Friday, August 31, 2018

Happy Birthday Maestro!

Not too many people can claim to have entertained the Queen of England, played at a Presidential Inauguration, conducted symphony orchestras, appeared on numerous occasions in Carnegie Hall and at other venues of high culture, and whose nimble fingers have recorded some of the most recognized classical and modern musical compositions. Itzhak Perlman, however, is one of those very few remarkable people.

Born on August 31, 1945 in British Mandatory Palestine, Itzhak heard a classical music concert on the radio and, while yet a young child, resolved to learn to play the violin. Six years after contracting polio, resulting in having to rely on leg braces and crutches for mobility, Perlman enrolled in the Shulamit Conservatory in Tel Aviv and participated in his first concert at age 10. He and his family moved to New York, to enable young Itzhak to attend the acclaimed Juilliard School. While only 13 years old, Itzhak appeared on the popular “Ed Sullivan Show,” and again, six years later. Among his most memorable recordings, Perlman played the haunting violin solo in the theme to “Schindler’s List” and laid down the violin track on Billy Joel’s “Downeaster Alexa.”

Perlman loves to share his love of music with others as well. Since 1975, Perlman has taught at Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music and, since 2003, has occupied the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at Juilliard. Perlman also teaches students one-on-one in the Perlman Music Program on Long Island, NY, which was created in 1995 by Itzhak’s wife Toby, also a classically trained violinist. The Perlman Music Program, which began as a summer program for gifted violinists between the ages of 11 to 18, has been transformed into a year-round program.

Perlman, (whose daughter Nava, attended an NJOP Beginners Service,) has produced countless recordings, both solo and with collaborators. He has won 4 Emmy awards, 15 Grammy awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, and received the Genesis Prize from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Support Jewish Artists

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Thursday, August 30, 2018


Legendary Jewish comedian Mort Sahl shared the following anecdote during an appearance on the Merv Griffin show:

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, while meeting with President Ronald Reagan, saw three phones on the president’s desk in the Oval Office. Reagan explained that the red phone was “The Hotline” to Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev, the white phone reached NATO and the blue phone was a direct line to God. Begin asked to speak to God. After 20 minutes, he hung up and David Stockman, Reagan’s Budget Director, told Begin that the call cost $23.85.

A month later, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis visited Begin’s office in Jerusalem and saw a blue phone on his desk. Begin confirmed that indeed, it was also a phone to God. Begin responded, “It would be my pleasure to reciprocate and allow you to speak to God.” After 20 minutes, Lewis asked Begin how much it cost, and Begin responded, “a dime, because here, it’s a local call!”

On August 30, 1963, the “Moscow-Washington Hotline” was instituted, linking the Pentagon with the Kremlin, as one way of trying to directly relieve any tensions between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers. While the presence of a “red phone” and a “hotline” are apocryphal, the “hotline” was initially a teletype machine and, in 1986, became a fax machine. A secure computer link replaced the fax in 2008, enabling protected emails to be shared between the United States and Russia.

Talk of enhanced communication between the Cold War rivals, was an issue in the 1960 presidential election, and after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, where the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were closer to war than ever before. The concept of a hotline was approved, and fast-tracked.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, diplomatic messages took six hours to deliver, and it took the U.S. military 12 hours to receive and decode U.S.S.R. Chairman Khruschev’s 3,000-word dispatch regarding a settlement for the standoff. While the United States crafted its response to Khruschev, a different and less generous offer was received. Ultimately representatives of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. signed the “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line” on June, 20, 1963 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Direct communication is the best way to minimize tensions. This is good advice for life, especially for our generation, which has many electronic and indirect ways to communicate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Maharal of Prague

To the Jewish community and general population at large, the Maharal of Prague is the revered, mystical medieval rabbi who created the Golem to protect the Jews in the Prague ghetto. But the Maharal’s true contribution to Jewish life has little to do with the legend of the Golem.

The acronym, MaHaRaL, stands for Moreinu HaRav Loew,* whose full name was Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew (1520 - 1609). The Maharal is also known by the title of his most distinguished publication, Gur Aryeh (Ahl HaTorah) - “The Little Lion on the Torah.” His use of the title Gur Aryeh is a reference to Jacob’s Biblical blessing of his son Yehuda (Judah) and is significant either by reason of the fact that Loew is a derivitive of the German word for lion or an allusion to the Maharal’s ability to trace his lineage back to King David.

While the Maharal is credited with being well-versed in kabbalah (hence his assumed ability to create a Golem), his studies and commentaries in Torah and Talmud are highly regarded. The Maharal stressed the importance of understanding the p‘shat, mainly the simple, literal meaning of the words. He was also well-versed in Aggadah, the non-halachic, homiletic passages of the Talmud.

The genius of the Maharal is acknowledged by Jews from many walks of life. His work had a significant influence on the Vilna Gaon (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720 - 1797), and he was the great-grandfather of the founder of Chabad Chassidim, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (“Baal HaTanya,” 1745 - 1812). The Maharal was also well-known and respected outside of the Jewish community. He communicated with the astronomer Tycho Brahe and had a memorable audience with the Emperor Rudolf II of Austria.

*alternatively spelled Lowe

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2010.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read More about the Maharal

Visit Jewish bookstores, online venues and local libraries, for children and adult books about the Maharal and his life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Is there an Abracadabra for Repentance?

Paragraphs two and three of the first chapter of Maimonides'Laws of Teshuva” invoke the Biblical case of the scapegoat, which, in ancient times, helped effect atonement for the Jewish people, not as a magic wand, but with human intervention as part of the process.

In ancient times, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest in the Temple, offered a confessional prayer over a “scapegoat,” an animal selected to be cast away to the wilderness together with the people’s sins. Maimonides rules that “the scapegoat atones for all the sins in the Torah, both severe (iniquities for which a death penalty or excision may apply) and less severe sins, whether committed inadvertently, or and whether the one who committed them is aware of them or not.” However, the atonement can only be effected when individuals have done teshuva--repentance. Without teshuva, the scapegoat does not atone even for less severe transgressions.

Maimonides teaches that, in the post-Temple period, without the ability to achieve atonement through a scapegoat, we are left only with teshuva to achieve forgiveness. Maimonides concludes with the following powerful testament to the power of true teshuva: “Wicked persons who engaged in teshuva at the very end of their life are forgiven, to the extent that none of their illicit behavior is known to them. [In the absence of the scapegoat and the Temple service], the very essence of Yom Kippur atones for sins today, as the Biblical verse (Leviticus 16:30) explains.”

It is hard for modern sensitivities to accept the notion of achieving atonement through animal sacrifice, or to appreciate the idea of relieving accountability for one’s prohibited behavior via someone or something else’s actions. After all, Judaism’s position on forgiveness centers around personal responsibility. This concept is familiar to the modern mind. Ultimately, humankind is given free choice how to behave. But that does not mean that behaviors have no consequences. 

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While God affords humans with freedom of choice, we must realize that in most areas of life, behaviors have consequences.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Potential Energy

Parashat Ki Tavo begins by juxtaposing two important agricultural laws. First (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), the Torah instructs the Israelites to bring bikkurim, the first fruits from among the special fruits of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). When bringing the bikkurim to the Temple in Jerusalem, the farmer is to read a text invoking the bitter Egyptian enslavement of the farmer’s ancestors, the Israelites’ prayers for redemption, and a declaration acknowledging God heeding those prayers by delivering the former slaves to a land flowing with milk and honey. The bikkurim were brought in beautiful containers and the farmers were accompanied to the Temple amid great joy and pageantry.

Immediately following in the text of the Torah, is a passage about Ma’aser, tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12-16), immediately follows the paragraph of bikkurim. The Bible commands the Jews to give 1/10th of their produce to the Levites, the tribe sanctified to minister in the Temple who were not given a portion of land in the Land of Israel. This tithe is called Ma’aser Rishon, the First Tithe.

The Torah also required additional tithes, based on the seven year agricultural cycle. In years 3 and 6, Jews gave Ma’aser Ani, a tithe to the poor, which is the subject of these verses. In years 1,2,4 and 5, the Jews took the tithe, known as Ma’aser Sheini, the Second Tithe, which was to be eaten in Jerusalem (or its value spent in Jerusalem).

The farmer who brought his tithes, asks God to bless the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, to fulfill its special mission.

Why are Bikkurim, which celebrate the first fruits at the very beginning of the harvest, commemorated with such fanfare and public celebration, yet bringing the ma’aser, which offers gratitude after the harvest is complete, seems to be done privately and without any festivity? Would it not make more sense to celebrate the conclusion of an entire planting cycle, which potentially provides sustenance for an entire family, rather than make much ado about some individual figs and grapes that have matured? The same question may be asked, regarding why we expend so much effort to make big and joyous weddings, while 25th or 50th anniversary celebrations – clearly greater accomplishments – are much more subdued and smaller occasions.

The answer to all these questions may be that while Judaism believes in rejoicing in “results and outcomes,” it celebrates potential even more, because the goals are limitless.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Brides and Grooms

Go out of your way to gladden brides and grooms at their weddings and the subsequent celebratory week of Sheva Brachot.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Moral Yoking

While organizations such as PETA and local SPCAs were created to protect animals and safeguard them from undue suffering and cruelty, the Torah has, for millennia, maintained strict laws regarding the treatment of animals.

In Parashat Ki Teitzei, the Torah presents several such laws, one of which is the following (Deuteronomy 22:10): “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” The reason should be clear. An ox is a heavier and, presumably, stronger beast of burden than a donkey. It would be unfair to both animals. The ox would become impatient because the donkey’s relative weakness would slow it down. The donkey would not be able to keep up with the ox, and that too would cause it to suffer. The Talmud (Bava Kamma 54b) extends this prohibition to all animal species.

The Ba'alei Tosafot, in their commentary on the Torah, offer a wholly different rationale for the prohibition. Think of the poor donkey, they suggest. The ox, from the vantage point of the donkey, is chewing the entire time of their work. “Why is the ox rewarded with food, and I am not?” imagines the donkey. In reality, of course, the ox is not eating. It is merely chewing its cud, a physiological reflex with which the donkey is unfamiliar. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the late dean of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem used this teaching to underscore how compassionate and empathic we must be. If we must show such empathy to a donkey, he declared, consider how we should treat one another!”

The Torah’s legislation to care for all of God’s creations, whether human, animal, or even vegetable, has been solemnly safeguarded by Jews, and to a degree, all of humankind, for over 3,300 years. When we look into the Torah, we are amazed to find numerous revolutionary ideas that speak to us today.

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Delve into the Torah’s Ethical Teachings

If you study the Torah’s ethical teachings, you will find that many are the underpinnings of our western civilization and contemporary ethos.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Mission Impossible

If you were to search the famous “Hollywood Walk of Fame” in Los Angeles, for a star with the name “Solomon Krakovsky,” you would be on a mission impossible. Solomon Krakovsky, who eventually changed his name to Steven Hill, was born on February 24, 1922, to Russian immigrant parents in Seattle, WA. After graduating high school and serving for four years in the United States Naval Reserve, he moved to New York City, in pursuit of an acting career.

In 1947, Hill was one of 50 actors accepted into the initial class of the Actors Studio, joining such notable thespians as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris. Upon graduation, his acting career skyrocketed, culminating in his being cast in 1966 as Dan Briggs, the leader of the “Mission Impossible” team. The only impediment to his success in Hollywood was the re-igniting of interest in his religious faith.

Hill tells the story that while appearing in a play, “A Far Country” in 1961, a character screams at the Sigmund Freud character, saying, “You are a Jew!” This line spoke to Hill, so much so, that he underwent a serious exploration of his faith, and ended up learning from Rabbi Yakov Yosef Twersky (1899-1968), the late Skverer Rebbe. He moved to Monsey, a burgeoning Orthodox community in Rockland County New York, to be in closer proximity to the Skverer Rebbe. 

Prior to filming the first season of television’s Mission Impossible, Hill informed the producers that he would need to leave the set early on Fridays, and could not work at all on Saturdays. The producers tried to accommodate Hill’s requests through various creative ways, such as presenting “Dan Briggs” in a mask, so other actors could take over the role. Often, Martin Landau, who played Rollin Hand, assumed the leadership of the team. By the second season, Peter Graves replaced Hill as leader.

The most notable role he played after “Mission Impossible,” was that of Adam Schiff, the DA on the NBC’s original “Law and Order.” He assumed that role from 1990 to 2000, and left the show as the longest-serving member of the original cast.

Hill died on August 23, 2016. He and his first wife, Selma Stern, had four children. In 1967, Hill married Rachel, with whom he had an additional 5 children.

Although there is still no star on Hollywood Boulevard for Steven Hill, he has left his mark through his many children and grandchildren who are faithful to his beloved Judaism.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek Role Models

When looking for heroes in popular culture, seek those who have acted in an upright manner.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Dictionary for the Days of Awe

In Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance, he invokes five important and pertinent terms in his first paragraph, that are worth defining.

Teshuva – means return (click here to the week before), but connotes repentance or personal transformation and change.

Cheyt – usually defined as “sin,” really means to miss the mark (see Judges 20:17). According to Jewish thought, Cheyt is not a permanent stain; it connotes missing a target, which can be rectified by trying again (i.e. teshuva).

Aveirah - this term means the opposite of a mitzvah, a commandment. It literally means to pass, or to avoid doing something. It is basically synonymous with chet. It too implies something that was passed over, which ultimately can be repaired.

Viduy – means confession. Maimonides writes that a verbal confession is required in order to achieve proper teshuva.

– atonement or forgiveness, (i.e. Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement). It is important to note that the first four terms are human actions directed toward God, while kapparah, the goal of Yom Kippur, is the one action that emanates from God toward humankind. With these terms, we now have the tools to understand the first halacha (law) of Hilchot Teshuva (the Laws of Teshuva), which follows.

If one transgressed (aveirah) any commandment of the Torah, whether a positive or a negative one, whether deliberately or accidentally, then when one repents (does teshuva) one has to confess verbally (viduy) to God... This means verbal confession, which is commanded positively to do, and is performed by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such-and-such, and I am ashamed by my actions and will never do it again.' This is the main part of verbal confession, and expanding on it is praiseworthy… Capital and corporal punishment do not atone (kapparah) unless the recipient repents and confesses verbally. Likewise, if one does financial damage to someone, one is not forgiven unless one repents and resolves never to do it again, even if one paid back the money, for it is written, "...any sin that people commit".

English translation of Immanuel O'Levy, courtesy of Jonathan Baker:

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Resolve To Change

Embrace this Hebrew month of Elul, to repair relationships, confess malfeasance and resolve to do better in the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Workmen's Circle

One probably associates Yiddish with a language spoken by East European immigrants to the United States in the early decades of the 20th century, and the lingua franca of insular Chassidic Jewish sects who are somewhat fearful of modernity. But one should also associate Yiddish with “Der Arbiter Ring,” the Workmen’s Circle.

Workmen’s Circle was founded on September 4,1900, corresponding to the 10th of Elul, as a mutual aid society for Ashkenazic (Eastern European) immigrants to the United States. Eventually, the New York-based society developed affiliates all over the United States. Their goal was to sustain a secular, anti-Zionist Jewish identity through education, the Yiddish language and literature, and socialist ideals. Workmen’s Circle promoted Yiddish culture through the “Folksbiene” Yiddish theater troupe, Yiddish schools, Yiddish summer camps, and identified with the American labor movement. The Yiddish newspaper “The Forward” was associated with this movement as well. The Workmen’s Circle serviced those who sought the perpetuation of Ashkenazic Yiddish culture without going to synagogue or joining youth groups. When Bundists (members of Russian Jewish socialist organizations) joined en masse, they advocated for Workmen’s Circle to fight abusive labor practices and embrace a liberal political stance, thereby minimizing the mutual aid component. In 1920, Workmen’s Circle hit its apex with 84,000 members, 125 schools and many branches nationwide.

By the time of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s, Workmen’s Circle, still in its heyday, moved toward political liberalism.

The Workmen’s Circle saw a decrease in interest beginning in the 1960s. Medicare legislation was enacted in 1965, rendering the Circle’s medical services less critical. Much of the Jewish community prospered and joined the middle class and moved in large numbers to the suburbs. In 2010, Workmen’s Circle had 10,000 members and 20 branches.

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Chutzpah, Shlepp, Nosh

Appreciate the Yiddish words that are commonly used in English (or as part of the English vernacular).

Monday, August 20, 2018

Before Bagels On Broadway

During the 2016 election, a presidential candidate uttered the words, “New York values,” and was accused of referring pejoratively to New York Jews. Of course, he denied the allegation. There is no doubt, however, that New York is home to the largest Jewish community outside of the State of Israel, with a population well over one million. But, who was New York’s first Jew?

That man would be Jacob Barsimson. Historians teach that Barsimson was appointed by Jewish leaders in Amsterdam to travel to New Amsterdam (current day New York City) to determine its suitability as a haven for Jewish immigration, in the wake of the fall of Dutch Brazil. He left Amsterdam on July 8, 1654 and arrived in New Amsterdam on August 22, 1654, corresponding to the 9th of Elul. Since he traveled with papers identifying him with the Dutch West India Company, New Amsterdam governor, Peter Stuyvesant, raised no objections, despite his well-established anti-Semitism.

23 Jews from Recife, Brazil, arrived in New Amsterdam harbor in September. It was in Recife where the first synagogue was established in the Americas, Kahal Kadosh Zur Israel. The Recife Jews had fled Portugal’s inquisition and moved to Dutch Brazil, where religious freedom was protected. After immigrating to New Amsterdam, they succeeded in establishing the first Jewish community in (what would become) the United States. These 23 Jews actually came to New Amsterdam by accident (see this treat for the story). Stuyvesant tried to bar them, including Barsimson from New Amsterdam, but the owners of the colony, the Dutch East India Company, rejected his petition. Barsimson and Asser Levy, one of the 23 immigrants from Recife, led the nascent Jewish community of New York in obtaining religious freedoms. When in 1658 a charge was leveled against Barsimson, and he was ordered to appear before the court on Saturday, the judge brought no judgment against him since he was summoned to appear on his Sabbath.

It’s amazing how far New York Jews have come during the past 364 years.

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Prayer For The Government

Familiarize yourself with the prayer for the U.S. government (or other democratic nations) and appreciate the freedoms with which the Jews, and all minorities, have been blessed.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Special Yom Tov

Rabbi Gershon Shaul Yom Tov Lipmann Heller was born in Bavaria, Germany, to a renowned rabbinic family. He received a traditional Jewish education and studied under the legendary Maharal of Prague. By the age of 18, he was ordained a rabbinic judge in Prague. His itinerant rabbinic career brought him to Moravia, Vienna, Prague, Nemirov, Ukraine and Ludmir, Poland. He ended his rabbinic career in Kracow, Poland, succeeding the renowned Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640). He served Kracow’s Jewish community during the devastating Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1649.

In 1629, prior to his move to Kracow, Rabbi Heller was arrested and falsely accused of insulting Christianity, and was sentenced to hard labor. An influential “court Jew” paid 12,000 thalers for his release, conditioned on his departure from the country and his position. As a result, Rabbi Heller instituted two annual observances. On the 5th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the initial day of the difficulties, he would fast. On the 1st of the Hebrew month of Adar, the anniversary of his appointment as rabbi of Cracow, he created a mini Purim celebration where he would read from a special megillah he wrote, entitled Megillat Eivah (scroll of hatred). Rabbi Heller’s descendants continue to observe these dates annually.

Rabbi Heller authored a commentary on the Mishnah, entitled Tosafot Yom Tov, and wrote Ma’adaney Yom Tov, a commentary to Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel’s halachic code. Additionally, he is the author of a prayer recited publicly to bless those who avoid unnecessary conversation during prayers. Rabbi Heller passed away on the 6th of Elul, corresponding to August 19, 1654.

A story is told about Rabbi Heller’s burial site. The burial society begged a miserly man on his deathbed to donate some of his fortune to the desperate communal organizations. Were he not to accede to their request, they threatened to bury him in the far corner of the cemetery. When the “miser” passed away without offering any support, the burial society felt the need to carry through with their threat. A few days after his death and burial, all the anonymous donations offered at all the local communal institutions suddenly ceased. The connection to the “Holy Miser” was clear. Rabbi Heller instructed the burial society to bury him at the corner of the cemetery, next to the “Holy Miser,” where he lies in repose to this day.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Revere Important Family Dates

Every family has its important dates, even those outside of birthdays, yahrzeits and anniversary. It’s important to observe them and transmit them to the next generation.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Jews Of Cyprus

The history of the Jews in Cyprus is surprisingly "benign" given the island’s proximity to both Europe and the Holy Land.

The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus was home to a significant Jewish community during the Roman era, and several synagogues were established on the island. However, in 117 C.E., the Cypriot Jews participated in an uprising against the Romans, and, in response, the Romans banned the Jews from the island. The ban was not well-enforced, and the community returned and thrived with little record of any major anti-Semitism.

During the Middle Ages there are records of communities in Famagusta, Nicosia and Paphos. However, after Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, the community dwindled and the next recorded Jewish presence did not occur until the island was under British Administration (1878).

In 1883, a large party of Russian Jews created a settlement in Orides near Paphos. Two years later, 27 Romanians arrived on Cyprus, but their settlement failed to thrive. Another colony was attempted, with the support of the Jewish Colonial Association and Ahavat Zion of London in 1897 in the areas of Margo, Kouklia and Cholmakchi. Over two dozen Romanian Jews and their families came, but, as so often happened, these colonists were not properly prepared for the challenges of the land.

The most significant connection of Cyprus to Jewish history is the role the island played in the history of the settlement of Israel. The British saw Cyprus as the perfect solution for “illegal” Jewish immigration. Less than 300 miles away from the Israeli coast, Cyprus became host to an extensive detention center for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe who were stopped from reaching the Land of Israel. Ironically, several hundred Jews who had fled to Cyprus in the 1930s were relocated to Israel and Africa in 1941, before the Cyprus camps were created.

By 1951, there were less than 200 Jews on the island. That number continued to decline until recently, when the Jewish population grew enough through professional relocations to warrant the opening of a Chabad house. On August 16, 1960, Cyprus declared its independence.

This Treat was last posted on August 16, 2017.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

International Jewish Community

Learn about the local Jewish history of areas to which you plan to travel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Is It Good To Be The King?

Parashat Shoftim addresses many issues, among them the Jewish jurisprudential system, false prophets, and the Arei Miklat, cities of refuge. The guidelines for the appointment of a future Jewish king, which also appears in the parashah, however, will be the topic discussed in this Treat.

The Torah (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) asserts that a king may be appointed, once the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land. God shall “select” the king from among his brethren of Israel. The king may not collect too many horses so he will not return the people to Egypt. He may not marry too many wives, lest they seduce him away from the proper path. Nor may he amass too much silver and gold. He shall write a Torah which shall be on his person at all times.

The Shulchan Aruch does not include in the code halachic matters that are only relevant in a post-Messianic age. Maimonides’ halachic code, the Mishneh Torah, however, does categorize such topics, and it is there (Laws of Kings chapters 1-4) that we find more details. Maimonides rules that a king may be anointed only once a legitimate prophet has identified him as the prospective king and the Sanhedrin confirms his reign.

The king wields great power and is due great homage. No one may ride on the king’s horse nor sit on his throne. After his death, all of his belongings are burned and no one else may marry his wife. His hair is cut daily and people must bow to the ground in his presence. The king does rise before great Torah scholars while in private, but not publicly.

The sages ruled that a king may have no more than 18 wives, and may only own enough horses for his entourage. He may not collect more money other than what is needed to pay his staff and his soldiers. The king may tax his subjects as he desires, to collect for his needs or to cover the costs of wars. After a military conquest, the king may take 1/13th of the resulting bootie, with the other 12 portions being evenly divided among the 12 tribes of Israel.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


With any position of leadership come privileges and responsibilities. If you focus on what you can do for others and accept the mantle with humility, you should succeed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


There are certain entertainers who are known by their first name, such as Matisyahu, Madonna, Cher, Eminem etc. Others are known by their first name, despite widespread knowledge of their last name, such as Elvis, Oprah, Lebron and Beyonce. ‘Fyvush” would fall under this category.

Philip Finkel, Fyvush in Yiddish, was born in his parents’ home on October 9, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Harry, or Tzvi Hersh, was a tailor from Warsaw; his mother, Mary, or Miriam, was a housewife from Minsk. Fyvush began his 35-year career in the Yiddish theater of the Lower East side of Manhattan at age 9. Simultaneously, he performed as a standup comedian in the so-called “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills Mountains, north of New York City.

In the early 1960s, with the Yiddish Theatre standing at the very precipice of its demise, Fyvush “crossed over” to performing uptown on Broadway. His first performance was in the role of “Mordcha” the bartender in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Eventually he assumed the title role of “Tevye” in the traveling company.

While Finkel was naturally cast for Jewish roles, he played all kinds of characters throughout his theater, movie and TV career. In 1994, Fyvush won an Emmy award for his portrayal of Douglas Wambaugh, the public defender, on the CBS drama “Picket Fences” (1992-1996).

But he will always be remembered for his unrelenting love of Yiddish and the Yiddish theater. The New York Times wrote in his obituary: “In winter he traveled to Florida to bring his valise of routines to the beachfront condominiums. Fifteen condos in 10 days, he boasted to an interviewer. In summer, like a monarch butterfly, he fluttered north to the handful of surviving Catskills hotels, sampling the borscht when there was no longer a belt and delighting the hotel denizens with jokes many had heard more than once.”

Finkel was married to Trudi Lieberman from 1947 until her death in 2008 (61 years!). They had two sons: Ian and Elliot, both musicians. He died on August 14, 2016.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate the Contributions of the Yiddish Theater

Learn about the Yiddish Theater, which was a staple of the Jewish immigrant experience in the early decades of the 20th century.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Teshuva: To Where Are We Returning?

The process of introspection and repentance in order to accomplish transformation, really begins a month before Rosh Hashana, with the advent of the Hebrew month of Elul. During this special period, It behooves us all to both study and modify our actions.

There are many wonderful writings concerning the Jewish virtue of repentance, but almost all are based, to a degree, on one of the earliest classical works on the subject--Maimonides’ Hilchot Teshuva, the Laws of Teshuva, commonly defined as repentance.

In Maimonides’ introductory sentence to his Laws of Teshuva, he writes: “There is one positive Biblical commandment contained in these laws, and that is, for the malefactor to ‘do teshuva’ from his iniquity before God and to confess.” Before we can even discuss the process of teshuva, we must understand what the concept means.

The Hebrew word teshuva connotes repentance, but the root of the word means to return. In modern day Hebrew, a response to a question (i.e. an answer) is known as teshuva. If that is true, to what are we returning?

Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Jerusalem’s Old City, asks this pointed, yet poignant, question and offers three answers. First, he suggests, those who do teshuva return to the innocence of their youth, when we lived without sin. Teshuva enables a person to travel back in time, metaphorically speaking, because the Talmud declares (Talmud Psachim 54a) that God created teshuva before he created the world. As such, it is not bound by the laws of nature.

Second, those who do teshuva, return to the beginnings of Jewish national identity, the Revelation at Sinai, where our ancestors stood “as one person with one heart,” declared “na’aseh v’nishma,” that we will accept the Torah before knowing what is contained in it. At that moment all iniquity was forgiven.

Third, Rabbi Nebenzahl suggests that those who do teshuva return to the ultimate source of spirituality, the habitat of souls, under the heavenly Throne of God. This esoteric center, with no corporeality, represents the true source that draws us to God. The soul within our body draws its nourishment from this epicenter, where no wickedness exists. This is the decisive “return” that we seek.

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Recall a Better Time

When engaging in introspection during this time of year, try to recall and “return to” a time you are proud of in your past.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Jewish Reveille

The first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, just two days away, brings with it a few changes to the prayer service, one of which is the blowing of the shofar every morning (except Shabbat and the day prior to Rosh Hashana). The sounding of the shofar during the month of Elul, is meant to serve as a wake-up call, to remind us that in less than a month, God will judge us. The time for introspection and personal accounting begins now!

The origin of the shofar finds its source immediately in the aftermath of the Akeida, the Binding of Abraham’s son Isaac. After the angel instructed Abraham not to slaughter his son, and acknowledged Abraham’s full subservience to God, the Torah informs us: "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering in place of his son" (Genesis 22:13).

The Midrash Pirkei d'Rebbe Eliezer (chapter 31) offers a profound message about this particular ram.

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says: No part of this ram went to waste. The ashes of the ram form the base of the golden incense altar in the Sanctuary. The ten sinews of the ram are the ten strings of the harp on which David played. The hide of the ram formed the leather belt of Elijah. The two horns of the ram are historic shofars: through the left one, the Voice of God was heard on Mount Sinai (at Revelation). The right horn, which was larger than the left one, will be sounded in the future at the ingathering of the exiles.

The shofar, the great symbol of introspection, judgment and redemption, is only “discovered” because Abraham lifted his eyes and actively sought an alternative way to serve God after the angel told him "not to harm the lad." He felt that a sacrifice was necessary, but knew well that it wasn't meant to be his beloved son. The ashes on the bottom of the altar represent the Divine gift of atonement. The sinews or strings on David's harp represent the spiritual song of the people, the tunes to which we turn in both jubilation and in torment. Elijah's belt? Belts always symbolize strength. Elijah possessed moral clarity and spiritual strength.

Abraham’s seemingly insignificant turn of his head, offered an insightful message to his offspring. Finding alternative ways to positively embrace and come closer to God can yield immense historical and spiritual results, all accomplished via the horn of a ram. So listen closely this coming month!

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Prepare for Judgment

Try to hear the shofar blasts daily during the month of Elul, to help prepare yourself spiritually for Rosh Hashana.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Splitting the Atom

When asked to name a theoretical physicist, the first name to come to many young Americans would be “Sheldon Cooper,” the fictional lead character on the long-running hit show, “Big Bang Theory.” Those in the know, however, would likely mention the name J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” (It is interesting to note that Oppenheimer himself, was awarded a fellowship at Caltech in September 1927, the school employing the fictional Sheldon Cooper).

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born on April 22, 1904, to Julius and Ella Oppenheimer. His father, a Jewish German immigrant, came to the United States penniless and uneducated, only to become a wealthy textile executive; his mother grew up in Baltimore. J. Robert attended prep schools in Manhattan and matriculated to Harvard College where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He moved from Cambridge, MA to Cambridge University, England where he studied theoretical physics, and eventually received his doctorate at the University of Gottingen, Germany. In 1929, Oppenheimer returned to the United States as an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

In October, 1941, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt approved “The Manhattan Project,” a secret program to develop an atomic bomb. In June of 1942, Oppenheimer was named head of the secret laboratory. In order to facilitate greater security and camaraderie, Oppenheimer moved the lab to Los Alamos, NM. There, Oppenheimer’s team succeeded in creating the world’s first atom bombs, which were used by the U.S. to end its war with Japan. The Americans dropped “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, and “Fat Man”, was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9th 1945, resulting in Japan’s unconditional surrender.

After World War II, Oppenheimer assumed the directorship of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, NJ. Oppenheimer advocated for the international monitoring of atomic energy and cautioned about the escalating arms race. He joined other such notable scientists as Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russel, to decry the negative uses of scientific discovery. He also faced scrutiny in the early days of the Cold War over his past association with communist organs, leading to his virtual excommunication from the world of academic science.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, survived by a wife and two children, died in Princeton, NJ, on February 18, 1967.

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Double Edge Swords

Nuclear power is an example of a concept inherently neutral that can be manipulated for ultimate good or ultimate evil. Humankind must try to use such entities only for good.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Should the Stork Be Kosher?

Kosher consumers, even the most tender of age, learn to seek out kosher symbols of the overseeing kashruth agencies on desired food products. If a product has a symbol of a recognized kashruth agency, it is deemed kosher. This makes sense, since most consumers obtain their food from stores, not from farms, ponds or the wild. Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 14:3-21), along with parashat Shmini (Leviticus 11:1-30), however, remind us of the biological criteria we use to identify kosher food.

Foods that grow from trees or from the ground are inherently kosher (although one may need to check for insect infestations and to make certain that no planting prohibitions have been violated such as orlah and/or shmittah). An animal that both chews its cud and possesses fully split hooves is deemed kosher as are fish with fins and scales. The Torah does not provide symbols for the two other categories of potentially kosher animals: birds and insects. However, the Torah does provide a list of 20 species of birds that are deemed unkosher. Among them is a bird known as a chassidah. Rashi identifies this non-kosher animal as the stork, although some argue that the stork is kosher (see Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 82).

The Talmud (Chullin 63a) notes that the chassidah is so named, because it performs acts of loving kindness (chessed) toward its fellow species members. The Rizhiner Rebbe asked, if this is indeed the case, why would such a species with a name testifying to its virtue, be deemed a non-kosher bird? To the contrary, a bird with such a revered name should certainly be kosher! The Rebbe answered that the Talmud claims that it performs acts of kindness towards members of its own species only, but not to others. True piety means caring for those in our inner circle as well as for those more distant.

It was Hans Christian Andersen who popularized the fantasy that new babies are delivered by storks. But his short story, “The Storks” ends tragically. When a boy teased the stork, the stork responded by delivering a stillborn to the boy’s family. Centuries earlier, Greek mythology taught that storks stole babies. So perhaps our sages’ view of the stork’s limited kindness mirrored or even served as the premise for latter versions of the stork’s character.

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Kosher Symbols

We should endeavor to teach children both means of identifying kosher foods: the logos of kashruth organizations and the biological signs described in the Torah.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Celebrating Bar Ilan University

Would you believe that the founding of Israel’s second largest university (33,000 students) was conceived “deep in the heart of Dixie”?

Two years after Israel’s founding in 1948, the participants at a meeting of the American Mizrachi Organization in Atlanta, GA, dreamed of the need for an Israeli institution of higher learning committed to a dual academic curriculum of Torah and general studies, in the model of New York’s Yeshiva University. The founders hoped its alumni would espouse the values of the religious Zionist movement, yet embrace, at the highest academic levels, the great disciplines of Western thought and civilization. The new university was named for Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan (1880-1949), a leader of the Religious Zionist movement and son of the renowned sage Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin. Rabbi Bar Ilan, who passed away the year before the Atlanta meeting, served as president of U.S. Mizrachi from 1915-1928, functioning in this capacity from Jerusalem, after he moved there in 1923.

The dream became a reality on August 7, 1955, when Bar Ilan University was founded in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Rabbi Dr. Pinkhas Churgin (1894-1957) served as the university’s first president. A native of Belarus, young Pinkhas moved to Jerusalem with his family in 1906 where he received a traditional Jewish education, culminating in rabbinic ordination. Desiring a serious general education, Dr. Churgin moved to the United States, receiving his doctorate in Semitics from Yale College in 1922. While still a student in 1920, Rabbi Dr. Churgin took a position at the YU-affiliated Beit Midrash LeMorim/Teachers Institute, which was founded by Mizrachi as a way to train Judaic studies teachers at the highest academic level. By 1923, he was the principal and built up Teachers Institute until he assumed the presidency of Bar Ilan in 1955.

In its early days, Bar Ilan catered exclusively to religious students and retained the services of only religious professors. While religious students are still a majority, today, both secular and non-Jewish students and teachers attend and teach at Bar Ilan.

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Judaic and General Studies

Most often, Judaic and general studies are harmonious and pose no conflicts. It is always advisable to endeavor to see things from different perspectives.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Jews Of Jamaica

As in many countries of the New World, the Jewish history of Jamaica begins with conversos, the secret Jews who fled Spain. They came to the New World seeking not only new opportunities, but also to distance themselves from the Inquisition. As in many countries of the New World, the conversos rejoiced when the British conquered the island from Spain in 1655. (A fascinating fact: the ship that led the British into Kingston, Jamaica, was piloted by one Compoe Sabbatha, who was, himself, a converso.)

With the island under British control, Jews felt safe coming to Jamaica, and many arrived from Spanish held territories. Just because the Inquisition was not in Jamaica, however, did not mean that the Jews were particularly welcome. As early as 1671, there was a failed petition to expel Jews, and, in 1693, a special tax was levied on the community. In the 1700s, Jews were banned from hiring Christian house-servants.

Still, the community flourished, and the Jews, who were often involved in the sugar and vanilla trades, prospered. It is apparent, that once they were granted equal status in 1831, the Jews were actually well respected in Jamaica and even captured a decent percentage of the seats in the legislature. By 1849, eight of the forty-seven members of the colonial assembly were Jewish. In fact, that year, the assembly voted to adjourn over Yom Kippur.

Both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews settled in Jamaica. At one point, there were synagogues in Kingston, Port Royal, Spanish Town and Montego Bay. Time, assimilation, and economic and political factors took their toll on the Jamaican Jewish community. By the 1980s, only a few hundred Jews remained. Today, only one synagogue remains in Kingston, Shaare Shalom, and also a Jewish school (Hillel Academy), as well several other Jewish organizations.

On August 6, 1962, Jamaica declared its independence from the United Kingdom.

This Treat was last posted on August 6, 2013.

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Gratitude for Historical Grace to Jews

Show gratitude to countries that allowed Jews to immigrate when they were unsafe elsewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Heel and the Parachute

The title of this week’s parashah, Eikev, is one of the more difficult parashah names to properly translate. The word eikev connotes the word “therefore,” so the opening three words of the parashah – “v’haya eikev tish’mi’un” – can be translated as, “therefore, it shall come to pass, if you give heed” (Deuteronomy 7:12). But the word “eikev” itself shares a root with the Hebrew word for heel, as we’ve learned previously. What can we learn from this connection?

Rashi explains that those commandments that will reap the specific rewards that the Torah describes, are the ones we often crush with our heels, ones that seem insignificant. Seemingly insignificant details do matter, and can even ultimately prove to be the determining factor between success and failure.

In the technologically advanced world in which we live, we can easily understand this. An email address or a password will not work if typed incorrectly. Sometimes the difference between success and failure can be a capitalized letter that was entered as lower case. In relationships, experts conclude that small, kind and thoughtful gestures on a regular basis can make the difference between healthy and toxic interactions.

A story is told of a hotshot pilot who was dining with some friends in a fancy restaurant’s exclusive section. He regaled his friends with stories about how he had to parachute out of his jet and land behind enemy lines, only to be rescued a few days later. As he was telling the story, a stranger stood at the door listening intently. The pilot stopped and asked the man who he was. The man informed the pilot that he too served on the same Aircraft Carrier, but ranked lower than the pilot and, as such, they never associated with one another. The pilot, in a feigned attempt at politeness, asked his fellow naval veteran what task he performed on the ship. “I packed the pilots’ parachutes,” came the reply. The pilot’s face turned red as he invited his colleague to dine with him. The man, to whom he never deigned to talk, may have saved his life.

Let’s not underestimate the value of what some may consider small or insignificant.

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Value both large and small items!

Consider all types of items important, whether significant, time-consuming, large, or not.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Iraq and the Jews

Much of ancient and modern Jewish history has passed through Iraq. It can be argued that civilization, as we know it today, actually began in Iraq.

The mighty metropolis of Babel or Babylonia appears in the Bible, and centuries later, it was the Babylonians who destroyed Solomon’s Temple and exiled the Jews to its borders. While a minority of Jews immigrated back to Jerusalem about 70 years later, Iraq became home to a rich Jewish community in exile, that even featured Jewish self-governance through leaders known as exilarchs. Jewish centers of Torah study emerged and the Babylonian Talmud, the basis of Jewish law, or halacha, is studied and eventually codified in such Torah academies as Sura, Pumpedita and Nehardea. For the next 1,000 years, Babylon would be a major center of Jewish life. The Babylonian influence was so great, that the only language other than Hebrew in which the standard prayers were composed is Aramaic, the language of Babylon.

In the 12th century, 40,000 Jews lived between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Babylonia. During Ottoman rule over Baghdad, the Jewish population in the city surged to 50,000 by the year 1900, which represented 25% of the entire Jewish population of Baghdad.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, the Iraqi Zionist underground began illegally smuggling Jews out of Baghdad at a rate of 1,000 per month. In March of 1950, Iraq passed a law allowing Jews to leave on condition that they relinquish their Iraqi citizenship. In March 1951, Israel initiated “Operation Ezra and Nehemiah” airlifting Iraqi Jews to Israel. Between 1948 and 1951, over 121,000 Iraqi Jews left Iraq.

On July 16, 1979, Saddam Hussein assumed the presidency of Iraq, having conspired in the 1968 coup that brought Baath rule to Iraq. On this day in 1990, Iraqi forces invaded neighboring Kuwait, land that Saddam viewed as historically Iraqi territory, as Iraq’s 19th province. U.S. President George H.W. Bush recruited a coalition of nations who, through the United Nations, demanded that Iraq leave Kuwait or face war. When Iraqi forces did not leave by the U.N.-imposed deadline, the coalition went to war. Saddam Hussein threatened to launch scud missiles at population centers in Israel if coalition forces attacked Iraq. Despite sustaining an attack of 39 Scud missiles, President Bush successfully convinced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir not to respond to the attack.

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Learn Jewish History

When reading news stories about Israel, learn about the history and context of the region and the issue.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

People of the (Printed) Book

Johannes Gutenberg, credited as the developer of the printing press, published the Gutenberg Bible in 1445. The printing technology transformed the way people learned. International literacy and access to knowledge exploded in a way the world had never seen.

The “People of the Book” also saw an opportunity to spread Jewish knowledge and joined in the new printing endeavor. In 1483, Joshua Soncino established a printing press in Soncino, Italy (60 KM east of Milan) and published the first tractate of the Talmud (Berachot) a year later, which included the commentaries of Rashi and the Ba'alei Tosafot. This print house also claims to have produced the first printed Hebrew Bible with vowels. Publishing the Talmud on a larger scale, while maintaining the Soncino’s layout of the Talmudic text surrounded by the commentaries, was accomplished at the Venetian press of the non-Jewish printer, Daniel Bomberg, beginning in 1520.

Five years after Soncino established a printing press in Italy, Joseph Caro was born in Spain. His family migrated through Turkey, and Caro eventually ended up in Safed, in northern Israel. He became an expert both in mysticism and halacha (Jewish law). In 1522, Rabbi Caro began writing a major halachic work which aimed to codify Jewish law based on the three great halachic works that preceded his own, namely, the codes of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (1013-1103) of Morocco, Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) of Egypt, and Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel (1250-1327) of both Germany and Spain. Rabbi Caro’s commentary on the Arba Turim of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (1269-1343) ultimately became the Shulchan Aruch (prepared table), an authoritative work on Jewish law especially for Sephardic Jews. On the 2nd of Elul 1555, due to the presence of a printing press in Safed, Rabbi Caro’s monumental work was printed and disseminated to the entire Jewish world. This allowed Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (1530-1572) of Kracow, Poland, to publish the Ma’pah (table cloth), which added emendations to the Shulchan Aruch, noting the differences in law and custom for Ashkenazic Jews.

Due to the historical and cultural consensus around the Shulchan Aruch/Mapah, and the fact that it was the first major halachic work written after the development of the printing press, it became the authoritative work on Jewish law.

A few years later, on the 20th of Av, 1558 (corresponding to August 4), the Zohar was printed for the first time.

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Power of the Printing Press

Today people do not need a printing press to promote their thoughts and ideas, as social media exponentially amplifies the power of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. When you post on social media, please do so responsibly!