Tuesday, December 31, 2019

From Midnight to Noon

Frank Sinatra famously sang that New York is a “city that never sleeps.” However, of all the sleepless nights, New Year’s Eve is Gotham’s most awake night, as tens of thousands often stand in frigid temperatures waiting for the ball atop a building in Times Square to descend. At the stroke of midnight, those in Times Square and everyone beyond, ring in the new year with embraces, songs, drinks and best wishes.

Midnight is the official demarcation point, as the day of the week, date of the month, and year change at that moment.

Midnight, also has various Jewish legal ramifications. There is also Jewish wisdom about Midday, or noon - midnight’s polar opposite, which is also the time of day many New Year’s eve revelers wake up. The famed super-commentary Rashi, notes three places where the phrase “the midst of the day” is employed in the Bible and how they are connected. First, Noah and his family entered the ark “in the middle of the day” (Genesis 7:13), in broad daylight. The people living at the time of Noah had sworn to physically block Noah and his family from entering the ark. God purposely resolved to instruct Noah and his family to enter the ark in the presence of everyone, to highlight the people’s inability to stop what God decreed.

Second, God liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery in the “middle of the day” (Exodus 12:51). The Egyptians vowed to stop the Jews from leaving Egypt, even with axes and other weapons. God took the Israelites out in the middle of the day and dared anyone to try to stop Him. Finally, when describing Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 32:48), the term “in the middle of the day” is once again used. The Jewish people claimed that they would not allow Moses, the man who delivered them from Egypt, split the sea for them, provided the Manna and quail from heaven, hydrated the nation with water found in the desert, and gave the Torah to the Children of Israel, to die. Nevertheless, God summarily took back Moses’ soul in the middle of the day.


This Treat was last posted on December 31, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Proudly Assert Your Jewishness

At times, even in public, we are called to stand up as Jews.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Is Chanukah Really Eight Days?

Today is the eighth day of Chanukah, known as “Zot Chanukah,” a reference to the Torah portion that is read on the eighth day of Chanukah. Chanukah is set apart as an eight-day holiday. On Passover, the eighth day only takes place in the Diaspora (a repeat of the seventh day) and on Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, in many ways functions as an independent festival from Sukkot’s seven days.

The author of the Code of Jewish Law, Rabbi Yosef Karo, poses a powerful question that academically challenges the very need for an eighth day. If, as the story goes, there was only enough oil to burn for one day, but it ultimately lasted eight days, the miracle was seven days, not eight. If this is the case, why is the festival observed for eight days, if the first day was not miraculous? Rabbi Karo offers a few answers of his own. Others have suggested well over a hundred answers.

There are a few Talmudical references to eight days, which Jewish Treats would like to highlight. The Mishnah (Menachot 85b) relates that the ritual oil used for lighting the Menorah in the Temple came from olives grown in Tekoa. Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (1320-1376, Spain), known by his acronym, the RaN, writes that it took four days to travel from Jerusalem to Tekoa and four days back, which is the basis of the Chanukah story, and the oil that arrived eight days after the first lighting.

A second story about an eight-day festival appears in the Talmud as well. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 8a) relates when Adam saw the amount of daylight decreasing day after day, he wrongly assumed that his sin in the Garden of Eden was causing the decrease in light hours and would result in the eventual total darkening of the world. Adam observed an eight day fast, which happened to end on the winter solstice. He was relieved to observe the days getting longer afterwards, and therefore celebrated an eight-day festival to thank God. This festival which also began on the 25th of Kislev, became the pre-cursor to Chanukah, and was also celebrated on the next seven days.

So, thanks to a fantastic question offered by a renowned rabbi, we have learned two fantastic answers explaining why there are eight days to this wonderful festival, to which we bid farewell this evening.


This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Chanukah’s Last Day

Celebrate Chanukah today since the next day of Chanukah is a year away.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Spin the Dreidel

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then, dreidel I shall play.

The Dreidel is a four sided top, with a single Hebrew letter on each of its sides. Before the game begins, all players are given an equal number of coins or candies. Each player makes an initial deposit of coins or candies to the middle of the circle and then takes a turn spinning the Dreidel. When it falls, depending on the Hebrew letter that is facing up, the following occurs:

Nun: Nothing happens, on to the next player.
Gimmel: The player wins the pot.
Hey: The player takes half the pot.
Shin: The player must put a coin/candy in to the pot.

Gambling?! On a Jewish holiday?

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (c. 167 BCE), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people defiantly continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, the children and their teachers met in secret, with a lookout to watch for soldiers. When the enemy approached, the books were quickly hidden and the Jews pretended to be gambling.

The letters on the Chanukah dreidel spell out Neis Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There (referring to Israel). In Israel, therefore, dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin, representing the word Poh, which means Here, since the miracle actually occurred in the land of Israel.

So go ahead, gather a few friends, spend a few pennies and spin the dreidel without any guilt.

To learn more about Chanukah in general, please visit www.njop.org. 

This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kosher Gambling

Plan a good and competitive game of dreidel in honor of Chanukah.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Rock of Ages

“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower....” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as loosely translated from the original Hebrew by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s. And while tzur may mean rock, the rest of the verse actually means:

Refuge, Rock of my salvation/to You is a delight to give praise
Restore my House of prayer/so that there I may offer You thanksgiving
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe/Then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar's dedication.


Maoz Tzur is one of the best known Hebrew piyyutim (religious songs/poems). Most people, however, are only familiar with this first verse (there are 5 more verses--click here 
to read the entire song). Thought to have been written in the 13th century, it has become a near universal custom to sing Maoz Tzur after lighting the Chanukah candles.

Maoz Tzur is a song of redemption. Its paragraphs refer to the many different exiles the Jews have endured, but also reflect the fact that God is always present in Jewish history as our Savior. The exiles are treated in chronological order:

Verse 2 - “...when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule”
Verse 3 - “...Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved”
Verse 4 - “The Agagite, son of Hammedatha (Haman)...”
Verse 5 - “Then the Greeks gathered against me...”
Verse 6 - “...Thrust the enemy into the darkness...(the word admon refers to Roman exile)”

The author of Maoz Tzur, a man known only as Mordechai (the letters of his name serve as an acrostic of the first letters of the first five stanzas), focused on each exile in order to acknowledge the redemption that God has brought the Jewish people in the past and to pray for a speedy redemption in our own day.

*Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd. 





This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Delve into the Stanzas of Maoz Tzur

Study about the various exiles that are described in the famous Chanukah song Maoz Tzur.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Sino-Jewish Axis

During Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s 2010 confirmation hearings, she was asked where she had spent the previous Christmas. With a broad smile, Ms. Kagan responded, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” Senator Charles Schumer, a Jewish senator from New York, explained to his colleagues that the only restaurants open on Christmas are Chinese restaurants, since most other ethnic food establishments are closed due to their observance of their Christian holiday. Laughter ensued.

The established affinity of Jews for Chinese food can be attributed to factors beyond seeking a place to eat on one particular day a year. Below are some suggested motivations.

The Jewish and Chinese communities in the United States are two of the largest non-Christian minorities, and have been, since the turn of the 20th century. In 1910, there were 1,000,000 Jews living in New York City, comprising 25% of the population, and, at the same time, Chinese Americans moved from California to lower Manhattan, living side-by-side with the immigrant Jewish population, and many of them entered the restaurant business. The connection therefore, could be a factor of a shared geography.

Others view Chinese food as culturally close to kosher food. In the early 20th century, fidelity to the traditional laws of kashrut (dietary laws) was very inconsistent among the immigrant population. While many maintained the dietary laws according to the letter and spirit of halacha (Jewish law), others sought small departures, and others rejected kashrut entirely. While there are some fully kosher Chinese restaurants (mostly in areas with large Jewish populations), most Chinese restaurants do not observe the Jewish dietary laws. One difference between Chinese food and Italian and Mexican diets is that Chinese cooking generally avoid using dairy products. For Jews looking to take baby steps away from the traditional dietary laws, not full breaches, some argue that Chinese food was a type of compromise in avoiding mixing milk and meat. Similarly, others advance that since Chinese chefs tend to mince, chop, process and cut, they somewhat “disguise” the non-kosher ingredients, which made the meal seem less blatantly non-kosher for those not seeking to emphasize their break with tradition. However, others, such as the author of “New York Jews and Chinese Food: The Social Construction of an Ethnic Pattern” argue that embracing the Chinese menu was an act of disobedience to the strict kosher rules, as the Chinese menu features foods that are very foreign to the kosher palate, such as swine products, lobsters, shrimp and other forbidden sea creatures.

Another suggestion advances that Chinese cooking is known to adapt to adopted countries, and, could make customers accustomed to Jewish food feel comfortable. Ms. Jennifer 8. Lee, producer of “The Search for General Tso,” argues that “Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of American Jews. In fact, they identify with it more than they do with gefilte fish or all kinds of Eastern European dishes of yore.”

Josh Ozersky, a food writer, opined that Jews love Chinese food because it’s so conducive to “take out.” Culturally, he writes, Jews love to eat at home, and traditional Jewish foods take a long time to make. Chinese food is easily transferred to one’s home and can generally be obtained or prepared quickly and easily.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Kosher Chinese!

If you seek to eat at a Chinese Restaurant, support one that strictly adheres to the Kosher dietary laws.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

These Lights We Kindle

While the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is an outward-focused mitzvah - the menorah is lit in a window or doorway - it is also an opportunity for personal reflection on the deeper meaning of the holiday. Recognizing this, a special paragraph was added to the menorah lighting ritual. Ha’nayrot Halalu, as it is called, is recited immediately after the Chanukah blessings:

These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and on the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days in this season, through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred. We are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them, in order, to express thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

Ha’nayrot Halalu reminds us that there are many extraordinary events within the celebration of Chanukah. There are the miracles, such as the single flask of oil lasting eight days instead of one. There are wonders, such as the fact that there remained even one single flask of pure olive oil still sealed by the High Priest. And there are salvations, such as the incredible courage of the small Jewish army to go into battle while so severely out-manned and their ability to overthrow the soldiers of the mighty Syrian-Greek empire.

Additionally, Ha’nayrot Halalu contains a reminder that while there are no work restrictions on one’s actions on Chanukah (as there are on the Biblical festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), one must not forget that the days of Chanukah are holy as well. Thus it is that one may not use the Chanukah candles for any purpose other than as a reminder of the many ways of God’s salvations.


This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Publicize the Miracle of Chanukah

Identify effective ways to publicize the miracles associated with Chanukah, using modern tools of communication.

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Maccabee's Who's Who

Mattityahu (Mattathias): A High Priest descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and then slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.

Yochanan (John) Gaddi: The oldest son of Mattityahu fought alongside his brothers. His death at the hands of the sons of Jambri from Medeba (in Moab, now Jordan) is recorded in the first Book of Maccabees.

Shimon (Simon) Thassi: The second son of Mattityahu, Shimon fought alongside his brothers. He was the first ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty, who came to power around 142 B.C.E, and also served as the High Priest.

Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee: The third son of Mattityahu, Yehuda was the recognized leader of the revolt after his father’s death (about a year into the revolt). He is considered one of the greatest Jewish warriors in history. After the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple, Judah continued to lead the battle against the still occupying Syrian-Greeks. The battles continued even after Yehuda’s death in battle in 160 B.C.E.

Elazar Avaran: The fourth son of Mattityahu was killed during the initial rebellion. The Syrian-Greeks had a cavalry of elephants. Elazar ran under one elephant and cut open its belly, but was unable to escape from under the animal before it collapsed on top of him.

Yahonatan (Jonathan) Apphus: The youngest son of Mattityahu, Yahonatan led the Jewish army after Yehuda’s death in 160 B.C.E. and also served as the High Priest. He was taken captive and killed by the Seleucid King Diodotus Tryphon in 143 B.C.E. (According to the historian Josephus, who claimed descent from Yahonatan’s daughter.) 


This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn about the Maccabees!

Studying about the protagonists through whom God performed miracles, enables greater understanding about God and His love for the Jewish people.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Chanukah Blessings

The Jewish people have said this prayer daily for thousands of years. On the first night of Chanukah, one candle/wick in oil is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one candle/light is added to the left of the previous night's candle(s)/light(s). The newest candle/light is always lit first.

Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, ah'sher kidishanu b'mitz'vo'tav v'tzee'vanu l'hahd'leek nayr shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'asah neesim la'avotaynu, bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.

The third blessing is recited only on the first night one lights.

Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kee'manu v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Chanukah.





Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Schedule Chanukah Candle Lighting

Identify the ideal time tonight to light candles in your city, and make certain to be available to light your Chanukah candles on time.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Chanukah: What's the Mitzvah

Here's a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the oil in the menorah in the Holy Temple burned for eight days instead of one.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after dusk. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used so that the Chanukah lights remain lit after nightfall.

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.

If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.

Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.





This Treat is posted each year in honor of Chanukah.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Purchase Wicks, Candles and Oil

Make sure to buy beautiful candles or wicks and oil so your Chanukiah will burn nicely and beautifully.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

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.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Upcoming Holidays Spiritually and Intellectually

In addition to spiritual preparations, learning about the history of upcoming holidays will also contribute to a more meaningful religious experience.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Eden in the Garden State

The first residents of the current state of New Jersey were Dutchmen from New Amsterdam (New York) who settled Jersey City in 1614. Some historians claim that in 1655, some Jews from New Amsterdam settled on the eastern shore of the Delaware River (i.e. present day New Jersey).

While Jewish merchants from Philadelphia and New York conducted business in New Jersey in the 17th century, organized Jewish communities did not arrive in the “Garden State” until the middle of the 19th century. Aaron and Jacob Lozada owned a grocery store and hardware store in Bound Brook in 1718. In 1722, Daniel Nunez served as town clerk and tax collector for Piscataway Township, and Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County. David Naar of Perth Amboy, participated in New Jersey’s constitutional convention in 1844, became mayor of Elizabeth in 1849 and was a key player in introducing the first public school and public library in Trenton.

While the state’s first congregations were established respectively in 1847 in Paterson and in Newark in 1848, New Jersey’s capital city, Trenton, saw the creation of the state’s first organized Jewish community in the 1840s and incorporated its first cemetery in 1857. Trenton’s Har Sinai Congregation opened its doors in 1858. Communities were established in New Brunswick (1861), Jersey City (1864), Bayonne (1878), Elizabeth (1881), Vineland (1882), Perth Amboy (1890), Atlantic City (1890), Camden (1891, Englewood (1896) and Passaic (1899.)

At the turn of the 20th century, Newark became a mecca for eastern European Jewish immigrants, but, in 1967, the Jewish community began heading to the suburbs of Livingston, Millburn and the Oranges, especially after the riots.

In 2017, New Jersey, the state with the densest population (after the District of Columbia) had a Jewish population of 545,450. Currently, the largest concentrations of Jews can be found in Bergen County (83,000), Essex County (76,000), Monmouth County (65,000), Middlesex County (45,000) and Cherry Hill (49,000). Of note is the burgeoning community moving into the coastal city of Lakewood, and its environs, where the Beth Medrash Govoha, now considered the second largest yeshiva in the world, was established in 1943, as an elite center of Torah scholarship by its visionary founder, Rabbi Aaron Kotler. It is estimated that over 50% of the 104,157 citizens of Lakewood Township are Orthodox.

On December 18, 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish New Jersey

When traveling, try to learn the Jewish history of the places you plan to visit.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

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.


This Treat was last posted on November 27, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn About the Contributions of the Hassidic Movement

The Hassidic movement enhanced much of the spirit and soul of Judaism. Learn about their insights into life and Scriptures.

Monday, December 16, 2019

An Historical Dip

Parashat Vayeshev can certainly be a strong candidate for saddest Torah portion of the year, as we encounter the tragedy of the hatred borne by Jacob’s sons for their brother Joseph, the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel. The Torah does not pull any punches describing how the brothers felt about Joseph. “And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4.) While sibling rivalry and even sibling odium are understandable and, unfortunately, occur, fratricide is another story. That is shocking and thankfully, uncommon.

Despite the family dysfunction, Jacob dispatches Joseph to check on the status of his brothers who had departed to Shchem. Joseph ventures forth, unaware of the fate awaiting him. While wandering in the field, a man asks Joseph, “What do you seek?” Joseph responds, “I seek my brothers; tell me, I beg you, where do they feed their flocks.” (Genesis 37:16) 

The resentment of Joseph felt by the brothers had to be extremely acute for them to even consider murdering him, which they almost did (Genesis 37:20), were it not for the intervention of their oldest brother Reuven who suggested (Genesis 37:22) throwing him into a pit (to die), hoping to return and rescue him, and their brother Judah who suggested selling Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:27).

The Torah relates that Jacob sent Joseph from the “Valley of Hebron” (Genesis 37:14), which is odd, because Hebron is in mountainous topography. The commentaries suggest that the “valley” refers to the depths of Jewish history, since Joseph’s exile to Egypt would be the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that prior to inheriting the land, Abraham’s progeny would need to endure difficult challenges outside their homeland.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1835 - 1909), known by his book Ben Ish Chai, observes that there are two episodes of dipping in the Torah. The first dip can be found in this week’s parasha, when, in an act of division, the ten brothers dip Joseph’s special coat into the blood of a goat, in order to falsely convince their father that Joseph had been mangled by an animal. Centuries later, on the very antipodal spot of the mandated exile--on the eve of liberation from Egypt--the Jewish slaves were commanded to slaughter a paschal lamb or goat, and dip a bundle of hyssop into its blood, in order to paint the lintels and doorposts of their home, to bravely mark them as safe from the Angel of Death’s mission that night. The Hebrew word for the “bundle” is “agudah,” which also means a close joining of units into one. The Children of Israel at that moment were at the acme of national unity.

Depths and dips are usually negative. Yet, the Torah shows us that, with a long historical vision, one can envision the heights even from the depths.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Commit Daily to Loving One’s Fellow

The antidote to acts of hatred are acts of love.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Dinah, The Daughter of Jacob

Dinah, the seventh and youngest child of Leah and Jacob, was born the same year as her half-brother Joseph. In fact, the Talmud (Brachot 60a) notes that Leah specifically prayed that the child would be a girl so as not to cause her sister (and co-wife) Rachel anguish over her lack of sons.

Jacob was very protective of Dinah. As he returned to the land of Israel and prepared to meet his vengeful brother Esau, Jacob worried that Esau would see his young daughter and wish to marry her, thus establishing an (unwanted) alliance. Therefore, the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 76:9) explains, based on the fact that Genesis 32:23 only mentions his eleven sons (and no daughters), that Jacob hid Dinah in a box throughout the encounter.

Sadly, Jacob could not protect his daughter from all villains. Genesis 34 describes how, when the family settled in Shechem, Dinah was kidnapped and raped by the prince of the city. When the family protested, the king offered a treaty and even agreed that all males in the city would be circumcised, if the prince could have Dinah as a wife. On the third day after the circumcision, however, Simon and Levi determined to avenge their sister’s attack and slaughtered the men of the city as they had all been complicit in the kidnapping.

Because the Book of Genesis focuses on the development of the Nation of Israel, nothing more is written of Dinah. However, the Midrash offers some insights into her fate. One opinion in Genesis Rabbah 80:11, suggests that she lived afterward as the "wife" of Simon (meaning that she lived under his protection). Baba Batra 15b, Genesis Rabbah 80:4 and Targum Iyov 2:9-10 place her as the unnamed wife of the ill-fated Job.


This Treat was last posted on February 22, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Study about the Women in the Bible

There are many lessons learned from the women mentioned in the Bible, especially the righteous ones.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Reuben, Son of Jacob

Our forefather Jacob’s departing words to his firstborn son were: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity -- you cannot be foremost, because you mounted your father’s bed ...” (Genesis 49:3-4).

Reuben's history is marked by his impetuosity.

Reuben was the first son of Jacob and Leah. Rachel, Jacob's other wife and Leah's sister, died when Reuben was 14. Without permission, he moved his father’s bed into Leah’s tent to assert his mother’s primary position (Genesis 35: 19, 22). This was considered to be a great insult, for which Reuben would never be fully forgiven.

Eight years later, it was Reuben who suggested that Joseph be thrown into a pit rather than killed, intending to rescue him later. But, Joseph was sold without Reuben’s knowledge. Reuben later found an empty pit, “tore his garments,” and cried out to his brothers: “The boy is gone! And I - where can I go?!” (Genesis 37:21,22-29,30).

Reuben strove to do right, but somehow missed the mark: The brothers’ first journey to Egypt to buy food during the famine resulted in Joseph’s demand that Benjamin be brought to Egypt. Trying to convince Jacob to send Benjamin with them, Reuben, said: “You may slay my two sons if I fail to bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will return him to you” (Genesis 42:35-37).

Reuben showed a desire to do the right thing, but took the wrong approach to achieve this end. Because Reuben was not qualified to lead, Jacob divided the rights of the firstborn (leadership - Judah, priesthood - Levi, and monetary rights - Joseph). However, by blessing him first and calling him “my firstborn,” Jacob stressed Reuben’s permanent right to be honored as the firstborn.


According to the Midrash, Reuven was born to Jacob and Leah on the 14th of Kislev.

This Treat was last posted on December 8, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor a First Born

While each individual should not be judged based on family position, there is a special homage due to first-borns.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Best Type of Bagel

December 11th is celebrated as “Have a Bagel Day.” Jewish Treats has already covered the history of the bagel, the popular pastry favored in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. But, the term “bagel” has taken on a newer connotation in recent years.

According to www.urbandictionary.com, the verb “to bagel” describes “when a secular Jew lets a more observant Jew know that he or she is Jewish through indirect means.” The example offered is when a religious Jew (usually identified by clothing or hair style) is walking down the street and seen by a secular Jew, who, previously was talking to a friend about something secular, will suddenly segue into a conversation about something religious, such as keeping kosher, going to synagogue, or the like, wanting the more religious Jew to know that they too are a member of the tribe. The more religious Jew, in this situation, was “bageled.” “Unorthodox,” the self-described “world’s leading Jewish podcast, covered the issue of the infinitive “to bagel.” They claim it denotes, “to signal to a fellow Jew that one has spotted his or her Judaism.” “Thus,” they continue, “bageling someone is either outing him, or outing yourself.”

Bageling is certainly understood at self-identifying as Jewish, but can one “out” someone else? An article in the October 4, 2013 edition of “The Forward” described how Chabad Jews who seek to encourage fellow Jews to perform mitzvot (commandments) as part of Chabad “Mitzvah Campaigns,” try to identify fellow Jews who do not wear any clothing unique to Jews. The article followed two twenty-something Chabad twins, who were walking the New York subways in search of Jews to make the blessing over the lulav and etrog. While they will begin each conversation with “Excuse me, are you Jewish,?” they also endeavored to identify Jews whom they approached by looks. While they understand that Jews come in all types of looks, races and ethnicities, the Chabad emissaries seek out “Jewish looks” and report that sometimes they are “bageled”--almost sought out by co-religionists. While some find their question about one’s religious identity insulting or inappropriate, others –the successes – welcome it. One woman who was approached, reported, “I like connecting to my Jewish roots.”

When a breakfast food, connotes a component of Jewish pride, that is truly delicious!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Identify Yourself as a Jew

Thank God American Jews are not required to wear identifying marks, such as the yellow star worn during the Holocaust. Wear something that bears your Jewish pride or identifies you as a Jew.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

An Egyptian Treasure Trove

The 12th of Kislev marks the 104th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Solomon Schechter, who died on November 19, 1915 in New York City. Born in 1847 in Moldavia to a family of Chabad followers, Rabbi Schechter was even named for Chabad’s first leader, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He studied under the renowned Rabbi Shaul Yosef Nathanson of Lemberg, and later, enrolled in the Rabbinical College in Vienna. In 1882 he began his studies at the University of Berlin, Germany, and in 1890, he was invited to join the Talmudic and Rabbinics faculty of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Eventually, Rabbi Schechter was recruited by the nascent American Conservative movement, and in 1902, he was appointed the second president of the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City, and founded the United Synagogue of America, which is now known as the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Among Rabbi Schechter’s professional accomplishments, the pinnacle was likely his work at the Cairo Genizah. A genizah, which means hidden storage in Hebrew, was the place, usually in a local synagogue, where ritual items that could not be disposed in the trash, would be stored. The Ezra Synagogue in Fostat (old Cairo), which was built in 882 CE, possessed a genizah that contained centuries worth of old and worn religious documents and manuscripts. Local superstition cautioned all not to enter the genizah, lest tragedy befall them if they were to touch the holy pages (similar to the Talmudic stories of individuals who try to identify the Holy Ark under the Temple Mount – see T.B. Yoma 53b). In 1896, two Christians brought Rabbi Schechter two leaves from the Cairo Genizah of the book “Ben Sira,” which is a component of the Apocrypha literature. No known Hebrew version of the book, which was included in the Christian cannon, was known to exist, as it was translated into Greek. Rabbi Schechter led an expedition to the Genizah, where he spent several months as a forensic detective in addition to his moniker as a scholar. The sealed, dry room proved effective to preserve the centuries-old documents.

Rabbi Schechter brought thousands of pages from the Genizah back to Cambridge University. Rabbi Shechter identified over 200 poems by Yehuda Halevi that were previously unknown and original manuscripts written by Maimonides (who lived in Fostat). Additionally, during Maimonides’ time, there was a proliferation of Karaites in the Cairo Jewish community. Rabbi Schechter’s research at the Genizah yielded abundant material and history about the Karaitic movement. The largest collection of materials from the Cairo Genizah can be found at Cambridge, but there are also exhibits from the Genizah in London, Oxford, Paris, Frankurt, Vienna, Budapest, Leningrad and Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Jewish Archaeology

Whether unearthing previously unknown Jewish volumes or uncovering Jewish sites in Israel and worldwide, investigating and discovering the Jewish past helps ensure a Jewish future.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Meet Me at the JCC

If you ask a cross-section of Jews what they associate with the “JCC,” you may get a variety of answers. That is because the JCC offers a large swath of services to a very large variety of people.

In 1851, the first YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in North America was established in Montreal, Quebec. 23 years later, on October 10, 1874, the first Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was founded in New York City with Lewis May as its inaugural president. In 1888, the first Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA) was established by Fannie Liebovitz. The first independent YWHA was created in 1902. Although these two New York-based Jewish versions of the YMCA eventually merged into what is known today as the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, there were two other YMHA/YWHAs in New York City: the 14th Street Y and the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights/Inwood. In 1917, these latter two organizations merged into what is now known as the Jewish Welfare Board.

In 1951, the YMHA, YWHA and the Jewish Educational Alliance, merged into a new organization renamed Jewish Community Center (JCC). Today, not all branches use the term JCC or the even more brief “J.” Some maintain previous titles, such as the aforementioned 92nd Street Y, several JCCs in Brooklyn, NY (The Boro Park Y, Jewish Community House (Bensonhurst), Kings Bay Y (Sheepshead Bay) the Bronx (Riverdale YM-YWHA, Riverdale, NY), Center for Jewish Life (CJL) in East Brunswick, NJ, and the Jewish Community Alliance of Jacksonville, FL.

An organization that ties over 350 North American JCCs, YMHAs, YWHAs and camps together is the New York City-based JCC Association (JCCA). JCCA offers aid and support to the JCCs throughout North America, providing educational, cultural, social, and Jewish identity-building programs and initiatives to their respective constituencies. JCCA supports the largest network of Jewish pre-schools and summer camps, and offers critical services to the special needs population. The JCCA is also accredited to serve the religious and social needs of military members and their families, through the Jewish Welfare Board Chaplains Council.

JCCs tend to be found in larger Jewish communities where they may be supported by the local Jewish population. After all, they need charitable donations to function. There are almost two dozen JCCs in the metro New York area, 17 in Florida, 17 in the state of California (eight in the San Francisco area) and Chicago features ten JCCs. The JCC in West Bloomfield, MI (a suburb of Detroit) is the largest JCC in North America, if not the world.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Join the JCC

If there is a JCC, YWHA, or YMHA nearby, join there instead of another local gym.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Trouble with Double

For some sisters who are particularly close, the idea of a double wedding may seem a romantic dream. Indeed, parents of such brides might contemplate such a wedding as an excellent means of reducing wedding costs. However, it is interesting to note that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law) states: “It is forbidden to perform the marriage ceremony for two brothers or two sisters on one and the same day because one festive event should not be joined with another. Some authorities hold that is even forbidden to do so in one week and they infer it from Jacob our ancestor, for it is written (Genesis 29:27): ‘Fulfill the week of this one’” (Kitzur 145:26).

The Biblical reference is to Jacob’s weddings, the first one to Leah and the second to Rachel. Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel but, at the very last moment, her father (Laban) insisted that her older sister Leah needed to wed first, so he switched the brides. After Jacob and Leah were married, Laban insisted that there be a week’s delay before Jacob could wed Rachel (with a commitment of seven years labor).

A more significant reason for prohibiting simultaneous weddings, is the desire to respect the need for individual rejoicing. On the day of their wedding, a chatan (groom) and a kallah (bride) are like a king and a queen. Enhancing their joy is the priority, and nothing is meant to take away.


This Treat was last posted on December 19, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Multi-Tasking Isn’t Always Effective

While many have mastered the art of multi-tasking, interpersonal relationships require undivided attention.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

“Prohibition” and the Jews

Today is “Repeal Day,” referring to the repeal of “Prohibition”, the infamous 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 18th Amendment went into effect nation-wide on January 16, 1920, prohibiting “the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States. But, the ban on alcohol was not the social panacea its promoters envisioned. It did not lower crime. If anything, with bootleggers sneaking booze into the country, malfeasance increased. Over time, the nation sought repeal.

On December 5, 1933, the passage of the 21st Amendment effectively repealed the 18th Amendment.

Jews and Christians utilize wine sacramentally. In order to avoid a conflict with the famous First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of worship and religion, section 6 of the Volstead Act, the document detailing how the government would enforce prohibition, permitted wine for sacramental purposes only. Section 6 allowed up to 10 gallons of wine per family per year. As can be imagined, there was widespread abuse, and attempted exploitation of Section 6, despite the Jewish legal obligation of dina d’malchuta dina, following the law of the land.

The Jewish community was very wary of the passage of the 18th Amendment, as it was widely assumed that its promoters sought a type of racial purity that was detrimental to the Jews. Henry Ford’s publication of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” coincided with the prohibition push.

Rabbis, representing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews and congregations, were appointed to represent of their denominations and would certify to the government that wine would be given to bona fide rabbis of their respective sects. The rabbis in possession of Treasury Department sacramental wine permits were the only ones authorized to purchase the wine from the few remaining wine dealers, and could not receive payment for the wine from their congregants. The congregants had to pay the synagogue directly.

In late 1920, the question of using “unfermented” wine, commonly known as grape juice, was posed by the different rabbinic groups. The Reform Movement’s Committee on Responsa found that grape juice was an entirely acceptable substitute for wine in Jewish ritual. The Conservative movement, in a 71-page responsum authored by the eminent Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, concluded the same. In asserting that Jewish law did not prefer wine over grape juice, Rabbi Ginzburg ignored a ruling of the acclaimed 17th century Rabbi Abraham Gombiner (commentary of Magen Avraham to Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 272:2), who had explicitly ruled the opposite. There was no criticism from the Orthodox rabbinic groups to Rabbi Ginzburg’s conclusion.

Some in the Conservative and Reform movements attempted to shift the entire Jewish community to grape juice, even lobbying for repealing the exemptions set forth in Section 6 of the Volstead Act. These efforts ceased, when it became clear that this move would antagonize Christian groups.

Since Prohibition was repealed, much ink has been spilled addressing the question of whether unfermented wine can be used sacramentally. There are certainly many well-respected halachic authorities who have concluded that it may.

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wine for Shabbat

Purchasing a nice wine (or grape juice) on which to recite Shabbat Kiddush is a way of honoring the Sabbath.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Holy Water

There are so many unique components to Jerusalem. Its holiness is celebrated by multiple religions. However, one primary difference between Jerusalem and other ancient cities is that it is not in proximity to a natural water source.

In ancient times, water was provided to David’s capital city via a series of aqueducts, cisterns and natural springs. Birket Yisrael, was a public cistern on the northeast corner of the Temple mount, built by the Romans. Hezekiah’s Pool, in what today is the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, is believed to be a water source referenced in Scriptures (Kings II 18:17). The Mamilla Pool, situated 650 meters outside of the Jaffa Gate (where today the Mamilla Mall is found) was built by Herod the Great and was connected to Hezekiah’s Pool via aqueducts. The Pool of Bethesda (Hebrew for beit chessed – house of kindness) is referenced in the Christian Gospels and is reported to be situated near the Lion’s Gate in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. However, it has not been identified archaeologically. The Shiloach, or Silwan in Arabic, can be found on the southern slope of the City of David (on the southern side of the Temple Mount). It was fed by the waters of the Gichon Spring, which was carried to the Shiloach via two aqueducts. This water source is mentioned in the Talmud, and it was from here that the water was drawn on Sukkot, to be poured into the Temple’s altar. Finally, the Sultan’s Pool, at the foot of the western side of Mount Zion, was built by Herod the Great, and is used as a concert venue in modern day Jerusalem.

As the number of immigrants grew, who arrived to the Holy Land from Europe during the aliyot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the population of Jerusalem increased exponentially, and a more modern system to hydrate the citizens of the Holy City needed to be employed. With the advent of statehood in May of 1948, the government of the state of Israel endeavored to create a permanent solution. Plans for a Jerusalem water reservoir to be located in the Bayit Vegan section were drawn. Construction began in early 1955 as both a means to prevent the water shortage that occurred during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, as well as to promote greater urban development. The project cost between 1.5 and 2 million Israeli Lira, and was financed through the sale of Israel Bonds.

On November 18, 1958, corresponding to the 6th of Kislev, Finance Minister (and future Prime Minister) Levi Eshkol opened the valve allowing water to flow into the new Jerusalem reservoir. Prior to this new permanent water source in Jerusalem, the high price for “imported” water, prevented industrial and economic development in the expanding new capital city. While the population of Jerusalem was recorded at 84,000 in 1948, that number rocketed to 150,000 by 1958.Today it is over 750,000.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don’t Underestimate the Necessity of Potable Water

Life cannot exist without water. Help ensure that all of God’s creatures have easy access to potable drinking water.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Jews in the Land of Lincoln

The first known Jewish resident of what is now the state of Illinois was John Hays, a grandson of a New York Jew, who moved west to Cahokia in 1793. Hays was a farmer and trader, who, in addition to his professions, possessed great dedication to civil service, having been a soldier, postmaster and sheriff.

The second known Jew who lived in Illinois prior to statehood was Abraham Jonas, who, in 1838, moved to Quincy from Cincinnati. In 1842, he was elected to the Illinois legislature, where he met a young Abraham Lincoln. The two would become lifelong friends. Another notable Illinoisan was Captain Samuel Noah, the first Jewish graduate of West Point Military Academy, who, in the late 1840s, worked as a teacher in Mount Pulaski, in Logan County.

Outside of Chicago, where Jews began settling in the 1830s, the oldest Jewish community in Illinois can be found in Peoria, where Jews arrived in 1847. Peoria’s Jewish Benevolent Society was created in 1852, and seven years later, Peoria’s first synagogue, Congregation Anshei Emeth was established. About 75 miles south of Peoria, a Jewish community in Springfield began to grow around 1850, and Brith Sholom, Springfield’s first synagogue was founded in 1858. In 1863, Jews ventured further south to Cairo, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant established his headquarters there.

Of course, today, the vast majority of Jews in Illinois live in Chicago and its suburbs. Jews first settled in Chicago in the 1830s, when Chicago was incorporated, coming mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe. Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (KAM), Chicago’s first synagogue, was founded in 1847 by German immigrants. Within 5 years, 20 Polish immigrants broke away and created Chicago’s second synagogue, Kehilath B’nai Sholom. By 1859, Chicago had a United Hebrew Relief Association, established by 15 Jewish organizations. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Jews began moving to the suburbs. Yet, the late 1870s brought a new immigration wave of Jews to Chicago from Eastern Europe. Also of note, in 1923, the first campus “Hillel House,” established by the B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation, was established at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

In 1933, one hundred years after its incorporating there were 270,000 Jews living in Chicago, representing 9% of the entire population of the “Second City.” One of the early settlers of Chicago was Henry Horner, whose grandson, of the same name, would become the first Jewish governor of Illinois. The only larger Jewish population centers, other than Chicago were in New York City and Warsaw, Poland.

Eventually, the Jews, like residents of so many other cities, moved to the suburbs. The largest Jewish sprawl moved west into the North Lawndale area, which housed 60 synagogues, the Hebrew Theological College and the Douglas Library, where a young Golda (nee Meyerson) Meir worked for a short period. After World War II, more wealthy Chicago Jews moved to West Rogers Park, on the far North Side. By the 1960s, 40% of the families in Niles Township (where Skokie is situated) were Jewish. Other Chicago suburbs that enjoy large Jewish populations are Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Evanston, and Oak Park.

As of a survey in 2013, Illinois’ Jewish population is a little less than 300,000, with 75% living in Chicagoland. Peoria and Quincy have the largest Jewish populations outside of Chicago.

On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st state in the Union.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Illinois

When traveling, try to learn the Jewish history about the places you plan to visit.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Piece of U.S. History



As much as the United States prides itself on its religious freedom, each of the original 13 colonies had different policies in this regard. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island (1644), was the first to guarantee religious freedom to all settlers.

In 1658, fifteen Jewish families settled in Newport, RI. Most of these families were Sephardim who came via Curacao and South America, where they had still been threatened by the Inquisition.

They established Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel), but it took another century for the Jews of Newport to be able to finance the building of a synagogue. Under the leadership of Chazzan Isaac Touro, Peter Harrison, the leading colonial architect, was hired. The synagogue was completed in 1763, and was dedicated on December 2nd of that year. It became known as the Touro Synagogue in recognition of the financial support it received from Isaac Touro’s son, Abraham Touro, who left the synagogue $10,000 in his will. (His other son, Judah, was also a famous philanthropist.) The Touro Synagogue is the oldest existing synagogue in North America and is a National Historic Site.

While the Jewish community of Newport did not flourish--at one point the keys to the synagogue were given to a Quaker family--the synagogue has an independently vibrant history. It was used as a meeting place for the Rhode Island General Assembly, Rhode Island Supreme Court and the town of Newport. It is most famous for the letter written in 1790 by President George Washington to the congregation declaring that America would " ...give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Since 1883, when the synagogue was reopened on a regular basis, it has supported a small but loyal community that is supplemented each summer by numerous Jewish tourists.


This Treat was last posted on December 2, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Sites of Jewish Significance

Visit the Touro Synagogue and other U.S. tourist attractions that have special meaning for the Jewish community.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Are There Limitations to Window Shopping?

As today is known as “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day of the year, Jewish Treats will discuss a halachic (Jewish legal) issue regarding shopping.

Window shopping is an accepted practice worldwide. In general, stores do not discourage customers from their premises who refuse to commit to making a purchase (although use of a restroom is another story). But there may be a difference with a customer who has entered the store having no intention whatsoever of making a purchase who inquires about the price of an item. Is that permitted according to Jewish law?

There is a prohibition in the Torah known as oh’nah’at devarim, verbal exploitation. Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:4) provides a few examples of the proscription, such as reminding a newly observant person, or a convert, of their past inappropriate practices, or posing a question to someone that the questioner knows they cannot answer. One of the forbidden practices is to inquire about the price of an item when one has absolutely no intention of buying it. Does this mean that Judaism bans window-shopping?

Jewish law believes in the free market, and would not fault any consumer for inspecting and pricing an item at various stores to determine where to buy. Jewish law even permits a competitor to browse a store to learn the pricing on various items. Certainly, today, when so much is posted online, learning the pricing of items should not fall under any improper practice.

How then do we understand the Shulchan Aruch’s ban on asking about the cost of a product that one does not intend to acquire?

Halachic works offer rationales why this prohibition exists and what its parameters are. Understanding the background to an injunction often helps to comprehend the infraction and apply it in different cases. In this case, some believe it would be insulting to the shop owner to countenance a customer who has no intention of making a purchase, while others believe it is wasting the time of the merchant or sales staff. Others argue about perception: some feel that if someone witnesses a window-shopper expressing interest in an item and not buying it, they may feel that the item is overpriced, or flawed in some way. Others feel that if customers who are willing to spend money see other customers spending much time with an object, they may feel that those others will buy it and they will give up hope of buying the item.

The Shulchan Aruch Harav, penned by the First Lubavitcher Rebbe, limits the prohibition to when the subject will realize that the customer attempted to deceive him. According to this view, window shopping for the sake of shopping, without any thoughts of deceiving the owner, would be permitted.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Wisdom Has an Opinion on Monetary Matters

Although the United States has just laws governing monetary and civil matters, Jewish law has much to say about monetary issues, in addition to the governance in ritual law.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Torah’s Thanksgiving

While the majority of the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah are related to atonement for sins or to celebrate feast days, the Sh'lamim, peace offerings, were unique because they were not brought for either reason. And among the different peace offerings, the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving offering, is set apart because it had to be eaten the same day on which it was offered. In this, very limited span of time, a large portion of food had to be consumed: In addition to the meat of the offering, 30 loaves of unleavened bread and 10 loaves of leavened bread were offered and consumed by the Kohanim, Levi'im and those involved in the offering itself.

In his book The Call of the Torah*, Rabbi Elie Munk suggests that the quantity of food, and the relatively brief amount of time in which it had to be consumed, required that the person who brought the offering invite guests who would join in publicly giving thanks to God.

While only four types of people were required to bring a korban todah (a freed captive, one who traveled by sea; one who had crossed the desert, and one who recovered from an illness), in this day and age, when there is no Temple and thus no sacrifices, people who survive any life-threatening situation will often make a Seudat Hoda'ah, a feast of thanksgiving on the anniversary of their survival.

There is no set ceremony for a Seudat Hoda'ah. To be considered a proper seudah (feast), however, bread should be served so that Birkat haMazon may be recited. It is also customary to listen to words of Torah spoken either by the survivor or in the survivor's honor.

*Volume 3, page 59 


This Treat was last posted on November 23, 2017.




Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Add Grace Before and After Meals to your Thanksgiving Dinner

All meals, including your Thanksgiving Dinner, should include blessings before and after.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Biblical Twins

Twins have long been a source of great fascination for many, as demonstrated by the vast number of studies and stories that have used twins as their subject. Twins, however, do not seem to be a subject that fascinates the Torah, but more of a parenthetical note when they occur. In fact, only two sets of Biblical twins are mentioned by name.

Esau and Jacob, the famous fraternal twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, were different from the moment of conception (according to the Midrash, they even struggled with one another in utero). At the moment of birth, when Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as if trying to prevent Esau from being the firstborn, their differences were already palpable: Esau was red and hairy, Jacob was smooth. Their different personalities were marked from the start. It was no surprise that Jacob grew to be a scholar while Esau became a hunter.

The story of Jacob and Esau is one of the best known Biblical stories. Esau sold his firstborn birthright to Jacob. Isaac wished to bless Esau, but Rebecca arranged that Jacob would receive the blessing (most appropriately, since Esau had sold him that right). Thus their enmity was set for eternity.

The other twins mentioned in the Torah are Peretz and Zerah, the sons of Tamar and Judah. Similar to Jacob and Esau, these twins also struggled to be born first. The Torah relates that as Zerah’s hand was the first to emerge from Tamar’s womb, the midwife quickly marked it with a red string. But the arm was drawn back and the other baby, Peretz, emerged first. Nothing more is known about Peretz and Zerah themselves. However, Peretz is mentioned as the forefather of Boaz, the great grandfather of King David.


This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Discuss Biblical Twins with Twins whom you know

Always put natural phenomena in a Torah perspective. Share details about twins mentioned in Scriptures.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

God and Thanksgiving

Most people correctly associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, Plymouth and the Native Americans with whom the Pilgrims shared a community. Yet, the original Thanksgiving in the United States of America, offered gratitude to God for a new free nation, not just a bountiful harvest. It resembled the National Day of Prayer, more than the annual feast of fall foliage.

The Continental-Confederation Congress, which served as the national legislative body prior to the formal adoption of the Constitution, issued a proclamation on October 11, 1782 to create a “Solemn Thanksgiving to God for all His mercies” and recommended that all “testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.”

The U.S. Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. Half a year later, on September 25th, New Jersey Congressmen Elias Boudinot proposed that Congress recommend that President Washington proclaim a day of thanksgiving. Boudinot said he wanted to offer “an opportunity to all citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”

On October 3, 1789, seven months into his presidency, George Washington issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26, 1789, as “A day of public thanksgiving and prayer…devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interposition of His providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”

President Washington also proclaimed a Thanksgiving day in 1795, and Presidents Adams and Madison each declared two days of thanksgiving during their terms. President Jefferson, who served between Adams and Madison, did not declare any national days of thanksgiving during his presidency. Many believe this was due to his belief in the theology of Deism that God existed, but does not intervene in history. The governors of Massachusetts and New York also proclaimed such days of gratitude in the early 19th century. By 1858, 25 of the 32 states in the union at that time were celebrating some form of Thanksgiving.

It was not until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for a Religious Component to Thanksgiving

In addition to preparing turkey and all the trimmings, prepare ways to bring God to the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Joe DiMaggio and the Jews

Joe DiMaggio, considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, was born on November 25, 1914. “Joltin’ Joe,” as he was known, played his entire thirteen-year career, from 1936 to 1951, for the New York Yankees. (He served in the U.S. Army Air Force from February, 1943 to September, 1945 as a physical education instructor).

Although Joseph Paul DiMaggio was Catholic, and his parents, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio, even called him “Paulo” in memory of his father’s favorite saint, there is no lack of interest in his life by Jews.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, a professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, who grew up an avid Yankee fan in the Bronx, delivered a well-received eulogy in tribute of his childhood baseball hero, highlighting the Jewish values that can be learned from DiMaggio. According to Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff, from DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, one of the most iconic baseball records that still stands, we can all learn the virtue of consistency. DiMaggio was famous for always hustling on and off the field. When asked why he continued the practice, even after his prowess was already universally acknowledged, the “Yankee Clipper” responded, “There may be one kid in the Grandstand, who never saw me play. I want him to see Joe DiMaggio in his prime.” Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff spoke of how DiMaggio controlled his emotions on the field, and is the reason why DiMaggio never authorized a biography of his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, to be written, to protect her reputation from the salaciousness of such literary works. Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff also maintains that we can learn life lessons from two of DiMaggio’s incredible statistics: In his entire career, Joe struck out only 8 times more than the number of homeruns he hit, and DiMaggio was never thrown out when running from first to third base.

Joe DiMaggio is also mentioned in the culture of music.

In addition to Joe DiMaggio’s name being prominently included in the 1967 #1 hit song, “Mrs. Robinson,” written by two young Jewish men from Queens, NY, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the renowned Jewish composer and lyricist, Abie Rottenberg, also a native New Yorker, recorded a song entitled, “Joe DiMaggio’s card.” Although the song is not about DiMaggio, per se, it speaks of the religious maturation process of a young man, revolving around the boy’s ownership of a Joe DiMaggio baseball card and his adoration of the Yankee Hall of Famer. Paul Simon performed “Mrs. Robinson” in Yankee Stadium as a tribute to DiMaggio after his passing.

A postscript: Morris Engelberg was a dear friend of Joe DiMaggio and the sole executor responsible for DiMaggio’s estate after his passing. In addition to dedicating hospitals and donating to other philanthropies in DiMaggio’s name, Engelberg chose to name the social hall after DiMaggio, at Congregation Judea Chabad in Hollywood, FL, where Mr. Engelberg had begun to pray.

While our sages say that Torah scholarship is to be found exclusively within the Jewish community, Jewish tradition teaches that wisdom and inspiration can be found anywhere, and it is incumbent upon Jews to seize all sources of wisdom and inspiration and learn from them.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.