Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Minsk, Pinsk and Dvinsk?

Dvinsk, also known as Daugavpils or Duenaburg, is Latvia’s second largest city, situated 140 miles southeast of Riga, Latvia’s capital (Dvinsk is the city’s Russian name).

Dvinsk became a Jewish center in the Baltics beginning about the year 1784. A census in 1897 noted that 44% of the city’s 69,700 residents were Jews. On the eve of World War I, 55,680 Jews resided in Dvinsk. The Jewish population surged in the 1830s when Dvinsk was included in the Pale of Settlement, the Russian regions that were open to Jewish residence. As such, both Chassidic and Mitnagdic Jews lived in Dvinsk. The city’s two communities not only lived in peace together, but its two internationally renowned rabbinic leaders were true colleagues and friends. Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen (1843-1926), the leader of the Mitnagdic community, served as the rabbi of the Kahal Sha’ar synagogue for 39 years. Rabbi Hakohen is also known by the names of his two famous scholarly works, the Or Sameyach, a commentary on Maimonides’ halachic code, and the Meshech Chochmah, a Bible commentary.

The Hassidic community based at the “Planover Minyan,” was led for 50 years by the renowned Rabbi Joseph Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Ga’on (the genius from Rogatchov), who also authored a volume called Tzafnat Paneyach, titled for the Egyptian name given to Biblical Joseph. It is also notable that in 1865, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, who would become the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, was born in Griva, a suburb of Dvinsk.

Dvinsk fell under Russian hegemony from 1893 until 1920, when Latvia declared its independence. Latvia fell under the orbit of the U.S.S.R. in 1940-1941 and from 1944 until 1991, when the U.S.S.R. fell. On June 26, 1941, the German army occupied Dvinsk. Days later, the town’s men were ordered to appear at the town square. Some were imprisoned and sent to forced labor camps, and others were murdered. The Nazis forced the Jews into a ghetto on July 26, 1941, where they murdered most of the town’s Jews. Of the 28,000 Jews who lived in the area, the Nazis killed about 20,000, of which 13,000 were from the ghetto.

The Nazi extermination of Dvinsk began on August 12, 1941, corresponding to today’s date, the 19th of Av.

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Remember the Destroyed Communities

In addition to the unimaginable “Six Million” number, we must always remember the hundreds of Jewish communities along with their century-long traditions that were destroyed by the Nazis and all the enemies of the Jews throughout Jewish history.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Harari. Michael Harari

Most people have never heard the name Michael “Mike” Harari. Given his vocation, he probably would approve of his anonymity.

Born in Tel Aviv, Michael Harari (1927-2014), enlisted in the Haganah at age 13, and three years later, in 1943, he joined the elite Palmach force. After Israel’s independence in 1948, Michael served in the Israel Defense Forces and its Shin Bet internal security service. In the 1960s, he was recruited by Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, eventually being promoted to the head of the Caesarea Department, which placed undercover agents abroad. He founded the Mossad’s Operations branch, the Kidon unit.

Harari was very involved with Operation Wrath of God, whose goal was to avenge the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, at the hands of a terrorist group known as “Black September.” Unfortunately, the Israeli agents, looking to assassinate Ali Hassan Salameh, the chief of Black September in Lillehammer, Norway, accidentally shot an innocent waiter who resembled Salameh. Harari and Mossad director Zvi Zamir offered Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir their resignations, which she refused. (A Norwegian case against Harari was dropped in 1999 due to lack of evidence.)

In 1979, Harari led a team that successfully eliminated Salameh in Beirut. Harari  also played a major role in Israel’s rescue of hostages at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport. Posing as an Italian businessman, he helped provide maps of the airport to Israel’s commandos. He also helped facilitate refueling in Kenya after the successful military operation.

Harari eventually became the Mossad station chief for Latin America and lived in Panama for many years until the US arrest of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.

Harari received the Mossad Chief’s Medal of Distinction in 2007 and the Israel Defense Prize Committee’s Medal of Distinction. He cooperated in the writing of his Hebrew biography, entitled Ish Hamivtza’im (the Man of Operations), written by Aaron J. Klein in 2014.

Michael Harari died at his home in Israel on September 21, 2014 at the age of 87. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Harari, “one of the great warriors for Israel’s security.”

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Unsung Heroes

Civilians are unaware of classified acts of heroism by members of the intelligence community. Wherever we live, our safety is, in part, due to patriots who know their valor will never be publicly recognized.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av) is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, referring to the opening words of the haftarah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. It is the first of seven haftarot noted for their theme of consolation.

Having just emerged from the time of deepest mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, our despair is tempered by God’s constant optimistic promise--while our people may be laid low at times by our enemies, we shall be redeemed by God and our Temple will be rebuilt.

The haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu begins with the words: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eh’lo’hey’chem.” Be comforted, be comforted My people, will say your God. (Isaiah 40:1).

Isaiah lived and prophesied at the time when Israelite kingdoms were threatened by the Assyrians. This was more than 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple.

Through his prophecy, however, Isaiah was able to see that these great tragedies would be only temporary and that God would not only bring back the Jews from exile, but would also rebuild the Holy Temple. It is commonly understood that the double language of “Nachamu, nachamu” is an allusion to the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples and the redemptions that would follow.

This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2017.

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Keep The Faith!

Even when in the depths of despair, there is always room for hope and faith.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

No Holiday as Joyous

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, the Talmud states that: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av ...” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty--look rather at the family [values], 'For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised ...’” (Proverbs 31:30).

In ancient times, the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, but it is interesting to note that Tu B'Av is also the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Tonight and tomorrow is Tu B’Av.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker”


If you have friends looking to marry, help by introducing them to one another.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Jews in Christchurch?

When one thinks of the far reaches of the globe, New Zealand should obviously come to mind. What people may not know is that over 6,800 Jews live in New Zealand today, mostly in Auckland and Wellington (a synagogue in Wellington frequently participates in NJOP programs such as READ HEBREW AMERICA AND CANADA and SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA.

In the early 1800s, pioneering British Jews were among the whalers, missionaries and traders who explored New Zealand. No records exist of Jews in New Zealand before 1831, when Abraham Hort Senior envisioned New Zealand as a potential Jewish community for indigent Jewish Anglos and oppressed Eastern European Jews. In 1843, he arrived from London to Wellington, where, with the assent and support of the British Chief Rabbinate, he established a Jewish community. He partnered with David Isaacs, who was able to serve as mohel (practitioner of ritual circumcision), shochet (practitioner of ritual slaughter) and chazzan (cantor). In letters serialized in London’s Jewish newspapers, Mr. Hort Senior described the difficulty of maintaining a Jewish community in Wellington, complaining of the futility of maintaining a minyan (prayer quorum) and keeping Jewish shops closed on Shabbat.

Many of the Jews who came to New Zealand for the Australian gold rushes of the mid 1840s, soon left to mine for gold in California. Those who remained, were rewarded by the 1861 discovery of gold in rural New Zealand, shifting the demographics away from the more urban centers of Wellington and Auckland. Twenty years later, immigration restrictions were enacted, preventing anyone other than citizens of the British Crown from entering New Zealand. These laws remained in force even after the Holocaust, preventing most Jews from immigrating. On July 27, 1950, corresponding to the 13th of Av, New Zealand recognized the State of Israel. Some argue that New Zealand’s support for the Jewish state may have also been motivated by their desire to encourage the Holocaust refugees to go to Israel rather than New Zealand.

More recently, Jews from Israel, South Africa and the Former Soviet Union have made their homes in New Zealand. During a devastating earthquake in 2011, a Chabad House in Christchurch was destroyed, and was rebuilt with the support of international funding. This year, the Jewish community of Wellington celebrates its 175th anniversary, predating the first session of New Zealand’s parliament by a decade.




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Check Out The Tribe

When traveling to a far-away place, research its Jewish community.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Great Disputation

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban/Nachmanides c. 1194-1270) was one of the great personages of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. He authored commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud and was known as a great mystic. He was also a renowned physician.

 In 1263, King James I of Aragon ordered Nachmanides to debate Pablo Christiani, a Jew who had converted to Christianity and had become a Dominican monk. Nachmanides agreed on one condition – absolute freedom of speech (as opposed to the usual rule that nothing seemingly insulting to Christianity be said).

The “Great Disputation,” as it is called, began on July 20th, corresponding to the 12th of Av (today) and lasted for 4 days. The critical issue of the disputation was the Jewish belief in the Messiah and whether it had been fulfilled by Jesus. While both debaters cited the Talmud, Nachmanides thoroughly outclassed his opponent. King James I declared him the winner, awarded him a monetary prize and declared: “I’ve never heard anyone defend so brilliantly something so wrong.”

While King James had declared Nachmanides the winner, the Dominicans asserted that they had won. They were a powerful force, and when Nachmanides published a transcript of the Disputation, the Dominicans saw to it that the great scholar was exiled from Spain.

Nachmanides went to Israel, where he was instrumental in reestablishing the Jewish community in Jerusalem. In one of the abandoned houses, he built a synagogue that became known as the Beit Knesset HaRamban, the Nachmanides Synagogue. This synagogue existed from that time (c. the 13th century) until it was destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanian Arab Legion during Israel’s War of Independence. It has since been rebuilt.

This Treat was last posted on July 20, 2009.

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Learn To Defend The Faith

Read books and articles which defend Judaism and Israel from their detractors.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Resuming Normalcy

With Tisha B’av and its restrictions behind us, we can now resume our every-day lives.

Tradition teaches that the enemies of Israel lit the Holy Temple aflame at the very end of the 9th of Av, and the Temple burned through the next day. As such, our custom is to maintain most of the mourning rites associated with the Nine Days until halachic noon* of the 10th of Av. We postpone haircuts, laundry, bathing for pleasure, eating meat and drinking wine until that time. However, when the 9th of Av falls on Shabbat, as it did this year, we can resume our normal lives after the end of the fast on Sunday night (although Ashkenazim still refrain from eating meat and drinking wine until the following morning).

One of the restrictions during this period is the prohibition of music. The Jewish legal codes rule that marriages should not take place during the mourning period over the Temple. For Ashkenazic Jews, that translates into not scheduling weddings from the fast of the 17th of Tammuz through Tisha B’av. Most Sephardic Jews practice the custom not to get married only during the week in which Tisha B’av occurs, although others are more restrictive.

During ancient times, live music was the only way music was heard. So postponing weddings, almost de facto, meant that no one would be listening to music at all. With the advent of recorded music, the sages needed to apply the ancient law regarding weddings to listening to joyous music. Nuanced differences of opinion exist in regard to listening to music during the Three Weeks, and other periods of mourning. Halachic decisors must rule based on different factors, among which are: live music versus recorded music; pensive ballads versus celebratory and joyous tunes; acapella versus orchestral; and the motivation for hearing the music (i.e. wanting to enjoy the music, versus background music). In general, more leniency is found with regard to listening to recorded, pensive, acapella and background music.

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

*One can calculate a halachic hour by taking the length of the day from sunrise to sunset (some say from dawn to dusk) and dividing it by twelve. Thus, halachic hours in the winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) are shorter and halachic hours in the summer are longer.

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Appreciate Your Spotify!

The invention of recorded music changed the world; now almost any song ever recorded can be accessed instantly. Next time you listen to a recorded song, think about how different our lives would be without easily accessible music.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Mourning Jerusalem II: A Brief History of the Second Temple

The Babylonian Exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple lasted for 70 years. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, however, the Jews began to return to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Many chose not to return, but those who did rebuilt the Temple, although on a far more modest scale than the First Temple.

While the Jews had returned to the land, they were no longer independent and were ruled by a succession of empires including the Persians, Greeks, etc. There was a brief period of independence after the overthrow of the Syrian-Greeks (c. 165 BCE - the Chanukah story), but independence was short-lived.

By 64 BCE, Judea (Israel) was under the dominion of Rome. Around 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod as the ruler of Judea. While he was a murderous tyrant and not very religious, Herod was also a great builder. It was his grand redesign of the Temple that is the most famous image of the Second Temple.

Roman oppression, however, led to a general uprising. During the suppression of the Judean Revolt, the Temple, which had stood for 420 years, was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, depicts the pillaging of the Temple and its sacred vessels, including the Menorah.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva and several other rabbis saw the Temple lying in ruins. The Talmud (Makkot 24b) relates that when they beheld the destruction, his companions cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. When asked to explain his behavior, Rabbi Akiva said: “Because when I see this fulfillment of the prophecy of complete destruction and desolation (Micah 3:12), I know that the prophecy of the redemption (Zechariah 8:4) will also be fulfilled.” (The prophecies of redemption and destruction are linked in Isaiah 8:2.)

This Treat is reposted annually.


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Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

Today, Jews all over the world are observing the fast of Tisha B’Av. It is on this day that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,946 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

 *This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Tisha B'Av

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, is this Shabbat. Because of Shabbat, the normally observed Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av) is pushed off until Sunday. The observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. 

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between the two days: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha B’Av, and 2. Tisha B’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, we are compared on Yom Kippur to angels (which is also why we wear white).


Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha B'Av (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6).


1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

2. The destruction of the First Temple.
3. The destruction of the Second Temple.
4. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar.
5. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.

Click here for later events on this date 


*This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.



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Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

This Treat was last posted on July 28, 2017.


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Rebuke With Love

When having to punish or rebuke, it can still be done with love and compassion.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Seventh Of Av

One Scriptural verse (Kings II 25:8-9) notes that the Babylonians came to the Temple Mount on the 7th of Av while another verse ( Jeremiah 25:12) claims it was on the 10th of the month. So how do we resolve these two different dates?

The Talmud (Ta’anit 29a) explains that on the 7th of Av the Babylonians entered the Temple’s precincts eating and drinking and defiling it through dusk on the 9th of the month. At the very end of the 9th of Av, they set fire to the Temple. That conflagration burned through the 10th of the month.

Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, American scholar and editor of The Lord is Righteous in All of His Ways: Reflections on the Tish’ah be-Av Kinot (elegies) by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, spends much of the day every Tisha B’Av, 9th of Av, teaching of the events of the day and their causes (you can follow his teaching at www.yutorah.org this coming Sunday.) In his book, he cites a comment by Rabbi Soloveitchik, noting that the Romans breached the walls on the 17th of Tammuz. “This means that it took the Romans, with their powerful legions and best troops, three weeks to get from the wall surrounding Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. How far is that distance? You can cover the distance in ten minutes at most. This means that it took the best, most powerful, Roman legions (they sent their best military force to conquer Jerusalem) twenty-one days to prevail! The Jews had nothing and fought with their bare hands, and it still took the Romans twenty-one days to get to the Temple Mount.”

Rabbi Dr. Schacter himself observed that the priests in the Temple held the massive enemy armies at bay for 3 days, since the Talmud notes (Ibid.) that the Babylonian troops entered the precincts of the Temple on the 7th of Av and only succeeded in burning down the Temple three days later. The Babylonians could not advance a few feet due to the fierce battling of a small band of priests.

The Talmud (Ibid.) relates the end of the story. “When the First Temple was about to be destroyed, bands upon bands of young priests with the keys of the Temple in their hands assembled and mounted the roof of the Temple and exclaimed, ‘Master of the Universe, as we did not have the merit to be faithful treasurers, these keys are handed back into Your keeping.’ They then threw the keys up toward heaven. And there emerged the figure of a hand and received the keys from them. Whereupon they jumped and fell into the fire.”



Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fight For Your Beliefs

There are times when we must fight very hard for those things we hold most dear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

To Bee Or Not To Bee

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah written by Moses in first person, describes the highlights and low points of Moses’ tenure as leader of the Jewish people.

While offering a chronology of events in the wilderness, the Torah records: And the Emorites, who lived in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Se’ir, even unto Hormah (Deuteronomy 1:44).

While describing this particular military challenge, the Torah likens the Emorite attack to a swarm of bees. Rashi explains this strange language to teach that the Emorites were willing to sacrifice themselves, just as the bee stings despite knowing it will die as a result.

The renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev (Velvel in Yiddish) Soloveitchik, who was the uncle of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, taught a great lesson based upon this interpretation of Rashi. Known also as the Brisker Rav in honor of the city of his youth, “Rav Velvel” (1886-1959) used the above-cited passage about the Emorites to teach the extent to which one can hate. If David hates Joseph and strikes him, David’s abhorrence for Joseph is not apparent. But if David strikes Joseph knowing he will be severely injured or killed as a result, this self destructive act is evidence of true revulsion.

Is this possibly similar to the profound animus for Jews that we have tragically witnessed over the past decades in the murderous actions of the suicide bombers? The pithy statement attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir captures this tragic reality: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

During this week when we recall the destruction of the Temples, let us learn from the Emorites, the odious lesson of hatred, so we can stress and commit to its eradication through Ahavat Chinam (wanton love) and Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel). This love is surely the antidote to the Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) which served as a cause for the suffering commemorated on Tisha B’av.


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Avoid Hate

Train yourself to avoid hating others and basing decisions on that hatred.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Gateway Sin

Those who debate the issue of legalizing certain types of drugs, will often encounter the notion of a “gateway drug,” something that, by itself seems somewhat benign, but may lead to the use of much more dangerous substances. Can there be “gateways” to sin?

Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen (Kagan in Russian), known as the Chofetz Chaim, the title of one of his greatest works, also penned a lesser-known volume called Ahavat Yisrael, in which he codifies the laws regarding Ahavat Yisrael (loving a fellow Jew) and the horrible consequences of its opposite. He explains why the iniquity of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) has more deleterious consequences than other evils.

First, he writes, the act of hating causes one to violate, every second in which that hatred is present in one’s heart, the Biblical precept of hating a fellow in one’s heart (Leviticus 19:17). This can accrue for months or even years, where the sins multiply at a rate one cannot even quantify. Second, reasoned the Chofetz Chaim, Sinat Chinam serves as a gateway to further religious malevolence, such as causing disputes, evil speech, tale-bearing, deceit, and causing embarrassment, which our sages have homiletically likened to homicide. The prohibition of taking revenge (Leviticus 19:18), which is the Biblical prelude to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow as oneself, implies hatred as well.

Finally, the Talmud suggests that two friends who do not talk to one another for three days because of anger, are considered to be in violation of the prohibition of hating a fellow. Thus, it is entirely possible that one small misunderstanding between Jews, a minor infraction, or an insignificant spat, could result in violating several major religious infractions. The Chofetz Chaim declares: “We must conclude that we must try very hard to see and fix this bitter iniquity, which is the principal cause of our extended exile. May our good G-d aid us in removing this hatred from our hearts. May no one be jealous of us, nor may we be jealous of others.”


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reach Out

Maintain your friendships by speaking to or meeting with, friends on a regular basis.

Monday, July 16, 2018

On One Foot

Jewish Treats was asked to explain the Jewish faith in one tweet. For those unfamiliar with the Twitter format, that means in 280 characters or less.

It seems, at first glance, a daunting task. Oddly enough, the perfect answer for such a request can be found in the Talmud: "...it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon [Shammai] repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. [Shammai thought that he was making light of Judaism.] When [the heathen] went before Hillel, [Hillel] said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it'" (Shabbat 31a).

Is it possible that the answer to that profound question is that simple? Yes, and no. Jewish law is divided into two main categories, laws that affect one's relationship with other people and laws that affect one's relationship with God. And while both are equally important, Jewish tradition teaches that God can forgive a human being for trespasses against Himself, but not for sins of one person against another. (God destroyed the generation of the flood because they treated each other badly, but He only confused the language of and scattered the generation of the Tower of Babel, who sought to overthrow Him.)

All of Torah is meant to teach a person how to be a "mentsch," a good and decent person. The golden rule of the Torah "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), is phrased differently by Hillel, but is, nevertheless, the heart of Torah. While many people quote this story, some neglect to remember Hillel’s final instructions: “Go and learn it” (meaning the entirety of the Torah). Only by learning Torah, can one learn how to master the golden rule and to show deference and love to our fellow humans.

This Treat was last posted on December 28, 2012.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make The Time

The non-Jew in the story seemed ahead of his time. He wanted a crash course version of Torah. While one can learn from headlines, true knowledge comes from studying in depth.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Month of Av

The months of the Jewish year are called in the Torah by number only (the first month, second month, etc.) Over time, during the exile, the months assumed the names given to them by host cultures and thus the “Jewish” months as we know them today are actually Babylonian in origin. These names were so common, that 8 out of 12 are mentioned in the later books of the prophets. 

Even though the name Av is Babylonian in origin, one may note the subtle nuance of the name. Av means father, and in the fifth month of the Hebrew year, God’s persona of Father is truly demonstrated. 

It is stated in the Book of Proverbs (13:24): “One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.” God warned the Jewish people that their misguided behavior would result in disaster, but they ignored His warnings. Thus the beginning of the month of Av was the time of the destruction of both Holy Temples, disasters which the Jewish community commemorates with an annual day of mourning on the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av). When He allowed the Babylonians (and then the Romans) to conquer Jerusalem, destroy the Holy Temple(s) and drive the Jewish people into exile, God had one fatherly goal in mind--that the Jewish people should see the error of their ways and correct themselves. 

A parent who punishes a child still loves the child and still wishes to share in the child’s happiness. Rejoicing is also an important facet of the month of Av. Tu B’Av (literally 15th of Av) is a day of tremendous rejoicing in Israel when in days of yore, unmarried maidens would go out to the field to find a husband. Thus in Av, after God completes the role of disciplinarian, He comes forward to watch, and enjoy, as His children rejoice. 



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Use Hebrew Dates as Well

Do you know your Hebrew birthday? Try to find it on a Hebrew-English calendar. There’s tremendous richness in using the Hebrew dates. Try to use them.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Does Life Begin at 40?

In 1932 Walter Pitkin published his popular self-help book, Life Begins at Forty. Truthfully, before the 20th century, life expectancy, on average, rarely exceeded 40.

The number 40 is found quite frequently throughout the Torah. When seeking a common denominator, one finds that a time period of “40” represents a period of maturation. When God flooded the earth in the times of Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights. Humankind had to mature spiritually. Moses spent 40 days and nights on Sinai receiving the Torah; he returned for 40 days to pray for God to forgive the wayward nation after their sin with the Golden Calf. Both occasions represent periods of internal growth. Jews are warned not to study the mystical components of the Torah until they reach the age of forty and have spent the previous 4 decades studying the revealed aspects of Torah.

Perhaps the best known Scriptural use of the time frame 40 is God’s measure for measure punishment of the Israelites for believing the slanderous report of the ten scouts who were sent to survey the Promised Land. Since the mission occurred over a period of 40 days, God punished the wayward nation by decreeing they would wander the Sinai wilderness for forty years, one year for each day of the reconnaissance operation. The nation’s negative attitude needed to transform, hence the appearance of 40 once again.

Yet, even within this decree, the great Biblical commentator Rashi teaches that G-d showed compassion to his wayward people. According to tradition, not one of the punished Israelites perished before their 60th birthday, ensuring that those who did not enter the land were at least 20 years old at the time of the sin.

The day the Israelites believed the disparaging report of the scouts was the 9th of Av, and represents the original calamity on this day of many terrible tragedies.

Today, the 29th day of Tammuz is the 1,013rd Yahrzeit of Rashi (July 13, 1105).


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Punish Fairly

If and when we need to punish for bad action, try to make the punishment fit the crime. An added bonus would be to actually learn something from the punishment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sign Up for Role Modeling

Jewish Treats has addressed the issue of Arei Miklat, cities of refuge, in prior Treats. The cities of refuge were intended for individuals who accidentally killed another person. The perpetrators may run to an Ir Miklat (singular of Arei Miklat) where they will be safe from the possible vengeance of the victim’s family as long as they remain in the city until the death of the High Priest. The Torah addresses this topic in this week’s Torah reading, Numbers (35:9-34) and in Deuteronomy (19:1-13).

A related story is told of a famed Torah scholar who needed to spend many months away from his yeshiva during the year raising money abroad. He finally went to see his teacher, the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen, or Kagan in Russian, (1838-1933) to ask his mentor why he was fated to spend so much time away from his students, and why he needed to grovel for money?

The Chofetz Chaim asked his student why our sages explain that there were signs at crossroads in ancient Israel, indicating the direction of the closest Ir Miklat, yet, there is no indication that there were signs directing pilgrims how to travel to Jerusalem, to the Temple? The Chofetz Chaim said that without signs the traveler would need to stop at a house to ask for directions. Those answering the door and welcoming a guest to their home and family, would certainly prefer a Jew en-route to the Temple with a sacrifice, or someone lost, seeking to experience Jerusalem during holidays as opposed to someone involved with the death of a human being who was being pursued by the victim’s family. 

The Chofetz Chaim told his student that his frustrating need to travel was meant to expose him and his holy personality to individuals all over the world who relished to host such an individual in their home and city. His travels were part and parcel of his teaching, albeit through a different venue. The student found great comfort in his teacher’s words.


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Always Show Willingness to Explain

Sometimes we need to explain ourselves better, because we were unclear or the listener needs further explanation. Patience can enable someone to truly understand and appreciate what we are saying.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Herzl’s Vision of Haifa

International air travel today, especially in the “post 9-11 world” can be frustrating, annoying and anxiety-provoking. Because of the extra costs of traveling to and from airports, navigating the heightened security protocols and even the discomfort while on a plane, people often need a vacation after their vacation or choose not to travel at all. The distance of the trip is directly proportional to the anxiety and frustration.

But talk to someone who traveled to Israel from North America before air travel was ubiquitous and you’ll find out what true inconvenience and hardship were. The trip by oceanliner from ports such as New York City, as late as the 1960s, took over 10 days. When the port of Haifa came into sight for the fatigued passengers, their joy knew no bounds. This was the standard method how most people arrived from abroad to the State of Israel during its early years.

The port of Haifa, the largest of Israel’s 3 commercial ports (the others being Ashdod and Eilat), processes over 29 million tons of cargo a year, welcomes 140,000 passengers, and is staffed by over 1,000 employees. That number jumps to 5,000 when cruise ships arrive.

Akko (Acre in English), a city 17 km (10 miles) north of Haifa, served as the Holy Land’s primary port until the 20th century. When silt made the docking of large ships impossible, an alternative site was sought. In 1902, Theodore Herzl virtually “prophesied” in his famous book Altneuland, about the development of the city of Haifa and the transformation of its bay into a major commercial port. In 1922, construction began.

The port of Haifa opened for business on the 27th of Tammuz (July 21) 1933. Whether arriving by boat or plane, there is an ancient custom to kiss the ground of the Holy Land of Israel. Maimonides (Laws of Kings 5:10) relates that the great sages would “kiss the borders of the land, kiss her stones and roll in her dust.” This custom serves as yet another profound reminder of the Jewish people’s special relationship with the Land of Israel.


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thank Travel Industry Professionals

Despite the travails of travel, always make sure to offer gratitude to all those who help us move about more rapidly and comfortably.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Love in the Liturgy

Most people would identify prayer as a vertical endeavor: Mortals communicating with God. Yet, as we will learn, there is a beautiful custom to begin our prayers by thinking horizontally, i.e. about our relationship to our fellow human beings.

The renowned 16th century mystic Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria, known by his acronym ARI, taught that those praying should begin with a verbalized commitment to fulfilling the commandment of loving one’s fellow. As such, some prayer books, especially those following Rabbi Luria’s customs, pronounce the following declaration at the beginning of the morning prayers: “Behold, I accept upon myself the positive Biblical commandment of ‘you shall love your fellow as yourself.’” 

Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1635-1682), whose commentary is known as the Magen Avraham, ruled that prior to beginning formal morning prayers, one ought to accept upon themselves the commandment of loving their fellows as themselves (see Magen Avraham Orach Chaim 46). This brief comment brought the ARI’s mystical idea into the mainstream. Many other rabbinic commentaries have echoed this position.

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law), whose 132nd yahrzeit is observed today, wrote the following regarding the critical importance of this morning resolution: “If Heaven forbid there is division within the hearts of Israel in the lower world, there will also not be unity in the heavens.”

Many parents prioritize their children getting along with one another even above their own relationship with their children. Biblical commentaries note that when Abraham ran to care for his guests, he cut short a visit from God (see Genesis 18:1-2). God, like parents, would prefer that His children care for one another, even at the expense of God’s own honor.

Lessons such as these help build Ahavat Chinam, baseless love, and Ahavat Yisrael, love for Israel, during this critical time of the Three Weeks.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Verbalize Your Beliefs

It’s not sufficient to have beliefs; it’s best to verbalize them and act on them.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Good Sense from Nikolsburg!

The Biblical phrase, “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) serves as the foundational verse promoting Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) and Ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews). Do we really need to love someone else, as much as we love ourselves? Are we not programmed biologically to look out for ourselves? Is it even possible to love someone else as much, especially if they are not related, or a friend or even an acquaintance?

A student approached his Rebbe, Rabbi Shmelke, (1726-1778) the Rabbi of Nikolsburg (Moravia, modern day Czech Republic) and asked how can one fulfill the Biblical mandate to love his fellow when the individual has caused much pain and suffering?

Rabbi Shmelke responded that all souls eminate from the same source and are united. If one’s right hand accidentally hits oneself, does the left hand punish its partner for the errant strike? Of course not! Both of one’s hands are part of the same body. It would be ludicrous for one hand to punish the other. It would even be counterproductive, as it would add pain, not alleviate it. The same can be said of the body of Israel, taught the Nikolsburg Rav. (This story and others can be found in Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim).

Rav Shmelke teaches a powerful lesson, which can apply to any negative situation in life. If we envision the sad image of a person punishing his delinquent hand, we can perhaps forestall lashing out at, or responding in kind to, someone who may have strayed, someone whose intentions were pure, or someone who acted rashly without thinking the matter through. Rav Shmelke’s metaphor is one small weapon in the arsenal of Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael we should always endeavor to employ, but especially during the Three Weeks.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek Jewish Unity

Think of daily opportunities that manifest the idea that all of Israel are one.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Campaigning From The Periphery Or The Center?

There’s an adage in American politics, that candidates win their party’s primary by positioning themselves to the extreme, and win national elections by moving to the center.

Should a leader stick to his or her guns, or should they endeavor to compromise?

Parashat Pinchas begins by describing the aftermath of Pinchas’ zealous act to stop a plague ravaging the camp of the Hebrews in the wilderness. God rewarded Pinchas and his progeny for the act with a “covenant of peace.” A few chapters later (Numbers 27:18-23) Moses publicly declares that Joshua, his loyal assistant, would succeed him in leading the nation. Why is the succession announcement revealed at this particular moment in the Torah narrative and not later, closer to Moses’ death?

Among a few answers provided, is the response of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, known as the Kotzker Rebbe. He describes that after Pinchas’ heroism, which potentially saved the lives of thousands, Pinchas became, de facto, a prime candidate to succeed Moses, who was aging and had already been informed by God that he was not going to lead the nation to the Promised Land. For this reason specifically, the Kotzker Rebbe teaches, God instructed Moses to ordain Joshua as his successor. Acts of zeal, while popular, may not be appropriate acts for leadership. While God values truth, peace and compromise are greater virtues, taught the Kotzker Rebbe.

A leader must be able, when circumstances demand, to try to find common ground among conflicting positions. For this reason, reasoned Rabbi Morgenstern, Moses rushed to ordain Joshua as his successor.

The Torah teaches that great leaders most often try to seek and pursue peace as an ideal, even, at times, at the expense of the absolute truth. While both Pinchas and Joshua were righteous and worthy, according to the Kotzker Rebbe, God felt that the nation needed to understand that while zeal has its place, leaders must most often try to avoid it. This is an important and valuable lesson during the Three Weeks, the time of year which we dedicate to focusing on eradicating Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) from our midst.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lead By Consensus

When weighing candidates in a vote, ask yourself who can best lead by consensus.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Maccabees In Africa In July?

Forty-two years ago today, on July 4, 1976, the Israeli military freed 106 hostages, consisting of 94 passengers and 12 crew members, whose Paris-bound Air France Airbus, which originated in Tel Aviv, was hijacked. The German and Palestinian terrorists landed with a plane full of hostages at Entebbe Airport in distant, equatorial Uganda. You can read the details here of this incredibly daring rescue operation, which was nicknamed Operation Thunderbolt. The commander of the operation, Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu (older brother of Israel’s current Prime Minister) was killed by a sniper as he set up a command center at the Entebbe airport during the raid. In his honor, the Israeli government renamed the raid, Mivtzah Yonatan, “Operation Jonathan.”

When President Gerald Ford was informed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin of the successful rescue of the hostages, he responded, “Mr. Prime Minister. You have just given the United States of America the greatest Bicentennial gift we could have ever asked for.” July 4, 1976 was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Jews worldwide swelled with pride as the tiny Jewish state demonstrated that the nations of the world need not capitulate to terrorism and that Israel stood tall as protector of Jews worldwide. Menachem Begin, the long-time leader of the opposition party in the Knesset, captured this idea in a memorable speech at the Knesset, where he called the rescuers, “Modern Day Maccabees.” Mr. Begin declared: “When the actions of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz, with a finger to the right, condemned men, women and children to death, then there had been no one to save them. Now there was. Now we declare for all to hear, ‘Never Again!’ Let the world know, if anyone, anywhere, is persecuted or humiliated or threatened, or abducted, or is in any way endangered, simply because he or she is a Jew, then the people of Israel will marshal all of its strength to come to their aid and to bring them, with the help of the Almighty, to the safe haven that we call our land, Israel.” 

While several movies were made describing the daring rescue operation, we encourage all Jewish Treats readers to watch the NJOP-produced video about Operation Jonathan, entitled, “The Story of the Modern Day Maccabees.”

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor America's Value On July 4th!

Think about the old adage, “Freedom is not free” on this Independence Day.  Discuss America's enduring values with those with whom you spend Independence Day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Antidote Of Baseless Hatred

The calendrical period between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of Tisha B’av is known as Bein Hame’tzarim (in the midst of distress) and is referred to colloquially as the “Three Weeks.” While the latter describes the time frame between these two fasts, the former, finds its source from the verse in Scripture (Lamentations 1:3), “all her [Israel’s] pursuers overtook her in the midst of her distress.” The Three Weeks represents the saddest period in the Jewish calendar.

The Talmud teaches that while the First Temple was destroyed because of the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality, the successful razing of the Second Temple by the Romans is attributed to Sinat Chinam, which literally means “free hatred,” but connotes hatred for no apparent reason or, at least, no legitimate reason.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook famously stated that the antidote to baseless hatred is baseless love, Ahavat Chinam (Orot Hakodesh, section 3, page 324). In modern parlance, which perhaps owes a proper citation to Rabbi Kook, the concept of “random acts of kindness” may find its source from this idea.

During the period of the Three Weeks, Jewish Treats will endeavor to share some brief and inspiring thoughts related to the topic of Ahavat Chinam, or Ahavat Yisrael, the love we should exhibit for our fellow Jews.

The primary Scriptural source associated with Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael is the famous “Golden Rule: “You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Hillel famously taught, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to others” (Talmud Shabbat 31a). Referring to this Biblical verse, Rabbi Akiva proclaimed: “This is a major principle of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 9:4).

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek The Positive

Next time you hear something about someone who hurt you, try to find a way to see it in a positive light.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

In truth, however, this period of "sadness" begins on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (observed yesterday) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh'heh'cheh'yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

From the first day of the month of Av onward (July 13, 2018), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, we customarily avoid the following activities (along with all of the above):

1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for just a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Focus On The State Of Israel And Global Anti-Semitism

It’s hard to mourn over the Holy Temple’s destruction since no one alive saw it or experienced its majesty. You can focus, however, on the unfair treatment by some of the State of Israel and rising anti-Semitism globally, and identify ways to help.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Tragedy of the Idol

Ever since Moses saw the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf and smashed the two tablets of the law, the 17th of Tammuz has been an inauspicious day for the Jewish people, a day on which numerous tragedies occurred. One of the famous tragic events of the 17th of Tammuz was the placing of an idol in the Temple. 

There are different opinions about exactly when this incident occurred.


One view in the Talmud (Ta'anit 28b) says: “An idol was placed in the Temple. From where do we know this? -- It is written, ‘And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away and the abomination [idol] that causes desolation set up’(Daniel 12,11).” The daily sacrifice was abolished on the 17th of Tammuz and, therefore, the idol was placed in the Temple on that very same day (during the Babylonian siege).


Others believe that the incident refers to an act done by Apostamos, a Greek who was also responsible for burning the Torah (during the Second Temple period). 


Rashi mentions yet another suggestion, based on the Jerusalem Talmud, that this is a reference to the actions of the wicked King Manasseh of Judah:


Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign... And he set the graven image of Asherah, that he had made, in the house of which God said to David and to Solomon his son: "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put My name forever...'' (Kings II 21:1-7).


While a Greek placing an idol in the Temple was, indeed, terrible, a Jewish king doing so was a much greater tragedy.


This Treat was reposted in honor of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Smashing the Tablets

The sages declare that five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz, which is why the day is observed as a fast day. Days of what we might now call “bad karma” (on which bad things consistently occur) were, according to Jewish tradition, set early in Jewish history, and the seventeenth of Tammuz was fated to become one of the most painful days in Jewish history. It all began when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, discovered the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf, and smashed the Ten Commandments on the seventeenth of Tammuz.

Since the Torah does not mention dates, the Talmud, asks how it is known that the Tablets were shattered on the seventeenth of Tammuz:

It is written (Exodus 24:16-18), "On the seventh day [of Sivan] He called to Moses...and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up onto the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." The [remaining] twenty-four days of Sivan and the sixteen days of Tammuz altogether make forty. On the seventeenth of Tammuz he came down [from the mountain] and shattered the Tablets (Ta’anit 28b).

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was ready to destroy the Israelites and create a new nation descended from Moses. Due to Moses’ fervent prayers, however, God forgave the Children of Israel. God’s anger at the Israelites for their easy fall into apparent idolatry is understandable, but what right had Moses to smash the tablets of law given to him by God? However, according to the Talmud, Shabbat 87a, Moses’ actions were driven by more than anger. He sought to protect the people. By destroying the Tablets, Moses created a situation in which the people had never fully received the Torah, so they could not be charged with having transgressed its laws.

This Treat was reposted in honor of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

On A Hot Fast

If you are fasting in hot summer weather, try to stay inside.