Thursday, May 31, 2018

Waving Levites

Every society, large and small, has a hierarchy, and in the society defined by the Torah for the Children of Israel, there is a well-defined system that guides its spiritual life. The basic Jewish hierarchy consists of three groups: the kohanim (priests), who performed the lead role in the sacrificial services in the Tabernacle/Temple; the Levites, who were designated to serve and assist the kohanim in maintaining the service in the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple; and the Children of Israel, who fulfill their spiritual obligations through the sacrificial service;

God chose the Levites to take the place of the firstborn Israelites, who were originally meant to serve the kohanim but were denied that honor for joining in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Levites inauguration was marked by a specific ceremony during which the entire tribe was presented as a “wave offering,” in which each Levite was physically lifted off of the ground and “waved” north, south, east, west, up and down:

You [Moses] shall present the Levites before God, and the Children of Israel shall lay their hands upon the Levites. An Aharon shall offer the Levites before God for a wave-offering from the Children of Israel, that they may do the service of God (Numbers 8:10-11) ... And I [God] have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel. And I have given the Levites to Aaron and to his sons from among- the Children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tent of meeting (ibid. 18-19).

The wave offering of Levites was a one-time event. It is fascinating to contemplate the ceremony’s purpose and its effect on the nation as a whole. By the Children of Israel “laying hands” upon the Levites and participating in the wave offering, the nation performed a physical act demonstrating their acceptance of the Levites’ elevated status, and, at the same time, confirmed the God-given role of the Levites to assist the Kohanim in the spiritual service of the people.

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Always Check

Make it a habit to check food packaging for kosher certification, even if it is something you have purchased before.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Batsheva and David

The story of David and Batsheva is one of the most famous “romantic” stories in the Biblical canon, and one of the most controversial.

Batsheva's first husband, Uriah, was a soldier in King David's army. The Midrash tells us that Uriah gave his wife a "conditional divorce," as did all soldiers in David's army. This agreement stated that if the husband did not return safely from battle, the couple were officially divorced as of the date of the husband’s departure for war (so that there was no question about a woman's ability to remarry if her husband never returned).

The army went to battle, however, King David remained in Jerusalem. One evening, David saw Batsheva bathing on a neighboring roof. He invited her to the palace and, well ... When Batsheva informed him that she was with child, David called Uriah back from war and instructed him to take a visit home. Uriah, however, insisted on remaining with his troops. Angered by Uriah's refusal to follow his orders, the king quickly dispatched him back to the front, where Uriah was killed in action.

David erred in trying to cover up his actions, but because Uriah refused to visit his wife and then died before reuniting with her, the conditional divorce went into effect from the date of Uriah’s departure to battle, allowing David and Batsheva to legally wed.

Nevertheless, the prophet Nathan chastised David for his actions. The depth and sincerity of David's repentance is one of the qualities for which David is praised.

Batsheva and David’s first son died, but their second son, Solomon, survived.

This Treat is taken from NJOP’s Aishet Chayil Study Program.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Favorable Reasoning

Assess all information with the goal of finding favorable reasoning for the actions of others. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Celebrating a Daughter

On his 8th day of life, a baby boy has his brit milah (circumcision) and is given a Jewish name. But how do Jews celebrate the birth of a girl? While there are no mandatory rituals in honor of a Jewish girl’s birth, it is customary to name her during a Torah reading service after her birth. Many people wait until Shabbat,  but the naming can also take place on Monday or Thursday, or if there is a special Torah reading such as Rosh Chodesh.

There are additional customs of celebration, as well, depending on one’s background or community.

In traditional Ashkenazic society, there is a strong custom that the parents sponsor a special kiddush (refreshments for the congregation or community) after services on a Shabbat within one year of the girl's birth. In this way, the parents not only publicly celebrate the great gift they have been given, but also give their friends and neighbors the opportunity to offer their blessings to the child and to the family.

There is a Sephardic custom called the Zeved Ha'bat (The Gift of a Daughter), which is a combination of both a formal feast and baby naming. Over the last few decades, many non-Sephardic North American communities have also begun to celebrate what is called a Shalom Bat (Welcoming a Daughter) similar to the Zeved Ha'bat.

This Treat was last posted on June 16, 2009.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mazal Tov

When invited to a kiddush in honor of the birth of a girl, make certain to go over to the parents and wish them mazal tov.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Memorial Day Look At The Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery, the United States’ most noted military burial ground, was established in May 1864. At that time, and for half a century thereafter, military tombstones bore no markers distinguishing people of different faith, and so the Jewish soldiers who had the honor of an Arlington burial passed into history unidentified as Jews.

In the early 1990s, a man named Kenneth Poch learned of the Jewish Civil War soldiers buried in Arlington through Mel Young’s book Where They Lie: Someone Should Say Kaddish. A Brooklyn native living in Reston, VA, Poch went to Arlington to visit the graves of those soldiers and realized that all around him, within the mass of white grave markers, there was a history that needed to be recorded and made public. For the next ten years, until he succumbed to ALS in December 2003, Poch researched and recorded the fascinating stories of the Jews buried at Arlington.

Some of these soldiers died in war, such as Private First Class Robert Cohen, who was shot in the woods by the Nazis along with 85 other American Prisoners of War, and Sergeant Major Lawrence Freedman (nicknamed “Super Jew”), who was killed in Somalia in 1993.

Other soldiers were buried at Arlington after long, productive post-war years. These include Sir Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate soldier who became a famous sculptor and was knighted both in Italy and Germany, and Rear Admiral Bertram Korn, the highest ranking Jewish chaplain in U.S. military history.

In addition to soldiers, the graves of Arlington include burial sites for military nurses such as Lieutenant Colonel Rae Landy, and astronauts, including Judith Resnick of the Challenger Mission.

Upon his death, Poch’s incredible collection of research files were donated to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For Freedom

Take the time to honor those soldiers who have given their all to protect our freedom.

Friday, May 25, 2018

It’s About the Relationship

Marriage, in the construct of Jewish law, is a practical agreement by which, at its most basic, a woman is guaranteed support and protection and a man has the prospect of progeny to carry on his family line. The knowledge of a child’s paternity, assumed guaranteed by the sanctity of marriage, was significant for both keeping the inherited land in the family and, more widely, maintaining the tribal holdings in the era before the exile of the ten northern tribes.

The issues of tribal identity and land ownership is connected to one’s paternity (whereas one’s Jewish heritage is matrilineal), thus the practical necessity of the prohibition against adultery. But, those represent only one aspect of the consequences of infidelity. The act of marrying, whether for business-like reasons or for love, fosters the creation of a sacred trust, and adultery betrays that trust. Thus, when it is discovered or admitted that a married woman had relations with a man other than her husband, it is regarded in Jewish law as a capital crime.

But what happens when a man grows jealous of his wife and believes, whether true or not, that his wife had been unfaithful? What happens if he warns her not to be seen alone with the man of whom he is jealous, but she is witnessed in seclusion with the paramour anyway? This is the specific situation for the “ordeal of the bitter waters” described in the fifth chapter of the Book of Numbers. The ritual, which could only take place in the time of the Tabernacle or the Temple, is extremely complex, and today’s Treat will not go into its details, about which much commentary has been written. The results of a guilty woman drinking the bitter water was the enigmatic consequence that her “belly will swell and [her] thigh waste away” (5:27). However, if she was innocent, she was unaffected.

At the heart of the concept of Sotah (the term for the suspected wife), is the poisoned relationship of this husband and wife. He is jealous, but she is also not guiltless. She is acting in a way that promotes his jealousy (secluding herself with another man after being warned not to). When reading the verses of the Sotah, or hearing reference to it, think not of fairness and accusations, but of how very difficult a relationship had become for the husband to be willing to call out his wife for a public ordeal with the accusation of adultery. The purpose of the Sotah ritual is to try to save the marriage by proving the wife’s innocence through a Divine test.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For Peace

Always do what you can to promote a peaceful relationship between a husband and wife. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cover Your Ears

Understanding proper speech, according to Jewish tradition, is critical to one’s personal development. Proper speech does not refer to manners or etiquette, but rather to avoiding a broad category of speech known as lashon harah. While lashon harah is literally translated as evil speech, it is most often known as gossip and malicious speech.

Since the root of lashon harah is speech, it might be surprising to learn that the act of listening to lashon harah is considered more problematic than actually speaking evil, because active, positive listening supports and encourages the speaker. By listening to lashon harah, one risks transgressing the additional Torah prohibition against accepting a false report.

Almost everyone has, at one time or another, found themselves in a situation where they are in a group or with a friend, and the conversation turns “toxic.” Sometimes it is malicious, sometimes it’s innocent, and sometimes it just seems fun. How should one respond? If possible, change the subject or step away from the conversation. If, however, one cannot withdraw from the situation, then it is very important not to accept what is being said as fact.

There is, however, yet another twist to the laws of listening to lashon harah. There are some situations in which one is actually permitted to listen to a person’s negative speech - but always to be taken with a “grain of salt.” For instance, one may listen, if one believes that they can help a bad situation and bring peace between the two sides or, perhaps, right a wrong. If one believes that allowing the speaker to vent will sooth the situation, then one can even listen, but not accept what is being said as true.

The laws of lashon harah are often intuitive and yet complicated at the same time, and many books have been written on the topic. At the core of these laws, however, is Judaism’s constant goal of pursuing interpersonal peace.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Line on Hand

Prepare a line to have on hand to remove yourself from a negative conversation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rabbi Tarfon

Studying the Talmud is a most exciting adventure that introduces a person to a host of intriguing historic personalities who had a profound impact on Jewish life. With so many different sages spanning several generations, it is often hard to see these rabbis as individuals. Today’s Jewish Treat presents a brief biographical background of one such sage: Rabbi Tarfon.

If the name Rabbi Tarfon rings familiar, it might be because he is one of the five sages named in the Haggadah who stayed awake all night reciting the story of the Exodus. He is also cited twice in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers. In fact, Rabbi Tarfon is quoted close to 50 times throughout the Mishna, often in dialogue with Rabbi Akiva.

Part of the third generation of Mishna sages, Rabbi Tarfon was a kohen (priest) who was born before the destruction of the Second Temple and could actually recall witnessing the Temple service, even hearing the voice of the High Priest. He also came from a wealthy family and was known for his generosity. He accepted terumah (an offering/tithe given to the priests) in order for the mitzvah to be fulfilled, and when he participated in a pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn), he gave away what he had been paid.

The Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah relays one interesting incident that seems to personify Rabbi Tarfon and his relationship with Rabbi Akiva, who was both his friend and his student.  Rabbi Tarfon accepted an offer from Rabbi Akiva to invest in some “durable goods.” Rabbi Akiva took Rabbi Tarfon’s money and gave it to poor Torah scholars. When Rabbi Tarfon asked about his investment, Rabbi Akiva brought him to a Torah study hall and declared that these were the “durable goods.” Rabbi Tarfon was delighted and declared Rabbi Akiva his teacher in wisdom and in conduct.”

Although not confirmed, it is believed that Rabbi Tarfon’s burial site is in a sealed cave on Mount Meron in Israel.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study Buddy Plus

Support local establishments that encourage Jewish scholarship.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Wise as Solomon

King Solomon is best known for his brilliance and wisdom, attributes that were actually a requested gift from God. It happened this way:

One night, God spoke to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he desired. The adolescent Solomon responded that he was “but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in” (Kings I 3:7). He therefore requested that God “give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge Your great people?” (Kings I 3:9).

In the dream, God grants him his wish, greatly pleased that Solomon had not requested riches or vengeance upon Israel’s enemies (or his own).

Solomon’s new-found wisdom is quickly tested by the famous “Case of the Two Mothers.”

Two harlots who lived together gave birth within a few days of each other. Harlot A claimed that Harlot B had accidentally lain on her own child and killed him, and then exchanged the dead baby for Harlot A's living baby. The defendant's response was, "No! The living one is mine!" Solomon listened to them and, unable to clarify the case without witnesses, he surprised everyone by ordering that the child be cut in two, giving each mother half.

Solomon knew the true mother (and awarded her the baby) when she called out a plea to retract his cruel order, offering to waive her claim to save the baby's life. The other woman, however, insisted on letting the sword do its grisly work. (Kings I 3:16-27).

This Treat was last posted on June 2003, 2009.

Help Me, Please

Don't hesitate to ask God for help in becoming a better person.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Give Them a Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder ... and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. Perhaps this is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.
This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Two Pillars of Five

Jewish law, and thus Jewish life, rests on two pillars, the mitzvot between a person and God and the mitzvot between one person and another. These two pillars of law are laid out in the Ten Commandments.

According to the sages, the first five commandments concern one’s relationship with God. The second five are concerned with interpersonal relationships. Strikingly enough, these two sets of five parallel each other:

1) I am the Lord your God and 6) Do not murder: When someone murders another person, the perpetrator, in effect, denies that the victim is created b’tzelem Eh'lokim, made in the image of God. A murderer assumes that there is no higher power who will either punish him/her or who will punish the person whom he/she feels has wronged him/her.

2) You shall have no idols and 7) Do not commit adultery: Just as adultery is being unfaithful to one’s spouse, worshiping idols is tantamount to being unfaithful to God.

3) Do not make a false oath and 8) Do not steal: One who swears falsely in God’s name distorts the trust that people place in God to uphold justice. One who steals twists the trust another person puts in him/her.

4) Sanctify the Sabbath and 9) Do not bear false witness: By sanctifying the Sabbath day, one bears testimony that God created the world and redeemed the Jews from Egypt. Violating the Sabbath denies both.

5) Honor your mother and father and 10) Do not covet your neighbor's possessions: By honoring our parents, we recognize God as our Creator, thereby honoring Him as well. When we covet our neighbor's possessions we deny God as the Ruler of the world and believe that we have been denied something that we deserve.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

To You All

NJOP and Jewish Treats wish you all a wonderful and meaningful Shavuot holiday.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. When they reached Israel, however, Naomi urged them to go back to their fathers’ homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi]  go, I shall go, your people will be my people...your land will be my land, and your God will be my God" (1:16).

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s family had fled the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

In the meantime, the elders of Bethlehem debated whether Ruth was a true convert and whether she could marry a Jewish man. Naomi, however, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere. She directed Ruth to go to the ceremony at the close of the threshing and seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, which, according to tradition, is the anniversary of David's birth and death.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Preparing for the Torah

Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves. 

There is no way to describe the effects of being in the presence of God because there is no human being alive today who has experienced this level of holiness. In fact, Moses was the only prophet who had direct interaction with God, and God’s Presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given was a one-time-only event. 

However, it is understood that being in the Divine Presence requires preparation, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses, prepared themselves for three days. They washed their clothes and prepared their souls. 

It was not just the people who needed to be prepared. God’s presence affected the inanimate earth as well. The Israelites were instructed, under threat of death, not to go up, or even draw close to, the mountain until the shofar was sounded. 

The three days preceding Shavuot (Sivan 3, 4 and 5) are known as Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of boundaries. These three days were, and still are, days of preparation. Today, while we do not stand at the physical base of Mount Sinai, we can, and should, prepare ourselves to ascend to a higher level of spirituality and religious commitment on Shavuot. 

Today is the first day of the Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of preparation. The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah, begins on Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat.  

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The First Ten Reviewed

Prepare for Shavuot by reviewing the Ten Commandments.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Day of Distinction

On the first day of Sivan in the year 2448 (Jewish calendar), only seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the Wilderness of Sinai. On the desert plain around the mountain, they set up camp and watched as Moses set off toward the mountain to hear God's will.

The next morning, Moses called for the elders of Israel and transmitted God's message to them (which they then related to the rest of the nation). God had instructed Moses to tell the Israelites:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now, therefore, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).

On that day, 2 Sivan 2448, the Israelites made the most monumental decision in history. They chose to become a people with a distinct and direct relationship with God. They chose to become God's servants, to follow His rules and to faithfully serve Him. They chose to strive for holiness. On the second of Sivan, they chose to be “chosen” when they responded with one voice: “All that God has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

The second day of Sivan is not marked as a holiday, as is the sixth of Sivan (Shavuot), the day on which the Israelites actually received the Torah. However, to honor the agreement that was presented and accepted on this day, the second of Sivan is known as Yom Ha'meyuchas, the Day of Distinction.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Whose First Fruits

When the Oral Law was first codified, most Jews lived in agrarian settings. Today, being less familiar with agrarian culture, some people find it difficult to relate to some of the discussions in the Mishna (Oral Law) regarding planting or livestock. Although we may no longer farm or herd flocks, the importance of responsible land ownership and use is a value that has remained throughout time.

For Jewish farmers in the land of Israel, one of the mitzvot that is part of the cycle of crop production is that of bikkurim, the first fruit offering. The first fruit to blossom on each plant of the seven species of the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) is marked (with a string) to be set aside for an offering at the Temple. One might assume that this mitzvah would apply to all farmers, but, in fact, the rabbis understood the pronouns in this commandment to be very specific: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land” (Deuteronomy 26:2).

The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:2) states that “tenants, lessees, or occupiers of confiscated property--or a robber--may not bring them...because it says, ‘the first-fruits of your land.’” As significant as the first fruits are, the relationship of the farmer to the land upon which the plant grows is also important.

But ownership of the land is not the only criteria. “These may not bring them [bikkurim]: He who plants on his own soil, but sinks [a shoot] so that [it] nourishes from the territory belonging to an individual or to the public...[or similarly] that it grows on his own property”(Bikkurim1:1). In other words, this mitzvah can only be performed by one who makes certain not to infringe on the property rights of others or the public.

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved


Use Shavuot as a time to recommit yourself to Jewish living.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Saturday night (May 19th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their normal human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In the Wilderness

The Torah was given to the Jewish nation in the midst of the wilderness on a tiny mountain called Sinai. Throughout the Torah, however, there is much focus on the “Promised Land” and the mitzvot that can only be performed when the Israelites settle the land.

There are two significant ideas that one may learn from the fact that the Torah was given in the desert:

1) The Torah is not only for those who live in the Land of Israel. Its laws and precepts are meant to be practiced by the Jewish People no matter where they may live. (It must, of course, be noted that there are a significant number of mitzvot that can only be observed in the Land of Israel itself.)

2) Attaining possession of the Holy Land is a great reward. The Israelites spent their time in the wilderness preparing themselves, studying and practicing the laws of the Torah. The books of the Prophets, which record the history of the Jewish people following their entry into the Promised Land, teach that whenever the people strayed from the Torah, the land was conquered and the people subjugated until they mended their ways.

There is no question that the Jews are bound to the Land of Israel. This fact is evident throughout the Bible, the Talmud, the liturgy, and the extensive canon of Jewish writing. Judaism, however, is bigger than a particular location. Judaism is a way of living wherever a Jew may be.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

A Menu to Plan

Plan and begin to prepare a holiday menu for this upcoming weekend's Shabbat-Shavuot celebration.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Green Cheesecake at Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Different Set of Loaves

There are several well-known connections between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The most obvious of these is that the celebration of Shavuot is dependent on the count of 49 days that begins on the second day of Passover. Additionally, on Passover we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and on Shavuot we celebrate the true culmination of that event, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

One fascinating juxtaposition of the two festivals is that whereas on Passover there is a prohibition against eating bread, on Shavuot the priests brought a special Offering of the Two Loaves (of bread) in the Temple. In fact, they were specifically leavened bread (chametz), as opposed to the unleavened bread (matzah) of Passover. The holiday of Shavuot is also known as Chag Habikurim, the Holiday of the First Fruits, because of the offering of the first fruits that was brought to the Temple. Although the Offering of the Two Loaves was officially separate, it was another form of offering “first fruits,” as the Two Loaves were made from the first cut of the new wheat harvest.

Generally, when one thinks of sacred Jewish bread, one imagines beautifully braided challahs, perhaps the stunning twelve (or more) stranded challahs often seen at weddings or bar/bat mitzvahs. Actually, the Offering of the Two Loaves were shaped like large bricks. Their dimensions were seven hand-breadths long, four and a half hand breadths wide and four 'fingers' high (approximately 22 inches x 9.5 inches x 3 inches).

The rules associated with the Two Loaves go into great detail as to the preparation of the wheat and the loaves. The Torah instructs that the Two Loaves be taken as a wave offering, after which each of the priests is given a small piece to consume with a portion of the peace offerings. All of this comes to underscore our constant dependence upon God for our sustenance and our gratitude to Him for our total well-being.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot

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Get Ready

Contact your synagogue and ask for their holiday schedule.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Jerusalem Day

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine (Israel) into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an "international city" for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the Partition Plan).

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall,  the only accessible point (at that time) to the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the retaining wall that supported the Holy Temple. Nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.

On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. The war itself lasted six days, but on June 7, 1967 - 28 Iyar 5727 - Israeli paratroopers took the Old City and, for the first time in almost twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Thank You, Mom

In honor of all our favorite Jewish Mothers, we've decided to re-Treat this special Mother's Day edition of Jewish Treats!

Don’t forget to call your mother today, or send her flowers or a card. For those very, very out of the loop, today is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day set aside to show the moms in our lives how much we appreciate them. It’s a sweet and wonderful idea...but according to the Torah, every day is Mother’s Day.

The very first commandment that God gave to Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply.” Traditionally, this mitzvah is only considered obligatory upon men, not women.

This seems strange. After all, women are the ones who carry the children in the womb, nourish the infants from their breasts, and, traditionally, take the brunt of the child-rearing responsibility. If anything, “peru oo’revu,” be fruitful and multiply, should be a woman’s mitzvah!

According to the sages, however, the mitzvah of “peru oo’revu” is not obligatory on a woman because of the inherent dangers in childbirth. It has only been in the last 100 years or so that the number of fatalities during birth has become minimal, and Torah law does not command people to put themselves in life-threatening situations.

Perhaps, however, the danger inherent in motherhood is not just physical. Motherhood changes a person, restricts her and demands that she sacrifice many of the things she most values in life (sleep, independence, etc.). At the same time, through motherhood, a woman has the chance to not only experience the immense power of creation, but also to emulate God's endless ability to give.

Motherhood, therefore, is both a choice and an opportunity. And it is because of this choice, and the sacrifices inherent therein, that one should give his/her mother honor, respect and even gratitude, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

For more on the mitzvah of honoring one's mother and father, please click here

This Treat is repost annually for Mother's Day.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved

Kindness for Unity

Today is the One Jewish People Project, mark it by doing an act of kindness.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Out of the Park

“This is not what a nice Jewish girl should be doing,” is a phrase that Thelma (Tiby) Eisen probably heard a lot when she was a young girl. Eisen was a passionate athlete with a plethora of natural talent. Her passion for sports was an interest that her traditional family did not understand but, presumably, came to accept since Tiby Eisen’s career began with semi-professional softball when she was only 14 years old.  At 18, after graduating high school, she was part of a short-lived Los Angeles professional football team. (It was banned by the city council.)

Eisen’s big break came with the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in 1943. Since the League originated in the Midwest, it wasn’t until the 1944 season that Eisen was able to try out (successfully) for the League. Her first team was the Milwaukee Chicks. In 1946, she joined the Peoria Redwings, and earned All Star status ,playing for them before serving briefly as the team captain.  And although there were several other women in the League, Eisen was the only one to achieve All-Star status.

After retirement, Eisen played softball professionally until 1957. Later in her life, Eisen helped revive the memory of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League after she was elected president. In that capacity, she helped establish an exhibit on women’s baseball at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Tiby Eisen passed away on her 92nd birthday, May 11, 2014.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Time

Make time on Shabbat to spend with the family.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Rabbi and Statesman, Rabbi Moses Schorr

Rabbi Moses Schorr was a passionate academic who dedicated most of his indefatigable energy to the Jewish people. Born on May 10, 1874, in Pryemysl, Galicia, when it was still part of Austria-Hungary, Rabbi Schorr moved to Vienna in 1893 and enrolled at both the Israelitisch Theologisch Lehrenstalt (ordained in 1900) and the University of Vienna (to study history). In 1897, he transferred to the University of Lvov, from which he received a PhD in 1898.

Upon graduation, Rabbi Schorr took a teaching position at the Jewish Teachers Seminary for Men in Lvov, but he had not lost his thirst for academic study. In 1902, on a scholarship from the Austrian Ministry of Education, Rabbi Schorr pursued Ancient Near East Studies in Berlin and Vienna. A few years later he became an assistant professor at the University of Lvov, and, in 1916, he was appointed a full professor of Semitic Languages and History of the Ancient Near East. Seven years later, Rabbi Schorr moved to Warsaw, where he had been invited to assume the pulpit of the progressive Great Synagogue on Tlomackie Street and to join the Warsaw Rabbinic Council. In 1928, he was one of the founders of the government supported Institute for Judaic Studies.

Rabbi Schorr’s involvement in community organizations is far too long to be included in one Jewish Treat. Most notable, however, was his involvement with B’nai Brith. At different points in his life, he served as the head of the B’nai Brith lodge in Lvov, then Warsaw and then helped found a lodge in Lodz.

The great respect in which Rabbi Schorr was held is demonstrated by the fact that in 1935 he became a presidentially appointed member of the Polish Senate. In this role he constantly warned about the growing anti-Semitism in the country. He was also a representative at the Evian Conference that met to determine a solution to the large Jewish refugee situation.

When the Germans arrived in 1939, Rabbi Schorr and his wife, Tamara, headed east to live with their daughter in Ostrog, Ukraine. Unfortunately, his political activities and Jewish communal ties drew the attention of the NKVD (who are they?). Rabbi Schorr was arrested and eventually charged and convicted of defending bourgeoisie interests. In May of 1941, he was sentenced to five years in a Russian prison camp. Two months later he died of heart disease, although his fate was not actually known until several years later when the Polish government in exile tried to rescue him.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Stand Up

When using public transportation, stand up for those more in need of a seat than you are.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Three Times Strong

The beauty of Jewish living is that it often strives to bring together the spiritual and the practical.

Judaism is a growth-oriented religion. At the same time, it is also a religion of practical laws that foster a peaceful society. Many of the laws of the Torah and the rulings recorded in the Talmud seem specific to an agrarian society (and from those are extrapolated the laws that have equal weight in the modern world). But each of these laws also has a very spiritual side.

One example of this, is the concept of chazakah, a word that is built from the roots of the Hebrew word for strength. Practically speaking, chazakah in a Jewish legal context often relates to the transfer of property. If a person dwells on a property for three years without his residence being contested, then that person may claim ownership of the land (given that the original owner never protested). If, after three full years, the previous owner should decide to reclaim their land, the burden of proving ownership devolves on the previous owner.

This law has both practical and spiritual applications today. For instance, a person who takes a specific seat in a synagogue three days in a row with no one protesting that the seat is already taken, now has claim to that seat as a makom kavua (a permanent place). That physical example mirrors the concept of chazakah with regard to land. A less obvious example might be a person who deliberately lights Shabbat candles an extra ten minutes early for three Shabbats in a row.

In certain instances, an action repeated three times becomes a chazakah, setting a precedent. But in this matter, as in much of Jewish life, intention is important. Often, in traditional circles, a person will specifically state that they are performing this action without the intent of setting a pattern, so as not to create an obligatory precedent.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mindfully Intent

Always try to be mindful of your actions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

By Your Side

There are many metaphors in Jewish tradition that are meant to help a person understand the spiritual consequences of one’s actions. In a world in which reward and punishment for one’s actions are rarely immediately evident, it is often hard to conceptualize how, for example, eating a cheeseburger affects one’s soul.

For instance, it was recorded in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Father, in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov: “One who performs a single commandment acquires a single defender. One who commits a single transgression acquires a single prosecutor” (4:11).

The Mishna  uses the imagery of a court to serve as a reminder that, according to Jewish theology, each person faces a moment of judgment as they pass from this world into the afterlife. A simple transgression often seems innocuous. But, if a person were to picture an army of individual prosecutors as one and one and one, etc, added up, it might be quite worrisome, unless one remembers that it is balanced by all of the individual defenders one has acquired by performing good deeds.

There is, however, also a more immediate way one can understand Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov’s imagery. Those who acquire a defender, gain an advocate, an inner voice, that encourages them to continue performing positive actions. But, unfortunately, those who through transgression acquire a “prosecutor,”  also gain an advocate. Guilt and negativity are connected to the transgression and that, too, has a powerful effect on the soul.

Spiritual judgment is, in many ways, an ongoing process. Fortunately, almost no one is considered beyond hope because, as Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov concisely concludes: “Repentance and good deeds are like a shield against punishment” (ibid). Judaism, always encourages each person to assess themselves, so they may repent and strive to do better.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Good Side

Leave judgement to the Divine and assume the best about other people's actions and intentions. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

For God's Ears Only

Ever wonder why everyone in the synagogue appears to be mumbling? Why are we so quiet in our conversations with God?

The answer goes way back in history to a woman named Hannah.

Hannah, the beloved wife of Elkanah, longed to have a child. Elkanah already had ten sons with his second wife, Penina, and believed that the love he had for Hannah should have been sufficient to make her happy. But Hannah desperately wanted a child.

At the Tabernacle at Shilo, Hannah made her way to the sanctuary, where she poured out her soul to God. The prayer, as described by the Midrash, was a heart-wrenching plea questioning the definition of her own existence (ex: What purpose are my breasts if I cannot nurse?). But not a word of her prayer was uttered above a whisper.

Having watched her enter the sanctuary and seen her lips move silently, Eli, the High Priest, assumed that Hannah was drunk.

“How long will you be drunk?” he demanded. When Eli was corrected and informed that she was praying, he bestowed a blessing on her that her prayers should be answered. Within a year, Hannah bore a son, whom she named Shmuel (Samuel the Prophet), for God had heard her prayers.

The sages learned from Hannah’s prayers that quiet prayer is truly powerful. It is for that reason that the silent Amidah (central prayer) is recited just loud enough for a person to hear him/herself.

So next time you feel the need to pour out your soul to God, don’t worry, He’s listening, even if you simply whisper your prayer into your bluetooth!

This Treat was last posted on October 6, 2008.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thoughtful Words

Before prayer, stop and gather your thoughts so you can connect and articulate them more clearly.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Courland Jews, an Interesting History

There is no country by the name of Courland, but there is a historical subset of Latvian Jews known as Courland Jews. Their distinction comes from the connection in the 19th century of the Duchy of Courland to both the more traditional Lithuanian Jews and the more “enlightened” German Jews.

In the Middle Ages, the Courland area (south-southwest Latvia) was controlled by the Livonian Order, Germanic knights who maintained a general ban on Jewish settlement in the region. Even after the region came under Polish sovereignty, when it was named the Duchy of Courland, it retained a distinct German influence. Many of the estates, around which Jews ended up settling, were linguistically German. During Polish sovereignty (1561 - 1795), Jews were allowed to live in Courland, but were prohibited from many venues of livelihood except in the small Bishopric of Pilten, where the Bishop encouraged full Jewish settlement.

In 1795, the Duchy of Courland was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The Russian Emperor Paul I granted the Jews the right to settle and even vote (at the cost of double taxation).

At this time, the Jews of Eastern Europe were impoverished materially and burdened by persecution, but rich in tradition. At the same time, German Jews were gaining civil recognition and establishing a middle class while creating a Jewish life removed from tradition. The Jews of Courland, on the other hand, had strong ties to the traditional Jewish world of neighboring Lithuania and Poland. However, given the continual German influence in their region, the Courland Jews assumed many of the educational and cultural attitudes of the “enlightened” German Jews, but without the assimilating effects.

Because of this dichotomy, the Courland Jews created a distinct enough community that they were exempted from the general rule that all Russian Jews must live only in the Pale of Settlement.

During World War I, life for Courland Jews was violently disrupted when the Russians blamed them for their early defeats against the Germans on that front. With only 24 hour notice, the Jews of the Duchy of Courland were expelled and sent deeper into Russia. Of the 40,000 who left, fewer than half returned.

Today’s post was written in honor of Latvia’s Restoration of Independence Day, marking the day Latvia declared itself free of the (former) United Soviet Socialist Republic.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Afternoon Pleasure

Make plans with friends to enjoy the longer Shabbat afternoon.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bows and Arrows

Today, Lag Ba'omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. Its observance commemorates the end of a tragic plague that took the lives of all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. It is also the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the great Kabbalist and presumed author of the Zohar.

While Lag Ba’omer is most commonly associated with the lighting of bonfires, another popular Lag Ba’omer activity is archery. One does not usually associate a hunting tool/weapon of war with a Jewish holiday. The bow and arrow, however, remind us that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans after the destruction of the Holy Temple. In this era, these great Torah scholars were outlaws, since teaching Torah was forbidden under penalty of death. In fact, Rabbi Akiva lived during the famous Bar Kochba Rebellion, around 135 C.E.

Bar Kochba was a talented military leader, and he even managed to capture and rule a portion of Judea. So highly was he regarded that many, including great sages such as Rabbi Akiva, believed him to be the Messiah. The hope was shattered, however, when Bar Kochba was killed by the Romans during the capture of Betar. The association of Rabbi Akiva with Bar Kochba is one possible reason for the bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer.

This Treat was last posted on May 26, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rabbi Shimon's Favorite Tree

On Lag Ba’omer, Jews around the world honor the memory of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a student of Rabbi Akiva who delved into the esoteric meaning of the Torah.  He taught what is today called “Kabbalah” (Jewish mysticism) to his fellow Jews, and his teachings were written in a book called the Zohar, which means “shining light” or “splendor.”

Like most of the rabbis who lived under Roman rule, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was considered a criminal for studying and teaching Torah. Along with his son, Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai went into hiding, and, according to tradition, they sustained themselves for 13 years by eating the fruit of a carob tree  that God miraculously caused to grow in their cave (Talmud Shabbat 33b), hence the custom to eat carob (also known by the Yiddish name, bokser) on Lag Ba’omer.

Is it realistic to believe that grown men could survive on a diet of carob beans and water for 13 years? Perhaps. After all, the carob tree is actually part of the pea family, and the carob beans are packed with protein. In fact, the carob has a less well-known name, “Saint John’s Bread,” which reflects carob’s properties of sustenance. In fact, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Elazar are not the only people mentioned in the Talmud as having lived off the fruit of the carob tree. “Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Every day a Heavenly voice is heard declaring, The whole world draws its sustenance because [of the merit] of Hanina my son, and Hanina my son suffices himself with a kab (measurement) of carobs from one Sabbath eve to another” (Taanit 24b). This statement, which seems to be in praise of Hanina’s austerity, confirms that the carob can be considered a valuable food source. (As an interesting side note, the word carat, the weight in which we measure gems and precious metals, is actually derived from the word carob.)

This Treat was last published on May 6, 2015.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Something Joyful

Take time to do something joyful to celebrate Lag Ba'omer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Lag Ba'omer

The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha’omer is not observed on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba’omer. In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. "Lamed" equals 30, and "Gimmel" equals 3, thus Lag (spelled "Lamed Gimmel") Ba'omer, literally means 33 (days) in the Omer.

Because the mourning period is now over or suspended for the day, Lag Ba’omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during most of Sefirat Ha’omer) and haircuts.* Some have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which the child first begins to learn Torah. Since haircuts are delayed until after the period of mourning, and because there is Kabbalistic significance to hair, many put off the hair-cutting ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba'omer.

Lag Ba’omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famed Talmudic Kabbalist whose teachings are revealed in the Zohar. In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron (near Safed) to observe his yahrtzeit near the cave in which he was buried. As per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated rather than mourned.

It is also common for families and friends to gather together for a bonfire and/or picnic on Lag Ba'omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the word Zohar translates to “shining light,” and bonfires bring light to the world.

*Some people observe 33 days of mourning starting from the beginning of the month of Iyar until three days prior to Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

Lag Ba'Omer begins tonight at sunset.
This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved