Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Lag Ba'omer

The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha’omer is not observed on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba’omer. In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. "Lamed" equals 30, and "Gimmel" equals 3, thus Lag (spelled "Lamed Gimmel") Ba'omer, literally means 33 (days) in the Omer.

Because the mourning period is now over or suspended for the day, Lag Ba’omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during most of Sefirat Ha’omer) and haircuts.* Some have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which the child first begins to learn Torah. Since haircuts are delayed until after the period of mourning, and because there is Kabbalistic significance to hair, many put off the hair-cutting ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba'omer.

Lag Ba’omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famed Talmudic Kabbalist whose teachings are revealed in the Zohar. In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron (near Safed) to observe his yahrtzeit near the cave in which he was buried. As per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated rather than mourned.

It is also common for families and friends to gather together for a bonfire and/or picnic on Lag Ba'omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the word Zohar translates to “shining light,” and bonfires bring light to the world.

*Some people observe 33 days of mourning starting from the beginning of the month of Iyar until three days prior to Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

Lag Ba'Omer begins tonight at sunset.

This Treat is reposted annually.

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Find a local Lag Ba’omer Bonfire and enjoy the festivities!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Happy Birthday Birkat Hamazon!

The Torah (Exodus 16:1) reports that the Children of Israel arrived at the Wilderness of Sin on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, approximately one month after the exodus from Egypt. The Torah relates (Ibid. verses 2-4) that the Children of Israel began complaining to Moses and Aaron about the “wonderful” foods they ate in Egypt and their current lack of culinary choices. God tells Moses to inform the nation that manna would begin falling to feed the nation.

The Biblical commentator Rashi asks: Why was this particular date so important to be worthy of mention in the text? The Torah rarely mentions actual dates. Rashi explains that on this day, the 15th of Iyar, the supply of matzah and food that the Children of Israel had brought with them from Egypt had been completely consumed. Rashi notes that on the following day, the 16th of Iyar, a Sunday, the manna began falling.

The day the manna was introduced to the people is another significant anniversary, as the Talmudic passage below indicates: “Rabbi Nachman stated that Moshe established the first blessing of the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals,) “He who sustains the world,” when the manna began falling. Joshua established the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon, “the blessing of the Land,” when the Children of Israel entered the land of Israel. King David and King Solomon established the third blessing, “He who builds Jerusalem.” King David composed the words, “Be merciful, God, our Lord, upon Israel Your nation, and upon Jerusalem, Your city.” King Solomon added, “upon the great and holy Temple…” The fourth blessing, “He who benefits and causes benefit” was established by the Sanhedrin in Yavneh, after the dead from Betar were finally [permitted to be] buried” (Berachot 48b).

Imagine the glee of the Children of Israel when they literally received “manna from heaven” just as their food supply ran out. Who better than our greatest prophet, Moses, could compose the opening lines of Birkat Hamazon! Next time you recite, or even sing, Birkat Hamazon, think about the miraculous manna.

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Help Feed the Hungry

When eating and reciting Birkat Hamazon, think of those who do not have enough to eat. There are many worthy organizations that help feed the hungry. Support them financially or consider becoming a volunteer.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Second Passover

On the first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel prepared to celebrate their first Passover as free people. God decreed that they should eat matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in commemoration of the great event, and, most importantly, that the Israelites should all partake of the Passover sacrifice (lamb).

On the eve of that second Passover, Moses was approached by a group of distraught men. “We are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering to God in its appointed time among the children of Israel?” (Numbers 9:7).

Contact with the dead renders a person tamei, spiritually impure, and any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Paschal lamb.

In response to their plea, Moses sought instruction from God. God responded that anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a far-away journey at the time of the Passover offering (14th of Nisan), would then offer the Pascal lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Those celebrating “Pesach Shaynee” (Second Passover) had to eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Passover.

Today, without a Temple, no one is able to bring a Passover sacrifice. Thus the laws of Pesach Shaynee have little practical effect in day-to-day Jewish life. However, there is a custom to eat some matzah on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Shaynee for ourselves and for future generations.

2019: The 14th of Iyar this year began on Saturday night, May 18 and ended on Sunday, May 19 at nightfall.    

This Treat is retreated annually.

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Second Chances

Although Pesach Sheni was observed yesterday, any day is a great opportunity to seek out second chances.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Don't Shame The Name

The concept of “Chilul Hashem,” desecration of God’s name, is first mentioned in the Torah in Leviticus (22:32), when the Jewish people are commanded: “You shall not shame My Holy Name; and I will be sanctified amongst the people of Israel, I am God.”

Based on the grammatical structure of this sentence, it seems quite obvious that the only way not to shame God’s name is to sanctify God among the people of Israel. These words are much akin to a mother saying: “Don’t do anything to embarrass the family.” Which, of course, really means, “Go out and make us proud, honey.”

This commandment reminds us that all of our actions are a reflection not just on ourselves, but on the Jewish People and, most importantly, on God. 

Technically, the term Chilul Hashem refers to an act that is deliberately and willfully committed against the Torah. And a true Chilul Hashem is one in which an unseemly action takes place in front of other Jews (a quorum of 10).

However, colloquially, the term Chilul Hashem refers to all inappropriate actions that make Jews in general, and therefore God, look bad. When the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, they, in effect, accepted “ethical monotheism”--a full understanding that there were rules by which they would lead their lives.

Examples of Chilul Hashem can be as obvious as a Jew committing a crime, to the far more subtle acts of bad public manners, such as when a Jew cuts in front of another person in line or is rude to a store clerk. Alas, the Jewish Nation is made up of people, and people are, above all else, fallible. Therefore, living our lives to sanctify God’s name is a goal toward which each of us must strive, even if not all of us achieve it.

This Treat was last posted on February 1, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Live Knowing People See You as a Jew

Live your life knowing that during every moment, others will see your actions as representing Jews and Judaism.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Israeli-German Relations

On the 11th of Iyar, 1965, corresponding to May 13, Israel officially established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of (West) Germany (FRG). This event is quite notable since Israel was established in the shadow of the Holocaust, that was perpetrated by the previous German government. Israeli suspicion of, and anger toward, the Germans was widespread in Israel for many decades after the Holocaust.

Prior to official diplomatic contacts, the relationship between Israel and the FRG was purely financial, based on Germany’s payments of reparations to Israel for the heinous and murderous behavior of its predecessor government, Hitler’s “Third Reich.”

The Israeli public was bitterly split over accepting reparations from Germany.

In the early 1950s, Israel functioned under a policy of austerity due to the debilitating 1948 War of Independence, high unemployment and Israel’s absorption of tens of thousands of Jews from Europe and the Arab countries. Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion saw reparations both as a moral imperative as well as a practical means of alleviating Israel’s financial crisis. Ben Gurion argued that reparations should be accepted so “the murderers do not become the heirs as well.” Those opposed to reparations felt that it might serve as an expiation of the Nazis for their unspeakable crimes. Since this debate occurred only a few years after the Holocaust, the emotions were very raw.

Prior to the Knesset debate over reparations on January 7, 1952, 15,000 opponents rallied in Jerusalem’s Zion Square against the reparations bill, which ultimately passed 61-50. The rally turned violent, and ultimately disrupted the debate in the Knesset chamber, which was then located nearby on King George St. Menachem Begin, the leader of the opposition and a Holocaust survivor, gave a fiery speech at the rally against reparations, standing under a banner saying, “Our honor shall not be sold for money; our blood shall not be atoned by goods. We shall wipe out the disgrace.” Begin passionately told the crowd that when Haganah forces fired on the ship, Altalena, in Tel Aviv harbor in 1948, on which Begin himself was aboard, he famously ordered his Irgun forces not to return fire. “Now, however,” Begin told the crowd, “I will give the order to fight back.”

The reparations agreement was signed on September 10, 1952. The FRG paid Israel a sum of 3 billion German marks over the next 14 years, and 450 million marks to the World Jewish Congress. As of 2007, Germany has paid $25 billion Euros in reparations to the State of Israel and to individual Holocaust survivors.

Today, Israel maintains an embassy in Berlin and a consulate in Munich. Germany has its embassy in Tel Aviv and honorary consuls in Eilat and Haifa.

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Money Can’t Buy Everything

While money can purchase a great deal, pride, morals, faith and repentance cannot be bought. Think about what is not for sale in your own life.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Jews and Chocolate Chips

Happy National Chocolate Chip Day, not to be confused with National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, which falls annually on August 4th.

Legend maintains that chocolate chips, also known as chocolate morsels, were invented around 1938 by a woman, Ruth Wakefield, at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Kenneth and Ruth Wakefield purchased an historical Cape-Cod style home originally built in 1709, which had served as a stop for voyagers during colonial times. Patrons paid their road toll, changed horses, dined, and slept there. Like many great inventions, the legend claims that it was serendipitous: Ruth chopped up some chocolate and added it to the cookie dough, and soon noticed that the morsel of chocolate did not fully reduce into the dough. Another version claims Ms. Wakefield was given a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream, but felt it needed something else. She then chopped up pieces from a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar into the cookie. The chocolate chip was born. Supposedly, soldiers from Massachusetts shared the delicious desserts with fellow GIs, all of whom requested of their loved ones stateside to send Toll House cookies. The Nestle Company contracted with Ruth Wakefield to include her chocolate chip cookie recipe on the packaging of their chocolate bars, in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate. To this day, Nestle’s brand of chocolate chips are used to make “Toll House Cookies” after the venue where they were allegedly invented.

Chocolate Chips became so ubiquitous and desired, eventually the kosher community wanted non-dairy cookies, so they could be enjoyed with both dairy and meat meals. The pareve (neither dairy nor meat) Toll House cookie recipe substituted oil for butter and used Nestle non-dairy chocolate, so at least one group of its many fans came from the kosher community.

In mid-2012, a popular Trader Joe’s chocolate chip brand that was pareve was suddenly labeled as dairy. The kosher overseer, OK Laboratories, claimed that the new designation was not related to the ingredients or recipe, but resulted from cleaning the production lines. The OK maintained separate milk and pareve chocolate lines, but there was a hopper in the filling line (where the chocolate chips are bagged) that needed to be thoroughly cleaned each time the lines were changed from milk to pareve. Trader Joe’s, however, decided that it was not economically worthwhile to clean the hopper any longer, rendering all the chocolate produced on those lines as dairy.

Happy Chocolate Chip Day. Be thankful that some chocolate chips are still pareve, so no impediment exists to eating delicious chocolate chip cookies with either meat or dairy meals.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Check Ingredients

Make sure the food you serve with meat has no dairy ingredients.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Erev Shabbat Israeli Declaration of Independence

Israeli independence is celebrated on the Hebrew date of the 5th of Iyar, rather than on the corresponding secular date of May 14th. In order to avoid any potential desecration of the Sabbath, the official date celebrating Israel’s independence fluctuates. Today, two consecutive days memorialize Israel’s national re-emergence as a modern state; the first, Yom Hazikaron, a sober day to remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and then Yom Ha’atzmaut, a joyous second day, one of national and religious celebration. If any of those two-days would abut Shabbat – either Friday night or Shabbat evening – the two days are moved earlier. This happens quite often.

Interestingly, the date determined for declaring independence has a similar history. When the British became the ruling power over the Holy Land in the aftermath of the Turkish defeat in World War I, the new hegemony was known as the “British Mandate.” After the Holocaust and the desire for mass immigration into what was then known as “Palestine,” the British, with Arab pushback, referred further decisions about independent Jewish and Arab states to the newly-formed United Nations. On November 29th, 1947, in a temporary headquarters in Queens, New York, the United Nations voted to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states. In response, the Arabs immediately commenced attacks against the Jews in Palestine.

The British set their departure date from “Palestine” on May 15, 1948, which fell on a Saturday, to mark the official end of the British mandate. The Zionist leaders who planned to declare an independent Jewish state knew that they could not inaugurates a Jewish state on Shabbat. Therefore, they declared independence prior to the onset of Shabbat, on Friday afternoon, May 14th. This accommodation to Shabbat is even enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, where it is stated (in English translation): “We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th of Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People's Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People's Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called "Israel."

While Israel constantly struggles with finding a balance between being a democratic and a Jewish state, the State of Israel, when declaring its independence, began, and continues to honor Shabbat.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Erev Shabbat

In order to observe Shabbat, one must make the preparatory arrangements on Friday, before Shabbat begins. An organized Friday, is the secret to leading a serene Shabbat.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

The term “ghetto” has a sad connotation in Jewish history and a very negative association when referring to certain poor urban areas. The term’s etymology, however, originates from a distinct area within the Italian city of Venice where the Jewish population was relegated. Linguists have not come to a consensus on the word ghetto’s etymology. The most popular theory suggests that it comes from the Venetian word for “foundry,” as the original ghetto in Venice was built where a factory had been situated that manufactured weapons for the Venetian government. Others claim it’s related to the Hebrew word “Get,” or Jewish bill of divorce, or separation. Others claim it comes from the Yiddish word “gehektes,” meaning enclosed. Still other suggested derivations include the Latin “giudaicetum,” the Italian word “borghetto,” which means little town, or the Old French word “guect,” meaning to guard.

While some ghettos in Europe served to force a separation of the Jews, who were considered alien from the general populace, others were created to serve as Jewish population centers, and may have even been affluent neighborhoods with high concentrations of Jews.

The first “ghetto” was established in Venice on the 8th of Iyar, 1516, corresponding to April 10. This was followed by Pope Paul IV’s papal edict of February 27, 1562, Cum nimis absurdum, which implemented harsh restrictions on Jewish life in Renaissance Italy. As a result of the papal edict, Jews had to wear a yellow badge as a means of religious/ethnic identification, and limits were placed on Jewish ownership of property, commerce and banking. Jews were also restricted from selling items vital to life (i.e. food). As a result, Jews moved away from money-lending and banking, and began working as retailers of secondhand goods, such as pawn shop owners.

In addition to the term “ghetto,” Jews also concentrated in areas known as “Jewish quarters.” Often these were extensions of the ghettos, and were located in the least desirable part of the city. Ghettos and Jewish Quarters existed in most large European cities (there were dozens), in addition to sectioned off areas in Africa (Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia), Asia and the Middle East (China, India, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Syria) and the Americas (Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, the United States and Canada).

Prior to, and during, World War II, the “Third Reich” established ghettos for the most notorious of reasons. In the ghettos, Jews were separated into able workers and those unable to work, who would be murdered. In 1942 the Nazis initiated Operation Reinhard, which forced Jews into ghettos (not always set up in the traditional area where Jews lived), and functioned as staging areas for the eventual deportation to death camps.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Living Among Other Jews

While anti-Semitic forces often mandated Jews to live in ghettos, there were times in Jewish history when Jews opted to live in separate, concentrated Jewish communities. Living among co-religionists helps imbue Jews and their families with Jewish culture and rituals, which have long-term benefits for Jewish continuity.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tripping the Vision Impaired

Parashat Kedoshim contains a total of 51 mitzvot. One of those mitzvot pertains to the prohibition of taking advantage of the disadvantaged. “You shall not curse a deaf person and you shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall revere your God, I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:14). Clearly, only an unfeeling, insensitive individual could purposely take advantage of the disabled. Jewish Treats has previously addressed the meaning of “placing a stumbling block in front of the blind.” Our sages understood this prohibition as setting someone up for sin. Asking a Nazirite (one who has taken a vow against contact with the dead, cutting one’s hair and consuming drinks made from grape products) to travel a certain route which includes a cemetery, is a classic example of violating the prohibition of placing a stumbling block in front of the blind.

Rabbi Joseph. B Soloveitchik asked whether someone who actually committed the absolutely heinous act of literally placing a stumbling block in front of a blind individual, would actually violate the transgression, or is it only meant figuratively, as in the case with the Nazirite? Rabbi Soloveitchik asked the question because of a few words that are found in the Sefer Hachinuch code.

The Chinuch comments on all 613 commandments (according to Maimonides’ count) and explains the rationale of each mitzvah, teaching the laws and describing who must fulfil it, and the punishment one receives when violated. At the end of the Chinuch’s 232nd mitzvah (Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind), the author adds “there are no lashes for one who transgresses this mitzvah for there is no action associated with it.” This means, according to Rabbi Soloveitchik, if one were to stick their foot out as a blind person walked by, causing him to trip, they would not violate this mitzvah.

But, isn’t there a rule that, ultimately, the literal meaning of a verse may not be dismissed? How then is this question addressed? Rabbi Soloveitchik answered: “It appears that placing a stone in front of a blind person is such a cruel and grotesque act that the Torah did not even think it worthy of mention. For a Jew to act with such evil intent would cause us to question his very Jewishness. Because the Torah is addressing the Jewish people exclusively, mentioning such a prohibition explicitly was unnecessary.” (Rabbi Aaron Ziegler, Halachic Positions of Rabbi Soloveitchik Vol. 1, pp. 175-176 as quoted in Chumash Mesoras HaRav)

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sensitivity to Those with Disabilities

Isaac was vision-impaired, Jacob walked with a limp and Moses had a speech impediment, not to mention actress Marlee Matlin (hearing impaired), Stevie Wonder (vision impaired) and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (unable to walk due to polio). Individuals with one disability, albeit a life-long challenge, can be as successful as anyone else. Yet we must also be sensitive to their disabilities and strive to alleviate any challenges they may face.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel's Independence Day

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. On that day, the British Mandate was terminated and David Ben-Gurion declared:...This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly, we, members of the people's council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Within minutes, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish state. The Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel.

Within hours, five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) declared war and launched an attack. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence. Israel had no established army, no central command, no air force of which to speak and not enough weapons to arm its fighting force, which was composed of both sabras (native born Israelis) and refugees.

Miraculously, the Israelis gained the upper-hand in battle and, in 1949, the attacking nations signed armistice agreements with Israel.

The celebration of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, begins at sunset immediately following Yom Ha’zikaron (Memorial Day). Yom Ha’atzma’ut is marked in Israel by a special ceremony on Mount Herzl, a general atmosphere of celebration, and the bestowal of the Israel Prize upon Israeli citizens or organizations that have demonstrated excellence in their field(s) or have made vital contributions to Israeli culture.

*When the 5th of Iyar begins on Thursday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is moved to the 3rd of Iyar and Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated on the 4th. 

This Treat was lasted posted on April 19, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Show Your Pride with Blue and White

Show your Jewish pride and pride for Israel today (and tomorrow) by wearing blue and white clothing, as is the custom in Israel, or showing Israeli flags on your lapel, in your windows or on your homes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Israel's Memorial Day

The State of Israel's independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. (There have been over 23,741 fallen soldiers and 3,150 victims of terror since the State of Israel was founded.) Therefore, before Israel celebrates Yom Ha'atzma'ut, its Independence Day, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar,* Yom Ha'zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country, once in the evening and once in the morning. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

*When the 5th of Iyar begins on Thursday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is moved to the 3rd of Iyar and Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated on the 4th. 

This Treat was lasted posted on April 18, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Caption This Photo on this Solemn Day

Military graves in Israel appear as a bed with a pillow, as seen below.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Remembering Bergen-Belsen

The spring brings with it annual anniversaries that mark the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, death camps and a day of renewed life for tens of thousands of survivors of the Shoah. The Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the U.S. Army freed the inmates at Buchenwald, and the British Army freed the Bergen-Belsen camp on the 2nd of Iyar, 1945, corresponding to April 15th, 1945.

In Bergen-Belsen, British troops found 60,000 starving and mortally ill inmates who were living without food, water and basic sanitation. The inmates were found to be suffering with typhus, dysentery and starvation. Approximately thirteen thousand corpses lay around the camp unburied.

Bergen-Belsen was established as a prisoner of war camp in 1940 in lower Saxony, part of Northern Germany. As potential leverage for swaps for cash or to be exchanged for German civilians in Allied countries, Jewish non-combatants holding foreign passports, beginning in 1943, were imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, which, at that time, began serving as a concentration camp. From 1943 until liberation, between 36,400 and 37,600 prisoners died in Bergen-Belsen, including Anne Frank, who died of Typhus in March, 1945, a month prior to liberation. Her body and that of her sister Margot, were found unburied when the British liberated the camp.

Those who survived the “Death Marches” at the end of the war, were concentrated at Bergen-Belsen. After liberation, Bergen-Belsen was used as a displaced persons (DP) camp.

In early April of 1945, the Germans understood that the British would arrive shortly, and feared that a typhus epidemic would spread throughout the country if the inmates would escape. On April 11, German representatives approached the 11th Armored Division of the British army to negotiate a truce and terms of surrendering the camp. When the British army arrived, they tried to contain the disease by organizing a relief effort, burying the dead, providing potable water and providing light food for the starving inmates that would not worsen their malnutrition. They brought in medical personnel to deal with the inmates who needed critical attention.

Despite these efforts, tragically, 14,000 prisoners died after liberation.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit the Death Camps

With the survivor population rapidly dwindling, it’s imperative for subsequent generations to visit the Nazi centers of death, to assure that the world remembers what happened and commit to it never happening again.

Monday, May 6, 2019

When Was the First Shabbat?

Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, is described in chapters one and two of Genesis, as God’s “day of rest.”

From time immemorial, until the present day, the human race has been counting days by sevens, week by week. The Sabbath, the longest-running religious experience, has been embedded into humankind’s DNA since the beginning of time. Tradition maintains that even the patriarchs and matriarchs observed Shabbat. A Midrash relates that Moses, the Egyptian prince with influence over Pharaoh, suggested that the Israelite slaves would labor more efficiently if they were given a day of rest every seven days. He, of course selected Shabbat, as that day off. Modern Hebrew does not have a word for Saturday. The term is so universally accepted, that even the most anti-religious Israeli will use the word Shabbat, when referencing the seventh day of the week.

Although observing the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, our sages teach (Talmud Shabbat 87b) that the command to officially keep the Sabbath had already been given to the Jews at Marah, a stop in the Wilderness on the Children of Israel’s journey prior to their arrival at Sinai for God’s Revelation. Yet the sages note elsewhere (Shabbat 118b) that the Children of Israel did not fully observe that first Shabbat, as some unscrupulous Israelites rose to collect manna on Shabbat, even though God had informed them that enough manna would be provided on Friday for both days. The Tosafot ask (Shabbat 87b) how could the first Shabbat on which the manna did not fall be the first Shabbat which they were commanded to observe? After all, the Children of Israel’s stop in Marah took place at least two weeks prior to when the manna began falling, which according to the aforementioned Talmudic source, began on the 22nd of Iyar? Tosafot do not answer their question.

Rabbi Elchanan Adler, author of “Sefer Mitzvat HaShabbat,” and currently serving as a Talmud professor at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, cites another Midrash (Seder Olam Rabba chapter 5) that claims that the Jews were given the commandment to observe Shabbat and indeed observed Shabbat for the first time in a place called Alush. Rabbi Adler suggests that in Marah, Shabbat was presented to the Children of Israel in the abstract; at Alush, they were given the command and actually kept it for the first time. Rabbi Adler cites multiple commentaries who support his thesis. One of the “proofs” offered is the famous Pesach poem “Dayenu” (it would have been enough) that is recited during the Passover Seder. The author clearly presents the kindnesses for which the Jewish people must thank God in chronological order. First he cites the sustenance of the manna, then the gift of the Shabbat and then the giving of the Torah. Rabbi Adler suggests that if the sages truly believed the command to observe Shabbat preceded the manna, the author of Dayenu would have presented it in that order.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Liturgical Songs

The poems, zemirot, and songs we sing on Shabbat and Jewish holidays were composed by great and pious scholars and their words are pregnant with meaning. In addition to singing them, it is important to study them.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Rejoice in Reverence: Play the Lottery

It would be the height of irreverence if one were to come to synagogue on Yom Kippur dressed in a light-hearted or comedic costume. Imagine chanting the deeply inspiring and solemnly-themed liturgy on Yom Kippur as someone walks into the sanctuary dressed as a clown or a cartoon character. One can imagine the looks and comments for such a misplaced wardrobe. Conversely, if one were to assume the seriousness of Yom Kippur on the joyous night of Purim, it too would elicit looks and comments. Yet, the esoteric text Tikunei Zohar, in a Hebrew play on words, claims that Yom Kippur is a day like Purim. Yom Kippurim, translated into English as a Day of Atonement, also means “A day like Purim.” How can the two days be comparable? Could there be any more opposite days on the Jewish calendar?

Parashat Acharei Mot opens with a description of the Avodah, the service conducted by the High Priest in the Tabernacle on Yom Kippur. One of the most dramatic components of this service is when two identical goats are brought before the High Priest. The Torah declares (Leviticus 16:7-8): “And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the Tent of Meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel.” The Torah reports that a lottery was cast to determine which goat would be offered as a burnt offering “one for the Lord,” and which would be brought into the nearby Judean desert and thrust off a cliff, falling to its death as an atonement for Israel’s sins, i.e. “the other lot for azazel” (identified as the original scapegoat.)

Even though Yom Kippur and Purim are antipodal both in terms of mood and placement on the Jewish calendar, they both feature lotteries. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest engages in the aforementioned lottery. The holiday of Purim is itself named for its lottery. “In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Achashverosh, they cast pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar” (Esther 3:7). Ultimately, to the faithful, a toss of the dice, or a draw of a lot, allows God is Providence to determine the fate of humankind. On Yom Kippur, we recognize God’s role in history in a very sober way; on Purim, the drawing of lots comes through joy.

King David (Psalms 2:11) states: “Serve the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.” King David was not mixing his metaphors; he understood that serving God and recognizing His active role in our lives can emerge through reverence and with joy. The Tikunei Zohar seems to agree.

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Find God’s Providence Everywhere

Whether through solemnity or ecstasy, recognize how God runs the world and benefits our lives.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, the 27th of Nisan, Jews around the world are marking Yom Ha’shoah (Officially Yom Ha’zikaron La’shoah V’la’g'vurah, which translates to The Day of Memorial for the Holocaust and the Heroism, generally shortened to Yom Ha’shoah). In Israel, the day is marked by official ceremonies, flags at half mast and, most famously, by a siren marking a moment of silence during which traffic comes to a standstill.

When World War II ended and the world was finally clearly aware of the incredible devastation wrought in Europe, there were no words. While mourning for their own nation’s soldiers, the world was faced with accepting the fact that the Nazis had purposefully and systematically murdered six million Jewish men, women and children as well as several million others whom they classified as lesser human beings.

The term “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin used to describe massacres. As it came to be applied to the events in Europe in the 1940s, the term emerged as the name for this highly specific genocide. This was strengthened by the release of the 1978 NBC mini-series of the same title.

In Hebrew, the Holocaust is referred to as Ha’shoah. Shoah means calamity. Similar to the term Holocaust, the term shoah gained further usage after the release of the 1985 French documentary entitled “Shoah.” The film condensed over 300 hours worth of interviews into 9.5 hours and brought the hard-hitting facts of the Holocaust into reality.

In traditional communities, the events of the Holocaust are referred to as "Churban Europe" or "the Churban," a term which parallels the destruction of the Torah learning centers in Europe with the destruction of the Holy Temple. Many traditional communities also mark a day of mourning for the victims of the Holocaust on an already established day of universal mourning, either the Tenth of Tevet or the Ninth of Av.

This Treat is reposted annually.

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Never Forget!

With a dwindling survivor population, it is incumbent upon every civilized human being to assure that the next generation knows, for certain, the crimes against humanity perpetrated by evil human beings.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Batman and the Torah

On May 1st, 1939, the cartoon character, Batman appeared for the first time in Detective Comics, #27. As such, May 1st is known the world over as “Batman Day.”

If you Google “bat” and “Judaism” you will find references to a Jewish girl’s rite of passage – bat mitzvah – and Jewish baseball players. But if you read on, there’s a lot of information about the “bat,” the creepy flying mammal.

One of the non-kosher animals described in the Torah is known in Hebrew as the atalef. The Talmud (Bechorot 7b – which was studied exactly one week ago as part of the worldwide Daf Yomi program) quotes a rabbinic statement which states: “the sages taught that a non-kosher fish spawns its offspring, while a kosher fish lays eggs. Any animal that gives birth to its offspring nurses them, and any animal that lays eggs gathers food and feeds it to its young. This applies to all animals except for an atalef, as it lays eggs, and it nurses its young.Rashi describes the atalef as a creature with teats. “All egg-laying creatures do not possess teats, but gather crumbs with which to sustain one’s offspring.” Rashi then defines the atalef as “kalbe soric,” a bat in Old French. He then concludes that it is “similar to a mouse with wings.” Add to this another Talmudic reference (Beitzah 7a) which describes the atalef as a nocturnal creature.

Since bats give birth to their young and they do not lay eggs, this poses a challenge to identifying bats as atalef. There are various opinions regarding the identity of the species that the Bible identifies as the Biblical atalef. Rashi (Leviticus 11:18) calls the tinshemet, another species of bird, as the kalbe soric, which seems to be a synonym to atalef, even though the atalef is mentioned in the very next verse. While there is no absolutely clear line linking the atalef with the bat, in modern Hebrew, a bat is known as an atalef.

A rabbi who claims that no one loves Batman more than he does, wrote a book, “Wisdom from the Batcave,” which devotes 18 chapters identifying Jewish values learned from the caped crusader. In an interview, the rabbi, Cary Friedman, sees Batman as the hero who responded to, and triumphed over, a childhood tragedy by creating “a life of meaning and heroism through his tireless, relentless efforts to spare others the pain and loss he had experienced firsthand.” Rabbi Friedman identifies this heroism with his own mother, who lost so much during her childhood in the Holocaust, but survived and built a family imbued with the Torah values of compassion, justice and Jewish survival. Happy Batman Day!

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Be a Superhero to Your Family and Friends

You may not have X-ray vision, or the ability to fly, but every person has the capacity to be a mortal superhero by helping others and living a selfless life.