Friday, February 16, 2018

When Adar Begins

The month of Adar begins today. About Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar year, the Talmud (Ta’anith 29a) states: “Mee'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased.

One might think that this increase in joy is because Adar is the first month of spring. While winter is not completely gone, it is certainly on its way out. That may be enough reason for others to rejoice, but the Jews have the wonderful holiday of Purim to make our spirits joyful.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar,* Purim is the holiday that commemorates good overcoming evil. In a nutshell, the story of Purim revolves around the plot, launched in the year 518 BCE by Haman (the wicked viceroy of the Persian-Median King Achashverosh), to kill all the Jews in Achashverosh’s kingdom. Haman’s hatred of the Jews reached a psychotic level when Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community, refused to bow to him. Haman requested and was granted permission by Achashverosh to issue a decree calling for the death of all the Jews. Haman, however, was unaware that Achashverosh’s new queen, Esther, was actually Jewish and was Mordechai’s niece. With significant courage (and tremendous faith in God), Esther revealed Haman’s wicked plot to the king, thus saving the Jewish people.

In celebration of their salvation, the Jews feasted, gave charity and exchanged gift baskets with each other. They celebrated being alive with tremendous joy and rejoiced at being part of a wonderful nation. It is the energy of their joy that permeates the entire month of Adar so that even now, 2,500 years later, when Adar begins, rejoicing is increased.

* Some ancient walled cities, such as Jerusalem, celebrate on the 15th of Adar.

This Treat was originally posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2012.

Adar Shalom

Have a Shabbat full of Adar joy!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Spiritual Harvest of the Ant

Are you familiar with Aesop’s Fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper”? It’s a morality tale about hard work and planning ahead, and it might just have you picturing the original version of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket. But the moral of Aesop’s Fable is actually one that can be found in one of Judaism’s ancient texts, The Book of Proverbs, that is attributed to King Solomon.

Lazybones, go to the ant; Study its ways and learn.
Without leaders, officers, or rulers,
It lays up its stores during the summer, Gathers in its food at the harvest.
How long will you lie there, lazybones; When will you wake from your sleep?
A bit more sleep, a bit more slumber, A bit more hugging yourself in bed,
And poverty will come calling upon you, And want, like a man with a shield.
(Proverbs 6:6-11)

Quite obviously, this set of verses can speak to every person about the importance of diligence, hard work and not procrastinating. (Indeed, it would not be surprising if this verse were quoted to not a few difficult-to-rouse teenagers.) Wise as this advice may be for practical living, the words of the Tanach (24 books of the Bible) are meant to provide spiritual guidance.

Very often people postpone spiritual matters for later. In their youth, they are concerned about immediate results and in their early adulthood they are focused on the everyday business of earning a living. These verses serve as a warning not to neglect one’s spiritual needs. Just as an ant gathers its nourishment and stores it over time, so too must people gather their mitzvot and increase their Torah knowledge throughout their lifetimes.

Deeper Exploration

When you find a topic of interest through Jewish Treats or another Jewish education source, take the time to explore it further.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Muscular Judaism

As the Zionist Movement developed, one of its secondary goals was to transform Jewish life by freeing it from what was considered a ghetto mentality, a societal mind-set of being weak and oppressed. For Max Nordau (1849-1923), a physician and author who was a co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, this meant moving away from bookish intellectualism and focusing on creating something he called “Muscular Judaism” (or, in his native German tongue, Muskel Judentum).

Even in Nordau’s day there were Jewish men and women who excelled in athletics or served as soldiers in their nations’ armies. But he was also aware that the anti-Semitic press made a point to emphasize the Jewish characteristics of being bookish and physically weak.

“Muscular Judaism” did not become a major movement in the Jewish world, but it did inspire many to get more involved in physical activity. In Vienna, Austria, a Jewish sports club named Hakoach Vienna (The Strength of Vienna) became home to a championship soccer team that played in Austria’s 1st class division. They proudly donned blue and white uniforms and toured throughout Europe, England and the United States (where many players defected after being impressed with the lack of overt anti-Semitism).

Hakoach Vienna had its own stadium and facilities for a wide range of sports. Its swimming pool was the training ground for record setting Austrian swimmer Judith Haspel, who chose to forego Olympic glory rather than compete in Munich. Hokoach was forced to close in 1938, when Austria came under Nazi control. After the war, it reopened briefly.

Unfortunately, Max Nordau never saw the Zionist dream become a reality. One can thus only imagine how proud he would have felt about the fulfillment of his Muscular Judaism ideals in the Israeli army and the host of exceptional Jewish athletes competing throughout the world.

Positive Exercise

When exercising, think about the fact that you are fulfilling the mitzvah of guarding one's being.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Wayward Sons

While the Biblical canon has many stories of redemption and miracles, it also records narratives that demonstrate the true struggles of real people.  Real people know of the commonly heard lament that raising children isn’t easy, and that certain children are more difficult than others. Such were the sons of Eli, the High Priest who served in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shilo in the years just before and after the birth of the Prophet Samuel. The sons’ names were Hophni and Pinchas.

Now Eli was very old. When he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel and how they had illicit relations with the women who performed tasks at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I get evil reports about you from the people on all hands. Don’t, my sons! It is no favorable report I hear the people of the Lord spreading about. If a man sins against a man, the Lord may pardon him; but if a man offends against God, who can obtain pardon for him?” But they ignored their fathers plea (I Samuel 2:21-25).

For this, Eli is informed that his family would lose its exalted position and would be cut off from the benefits of the priesthood. The consequence would not immediately go into effect - perhaps so Eli could continue the important work of raising Samuel, but would begin, he was told, on the day that Hophni and Pinchas die.

Several years passed until this occurred. When Eli was 98 years old, and the Israelites were at war with the Philistines, it was reported to him that both of his sons had been killed in battle and that the Ark of the Lord had been captured. Out of distress, Eli fell off of his seat, broke his neck and died. At the same time, his daughter-in-law, Pinchas’ widow, gave birth to the new generation that would feel the actual consequences of God’s reprimand (Ibid. 4:1-19).

Parenting Tip

Jewish parenting supports strong guidance from parents.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Jew Who Played for Germany

It is impossible to imagine what the thoughts of Rudi Victor Ball were when high ranking Nazi officials asked him to rejoin his German ice hockey teammates and play for Germany in the 1936 Olympic Games. Aware of the growing anti-Semitism in Germany, Ball had left Berlin and its SC Berliner ice hockey team in 1933 and joined the Swiss League playing for St. Moritz. So what drew him back to Germany to be the only Jewish athlete among Germany’s Olympians?

First a little background: Rudi Ball was born in Berlin in 1911 to a German father and Lithuanian Jewish mother. During his childhood, hockey was still a fairly new sport in Europe, and he did not even see his first hockey game until he was 15. Within a couple of years, he debuted on SC  Berliner’s second line. His two brothers, Gerhard and Heinz, also took up the game and, by 1929-30, all three were among Germany’s top players. At 5'4" and 140 lbs, Rudi was shockingly fast and skillful. He gained international notice and was considered a premiere European player. After the Ball brothers moved to St. Moritz, they went on to play for Diavoli Rosso Milano (Milan, Italy).

As the 1936 Olympics approached, Germany selected the players for its national team and deliberately ignored Ball. However, Gustav Jaenecke, Germany’s only other star player and one of Rudi Ball’s close frends, refused to play without him. The Germans, for whom Olympic victory was supremely important, recognized that they had no chance in ice hockey without Jaenecke and that Bell would be a critical asset. Rudi agreed to play for Germany with one stipulation - that his parents be allowed to emigrate.

The Germans finished 5th in Olympic hockey in 1936, because Rudi Ball ended up playing with an injury. The Nazis kept their end of the bargain and the Balls moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. Rudi continued to play for SC Berliner until 1948, when he moved to South Africa. Ball passed away in 1975, He was posthumously inaugurated into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 2004.

Give A Call

Make it a habit to call your family and build your relationship.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Rules for a Burglar

A burglar is, by definition, one who commits the act of breaking and entering a dwelling at night with the intent to commit a felony. This definition is very important in order to understand what the Torah has to say about this particular type of crime.

“If the thief is seized while breaking-in, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case. If the sun has risen on him, there is bloodguilt in that case...” (Exodus 22:1-2).

If a burglar is killed in the act of breaking and entering, the person who killed him is not held liable. The reason for this is explained in the Talmud: “Raba said: What is the reason for the law of breaking-in? Because it is certain that no person will be inactive where their property is concerned; therefore this one [the thief] must have reasoned, ‘If I go there, he [the owner] will oppose me and prevent me; but if he does I will kill him.’ Hence the Torah decreed, ‘If he come to slay you, forestall by slaying him [first]’” (Sanhedrin 72a).

The very next verse, however, states that “if the sun has risen,” if there is light, then the balance changes. The sages saw the interplay of these two connected verses and explained that now, with the ability to see the intruder, one must try to determine the intentions of the burglar before reacting. “If it is as clear to you as the sun that his intentions are not peaceable, slay him; otherwise, do not slay him...If it is as clear to you as the sun that his intentions are peaceable, do not slay him; otherwise, slay him” (ibid).

Finding a person in one’s home in the middle of the night is terrifying, and may be considered justification for responding with violence. The sages, however, offer a warning that before one reacts, one must carefully assess the situation to determine the true threat to one’s life.

Reading Place

Arrange a cozy corner for some relaxing Shabbat reading.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Majority Rules

After the Torah was given, Moses served as the sole judge of the Jewish people until a judicial hierarchy was established at the suggestion of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. One judge was assigned to every hundred men. This judge could appeal, if necessary, to a higher court (a judge over a thousand). Only the most difficult disputes were brought to Moses for adjudication.

While this system was an improvement, it was only the first step in the development of the halachic judicial system. Eventually, the Jewish courts were constructed of three levels:

The Great Sanhedrin was composed of 71 sages and served as both a judicial court and a legislative body.

Little Sanhedrins, each composed of 23 judges, handled capital cases.

The Batei Din (plural for Bet Din, House of Judgement), however, were the most common courts. They dealt with both civil law and religious law. A bet din is composed of three judges and is the only halachic judicial system that still functions today.

The Jewish legal system was an improvement over the common ancient system that consisted of single judges, because it recognizes human fallibility. As Rabbi Ishmael ben Yosi noted (Ethics of the Fathers 4:8): “Do not judge on your own, for there is none qualified to judge alone, only the One [God]. And do not say, ‘You must accept my view,’ for this is their [the majority's] right, not yours.”

Human beings are far too easily swayed: by the tears in a litigant's eyes, by the clothing of the accuser or the title of the defendant, or, God forbid, by outright bribery. Therefore, under the bet din system, even in minor cases, a majority decision is necessary.

This Treat was last posted on June 4, 2009.

Just Ask

Have a question on Jewish law? Ask a local rabbi.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Kotzker

The Chassidic movement, which started with the Baal Shem Tov in the early 1700s, was known for its joyous attitudes, its focus on good deeds and the celebration of miracle makers. Whereas much of the Jewish world was focussed on rigorous learning, Chassidut focussed on a more personal relationship with the Divine. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, brought these two worlds together. By the time he was 13, he had completed the study of the entire Talmud. Although his family was not Chassidic, he was drawn to this fairly new movement and became a student of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshicha. When Reb Simcha Bunim passed away, many of his students chose Reb Menachem Mendel, now living in Kotzk, Poland, as their new rebbe.

The Kotzker Rebbe was known for his impatience with false piety and for his down-to-earth, sometimes sharp-witted, statements. Two examples of his world view are:

People are accustomed to look at the heavens and to wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves to see what happens there. 

Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the thoughts in your heart, all the promises and good sayings in your mouth, and all the good thoughts in your heart, rather you must arise and do.

Beginning in 1839, the Kotzker Rebbe left his followers and went into seclusion until his passing on 22 Shevat 1859, at the age of 72. He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi David Morgensztern. The Kotzker Rebbe left no written works (and burned his manuscripts when they were completed), but, later, his teachings were collected and published by his students.

Better Me

Working on becoming a better person is an important Jewish value.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Meaning of “Lamed”

Today’s Treat is brought to you by the Hebrew letter lamed and the number 30, as that is its value in gematria (a mystical system of understanding deeper meanings through numeric connections). The Twelfth letter of the twenty-two letter Hebrew alphabet, it shares the same sound as the English letter “L.” In its block print form (used in most printing), it is a unique letter that is easily recognizable as it stands taller than all the other letters.

Lamed is special in more than just its appearance and its common usage within words. As with many letters of the Hebrew alphabet, it also stands as a preposition when used as a pre-fix. The letter lamed represents “to” and “for” - as in giving something to the woman or doing something for the man. It is also used when discussing a location to which something or someone is heading. Another unique lamed role is its use to signal the infinitive form. Every Hebrew verbs’s most basic conjugation is its infinitive form (e.g. to speak, to act, to write), and every infinitive in Hebrew starts with the letter lamed.

So why is today’s Treat dedicated to the letter lamed and what is the significance of its connection to 30? Tonight is the annual Dinner of NJOP, the organization that brings you Jewish Treats. This year’s Dinner celebrates 30 years since NJOP was founded (as the National Jewish Outreach Program) by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald.

Thirty is considered an age by which a person has reached maturity. They hopefully have an idea of where they are going in their lives and recognize a pathway toward growing success. Lamed’s connection to the mature 30, but also the preposition “to”/”for” and the basic verb infinitive form, teaches the lesson that this is the time to look forward toward where we are going and to work harder and take action. NJOP at 30 is an experienced educational organization that has made an impact on hundreds of thousands of Jews, and, through Jewish Treats, brings positive joyous, Jewish experiences to tens of thousands more. Having achieved 30 years, now is the time for NJOP and Jewish Treats to move toward the future with vigor.


In honor of NJOP's 30th anniversary, please help support NJOP and Jewish Treats. Click Here

Monday, February 5, 2018

Unexpected Sri Lankan History

Today’s Jewish Treat will take a brief look at an unexpected location for Jewish history: Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon).

Located off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka’s Jewish community today is based in a Chabad House in Columbo, Sri Lanka’s capital city. Despite the oral tradition of Sri Lankans that, as recently as World War II, Columbo actually had a synagogue that was referred to as “The Rotunda,” there is no record of its existence.

A Jewish presence in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) has been traced back to the 10th century, when, according to reports from a Muslim correspondent, the king’s council consisted of four Jews among the sixteen advisers. Noted 12th century Jewish travel writer Benjamin of Tudela reported a community of 3,000 there. But the 16th century brought the Portuguese, whose conquest resulted in most of the Jewish community leaving, hiding or assimilating due to fear of the Inquisition.

Some Jews returned with Dutch colonization in the mid-17th century, and many more came when the British took over in 1802. In fact, in 1809, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Alexander Johnston, proposed encouraging Jewish emigration to boot the economy. The plan never went into effect, but the success of Jews on the island is demonstrable by stories such as that of the prominent Jewish de Worms family. The de Worms established a coffee plantation near Kandy, named the Rothschild Estate (there was a cousin relationship). When coffee failed, the de Worms were one of the first to change their crop to tea. In 1847, Gabriel de Worms stood for election and won a seat on the Legislative Council. However, he never took is seat because he refused to take the Christian oath and no exceptions were allowed. (The de Worms eventually left Sri Lanka in 1865.)

Unfortunately, after independence in 1948, a long-term civil war erupted. During this time, almost all of the Jews of Sri Lanka left for safer harbors.

Today’s Treat is in honor of Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, which was yesterday, February 4th.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Warm Cup of Anything

When you curl up with a hot drink on a cold day, don't forget to thank God by reciting a blessing.

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Phrase of Praise

If you’ve ever been in a synagogue and heard a bunch of congregants seemingly mumble something after the chazzan (prayer leader) recited a blessing and wondered what they were saying, and why, and when...then, hopefully, today’s Jewish Treat will provide you with an answer. The phrase that is recited is Baruch Hu U’varuch Shemo, which means “Blessed is He and blessed be His name.” It is recited in response to hearing God’s name in a blessing (after Baruch Ahtah Ah’doh’nai...Blessed are You God). There are, however, several caveats to its recitation.

During a prayer service, there are certain sections of prayer when one is not permitted to interrupt except to say Amen, which is considered an obligatory response to a full blessing. Saying Baruch Hu U’varuch Shemo, while considered important and praiseworthy, is not obligatory, and, therefore, one would not interrupt during these parts of the service to recite it.

One possible source for the custom of reciting Baruch Hu U’varuch Shemo is, according to Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (aka the ROSH) as cited by his son, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (aka the TUR) in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the verse “When I call upon the name of the Lord, exalt our God” (Deuteronomy 32:3).

Because the recitation of Baruch Hu U’varuch Shemo is to praise God after hearing his name, the phrase is generally not recited when one listens to a blessing that includes his or her fulfilment of a mitzvah, because then it is as if one is saying the blessing one’s self. For example, Kiddush is often recited only by one person at the Shabbat table, but fulfills the mitzvah for everyone present (click here for more on this concept). Only Amen is the proper response.

It should be noted that there are some rabbinic authorities who do not feel that Baruch Hu U’varuch Shemo should ever be recited because it interrupts prayer and hinders one from hearing the blessings properly.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Attention To

When someone says a blessing, pay attention to hear the words.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Feeling Fit Focused on Napoleon

Believe it or not, body building as an international sport, has Jewish roots. Today, in honor of his birth date, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Ben Weider, who, together with his brother Joe, created the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) and played a critical role in the fitness revolution of the twentieth century.

Born on February 1, 1923, Weider dropped out of school at 13 to work. When he came of age, Weider entered the military and, during World War II, served in the Canadian Army’s intelligence division. When he returned to Montreal in 1946, Weider turned his brother’s interest in body building into a business. The brothers started with a small magazine, Your Fitness, through which they also sold equipment and nutritional supplements. Eventually their publications were expanded to include Flex, Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness and Fit Pregnancy. In 1965, the Weiders introduced the first Mr. Olympia competition, which is still considered a top competition for body builders.

Much of Ben Weider’s work consisted of traveling around the world, building up the IFBB and, at the same time, working to enhance peaceful relations between peoples. He built a gym in the Israeli Knesset and was welcomed in numerous Arab states. In the era of the Cold War, he was invited to countries in the Soviet Bloc. He even managed to have an integrated body building IFBB tournament in 1978 South Africa. In 1984, Weider was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Body building was not Weider’s only passion. He was also a self-taught and highly respected Napoleonic scholar. He published four books on Napoleon and introduced the theory that Napoleon died not from stomach cancer but from arsenic poisoning.

Ben Weider passed away on October 17, 2008. Throughout his life, Weider earned numerous honors and awards, such as the Order of Canada and the Order of St, John. For all of his fame, Weider was also a philanthropist who gave generously, particularly within the Montreal Jewish community. The Young Man’s Hebrew Association and the educational complex of the Lubavitch community are two prominent edifices which bear his name.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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