Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Maharal of Prague

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

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

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

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

The Maharal passed away on September 17, 1609, corresponding to the 18th of Elul. 

*alternatively spelled Lowe

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2010.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor the Yahrzeit

When a close relative, a great person, or a loved one passes away, the anniversary of their death (yahrzeit) is an opportunity to remember their life and re-commit to their values.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Locate Your Friend and Ask for Forgiveness

Whether the creation of the wheel, and tools to create and advance civilization, or the discovery of penicillin or the polio vaccine, our lives have changed profoundly because of such discoveries. Productive societies invest in scientists and inventors who dedicate their lives to helping advance society through such innovation. While history has marked certain inventions and discoveries as changing the way we live, few have had as much impact as the development of the internet and the proliferation of social media.

With the advent of the internet and the ability to mass-communicate in a way never known previously, we are also able to be in contact with friends, relatives and acquaintances in a way that was previously unimaginable. Mental Health professionals note that while many in society may be in touch, today, with more people using social media, they are nevertheless, likely lonelier than ever before. Although, on its face, one would think that with so many more “friends” one would be happier, in truth, interacting online and via social media is not at all similar to a traditional relationship.

Today, September 17th has been designated as “Locate an Old Friend Day.” Try to do this the old-fashioned way, not via social media. The timing is also important, since at this time of year, prior to the High Holidays, Jews have traditionally endeavored to mend personal relationships and to seek out opportunities to rebuild friendships.

At the end of the second chapter (paragraphs 9-11) of his famed “Laws of Repentance,“ Maimonides makes this case quite strongly. With regard to interpersonal sins, two actions must be taken for the relationship to be repaired: financial restitution must be made, if necessary, and the sinner should seek appeasement from the victim, and personally request forgiveness. If the harmed individual refuses to forgive, which is his or her option, the one asking for forgiveness is to sincerely ask a total of three times, even invoking a committee of friends of the aggrieved, to help the aggrieved accept the petition for penance. Ultimately, if a serious attempt at forgiveness is rejected or offered thrice, there is no need to pursue the matter further, unless the victim was their rabbi, in which case he or she must continue until forgiveness is accepted. Maimonides adds that one must not be cruel when they are being asked to forgive.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Cherish Your Relationships

Make sure to schedule time to talk to those people who are most important in your life. Emailing and social media contact will not sustain the relationship without one-on-one communication.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Jews Don’t Run the World?

The Talmud teaches that in order to be credible, every good lie has to have a kernel of truth. This is not so when it comes to the libelous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a totally fabricated tale about how Jewish leaders gather to plan controlling the world.

It is hard to imagine a text more heinous and scandalous, painting an entire people with a broad brush of utter falsehood. What is perhaps equally, if not more, scandalous is how people embraced this forgery and disseminated it widely as truth. Tragically, but not as surprisingly, many attribute much of the narrative to have originated from a Jew, Jacob Brafman. Brafman had a falling-out with the semi-autonomous “kahal,” the committee of Jewish leaders that would self-govern a local community. The battle with local Jewish leaders led him to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith and pen several libelous missives promoting the paranoid idea that the Jews met in secret to undermine Russian businesses, seizing property and gathering power. In 1868, Brafman published, “The Local and Universal Jewish Brotherhoods,” and “The Book of the Kahal” in 1869.

“Protocols” claims to document the minutes of the meeting of, as Brafman calls them, the “Elders of Zion” who were conspiring to control the entire world.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were first published serially in Pavel Krushevan’s St. Petersburg-based paper Znamia, beginning with the issue dated August 26, 1903, corresponding to the 16th of Elul. Four months earlier, Krushevan had triggered the Kishinev pogroms against the Jews. Articles based on the infamous Protocols were broadly disseminated, including in Henry Ford’s “Dearborn Independent,” beginning on May 22, 1920. Ford even sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies of the forgery. In 1927, due to pressure, Ford issued a retraction, although it is not surprising to note that he was a prominent early admirer of Nazi Germany.

On May 29, 1933, Congressman Louis T. McFadden read the charges contained in the Protocols in the Congressional Record, the first anti-Semitic speech in Congress. McFadden then used his Congressional franking privilege (free use of the postal system) to disseminate the speech widely, to anti-Semitic organizations. Thankfully, the electorate did not vote him back into office.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Spread Truth

Make sure that slander and libel are not spread or disseminated, as they can destroy upstanding people and groups.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Burying The Dead

An unusually large body of Jewish law is concerned with interpersonal relationships, teaching how to properly respect each person, since all of humankind is created b’tzelem Eh-lokim, in the image of God.

The question of respect continues even beyond life. The Jewish laws concerning death, burial and mourning, all center on the importance of preserving the dignity of the person who has passed away.

It is for this reason that a Jewish funeral will most often be performed as soon as possible following a person’s death, ideally on the same day. The injunction to bury the dead quickly is based on a verse from Deuteronomy (21:23) that states: “His body shall not remain all night...but you shall surely bury him the same day.”

If the Torah states that a person should be buried on the same day as his/her death, one might rightly ask why burials are at times delayed, even more than one day. Apparently, according respect to the dead is so important, it is permissible to delay a burial so that proper funeral arrangements may be made, or to accommodate close relatives who need to travel from afar. One may even delay the burial to wait for the arrival of an important speaker - all in order to show respect for, and honor to, the deceased.

If the Torah teaches that we must show this much respect to the deceased, how much more careful must we be with how we treat our living family, friends, and neighbors.

This Treat was last posted on November 19, 2008.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chevra Kadisha

The Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) is a vital volunteer organization known for its anonymity. Helping to bury the dead is considered one of the most altruistic mitzvot, for the beneficiary [the deceased] can never pay back the act of kindness. There are many ways one can aid the Chevra Kadisha, including many that do not include coming in contact with the dead.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A History of Religious Freedom in North America

On September 12, 1695, the small Jewish community of what would become New York City, petitioned Governor Thomas Dongan for the right to exercise their religion in public. Because of the passage of the “Charter of Liberties and Privilege,” they had reason to hope that they too would receive permission from the governor, or the British Crown.

In its first session in 1683, the New York General Assembly addressed the issue of elections and individual rights for the colonists. James, the Duke of York, functioned as the colonial proprietor of New York, and his instructions to Dongan were sealed on January 27, 1683. James, who became King James II in February 1685, was the son of Charles I, who reigned from March, 1625, for close to 24 years, prior to Oliver Cromwell. James instructed Dongan to hold elections for the New York Colonial Assembly and to provide rights--including religious liberties. On October 31, 1683, Dongan and his council approved the “Charter of Liberties and Privileges.” A year later, James signed the charter in England, but his ascension to the throne prevented the document from returning back to New York. Now as King, James felt that the liberties that had been contemplated were too broad and that the democracy was too liberal, which resulted in James never confirming the charter. In May 1686, Dongan received further instructions that the charter was not to go into effect. In 1689, James was overthrown, and in 1691, William and Mary appointed Henry Sloughter as the new governor. He gathered a new assembly who enacted “An act for declaring what are the rights and privileges of their Magesties’ subjects inhabiting within the province of New York.”

On September 12, 1695, the Jews of New York petitioned Dongan that their free exercise of their religion be counted among the liberties granted by King James back in 1683. Dongan declined their petition.

Almost a century later, in 1779, amid the revolutionary fervor of the colonists, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. It eventually passed the Virginia Assembly on January 16, 1786. Similar sentiments were included in the now-famous first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was sent by Congress to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, and was ratified on December 15, 1791.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Religious Liberties in the United States

Don’t just invoke and know about the right for religious freedom. Engage joyously in acts of Judaism, which are constitutionally protected!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11 and Jewish History

The attack on the continental U.S. homeland on September 11, 2001, changed the entire complexion of the United States. Almost 200 years had passed since the last attack on the U.S. homeland in 1812. This is how the “Day of Infamy” became known by its calendrical date: 9/11.

9/11 also has a connection to the date associated with many Jewish national tragedies, which are recalled on Tisha B’Av--the Fast of the 9th of Av.

There is a dispute in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 10b) how to calculate dates prior to the Exodus, when the Jewish calendar was initiated: Rabbi Eliezer states that the first human was created on the first of Tishrei, while Rabbi Joshua argued that the first human was created on the first day of the month of Nissan. It has been pointed out that while Av is the 5th month of the Jewish calendar beginning with Nissan, the month of Passover--from where the Jewish calendar begins enumerating the months, it is also the 11th month, when counting from Tishrei, the month of Rosh Hashana. That would mean that Tisha B’Av takes place on the 9th day of the 11th month, or 9/11.

But, that’s not all. Kristallnacht, which took place on November 9th, 1938, when listed in the European style --listing the date of the month prior to the month, Kristallnacht took place on 9/11 as well, the ninth day of the eleventh month.

Unfortunately, national holidays in the United States are mostly celebrated as days off, or occasions for clearance sales in the retail world. Imagine if Memorial Day was marked as a full day devoted to remembering the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice. In Israel, Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) is a solemn day of retrospection. Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. Day were a day devoted to service by all citizens. Imagine if July 4th was observed as a day when all Americans contemplated the experiment of our Founders, the virtues of our Constitutional Republic. One prominent Jewish writer suggested that 9/11 be established as a national day of mourning, given the thousands who died that day. All those who have died tragically due to senseless violence, such as the victims of mass shootings or other violence, could also be remembered on such a day.

May the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 be a blessing. May we never forget the evil of that day and those who perished senselessly as its consequence.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reflect on this National Day of Remembrance

Spend significant time today remembering the events of 9/11 and/or read uplifting material about the day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Happy Ravenniversary

From time immemorial, the Hebrew calendar has been the subject of great debate. The following discussion underscores the extent of this debate.

Two weeks prior to the Children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Moses commanded the Jews (Exodus 12:2) on the first day of Nissan, to establish a Jewish calendar whose first month would be Nissan. However, even prior to the establishment of the Jewish calendar, the Bible refers to events taking place on certain dates. Those dates are identified ordinarily by the number of the month rather than by their names. There is a dispute in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 10b) regarding how to calculate dates prior to the exodus: Rabbi Eliezer states that the first human was created on the first of Tishrei and Rabbi Joshua argued that the first human was created on the first day of the month of Nissan. 

However, when it came to identifying the calendrical dates during the time of the flood and Noah’s ark, there seems to be yet another way to calculate the dates. The Torah states (Genesis 8:4-7) that the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. The Torah then claims that the waters subsided and the tips of the highest mountains could be seen on the first day of the tenth month, about two-and-a-half months later. Forty days later, which would be the tenth day of the eleventh month, Noah opened the ark’s window and sent out the raven.

So, according to the aforementioned Talmudic dispute, the tenth day of the eleventh month would correspond, according to Rabbi Eliezer, to the tenth of the Hebrew month of Av, and according to Rabbi Joshua, it would have been the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet.

Yet Rashi (Genesis 8:5) introduces a third way of calculating the date. He does not claim the tenth month in the text above refers to the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the tenth month beginning from the month of Tishrei, or the Hebrew month of Tevet, the tenth month when counting from Nissan. He claims the tenth month refers to the Hebrew month of Av, as the count began from the onset of the flood waters, which was the month of Cheshvan. So according to this calculation, forty days after the first of the tenth month, would be the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Elul.

Based on Rashi’s calculation, on the tenth of Elul in the year 1656 from creation (corresponding to 2105 BCE), Noah sent out the raven.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Calendar

By using the Jewish calendar as often as you can, you can fulfill the mitzvah of remembering the Exodus, which is the official starting point of the current Jewish monthly calendar.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Happy Birthday Adam

Adam Richard Sandler was born September 9, 1966 in New York City to Judith (Levine) and Stanley Sandler, who descended from Russian Jewish immigrants on both sides. When Adam was 6, the family moved to Manchester, NH. As a teen, Sandler was involved with the Jewish youth group, BBYO. Sandler has stated that his views on Israel and Zionism derive from his very pro-Israel parents. As the only Jewish student in his public school, Adam has recalled how he was the subject of anti-Semitic derision.

In 1989, Adam starred in his first film role, “Going Overboard.” While pursuing his acting career, Adam was also succeeding as a stand-up comic. Comedian Dennis Miller saw Sandler’s act in Los Angeles, and recommended him for a job at NBC’s “Saturday Night Live (SNL).” In 1990, Adam was hired as a writer for the show, and the following year, was added as a member of the cast. He left “SNL” in 1995, to focus on his movie career, starring in slapstick films, most often portraying an immature unmotivated adult who ends up growing up, and, in the end, acting with valor. Adam then began writing and producing films. Sandler starred and helped write “Billy Madison” in 1995, “Happy Gilmore” in 1996, and “The Waterboy” in 1998.

Adam personally and professionally wears his Jewish pride on his sleeve. In 2003, Adam married Jacqueline Titone, who had converted to Judaism. A video surfaced of Sandler shaking a lulav at a Chabad Sukkot street festival in Brentwood, CA, in 2017, and in an interview in 2019, he spoke of his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. 

Sandler’s works portrays a real pride in his Jewishness. While a cast-member on SNL in 1994, Adam wrote the now-famous “Chanukah Song” which describes famous Jews who celebrated Chanukah, not the much more popular Christmas. It became an instant hit for Jews and non-Jews alike, and Sandler has updated it numerous times with new names and lyrics. In 2002 Sandler produced a Chanukah-themed animated film “Eight Crazy Nights.” In 2008, Adam then wrote and produced “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” chronicling the life of a former Israeli Mossad agent who moved to New York to pursue his dream of becoming a hairdresser. In 2014, Sandler starred in “The Cobbler,” a drama about a Lower East Side Jewish cobbler named Max Simkin who magically was able to wear people’s shoes and experience their lives. Liel Leibovitz of the online Tablet Magazine described Sandler as a “normal dude from New Hampshire who was proud of his Jewish heritage the same way an Irish-American might celebrate his own on St. Patrick’s Day – that is, loudly, and with a never ending supply of good cheer and high spirits.” In Adam’s own words: “I’m not very crazy religious. But like I said, I grew up being proud of being a Jew and that’s what I am.”

Yom Huledet Sameyach, Adam!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Celebrities

Support the work of celebrities and artists who take pride in their Jewishness and make their Jewish heritage part of their work or personality.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Boundary Stones and Unfair Competition in Jewish Law

In this week’s parasha, the Torah teaches that, “You shall not move your fellow’s landmarks, set up by previous generations, in the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess” (Deuteronomy 19:14). The initial prohibition here is against moving the boundaries of your and your neighbor’s property, in order to expand your property at your neighbor’s expense. Rashi asks what new form of theft is introduced with this verse, since the Torah has already prohibited stealing (Leviticus 19:13). He answered that moving a boundary stone causes one to violate two Biblical prohibitions, not just stealing. In fact, shifting a boundary is such a serious form of embezzlement that it warranted a separate Biblical prohibition. Rashi also notes that since the verse references “dwelling in the Land of Israel,” moving a boundary stone outside of the Land of Israel would only be a single prohibition, that of stealing.

In later years, the rabbis in the Talmud saw this prohibition, known as hasagat gevul in Hebrew, in a less literal light. They expanded its meaning and ascribed to it a broader injunction prohibiting commercial encroachment, namely unfair competition, figuratively taking of someone else’s assets. Of course, we may not ignore the importance of not impeding someone from earning a living, which is compared to murdering someone (Yevamot 8b). In an outline from King David of eleven values of life, one value was not to compete with someone else’s livelihood (Makkot 24a).

“Rav Huna said: There was a certain resident of an alleyway who set up a mill in the alleyway and earned his living grinding grain for people. Subsequently, another resident of the alleyway came and set up a mill next to his. The halachah (Jewish law) is that the first one may prevent the second resident from doing so if he wishes, as he can say to him: You are disrupting my livelihood by taking my customers” (Bava Batra 21b). However, another Rav Huna (the son of Rabbi Yehoshua) disagrees: “The resident of an alleyway cannot prevent another resident of his alleyway from practicing a particular trade there…” (Ibid.)

The latter opinion is codified in almost all halachic codes. But, before you think Judaism allows every type of competition, over the years, conditions were added. One caveat is the prohibition of introducing a similar business in a cul-de-sac where one cannot travel to the other person’s business without first seeing the new establishment. All agree that this type of competition is forbidden. Rabbi Moshe Isserlis once adjudicated a competition case between two Italian printers of Judaica. He felt that since the second printer had entered the business with the express purpose of ruining the business of the first printer, the second printer’s business should not be patronized. Chatam Sofer limited competition to impacting another’s livelihood, not eliminating it. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein expanded Chatam Sofer’s ruling by claiming that if the competitive business caused the original business owner to be forced into a below average socio-economic class, it would be forbidden.

(Interesting note: The only area where “unfair” competition is permitted, indeed encouraged, is Jewish education. It is assumed that, in this instance, the “unfair” competition would improve the overall quality of all schools.)

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honest Business Practices

When it comes to business ethics, we ought to aim to behave above and beyond the appearance of any impropriety.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Terror at the Olympics

On July 27, 1996, the world was startled when a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia. The bomb killed one person directly, another indirectly (heart attack) and injured 111 others.

The Atlanta bombing, which was an act of domestic terrorism by one man, was not the first, nor the most horrifying, act of terrorism to affect the summer Olympics. That sad distinction belongs to the Munich Olympics of 1972, when terrorists from the Palestinian Black September organization led a terrorist attack against the Israeli athletes in Munich’s Olympic Village, where the athletes were housed.

The well-planned attack began in the early hours of the morning when the terrorists climbed the fence of the Olympic Village and entered the Israelis' housing unit. The Israelis resisted the attack and two were immediately killed trying to stop the terrorists. Seven team members were able to escape. The remaining nine were taken hostage. 

The terrorists demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, as well as members of the German Red Army Faction being held in German prisons. The German government agreed to arrange air transportation to Egypt for the terrorists and their hostages, but were hoping to use the change of location as an opportunity to take down the terrorists. Unfortunately, numerous factors converged so that the German police forces were under-armed and generally unprepared at the airport. The Terrorists quickly realized that they had entered a trap and murdered the hostages before blowing up the helicopters in which they had been brought to the airport.

Five of the eight terrorists were killed at the airport. The other three were arrested by the Germans, only to be released at the demand of the hijackers of a Lufthansa airplane about seven weeks later.

Beyond the bloodshed, what is perhaps most shocking about the events at the 1972 Munich Olympics is how little they actually affected the games. In fact, the athletic competitions continued for several hours before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to suspend the Games for one day.

On September 6, the day after the massacre, a memorial service was held in the Olympic Stadium, but little else was done to acknowledge the terrible tragedy. 

This Treat was last posted on July 27, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Never Forget

Make sure that the lives of those who died as Jewish heroes are never forgotten.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Back to School

With Labor Day behind us, most of the country’s children now return to school. Some jurisdictions begin the school year in August to avoid having classes during the heat of June. Of course, the proverbial “first day of school” tends to manifest various emotions in the returning children, ranging from excitement to anxiety. All of this is normal for those encountering new situations.

In Jewish tradition, educating Jewish children in their heritage is a paramount virtue, of course. Well-deserved kudos to all the teachers who accepted the calling of educating the next generation. What is even more universal than the “rituals” of the first day of school, are the exuberant celebrations that mark the end of the school year.

In Numbers (10:35-36) two verses are presented with large inverted Hebrew letter nuns around them, something that is not seen anywhere else in the Torah. The Talmud (Shabbat 115b-116a) offers two reasons for this anomaly. First, some argue that the two surrounded verses represent a separate Book of the Torah. The second reason is proffered by Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel, claiming that the two verses were transported here, purposely positioned out of place, in order to separate two negative events. God, author of the Torah, did not want these two examples of bad behavior to be juxtaposed, reasoned Rabbi Simon.

What were those events? The event described following the second reversed Nun can clearly be classified as negative. “And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; and the Lord heard it; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed those who were in the outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1). But, what event occurred beforehand, that caused the Nuns to be placed as a demarcation? The preceding verse seems fairly benign: “And they departed from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey; and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them” (Numbers 10:33). The sages (Tosafot to Shabbat 116a and Ramban on the Torah) cite an ancient Midrash, which claims, that when the Jews left Mount Sinai after the Revelation--the most significant event that had ever occurred in human history, the Children of Israel, did not merely depart, but rather, they “ran away with such glee, like school children running away from school.”

While no one expects children to go to school with the same joy and enthusiasm as they leave it, let us hope and pray that all Jewish children will have a very successful, inspiring, and pedagogically-effective school year. Let’s also thank all the teachers and all those individuals who make the children’s experience at school a positive one.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

First Day of School

Make a child’s first day of school special. Prepare ways to enhance it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Rav Kook

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was appointed as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine in 1921. A few years later, he founded the World Central Yeshiva, now known as Merkaz HaRav, in Jerusalem. As a prominent communal leader during the British Mandate, Rav Kook excelled at creating relationships and alliances with the secular Zionists, the religious Zionists and the religious anti-Zionists (who opposed the formation of a secular state). With the exception of those who evinced outright disrespect for Torah, Rav Kook’s ability to relate to different approaches to Jewish life and his belief that the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel was the beginning of the final redemption, were at the heart of his success. 

Rav Kook’s family background was unique--the son of a Chassidic woman and a mitnaged (non-Chassidic) scholar. He was born in Griva, Russia (now Latvia) and, early in his life, was marked as a genius. In 1904, after serving in several European Rabbinic posts, Rav Kook and his second wife (his first died after only 2 years of marriage), moved to Jaffa in Ottoman Palestine. Rav Kook was greatly respected by both the religious community he served as Chief Rabbi, and by the nearby secular Zionist communities. Although he was criticized by those who opposed the secularists, Rav Kook’s opinion was that there were enough rejecters, and chose instead to take the role of embracer. 

During World War I, Rav Kook and his family were in England (having been out of Palestine at the start of the war and unable to return). While there, he accepted the post of Rabbi at the Spitalfields Great Synagogue in Whitechapel. In 1921, he returned to Palestine, now under the control of Britain, and was appointed the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and then of all Palestine. 

Today, 3 Elul, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. 

This Treat was last posted on September 2, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Love Those with Whom You Disagree

Practice the love of those who are different from you, which was one of the great lessons of Rav Kook.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor, Technology and the Torah

Labor celebrations have taken place throughout North America since the 1880s, and Labor Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1894. As students of history are well aware, in the decades surrounding the start of the 20th century, the working class that emerged from the Industrial Revolution fought to be treated fairly. 

Judaism has always valued the rights of workers. In fact, three thousand years ago, the Torah declared such fundamental laws as: “You shall not oppress your fellow, and you shall not rob; the wages of a worker shall not remain with you overnight until morning” (Leviticus 19:13). The sages refined these rules even further. Take for instance the Mishna quoted in Baba Metzia 83a: “One who engages laborers and demands that they commence early or work late--where local usage is not to commence early or work late, he may not compel them. Where it is the practice to supply food [to one's laborers], he [the employer] must supply them therewith; to provide a relish, he must provide it. Everything depends on local custom.

Unions and labor laws had greatly curbed the worst of the abuses of the workplace. The decades surrounding the start of the 21st century have introduced entirely new challenges. As fewer people work in labor-related jobs, different questions affect employers and employees. 

For instance, as technology brought the world into the information age and high speed internet has knocked down the constraints of office walls and office hours, how does one define overtime? If an employer provides an employee with a smart phone, must the employee be available at all hours? 

Many such issues are defined with reference to “corporate culture,” and thus local custom. The use or abuse of modern technology, while not a direct question addressed by the sages or the Torah, may depend on an employer’s honest assessment of whether such action transgresses the prohibition of “oppressing” one’s fellow.

This Treat was last posted on September 4, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Torah’s Mandate to Treat Laborers Properly

On this Labor Day, learn about how the Torah legislated equitable working conditions for all workers.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Rabbi Shmuel Salant

On the 29th of Av, 1909, corresponding to August 16th, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, Jerusalem’s long-time Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, passed away.

Rabbi Shmuel was born in 1816 in Bialystok, then part of Czarist Russia. His formal Jewish education took place in Vilna, Salant and the famed Yeshiva of Volozhin. When he married the eldest daughter of Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant (1781-1866), he began using his father-in-law’s last name. Rav Zundel was the inspiration for several famed students including Rabbi Israel Lipkin (Salanter) (no relation to Rabbi Shmuel Salant), recognized as the founder of the 19th century mussar movement. Rabbi Yisrael referred to Rabbi Zundel as the “light of the whole world.”

Due to suffering from damaged lungs, Rabbi Shmuel was advised to seek out a warmer climate. So in 1840, Rabbi Shmuel, his wife, and their son Binyomin Beinish, journeyed across Europe, destined for Jerusalem. While in Constantinople, Rabbi Shmuel happened upon Sir Moses Montefiore, who was on his way to Damascus to defend Jews who were falsely accused in the Damascus Blood Libel. Rav Shmuel’s friendship with Sir Moses would become helpful in building up western Jerusalem.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem in 1841, Rav Shmuel was immediately appointed rabbi of the Ashkenazi community. In 1848, Rav Shmuel was dispatched to the Eastern European Jewish communities to raise funds for the Yishuv (Jewish settlement in Palestine). Rav Shmuel would regularly bring back contributions and distribute them to both the Ashkenazi community he represented and to the Sephardic community as well. Despite access to communal funds, Rav Shmuel was renowned for living in very austere conditions. Rabbi Salant brought aboard another sage who had moved to Jerusalem, Rabbi Meir Auerbach, to serve with him in the Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate and to take over while he was abroad collecting. Rabbi Salant preferred to defer to Rabbi Auerbach in formal rabbinic duties, but tragically, Rabbi Auerbach died in 1878, at the relatively young age of 63. Subsequently, Rabbi Salant assumed the sole helm of Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbinate until his death in 1909.

In 1860, Rav Shmuel succeeded in founding the Rabbi Meir Ba’al Ha’nes Salant charity to provide for all of the Yishuv’s impoverished members. Rabbi Salant also helped found the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Bikur Cholim Hospital, two of the most important Yishuv institutions. He also encouraged Jews to move into newly established communities outside of Jerusalem’s Old City, where most of Jerusalem’s Jews were living at that time. This campaign was also done out of necessity, as Jerusalem’s population grew from 5,000 to 30,000 during his tenure as Chief Rabbi.

Rabbi Salant’s eyesight began failing him in 1888, which resulted in total blindness a few years later. In 1900, Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz – Teomim, known by the acronym, Aderet, was appointed as Rabbi Salant’s assistant and heir apparent. Unfortunately, the Aderet pre-deceased his mentor in 1905. (The Aderet was the father–in-law of future Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Avraham Y. Hakohen Kook.)

Rav Shmuel Salant’s name is still pronounced with reverence throughout Jerusalem. May his memory be for a blessing.

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Role Models

Learn about great pious men and women, so their lives can serve as a model for us, even if many years later.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Seeking God in Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

Jews world-wide begin reciting the 27th Psalm this Saturday night, in the post-Shabbat evening service.

This Treat is reposted annually.

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Close to God

Identify three ways you plan to come closer to God during the upcoming High Holiday season.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Happy Bow Tie Day

Happy Bow Tie Day, celebrated annually on August 28th. The bow tie originated in the 17th century with Croatian soldiers who wore them as part of their uniforms in the Thirty Year War. The French troops who observed the Croatian soldiers, brought back the practice to France where it became fashionable. While some wear bow ties casually, often projecting a professorial or intellectual look, it is also used in formal attire such as tuxedos and military raiment. The bow tie was designed to help draw the eyes up to the face and away from the shoulders and chest.

One of the 39 prohibitions of Shabbat productivity is tying a knot, and, its opposite act, untying. The question is may one indeed tie (or untie) a bow tie on Shabbat?

For a knotted tie to be considered a knot in Jewish law, it must be considered a permanent knot, which we will define shortly, and it must be a type of knot that is somewhat complicated in order to remain tight, i.e. a knot used by experts and artisans. That knot is halachically defined as permanent and a specialty type of tight knot, and would violate the prohibition of tying on a Biblical level. If one violates one element but not both, one nonetheless violates rabbinic law. The same criteria are used for untying.

A permanent knot is defined as a knot that is intended to remain tied. There are a variety of opinions regarding how long it would need to remain tied, but it would need to be tied for at least 24 hours (i.e. tying one’s shoes would not be a problem, however a double knot could be considered an attempt at permanence, despite how often it is tied.)

Tying a necktie is not considered to be a halachically problematic knot since it can be easily undone and is never intended to remain for an entire day. It is designed to be used and unused while one wears a shirt, which is usually never more than a day.

Bow ties are also not meant to remain tied longer than the time one wears the shirt under the tie. Even though the way one ties a bow tie may be more complicated and less well known than tying a neck tie, most would argue that it is not a permanent knot nor is it intended to be too tight.

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

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Look Good and Comply with Jewish Law

Because the long tradition behind Jewish law usually has more grey than black and white, much nuance exists. Study Jewish law and experience the millennia-long tapestry of opinions and traditions.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Why is Jerusalem Not Mentioned in the Torah?

In the first aliyah of parashat Re’eh, the Torah mentions 16 times an unknown place where God will choose to rest His Presence. Now, thousands of years later, we know that place to be the Temple Mount on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Why does the Torah not identify more specifically the place that God will select?

Maimonides asks the same question. In his Guide to the Perplexed (Part III, 45) he offers 3 reasons. First, Maimonides suggests, it was to protect the security of the holy areas. Armed with the location that the Jews will sanctify as their capital, Israel’s enemies will seek it out and attempt, politically, to prevent the Jews from acquiring it in the first place.

Second, the nation that occupied the area that would become Israel’s capital and most sacred site could destroy it prior to the Jews acquiring it. Maimonides then offers a third reason, which he identifies as the strongest reason why the name and location of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were not identified in the Torah. This reason is purely intra-national. If all the Jews were to know prior to entering the Promised Land where the capital city and the Temple Mount would be, they would all endeavor to receive that area in their tribal allotment. Remember that the Holy Land was divided up through the urim and tummim. The urim and tummim that were folded into the High Priest’s Breastplate, would answer questions posed by lighting up the letters on the Breastplate which would provide the letters of the answer to the question including how to divide the land of Israel. Each tribe’s apportionment was clearly decreed by God. Maimonides argues that had the tribes known where Jerusalem would be situated, they would likely have maneuvered to try to host the holy city and venue for the Temple in their patrimony, or even fight each other over the plot. For this reason, concludes Maimonides, the building of the Temple is to occur only after the coronation of a king who would unify the country.

In the end, the Temple was built on land shared by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

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Promote and Support Jerusalem

Our generation has merited to have unmitigated access to Jerusalem. Do not squander that opportunity.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Progress for Women

On August 26, 1920, the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution went into effect, prohibiting all U.S. states and the Federal government from denying the right to vote to any U.S. citizen based on gender. In other words, women were given the right to vote. Previous attempts had failed. The Reconstruction era amendments to the U.S. Constitution did not include a prohibition to discriminate against women’s suffrage. Although the women’s suffrage movement first introduced a draft Constitutional amendment in 1878, they were unable to muster the needed Congressional and state legislature votes until 1920, 42 years later.

Another important advance for women was taking place during the same time, but in a different place. Sara Schenirer, born in 1883 in Krakow, Poland, to a family loyal to the Belzer Rebbe, observed that significant numbers of young Jewish women were leaving traditional Judaism. In her day, young Jewish women were raised by their mothers to become homemakers. Sara and her family relocated to Vienna during the World War I years where Sara was exposed to some of the more modern traditional views espoused by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the renowned rabbi in Frankfurt, Germany. The old formula, reasoned Sara, of women staying loyal to Jewish life without formal Jewish training, was no longer working, and she proposed a revolutionary idea in the Orthodox world: to provide girls and young women with a Jewish education. In 1917, Sara proposed opening schools for girls, but would not do so without the assent of the religious authorities of the day. Her brother encouraged her to approach the Belzer Rebbe (Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach – 1854-1927) about her idea. She went to see her Rebbe, who blessed her endeavor with the two words, “mazal ubracha,” best of luck and blessings -- although the Rebbe was not yet ready to send the Belzer girls to Schenirer’s school. Eventually, Sara secured the endorsements of two other great rabbinic sages of that era: the Gerrer Rebbe, (Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter – 1866-1948 also known as the Imrei Emes) one of the leaders of the Hassidic world, and the Chofetz Chaim, the leader of Lithuanian Orthodox Jewry.

In 1917, Sara opened a kindergarten in her seamstress studio in Krakow, Poland, and twenty-five girls registered. Six years later, in 1923, Schenirer established a teachers’ seminary to train her staff for her burgeoning school. By 1939, there were 250 “Bais Yaakov” schools teaching 40,000 students.

When it comes to historical progress and evolution, context is very important. While traditional Jewish women’s formal education may only have begun in 1917, across the Atlantic, women only earned the right to vote constitutionally in 1920.

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Support Progress in Context

Historical progress must be understood in the context of the times. Make sure to evaluate pre-progress events in the context of those times.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Hebron Massacre of 1929

One of the most ancient cities in the land of Israel, Hebron is mentioned in the Bible as the location of the Cave of the Patriarchs (Me'arat Ha'mach'pelah), which Abraham purchased as Sarah’s burial site. Furthermore, at the time of the conquest of the Promised Land, Hebron is specifically singled out: “They gave Hebron to Caleb”(Joshua 1:20). 

Because of Me'arat Ha'mach'pelah, Hebron has always been considered a holy city and, for most of its existence, Hebron was a city of Arabs and Middle Eastern Jews (Sephardim, Iranian, Iraqi, etc), who shared a culture and language with their neighbors. 

Following World War I, the British assumed control of the territory of Palestine. The Arabs resented the influx of European Jews that followed. In Hebron, the creation of the Yeshiva of Hebron, a branch of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Russia, significantly increased these tensions.

In the summer of 1929, the underlying tensions in the land of Palestine were ignited by the fiery words of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem (chief religious authority for Muslims). Al-Husseini was passionately nationalistic and fiercely anti-Jewish. (He would later become an ally of Adolph Hitler.) On August 22, when 3 Jews and 3 Arabs were killed in a fight in Jerusalem, al-Husseini promoted the spread of rumors that the Jews were calling for a general massacre of the Arabs. Sadly, the opposite occurred. 

The Hebron Massacre began on Friday evening (August 23) and lasted through the weekend. When rioters appeared with knives and sticks, many Jews took refuge in the town’s small police station. Others were hidden by Arab neighbors. The rest of the Jews were offered little protection by the British police, and by the end of the weekend 67 Jews were dead and many others wounded. Afterward, the entire Jewish community was forced to leave the city. 

This Treat was last posted on August 23, 2011.

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Support Israel

The city of Hebron has been part of Jewish history for 3,000 years. Visit Hebron on your next trip to Israel and learn more about the holy city’s fascinating history.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Grace Before Meals

One of the seven mitzvot enacted by the rabbis is reciting blessings prior to eating food. The other six rabbinic innovations are: the holiday of Purim, the holiday of Chanukah, lighting Shabbat candles, reciting the Hallel prayer, washing our hands prior to eating bread, and the concept of eruv. (The rabbis also created dozens of enactments, functioning as “fences” around existing Biblical laws. The list above are creations that did not come to support an existing Biblical mandate).  Grace after meals, or birkat hamazon,  finds its source in the Torah in this week’s parasha, Eikev.

In terms of the blessings recited prior to eating, there are a few basic categories, that are based upon another verse in this week’s parasha. The Torah states: “A land of wheat and barley, and (grape) vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and (date) honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8). From this verse, the Talmud (B’rachot 41a) deduces, in the name of Rabbi Yosef, and some say Rabbi Yitzchak, that the order of the seven items in the verse serve as the order in which the blessings are recited.

The first blessing recited, is that over bread (which would be made from the flour of five grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats). When those grains are used in baked goods other than bread, the blessing of mezonot is recited. Next in the verse are grapes. A special blessing was instituted over wine. The blessing over bread is always recited first and covers all other blessings save for that over wine. After mentioning wheat, barley and grapes of the vine, the latter 4 fruits of the land of Israel mentioned in the verse are all considered to be fruit, and require the blessing over fruit to be recited on them prior to their consumption. In Jewish law, after grains, wine and fruit, the next blessing recited is over vegetables, and finally the miscellaneous blessing is recited over drinks, meat, eggs, fish and everything else.

The seven Israeli products mentioned in the verse above are considered to be foods identified with the Land of Israel, and their first fruits, in the days of the Holy Temple, would be brought to the Temple with great pomp.

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Israel’s Special Foods

Make an extra effort to buy and consume Israeli produce. Please note that there are unique agricultural laws regarding Israeli produce. You can learn more from the OU, the largest certifier of kosher products in the world. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I’m a Poet and I Don’t Know It!

August 21 is annually celebrated as Poet’s Day (not to be confused with Poets Day, which is celebrated weekly, on Fridays in Great Britain, similar to TGIF). Poet’s Day was initiated on August 21, 2001 by Daniel Rhodes of Hoover, AL.

Poetry, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a composition in verse,” has been a form of bohemian expression for millennia, whether as a cute limerick, a juvenile acrostic, a romantic sonnet or a sublime haiku. Many have pointed to the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, a story similar to that of Noah and the Ark, as one of history’s first poems. Centuries later, Aristotle wrote a book entitled Poetics, attempting to define it, and even more centuries hence, William Shakespeare transformed the discipline.

Interestingly, in Hebrew, the word for poem, shirah, is the very same word for a song. When the word shirah is used, the text is unclear whether it refers to a song or a poem.

In the Torah, the words shir or shirah refer to several different things. In Exodus (chapter 15) the term references a paean of gratitude led by Moses and his sister Miriam, after God split the Red Sea. In Numbers (21:17), the Children of Israel offer gratitude for a wellspring of water. In Deuteronomy (31:19) Moses asks the Children of Israel to “write this shirah for you, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this shirah may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.” Three verses later, we read that “Moses wrote this shirah the same day, and taught it to the people of Israel.Maimonides and Sefer HaChinuch use this verse as the basis for the final, 613th mizvah in the Torah, namely to write for oneself a Sefer Torah (and according to Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel, to amass a Jewish library). According to the commentaries Rashi and Ramban, shirah in this verse refers specifically to the shirah of Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32). Ramban states (Deuteronomy 31:19) that Ha’azinu is called shirah because the Children of Israel will recite it with song and music, and it is written uniquely as a poem, because these shirahs are written with some level of punctuation and musical notation.

Those Biblical passages identified as “shirah” or “shir” simultaneously possess elements of song and poetry. Both poetry and music have been called the “language of the soul.” Alliteration and perfect meter inspire some, soaring rhetoric speaks to others, while a beautiful or catchy tune may yet uplift others. Some identify with the lyrics of a popular song; others connect with the music. Both uplift, and both are connoted by the same Hebrew word. That is the essence of shirah.

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Express Yourself Via Song and/or Poetry

While the spoken or written word is the most popular means of expression, don’t underestimate the power of music and poetry to communicate one’s inner feelings.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Golden Ages of Estonia

Estonia, one of the three Baltic states, has never historically hosted a large population of Jews, but the quality of its hospitality toward Jews and other minorities has been quite remarkable.

The first permanent Jewish settlement in Estonia was established in the 19th century, when, in 1865,  Russian Czar Alexander II, allowed former Jewish cantonists to settle outside the pale of settlement. These former cantonists helped to populate the struggling synagogue, in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city, which had been around since the 1830s. The Tartu congregation was founded in 1866, as 50 Jewish families settled in that college town.

The independent Republic of Estonia was created in 1918 and allowed great freedoms to Jews and other minorities. The Estonian Congress of Jewish congregations had its initial meeting on May 11-16, 1919, when many Estonian Jewish societies and organizations were established, including many Zionistic ones. Estonian Jewish youth regularly traveled and emigrated to Palestine. Kibbutz Kfar Blum and Kibbutz Ein Gev were founded in Israel’s north by Estonian immigrants. The Estonian government passed a cultural autonomy law on February 12, 1925, allowing groups over 3,000 people, to control the educational organs within its own community. (The Jewish community numbered 3,045). In 1926, Hebrew began to replace Russian in the Jewish public school in Tallinn; in 1928, a Yiddish language school was founded. A 1934 census identified 4,381 Jews living in Estonia, 2,203 of whom lived in Tallinn.

This golden age of Estonia for Jews, however, abruptly ceased with the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, and the arrival of German troops in 1941.The cultural autonomy law was cancelled, Jewish businesses were nationalized, and about 10% of the Jewish population were deported to Soviet prison camps, where they perished. By 1941, the 1,000 men, women and children who remained in Estonia were killed, including Estonia’s only rabbi. Only about a dozen Jews are known to have survived in Estonia. Estonia was actually declared Judenfrei (free of Jews) by early 1942.
1,500 Jews returned to Tallinn after World War II, and records indicate that 3,714 Jews lived in Tallinn in 1959. In 1988, the Jewish Cultural Society, the first Jewish institution to be established in Estonia in 48 years, opened in Tallinn. Its establishment was the first Jewish Cultural society in the history of the Soviet Union.

On August 20, 1991, Estonia re-established its independence as a “historical continuity” from its pre-1940 status. The Jewish community was officially recognized on April 11, 1992, and a second cultural autonomy law was passed in Estonia in October 1993. As of 2012, the Jewish population of Estonia was 1,738.

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Learn the Jewish History of Estonia

Before you travel to or through Estonia, learn its rich Jewish history.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Western Light

Tens of thousands of tourists stream annually to countries such as Canada, Iceland, Norway and even the U.S. state of Alaska, to behold the exquisite Northern Lights, aurora borealis, caused by the disturbances in the magnetosphere by solar wind. In ancient times, those who wanted to see” lights” could visit the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to behold the “western light.”

In the menorah, or the Temple candelabra, the western light (ner ma’aravi), the candle closest to the tapestry that served as the entrance to the Holy of Holies (according to the opinion of Rabbi Judah the Prince in the Talmud, Menachot 98b), remained constantly burning, and from it, the other wicks of the menorah were lit. While the other six candles burned out by morning, the ner ma’aravi remained burning throughout the day (Midrash Torat Kohanim, Emor, 13:7). Some sources claim that only when the Jewish people merited such a miracle, did the wick remain burning miraculously. According to another Talmudic source (Yoma 39a), during the 40 years when Shimon the Righteous officiated as High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, during the Second Temple period, the western light was never extinguished.

On the 18th of Av, during the reign of King Achaz, the ner ma’aravi was extinguished. Achaz was described as the most pernicious king to reign over Judea (Chronicles II chapter 28). Achaz was a king of Judea during the First Commonwealth. His righteous son, King Hezekiah, succeeded him. Commemorating the extinguishing of the flame, the date of the 18th of Av was established as a national fast day as recorded in Megillat Ta’anit, an ancient listing of important dates on the Jewish calendar. (It is no longer observed as a fast day). It was widely seen as an omen for the future. Indeed, the destruction of the First Temple occurred 13 or 14 decades later.

Since synagogues are meant to serve as mini replicas of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a custom was established to maintain a permanent light in the sanctuary of all synagogues. The lamp, referred to as the ner tamid, is not placed on the western side, but rather, is usually affixed near the Holy Ark, and it is illuminated during times of prayer.

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Prayer Should Illuminate

While a place of prayer should be lit up during times of prayer, our prayers should illuminate ourselves spiritually.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Shabbat Nachamu

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Offer Comfort

In addition to offering comfort to a nation, we must also provide solace to individuals. Make sure to reach out to family, friends, and co-workers when they sustain the loss of a loved one.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

No Holiday as Joyous

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

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

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

In ancient times, the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur.

Why such joy? The rabbis offer many reasons to celebrate. Jewish Treats will present some of the reasons in no particular order.

First, the Jews in the Wilderness realized that the generation that wandered for 40 years due to believing the slander of the 10 scouts, had died out and that the punishment had ended. This brought a sense of closure to the nation who were about to enter the Land of Canaan. Second, it was on the 15th of Av when the prohibition of the rest of the Jewish tribes marrying into the tribe of Benjamin, due to the tragedy known as the Concubine in Giv’ah, was lifted. Third, and continuing the theme of schism, it was on the 15th of Av when Hoshea ben Elah, the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel, removed the roadblocks set by Jereboam to prevent his subjects from making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Fourth, the masses of Jews who were massacred when the Romans conquered the city of Betar in 133 CE, were finally buried, on the 15th of Av. Finally, the 15th of Av was the final day when wood was cut for the Temple. When Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, they found that the enemies of Israel had cut down most of the trees, a common act for an army at that time. In order to supply wood for the Temple sacrifices, Jews would donate wood, which was desperately needed, and offer a sacrifice at the same time, called the “wood offering.” The 15th of Av is considered the end of the sunny season, and it marked the date by which that the wood in the Temple needed to be dry. It was a day of celebration for having amassed enough wood for the Temple’s needs.

Happy Tu B’Av.

Tonight and tomorrow is Tu B’Av.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Tu B'Av.

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Celebrate Tu B’Av

After learning about the day, find a meaningful way to observe this important, but not well-known, holiday.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sir Moses Montefiore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montefiore was knighted by Queen Victoria, served as the Sheriff of London and was president (1835-74) of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In 1846, he received a baronetcy. Sir Moses Montefiore passed away just a few months before his 101st birthday on the 13th of Av, 1885. 

This Treat was last posted on August 3, 2009. 

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Support Jewish Causes All over the World

There are worthy causes internationally, that would benefit from our efforts and funds. Like Moses Montefiore, these causes help Jews around the world.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

All That’s Left

August 13th is annually celebrated as “Left Hander’s Day.”

Most Lefties, also known as “southpaws” due to the orientation of baseball stadiums in regard to the sun, are proud of their “condition,” one that “afflicts” about 10% of the world’s population. 8 of 45 U.S. presidents (Garfield, Hoover, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama) were lefties. Lefties have become accustomed to certain common inconveniences: scissors, vegetable peelers and the computer mouse often do not work for lefties; lefty golf clubs and baseball gloves are more expensive and/or harder to obtain (good luck obtaining a lefty catcher glove in a sports equipment store); lefties are practically banned from playing 4/9 baseball positions; pencil sharpeners were always placed on the left side of the blackboard and novelty mugs place the photos to face forward with the handle on the right. Words such as sinister and gauche, both modifiers describing negativity, are connected to the left side (gauche in French means left). For many centuries, people believed that lefties were indeed possessed or developmentally scarred.

Judaism also has much to say about those whose left hand is dominant.

Whenever hands are involved in the performance of a mitzvah, is it performed with the dominant hand, which for most humans, is their right hand, or must it be done with a specific hand irrespective of one’s strength? Jewish law considers the lefty’s “right” as his or her left. So when it comes to holding a wine cup (whether for Kiddush, Havdallah, a wedding, a brit, or to lead the Grace After Meals with a cup of wine), reciting tachanun, (the supplication prayer that follows the Amidah recited leaning on one’s arm), placing a ring on a bride’s finger, breaking the glass at the conclusion of a wedding, tying the arm tefillin, waving the four species on Sukkot, and leaning on Passover, there are discussions which hand lefties use, their objective right hand, or their subjective right hand, i.e. the left hand.

Jewish law also invalidates lefty priests from performing the public Temple service (Talmud B’chorot 45b). The rabbis debate if this is because of an inherent disqualification (the context of the Talmudical passage above), or because the lefty does not “have” a right hand, which is required to perform the Temple service.

If you are left handed, enjoy the day.

If you are not, wish a happy Left Handers Day to those who are. They will identify themselves – with their left hand, of course!

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lefties Tend to Be Proud of their “Condition”

While having a dominant left hand makes no practical difference in life, most lefties are proud of being part of this distinguished minority and enjoy being singled out as southpaws.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Resuming Normalcy

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was originally published on July 23, 2018. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Your Spotify!

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Consolation after the “Morning of Mourning”

The Jewish sages taught that there can be no mourning process without a consolation process. For centuries, Jews have spent Tisha B’Av morning surrounded by sadness, tragedy and hopelessness. But, immediately following this “morning of mourning,” begins a process of consolation.

Kinnah #45, Eli Tzion, is traditionally sung as the final elegy of the morning, to help console the distraught Jew and serve as encouragement to begin contemplating the future. “Wail for Zion and her cities like a woman giving birth, and like a bride dressed in mourning for her husband on her wedding night.” The author (some claim it to be Rabbi Judah Halevi) employs two examples of people who cannot be consoled: a women in the midst of the pains of childbirth and a widowed bride. The idea with which we end the “morning of mourning” is to tell ourselves that even though Tisha B’Av will end and we will ultimately rise up from our bereaved state, we will bring this awareness of sin, exile and national tragedy with us to our post-Tisha B’Av lives of normalcy.

The Jewish people are able to move on only because we hope and pray for an end to the bitter exile. Jacob was never consoled over the death of Joseph. So long as he believed Joseph was dead he was unable to prophesy. Why not? Some commentators argue that he could not be consoled because, in reality, Joseph was not dead. A pillar of Jewish faith is to pine for redemption, even though we may not be consoled, but we must be comforted knowing that our current status is only temporary.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning over Jerusalem Helps Rebuild the Holy City

The sages have explained that those who properly mourn Jerusalem's destruction will merit to see the holy city rebuilt.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Tisha B'Av

Tomorrow night (Saturday) at sunset, we begin to observe the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Known as the Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25-hour period from sundown tomorrow to nightfall Sunday, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. 

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

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

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

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

Click here for later events on this date 

This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.