Friday, March 22, 2019

Purim, Again?

Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on location.

The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (yesterday). However, Jews living in the city of Shushan (now the city of Shush, Iran, which is also sometimes referred to as Susa), Jerusalem and all the cities that had walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar (today).

The delay in the Purim celebration is based on Esther 9:16-17.

"And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies...on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy. But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy."

The majority of the Jews were able to stop defending themselves on the 13th, and so rested on the 14th. In the capital city, however, where Haman's evil plot had aroused greater hatred, the Jews were forced to defend themselves through the 14th as well, and rested on the 15th.

Mordechai and the great sages of the time felt that it was important to separate Shushan's celebration from that of the rest of the people. Because they were still in exile, however, the sages wanted to make certain that the people remembered the holy city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It was therefore declared that, in addition to Shushan, any city that was surrounded by a wall at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan would celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shushan Purim.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Celebrate Shushan Purim and Shabbat!

While those of us who celebrated Purim acknowledge and celebrate today as Shushan Purim, make sure not to celebrate too much, so that it not impact on one’s Shabbat dinner.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Purim Commitment

What does the holiday of Purim have to do with Jews reconnecting to their Jewish heritage? Purim is more than a celebration of the victory of the Jews over an enemy who wished to annihilate them. At the end of the Book of Esther, one verse subtly informs us of a most significant event of the Purim holiday: "And the Jews took upon themselves to do as they had begun" (Esther 9:23). This verse perhaps refers to the customs of Purim, but it is also understood to be a statement of rededication to tradition by the Jewish people.

In the Persian-Medean empire, the Jews were a scattered minority. The eldest of the Jews had witnessed the destruction of the Temple, the sacking of Jerusalem and the oppressive reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. In the era of Achashverosh, however, Jews were finally starting to feel settled and secure. In fact, they were starting to feel so welcome that the Jews of Shushan the Capital even “enjoyed the banquet of that wicked man” (Megillah 12b) when Achashverosh threw a week long party for the citizens of the city.

It is nice to feel accepted. The sages, however, do not speak favorably of the Jews of Shushan. It appears that they were so emotionally unattached to their Jewish identity that they did not care that Achashverosh’s great party was celebrating what the king believed was the passing of the 70th year, by which Israel’s prophets had foretold that the Temple would be rebuilt. (Achashverosh had miscalculated).

When Mordechai donned sack-cloth and ashes, however, the Jews of Persia-Medea realized how far they had deviated from the ways of their ancestors. According to tradition, as noted by Raba, the Jews “re-accepted [the Torah] in the days of Achashverosh...[meaning that] they confirmed what they had accepted long before” at Mount Sinai.


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


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The Purim Story in Under 300 Words

At the end of a 180-day feast, the King of Persia-Medea, Achashverosh, banished (some say executed) his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. He then staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.

Esther lived with her cousin, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.

Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar (a date chosen by lottery), the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.


Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.

After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.

That night, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai for revealing an assassination plot by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.

At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.

The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Esther and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.



Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.



Happy Purim!

Enjoy and rejoice on this very special day. Fulfil the four mitzvot (commandments) of Purim: hear the Megillah, give charity so impoverished people can eat a meal on Purim, deliver mishloach manot gift baskets, and partake of a festive meal.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

This year, Purim will be celebrated on Thursday, March 21st (beginning Wednesday evening, March 20th, after sunset). Four mitzvot are associated with the holiday:

Megillah Reading - Book of Esther - The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. In order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not speak during the Megillah reading.

Mishloach Manot/Shalach Manos - Sending Gifts - On Purim day, every Jew should give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat food items.

Matanot La'evyonim - Gifts to the Poor - Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is in addition to the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). To properly fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim one must give to two poor individuals. Although one may fulfill this mitzvah by giving a minimal amount of money to each person, the sages noted that the highest form of fulfilling this mitzvah is by giving enough money for a meal, or the equivalent in food. This mitzvah may be fulfilled by donating beforehand to an organization that will distribute the money or food on Purim day.

Seudah Festive Meal - One should partake in a festive meal on Purim day. The minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one ritually wash one's hands (netillat yadayim),
eat bread and then recite the Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals.

The Purim seudah is often associated with drinking, and people cite the reason for this as the Talmudic quote: "A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between 'Blessed is Mordechai' and 'Cursed is Haman.'" (Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch--Code of Jewish Law) - which is sometimes interpreted as drinking more than one usually does or enough to make one sleepy.

(While drinking on Purim is often seen as a mitzvah, risking one's life is never permitted. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
1-Do not drink and drive.
2-Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all.)


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I and my maidens will also fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her cousin Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

According to tradition, a second fast occurred on the 13th of Adar, the day Haman's supporters were allowed to attack, Jews traditionally fast when at war. In commemoration of this fast, and in honor of Esther's fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. Thus Ta'anit Esther will be observed this year on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (If the 13th of Adar occurs on Shabbat, the fast is observed on the Thursday prior.)

The fast begins at dawn (aloht hashachar)* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi). 

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue services:1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning and afternoon service. When Ta'anit Esther is observed on the eve of Purim, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited in the afternoon. 

2. At the morning and afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of God's mercy. At the afternoon service only, the Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days. 

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying the afternoon service. 

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before). 

This Treat is reposted annually on the Fast of Esther. 


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Purpose of Fasting

Fasting is meant to help people focus on important issues when tragedy strikes.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hester Panim

One might think that the Book of Esther is a heroic tale about Mordechai and Esther saving the Jewish people through diplomatic skill (Click here to read a summary of the Book of Esther), after all, God is not mentioned once in the entire text. Looking deeper, however, one is struck by the overwhelming number of "coincidences" of the right people being in the right places at the right times. To follow one such line of "coincidences":

1. Esther was the cousin of one of the leaders of the Jewish people.

2. While women throughout the kingdom hoped to be chosen queen at the beauty pageant, Esther's beauty was noticed and she "was taken to the king's palace" (Esther 2:8). Ultimately, she was chosen as queen.

3. Esther's presence in the palace allowed Mordechai to get word to the king about an assassination plot.

4. Esther was the necessary "insider" to foil Haman's plot. As Mordechai pointed out: "Who knows if not just for a time like this you reached this royal position?!" (Esther 4:14).

These "coincidences" are the ultimate display of Divine Providence, acting behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved. This concept is known as Hester Panim, God hiding His face from the world.

One can better understand Hester Panim by the following analogy: If a child is told not to eat a cookie, as long as the mother remains in the kitchen the child will not take the cookie. However, once the mother leaves the room, it is the child's free choice that determines what happens to the cookie. Nevertheless, even when the mother leaves the room, she is aware of her child's behavior, listens for danger and is ready to jump to the rescue.

God gives His creations space, allowing humankind to make their own choices, but He is always watching from the periphery.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Who Was Mordechai?

There are some people in this world who always seem to be right in the thick of the action. As described in the Book of Esther, this was Mordechai. It is Mordechai’s cousin who is chosen to serve as the new queen. It is Mordechai who overhears a royal assassination plot. It is Mordechai who is the object of Haman’s anger, and it is Mordechai whom the king publicly honors for saving his life. And, finally, it is Mordechai who hears of Haman’s evil decree and protests it publicly.

It is obvious from his actions that Mordechai was a brave man, and thus it is not surprising that assorted midrashim (legendary explanations) reveal that even before the events described in the Book of Esther, Mordechai was one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. The Book of Esther itself tells us that Mordechai was “a Benjaminite who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled [by Nebuchadnezzar] with Jeconiah, King of Judah” (Esther 2:6). According to the Talmudic sage Rava, however, Mordechai actually joined the exile voluntarily so that he could remain with the scholars (Megilla 13a).

One could assume that Mordechai was a youth at the time of the exile, as the events of the Purim story take place at the end of the exile. In the interim, traditional sources record that Mordechai was one of those who joined Ezra and Nechemia in returning to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the Temple. When the nations who had moved into Judea’s territory quarreled with the Jews, it was Mordechai who was sent back to Shushan to negotiate with the king.

It appears that Mordechai remained in Shushan and became one of the members of the Sanhedrin (for which he was required to know 70 languages and was thus able to understand the whispered plotting of Bigthan and Teresh against the king.

There are two other interesting biographical facts about Mordechai. He was a descendant of King Saul, the first king of Israel, and, after Haman’s overthrow, he was appointed Prime Minister of Achashverosh’s kingdom.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Purim.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

All Eyes to Jerusalem

Like Mordechai, a Jewish hero of the diaspora, Jews should always be focused on helping to facilitate a Jewish return to the Promised Land and an ingathering of the exiles.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Her Other Name

Do you have a Hebrew name that’s different than your legal name?

The custom of giving children both secular and Hebrew names is not a modern tradition, but rather goes back to ancient times. In fact, it even occurs in the biblical text of the Book of Esther, where scripture states: “And he [Mordechai] brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther” (Esther 2:7).


Why does scripture share the fact that Esther, the title character of the Purim story, was also named Hadassah? 


Jewish tradition asserts that a person’s name is usually connected with a person’s character. The sages therefore looked to understand more about Hadassah/Esther from the meaning of her names.


Hadassah (Hebrew word for myrtle):

It has been taught: Esther was her proper name. Why then was she called Hadassah? After the designation of the righteous who are called myrtles [hadassim]...Ben ‘Azzai said: Esther was neither too tall nor too short, but of medium size, like a myrtle. Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said: Esther was sallow, but endowed with great charm” (Talmud Megillah 13a). 

Additionally, the sages note that “Just as a myrtle has a sweet smell and a bitter taste, so too Esther was good and listened (“sweet”) to the righteous Mordechai, and was adverse (“bitter”) to the wicked Haman” (Esther Rabbah 6:5).


Esther (Hebrew for hidden or concealed):

Rabbi Judah says: Hadassah was her name. Why then was she called Esther? Because she concealed the facts about herself, as it says "Esther did not make known her people or her family." Rabbi Nehemiah (offering an additional reason) says: Hadassah was her name. Why then was she called Esther? All peoples called her so after Istahar (a reference to the planet Venus, alluding to Esther’s beauty) (Talmud Megillah 13a).


This Treat is reposted in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The History Around Purim

The story of Purim takes place at the very end of the era known in Jewish history as the Babylonian Exile.

Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from the Land of Israel. Fifty years later, however, the Babylonian Empire was itself crushed by the combined armies of King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia (both part of current day Iran), and the new Persian Empire was formed under the rule of Cyrus. Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus was not interested in destroying the individual cultures of his subjects, unless they were in direct opposition to him. Known as Cyrus the Great, he issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to the land of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the first group of Jewish exiles returned to Israel under the leadership of Nechemiah and began laying the foundations for rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The enemies of the Jews, however, convinced Cyrus to stop the Temple’s rebuilding.

And then came Achashverosh, the king of the Purim story. There is much debate as to the exact identity of Achashverosh. Some sources maintain that Achashverosh was actually Cambys, the son of Cyrus, some assert that he was the son of Darius the Mede. Still others argue that he was a mercenary of common birth who usurped the throne through cunning and by marrying Vashti, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, to give him legitimacy. Regardless of how Achashverosh achieved power, the empire he controlled stretched across the Far East. As king of the Persian Empire, Achashverosh continued the ban on the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

While the story seems to happen quickly, it actually took place over a spread of years. Following the defeat of the enemies of the Jews, Achashverosh remained in power with Mordechai as his Prime Minister. According to tradition, Achashverosh and Esther had one son, who grew up to be Darius II, the Persian Emperor who permitted the completion of the rebuilding of the Second Temple, ending the Babylonian exile.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the History of Persian/Iranian Jews

Jews have had a long-lasting relationship with the Persian Empire, a good part of which is found in modern day Iran. Make the effort to study the history of the Jewish presence in Persia and the rich traditions of Persian Jews today (mostly in exile).

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering.

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion, after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked our weak, tired and elderly shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Therefore, there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Parashat Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

The Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscored the evil character of the Amalekites. God had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek "happened" upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is a description of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of "fate," which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek's philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind because the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.
 


This Treat is reposted annually on the Friday of Parashat Zachor. 


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remember!

Whether the English “Remember,” the Hebrew “Zachor” or the Yiddish “G’denk,” it is a sacred obligation of all Jews to remember our past in order to move forward meaningfully into any Jewish future.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Birth and Death of Moses

One of the 13 principles of faith according to Maimonides is believing that Moses was the greatest of all the Jewish prophets. He was so great, that God feared he would be worshipped after his death, and consequently did not disclose the location of his burial crypt. According to tradition, the 7th of Adar represents both Moses’ date of birth and date of death. This date has had an impact on Jewish tradition in different ways.

The Talmud (Sotah 12b) teaches that Moses was both born and died on the 7th of Adar. The Torah records (Exodus 2:2) that Moses’ mother hid him for three months prior to placing him in a basket on the Nile river. The sages suggest that Moses was placed in the basket by his mother Yocheved on the 6th day of Sivan, which years later, would be the day, according to the consensus of most, of Revelation at Sinai. Therefore, the Talmud concludes (based on Tosefta Sotah 11:7) that Moses was both born and died on the seventh of Adar (another Talmudical opinion suggests Moses was placed in the basket on the 21st of Nissan, which was the day the Sea Split, and the rabbis still maintained that the 7th of Adar was 3 months prior).

The rabbis teach that the righteous die on their birthdays, as did Moses. Our sages claim that the three patriarchs and King David also passed away on their birthdays. The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 11a) claims that the reason for this is that God sits and “completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month” based on a Biblical verse, “the number of your days I will fulfil” (Exodus 23:26).

There is a part of the Shabbat liturgy that is linked to the death of Moses. The prayer Tzidkatcha Tzedek, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,” is comprised of three verses in Psalms: 119:142, 71:19 and 36:7 (the Sephardic tradition reverses the order of the verses). Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (Tur Orach Chaim 292) claims that this prayer of accepting Divine justice, is timed for the Shabbat afternoon service, in order to function as a tziduk hadin (the acceptance of Divine judgment prayer said at a burial) for the death of Moses (and David and Joseph), which occurred in the afternoon of a Shabbat. Some suggest Moses died on the eve of Shabbat and God buried him on Shabbat – see R. Joel Sirkis and Mishnah Brurah 292:6.

Finally, the custom is for the local Jewish burial society, Chevra Kadisha, to schedule their annual dinners on or around the 7th of Adar. The annual dinners serve to fundraise, raise awareness of the holy work of the Chevra Kadisha and to honor those selfless men and women who volunteer. Customs differ when this dinner occurs, when there are two Adars.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Moses’ Impact on Jewish Life

Whether one observes the 7th of Adar as Moses’ yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) or not, there is no doubt that Moses was the greatest of the prophets and his impact as lawgiver, receiver of the Torah and the most humble of men makes his life worthy of emulation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Origins of Formal Jewish Education in the United States

Today, thankfully, there are hundreds of Jewish elementary schools in the United States that teach both Judaic and general studies. The paradigm for this movement was the founding of Yeshiva Etz Chaim on the Lower East Side of New York City, on March 15, 1886, corresponding to the 8th of Adar II (both of which fall this coming Friday).

Prior to the founding of Etz Chaim (Tree of Life in Hebrew), all Jewish education in the United States was supplementary, serving Jewish students after the conclusion of their public school studies in mostly synagogue-affiliated afternoon schools. As Torah-observant Jews began immigrating to the United States in greater numbers (approximately 2,000,000 Jews immigrated to the United States from 1881 to 1924, the vast majority of whom came from Eastern Europe), the need grew. Some parents wanted the supplementary Hebrew schools to teach Talmud, and their request was rejected. The founders of Etz Chaim Yeshiva identified boys with the requisite advanced background and rented a space at 47 East Broadway, one of the tenements on the Lower East Side, which was the mecca of Jewish immigrants at that time. Their budget was so tight, they bought only one volume of the Talmud for 90 cents and ripped it into three sections, so that each of the three teachers would have a text. They placed tzedakah (charity) boxes in homes and synagogues in order to generate funds for the school.

The curriculum mirrored that of the cheder (room in Yiddish), the parochial Jewish elementary schools that were found in all the shtetls (small towns) of Eastern Europe, except that Etz Chaim offered secular studies as well, including English, although limited at first. Eventually, Etz Chaim featured a dual curriculum of Judaic and general studies, partially due to New York State law. The students studied Judaic studies from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm. From 4:00 to 6:00 pm, the students learned English and from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, they learned to read and write Hebrew and Yiddish, their mother tongue.

In 1915, Yeshiva Etz Chaim merged with the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), which was established in 1896 as the first high school and rabbinical seminary in the United States. The two institutions became the first institution of higher Torah learning in the United States, from pre-bar mitzvah, through rabbinic ordination. In 1916, RIETS created Talmudical Academy, the first Jewish high school in the United States, which also taught a full curriculum of secular studies in the afternoon. In 1928, the schools created Yeshiva College, the first accredited college under Jewish auspices in the United States.

Today, Yeshiva University and its affiliate, RIETS, enjoy tremendous success as one of the premier educational institutions in the United States. It continues to simultaneously ordain rabbis at RIETS and graduates thousands of students, including doctors, lawyers. social workers and Jewish scholars through its multiple graduate schools.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Jewish Education

Vigorously support Jewish education, whether formal or informal, primary or secondary, for novices or advanced rabbinical students.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Costume Time

Those who first hear about the custom of wearing Purim costumes might assume that the tradition began as an imitation of Halloween. Research, however, places the origin of Halloween costumes in the 18th century, while Purim disguises are mentioned in rabbinic texts as far back as the 13th century.

Masks and disguises are a popular means of expressing some of the most important themes of Purim. For instance, “Ve'na'haphoch Hoo," "and it was reversed" (Esther 9:1)--on Purim we celebrate the idea that what one perceives as reality can easily be reversed. This theme is also one of the sources for the custom of drinking on Purim. The Talmud states that “One must drink [on Purim] until one does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’” (Megillah 7b); disguising oneself is another means of creating this same effect.

A second important theme of Purim related to the custom of wearing masks/costumes is hester panimHester panim refers to the idea that God conceals His involvement in human affairs. God is not mentioned even once in the Book of Esther, yet it is clearly Divine providence that determines events. This is hester panim, when God “hides” Himself from the world so that we can only see hints of His Divine plan. So too, on Purim, our true selves are hidden behind masks.


Although some people wear Halloween left-overs (Purim shopping begins November 1!), the characters of the Purim story are perennial favorites. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are two queens--Esther and Vashti).


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.







Prepare Your Purim Costumes

Plan your Purim costumes in advance so they will somehow relate to the Purim themes and you will have what you need.

Monday, March 11, 2019

What’s in a (Last) Name?

When using proper names in the Jewish ritual, such as receiving an Aliyah to the Torah, marriage, divorce, on conversion documents, on tombstones or in memorial prayers, Jews are identified by their first and middle Hebrew names, and the name of their mother, or father, or sometimes, both. A convert who, according to Jewish law, is considered newly-born, assumes a Jewish name and is considered the child of the patriarch Abraham or matriarch Sarah. Jewish surnames are a much later development. On March 11, 1812, Jews in Prussia received citizenship, conditioned upon adopting last names. Jewish Treats proudly offers a glimpse into Jewish surnames.

Spanish Jews began using last names as early as the 10th or 11th century. The practice only became popular in Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the governments insisted on it as a condition for emancipation. The rationale for last names in Eastern Europe was for the government to be able to tax, draft and educate its citizens. It’s hard to send a tax bill to Moshe the son of Avraham. The general distrust Jews had of the authorities, compelled them to avoid taking last names as long as they could. The emancipation that spread throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, which brought greater Jewish assimilation into general society, also saw Jews adopting last names so they would fit in.

Jewish last names were selected based on several criteria. Some knowledge of Yiddish is needed in order to understand many last names. Some took names referencing parents (e.g., Mendelson, Gittelson) including Jews who could trace their lineage to Aaron the first High Priest. Often their last names, such as Cohen, Kagan and Katz, were chosen to stress their special status as a “Kohen.” Others chose their surnames in order to pay homage to their cities of origin (Berliner, Frankfurter, Moscowitz) while others referenced occupations. Farber means painter, Feinstein means jeweler, Kramer means storekeeper, Bronfman means distiller, Feder means scribe, and Richter means judge.

Some only used their last names when interacting with the authorities, and did not take it very seriously. Somewhat arbitrary names were taken such as Feiffer (whistler), Fried (happy), Hoch (tall), Klein (small), Gross (big), Weiss (white) and Schwartz (black). Some took the names of animals such as Baer (bear), Adler (eagle), Falk (falcon), Fuchs (fox), Loeb (lion) and Ochs (ox). Others opted for last names that referred to the arboreal world such as Birnbaum (pear tree), Kirshenbaum (cherry tree) and Teitelbaum (palm tree).

Lineage is important to Jews. Knowing one’s Hebrew name and that of one’s parents’ is ultimately more important to Jewish continuity than knowing one’s last name.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn the Meaning of Your Last Name

Your last name may or may not bear significance on your lineage, but learning its meaning would be instructive.

Friday, March 8, 2019

When Adar Begins

The month of Adar begins today. About Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar year, the Talmud (Ta’anith 29a) states: “Mee'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased.

One might think that this increase in joy is because Adar is the first month of spring. While winter is not completely gone, it is certainly on its way out. That may be enough reason for others to rejoice, but the Jews have the wonderful holiday of Purim to make our spirits joyful.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar,* Purim is the holiday that commemorates good overcoming evil. In a nutshell, the story of Purim revolves around the plot, launched in the year 518 BCE by Haman (the wicked viceroy of the Persian-Median King Achashverosh), to kill all the Jews in Achashverosh’s kingdom. Haman’s hatred of the Jews reached a psychotic level when Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community, refused to bow to him. Haman requested and was granted permission by Achashverosh to issue a decree calling for the death of all the Jews. Haman, however, was unaware that Achashverosh’s new queen, Esther, was actually Jewish and was Mordechai’s cousin. With significant courage (and tremendous faith in God), Esther revealed Haman’s wicked plot to the king, thus saving the Jewish people.

In celebration of their salvation, the Jews feasted, gave charity and exchanged gift baskets with each other. They celebrated being alive with tremendous joy and rejoiced at being part of a wonderful nation. It is the energy of their joy that permeates the entire month of Adar so that even now, 2,500 years later, when Adar begins, rejoicing is increased.

* Some ancient walled cities, such as Jerusalem, celebrate on the 15th of Adar.

This Treat was originally posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Heighten Your Gladness

Find ways to increase your joy during the festive month of Adar.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Transparency of a Conjunction

One of the hallmarks of personal integrity, is financial accountability and transparency. It behooves religious organizations, as ethical role models, to exhibit the highest level of honesty with money. The treasurers in the Temple enacted certain behaviors to assure financial transparency and scrupulousness avoiding even a smidgen of the appearance of impropriety.

Among the minute details of the construction of the Tabernacle mentioned in parashat Pikudei, we find the following: “and from the one thousand and seven hundred seventy-five [shekels of silver] he made hooks for the pillars [of the courtyard fence] and covered their tops and belted them” (Exodus 38:29). The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Pikudei #415) relates an astounding “account” regarding Moses’ attempt to ensure fiduciary transparency.

“When the work of the Mishkan was completed, Moses invited others in and agreed to publicly audit the ‘books’ of the donations for the Tabernacle. All of Israel entered, and Moses concluded the calculations, but could not account for 1,775 shekels. Moses tried to remember where that missing money could have gone. He stated, ‘Now the Israelites will accuse me of taking the money.’ God enlightened Moses and he saw the hooks for the pillars, which cost 1,775 shekels.”

Are we really to believe, as the Midrash seems to suggest, that the Jews would have suspected Moses of theft, or that Moses feared that he would be suspected of pilfering?

Perhaps the focus of the Midrash is more on the hooks, not Moses’ transparency. The Hebrew word for hook (vav) is also the same word as the conjunction “and.” When Moses realized the unaccounted funds were for hooks, it helped him realize that his destiny was linked and connected to that of his flock, the Children of Israel.

The goal of the Tabernacle was to link the Children of Israel with their Father in Heaven and to help connect each Jew to every other Jew.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Treasurers Must Avoid the Appearance of Impropriety

Anyone handling money, especially representatives of Jewish organizations, must act with transparency, and the height of integrity.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Jewish Law and the Snooze Button

As the world celebrates “Procrastination Week” this week, Jewish Treats, of course, has been putting off writing about this topic.

While executing tasks in a timely manner and keeping to a disciplined timeline are the hallmarks of successful people, Judaism does recognize some elements of procrastination. Case in point: the opening words of Rabbi Joseph Karo’s “Shulchan Aruch,” the Code of Jewish Law.

Yitgaber ka’ari la’amod baboker la’avodat bore’oh, shey’hei hu m’orer hashachar,” [upon waking] one should strengthen oneself like a lion to rise in the morning to serve one’s Creator (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 1:1).

Why did Rabbi Joseph Karo begin his legal treatise with these words? Is this a legal point or a strategy for rising in the morning?

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, also known as the Chafetz Chaim, notes on these words in his Mishnah Brurah commentary to the Shulchan Aruch: “If one’s evil inclination urges one during the winter months to remain in bed due to the bitter cold; or if one’s evil inclination urges one during the summer months to want to remain in bed since the sun rises much earlier in the summer months, one needs to strengthen oneself from these seductive suggestions and wake up. One should explain to oneself that if they were needed for service of the king, they would surely awaken and arrive at work on time. This logic should work so much more so regarding the King, sovereign of all sovereigns.”

However, Rabbi Moses Isserlis, the Ashkanazic contemporary of Rabbi Karo, whose comments are contained in most versions of Shulchan Aruch, added to Rabbi Karo’s comment: “immediately upon rising in the morning, one should get up with alacrity (zerizut) to serve one’s God.” The aforementioned Rabbi Kagan comments here on the word “alacrity” in his Mishnah Brurah (subsection 8): “Not necessarily alacrity, since one should not wake up too suddenly, for this can harm the body as is stated in the Talmud Gittin 70a: “there are five actions that bring one closer to death than to life and they are… if he slept and stood up immediately…”

It sure sounds like the Mishnah Brurah would probably agree to the use of a snooze button on an alarm clock, within reason, to slowly ease one out of bed in the morning.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Create a To-Do List and Accomplish it

The best way to succeed, is to fulfill one’s tasks with alacrity and within a reasonable time-frame.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Iron Curtain

On March 5, 1946, barely one year after the end of World War II, recently-defeated British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, delivered a speech entitled, “Sinews of Peace” at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in the presence of U.S. President Harry S. Truman. The speech laid down the gauntlet in the early years of what would be called “The Cold War,” describing the need for the West to contain the Soviet spread of Communism. The Cold War would be the main feature of US and British relations with the USSR from the mid-40s through the USSR’s dissolution in 1991.

In his “Sinews of Peace” speech, Churchill declared: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."

While Churchill was many things, a Talmudic scholar he was not. His world-famous phrase “Iron Curtain” became analogous with the Soviet autocracy around Eastern Europe. He had no idea that the Talmud used the term ‘chomah shel barzel,’ literally, an iron barrier or wall, in several places.

A passage in the Talmud (Brachot 32b) teaches, “Rabbi Elazar stated, from the day the Temple was destroyed, an iron wall separated the Children of Israel from their Father in heaven, as it states “And take an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between you and the city…” (Ezekiel 4:3).” Rabbi Elazar laments that animal sacrifice no longer provides atonement for sin, and the Children of Israel’s ability to communicate with God and repent is also challenged. He claims that although the Temple’s destruction brought with it the sealing of the gates of prayer, the gates of tears will forever be available and open to us. The “iron curtain” will forever represent the diaspora Jew, knocking on heaven’s door, but unable to enter.

Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” spoke about spheres of influence that would take direction from the autocratic regime in Moscow. The rabbis’ description of a metal barrier has far greater consequences. Although Churchill did not live to see it, the Iron Curtain fell pretty easily. The barrier between humankind and God, however, can only be penetrated by heartfelt petition and supplication.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prayer Needs to Pierce Barriers

When we pray to God, we must envision our prayers as being potent enough to breach a wall.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Green Jews

Aside from Senator Bernie Sanders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – aka “Ben and Jerry’s” – people normally do not associate the Green Mountain State with Jews. Although some scholars date Jewish interest in Vermont to the 1760s, when Jewish land speculators arrived, Vermont’s first synagogue, Israelite Assembly, was not established until much later, in 1867 in Poultney (about 70 miles south of Burlington). In 1873 they consecrated a Jewish cemetery, and built a second synagogue.

Around 1840, Lithuanian peddlers settled in Burlington, between the New York-Montreal trading route, finding a fresh area to sell their wares. One can still tour the “Little Jerusalem,” neighborhood in the Old North End of Burlington, the state’s largest city, which represented the mini shtetl where the Jews lived from the 1880s through the 1940s. Three Orthodox synagogues were built--the first in 1885, in addition to a communal Hebrew Free School. The community thrived through its heyday in the 1920s and staved off the ubiquitous American “melting pot” assimilation longer than most other communities. In 2012, Vermont Public Television produced a very enlightening documentary about “Little Jerusalem.”

Burlington’s tight knit Orthodox community hired very prominent rabbis, one of whom was Rabbi Yaakov Hakohen Meskin (1884-1956), a Lithuanian-trained sage who studied in the famed Yeshivat Kneseth Israel in Slabodka and became a prime disciple of Rabbi Isaac Rabinowitz of Ponevezh. He served as rabbi at Burlington’s Chaye Adam Synagogue from 1924 to 1931, after which he moved to the much larger Jewish community in the Bronx, in New York. While still in Europe, Rabbi Meskin penned the rabbinic responsa allowing the young wife of Shimon Meisner to remarry. Mr. Meisner was a passenger on the ill-fated Titanic, whose body was never recovered. Rabbi Rabinowitz agreed with his student’s decision.

Unfortunately, signs restricting the entrance of Jews (and others) were commonly encountered around Vermont in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Nevertheless, other surges of Jewish immigration occurred in the 1950s, as an IBM facility opened in Burlington. Another surge occurred in the 1960s, bringing hippies to Vermont, including the aforementioned Jewish kings of ice cream.

Today, most Jewish Vermonters do not affiliate with synagogues or organized Jewish life (Vermont is considered the least religiously affiliated state in the United States). In a state with a total population of 623,000, demographers estimate that the Jewish population of Vermont is somewhere between 5,700 and 20,000. There are currently 14 synagogues in Vermont.

The state of Vermont was admitted as the fourteenth state of the United States on March 4, 1791.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn the Jewish History of Vermont

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

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Most Popular non-Holiday Event on Jewish Calendars

Tonight is the 23rd annual Shabbat Across America and Canada. Jewish Treats is proud to present a history of NJOP’s SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. Jewish Treats is one of NJOP’s popular social media platforms.

SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA originated in 1980 as a program at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, and was then given the name Turn Friday Night Into Shabbos. For many Jews, it was their first taste of Shabbat. For others, it was the first positive, joyous experience that they had in their Jewish lives.

In the mid-1980s, “TFNIS” was taken national across the United States, and from 1987 through 1996, was coordinated nationally and internationally through NJOP. In 1997 it was renamed SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA.

According to Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, NJOP’s founder and director, SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA is “probably the greatest ‘rescue mission’ ever mounted to Jews who are being lost to assimilation… Fortunately, the antidote to this dreaded affliction is at hand. The Almighty has given his children a great gift – it is called Shabbat.”

The initial SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA campaigns featured ads appearing on buses, bus shelters, subway placards and billboards, and in publications such as Time, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Sports illustrated and 20 major North American daily newspapers. Over the years, NJOP has produced several videos to promote Shabbat, including “I’ve Got a Feeling” from 2010, with over 838,000 hits on YouTube, and another video produced in 2015. In 2016, as the U.S. presidential campaign season began, NJOP announced Rabbi Buchwald’s faux “presidential campaign”, representing the Shabbat Party. Four videos were produced in addition to a Huffington Post op-Ed explaining what the Shabbat party is, and its connection to SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. A CommUNITY SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA was later developed encouraging various institutions in the same city to run a joint program, as was SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA At Home, for those unwilling or unable to attend the program at a local Jewish synagogue or Jewish organization.

Since its inception, 1,085,380 guests have attended SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA programs in thousands of synagogues of all denominations, college campuses, outreach centers, military bases, JCCs and Jewish Federations and, in Moishe Houses. It has been offered in all 50 U.S. states, eight Canadian provinces, and in Israel, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand and Qatar.

Rabbi Buchwald proudly notes that there is no “non-holiday” that is on more Jewish calendars than the annual observance of SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. That makes sense, given the importance of Jewish unity, identity and Shabbat. Join us!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Participate in Shabbat Across America and Canada

To find a location where you can join a SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA program, please click here.