Friday, November 30, 2018

The Story of Chanukah

Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.

When the Syrian-Greek soldiers demanded that the Jews of Modi'in sacrifice a swine to one of their gods, Mattitiyahu, a priest from the Hasmonean family, refused to allow this desecration to take place and slew the Jewish heretic who had volunteered to make the offering. Mattitiyahu, together with his sons, also attacked the Syrian-Greek soldiers. They won that battle, but they were forced to take refuge in the hills. Mattitiyahu's sons became known as the Maccabees.

Under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee, the Jews launched a guerilla war for freedom. In 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees finally succeeded in routing the vastly superior Syrian-Greek forces and retook the Temple, but by then the Syrian-Greeks had thoroughly desecrated the holy site. The Jews immediately set to work removing the alien idols, scrubbing the altar and performing the many tasks necessary to rededicate the Temple.

Unfortunately, there was no undefiled oil left with which to light the golden Menorah. The Jews searched for sealed jars of pure oil, and finally found only a single flask with its seal intact. They rejoiced and hurried to light the Menorah and rededicate the Temple.

But the one flask of oil was sufficient for only one day. It would take at least another week for fresh pure olive oil to be prepared and delivered. Not wanting to postpone performing the mitzvah, they decided to light the Menorah with what they had--and the miracle of Chanukah occurred. Despite the small quantity of oil, the Menorah remained lit for the entire eight days, indicating to the world that God's presence had returned to the Temple.

This treat is reposted annually in honor of Chanukah.

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Appreciate Religious Freedom

On Chanukah, Jews celebrate a victory over those who attempted to suppress religious freedom of worship because they refused to tolerate other people’s beliefs.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Torah’s Special Genetic Code

During Biblical times, our ancestors did not understand genetics, DNA codes, chromosomes and the transmission of physical attributes, as we understand them today. While the sages do note physical similarities that existed between kinsmen, they also viewed fate as somewhat genetic as well.

Parashat Vayeshev begins (Genesis 37:1-2) with the following words: “And Jacob lived in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers…” What does the phrase, “These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph…” mean? A Midrash (Bereshit Rabba 84:6) underscores the closeness between Jacob and Joseph and how their fates were intertwined. It further explains: “All that happened to this one (Jacob) also occurred to this one (Joseph).”

Both Jacob and Joseph were born to mothers who struggled with fertility; both of their mothers gave birth to two children; both had siblings who hated them and desired to kill them; both were shepherds; both were blessed with wealth; both were exiled outside the Land of Israel, and both married women raised outside the Land of Israel and had children outside the Land of Israel. Both were elevated due to dreams. Both descended to Egypt, died and were embalmed there, and both of their remains were transported back to be buried in the Land of Israel.

This Midrash is not merely teaching that the lives of Jacob and Joseph shared similar fates. This Midrash implies that Joseph’s values and piety actually mirrored that of his sainted father.

In the Torah, ideological kinship is vastly more important than genetic similarity. Our sages noted that Abraham and Isaac physically resembled each other; that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, looked like his uncle; and the Divine signs of matriarch Sarah re-appeared after her death when her son Isaac brought his bride Rivka into their home. The cloud over the home re-appeared, the challah which remained fresh all week was blessed and the candle burning all week was seen once again. Esau and Jacob, on the other hand, looked vastly different.

The sages were not at all interested in physical likenesses. The aforementioned resemblances highlight behavioral and attitudinal unity among different individuals. Genetic likeness means very little. The Jewish goal has always been for one’s children to resemble one’s actions and values, not necessarily their physicality. Righteous converts, who genetically may be distant from most of their Jewish brothers and sisters, are fully embraced as Jews, not because we value the genetic code, but rather the honor code of virtuous actions.

Joseph’s status as “righteous,” derives from his ability to withstand the seductive overtures of the wife of his master Potiphar. The Talmud (Sotah 36b) explains how he was able to avoid sin. “At that moment the image of his father came to him and appeared before him in the window.” It could be argued that the physical similarity the two men shared enabled Joseph to remain pure and holy.

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Judge by Actions

When evaluating or judging others, genetic and physical attributes pale in comparison to one’s character and virtuous actions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

“…You Border on the Adriatic”

For many Americans, knowledge of Albania may derive from a famous scene in the sitcom “Cheers,” where “Coach” helps “Sam” study geography via the use of songs. They did this by singing, “Albania, Albania, you border on the Adriatic,” to the tune of “When the Saints Come Marching in.”

Albania, which marks its Independence Day on November 28th, is a small Balkan country with a tiny Jewish population. While it was never a country with a large Jewish population, there have been Jews residing there for centuries. Some historians even believe that a small group of Jews came to the area in 70 C.E., and archeologists have found what they believe to have been a 5th century synagogue in Saranda. A more consistent record of Jewish settlement in Albania took place after the Spanish expulsion in 1492, when the area was under Ottoman control. Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in many Albanian towns. In 1673, the infamous false Messiah Shabbetai Zvi, was exiled to the port city of Ulqin, Albania (now Montenegro) by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV, and died there three years later.

Perhaps the most interesting fact of Albanian Jewish history is the statistic that there were approximately 200 Jews in the country at the start of World War II and close to 2,000 at the war’s conclusion. In 1937, even as European anti-Semitism was increasing, the government of Albania officially recognized the Jewish community. Two years later, however, Albania became a puppet state under Italian control. Fascist laws limiting the freedom of Jews (and other minorities) were enacted, but the majority of Albanians did not enforce them. In fact, the Albanian embassy continued to issue visas to Jews long after other European countries had ceased to do so.

Hundreds of Jews managed to seek refuge in Albania, and the Albanian people did not distinguish between them and Jews native to the country. When the Germans took control of the country in 1943, they demanded that a list of Jews be provided to begin deportation. The local governments did not comply, and even provided Jews with forged documents.

The Albanian people, influenced by their custom of hospitality and “Besa” (words of honor) hid most of the Jews in their mountain villages. Some of these Jews went on to work for the resistance, while others were escorted to the Albanian ports and escaped. Yad Vashem has recognized 69 Albanians as Righteous Among the Nations.

Albania joined the Communist Bloc during the Cold War, which meant that teaching and practicing religion was illegal. After the 1991 fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, almost all of Albania’s Jews left. Today only about 50 Jews remain, mostly living in Tirana, Albania’s capital.

A version of this Treat was last published on November 28, 2017.

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Learn About and Laud Righteous Gentiles

Amid periods of tragedy, heroes emerge, many of whom are non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. Learn about them and thank them and their descendants.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Jewish Holiday A Week before Chanukah

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashana 1:1) declares four calendar dates as “Jewish new years.” On the first day of Tishrei, we celebrate Rosh Hashana as the annual day of judgment for all humanity because it serves as the anniversary of the creation of the first human. The first of Nissan is known as the New Year for kings and months. The New Year for animal tithes is calculated on the first of Elul. On this day, all animals become a year older. Finally, the 15th of Sh’vat, or in Hebrew, Tu B’shvat, is the New Year for Trees. The age of trees, which is important for certain agricultural laws, is calculated from this day. All trees become a year older on this date.

But among some Chassidim, most notably the disciples of Chabad, or Lubavitch, there is another New Year: the 19th of Kislev is known as the New Year of Chassidut, based on some historical events that took place on this day.

On this date, the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) is credited for revealing the “inner soul” or mystical components of Torah to the masses. His primary disciple, Rabbi Dov Ber, the “Maggid” (preacher) of Mezeritch, died on the 19th of Kislev. According to tradition, the Maggid told his disciple, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1742-1812), the first Rebbe of the Lubavitch Chassidim, also known lovingly as the Alter Rebbe, (Yiddish for Old Rabbi), that “this day is our Yom Tov (festival).”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was successfully disseminating Chassidic thought to the general public. However, he was arrested in 1798 for treason, and was accused of supporting the Ottoman Empire, an enemy of Russia at the time. Apparently, he was sending funds to impoverished Jews in the Holy Land, which was under Ottoman hegemony. He was imprisoned on an island off Saint Petersburg’s Neva River, and after 53 days, was released on the 19th of Kislev. Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw his exoneration as a Divine omen to continue spreading the secrets of Hassidic Torah to the masses.

Those who observe the 19th of Kislev will also point to other significant events that took place years later on this day: in 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured; in 2011, the Iraq war ended and in 2017, the United States formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and announced the directive to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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Hail the Contributions of the Chassidic Movement

If you enjoy the spiritual, musical, or esoteric side of Judaism and Jewish observance, chances are you have been touched by the Chassidic movement. Acknowledge this contribution by studying Chassidic thought, listen to Chassidic music or read Chassidic stories.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Story of Degania

Since many of the early settlers in pre-state Palestine identified with the socialist ideology, Kibbutzim (communal farms or settlements) were the desired living arrangement. The first kibbutz was Degania, established on December 1, 1909, corresponding to the 18th of Kislev. It is situated between the southern Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, in what today is known as Northern Israel. They named their new settlement Degania after the five varieties of grain that would grow on the land.

Kibbutz Degania actually consists of two separate settlements: Degania Aleph and Degania Bet. The land for Degania Aleph, which is located just south of the Sea of Galilee, was purchased by Keren Kayemet Leyisra’el (the Jewish National Fund), and was settled by seven immigrants from Romny, Russia. This initial settlement, unfortunately did not succeed, until a second group of pioneers, ten men and two women, arrived from Russia and took over the land in October 1910.

Degania Aleph is often referred to as the "Mother of the Kvutzot" and was often a model for the establishment of other collective settlements in Israel. The second child born in Degania Aleph was none other than famed Israeli general Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) who was named for Moshe Barsky, a Degania resident killed in 1913 by Arab marauders. Noted Zionist activist and war hero Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920) had worked at Degania as well.

On May 20, 1948, only a few days after David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel, Degania Aleph came under attack by a Syrian tank unit that attempted to capture the nearby bridge over the Jordan River. The 70 residents of Degania Aleph fought valiantly, and succeeded to keep the Syrians out of their settlement. (One tank did cross the perimeter but was immobilized by a molotov cocktail.) The battle at Degania Bet was no less harrowing, but in the end the Syrians retreated.

Due to numerous factors, including the fall of the Communist Bloc, a strong Israeli economy built on capitalism, a waning of the secular Zionism ideology and a resilient Israeli military that no longer needs to rely on “minutemen” guarding kibbutzim, the Kibbutz movement today is unrecognizable compared to what it was during its heyday. Although as of the year 2000, 17,300 Israelis lived on 268 kibbutzim, the ideologies have changed with much privatization and many of the kibbutzim that had been anti-religious have even embraced religion.

A version of this Treat was last published on Friday, April, 12, 2013.

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Volunteer at a Kibbutz on your Next Trip to Israel

Whether you seek a secular kibbutz experience or a religious one, the experience will undoubtedly be memorable and worthwhile.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Oldest Book of Diplomacy

In the beginning of Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob is confronted by the news that his estranged brother, Esau, is approaching with an army of 400 men under his command. Prior to this meeting, the last time Jacob and Esau saw each other, Esau was furious that Jacob had “stolen” the blessing of the first born from their blind father Isaac. Esau swore that he would one day kill his brother (Genesis 27:41). With Esau’s advent, Jacob famously approached the impending rendezvous with a three-pronged plan: appeasement, prayer and physical confrontation. First, Jacob dispatched gifts (Genesis 32:6) to his brother, then he offered overtures for peace, and finally, he prepared for war, should that option be necessary.

In Jewish tradition, Jacob’s approach toward his brother serves as a paradigm for strategic planning, and dealing with potentially belligerent sovereigns. The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 78:18) records that Rabbi Yannai would always review this passage about Jacob’s strategy vis a vis Esau prior to representing the Jewish community in Rome (which the rabbis identified as the offspring of Esau). Nachmanides suggested that Rabbi Yannai consulted this passage because it represents the paradigmatic Jewish guide for living in the exile.

Centuries later, in 1744, Empress Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria and the Archduchess of Hungary and Bohemia, issued a decree to expel the Jews from Prague. A Rabbi Zalman went to see an Austrian diplomat regarding canceling the expulsion, while the aforementioned official was visiting a Jewish woman romantically. The Austrian official expressed anger at Rabbi Zalman’s audacity to approach him during his “personal time,” and challenged the manner in which he confronted him. When Rabbi Zalman explained that he was following the lead of his ancestor Jacob, the official found the response fascinating and helped the Jews return to their homes.

The actions of the matriarchs and patriarchs serve as signposts for their progeny. Future Jewish leaders would be prudent to study and implement Jacob’s approach to prepare for his meeting with his brother. In a similar vein, the famed General Moshe Dayan, a student of Jewish history, understood that the only successful military campaigns to conquer Jerusalem came from the north. As such, when he approved the plans to attempt to regain Jerusalem during the Six Day War, he made certain the Israeli paratroopers came via the North, which they did, via the Lions Gate.

Every episode in the Torah is pregnant with meaning.

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Study Torah for Guidance in Today’s World

We would be wise to study Biblical stories and marvel at their relevance, even today.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Thanksgiving Synagogue Service

While Thanksgiving is most certainly an American festival of gratitude, its founders prominently articulated its religious underpinnings, which ultimately find their source in Judaism. Two well-known Manhattan synagogues actually created and held Thanksgiving ceremonies which took place on Thanksgiving morning, adding a decidedly religious tone to a day that, today, is usually associated with hefty eating, football and shopping.

On Thursday, November 21, 1940, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun featured a “Thanksgiving Service” at 11:00am in its sanctuary. The service weaved a tapestry of liturgical music, American patriotism and speeches. After the choir and cantor led Ma Tovu, the congregation rose as the colors were presented to the synagogue’s president, who then read President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Charles Poletti, Lieutenant Governor of the State of the New York delivered a Thanksgiving Address to the assembled and the synagogue’s rabbi, Joseph H. Lookstein, offered a “Thanksgiving Prayer.” Rabbi Lookstein’s prayer offered gratitude to God for the Creation, for man’s dignity and wisdom and for all of humankind to thrive. The final paragraph addressed the host nation: “We pray sincerely for America and the ideals of democracy and freedom that are here enshrined. May she be strong to withstand all the currents that assail her and all the forces of evil that would invade her sacred precincts. A tower of light to her own citizenry, may she cast a steady beam and light up all the dark areas of the world and show to a perplexed and straying humanity the path of freedom, of life and of peace.”

Five years later, a “Service for Thanksgiving Day” took place at Congregation Shearith Israel. This service included a standard prayer for the U.S. government, and included a greater sampling of psalms, including verses from the psalms known as “Hallel” and the “Psalm of Praise” (Psalm 100).

Whether one’s Thanksgiving includes Jewish liturgy or not, showing gratitude for our bounty is a message all can appreciate. Judaism, etymologically related to Biblical Judah, denotes gratitude, and has taught thanksgiving to humanity for millennia.

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Connect Thanksgiving to Judaism

However one celebrates Thanksgiving, take note of the parallel to Judaism’s focus on gratitude.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Travelin'

Ever feel nervous just before the start of a trip? Ever have sleepless nights before boarding an airplane? Perhaps these hesitations connect back to a time when travel, whether by road or sea, was particularly perilous. Today, traveling is so common that we often think nothing of it, even if there are modern dangers.

Because a journey is not an everyday event, the sages created tefillat haderech, the wayfarer’s prayer.
In English, the prayer is:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us to peace, guide our footsteps to peace, and enable us to reach our desired destination for life, happiness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, robbers, or vicious animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that rage on the earth. May You send blessing in everything we do, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplications because You are God Who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, God, Who hears prayer. 

But what is the definition of a journey? Driving from New York to Boston takes approximately 4 hours. Flying between the same two cities takes less than an hour and a half (from take-off to landing, not counting check-in, security and waiting around time!). As there are different factors involved in different means of travel, please consult with your rabbi as to when tefillat haderech needs to be recited.

So next time you are off to visit grandma or heading to your dream vacation, take a moment for a little extra traveler’s insurance.

For tefillat haderech in Hebrew and transliteration, please click on one of the two versions of the prayer, one from Chabad and one from MyJewishLearning.com.

This Treat was originally posted on July 17, 2012.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Travel Safely

A component of safe travels is to pray for a successful journey. Be sure to take all traveling precautions, and remember to pray as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Longest 250 Miles: Sadat’s Bold Flight

Imagine America’s foremost enemy addressing a joint session of Congress? You can’t; it’s almost impossible to envision such a scenario actually taking place. But such a miraculous event, took place on November 20, 1977, in the Israeli Knesset. General Anwar Sadat, the leader of Egypt, Israel’s foremost enemy, brought his message of peace to the Israeli people. It was a moment in time when people needed to pinch themselves to assure that what they were seeing was real and not imaginary. Menachem Begin’s victory in the 1977 Parliamentary election, caused a huge shift in Israeli politics, as it would be the first time a right-leaning government was voted into power. Many feared Begin and his Likud party’s conservative positions would lead to war, not peace. But within months of the election, the impossible actually occurred, just four years after the Yom Kippur war. The brief 250-mile flight from Cairo to Tel Aviv represented light-years of progress, and a huge risk on both the parts of Begin and Sadat.

Prior to his speech, Sadat prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and toured Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem.

Speaking in the Israeli Knesset in his native Arabic, Sadat declared to Israel’s lawmakers and the world: “I come to you today on solid ground, to shape a new life, to establish peace.”

He noted how his decision to reach out to Israel was controversial and stated that if the Israelis actually invited him to Jerusalem, he would immediately accept, which he did. “I have declared that I will go to the end of the world; I will go to Israel, for I want to put before the People of Israel all of the facts.” Prime Minister Begin responded eloquently with a speech of his own welcoming President Sadat and his heroic overtures for peace.

Sadat’s Jerusalem visit led to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which was brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and signed by Israel and Egypt at the Maryland presidential retreat, “Camp David.” Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. Tragically, in 1981 Sadat was assassinated by terrorists who violently opposed his overtures for peace to Israel. Menachem Begin was among the world leaders attending Sadat’s funeral, on Saturday, October 10, 1981, and led the Israeli delegation who walked from the hotel to the ceremony due to the sanctity of Shabbat. President Reagan, led the U.S. delegation, which included Presidents Nixon, Carter and Ford.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Make Efforts for Peace

There are few greater goals in life than peace. Make the efforts to end hatred and promote harmony.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Israel’s Beloved Ofra

If one mentions the name Ofra Haza to Israelis of a certain age, you will likely see a smile followed by a look of sadness. Ofra was the darling of Israel, with a voice from the heavens, whose untimely death shook Israel.

Batsheva Ofra Haza was born on November 19th, 1957. Her parents, Yefet and Shoshana Haza, immigrated from Yemen and raised Ofra, and her eight older siblings in Tel Aviv’s poor Hatikvah neighborhood. Bezalel Aloni, the manager of a local theater troupe, recognized Ofra’s immense talent and aside from working his theater productions around her schedule so he could feature her, became her manager. After finishing her military service in 1979, Ofra launched her solo career.

Ofra’s first album yielded many hits that captured the Israeli market, including a song that accompanied a movie role for her in the 1979 film “Schlager.” By 1982, she had already recorded 3 musical albums that were all huge hits. In 1983 her hit song “Chai” came in a close second at the international Eurovision contest, was voted best Israeli song of the year, and propelled the “Chai” album to platinum. She was voted “Female Vocalist of the Year” in Israel from 1980-1983. Her 1984 album, “Shirei Teiman” (songs of Yemen), a recording of songs of Haza’s childhood, helped establish Haza’s international popularity. Haza collaborated with Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me with Science,” 1982), Paula Abdul and Sarah Brightman.

Ofra Haza was cast as the voice of “Yocheved,” Moses’ mother in Steven Spielberg’s “Prince of Egypt.” In the movie, she sang “Deliver Us” which was recorded in 17 languages. When Hans Zimmer introduced Haza to the animation artists drawing Yocheved, they were so struck by Haza’s beauty, that they drew the character to look like her.

In 1997, Haza married Israeli businessman Doron Ashkenazi right before her 40th birthday. She died tragically on February 23, 2000 and Israel was thrust into mourning. Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated, “Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all.” She is buried in the Artist section of Yarkon Cemetery in Petch Tikvah. On the seventh anniversary of her death, Tel Aviv renamed part of a park on the street on which she grew up as “Gan Ofra” (Ofra Park).

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Support Israeli Artists

Support the work of Jewish and Israeli artists.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman was born on July 31, 1912 to Sara Ethel (Landau) and Jeno Saul Friedman, Carpathian Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, NY. As a child, his family relocated to Rahway, NJ and he was awarded a scholarship to Rutgers University, from where he graduated in 1932. Friedman planned to become an actuary, but was convinced that economics could help end the depression. He decided to pursue the study of economics at the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. in 1933.

Friedman married Rose (nee Director) Friedman (1910-2009), a free market economist with whom he frequently collaborated academically. Rose was born Staryi Chortoryisk in present-day Ukraine to a prominent Jewish family, who immigrated to Portland, ME, in 1914.

The Friedmans moved to Washington, D.C. in 1935, hoping President F.D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” would solve some of the economic challenges facing the nation. While Friedman supported the job-creation initiatives, he frowned upon the price and wage fixing proposals. During World War II, Friedman contributed to the wartime tax policy, aiding the creation of the system of tax withholdings, in order to infuse the government with money that would fuel the war effort. Later, he admitted that while the cash was needed at the time, he wished there were a way to abolish the system of withholding.

In 1943, Friedman began work at Columbia University at its Division of War Research, and completed his doctorate there in 1946. Armed with his new Ph.D., Friedman accepted a faculty position teaching economic theory at the University of Chicago, where he held court for the next 30 years. During the 1954-1955 academic year, Friedman traveled to Cambridge, England, serving as a Fulbright Visiting Fellow.

Friedman published “Capitalism and Freedom” in 1962, which drew attention to him outside of the academic world of economics. He concluded that a government should not intervene in its economy unless absolutely necessary and that free markets are the best way to grow an economy.

Friedman received the 1976 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Friedman and his wife retired to San Francisco in 1977, where he lived out the rest of his days. He died on November 16, 2006. He was survived by his wife and two children.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Note the Jewish Nobel Laureates

The number of Jewish Nobel Laureates far outpaces Jewish representation in the general population. Jews have greatly impacted on society for the better.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Can There Be Too Much Joy?

The Talmud (Mo’ed Katan 8b) rules that we may not get married during the intermediate days of a festival. The Talmud offers two reasons for the prohibition. First, because we do not mix one joyous celebration with another joyous celebration, in Hebrew ein m’arvin simcha b’simcha (conducting marriage ceremonies on the Shabbat and Biblical Holidays is also proscribed). Second, the sages did not approve of an individual rejoicing in his marriage, which would cause him not to fully celebrate the festival.

The Talmud identifies the source for the injunction of intermingling celebrations from a verse in Kings I (8:65) which describes the two-week celebration marking the inauguration of Solomon’s Temple, which ended in time for the Sukkot festival. The Talmud observes that since the two events did not overlap, it seems to prove that the two events could not take place simultaneously.

The Tosafot, citing the Jerusalem Talmud (Moed Katan 1:7), cite another source, from our parasha, Parashat Vayeitzei. After Laban deceived Jacob by delivering Leah, not Rachel, to the bridal chamber, he agreed to allow Jacob to marry Rachel, only after a week had elapsed (Genesis 29:27). Why, asks the Talmud, did Laban not simply make another wedding immediately after Jacob discovered the subterfuge? The Talmud answers because Jacob needed to celebrate his marriage with Leah for a full week, prior to entering into the joy of marriage with Rachel. The two celebrations could not be intermingled.

The Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 546) rules that marriages do not take place on Biblical holidays (people may, and do, get married on the rabbinic holidays of Chanukah and Purim).

Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini (1834-1904) in his encyclopedic work on Jewish law, S’dei Chemed, asks if a synagogue dedication can take place on a festival, or would it violate the principle of mingling joy? He ruled leniently, reasoning that the two types of joy both need to be physical joy. However, the dedication of a synagogue is more spiritual than physical. He also saw the joy of the synagogue dedication as an extension of the joy of the festival. It seems that the celebration of the dedication of a synagogue pales in comparison to the dedication of Solomon’s first Temple in Jerusalem, which, according to the Talmud, is the source for the prohibition.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Celebrate Fully!

When participating in a simcha (a joyous occasion), do so with unbridled joy and with full enthusiasm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Zionism Is Not Racism!

After acquiring control over the territory known as Palestine in the aftermath of its victory in World War I, the British soon realized that there were no simple solutions when two peoples claim the same land.

Despite the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government wavered back and forth on its support of a Jewish state in Palestine, eventually asking the nascent United Nations to suggest a course of action. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 calling for the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states in the area known as Palestine, which triggered jubilation among Palestine’s Jews.

The Arab nations opposed Israel’s existence from the moment Resolution 181 passed, engaging in regional wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, all of which Israel survived. The Arab bloc, along with its benefactor the Soviet Union, tried to harm Israel diplomatically, by equating Zionism, the Jewish yearning for a return to its ancestral homeland, with racism. On November 10, 1975, corresponding to 6 Kislev, General Assembly Resolution 3379 concluded that Zionism is “a form of racism and racial discrimination” passed 72 to 25, with 32 abstentions.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations (and future President of Israel) Chaim Herzog delivered a blistering rebuttal from the rostrum of the United Nations General Assembly by noting that Arabs serve as ministers in the Israeli government, are members of Israel’s army and its security services, and that Arabic is an official language of Israel. Herzog called the resolution “anti-Semitic.” He concluded his speech, “For us, the Jewish people, this resolution based on hatred, falsehood and arrogance, is devoid of any moral or legal value. For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper and we shall treat it as such.” Herzog then dramatically ripped up a draft of the resolution.

U.S. ambassador to the UN, and future New York senator, Daniel P. Moynihan, in condemning the resolution, declared that the United States will not accept or “acquiesce this infamous act,” and codifying anti-Semitism as international law.

Sixteen years later, on December 16, 1991, as a pre-condition to Israeli participation in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/86 revoked Resolution 3379, by a vote of 111-25 with 13 abstentions.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.  

Fight Anti-Semitism

Tragically, there is still much anti-Semitism in the world. It is our duty to make certain that anti-Semitism and other forms of baseless bigotry are defeated.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

First On The Court

Born in 1856, in Louisville, Kentucky, Louis Dembitz Brandeis was the child of European immigrants who maintained a minimal Jewish identity. However, his maternal uncle, Lewis Dembitz, lived a more Jewishly involved life-style and inspired Brandeis’ subsequent Zionist activities.

Brandeis graduated from Harvard Law School at 20 with the highest (at that time) grade point average in the history of Harvard. After a brief stint in Louisville, he set up a practice in Boston. Achieving financial success, Brandeis began representing causes he believed in, purely for the love of the law. Professionally, Brandeis was involved in breaking monopolies, creating the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Trade Commission. He is also noted for his articulation of the legal “right to privacy” concept.

Brandeis was nominated by President Woodrow Wilson to become a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916. On June 1st, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a Senate vote of 47 to 22. He was the first Jewish Justice on the Supreme Court. While his Jewish identity was certainly the cause for some opposition, it was his reputation as a crusader for social justice that predominately energized his opponents.

Although Brandeis had a distant relationship with his Jewish heritage, he was an ardent Zionist. During World War I, he chaired the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs (predecessor to the Zionist Organization of America, ZOA). In 1919, however, he left ZOA after an administrative disagreement with Chaim Weizmann (later President of Israel). He remained active on a personal level, including using his political influence to benefit the Zionist movement.

Sadly, Brandeis never witnessed the creation of the independent State of Israel. He died of a heart attack in 1941, two years after resigning from the Supreme Court. Brandeis was survived by his wife Alice nee Goldmark, and two daughters, Susan Gilbert and Elizabeth Raushenbush.


Justice Louis Brandeis was born on November 13, 1856.

This Treat was originally posted on June 28, 2010.


If you enjoyed this mini-biography, check out Jewish Treats: 99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities.


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Jewish Trailblazers

Today, a Jewish Supreme Court Justice does not make headlines for their ethnicity, only because others before them broke the glass ceiling. Appreciate the Jewish trailblazers who came before us in many professions and accomplished the firsts for our people.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Memorial Day Museum

Washington, DC, is a city of museums. Beyond the vast assortment of divisions and galleries at the Smithsonian Institute and the many political memorials, there are also smaller museums throughout the city. For instance, if you head to Dupont Circle, you can visit the National Museum of American Jewish Military History (NMAJMH).

First suggested by the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Association, NMAJMH's creation was part of the organization’s move to Washington, DC, from New York.

The Museum opened in 1954 at the JWV’s new building on New Hampshire Avenue. At that time, it was known as the National Shrine to the Jewish War Dead, and it was mostly a repository for documents and memorabilia. Four years later, the Shrine became a full-fledged museum when it was granted a Congressional charter. In 1983, the museum and the JWV moved to their current location on R Street (NW), a dignified brick edifice that houses two floors of permanent and special exhibit space.

NMAJMH does more than just house and display Jewish military memorabilia, it is also an excellent research resource.

Permanent exhibits include displays on known Jewish war heroes, such as Major General Julius Klein, who served in both World Wars. Special exhibits focus on important matters for Jews in the military, tributes to the supporting family members of those in the military and on specific historical figures like Uriah Levy.

In addition to their exhibits, the museum reaches out over the internet to educate people about the role of Jews in the military, to fight anti-Semitism and to advocate for veterans in general. The online undertaking is known as the American Jewish Military Heritage Project.


This Treat was originally posted on May 30, 2016. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support our Veterans!

Show hakarat hatov (Hebrew for gratitude) to those who were willing to offer life and limb to protect the American way of life.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht, literally the Night of Crystal but generally translated as the Night of Broken Glass, was a tragic turning point in the fate of Germany’s Jewish community. The country-wide pogrom began on November 9, 1938, and lasted through the 10th. Over the course of Kristallnacht, close to 100 Jews were killed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, hundreds of synagogues were burned and desecrated and over 7,000 Jewish shops were vandalized and had their shop windows shattered.

The outbreak of violence was orchestrated by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. However, the Nazi leadership firmly maintained that the actions were a spontaneous uprising of the German people against the Jews. They also used fabricated Jewish crimes in order to enact further oppressive laws against Jews, including diverting insurance payments for property destroyed in the pogroms.

The excuse for the so-called “spontaneous” pogrom was the death, on November 9th, of German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath in Paris. He was shot by a 17 year old Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan. Young, unemployed and an illegal resident trying to avoid deportation from Paris, Grynszpan shot the diplomat as a reaction to his parents’ deportation to Poland. The Grynszpans had lived in Hanover, Germany, since 1911. In October 1938, the Germans expelled all Polish Jews from German soil just as Poland was about to implement a new law removing Polish citizenship from anyone residing outside of Poland for more than five years. But Poland refused to take the refugees, and 12,000 Jews were put in refugee camps at the border.

The involvement of German citizens in the pogroms, or at the very least the lack of protest from neighbors (and neighboring countries), affirmed the Nazi’s belief that they could do as they pleased concerning the Jews. Previously oppressive measures had been non-violent, but Kristallnacht was the first step toward the horror of the “Final Solution.”

Today is the 80th anniversary. 

This Treat was last posted on November 9, 2017. 

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Never Forget and Act!

Recent tragic events remind us of the words in the Passover Hagaddah: “In each generation there are those who rise to destroy Jews.” It behooves the Jewish community on days such as today, to do everything we can to stop these forces of hatred from continuing.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Kindness of Meah She’arim

On trips to Israel, many travel to the quaint Jerusalem neighborhood known as Meah She’arim. Meah She’arim is home of the Yerushalmi “ultra-Orthodox” community who seek insularity and famously ask those visiting their community to comply with their rigorous dress code. Aside from the Judaica stores and shopping, entering the area almost transports one back to a different century within a modern city. The name of the enclave Meah She’arim finds its source in this week’s Parasha, parashat Toledot.

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). The description of Isaac’s agricultural return, 100 times his initial investment, in Hebrew is rendered as Meah She’arim.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all described as shepherds. Other than this textual source, there is no mention of any of the patriarchs being farmers. Given that Isaac spent his life building upon and re-creating his father Abraham’s experiences, it is odd to learn that he deviated somewhat vocationally.

The Biblical commentator Rashi teaches that Isaac’s agricultural success was due to a Divine blessing. But the author of the Midrash Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, concurs with other Midrashic sources who maintain that the miraculous growth really refers to Isaac’s tithes bearing fruit, and not to mean that Isaac had become a farmer. God blessed all of Isaac’s charitable work, so it would be extremely successful.

The Talmud (Yevamot 79a) declares that three character traits distinguish the Jewish people: compassion, modesty/bashfulness and kindness to one another. Scripture is full of examples of these traits embedded in our greatest leaders. Sharing charitably with those in one’s surroundings, is learned from many actions of the patriarchs and matriarchs. Tithing and charity may be virtues we learn from Isaac. The tight-knit community of Meah She’arim is but one Jewish community that is renowned for its kindness and its abundant communal institutions that were established to help its citizens.

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