle to allow her to go.

Kaplan became a star student and close disciple of Sarah Schenirer. After graduation, Kaplan moved to Brisk to teach the daughters of the Brisker Rav. In the five years she lived in Brisk, Kaplan became a well respected teacher and popular public speaker. She left Brisk upon her marriage to Baruch Kaplan, an American who had been studying at European yeshivas.

Within a year of her arrival, Kaplan began her first Beth Jacob “school,” a night class that met after school and work. It began with the two daughters of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, founder of the first boys’ yeshiva high school in America, and five of their friends.

Kaplan’s student body grew each year, and, in 1944, she was able to open a full high school in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY). To serve as faculty, she hired fellow graduates of the original Beth Jacob Seminary in Krakow. A second high school was opened in Brooklyn’s Boro Park neighborhood in 1958, and later an elementary school and a seminary. Through her work, Kaplan had an extraordinary impact on Jewish life in America. Her students followed in her educational footsteps and many girls from Orthodox Jewish homes were able to have a rich and full Jewish education.

Vichna Kaplan remained active in Jewish education throughout her life, even while raising her nine sons and four daughters. She passed away on August 20 (15 Av) 1986.

Today's Treat honors an extraordinary teacher in honor of Women's History Month and the yahrtzeit of the founder of Beth Jacob, Sarah Schenirer.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Education Strong

Encourage the Jewish children in your life to continue their Jewish education for as long as possible.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Jews in Mauritius

In the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Africa, is the island nation of Mauritius. Despite the general absence of Jews in Mauritius in the past, there is enough of a Jewish community there today to maintain a synagogue, the Amicale Maurice Israel Center in the city of Curepipe, which opened in May 2005. The current community, however, is not the first time Jews have lived in  Mauritius.

Mauritius’s place in Jewish history is related to the founding of the State of Israel. In November 1940, three ships loaded with Jewish refugees were detained by the British off the coast of Palestine. The passengers were all transferred to the British Patria ship, which was tragically sunk, killing 260 people, in a Hagana sabotage operation against the British that went terribly wrong. The British initially sent the surviving passengers to the crowded Atlit detaining camp outside Haifa, but then determined to transfer 1,584 of them to the British colony of Mauritius. The final decision on their fate was to be delayed until after the war.

On Mauritius, the refugees were brought to the town of Beau-Bassin. The men were housed in a former jail house, the women in adjacent iron huts. Initially, the British banned all interaction between the men and women. After this ban was lifted, 60 children were born. In the foreign climate, the refugees suffered from tropical diseases, and their suffering was compounded by a lack of proper food and clothing. However, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Federation sent kosher food and religious items.

The Jewish refugees remained on Mauritius for five years.  Over that time, 128 of them passed away and were buried in the St. Martin Cemetery. After the war, the British gave the refugees the choice of returning to their home countries or going to Palestine. On August 6, 1945, 1,320 detainees from Mauritius arrived in Haifa. After the camp in Beau-Bessin was emptied, there was no known Jewish settlement on Mauritius until the 21st century.

On March 12, 1968, Mauritius became an independent nation.

A Generous Look

When you give charity to  person, smile.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Shabbat, The Heart of Unity

Shabbat is one of the Ten Commandments, and is one of the most frequently referred-to mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. Shabbat is regarded as the “heart” of Jewish life. It sets a rhythm to Jewish time and offers a steady flow of spirituality for the rest of the week. Shabbat is also unique in that it is distinguished as a special gift given to the Jewish people directly from “God’s Treasure House” (Talmud Shabbat 10a).

Why is Shabbat such a unique treasure? In commanding the Jewish people to rest on the seventh day, God gave the People an opportunity to emulate His own rest after creating the world. “I gave them My Shabbats to serve as a sign between Me and them, that they might know that it is I the Lord Who sanctify them” (Ezekiel 20:12). The Jewish people sanctify “time” because God sanctifies the Jewish people. This is reflected in the text of the prayers of Shabbat that alternate between mentioning Shabbat as an emulation of God’s day of rest and as a commemoration of God’s taking the Jewish people out of Egypt.

The connection of the Jewish people to Shabbat is inseparable. The Hebrew poet Achad Ha’am expressed it beautifully when he wrote: “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

Jewish life is centered around the observance of mitzvot derived from the Torah and instituted by the sages. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Levi, however, states that “Shabbat [properly kept] is equivalent to all of the mitzvot” (Exodus Rabbah 25:12). For this reason, Rabbi Levi also declared that “If all of Israel were to guard Shabbat even for one day, the son of David [the Messiah] would come!” (ibid.).

Imagine the power of a unified Shabbat celebrated by all Jews... Join tonight’s Shabbat Across America and Canada, at an official location or through Shabbat Across America and Canada @Home, and let’s help bring the Messiah!

Say Shabbat Shalom

Life provides us with a plethora of opportunities to pronounce blessings. There are blessings on foods, blessings on doing a mitzvah, and even a blessing after using the restroom. Not all blessings are formal declarations (those that start with Baruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai...,Blessed are You God...). Saying “God bless you” when a person sneezes is also a blessing.

The greeting “Shabbat Shalom” is also a blessing. Shabbat is a day of rest, of spending time connected to the Divine...this is hard to do if one is not at peace, or is agitated or worried. Additionally, the word “Shalom” is derived from the word shaleim, which means whole or complete. Greeting someone with “Shabbat Shalom” is more than wishing them to “have a nice day,” although it is sometimes meant as such. Rather, it is a blessing for someone to have a Shabbat of peace in which no worries interfere with their connection to the Divine, so that their souls can feel the wholeness promised in the World to Come. (Shabbat is said to be a “taste of the World to Come.”)

If one truly intends that the words “Shabbat Shalom” be a blessing, the words must be pronounced in the proper manner. Too often, as people hurry on their way, even when walking home from synagogue on Shabbat, they mumble “Shabbat Shalom” at any Jewish-looking person who draws close. Ideally, we should wish “Shabbat Shalom” while smiling and looking our fellow Jew in the eye. This is regarded as presenting a “sever panim yafot,” a cheerful countenance, as prescribed in Ethics of the Fathers 1:15.

This Treat was last posted on October 22, 2010.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Shalom

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you each a Shabbat Across America and Canada Shalom.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Rebbitzen

Esther Jungreis became a rebbitzen when she married Rabbi Meshulum Jungreis in 1955. She became “The Rebbitzen” when she founded Hineni in 1973. Born in Hungary in 1936, Esther and her family survived Bergen Belsen and were rescued on the Kastner Train (link). They came to the United States and settled in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1947.

Jungreis survived the terrible physical destruction of the Jewish people in Europe, and as a young rebbitzen at the North Woodmere Jewish Center, she became concerned about what she would later call the “spiritual Holocaust” of assimilation.

Rebbitzen Jungreis began speaking to Jewish audiences about the significance of Jewish tradition, and her passion and oratory skills began attracting larger and larger audiences. She was also asked to pen a column for The Jewish Press newspaper, which she continued for over 40 years.

Encouraged by the people around her, Rebbitzen Jungreis created the Jewish outreach organization known as Hineni (which means “Here I am”). She launched the organization at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, speaking to an audience of 10,000. In the 1980s, Rebbitzen Jungreis opened the Hineni Heritage Center in New York City. Through Hineni, Rebbitzen Jungreis made an impact on thousands of lives. Her weekly lecture on the Torah portion were often standing room only, and she was renowned for the singles functions and matchmaking at Hineni that led to hundreds of marriages and many young Jewish families.

In addition to her many speaking engagements, Rebbitzen Jungreis also published four inspirational books and had a regular show on a Jewish public television station. The Rebbitzen passed away from pneumonia in August 2016 at age 80.

This very brief bio of Rebbitzen Jungreis was written in honor of International Women's Day.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Adding Candles

Lighting Shabbat candles is an essential element of Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states that two candles are used to fulfill the mitzvah in order to recall the dual Shabbat mitzvot: shamor (guard) and zachor (remember). The Mishna Berura (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan's 20th century elucidation on the Shulchan Aruch) notes that one candle is sufficient (although not ideal). At the same time, however, Rabbi Kagan writes that since bringing light to the house is part of the mitzvah, one can and should create as much light as possible.

Friday afternoon can be hectic. There's work to complete, meals have to be prepared and, in the hustle and bustle leading up to Shabbat, it is possible that the candles may be forgotten. Once the sun has actually set, lighting a flame (and even transferring a flame) is prohibited. For this reason, the rabbis (as quoted in the Shulchan Aruch) declared that one who forgot to light candles one Friday night becomes obligated to add an additional candle each week thereafter.

It is interesting to note that this law might be the source for the custom to add a candle for every child born into a family. Until recently (mid-twentieth century), many women did not light candles on the Friday night after childbirth. They relied on their husbands to do so. And while the new fathers were halachically responsible for ensuring that Shabbat candles were lit that week, many added a candle as if they had missed lighting candles. Today, most women are able to either return home before Shabbat or light candles in the hospital. However, the custom of adding a candle after each delivery has taken hold and serves as a reminder that each child is a blessing.

Lighting candles may be part of the program at your local Shabbat Across America and Canada on March 9, 2018. Find a location near you and ask what time their program begins.

This Treat was last posted on February 19, 2010.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Check In

Call your local synagogue or Jewish center and ask if they are running Shabbat Across America and Canada.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blessings and Challah

Within Jewish tradition there are many moments that are considered auspicious for increasing blessing in one’s life. These can be special moments in one’s prayer, such as the meditation recited when the Amidah (Shemonah Esrei/18 Benedictions) prayer is completed. Or they may be specific moments at a life cycle event, such as during a chuppah (wedding canopy) or Brit milah (circumcision). Other times may be during the performance of a mitzvah, such as “taking challah” when making bread, about which it is written: “You shall further give the first of the yield of your baking to the priest, that a blessing may rest upon your home” (Ezekial 44:30).

Challah has always had special significance. The Midrash states that challah was one of three ways in which the tent of Sarah was blessed. “As long as Sarah lived, there was blessing on her dough [challah]” (Genesis Rabbah 60:16). For this reason challah is one of the three mitzvot considered the special responsibility of women. (Click here for more.)

An integral part of making challah (or, in fact, any bread) is “taking challah,” an act that refers to the tithe of bread given to the priests in the days of the Temple (Numbers 15:20). Today, since there is no Temple, it is customary to separate a small portion of dough and burn it. (Click here for more details.)

The process of making dough is, according to mystical traditions, filled with opportunities to add individual prayers, particularly if one is making a large enough amount of dough to “take challah” with a blessing. The concept of “power in numbers,” also found in Judaism, has led, over the last decade or so, to the popularity of having 40* women - either gathered together or in their own homes - making challah and “taking challah” with prayers for the benefit of a specific individual(s), such as one who is ill.

*There are many ideas of the power of the number of 40 that cannot be included in this Treat.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thank You for Having Me

Giving an appropriate gift to a host or hostess is the topic of many an etiquette column. But when one is invited to a Shabbat meal, not just any gift will do. 

Although “Miss Manners” might recommend that one bring flowers to a dinner host, gift bouquets can be somewhat awkward for a Shabbat observant host(ess), as placing the flowers in water falls into the category of planting, which is one of the 39 melachot (creative labors prohibited on Shabbat).(Click here to read more about flowers and Shabbat.) 

Bringing house-ware type gifts (a pretty serving plate or a wine pitcher) leads to another quandary. Transferring possessions from one person to another constitutes a transaction, and thus may be performed only on weekdays. 

With these limitations in mind, most people choose to bring a bottle of kosher wine or an edible treat.* Since these items can be consumed at the Shabbat meal, the guest is only adding to the feast rather than transferring ownership of the item. Given this consideration, however, one should not bring food that cannot be eaten at the Shabbat meal (such as a dairy desert to a meat meal or food that needs to be cooked). While candy, nuts or cookies are excellent ways of saying “thank you,” one should still keep "Miss Manners" in mind and check with the host or hostess before bringing an actual food dish. 

If one has a particular gift in mind that is not food, Jewish Treats recommends delivering the gift before Shabbat. 

*Any gifts can only be brought on Shabbat if both the guest and the host are within the eiruv.

This Treat was last posted on August 12, 2011.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Baking Time

Try your hand at making challah.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

We're Not Taking Care of Business

On Shabbat, the Jewish people are commanded: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8). The Oral Law explains that the Hebrew word m’la’cha, “work,” refers to creative work, such as planting or starting a fire, not to general labor such as setting up a room for a kiddush or moving one’s furniture (within one’s domicile). And, yet, even talking about work (one’s job or business) is prohibited. While one can easily understand that acquiring property, collecting payments and signing contracts are transgressions of the Sabbath, few can fathom what the problem might be talking about a plot of land that one would like to purchase or a potential deal that could be made later in the week.

The Talmud cites two verses from Isaiah and interprets them:

If you restrain your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking thereof; Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Says the Talmud:
And you shall honor it, not doing your own affairs: ‘and you shall honor it’... your affairs are forbidden, the affairs of Heaven [religious matters] are permitted...your speech [conversation] on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays. Speaking [about mundane matters] is forbidden, but thinking [about mundane matters] is permitted (Shabbat 113a-b).

By refraining from creative work on Shabbat, a person testifies to God’s creation of the world and His continued involvement in the work of creation. Talking about business not only focuses a person on him/her self, but turns one’s thoughts away from the greater spiritual nature of the day.

This Treat was last posted on July 22, 2011.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

If Shabbat Is Saturday, Why Does It Begin On Friday Night?

There Was Evening, And There Was Morning...

When following the Gregorian (secular) calendar, it is natural to think of the days of the week as Sunday, Monday....Friday, Saturday, each day beginning at midnight and ending at midnight. In the Jewish calendar, however, the names of the days are given as a count toward Shabbat: Day One, Day Two....Day Six, Shabbat, and each day begins and ends at sunset.

In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, the description of each day of creation is noted with the same language: Va'yehee erev va'yehee voker - There was evening and there was morning. It is therefore understood that according to the order of creation, evening precedes morning. Thus, each day begins at sunset. Shabbat and all Jewish holidays, therefore, begin at sunset, the evening before the day of the holiday marked on a secular calendar.

Since the precise time of sunset is difficult to determine (whether sunset means the beginning of the setting of the sun or once the sun has completely set), Shabbat is observed from the beginning of sunset on Friday through the end of sunset on Saturday - a time period that works out to just about 25 hours.

This Treat was last posted on October 24, 2008

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Peace Time

Use Shabbat to create a time of peaceful rest from the world.

Monday, March 5, 2018

More Purims in Adar?

The holiday of Purim that we celebrated last week is a world-wide holiday commemorating the redemption of the Jews of the Persian Empire from the threat of decimation at the hands of wicked Haman more than 2500 years ago. It is also the prototype for local celebrations of redemption specific to certain towns, and, in some cases, personal families. Today’s Jewish Treat offers a brief overview of some of these local Purims that are also celebrated in the month of Adar.

For instance, today, the 18th of  Adar, has been noted as Purim Sana’a (Yemen). It is not clear when in history this day earned its title or for what period of time it was observed, but the story associated with it is of a miraculous salvation for the entire community. The events took place at a time when the King of Yemen had many close Jewish advisors of whom his other councillors were jealous. The councillors murdered the king’s son on Purim and placed his body in the synagogue, framing the Jewish community. The terrified Jews of Sana’a fasted and prayed for three days, and on the third day the truth came to light and they were saved. (According to legend, the body of the prince sat up and pointed to his killers.)

Another extra Purim in the month of Adar was celebrated in Cairo (Egypt). Its origin dates back to 1524, the year Hain Ahmed Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Cairo, rebelled against Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. In a bid to raise funds for his rebellion, the pasha imprisoned 12 prominent Jews and held them for ransom. He also ransacked the Jewish community. On the 21st of Adar, the date the ransom was due, the Pasha was stabbed while in his bath. He survived but fled, and the prisoners were released. The Jews of Cairo wrote a scroll recording these events and declared an annual festive commemoration.

Almost Here

If a Shabbat Across America or Shabbat Across Canada program is happening in your city, contact the organization to make reservations

Friday, March 2, 2018

Purim, Again?

Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on location.

The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (yesterday). However, Jews living in the city of Shushan (now the city of Shush, Iran, which is also sometimes referred to as Susa), Jerusalem and all the cities that had walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar (today).

The delay in the Purim celebration is based on Esther 9:16-17.

"And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies...on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy. But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy."

The majority of the Jews were able to stop defending themselves on the 13th, and so rested on the 14th. In the capital city, however, where Haman's evil plot had aroused greater hatred, the Jews were forced to defend themselves through the 14th as well, and rested on the 15th.

Mordechai and the great sages of the time felt that it was important to separate Shushan's celebration from that of the rest of the people. Because they were still in exile, however, the sages wanted to make certain that the people remembered the holy city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It was therefore declared that, in addition to Shushan, any city that was surrounded by a wall at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan would celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

The History Around Purim

The story of Purim takes place at the very end of the era known in Jewish history as the Babylonian Exile.

Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from the Land of Israel. Fifty years later, however, the Babylonian Empire was itself crushed by the combined armies of King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia (both part of current day Iran), and the new Persian Empire was formed under the rule of Cyrus. Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus was not interested in destroying the individual cultures of his subjects, unless they were in direct opposition to him. Known as Cyrus the Great, he issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to the land of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the first group of Jewish exiles returned to Israel under the leadership of Nechemiah and began laying the foundations for rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The enemies of the Jews, however, convinced Cyrus to stop the Temple’s rebuilding.

And then came Achashverosh, the king of the Purim story. There is much debate as to the exact identity of Achashverosh. Some sources say that Achashverosh was actually Cambys, the son of Cyrus, some say that he was the son of Darius the Mede. Still others say that he was a  mercenary of common birth who usurped the throne through cunning and by marrying Vashti, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, to give him legitimacy. Regardless of how Achashverosh achieved power, the empire he controlled stretched across the Far East. As king of the Persian Empire, Achashverosh continued the ban on the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

While the story seems to happen quickly, it actually took place over a spread of years. Following the defeat of the enemies of the Jews, Achashverosh remained in power with Mordechai as his Prime Minister. According to tradition, Achashverosh and Esther had one son, who grew up to be Darius II, the Persian Emperor who permitted the completion of the rebuilding of the Second Temple, ending the Babylonian exile.


Bring the spirit of Purim into the rest of your year by looking for the subtle Hand of God in your life.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Purim Story in Under 300 Words

At the end of a 180-day feast, the King of Persia-Medea, Achashverosh, banished (some say executed) his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. He then staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.

Esther lived with her cousin, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.

Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar 
(a date chosen by lottery), the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.

Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.

After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.

That night, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai for revealing an assassination plot by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.

At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.

The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Esther and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor. 

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

It Was Bashert

Bashert, which in Yiddish means “predestined,” is most commonly applied to the concept of one’s intended soul-mate. This idea that, when dating, one is searching for his/her bashert, his/her divinely intended life partner, stems from Talmud Sotah 2a, which states: “Forty days before the creation of a child, a Heavenly Voice issues forth and proclaims: ‘The daughter of A is for B.’”

The concept of bashert implies that one's choice of marriage partners is preordained even before conception. There are a great number of discussions that stem from this concept: questions concerning dating, marriage, bad marriages, divorce, second marriages....But the question Jewish Treats wishes to address today is the broader understanding of the concept of bashert.

The quote from Talmud Sotah 2a goes on to state that just as a Heavenly Voice calls forth intended marriage partners, it also calls out “...the house of C is for D; the field of E is for F!” The Jewish idea of predetermination versus free-will allows that certain points in one’s life are set, but how one gets there is determined by one’s free choices.

Those pieces of our lives that are “pre-determined” may be related to one’s wealth, the country in which one lives or the person one marries. And while we may never know why these points of bashert happen, they are often important aspects of a greater story.

The story of Purim is a perfect example of a mysterious match that made sense only in heaven. Nothing, not even the words of Mordechai her guardian, could have comforted Esther when Achashverosh chose her to be his queen. He certainly was not the type of man she expected to marry. Yet, had she not been queen, she would not have been able to undo Haman’s decree, and save her people.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Joy To You

Jewish Treats and NJOP wish you and yours a happy, joyful and meaningful Purim.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Viewing Vashti

She was raised a royal princess, he was raised in the stables. Vashti the daughter of the great Babylonian king, Belshazzar, and Achashverosh the son of Darius the Mede, were a match never meant to be. When Darius assumed the throne after assassinating Belshazzar, however, the new king took pity on the young girl. He spared her life, but insisted that she wed his son, Achashverosh. This is the history of Vashti and Achashverosh according to the Midrash.

But Vashti was no sweet innocent victim of her husband’s drunken tantrums. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that Vashti insulted her now royal husband, publicly reminding him that he had once been her father’s stable boy (Talmud Megillah 12b).

Upon reading the first chapter of the Book of Esther, one might feel sympathy for Vashti. Her only crime appears to be refusing Achashverosh’s command to come with the royal crown and show off her beauty. Even more to her credit, one Midrash maintains that when Achashverosh demanded that she appear wearing the “royal crown,” he meant wearing only the royal crown and nothing else!  Vashti, the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, certainly expected to be treated with a great deal more respect than to be shown off as a ”trophy wife.”

An alternate Midrash maintains that she wasn’t upset about appearing naked. In fact, she was more than willing to partake in the implied immorality, but she would not, according to tradition, present herself to her husband because she had been suddenly struck with leprosy and refused to be seen in public with the shocking physical blemishes.

While her refusal to attend her husband’s party is Vashti’s only scene in the Book of Esther, the Midrash portrays her as a woman who thrived on cruelty and who held a particularly fierce grudge against the Jewish people. “The wicked queen used to bring Jewish girls, strip them naked, and make them work on Shabbat” (Talmud Megillah 12b). Because of this, the Talmud notes, Vashti’s disgrace and fall from power occurred on Shabbat as well.

This Treat was last posted on March 22, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Her Other Name

Do you have a Hebrew name that’s different than your legal name?

The custom of giving children both secular and Hebrew names is not a modern tradition, but rather goes back to ancient times. In fact, it even occurs in the biblical text of the Book of Esther, where scripture states: “And he [Mordechai] brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther” (Esther 2:7).

Why does scripture share the fact that Esther, the title character of the Purim story, was also named Hadassah? 

Jewish tradition asserts that a person’s name is usually connected with a person’s character. The sages therefore looked to understand more about Hadassah/Esther from the meaning of her names.

Hadassah (Hebrew word for myrtle):
It has been taught: Esther was her proper name. Why then was she called Hadassah? After the designation of the righteous who are called myrtles [hadassim]...Ben ‘Azzai said: Esther was neither too tall nor too short, but of medium size, like a myrtle. Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said: Esther was sallow, but endowed with great charm” (Talmud Megillah 13a). 

Additionally, the sages note that “Just as a myrtle has a sweet smell and a bitter taste, so too Esther was good and listened (“sweet”) to the righteous Mordechai, and was adverse (“bitter”) to the wicked Haman” (Esther Rabbah 6:5).

Esther (Hebrew for hidden or concealed):
Rabbi Judah says: Hadassah was her name. Why then was she called Esther? Because she concealed the facts about herself, as it says "Esther did not make known her people or her family." Rabbi Nehemiah (offering an additional reason) says: Hadassah was her name. Why then was she called Esther? All peoples called her so after Istahar (a reference to the planet Venus, alluding to Esther’s beauty) (Talmud Megillah 13a).

This Treat was reposted in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

How You Present

Be modest in how you present yourself.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I and my maidens will also fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her uncle Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

According to tradition, a second fast occurred on the 13th of Adar, the day before Haman's supporters were allowed to attack. In commemoration of this fast, and in honor of Esther's fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. Thus Ta'anit Esther will be observed this year on Wednesday, February 28, 2018. (If the 13th of Adar occurs on Shabbat, the fast is observed on the Thursday prior.)

The fast begins at dawn (aloht hashachar)* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi). 

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue services:1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning and afternoon service. When Ta'anit Esther is observed on the eve of Purim, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited in the afternoon. 

2. At the morning and afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of God's mercy. At the afternoon service only, the Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days. 

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying the afternoon service. 

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before). 

This Treat is reposted annually before the Fast of Esther. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Power of Propaganda

In the last decade, there has been a noted increase in anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. But, attacks against the Jewish people are hardly new. Even the authors of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, however, were not original in their intentions.

The first great anti-Semitic “big lie” came from Haman. Not only did he tell the king that the Jews ignored civil law and followed their own Jewish law, but, according to the Midrash Esther Rabbah 7, Haman wrote a letter of classic propaganda in King Achashverosh’s name to convince the local citizens to slaughter the Jews. The following are some interesting excerpts from the Midrash:

...a contemptible people who are arrogant, seek our harm and who curse the king. And how do they curse us? They say (Psalms 10:16): ‘God reigns forever; the nations shall be banished from His land.’ They also say (Psalms 149:7): ‘To inflict vengeance upon the nations, reproof upon the peoples.’ They acknowledge no gratitude to those who have bestowed good upon them...

Haman demonstrated his knowledge of Jewish texts and then took the quotes out of context in order to create a mythology that the Jews were blood-thirsty.

The letter goes on to refer to the historic events of the Bible (Enslavement, the Canaanite General Sisera, the defeat of Amalek, etc.) turning them into events of Jewish aggression and inferring that the Jews used sorcery to win battles against their enemies. Regarding the Holy Temple, The Midrash says that Haman wrote:

...I do not know what they had inside that house. When they prepare to wage war, they enter it and practice sorcery, and when they emerge they slaughter and destroy the world... 

Additionally, Haman reassured the Persians that God had turned against the Jews, and he then encouraged their animosity by stating that the Jews “ridicule us and the faith we place in our gods.”

Without question, Haman was a master propagandist.

Translation of Midrash Rabbah 7 taken from The Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov.

This Treat was last posted on March 24, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Glug, Glug

Try to drink extra water in preparation for the fast.

Monday, February 26, 2018

History of Hamantashen

If you are active on Jewish social media, whether on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other, you have probably been inundated with a thousand and one ways to take hamantashen baking to a new level. These once simple cookies are now stuffed with everything from brownies to shredded brisket. These hamantashen recipes are not only delicious, but they are a continuation of Jewish culinary creativity. 

Hamantashen are also an excellent example of the way in which Jewish food traditions can evolve. The cookies themselves appear to have become popular in the middle ages, and, over time, different aspects of these tasty treats were connected to the holiday itself.

1) Shape - There are many reasons proposed for the triangular shape of the hamantashen. One idea connects the three cornered cookie to the three sided table at which Esther hosted Achashverosh and Haman. More commonly, however, hamantashen are connected to Haman himself, representing either his supposedly pointed ears or tri-cornered hat.

2) Filling: Although today hamantashen are filled with just about anything, there are several flavors that have their own history. For instance, the original poppy flavor is the most probable source for the word “hamantashen,” derived from the Yiddish moon tashen or “poppy pockets.” Another traditional flavor is prune (lekvash), which supposedly became a common filling for hamantashen after a Czechoslovakian Jewish jam merchant was acquitted from an accusation that he had poisoned his plum preserves and his community celebrated by filling their hamantashen with this same jam. 

3) Pocket: Significance is also given to the fact that hamentashen are cookies in which the filling is stuffed and “hidden,” just as God’s presence was concealed (God’s name is absent from the Megillah) during the events of the Purim story.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

The Whole Megillah

Whether it’s a long-winded tale, or a story overloaded with details--it’s called a “whole megillah!” (In “the old country” they would have said “a gantse megillah!”)

So what exactly is a “megillah”?

Technically, a megillah is a rolled scroll. Specifically, the term megillah is used to describe the five canonical works from the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible that are read in the synagogue on different holidays. The five megillot are:

Shir HaShirim - The Song of Songs - written by King Solomon and read on Passover.
Ruth - The Book of Ruth - written by Samuel and read on Shavuot.
Eichah - Lamentations - written by Jeremiah and read on Tisha B'Av.
Kohelet - Ecclesiastes - also written by King Solomon and read on Sukkot.
Esther - The Book of Esther - written by Mordechai and Esther and read on Purim.

When preceded with a definite article, however, “the Megillah,” refers specifically to the Book of Esther. Megillat Esther is the only one of the five megillot which one is obligated to read/hear. In fact, on Purim, one should hear it read both at night and during the day.

As for the catchy phrase “the whole megillah”--according to, it came into the English vernacular in a variety of forms through its use by Jewish entertainers. The specific wording of “the whole megillah,” however, had its first recorded colloquial usage on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1971.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Purim.

Gift Giving

Prepare a Mishloach Manot (Gift Basket) for someone with whom you have been at odds.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Who Was Mordechai?

There are some people in this world who always seem to be right in the thick of the action. As described in the Book of Esther, this was Mordechai. It is Mordechai’s niece who is chosen to serve as the new queen. It is Mordechai who overhears a royal assassination plot. It is Mordechai who is the object of Haman’s anger, and it is Mordechai whom the king publicly honors for saving his life. And, finally, it is Mordechai who hears of Haman’s evil decree and protests it publicly.

It is obvious from his actions that Mordechai was a brave man, and thus it is not surprising that assorted midrashim (legendary explanations) reveal that even before the events described in the Book of Esther, Mordechai was one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. The Book of Esther itself tells us that Mordechai was “a Benjaminite who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled [by Nebuchadnezzar] with Jeconiah, King of Judah” (Esther 2:6). According to the Talmudic sage Rava, however, Mordechai actually joined the exile voluntarily so that he could remain with the scholars (Megilla 13a).

One could assume that he was a youth at the time of the exile, as the events of the Purim story take place at the end of the exile. In the interim, traditional sources record that Mordechai was one of those who joined Ezra and Nechemia in returning to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the Temple. When the nations who had moved into Judea’s territory quarreled with the Jews, it was Mordechai who was sent back to Shushan to negotiate with the king.

It appears that Mordechai remained in Shushan and became one of the members of the Sanhedrin (for which he was required to know 70 languages and was thus able to understand the whispered plotting of Bigthan and Teresh against the king).

There are two other interesting biographical facts about Mordechai. He was a descendant of King Saul, the first king of Israel, and, after Haman’s overthrow, he was appointed Prime Minister of Achashverosh’s kingdom.

This Treat was last posted on March 3, 2015.

Costume Time

Those who first hear about the custom of wearing Purim costumes might assume that the tradition began as an imitation of Halloween. Research, however, places the origin of Halloween costumes in the 18th century, while Purim disguises are mentioned in rabbinic texts as far back as the 13th century.

Masks and disguises are a popular means of expressing some of the most important themes of Purim. For instance, “Ve'na'haphoch Hoo," "and it was reversed" (Esther 9:1)--on Purim we celebrate the idea that what one perceives as reality can easily be reversed. This theme is also one of the sources for the custom of drinking on Purim. The Talmud states that “One must drink [on Purim] until one does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’” (Megillah 7b); disguising one’s self is another means of creating this same effect.

A second important theme of Purim related to the custom of wearing masks/costumes is hester panimHester panim refers to the idea that God conceals His involvement in human affairs. God is not mentioned even once in the Book of Esther, yet it is clearly Divine providence that determines events. This is hester panim, when God “hides” Himself from the world so that we can only see hints of His Divine plan. So too, on Purim, our true selves are hidden behind masks.

Although some people wear Halloween left-overs (Purim shopping begins November 1!), the characters of the Purim story are perennial favorites. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are two queens--Esther and Vashti).

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Part of the People

Never underestimate your ability to help your people.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering.

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion, after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked our weak, tired and elderly shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Therefore, there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Parashat Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

The Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscored the evil character of the Amalekites. God had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek "happened" upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is a description of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of "fate," which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek's philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind because the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.

This Treat is reposted annually on the Friday of Parashat Zachor.
Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Light and Happiness

What is the connection between the holiday of Purim and Havdalah, the ceremonial conclusion of Shabbat? The simple answer is the single verse from the Book of Esther that is recited by the officiant during Havdalah: “La’yehudeem hayetah orah v’simcha v’sason v’yikar; And for the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and honor” (Esther 8:16). Not only is this verse recited as part of Havdalah, but, both on Purim and on Saturday night, it is customary for the verse to be recited both by the reader/reciter and by the people listening. 

In fact, Esther 8:16 is one of four verses that are traditionally recited by both the reader and the congregation during Megillah reading on Purim. The other three verses are:

 "There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite"(2:5).

"And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a robe of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan shouted and was glad" (8:15).

"For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Achashverosh, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed"(10:3).

These verses are frequently referred to as “verses of redemption.” The custom for them to be recited by the public as well as the reader appears to be sourced back to the Geonic period (c. 600 - 1000 C.E.).* It has been suggested that these verses mark positive turning points in the fate of the Jews. (There is a separate custom  for congregations to read aloud the names of the 10 sons of Haman, preferably in one breath.)

The origin of the custom for pausing during the Havdalah ceremony to allow all present to recite this line from the Book of Esther is unclear. However, it is likely that this custom was a cross-over from the custom of reciting it aloud during the reading of the Megillah.


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.