Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Jewish Community of Vegas, Stays in Vegas! Jews of Nevada

When the territory now known as Nevada was acquired in 1848 after the Mexican War, “Forty-Niners”, headed west to mine for gold. By the late 1870s, there were about 1,000 Jews in Nevada, although very few were actual miners. Almost every area of settlement, such as Genoa, Virginia City, Austin, Eureka and Hamilton, had retail stores owned by Jews, where people purchased clothing and dry goods. When even ten Jews settled in one area, a Hebrew Benevolent Society was established to help the needy, arrange prayer services on the High Holidays and purchase land for the purpose of Jewish burial. While, until more recently, the Jewish population of Nevada did not exceed 1% of the state’s total population, Jews were always represented in civil leadership.

In addition to mining, Nevada is renowned for its gambling casinos. Legalized gambling ended in 1911, but was reinstated in 1931, since Nevada’s citizens fled the state during the harsh conditions of the Great Depression. (Divorce was legalized later that year as well). As a result, Las Vegas became the entertainment and gambling capital of the world. Gambling’s underbelly also brought organized crime, which also featured some famous Jews.

Although the first synagogue in Nevada, affiliated with the Reform movement, was founded in 1876, the first synagogue building was not erected (in Reno) until 1921. The next one was built in Las Vegas, in 1963. The Reno synagogue brought the first resident rabbi to Nevada in 1932, Rabbi Hersh Opoczynski, who anglicized his name to Harry Tarlow. He and his wife opened the first boarding house for those seeking legal divorces.

But the main narrative of Nevada’s Jews is linked to the proliferation of gambling casinos in Las Vegas between 1947 and 1967. Ubiquitous entertainment centers such as Caesars Palace, Desert Inn, Flamingo, Sahara, Aladdin, Riviera, Sands and Tropicana were all Jewish owned, and expanded greatly more recently, with the arrival of Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian and Steve Wynn’s eponymous casino. This expansion resulted in the exponential growth of Las Vegas’ Jewish community. As of 2007, Vegas supported 19 synagogues of all stripes. A $25 million donation from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson funded the creation of 3 Jewish day schools and a high school. In 2017, the Jewish population of Nevada was recorded as 76,300.

Nevada was officially welcomed into the Union, in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, on October 31, 1864.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Study Jewish Communities

Study about the Jewish communities you visit when you travel and support them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Chaim Weizmann

Many of the greatest names in Israeli history belong to leaders of military battles and to eloquent spokespersons who rallied the Jewish people to fight for a modern homeland. Chaim Weizmann’s field of “battle” was the game of diplomacy. His great skill in this most delicate realm made it all the more appropriate that his final title was that of the first President of the State of Israel.

Born in Russia in 1874, the third of fifteen children, Weizmann followed his Jewish cheder education with gymnasium and multiple universities. A scientist by training, he received degrees from universities in Germany and Switzerland and taught at the University of Geneva before accepting a position as senior lecturer at University of Manchester in 1904.

Weizmann became a British citizen. During the first World War, he gained national attention when he developed a process for producing acetone, a critical explosive component that greatly benefited the British war effort. His national security work enabled him to make many influential and important contacts.

An ardent Zionist, Weizmann attended every Zionist conference in Basil, Switzerland except the first. Weizmann’s belief was that the Zionists could only succeed if there were people settling the land while diplomatic maneuvers were put in place. Weizmann played a critical role in the creation of both the Weizmann Institute for Science and Hebrew University.

Weizmann’s diplomatic victories were of great significance. It was his efforts that resulted in the Balfour Declaration. He was the diplomat who sat with the Hashemite Prince Feisal and reached a (short-lived) agreement with the Arabs. And it was known that Weizmann influenced the United States to support both the Partition Plan and Statehood.

In 1952, after serving four years as President, Weizmann died at his home in Rehovot. Chaim Weizmann passed away on November 9, 1952, corresponding to the 21st of Cheshvan.

This Treat was last posted on April 26, 2012.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be an Activist!

Learn from the lives of those who dedicated themselves to virtuous causes.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Poet and A Martyr

Hannah Senesh (Szenes) was born in Budapest, Hungary, to an assimilated, middle-class family. An avid diarist from the age of 13 until her death, Hannah maintained a personal journal that reflected the literary talent she had inherited from her father, Bela, a playwright who died when she was six.

While the Senesh family were not active participants in Jewish religious life, both Hannah and her brother George were ardent Zionists. In 1939, at age 18, Hannah gave up her dream of a university education, went to Palestine (now called Israel) and enrolled in an agricultural school. She later joined Kibbutz S'dot Yam (Fields of the Sea) in Caesarea.

Back in Hungary, the entire Jewish community (including Hannah's mother) was suffering terribly due to local anti-Semitism. Although the Germans did not officially occupy Hungary until 1944, the Hungarian government allied itself with the Axis powers. Worried about her mother and anxious to do something to stop the Nazis, Hannah joined the British Army, volunteering to be parachuted across enemy lines as a spy.

In June 1944, Hannah parachuted into Yugoslavia and, together with a band of underground Jewish partisans, crossed the border into Hungary. Unfortunately, they were quickly captured. The radio transmitter in their possession was evidence enough to have them imprisoned.

The Nazis held Hannah in prison for nearly five months, during which time she was able to communicate with her mother. She was tortured, repeatedly, but refused to give the Nazis any information. On November 7, 1944, corresponding to the 20th of Cheshvan, the 23 year-old Hannah was executed by firing squad. She refused to be blind-folded.

Hannah's diaries and poems, which she sent to her mother, were later published. Several of her poems became popular Hebrew songs. The courage displayed by this young woman has been an inspiration to many generations of young people.

One of her most famous poems:
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man. 

This Treat was last posted on April 21, 2011.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Make sure to recognize the ultimate sacrifice made by Jewish heroes so Judaism could continue.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Sarah’s Whereabouts Determine Jewish Law

Parashat Vayeira begins with Avraham convalescing after his circumcision. Unexpectedly, he sees three “visitors,” whom the Midrash identifies as angels, come toward his home. Excited to welcome guests, he washes their feet, and promises them a meal. Avraham asks his wife Sarah to prepare bread, while he slaughters meat, and brings the guests a scrumptious meal. He stands over them, making sure they are eating.

Then the “guests” ask a bizarre, perhaps immodest, question. “And they said to him, where is Sarah your wife? And he said, Behold in the tent” (Genesis 18:9). After asking this question, the angels inform Avraham and Sarah that in a year hence they will be blessed with a son, despite their advanced age. The Midrash explains the need for three angels: one angel came to heal the sick Abraham, another angel came to inform Abraham and Sarah of their impending parenthood, and a third angel came to destroy the evil city of Sodom. Once the angel concluded his task of visiting Avraham, it was tasked with saving Lot and his family.

So why did the angels need to ask about Sarah’s whereabouts before dispatching their jobs?

Tradition maintains that the Jewish Messiah will be a descendant of King David. But, King David himself is a descendant of the righteous Moabite convert, Ruth. The Moabite nation was born from the union between Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and one of his daughters. The Torah (Deuteronomy 23:4-7) declares that Moabites may not be accepted as converts because they did not act hospitably toward the Israelites while they were in the Wilderness and because they hired Balaam to curse the Israelites.

If this is true, how could Ruth be accepted as a convert? How could David be a legitimate king of Israel?

The Talmud (Yevamot 77) notes that Moabite men are proscribed from joining the Jewish people, because they were the ones who decided not to provide victuals to the wandering Israelites. The rabbis in the Talmud were unsure if Moabite women could be accepted or not. After all, would the women, had they had the opportunity, have fed the Israelites? The Talmud concludes, based on a ruling of the prophet Samuel, that we do accept Moabite women as converts.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe known as the Chidushei HaRim, suggests that this is why the angels asked about Sarah’s whereabouts. If she were demonstrating hospitality, which she was, the law would allow the conversion of female Moabites. This debate proved relevant to the angels, as they needed to know whether Lot and his daughters should be saved in order to eventually produce Ruth and King David.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Reaching out to welcome those in need of meals, or beds, is considered one of Judaism’s most virtuous deeds.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Levi Eshkol

No leader wants to send troops to their deaths in battle. But facing the destruction of one’s nation is a trial no leader should ever face. Israel’s second Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, stared that option in the face.

Eshkol was born Levi Yitzchak Skolnick in the village of Oratov, outside of Kiev, on October 25, 1895. He received a traditional cheder education followed by attendance at the Jewish gymnasium in Vilna. It was there that he became active in the nascent Zionist movement, leading to his making aliyah in 1914, where he helped build irrigation tunnels to bring water to the newly-created orchards.

He soon became active in the labor union, was a founder of the Histadrut, the National Federation of Jewish Laborers, helped found Kibbutz Degania Bet, which remained his life-long home, and joined the Haganah. He excelled in all areas.

At the time of Israel’s establishment, in May 1948, Eshkol was appointed Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, and, beginning in 1949, while serving as the head of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency, made great contributions in absorbing immigrants and dispatching them to new agricultural farms. Later, he also served as Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Finance. Upon Ben Gurion’s resignation as Prime Minister, Eshkol was elected party chair and became Israel’s second Prime Minister, leading Israel’s 12th Knesset in 1963. One of his first acts was to fulfil the wishes of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a more conservative Zionist leader, to re-inter him and his wife in Israeli soil.

Importantly, Eshkol developed a close personal relationship with U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. When Israel’s surrounding Arab neighbors, led by Egypt’s President Nasser, ratcheted up the verbal and military pressure to war, Eshkol hesitated, despite the military leaders pushing to pre-empt the enemies. Eshkol stuttered through a national radio address on May 28, 1967, which empowered Israeli’s enemies and caused great concern in Israel. Eshkol eventually gave the green-light to the plan to dispatch Israel’s air force to bomb enemy aircraft while still on their runways, which enabled Israeli forces to repel enemy forces and gain territory in a six day battle, known widely as the Six Day War.

After the war, Eshkol’s health declined. A heart attack on February 26, 1969 proved fatal. Eshkol received a State funeral and was buried on Mount Herzl and was succeeded by Golda Meir.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Volunteer For Israel

One need not be the Prime Minister of Israel to volunteer on behalf of Israel. There are numerous opportunities to support Israel in every Jewish community. Go out and help the Jewish homeland.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Chazon Ish

Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish, was considered to be one of the most important rabbinic voices in Europe and Israel in the period before World War II and its immediate aftermath. The name Chazon Ish was a pen name he used to publish anonymous halachic works in 1911. Ish, which means “man” or “person” in Hebrew, was an acronym for his Hebrew name Avraham Yeshaya.

Rabbi Karelitz was born on November 7, 1878, in Kosava, Russia, now Belarus. His father, Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef, was the rabbi in Kosava and his mother, Rasha, was the daughter of Rabbi Shaul Katzenelbogen. Young Avraham Yeshaya studied with the renowned Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, and later returned to Kosava to study with his father.

After marrying Bashe Bei, Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya moved to the huge Jewish community of Vilna in 1920, and became very close with Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the titular head of East European Orthodox Jewry at the time. Rabbi Grodzinski encouraged Rabbi Kareletz to move to the Holy Land, and with help and support from Palestine’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Kook, he and his wife (they never had children) immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and settled in Bnei Brak.

In addition to his absolute grasp of all facets of Torah, Rabbi Karelitz, despite being self-taught, mastered several scientific disciplines, including anatomy, astronomy, math and botany. The Chazon Ish was not a Zionist, and feared that a state led by secular Jews would threaten the Orthodox Jewish life that he and his followers sought. The Chazon Ish supposedly met with Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, to argue for a draft deferment for Torah students. He cited the Talmudic passage where two boats simultaneously enter a narrow canal, the boat with the greater cargo goes first. He claimed that the traditional community was the older ship with greater cargo, and should be given deference.

The Chazon Ish, by virtue of his brilliance, charisma and wide acceptance, was one of the leading Torah voices in all of Israel, despite never holding any formal rabbinic position. He avoided the limelight, lived a very austere life, subsisting on his wife’s meager income, and avoided the religious political movements prevalent in the years before and after Israel’s independence in 1948.

The Chazon Ish died on the 15th of Cheshvan, corresponding to October 24, 1953.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn about Torah Sages

Those recognized as religious leaders of the Jewish people are presumed to possess superior Torah knowledge and live a life of righteousness and piety. Learn about these great leaders throughout the generations.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Sounds of Silence (Not!)

Exactly one month ago, we were putting the final touches on our Sukkahs, which served as our “homes-away-from-home” for the subsequent week. In addition to eating in the sukkah, many people sleep in the sukkah as well, as a component of “living in the Sukkah,” if and when the conditions are right. Indeed, during Sukkot, we are to live in the sukkah in the same manner as we live in our homes the rest of the year.

Suppose a group of people chose to fulfill the mitzvah in its ideal form by sleeping in the sukkah, but one of those individuals snores heavily and the snorer’s presence would prevent the others from sleeping. How would Jewish law handle this situation? Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of Bet El in Israel, analyzed this question.

A principle of the laws of Sukkah is that someone who is very uncomfortable, in Hebrew mitzta’er, is exempt from living in the Sukkah. With the exception of the first night of Sukkot (and the second night outside of Israel to a lesser extent), many people leave the sukkah when it rains, when it is excessively hot or cold or when faced with other impediments to our comfort. According to some contemporary sages (Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and his son-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky) those who would be unable to sleep due to snoring, are considered mitzta’er, and as such, would be exempt from sleeping in the sukkah.

Other rabbis disagree. Some feel that this law should not be viewed from the perspective of fulfilling the laws of Sukkot, but rather, seen in the context of basic human decency, that it’s not ok to keep people awake, even inadvertently. As such, the snorer who is causing damage (lack of sleep), should be the one to leave the sukkah.

Rabbi Asher Weiss, a renowned Israeli decisor of Jewish law, offered 3 reasons why the snorer should leave. He argues that there is precedent when performing a mitzvah, that we defer to the majority over the minority. He also feels that the snorer, by leaving the sukkah, allows others to sleep in peace, and, thus, fulfills a mitzvah. Finally, in general, one should not do anything that would prevent others from sleeping.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Show Care for Those Who Are Sleeping

Preventing someone from sleeping can be considered a type of theft. It is a Jewish value, under normal circumstances, not to wake those who are asleep.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Sir Moses Montefiore

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) had an extraordinary impact on the world.

Beginning a career in general business, Montefiore quickly gained one of the 12 brokers licenses allowed to Jews on the London Exchange. When Montefiore retired from business in his early 40s, he was already a wealthy man.

Moses Montefiore’s philanthropic endeavors and his willingness to step forward to defend his fellow Jews won him great admiration and fame. He sought the liberty of Syrian Jews imprisoned in Damascus for a blood libel and went to Russia to beseech the Czar for leniency toward the Jews. He was viewed by Jews the world over as their protector and leader.

Montefiore and his wife, Judith, supported Jewish and non-Jewish institutions in England. In Ramsgate, where they lived, they built a synagogue and a Sephardic yeshiva.

Montefiore is most revered, however, for his charitable work in the land of Israel, which he personally visited seven times. He supported industry and education, but also sought to make the Jews of Israel more self sufficient. Among the famous Montefiore endeavors are the windmill in Yemin Moshe and the building of the neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, both of which were unique for being outside the walls of the Old City.

A Sephardic Jew, Montefiore’s observance of Jewish law was strengthened by his love of the Land of Israel. He was famous for traveling in his horse drawn carriage with his own Torah and shochet (ritual slaughterer) and for bringing his own dishes and food to banquets.

Montefiore was knighted by Queen Victoria, served as the Sheriff of London and was president (1835-74) of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In 1846, he received a baronetcy. Sir Moses Montefiore passed away just a few months before his 101st birthday. 

Sir Moses Montefiore was born on the 13th of Cheshvan, corresponding to October 28, 1784.

This Treat was last posted on August 3, 2009. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Philanthropists are Role Models

While the average charitable person can’t donate sufficient funds to dedicate buildings, we need to follow the lead of philanthropists and support causes that are impactful and close to our hearts.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Abraham’s Moving Test

The 39 prohibited labors of Shabbat are derived via the Biblical juxtaposition of the 39 creative labors that were employed in the building of the tabernacle, the Mishkan, and observing the Sabbath.  The 39 acts are divided into categories: sowing seeds in order to form bread; turning wool into string and tapestry; transforming animal hides into useable skins. These acts are biblically prohibited only when they are constructive. Tearing, as an example, is only violated biblically when one tears in order to mend. One who becomes angry and rips something, does not violate the Sabbath on a Biblical level, since it is not a productive act.

But, the sages identified one act that does not seem to be constructive, yet is Biblically proscribed: the prohibition of removing or uprooting something from its domain (known as hotza’ah). The biblical prohibition of hotza’ah would be violated when any one of the following acts are performed in a public domain: carrying, pushing a carriage, throwing an object from one domain to another and walking with objects in one’s pockets. The Tosafists (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 2a) identify hotza’ah as a m’lacha ge’ruah, a lower level act, an unproductive activity. Why is this act, included in the list of 39 activities, ask the Tosafists, when all the other actions are considered constructive and productive?

The rabbis offer various answers to this famous Talmudic question, but one pertains to this week’s Torah portion of Parashat Lech Le’cha, which opens as follows: “And the Lord had said to Abram, Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you; and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1). 

Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem’s Old City, explains that God’s command to Abraham to re-locate himself, demonstrates that movement from one domain to another can indeed be the most constructive act, not so much because of the action involved, but because when one changes their location, their luck can change for the better. Look at the blessings Abraham received for himself and his progeny by uprooting his home. What can be more productive than that?!

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Moves are Productive

Recognize that moving from one place to another can be the most productive and constructive action we take in life.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Earthshattering Moments in One of Israel’s Holiest Cities

Tzfat (Safed), the Israeli city in the rolling hills of the Galilee, is known as one of the four holy cities of Israel, along with Tiberias, Hebron and, of course, Jerusalem. It was the home of the 15th century renaissance of the mystical study of Kaballah, and served, as well, as the residence of the Arizal, Rabbi Yosef Karo, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, the author of L’cha Dodi, and many other great Torah sages.

While many earthshattering historical moments took place in Tzfat, it is also a location prone to earthquakes. On the 9th of Cheshvan, corresponding to October 31, 1759, an earthquake struck that nearly destroyed Tzfat. 

Tzfat is located on the Dead Sea Transform, a fault that runs from the northern Red Sea, through Israel’s Jordan Valley, to the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey. The October 1759 earthquake was estimated at 6.6 on the surface wave magnitude scale, and caused a massive landslide within the city built on the side of a mountain. 140 Jews died in the quake and 200 homes were destroyed. An exodus from Tzfat ensued, leaving just 50 families. A 1730 census indicated 1800 Jewish residents of Tzfat. A more intense earthquake on November 25 of the same year, destroyed all the villages in the Beqaa valley, northwest of Tzfat in Lebanon. This earthquake almost mimicked the damage the region had sustained in a Syria-based earthquake in 1202. 

Of all of Tzfat's synagogues, only the Alsheich synagogue withstood the 1759 blast. 

Hassidic Jews returned to Tzfat in 1764 to rebuild the ancient holy city. Another earthquake, measured at a magnitude of 6.9, devastated Tzfat on January 1, 1837. Once again, the Alsheich synagogue was unaffected and eyewitnesses claim that the southern wall of the Abuhav synagogue, where the Ark stood, was not destroyed. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Support Ancient Edifices

Help rebuild and maintain Jewish centers that convey our history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Second “Gandhi” Assassination

Rehavam Ze’evi was born on June 20, 1926 in Jerusalem. He joined the Palmach in 1942, and, after the nation’s creation in 1948, served in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) as a platoon commander. From 1964 to 1968, he was the Chief of the Department of Staff in the Israeli General Staff, and, in 1973, retired from the IDF with the rank of Major General, rejoining temporary to help fight the Yom Kippur War. His nickname “Gandhi” stems from an event in his youth where he shaved his head and entered the dining room wearing a towel around his waist, appearing similar to the famed Indian leader.

Like many retired Israeli generals, Ze’evi entered politics. He served as Prime Minister Rabin’s consultant on combatting terrorism, and a year later, Rabin tapped him as an advisor on intelligence. 
In 1988, Ze’evi formed the Moledet political party, advocating the very controversial notion of population transfer, removing the Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to neighboring Arab countries. 

In Israel’s parliamentary system, small parties sign coalition agreements with larger parties to help them attain a majority of seats in the Knesset. Ze’evi joined the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir, but quit when Shamir attended the Madrid Conference in 1991. He did not join the more right-leaning Netanyahu government (1996-1999) either. When General Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister in February, 2001, Ze’evi, as head of the newly-formed National Union, joined the government and assumed the position of Tourism Minister. 

On October 17, 2001, two days after resigning from the Sharon government, Ze’evi was assassinated in a hotel in Jerusalem. He was buried in the Herzl Military cemetery, leaving a wife, Yael, and five children: Palmach, Sayar, Masada, Te’ela and Arava. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took credit for the murder, as revenge for Israel’s killing its leader a few months earlier. The murderers escaped to Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. After a siege by the IDF, the US brokered a plan to incarcerate the murderers in PA-controlled Jericho, guarded by US and British soldiers. Three years later the soldiers left their post claiming the PA was not adhering to its side of the deal. The Israeli military raided the prison and seized the five gunmen. The five were tried in Israeli courts. Their sentences range from life in prison to 30 years behind bars.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Remember Israeli Heroes

Israeli military heroes, despite political positions, should nevertheless be remembered, for their dedication, achievements and sacrifice to the state and the people of Israel.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Nuremberg Trials

On October 16, 1946, ten leaders of the Nazi party were executed after the first of the twelve Nuremberg Trials sentenced them to death. The trials of over 100 defendants took place in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949.

In 1944 after the Allied invasion of Europe, when victory looked likely, various members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration shared plans with the President on how to deal with Nazi war criminals. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau proposed a plan including executing some immediately, banishing others, and that POWs would be forced to rebuild Europe. Secretary of War Henry Stimson advocated for the plan that led to the trials, which FDR endorsed. Eventually, at their famous Yalta summit, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Chairman Stalin endorsed the trials as well.

On May 2, 1945, several months after the sudden death of President Roosevelt, and two days after Adolph Hitler committed suicide, President Truman appointed Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Robert Jackson, to serve as chief prosecutor for the United States at the trials. Justice Jackson convinced his colleagues from other countries to prosecute the Nazis based on “acts which have been regarded as criminal since the time of Cain and have been so written in every civilized code.” Jackson and his colleagues agreed that the court would be called the International Military Tribunal, consisting of a judge from each country.

Jackson wanted the trials to take place in Germany, but, as a result of the war, few German cities had courthouses that were still standing. They chose Nuremberg, where Hitler held many rallies and where the infamous Nuremberg Laws were enacted, which denied Jews property rights and civil rights. 

In Jackson’s opening statement, he stated, “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.” 

On October 16, 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged: Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arhtur Seyss-Inquart and Julius Streicher. Herman Goring committed suicide the night before his execution and Martin Bormann was sentenced to death in abstentia. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Never Again

Never miss an opportunity to learn from history’s human rights catastrophes so they are never repeated.

Monday, October 15, 2018


Florence, Italy, purports to be one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, dating back to at least 1159, when Benjamin of Tudela wrote of his visit to Florence, capital of the Tuscany region. The Jewish community was officially formed in 1437, nine years after the community lent funds to Pope Martin V in return for his protection. The formation of the Jewish community coincided with the rise of the Medici family, who, as patrons of the arts and humanities, built Florence as a center of Renaissance culture and art in Italy. When the Medicis fell from power in the 1490s, the Jews were expelled. Since the Jewish community had loaned significant funds to the Republic of Florence, the expulsion was successfully delayed until the Medicis returned to power in 1512.

In 1537, the Medicis permitted expelled Jews from Spain and Portugal, to settle in Florence, which caused the Florence Jewish community to grow. Once the Medicis consolidated their power, they did enact laws requiring a special dress code for Jews and creating the Jewish ghetto of Florence in 1571. Although confined to the ghetto, the Jews created communal institutions and were granted autonomy within the ghetto. Due to the flow of Iberian Jews, tensions rose within the ghetto as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews desired synagogues and schools to conduct services in their own rite, and not the Italian custom.

In 1799, when Napoleon occupied Florence, the Jews were emancipated. In 1848, the Jews left the ghetto and were granted civil rights. In 1861, the Jews of Florence were granted full citizenship. They built the Great Synagogue in 1882 and the Rabbinical College of Padua, 120 miles away, was relocated to Florence.

Although 3,000 Jews lived happily in Florence in 1931, their experience deteriorated with the Nazi occupation of Italy in September 1943. On the 6th of Cheshvan, Dr. Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, the Jewish communal leader of Florence, was included in the initial deportations to Auschwitz. Only 13 out of the 243 Jews deported, returned alive.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Studying History

Given the longevity and geographic diversity of Jewish communities, when you study world history, you can often also study the history of Jews in that location during that time period.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The First Pitch

Parashat Noach begins by describing the famous teivah, or ark, that God instructed Noah to build. Since the wooden craft would be challenged by the rainstorm and the elements, God instructed Noah to protect the ark with pitch on both the inside and the outside (Genesis 6:14).

The same Hebrew word, teivah, is employed by the Torah to describe the floating bassinet which was used to hide baby Moses from Pharaoh’s officers. This “ark” was water-proofed as well. As the Torah testifies, “And when she (Moses’ mother) could no longer hide him (Moses), she took for him an ark made of reeds, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child in it; and she laid it in the rushes by the river’s brink” (Exodus 2:3). The commentator Rashi, in both aforementioned sources, offers several reasons why Noah’s ark had pitch on both the inside and outside while Moses’ ark only had pitch on the outside. First of all, Rashi notes, Moses’ ark only encountered tranquil and still waters, while Noah’s ark was to face a massive storm with a cataclysmic amount of water. Moses’ ark therefore only needed water-proofing on the outside.

Second, Rashi points out, the pitch was not placed on the inside of Moses’ basket so that “the righteous Moses would not need to breath in the foul smelling pitch.”

There is a well-known rabbinic debate concerning Noah, regarding whether he was objectively or subjectively righteous. Parashat Noach opens with the following verse: “These are the generations of Noah; Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Does “perfect in his generations” limit his being “a just man” or does his being a “just man” stand on its own? Was he only righteous compared to the wicked people of his generation, or would he have been considered as righteous if he lived in Abraham’s generation? Rashi’s comments above seem to indicate that Abraham was more righteous than Noah, and bolsters the opinion that Noah’s righteousness was somewhat subjective.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Act Objectively Righteous

Don’t justify questionable behavior because it is better than that of others. Do the right thing. You can’t go wrong!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Say Cheese!

For decades the word Polaroid was synonymous with 60 second instant photography, in an era when film canisters were removed from the camera and developed into photographs by a third party.

Dr. Edwin Land, one of the co-founders of the Polaroid Corporation, was born on May 7, 1909 in Bridgeport, CT, to Martha (nee Goldfaden) and Harry Land, Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Land began studying chemistry at Harvard University in 1927, but left after his freshman year to work on his own scientific experiments. In New York City, he spent his days in the Public Library and his nights “borrowing” a lab at Columbia University. That year, he invented the first useable polarizing filter. He returned to Harvard for three years, but dropped out again and opened the Land-Wheelright Laboratories. In 1937, the company was renamed Polaroid Corporation. Land’s polarizing technology was used in a wide range of inventions, including night-vision goggles, 3-D glasses, liquid crystal displays (LCD) and even the U-2 spy plane, some of which were developed for the use of the Allied forces during World War II, and played a major role in their success.

On February 21, 1947, Land introduced to the world the first instant camera. The “Land Camera” hit the market less than two years later. In the early 70s, Dr. Land’s retinex theory of color vision enabled Polaroid to develop the SX-70 instant color camera. On July 27, 1982, Land resigned as chairman of Polaroid, due to the financial failure of Polavision, Polaroid’s innovative instant movie system.

Land was a scientist first, and a CEO second. Although Land is best known for his Polaroid camera, he actually held well over 500 patents. Dr. Edwin Land died on March 1, 1991. The Polaroid Corporation filed for bankruptcy on October 11, 2001.

This treat was first shared on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

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Pictures are History

Make sure to archive and preserve your photos, as they serve as priceless testaments to your family’s history.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Berlin’s Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary

On May 11, 1820, a child was born in Prussia who would, as a grown man, almost single-handedly change the face of German Jewry. Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer attended yeshiva in Hanover, and when he turned 17, enrolled in the yeshiva of Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger in Altona. In 1840, he returned to his hometown of Halberstadt, and, while continuing his rabbinical studies, mastered Semitic languages and mathematics at the University of Berlin. In 1844, he received his doctorate from the University of Halle Wittenberg.

In 1851, as rabbi of Eisenstadt, Hungary, Rabbi Dr. Hildesheimer insisted that proper pedagogy and grammar be requirements in the local Jewish parochial school. There, he founded a yeshiva, where he only accepted students who had general studies education. In addition to the traditional curriculum of Talmud, Halachic codes and responsa literature, the yeshiva taught Tanach (Scriptures) and Hebrew language. The yeshiva opened with 6 students, and by 1868, the yeshiva had educated 128 students, including one American.

In 1869, the Orthodox minority in Berlin, with governmental permission, was allowed to found a separate communal organization catering to their 200 families. They chose Rabbi Hildesheimer to lead them. Here too, on October 22, 1873, corresponding to the 1st of Cheshvan, Rabbi Hildesheimer founded a yeshiva, the Rabbinical Seminary for Orthodox Judaism, also known as the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. Thirty of his former students immediately enrolled. An all-star list of rabbinical luminaries with general educational backgrounds served as the faculty and taught traditional and non-traditional topics, such as Bible, religious philosophy, theoretical and practical homiletics, Jewish history and geography of “Palestine” (pre-state Israel).

Rabbi Hildesheimer died on June 12, 1899 and was succeeded by prominent faculty member Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman. Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg presided over the Hildesheimer Academy when it was forcibly closed by the Nazis in 1938. 71 years later in 2009, with the blessing of two of Rabbi HIldesheimer’s great-grandsons, the seminary was re-opened as the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, funded by the German Central Council of Jews and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

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Jewish Persistence

Learn about Jewish institutions, events and practices the evil Nazis tried to stop, but, despite the Nazi actions, continue to thrive decades after the Third Reich has been destroyed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Military Trappings

On October 22, 1973, the tenuous ceasefire between the Israelis and the Egyptians attempting to end the Yom Kippur War, was broken. As a result, the Israel paratroopers captured the road to Suez City, thereby encircling the Egyptian Third Army east of the Suez Canal. General (and future Prime Minister) Ariel “Arik” Sharon mobilized his paratroopers across the canal. Egyptian attempts from the air to support their trapped comrades were met with fierce Israeli resistance and heavy Egyptian losses. Four days later, on October 26, corresponding to the 30th of the month of Tishrei, President Anwar Sadat’s troops were trapped on the eastern side of the Suez. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger demanded that the Israel’s allow non-military supplies to the trapped Egyptian soldiers and threatened sanctions if the Israelis would destroy the Third Army. Eventually an Israeli-Egyptian ceasefire brought relief to the Egyptians.

Maimonides, in his Halachic opus (Laws of Kings 6:7) rules, “When besieging a city to conquer it, it is forbidden to surround it on all four sides, but rather, only on 3 sides. [The Jewish Army] must allow one path for those who would like to escape or retreat.” Maimonides, who often does not provide sources in his legal work, nonetheless mentions that this law is learned from a Biblical verse: “And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses…” (Numbers 31:7). While the text makes no mention of mercy during sieges, a Midrashic source (Sifrei, parashat Matot #157) upon which Maimonides seemingly relies, indicate this mercy rule.

Jewish war doctrine distinguishes between voluntary wars and mandatory wars. While the former were undertaken in order to expand the borders of the Land of Israel, mandatory wars are fought to stave off existential threats to the inhabitants of Israel, such as the Yom Kippur War, or fights against nations like Amalek, bent on killing all Jews. All Jewish legal authorities agree that this ethic of surrounding the enemy on only three sides would apply in a voluntary war, but debate whether this rule applies to mandatory wars as well. Radbaz, Ramban, and the unknown author of Sefer Hachinuch, all maintain that this rule is not applied in an existential war. Minchat Chinuch, a later erudite expansion on the Sefer Hachinuch, however, suggests that Maimonides’ ruling applies to obligatory wars as well. He argues that the source for this ethic, the war to punish Midian, was a mandatory war, as God commanded Moses to wage war with them.

One of the hallmarks of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is its adherence to a strict code of moral conduct, even punishing its own soldiers for war crimes and excesses when warranted.

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Fight Fairly

Jewish law demands adherence to moral codes, even during trying and life-threatening times, such as wartime.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sponsoring Columbus

Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon are, without question, the most famous monarchs in Spanish history. They were the sponsors of Christopher Columbus’ famous journey (although they are villains in Jewish history, having brought the Inquisition to Spain and having expelled all the Jews).

History, however, is not always as it seems. The Spanish monarchs did not rush to support the risky proposal presented to them, even though Columbus’ primary goal was to find a short-cut to India and thus give them an advantage in the international spice trade. Indeed, Columbus’ historic voyage might never have taken place had it not been for the Iberian Jews.

While numerous Jews (including Don Isaac Abrabanel) helped find the funding for Columbus’ expedition, two “conversos” (Jews whose families converted to Christianity but secretly maintained their Jewish heritage, also known as marranos/anusim) played critical roles in securing royal support: Luis de Santangel, finance minister of Aragon, and Raphael “Gabriel” Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon. In fact, these two men received identical letters from Columbus in the first dispatch he sent back. (Read Columbus’ letter to Santangel.)

Luis de Santangel is credited with making the final winning argument to convince Queen Isabella to support Columbus - suggesting that in helping Columbus reach India, the Queen would be able to further the spread of Christianity. There are those who speculate that his true motive was the hope that Columbus would find a safe haven for Jews, whose life in Spain was becoming more and more difficult. In fact, in a grand sweep of irony, Isabella’s written orders for Columbus’ voyage were signed on the same day as the edict of the expulsion of the Jews. (His ships sailed the day after Tisha B’Avthe ninth of Av.)

This Treat was last posted on October 11, 2010.

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Acknowledge Holidays of other Ethnicities

While Columbus Day has a history as an Italian-American celebration, Jews should find ways to participate as Americans in festivals celebrating other ethnic groups.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Enabling Citizen Cain

Our weekly Torah reading has once again cycled back to the Book of Genesis, returning to the stories and moral lessons of the earliest days of civilization. In addition to the ethical underpinnings of human civilization and its spiritual leanings, the vignettes and events of our forebears in the book of Genesis are also the source for so many of man’s vices, poor habits and evil behaviors.

After the story of Creation and the tragic story of Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, we learn about the second generation of humankind: Cain and Abel. Put yourselves in the shoes of Cain and Abel: the first human beings with human parents. They both chose to serve God and offer sacrifices. Cain, a bit more frugal, offered vegetation, fruits of the field, while Abel offered a more valuable animal sacrifice. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not that of Cain. Cain rose up to kill his brother, and alas, the first murder, death, homicide and human injury took place.

While the Torah implies that the murder was due to Cain’s jealousy that Abel’s offering was accepted, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 22:7) sees the battle between the first brothers as more profound. One Midrash teaches that they fought over how to divide the world--one would own the land and the other would assume mastery over the moveable items. Others claim they each wanted the future Temple to be built on their land. Finally, another opinion suggests that after Eve died, they fought over the only other woman in the world, born as a twin to Abel, the younger brother. Alas, as the great 20th century Bible Commentator, Nehama Leibowitz, taught, based on the aforementioned Midrash, that wars are fought over these 3 paradigms: land/possessions, religion and ego/power.

Think of all the wars between nations and the rationales that are employed to justify those battles. Think of fights that individuals have with one another. We have so much to learn and so much to improve, yet we have not even begun to solve the first challenges found in the Torah.

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Hold Your Fire

Ask yourself if the goals achieved through fighting are ultimately worth the damage it will likely cause. Usually they are not.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Rebbe from Berdichev

One of the major themes of the recently–observed High Holidays is to “emulate” God. Just as God is merciful to humankind, so should we be. One of the greatest role models for this type of empathy was the famed rabbi of Berdichev, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

Legend has it, that on the day of his birth in 1740, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, held a celebration informing those gathered, that the soul of a stark defender of the People of Israel had entered the world.

Levi Yitzchak studied with his father, Rabbi Meir of Husakov, until he married, at which time he moved to his wife’s town of Levertov. It was there where it was suggested that he study under the famed Maggid of Mezeritch, the prime disseminator of the Chassidic thought of the Baal Shem Tov. Ready to assume the spiritual leadership of a community, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak assumed several rabbinic positions, but Chassidism’s radical innovations were still too new, and, unfortunately, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak barely escaped several communities with his life. He did find a more welcoming home to his brand of Jewish thought in the Ukranian town of Berdichev, despite a majority population that was anti-religious and steeped in the anti-religious Enlightenment of the time.

Rav Levi Yitzchak’s trademark love of his fellow Jew manifested itself in his appeals to ‘Der Derbaremdiger’ (the Merciful One) on behalf of all Jews and his logic-defying defense of Der Derbaremdiger’s nation. Many poems and songs are attributed to him, most notably, the Saturday night classic “God of Abraham.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak led the Berdichev community for 25 years, from his arrival in 1785 until his passing in 1809. His yahrzeit is annually observed, on the 25th of Tishrei.

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Judge Favorably

One of the most important Jewish attributes is to try to find favor in one’s fellow’s actions, even when they may not seem so positive on the surface.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


When one thinks of the common denominator of upscale national clothing store chains in the U.S., one finds that many have Jewish names, such as Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue… Many may not know that Bloomingdale’s falls into the same genre.

Lyman Bloomingdale, founder of the department store featuring his surname, was born on February 11, 1841, in New York City to a Bavarian-born German Jewish immigrant, Benjamin Bloomingdale, and his wife, Hannah Weil. Along with his brother Joseph, Lyman learned the clothing business while working in their father’s ladies clothing store. Eventually, on October 3, 1872, the Bloomingdale brothers opened their first store called “The Bloomingdale Brothers Great East Side Bazaar” in New York City, featuring a variety of European fashions, which were dispatched to New York City from their buying office in Paris. Lyman, his wife Hattie, and two sons Samuel and Hiram, lived above the store. In 1876, the family moved to larger quarters and added more children, Irving and Corrine. Due to their success, they moved the store in 1886 to 59th Street and 3rd Avenue in New York. It was on those premises in 1898, where the first patented “inclined elevator” (today we would call it an escalator) was introduced. Lyman Bloomingdale was the primary financier of this innovation, created by Jesse W. Reno. Among Lyman’s social and charitable associations was his presidency of the Isaiah Lodge, Independent Order of B’nai Brith, a founder of the Montefiore Home Country Sanitarium for Consumptives, and Treasurer of Temple Beth El.

Lyman died on October 13, 1905. His sons Samuel and Hiram assumed the leadership of Bloomingdales, which was sold to the Federated Department Stores in 1994, and is now affiliated with Macy’s Department store. The holding company was re-named Macy’s. As of 2017, the Bloomingdale’s name is affixed to 38 stores and 17 outlet stores throughout the United States and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Contributions of Jews to American Culture

Jews have contributed much to American culture. These innovations should be lauded and should make Jews feel proud.