Friday, March 30, 2018

Can You Count to 49?

There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:

Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the Counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Saturday night, March 31st.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Setting the Seder Table

Before beginning the Seder, it is important to make certain that everything necessary is available. No Seder table is complete without the following:

1) Three Unbroken Matzot (Kosher for Passover) -- Many have the custom to use shmura (specially supervised) matzah for the Seders.

2) Wine/Grape Juice (Kosher for Passover) and Wine Glasses -- All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required four cups of Wine/Grape Juice.

3) The Seder Plate -- It is traditional to place the following items on a special Seder plate:

--Bay'tza / Roasted (hard-boiled) Egg, symbolic of the cycle of life because of its round shape and representative of the Jewish character - the more you boil them, the harder they get. The egg also represents the missing chagiga sacrifice that was offered on Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.

--Z'roa / Shank Bone (of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl), representing the Passover lamb offering that we cannot bring today because of the absence of the Temple.

--Maror / Bitter Herbs (often horseradish), reminding participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery.

--Karpas / Vegetable (usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato), which is dipped in salt water as part of the Seder ritual.

--Charoset, a tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples, representing the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh's cities (recipes may vary by community).

--Chazeret / Bitter Vegetable (like romaine lettuce), which starts out sweet but becomes more bitter the longer it stays in the ground.

4) Salt Water -- The karpas (vegetable) is dipped in salt water as a reminder of the tears of the Jewish slaves. Usually, the salt water is not placed on the Seder Plate, but near it.

5) Elijah's Cup -- This cup, filled with wine, is used to invite Elijah the Prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, to come to the Seder, and hopefully, begin our final redemption.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Happy Holiday

NJOP and Jewish Treats wishes you and yours a wonderful Passover seder and a chag kasher v'samayach (a kosher and happy holiday).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Searching for Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is conducted on the night before the seder. (*When the first Seder is Saturday night, Bedikat Chametz is performed on the previous Thursday night.)

Bedikat Chametz begins shortly after nightfall. When one is ready to begin the search, a blessing is recited (see below), after which no talking is permitted with the exception of conversation pertaining to the search itself. Traditionally the search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (one may use a flashlight). Among Ashkenazi Jews, it is also customary to use a feather to "sweep" any chametz crumbs into a paper bag.

Sometimes getting into the right frame of mind for the search may be difficult, especially if the house has already been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. In order to be in the right frame of mind and to make certain that the blessing over the search is not said in vain there is a custom, therefore, to have someone else carefully "hide" ten pieces of chametz (for instance 10 pieces of pretzel wrapped in foil) in the rooms which will be searched. The search will thus be more diligent, and will not conclude until all the rooms have been checked and the 10 pieces found.

When the search is over, one makes a general declaration stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless. The chametz in the bag is set aside to be burned the following morning. One may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast (and Shabbat meals when applicable), making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the chametz bag afterwards.

Please note that there are many situations (for example, someone who is renting a room in a house that is not being cleaned for Passover), where it would be best to consult with a rabbi to determine how to proceed.

The Prayers of “Bedikat Chametz

Blessing before the search:
Ba’ruch ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl Bee'oor chametz.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctifies us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz

Annulment of Ownership of Unknown Chametz (recited after the search is concluded):
Kol chameera va’chamee'ah, d’eeka veer’shootee, d’lah cha’zee’tay, ood’la vee’ar’tay, ood’lah y’dah’nah lay. lee’bah’tayl v’leh’heh’vay hef’ker k’aphra d’arah.

"Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth."

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Fast of the Firstborn

There has always been a lot of pressure on firstborn children, as they were often expected to care for the family property or business in order to ensure stability within the community. Even in modern society, the firstborn usually receives the most attention and the most responsibility.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborns, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborns was also the only plague during which the Israelites needed to take an active role in order not to be affected (marking their doorposts with blood).

While Passover is a commemoration of the story of the Exodus, there is also a special Fast of the Firstborns, which is observed on the 14th of Nissan, the day before the first seder.* It is observed only by the firstborn. This includes minors--except that, halachically, minors (under the age of bar/bat mitzvah) are not supposed to fast. Therefore, it has become the accepted practice that the firstborn’s father fasts instead.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) infers that Egyptian women/girls also died during the Death of the Firstborns, and therefore there are different opinions as to whether firstborn women/girls should fast as well (one should follow the custom of the community).

The Fast of the Firstborns begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall (with the start of the seder). It is customary, however, for those obligated to fast to attend a seudat mitzvah (the feast of a mitzvah) such as a brit milah (circumcision) or, most often, a siyyum (celebration of the completion of studying a section of Torah or Talmud), which cancels the fast.
*unless the fast coincides with Shabbat

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Everyone In

Get the whole household involved in cleaning for Passover and the search for chametz.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dipping Plagues

On the night of the seder, and whenever one recounts the story of the Exodus, the recitation of the 10 plagues presents a particularly dramatic moment. It is interesting to note that the 10 plagues are so essential a part of Jewish history that the sages did not feel it was necessary to explain them in any more detail than to list them.

Blood - Frogs - Lice - Wild Beasts - Pestilence - Boils - Hail - Locusts - Darkness - Plague of the First Born

During the seder, there is an almost universal custom to “spill” a small drop of wine as each plague is recited. (How the wine is removed varies from family to family: some pour the wine out directly from the cup, while some dip a finger or spoon in the wine and remove a drop). Why do we do this?

The Midrash tells us that as the Egyptians were meeting their horrible end in the churning waters of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the angels wished to sing out praise to the Al-mighty. God rebuked them and said “My creations are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises?!” (Talmud Megillah 10b). The custom of spilling the wine, explained the Abrabanel (a famous medieval Spanish commentator), is because wine is a sign of rejoicing. But one should not rejoice when an enemy falls, because they too are creations of God.

This custom of spilling is also performed when the statement “Blood, Fire and A Column of Smoke” is read, that precedes the 10 plagues and also when reciting “D’tzach, Adash, B’achav,” Rabbi Judah’s mnemonic for remembering the plagues in order.

(After spilling, the glass should be refilled before it is used for the second cup.)

This Treat was last posted on April 20, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Why Laban is in the Haggadah

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Passover, it is time to review the important narrative featured in the Haggadah...the story of Laban. Many Jewish Treats readers are, perhaps, scratching their heads and wondering not only what Laban has to do with Passover, but just exactly who he was.

The longest section of the Passover Haggadah is Maggid, the retelling of the Exodus, and the largest section of Maggid, begins with the words:

“Go and learn what Laban the Aramean tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh decreed death only for the newborn males, Laban tried to uproot all of Israel...”

Laban was Jacob’s father-in-law, the father of both Rachel and Leah. When Jacob left his parents’ household, he went to his Uncle Laban, in Padan-Aram, where he remained for over 20 years -- thus Laban is called an Aramean. Laban was a cheater and a thief  -- accumulating wealth was his obsession. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban indentured him for seven years, and then at the wedding switched Rachel for Leah. When Jacob discovered the treachery, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well, but at the price of another 7 years of labor. Twenty years after he wed Rachel and Leah, when Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan-Aram, his father-in-law was greatly angered, yet feigned being hurt by Jacob’s desire to take away his grandchildren (when all he really wanted was Jacob’s wealth).

The Haggadah mentions Laban before describing the Jewish enslavement and redemption in order to underscore the cycle of history. Laban sought to use Jacob for his own purposes, to keep him in Padan-Aram for his own benefit, with false words. So too, Jacob’s descendants were lulled by kind words into a false sense of security and ultimately, into slavery in Egypt.

This Treat was last posted on April 17, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Other Side

Always remember to be compassionate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Seek the Answers

The Four Questions (Mah Nishtana - What makes it different?) is one of the most famous features of the Passover Seder. In Ashkenazi homes, these four lines are recited by the youngest person present, or, quite often, by all the children at the seder.

Before you start scanning your haggadah to discover four answers, wait. The haggadah doesn’t answer any of these questions directly! So why ask them?

The haggadah mimics the style of the Talmud, which is full of rhetorical questions and answers that appear not to match the questions asked. Students of the Talmud, however, learn to understand these type of strange dynamics.

The immediate answer presented in the haggadah is a paragraph known as Avad’im Ha’yee’nu, “We Were Slaves...”:

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord our God took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Had God not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, then we, our children and our grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if we all were wise and perceptive, experienced and well-versed in Torah, it would still be our duty to tell about the exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about the exodus, the more praise one deserves.

The Four Questions are left unanswered because they are meant to encourage children (and adults) to listen for the answers. In a way, the answers are there. We eat matzah because this was the bread of affliction of our ancestors in Egypt. We eat maror, bitter herbs, to remember the pain of slavery. We dip our vegetables (first the karpas and then the maror) and we recline as we eat (except the maror), because these are the ways of free people. And the answer to all of the questions of the seder truly is...we were slaves and now we are free, all, thanks to God.

This Treat was last posted on April 19, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Tap on the Head

The history of the Jews of Spain is one of glory and fear. By the end of the 15th century, Jewish life was something celebrated in dark cellars with the ever-present fear of discovery. Before the Inquisition, however, the Jews had a beautiful and unique culture, remnants of which are found in the shared customs of Sephardic Jewry around the world. 

One poignant Passover custom that can be found among Jews descended from the dispersed Spanish community is tapping the seder plate. The seder leader takes the seder plate and taps it or passes it over the head of each seder participant. In some places, the custom is to do so three times for each participant. References to this custom have been found as early as the mid-fourteenth century. 

While many attribute luck for the year to come to this custom, this is a superstition that becomes associated with an already established custom. Like so many traditions of the Passover seder, the root of the custom of tapping participants’ heads with the seder plate is rooted in the desire to cause the children to ask questions. The seder plate is the equivalent to the table mentioned in Talmud Pesachim 115b: “Why do we remove the table (a custom noted earlier in the text)? The school of Rabbi Yannai said: So that the children will see and inquire.” As the table was removed, it was lifted over the heads of the participants or the children, and thus the custom evolved. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved


Prepare questions to ask at the seder.

Monday, March 26, 2018

You Are Royalty

Passover is known as the festival of freedom. And who is more free than royalty? At the Seder, all Jews are supposed to consider themselves royalty. Some of the ways we demonstrate this are: 

LEANING - As a sign of royalty, the Sages taught that one must lean to one’s left while drinking the wine and eating the matzah. In the time of the Mishnah, it was customary for royalty to eat in a lounging position. (Think of pictures of Roman nobles eating.) In many Jewish homes, people cover the pillows upon which they lean, with fancy, decorated pillowcases. In fact, decorating Passover pillowcases is a great way to involve the children in preparations for the holiday.

 RED WINE - While wine connoisseurs around the world may argue over white versus red, sweet versus dry, etc., Jewish tradition strongly recommends that the wine at the Seder be red. Why red? In ancient times, wine merchants sometimes watered down the white wines, making it cheaper both in price and quality. Thus, since we Jews live as royalty for this evening, red wine is recommended. Additionally, red wine reminds us of the blood of the Jewish people slaughtered by Pharaoh. (However, if you strongly prefer white wine, by all means, drink it.)

 POURING THE WINE - Would a king or queen pour their own wine? Not likely. It is therefore customary at the seder that one does not pour his/her own wine. However, since the wine cups must be refilled, and most of us do not have a wait staff at the seder, it is customary that each person fill the glass of the person next to him/her at the table.

 This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover. 

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Who Knows One?

How does one transmit basic theology in a fun manner to tired seder guests? The answer is--with song. Many see this as one of the purposes of the Nirtzah, the final section of the Haggadah. With the exception of “One Kid” (Chad Gad’ya), perhaps the best known song of Nirtzah is “Who Knows One?” (Echad Mee Yo’day’ah?)

 The song begins with the question, “Who knows one?” and the response, “I know one, one is our God of the heavens and the earth.” This is followed by “Who knows two? Two are the tablets of the law, and one is our God of the heavens and the earth.” The song continues until verse thirteen, and with each additional number, the preceding responses are repeated. The final complete stanza is as follows:

Who knows thirteen? I know thirteen. Thirteen are the attributes of God’s mercy. Twelve are the Tribes of Israel, Eleven are the stars in Joseph’s dream. Ten are the Commandments. Nine are the months until a baby is born. Eight are the days until the brit milah (circumcision). Seven are thedays of the week. Six are the tracts of the Mishnah. Five are the books of the Torah. Four are the mothers (matriarchs), and three are the fathers (patriarchs), and two are the tablets of the law. And one is our God of the heaven and the earth.

 Although “Who Knows One” presents some basic Jewish facts (the holy books, the matriarchs and the patriarchs, etc.), its recurring verse, “One is our God of the heavens and the earth,” is a poetic rendition of Judaism’s most fundamental prayer: Sh'ma Yis'ra'el A'doh'nai Eh'lo'hay'nu A'doh'nai Echad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" Deuteronomy 6:4).

This Treat was published on March 31, 2015.

 Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Sentimental Purchase

Purchase an item for Passover that will make you feel like royalty.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Passover Story in Brief

On Passover, we commemorate the exodus from Egyptian slavery. The following is a brief summary:

Jacob's family came to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Joseph, Jacob's son and the Viceroy to Pharaoh, settled his family in the land of Goshen, apart from the Egyptians.

Joseph's contribution to Egyptian society was forgotten after his death, and the new Pharaoh, feeling threatened by the demographic success of the Israelites, enslaved them with cruel and bitter labor. According to the Midrash, Pharaoh was alerted to a prophecy that the Israelites would be led to freedom by a boy yet to be born, so he ordered all newborn Jewish boys cast into the Nile. Yocheved set her newborn son (Moses) adrift in the Nile in a basket to escape the decree, where he was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who adopted him.

Years later, Moses came upon an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Outraged, Moses slew the Egyptian and then fled Egypt fearing that his action had been discovered. He took refuge in Midian with Jethro and married Jethro's daughter, Tziporah. While shepherding Jethro's sheep, Moses came upon a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire and from which he heard God's voice instructing him to go back and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses, joined by his older brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites. Pharaoh repeatedly said no--nine times. Each time he said no, another plague (blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness) struck Egypt. Finally, God struck all the Egyptian first born dead. After this tenth and final plague, Pharaoh finally said "yes," and the Jews left Egypt, matzah in hand.

Pharaoh changed his mind and chased the Israelites, who were eventually trapped between the Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds. But the Sea miraculously split and they crossed safely while the Egyptians drowned in the returning waters. According to the Midrash, only Pharaoh survived.

The Israelites then continued their journey to Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Time of Freedom?

The sages refer to the holiday of Passover as Zman Chay’roo’tay’noo, the time of our freedom. This may seem obvious, since Passover celebrates the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. But did you know that on several occasions the Israelites demanded to return to Egypt, back to slavery?

Indeed, when they felt trapped at the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the Israelites cried out that it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt. While one might justify their actions by stating that they were certain that they faced imminent death, it is important to remember that these were the very same people who had witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues.

Some commentators explain that what the people truly feared, both at the Sea of Reeds and in the Wilderness, was not death, but freedom! Suddenly they were responsible for their own decisions and their own actions.

So what is the “freedom” that we celebrate on Passover?

In Ethics of the Fathers (6:2), Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says: "... And it says (Exodus 32:16): ‘And the tablets are the work of God, and the writing is God's writing, engraved on the tablets.’ Don't read the text as 'chah’rut' (engraved) but rather as 'chay’root' (liberty)--for there is no free individual, except for one who occupies himself with the study of Torah...”

How can Torah learning be equated to freedom--after all, don’t we speak of the “yoke” of Torah and describe Torah as a “burden”?

One certainly might view the mitzvot as restrictive, unless it is understood that without structure and order in the world, without rules and boundaries, there is anarchy and chaos. Only by living by the guidelines of the universe (the Torah), which God gave the Israelites when He gave them the Torah, can one attain true freedom.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Have Haggadah

Confirm that you have enough Haggadahs for the number of guests that you expect to have at the seder.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Great Shabbat

The Shabbat immediately preceding Passover is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It is best known for being the Shabbat on which the rabbi of the community (or another leading scholar) gives a detailed sermon that is often a review of the laws of Passover. While it has been suggested that these sermons are the source of the title "HaGadol" (gadol means both great and large), there is an actual historical significance to this Shabbat.

In the year that the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, God commanded the Jewish people that on the 10th of Nissan, each Israelite household (or combination of households) must take a lamb to use for a sacrifice (Exodus 12:3). Choosing a lamb for a sacrifice might not seem like a big deal, but the Egyptians viewed sheep as holy animals. (Having lived among the Egyptians for so long, many Israelites had assumed the false belief that sheep have special spiritual significance.) By taking the sheep and preparing it for slaughter, the people displayed defiance of their Egyptian masters and rejected any religious significance for the sheep itself.

Shabbat HaGadol is marked in synagogue by the reading of a special haftarah from the book of Malachi (3:3-24). Some people connect the concluding line of this reading to the term Shabbat HaGadol: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great (hagadol) and awesome day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." (3:23-24).

Passover is the holiday on which Jews celebrate redemption, and Elijah the prophet will be the harbinger of the final redemption, the coming of the Messiah. The ultimate redemption cannot come, however, until the Jewish people do teshuva (repent). Some scholars, such as the Chatam Sofer, have commented that this is the true meaning of Shabbat HaGadol - that when the Israelites began their preparations for the exodus by taking a lamb into their house, they were doing teshuva for having followed the ways of their Egyptian neighbors.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover Seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the Seder is derived from the four stages through which God promised to redeem the Jews from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am God and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the Seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Hagaddah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus, as a way of praising God. The blessing on wine is made a second time, because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a single cup of wine or grape juice is blessed, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all present bless and drink their own cup of wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising God, and marks the conclusion of the food part of the seder.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Shabbat Review

Spend time this Shabbat reviewing the laws and ideas of Passover.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Afikomen

Those who have attended a Passover Seder know that one of the most beloved Seder traditions is the hiding* of the afikomen, a specially designated half-piece of matzah. But what exactly is the afikomen?

The word afikomen is of Greek origin and, while its exact translation has been lost, seems to refer to after-dinner deserts, drinks and entertainment. In reference to Passover, the Mishnah states (Pesachim 119b-120a) that “One may not conclude the Paschal meal [by saying] ‘Now to the entertainment’ was taught as Rabbi Johanan, ‘You must not conclude after the Paschal meal with dates, parched ears and nuts [desserts].”’ (Don’t eat anything more...)

Initially, the halacha was that the eating of the Paschal lamb marked the conclusion of the seder feast. After the destruction of the Temple (since the Paschal lamb can no longer be brought), the sages ordained that matzah must be the last taste one has at the seder. Since this matzah was eaten in lieu of the afikomen (meaning dessert, drinks and entertainment) it assumed the name “afikomen.”

While the afikomen is involved in several steps of the seder (Yachatz - when the middle matzah is broken in half and the larger piece is set aside for the afikomen, and Tzaphun, when the afikomen is eaten), it is only vaguely mentioned in the Haggadah.

There are many differences in customs involving the afikomen, depending on one’s background. Ashkenazim hide the afikomen (and find it) as a means of keeping the children interested. Iraqi Jews conduct a dialogue while holding it. (“Where are you from?” “Egypt.” “Where are you going?” “Jerusalem.”) Many North African Jews wrap the afikomen in white and carry it around the room on their shoulders.

*an Ashkenazi tradition

This Treat was last posted on April 18, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Cut Off

"...Be as scrupulous in performing a 'minor' mitzvah as a 'major' one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvot. Calculate the...reward of a sin against its cost" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1). While we do not know the full reward and punishment for each mitzvah in the Torah, there are some actions that are so severe that God Himself informs us that they are punishable by the dreaded kareit.

Kareit, often defined as excision, is extremely hard to comprehend. In fact, the sages of the Talmud even debate what this punishment is. Many sages and rabbinic leaders have also noted that kareit may have a different effect on people today than it did in the days of the Holy Temple.

Kareit is often translated as being cut-off. It is believed that, in times when our connection to the spiritual realm was more tangible, kareit was actual death. (Not instant death, but rather death at a young age--under 60--accompanied by a lack of further offspring.) But, kareit is also understood as a spiritual excommunication, in which one's soul is cut off from God.

There are 36 transgressions for which one might receive kareit, but only if one is forewarned and purposefully committed the transgression and did not repent for the act. Some offenses for which one is punished by kareit are: incest, eating blood, and consulting ghosts or spirits.

Almost all of the sins for which kareit is a punishment are prohibitions. However, there are two positive commandments for which kareit is the punishment when they are not fulfilled. These are (1) to have oneself circumcised (if not done when a man was a baby) and (2) to offer the Paschal lamb (in Temple times and when one was not in a category allowing for exemption).

This Treat was last posted on April 17,  2016.

Matzah Here

Purchase matzah in advance of the seder.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Beauty of the Book

Illuminated manuscripts inlaid with gold or silver leaf and spectacularly illustrated are most often associated with the Medieval church (the Gospels, Psalters, etc), where texts were generally hand-copied until Western Europeans discovered the printing press.

The Jewish world, however, has often been influenced by its surrounding communities and it is, therefore, not at all surprising that Jewish illuminated manuscripts exist as well. Although many Jewish books and texts were destroyed in the course of Jewish history, whether by natural disintegration or, more often, in the flames of pogroms and book-burnings, many important manuscripts have been preserved. Of these, the two most famous are Haggadot.

While it is known that the Sarajevo Haggadah was created in the mid-1300s, its exact origins are unknown. The history of this Haggadah, however, is well established: it changed hands in 1510, there is a note from 1609 stating that the Haggadah does not speak against the Church, and, in 1892, Josef Cohen tried to sell it. It was bought by the National Museum in Sarajevo and tucked away for safe -keeping due to its delicate nature. The curators even managed to keep it from the Nazis and hid it during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Haggadah was displayed for the public during Passover in 1995.

The Birds’ Head Haggadah is named after the distinctive figures used in its illustrations. Creating humanoid figures with bird-like faces was one way Jewish artists avoided violating the practice of not creating images of humans. (The artist used other facial distortions as well). Discovered in 1946, the Birds' Head Haggadah is among the oldest surviving Ashkenazi illuminated Haggadot (late 13th century). Its origin is placed in Southern Germany, where Jews were mandated to wear the conical “Jew’s Hat” shown on the adult male figures in the Haggadah.

This Treat was last posted on April 13, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Kitniyot and Gebruchts

Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Hungarian, Yekke (German), Litvak (Lithuanian)?

At no other time on the Jewish calendar is it so important to know your ancestry as it is on Passover. What one does or does not eat on Passover (beyond obvious chametz) is strongly dictated by ancestral customs.* Here’s how it matters:

Kitniyot (Legumes) - During the holiday of Passover, Ashkenazim follow a rabbinic decree not to eat foods containing kitniyot, such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. This rule was established because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover. The decree only prohibits the eating; products containing kitniyot do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in most Sephardi communities. However, while Sephardim may eat rice, beans, etc., the food must be thoroughly checked to make certain that it is not mixed with chametz.

Gebrouchts (Wet Matzah) - Another custom followed by Ashkenazi Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchts. Gebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided out of a concern that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined. Those who are stringent not to eat gebrouchts will therefore not eat matzah balls, matzah brie, matzah lasagna, etc. Those who refrain from gebrouchts will eat them on the eighth day, since this is an extra day observed only outside of Israel.

This custom was broadly accepted in many Chassidic communities (Hungary, Galicia, Romania). In those communities where mitnagdim (non-Chassidic) were dominant (Lithuania, Germany), it was almost considered a mitzvah to eat gebrouchts food in order to make the point that it was permissible.

*Traditionally, one follows the customs of the paternal line. For example, if a Russian woman marries a German man, she follows his “Yekke” customs, as do the children. Those who cannot trace back their lineage to know their family customs should consult their rabbi.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Eat It Up

Go through your cupboards and begin using up the chametz food that you currently own.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Benjamin’s Great Journey

Today, when someone talks about traveling through Europe or Asia, it is hardly surprising. In fact, thousands of young adults do it every year. In the 12th century, however, traveling between cities, let alone countries, was fraught with many dangers. For most, traveling was not even a thought, but for Medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela, it became a way of life.

There is no real information about the early years of Benjamin’s life other than that he was born in Tudela in the Kingdom of Navarro (which is now Spain). Nor is it known why he set out on his great journey to most of the regions of the known world. The rest, the details of his travels, Benjamin compiled and published as Sefer Masaot Benjamin MiTudela (The Book of Itineraries of Benjamin of Tudela).

Visiting over 300 cities, Benjamin went from the Iberian Peninsula to Central Europe (France, Italy, Greece) to Constantinople and on to the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine) and Mesopotamia (Iraq and Iran) before heading home via Arabia and Egypt. In addition to general travel commentary and location descriptions, Benjamin wrote a great deal about the many Jewish communities that he encountered. He recorded facts such as demographics and took note of the local leadership (both political and religious) and customs. Included in Benjamin’s writing were also comments on life under Muslim rule and Christian rule, observations on Samaritans and Karites, and descriptions of encounters with al-Hashishim (“Assassins”). He is considered one of the first Westerners to mention China by that name, nearly 100 years before Marco Polo.

Benjamin of Tudela traveled and wrote from approximately 1160 until 1172. It is unclear how long he lived after that. His work was translated into Latin and many other languages, and it is still used as a reference by historians today.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Community Variations

Rejoice in the variations of Jewish traditions in different communities.

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.