Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Ba’al Ha’turim

Spain in the Middle Ages was home to scholars of great renown such as Abraham ibn Ezra (1089 - c. 1164), Judah ha-Levi (1086-1145), Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam 1135-1204) and Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides/Ramban - 1194-1270). By the middle of the 13th century, however, the welcoming attitude of the Spanish kingdoms that had allowed Jewish life to thrive, had vanished.

Rabbi Jacob ben Asher was born in Germany in 1269 C.E. When he was still a child, however, his family was forced to leave Germany, and they settled in Toledo, Spain. Rabbi Jacob’s father, Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (aka the ROSH), was asked to become the Chief Rabbi, even though he followed Ashkenazi, not Sephardi, customs. This unique blend of Ashkenazi heritage and style of Talmud study in combination with living in a Sephardi community led to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s incredible contribution to Jewish scholarship, Arba'ah Turim (Four Rows).

The Arba'ah Turim, like the Rambam’s Mishna Torah*, was a codification of Jewish law intended to make it easier for Jews to fully observe the law. Rabbi Jacob divided all of Jewish law into four sections: Orach Chaim (Way of Life) covers basic Jewish life and ritual, Yoreh Deah (Teacher of Knowledge) deals with dietary laws, mourning and a number of other aspects of Jewish life, Even Ha’ezer (Stone of Help) contains laws relating to marriage and family, and Choshen Mishpat (Breastplate of Judgment) discusses civil and criminal law.

What was most unique about the Arbaah Turim was that Rabbi Jacob (who was also known as Ba’al Ha’turim - Master of the Rows) cited the legal traditions of both Sephardi and Askenazi rabbis. His work became the basis for the ultimate codification of Jewish law, the *Shulchan Arukh (Composed by Rabbi Joseph Caro in the 1560s).

Rabbi Jacob died on 12 Tammuz, 1340.

The first printing of the Arbaah Turim took place on the 28th of Tammuz, 1475 in Piove di Sacco, Italy.

* See Jewish Treats: Primary Sources

This Treat was last posted on June 24, 2010. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Your Local Jewish Bookstore

Amassing a Jewish library will enable you, and those close to you, to continuously study and grow in Judaism. Some opinions claim that purchasing religious books fulfills the final mandate of the Torah – the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

In God We Trust

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution famously begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Known as “The Establishment Clause,” the concept of the separation of “Church” and state, a bedrock value of the Founding Fathers, was not undertaken, necessarily, because the Founders were atheists. Rather, it was intended to allow individuals to choose how much, if any, religion they desire to practice, and to welcome a multiplicity of religions and religious practices. It can be argued that Americans are more religious than citizens of countries that have formal institutionalized churches, because the Founders, allowed for “free exercise” and distanced themselves from governmental imposition of spirituality. At the same time, U.S. presidents and the government itself, has never shied away from invoking God. For the most part, Americans, as a whole, have always been a religious people.

In 1861, a Pennsylvania minister petitioned Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to include “Almighty God” on U.S. currency. The idea was to leverage God for the Union side of the Civil War, and, in the words of the pastor, to “relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism.” Congress passed a bill on March 3, 1865, allowing the Director of the U.S. Mint to add “In God We Trust” to U.S. coinage. “In God We Trust” was also used in the relatively unknown fourth stanza of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner,” which was adopted as the U.S. national anthem in 1931.

“In God We Trust,” however, disappeared from certain coins over the years. Consequently, in 1908, Congress legislated that “In God We Trust” be engraved on all coins where it had previously appeared. Indeed, it has appeared on all U.S. minted coins since 1938.

Motivated by a desire to distinguish itself from the anti-religious Soviet Union during the Cold War, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution declaring “In God We Trust” to be the national motto. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law on July 30, 1956, and also decreed that all U.S. currency bear the new national motto.

There have been multiple challenges to the legality of the inclusion of God in the national motto, arguing that it violates “The Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment. None of the litigation, however, has resulted in a reversal of the policy. In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the national motto, Congress re-affirmed the resolution by a vote of 396-9. Several other jurisdictions have adopted “In God We Trust” as a motto and some have even emblazoned the motto on local police squad cars.

Interestingly, in November, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt argued that placing God’s name on coinage and bills was an act of sacrilege and irreverence and it was “eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins.”

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Re-commit to Trusting in God

If the change in our pockets invokes faith in the Almighty, it behooves us to contemplate the role of God in our lives.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Antidote For Baseless Hatred

The calendrical period between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of Tisha B’av is known as Bein Hame’tzarim (in the midst of distress) and is referred to colloquially as the “Three Weeks.” While the latter describes the time frame between these two fasts, the former, finds its source from the verse in Scripture (Lamentations 1:3), “all her [Israel’s] pursuers overtook her in the midst of her distress.” The Three Weeks represents the saddest period in the Jewish calendar.

The Talmud teaches that while the First Temple was destroyed because of the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality, the successful razing of the Second Temple by the Romans is attributed to Sinat Chinam, which literally means “free hatred,” but connotes hatred for no apparent reason or, at least, no legitimate reason.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook famously stated that the antidote to baseless hatred is baseless love, Ahavat Chinam (Orot Hakodesh, section 3, page 324). In modern parlance, which perhaps owes a proper citation to Rabbi Kook, the concept of “random acts of kindness” may find its source from this idea.

During the period of the Three Weeks, Jewish Treats will endeavor to share some brief and inspiring thoughts related to the topic of Ahavat Chinam, or Ahavat Yisrael, the love we should exhibit for our fellow Jews.

The primary Scriptural source associated with Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael is the famous “Golden Rule: “You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Hillel famously taught, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to others” (Talmud Shabbat 31a). Referring to this Biblical verse, Rabbi Akiva proclaimed: “This is a major principle of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 9:4).

This Treat was last posted on July 3, 2018. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Work on Interpersonal Relationships

While it is always worthwhile to work on, and try to improve, our relationships, we are in a calendrical period where introspection is particularly relevant and valuable.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Ordaining with Both Hands

Semicha, which connotes rabbinic ordination, as understood today, consists of passing proficiency exams and receiving permission from one’s teachers to rule on questions of Jewish law. But the actual term semicha literally means to lean. What does “leaning” have to do with becoming a rabbi?

The source for ordination is found in the Torah in parashat Pinchas (Numbers 27:18-20; 22-23): “And the Lord said to Moses, Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is spirit, and lay your hand upon him. And set him before Elazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And you shall put some of your honor upon him, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may be obedient. And Moses did as the Lord commanded him; and he took Joshua, and set him before Elazar the priest, and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.”

The concept of leaning or laying hands is first found as part of the rituals of animal sacrifice. In ancient times, when an individual donated an animal to the Temple, prior to sacrifice, the owner leaned his weight on the animal, implying that the animal is being sacrificed in lieu of the donor. Leaning is meant to be a conveyance from one to another. God therefore choses a similar way to ordain a student, to appoint one’s successor.

Rashi (Numbers 27:23) quoting the Sifrei #141, points out as we did in bold above, the difference between God’s command and Moses’ execution. Moses’ love for his disciple Joshua caused him to place both hands on his head in the presence of the Children of Israel, despite God’s command to place only one hand on his head. Based on Moses placing his second hand at Joshua’s ordination, our sages expressed the loving role between teacher and student. The Talmud (Ta’anit 7a) likens the Torah to a tree of life. Among many interpretations, the Talmud explains that just as a small tree lights a larger one, a student sharpens his or her master. In this context, Rabbi Hanina proclaims, “I have learned much from my teachers, I have learned even more from my colleagues, but I have learned the most from my students.” (The same aphorism is stated in the name of Rabbi Judah the Prince in Makkot 10a). A similar idea is also expressed in Sanhedrin 105b. Rabbi Yossi the son of Honi declares that a person is jealous of everyone except for one’s child and one’s student. The proof text for this passage? The verses that were quoted regarding Moses and Joshua, and the request that the prophet Elisha made of his master, Elijah the prophet, to be twice as great as his teacher. (Kings II 2:9).

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Identify a Rabbi’s Teachers

In order to appreciate a rabbi’s teachings, one should identify who their teachers are. Rabbis should regularly quote their teachers, so it should not be too hard to figure out who they are.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Jews of Wyoming

While Wyoming is not a state known for its sizable Jewish community - there are today, only approximately 1,150 Jews - the history of its community is over 140 years old. The territory of Wyoming, which did not become a state until July 10, 1890, was populated mainly by Native Americans until the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868. In the railroad’s wake came rapid development. As the railroad towns, known originally as “Hell on Wheels,” were transformed into the towns of Cheyenne and Laramie, settlers included a notable number of German Jewish immigrants. These settlers, many starting out as peddlers, often created the mercantile base for these growing towns.

By the time Wyoming became a state, there were enough Jews that a synagogue, Temple Emanuel, was established in Cheyenne. The congregation hired student rabbis from Cincinnati for the High Holidays.

As happened across the United States, the infrastructure established by the pioneering German Jews of the mid-19th century was soon overtaken and expanded by the influx of Eastern European Jews who arrived at the turn of the century. In Cheyenne, that meant that by 1919, Temple Emanuel had been absorbed into the newer Mount Sinai Congregation, which had been established in 1910 as an Orthodox synagogue.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Wyoming Jewish population remained steady, perhaps even growing slightly. In the latter decades, however, many young Wyoming Jews left the state for larger communities elsewhere, in the hope of finding better job opportunities and the chance to meet a Jewish spouse.

This Treat was last posted on July 10, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the Jewish History of Wyoming

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A Singer whose Voice was a Pen

On November 21, 1902, a baby was born in Leoncin, Poland, who would succeed, through his pen, to help posterity understand the Jewish “Shtetl” experience in Eastern Europe.

Isaac Hersh Singer, the youngest of three children, was born outside Warsaw to Pinchas Mendel, a Hassidic Rabbi, and Batsheva. The middle name of what would become his pen name, Isaac Bashevis (Batsheva) Singer, is a tribute to his mother. When Isaac was six, his family moved from the Hassidic court of Radzymin, where his father headed the yeshiva, to Krochmalna street in the Jewish Quarter of Warsaw, the setting of many of Singer’s literary works.

During World War I, Isaac moved with his mother and brother to Bilgoraj, where his mother’s ancestors served as rabbi. After the War, Isaac’s father, Rabbi Pinchas Mendel, became a communal rabbi in the Warsaw area. Isaac entered Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary, but soon realized he was not interested in the “family business.” His brother, an editor at the Jewish Literarische Bleter, helped him get a job at the newspaper as a proofreader.

In 1935, two years after Hitler assumed power in neighboring Germany, Isaac wisely feared for the safety of Jews in the rest of Europe and immigrated to New York City. In 1940 he married Alma Wasserman, a Jewish German immigrant, and they lived in Manhattan’s famed Upper West Side. In 1945, after his brother’s death in Israel, he began writing for the Jewish Daily Forward.

In 1935, Singer’s first novel, “Satan in Goray,” was published in serial form in “Globus,” a literary magazine Singer co-founded with his friend and fellow writer Aaron Zeitlin. The book described Jewish life during the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648 and 1649 and the ensuing advent of Shabbetai Zvi, a false messiah who raised the hopes of the downtrodden Jews. Goray (Goraj) is a village near Singer’s hometown of Bilgoraj. In his writings, Singer often raised issues that were taboo in the insular Jewish community (“Yentel the Yeshiva Boy,” which, in 1983, was made into a motion picture starring Barbra Streisand, is but one example).

After publishing 18 novels, 14 children’s books, and memoirs, essays and articles, Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. Singer was most comfortable surrounded by fellow Yiddish-speaking “landsmen” (those from the same land).

In their later years, Isaac and Alma moved to Surfside Florida, where he passed away on July 24, 1991. Streets in Surfside and New York City (W. 86th Street) are named in his honor.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor Yiddish Culture

Reading about the Eastern European communities from where many of our ancestors came, honors their upbringing and our own family history.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Law of Return

On July 5th, 1950, corresponding to the 20th of Tammuz, the Israeli Knesset unanimously passed the “Law of Return ”(LoR). The timing of the bill’s passage was intended to coincide with the yahrzeit of Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl, who died on the 20th of Tammuz, 1904.

With the shadow of the Holocaust still looming over the nascent State of Israel, the LoR granted automatic citizenship to any Jew of any nationality. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion claimed that the LoR merely re-asserted a historic fact: “it affirms that this right is inherent from the very fact of being a Jew…This right precedes the state. Its source is to be found in the historic and never broken connection between the Jewish people and the homeland.”

Any Jew born in Israel, or anyone who immigrated prior to the passage of the LoR was deemed to be an automatic Israeli citizen.

The LoR gave power to the Minister of Immigration (now the Minister of the Interior) to withhold automatic citizenship if the applicant is “engaged in activity directed against the Jewish people,” or the applicant can endanger public health or national security. A 1954 amendment to the LoR added “a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare.”

While the LoR seems pretty unambiguous, reflecting the values of a people targeted for death a mere few years earlier, questions arose as to the definition of “a Jew.” What proof of Jewishness is needed in order to apply? This has proven to be an enormous issue for decades. In 1970, the LoR was amended, providing LoR rights to children and grandchildren of Jews, and the spouses of a Jew, a Jew’s child, or a Jew’s grandchild (even if they are not considered Jewish). The LoR would exclude someone who had been a Jew and voluntarily changed his or her religion. The 1970 amendments to the LoR defined “Jew” as a person born to a Jewish mother, or someone who converted to Judaism and does not identify with any other religion. Those granted citizenship via the LoR are not necessarily registered as Jews for other contexts.

Israel, like other countries, also allows citizenship through the naturalization process. Those who do not qualify for automatic citizenship via the LoR, can still become full Israeli citizens.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Israel

For a people who had wandered stateless for so long, the establishment of the State of Israel and its Law of Return, affords every Jew in the world a safe haven.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Of Shamrocks, Snails and Survivors: the life of Rabbi Isaac Herzog

Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the State of Israel’s first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, passed away, at age 70, on this date - the 19th of Tammuz – sixty years ago, in 1959, corresponding to July 25th.

Isaac Halevi Herzog was born in Lomza, Poland on December 3, 1888, and relocated with his family to the United Kingdom ten years later, when his father became the rabbi of Leeds. Young Isaac received his religious instruction from his father. After completing high school, Isaac attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and received a Ph.D. from the University of London. His dissertation, “The Dyeing of Purple in Ancient Israel” dissented with the theory of the Radziner Rebbe – Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner (1839-1890, Radzyn, Poland) – who claimed that the blue dye described in the Torah as techelet, which is meant to be dyed on one’s tzitzit (ritual fringes), emerged from a cuttlefish, a certain type of squid.

Rabbi Herzog believed that the Rebbe was misled by unscrupulous chemists and posited that the blue dye came from the murex trunculus, a certain species of snail.

Rabbi Herzog served as Chief Rabbi of Belfast and Dublin, Ireland, between 1916 and 1922, when he was elevated to the position of Chief Rabbi of Ireland. In 1936 Rabbi Herzog moved eastward to become the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, succeeding the legendary Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook.

Rabbi Herzog and the Jews of Palestine lived in trying times. In 1939 when the British government limited immigration with the issuance of the “White Paper,” Rabbi Herzog led a rally through Jerusalem and, in the spirit of the Jewish prophets, ripped a facsimile of the decree into two. (Keeping it in the family, Rabbi Herzog’s son, Chaim, similarly ripped up the U.N.’s Zionism is Racism resolution on the rostrum of the United Nations in 1975.) Rabbi Herzog traveled to the United States during World War II, pleading with President Roosevelt to save more Eastern European Jewish brothers and sisters. After the war, Rabbi Herzog dedicated himself to identifying and saving Jewish orphans who had been left with non-Jewish neighbors or with the Church during the Holocaust, culminating with a frustrating meeting with Pope Pius XII, which did not yield the results he had wanted.

In May of 1948, upon Israel’s declaration of independence, Rabbi Herzog became the first Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of the State of Israel. His position required him to address many issues pertaining to the relatively new ideology of religious Zionism, and Israel’s struggle to be both a Jewish and a democratic country. In 1958, Rabbi Herzog was awarded the Israel Prize in Rabbinic Literature, for his many published writings.

Rabbi Herzog’s descendants have also answered the call of public service to the State of Israel. His aforementioned son Chaim, after serving as a general in the Israel Defense Forces, served as Israel’s U.N. Ambassador and as Israel’s president. Rabbi Herzog’s other son Yaakov, served as Israel’s ambassador to Canada and as Director General of the Prime Minister’s office. Although Yaakov was offered the position to be the Chief Rabbi of the U.K., he was unable to serve due to ill health. Chaim’s son Isaac, (namesake of his illustrious grandfather), held ministerial positions in the government, served as head of Israel’s Labor Party and currently heads the Jewish Agency.

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Learn About Israel’s Leaders

Learning about those who lived during pivotal and crucial times in history will help us understand both history and modern times.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

Everyone knows about Yom Kippur. There are, however, several other fast days on the Jewish calendar that are not nearly as well known. (The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which, this year, falls on Shabbat, is observed on Sunday.)

As mentioned in the Talmud, five events are commemorated on this solemn day:

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the First Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the First (actually occurred on the 9th of Tammuz) and Second Temples.
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the First Temple era.
5. Apustamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

Based on the biblical verses found in Zachariah, Chapters 7 and 8, it is our practice to fast from dawn to nightfall.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor the Day

The more knowledgeable one is regarding the history of the 17th of Tammuz, the more one can honor the day by marking it appropriately.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Three Weeks

“When Av enters, we must lessen our rejoicing,” declare the Talmudic sages in Ta’anit 26b.

In truth, however, this period of "sadness" begins on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (observed this Sunday) and lasts exactly three weeks - until Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

While all Jewish communities mark the 17th of Tammuz by mourning and fasting, in Ashkenazic communities, this mourning continues during the rest of the month of Tammuz by refraining from haircuts and shaving, listening to music, reciting a sheh'heh'cheh'yanu blessing on new garments, and celebrating weddings.

From the first day of the month of Av onward (beginning Thursday night, August 1, 2019, after sunset), however, almost all Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves the period of mourning referred to as “The Nine Days.” During these nine days, we customarily avoid the following activities (along with all of the above):

 1) Eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

 2) Bathing or swimming for pleasure. Some people take quick showers using cool water instead of hot so as not to derive pleasure from the shower. (One may bathe on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.)

 3) Doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothing (except for Shabbat). It is therefore customary to choose outfits for the nine days and wear them in advance of the nine days for just a few minutes so that they are not “fresh.” Children’s clothing may be laundered as needed.

This Treat was last posted on July 5, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Begin Preparing for the Three Weeks

As the Three Weeks begin immediately upon the conclusion of Shabbat, we should plan ahead to make sure we experience a meaningful Three Weeks period.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Her Son Hur, His Grandson, and His Actions!

On the 15th of Tammuz, we observe the yahrzeit (anniversary of the day of death) of Hur, a relatively unsung hero from Biblical times, who was the first Jew to die al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s holy name.

The Bible (Exodus 17:10 and 12) tells us that Hur, along with Aaron, held up Moses’s hands, as he prayed to God for the Children of Israel’s victory over the Amalekites. Rashi, citing the Talmud (Sotah 11b) explains that Hur is the son of Miriam and Caleb, which would make Hur Moses’ nephew. In later references (Exodus 31:2, 35:30 and 38:22) Hur is identified as the grandfather of Betzalel, the architect of and chief contractor of the Tabernacle.

Later in Scriptures (Chronicles I 2:18) Hur’s mother’s name is identified as Efrat, not Miriam. The next verse teaches us that Azuvah died and Caleb married Efrat, and together they begot Hur.

The aforementioned Talmudic source claims that both Azuvah and Efrat were pseudonyms of Miriam. Miriam was called Azuvah because she was “neglected” when she was struck with tza’ra’at. When the verse says that Azuvah died, it refers to this incident (the Talmud in other contexts claims that one who contracts tza’ra’at is considered as if they are “somewhat dead.”) After her recovery, she was called Efrat, a reference to Miriam’s role in aiding the Children of Israel to be fruitful and multiply.

In the tragic episode of the Golden Calf, after Aaron was approached to craft the Golden Calf, he asked the petitioners to bring him gold, which the sages understood as a stalling tactic to allow Moses to return and end the challenge. When Moses did not return, Aaron took the gold and crafted the idol. The verse then states (Exodus 32:5), “And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it…” Rashi suggests, based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 7a), that what Aaron saw that impacted him so deeply was that the petitioners murdered Hur after he had rebuked them for worshipping the Golden Calf. Hur would henceforth be regarded as the first Jew to die sanctifying God’s name, when he attempted to prevent the commission of the cardinal sin of idolatry.

Moses shattered the Tablets of the Law on the 17th of Tammuz, as a result of witnessing the nation worship the Golden Calf. It would seem logical that Hur’s death occurred a few days prior.

May Hur’s memory, and that of all those who perished sanctifying God’s name, endure as a blessing.

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Explore the Fascinating Lives of Biblical Characters

Aside from the Biblical protagonists, there are hundreds of ancient characters whose lives we ought to study. There is always a reason why their identities and actions are included in the Biblical canon.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Yiddish in Shanghai

During World War II, Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, became a haven for Jewish refugees, most notably the students from the Mirrer Yeshiva. After the “Battle of Shanghai” in 1937, the imperial Japanese occupied Shanghai. Since passports were not needed to enter, thousands of Austrian and German Jews arrived, joining the established Jewish community there, which consisted of about 4,000 Russian Jews from Czarist Russia and Iraqi Jews, who had arrived decades earlier.

Between 1938 and 1941, 19,451 Jewish refugees arrived in Shanghai by land and by sea. The 400-strong delegation from the Mirrer yeshiva in Lithuania arrived in 1941. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, immigration into Shanghai was severely curbed, stricter security measures were imposed, and, most notably, the flow of funds from the Joint Distribution Committee ceased. Many of the Baghdadi Jews who were British subjects were interned after Pearl Harbor, since England had also joined the war against Japan.

Since the Japanese allied themselves with Nazi Germany, they accepted the “Third Reich’s” claim that the Jewish refugees were stateless. The Japanese therefore stripped the Eastern European immigrants of their citizenship, and on February 18, 1943, they were forcibly moved to a designated area, to be known as the Shanghai Ghetto, a ¾ square square mile area within Shanghai’s Hongkou district. The Yiddish speaking refugees called the city “shond chai,” shame of a life in Yiddish. Ghetto residents bore passports with a yellow line, and lived under curfew and food rations, but were not restricted in travel or dress.

Jewish life continued in the ghetto. The Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which had been built in 1907, served as the center of the Russian immigrant community. In April, 1941, another Ashkenazic synagogue was built, dubbed “The New Synagogue.” The Mirrer Yeshiva students pursued their studies in the Beth Aharon Synagogue which had been built years earlier by a wealthy member of the Shanghai Sephardic community.

The U.S. 7th Air Force began bombing Shanghai in 1944, ending with Japan’s surrender in August, 1945. The most devastating air raid over Shanghai took place on July 17, 1945, which killed 38 Jewish refugees and hundreds of Chinese. The Hongkou district did not have any bomb shelters.

Evelyn Pike Rubin, grandmother of NJOP program coordinator Gavi Lerner, chronicled her stay in the Shanghai Ghetto in her book, “Ghetto Shanghai.” Ms. Rubin wrote that after hearing that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed with “a new kind of bomb,” those in Shanghai worried that Shanghai would be targeted next.

Only after the war did they learn of the heartbreaking fate of their kinsmen back in Eastern Europe.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Sites of Jewish Interest when you travel

Jews have been around for a long time and you never know which cities have hosted Jewish populations. Seek out the history of Jewish life in the areas where you travel.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Written for Their Sons

Imagine traveling forward 500 years in time and discovering multitudes of people studying something you had written for your child. Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding multiple editions of that work, many of them with commentaries. In the world of Jewish scholarship, there are two such works that have gained this status. 

The Sefer Hachinuch, the Book of Education, was written by an unknown author believed to have lived in Barcelona in the 13th century. Based on Maimonides’ enumeration of the 613 mitzvot as recorded in Sefer Hamitzvot, the author (who is generally referred to as the Sefer Hachinuch) wrote in-depth explanations and rationales for each mitzvah. He included a review of the practical halacha (Jewish law), along with each mitzvah’s Biblical source and philosophical background. The book itself was written specifically for his son. 
While little is known about the author or the intended recipient of the Sefer Hachinuch, in contrast, a great deal is known about the Iggeret Haramban, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman’s letter to his eldest son, Nachman. The Ramban (a.k.a. Nachmanides) also lived in 13th century Spain. The Iggeret Haramban is not simply a father’s advice to his son on how to live a good life, but an original mussar treatise (except that the Mussar Movement, which focused on character development, only became popular in the mid 1800s). In his masterful letter, which he suggested that his son review once a week, the Ramban advised on the importance of avoiding anger, focusing on humility before others and God, and being diligent in both prayer and Torah study.

The Sefer HaChinuch was first printed on the 13th of Tammuz, 1523.

This Treat was last posted on June 26, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Identify Spiritual Pursuits for Children on Shabbat

In addition to sumptuous food, and playing with friends, it behooves those responsible for children to identify spiritual pursuits for them on Shabbat as well, be they prayers, or Torah study.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Gummi Worms, Gelatin and Jews

Today is Gummi Worm Day, celebrating the popular sweet and sour candy, which was created by the German confectionary company, Trolli. Gummy Bears were created in 1922 by another German candy company, Haribo.

One of the classic ingredients in gummi worms is gelatin, which is made by boiling in water the ligaments, bones and skin of animals. Gelatin is used as the basis of jelly, glue and other highly adhesive substances, like… gummi worms.

Most gelatins in the United States are made from the collagen (a group of fibrous proteins found in connective tissue fibrils and bones) from non-kosher animals. While there is a general principle that derivatives from a non-kosher animal are not kosher, the Talmud (Chullin 114a) states that one who cooks animal bones with milk has not violated the prohibition of cooking milk and meat, since bones are not considered meat on a Biblical level. This principle is codified in Jewish law. While the product of cooking milk with bones is considered to be prohibited by the rabbis, one can claim that the bone is completely inedible, and the product of the bone and milk may not be prohibited at all. As such, one of the leading rabbis of the early 20th century, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, permitted the consumption of gelatin from non-kosher animals, claiming the product is almost always nullified 60 to 1, in the kosher product (Achiezer, 3:33:5). Rabbi Ovadia Yosef concurred. Other sages dissented. Rabbi Aaron Kotler argued that taking the “gelatin” from the bones, reconstitutes the bone and renders it edible. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, widely considered the most prominent authority on Jewish law in the world until his death in 1986, agreed with Rabbi Kotler. Clearly, there are great sages on both sides.

Most U.S. kosher supervising agencies are stringent, respecting the positions of Rabbis Kotler and Feinstein. Of course, gelatin from non-meat sources, from kosher meat, or from kosher fish can be used. Today, kosher gummi worms are made mostly from fish gelatin.

So no worries, Jewish Treats readers. Enjoy your kosher gummi worms!

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Modern Day Kosher Finds Ways to Be Inclusive

When marrying the ancient kosher laws with modern day food technology, the kosher consumer is able to benefit from most types of cuisine.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Fast of the Past

In just over a week, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Jews around the world will fast to commemorate multiple tragedies and to mark the beginning of the three-week period that concludes on Tisha B’Av (9 Av). These fast days are two of the four fasts that are associated with the destruction of the Holy Temples, about which it is written: “the prophet (Zechariah 8:19) calls these days both days of fasting and days of joy, signifying that when there is peace they shall be for joy and gladness, but if there is not peace they shall be fast days” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 18b). 

When these words were stated, however, the fast in the month of Tammuz was observed on the 9th day of Tammuz, not the 17th. In fact, the history of the 9th of Tammuz demonstrates exactly how a fast day can be transformed into a day of joy and feasting:

The Book of Jeremiah clearly describes the events that took place on the 9th of Tammuz in the 11th year of the reign of King Zedekiah: “A breach was made in the city, that all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the middle gate...” (39:2-3). King Zedekiah and all the “men of war” tried to flee but were caught. His sons and the nobles of Judea were killed by Nebuchadnezzer and then King Zedekiah was blinded and bound in chains (39:3-8).

The 9th of Tammuz was a day of great tragedy for the Jews, and, according to tradition, it was maintained as a national fast throughout the Babylonian exile. However, when the Jewish people were allowed to return to the Promised Land and to rebuild the Temple, the somber day became a feast day. Alas, that feast day was cancelled when the Second Temple was destroyed, but the 9th of Tammuz did not become a day of mourning again. Instead, the tragedy of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem during the First Temple is included in the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans).

*In 2019, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed on Sunday, July 21st, on the 18th of Tammuz, and the fast of the 9th of Av will be observed on Sunday, August 11th, the 10th of Av.

This Treat was last posted on July 15, 2016.

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Commemorate Important Jewish Dates in History

Become familiar with the many events that occurred in Jewish History. Our sages have taught that past events often repeat themselves in some way or another.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The 10th Cow

Parashat Chukat opens with the very cryptic and inexplicable law of the Red Heifer. This completely unblemished red calf, with no more than two non-red hairs, and that had never been worked or been mounted, was used to purify men and women who had become spiritually defiled by coming in contact with a human corpse.

Maimonides (Laws of the Red Heifer, 3:4) writes that nine heifers have been processed, from the time of the initial command in our parashah, until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. “Moses performed the ritual on the first one, and Ezra the Scribe burned and prepared the second one. An additional seven were used until the end of the Second Commonwealth. The tenth will be facilitated by King Messiah, may his identity be speedily revealed.” The sages in the Mishnah (Parah 3:5) claim that the seven latter heifers were prepared by the following: two by Shimon HaTzaddik; two by Yochanan the Kohen Gadol; one by Elihoenai the son of Ha-Kof; one by Chanamel the Egyptian; and the ninth by Yishmael son of Piebi.

Throughout history, Jews’ hope has been aroused when word of a newborn pure red heifer is heard. Perhaps, people reason, this is a harbinger of the Messianic age. Red heifers have come and gone, each one being invalidated in one way or the other.

However, enter the Temple Institute, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Rabbi Chaim Richmond, the Institute’s director, is trying to prepare, in advance, as much as possible for the building of the Third Temple and raising awareness. The Institute has begun crafting the Temple vessels, sewing clothes for the priests, and training modern day priests in the laws pertaining to ritual purity and the Temple. It should come as no surprise that a component of their lofty agenda is to identify the tenth Red Heifer.

As a consequence, the Institute is working with an unidentified cattle ranch in Israel’s Golan region to produce a kosher Red Heifer. The rancher primarily raises Simmental cattle, a popular breed in Israel, but a few years ago, the Temple Institute contacted him about raising red angus cattle as well. Red Angus are known to be obedient cattle, producing delicious meat. After researching the breed in the U.S., the rabbis at the Temple Institute believe it could be the source for the tenth Red Heifer. Since importing cattle into Israel is forbidden, the Institute succeeded in importing frozen red angus embryos into Israel, which have already been implanted into domestic species. All are hoping for a fully red female heifer to be born, and cared for, preparing it for its critical mission.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study Laws Pertaining to the Messianic Era

One of the principles of Judaism is to believe in the coming of a Messiah, a new Jewish king. Studying laws pertaining to that era fulfils this principle.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

“That’s All Folks…”

Melvin Jerome Blank, known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” was born on May 30, 1908, in San Francisco, CA, to Frederick and Eva Blank. While in high school in Portland, OR, Mel changed his surname from Blank to Blanc, when a teacher told him that he would amount to nothing, like his last name, Blank.

After graduating Lincoln High School in Portland, in 1927, Mel served as the youngest conductor of an orchestra, performed in vaudeville shows in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and made his radio acting debut on Portland’s KGW, where his ability to voice different characters attracted attention. Mel married Estelle Rosenbaum in 1928, who, in 1935, encouraged him to move to Los Angeles and bring his formidable vocal talents to the Warner Bros.’ owned station KFWB in Hollywood. Mel worked on the Jack Benny Program, The Abbot and Costello Show, Burns and Allen and G.I. Journal. From September 3, 1946 to June 24, 1947, Mel starred in the “Mel Blanc Show.” 

Mel Blanc is most associated with his classic audio tracks for animated cartoons. In 1936, Mel joined Leon Schlesinger Productions who produced cartoon shorts for Warner Bros. Fate had Mel replace Joe Dougherty, who voiced Porky Pig, with whom Blanc will always be associated, and he also debuted the lisping Daffy Duck. In 1940, Blanc began voicing “Looney Tunes” characters, such as the iconic Bugs Bunny. Blanc also created the famous laugh of Universal Pictures’ “Woody Woodpecker, but he was replaced due to his exclusive agreement with Warner Bros. In 1960, After his exclusive contract with Warner Bros. lapsed, Blanc worked for Hanna-Barbera productions, voicing the audio for Barney Rubble on “The Flintstones” and Cosmo Spacely of “The Jetsons.” 

Blanc’s voice provided the audio for Bugs Bunny, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat (which Blanc claimed was merely his own voice with a spray lisp at the end) Dino the Dinosaur, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Secret Squirrel, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, Tasmanian Devil, Tom and Jerry, Yosemite Sam, and Wally Gator. Blanc was so identified with his voices that after a serious car accident which left him in a two-week coma, a doctor, trying an unorthodox approach, asked his patient, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?” After a slight pause, Blanc weakly answered, “Eh… just fine, Doc. How are you?” The doctor then asked Tweety if he was there too. Blanc’s response: “I tawt a taw a puddy tat.”

Blanc died on July 10, 1989 in Los Angeles. In his will, Blanc instructed that his tombstone read, “That’s All Folks.” Both Mel and his creation, Bugs Bunny, possess stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate the Artistry of Fellow Jews

As if a relative were performing, we should view the artistic offerings of fellow Jews as opportunities to both support their contributions and celebrate their accomplishments.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Before Evian became a popular brand of natural spring water, the French resort of Evian was host to an international conference to address the mounting crisis of Jews seeking to escape the genocidal fangs of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Five years after Hitler rose to power in 1933, with a goal of making Germany judenrein (cleaned from Jews), 150,000 German Jews, ¼ of Germany’s Jewish population, fled the country. In March, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria, another 185,000 Jews came under German hegemony. Increasingly, Jews could not find host countries that would accept them.

Back in 1924, due to fear that immigrants would claim jobs from Americans, the United States established immigration quotas. In 1929, the advent of the Great Depression made matters worse. While pressure mounted on President Franklin D. Roosevelt to absorb Jews living under Hitler, the U.S. government was reluctant to open its borders. F.D.R. called for an international conference in Evians-les-Bains, France, beginning on July 6, 1938, corresponding to the 7th of Tammuz, attracting 32 countries and 24 non-governmentafl organizations (NGOs).

Although the nine-day conclave featured soaring sympathetic rhetoric for the plight of those seeking to escape Nazi Germany, the U.S. and Great Britain continued to offer excuses why they were unwilling to open the gates of their respective nations. Only the Dominican Republic accepted an additional 100,000 Jewish refugees. Costa Rica later followed. Instead of dispatching his Secretary of State, F.D.R. chose to send his friend, businessman Myron C. Taylor to Evian. Golda Meir attended as an observer, representing British Mandatory Palestine, but was not allowed to speak or participate. 

Four months after the relative failure of Evian, Kristallnacht occurred, making the need to emigrate from Germany even more critical. Weeks later, drafting began on an immigration bill allowing refugee children in to the United States, which was supported by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who took her first public position on a policy issue, citing the Kindertransports, that Western European nations undertook. In February, 1939, Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) and Congresswoman Edith Rogers (R-MA) sponsored identical bills to admit 20,000 German refugee children under the age of 14 over a two-year period, assuring that the children would be supported by private donations. President Roosevelt never commented on the Wagner-Rogers Bill and powerful members of Congress opposed the bill fearing it would increase unemployment in the U.S. The American public seemed reluctant to open the border, despite two strikes against the Jews desperately trying to leave Nazi German’s clutches: the arrival of the ill-fated S.S. St. Louis* and the infamous British third White Paper, which barred Jews from entering Palestine or buying land. World War II broke out on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.

Tragically, the failure of the Evian Conference and the inability to pass Wagner-Rogers in some form, led to many more Jews being murdered by the Third Reich.

*In May, 1939, the St. Louis, arrived in Cuba from Hamburg, Germany, but was not permitted to allow its 937 refugees to disembark in Cuba, or in the United States. The ship returned to Western Europe and 254 passengers were later murdered by the Nazi machine.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Refugees

In addition to advocacy on their behalf, there are many ways to help refugees, including volunteering and/or donating to bona fide aid organizations.

Monday, July 8, 2019

What’s in the Book: Ezekiel

The 48 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel are filled with wondrous visions. Ezekiel’s first vision is of a fiery chariot drawn by creatures with four faces (of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle) and four sets of wings.

God instructed Ezekiel to withdraw into his home and to remain mute from all but that which God tells him to speak. During this time, he physically acted out his prophecies (sort of like performance art): “You also, son of man, take a tile, and lay it before you, and trace upon it a city, even Jerusalem; and lay siege against it, and build forts against it...” (4:1)

The Book of Ezekiel also contains several potent parables, such as the wife who turned to harlotry (Israel as God’s unfaithful bride) and the young vine that withers (the fall of the House of David). At God’s command, he sets aside the ritual mourning for his departed wife as a warning to the people that when Jerusalem falls they too will be unable to mourn.

However, Ezekiel also spoke of a new leadership emerging, the return to Israel and a truly eternal covenant being affirmed.

The “Dry Bones” is the most famous of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Ezekiel was transported to a valley full of bones that then return to life (“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off...Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel” - 37:11-12).

Ezekiel first appeared as a prophet on the 5th of Tammuz, as it states (Ezekiel 1:1-3): “And it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Kevar river, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s exile, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans, by the Kevar river; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him.”

This Treat was last posted on December 20, 2010.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the Hebrew Prophets

The words of the Jewish prophets are relevant even in our day. It behooves all Jews to familiarize themselves with the words of these holy men and women.

Friday, July 5, 2019

“The Rebbe”

Jews worldwide observe the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, on the 3rd of Tammuz, which is observed tonight and tomorrow.

“The Rebbe” was born on April 18, 1902, in Nokolaev, Russia. His last name, Schneerson, indicates that he was a descendant of the originator of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s erudition was recognized at an early age. He spent his formative years immersed in the study of Torah, and, later, in addition, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, and the University of Berlin, Germany, where he interacted with other notable Torah personalities, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, and Nehama Leibowitz. In 1929, Rabbi Menachem Mendel married Chaya Mushka, the daughter of the (sixth) Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950), who assumed the mantle of leading the Chabad Hassidic movement in 1920.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chaya Mushka arrived in the United States in June, 1941, joining his illustrious father-in-law, who, in March, 1940, became the first European Hassidic leader to immigrate to the United States. Rabbi Menachem Mendel helped create Chabad’s Central Organization for Jewish Education, Chabad’s Kehot Publication Society and a social service agency. About a year after the passing of the sixth Rebbe in 1950, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, one of two sons-in-law of the previous Rebbe, became the leader of Chabad. He made outreach a fundamental pillar of the mission of Chabad, and encouraged the creation of Lubavitch centers and Chabad Houses all over the world. During the Rebbe’s more than 40 years of leadership, he became one of the most beloved and recognized religious leaders in the world, primarily due to the Rebbe’s love for every fellow Jew, and his tremendous charisma and brilliance. He created “mitzvah campaigns” to educate the masses of Jews devoid of any Jewish knowledge. Under the Rebbe’s leadership, Chabad, and its growing army of shluchim (emissaries), placed in cities and on campuses world-wide, stressed 10 areas of Jewish life: women lighting Shabbat candles, men laying tefillin, placing a mezuzah on one’s doors, studying Torah, giving tzedakah (righteous charity), collecting Jewish books, observing kashrut (the dietary laws), loving one’s fellow Jews, committing to Jewish education of children and observing the laws of family purity.

On March 2, 1992, while praying at his father-in-law’s gravesite, Rabbi Schneerson suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body, and prevented him from speaking. He passed away two years later on June 12, 1994, corresponding to the 3rd of Tammuz. His burial site, adjacent to that of his father-in-law, has become a pilgrimage site for tens of thousands of Jews, who come to pay respects to one of the generation’s most pious, successful and visible Jewish leaders. The entire burial area has become a holy space reserved for prayer and contemplation.

May the Rebbe’s memory be a blessing!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek to Engage Jewishly

If there’s any universal message the Chabad movement would want absorbed in memory of the Seventh Rebbe, it would be to do mitzvot and engage Jewishly.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Right and Wrong Ways of Declaring Independence

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, officially seceding from the British Crown. This year, July 4th falls during the week of parashat Korach (outside the state of Israel). It is worth comparing the justification of Korach and his band’s rebellion with that of the Founding Fathers.

The Torah is cryptic about Korach’s reasons for fomenting mutiny. The verse, “And Korach took,” (Numbers 16:1) opens itself up to rabbinic interpretation. The rabbis add that Korach felt that he was just as capable of serving as the High Priest as his cousin Aaron, and claimed that Moses’ selection of his brother Aaron for the role, was based on pure nepotism. Others claim that he felt humiliated when all of his body hair was shaven, in preparation for his functioning in the Tabernacle as a Levite (see Numbers 8:7).

Korach convinced 250 members of the tribe of Reuben to join his “fifth column.” The rabbis explain that since their ancestor (Reuben) was the first-born of Jacob, Korach convinced them to protest their lack of playing any role in the leadership of the Children of Israel. Also, the tribe of Reuben was physically situated near where Korach lived, so Korach successfully riled up his neighbors to join his cause.

The absence of definitive rationales in the Torah tells the reader that the rationales were secondary to the cause.

The Declaration of Independence begins by justifying secession. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Jefferson and his co-authors’ brilliant, audacious and completely groundbreaking political philosophy on government, which function as the underpinnings of America’s Constitutional Republic, are only expressed after a case is made why a new nation was necessary and that co-existence was impossible.

The Declaration of Independence ends with a pledge of unity: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Legend relates that the oldest of the signers of the Declaration, Benjamin Franklin, allegedly commented after signing, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” The Sages in Pirkei Avot (5:17) claim: “Any dispute for the sake of heaven will ultimately be realized. Any dispute not for the sake of heaven will not come to fruition.” The example offered for the former case are the debates between the sages Hillel and Shammai; the Mishnah cites the dispute between Korach and “his band” as an example of the latter. The commentaries note that the Mishnah did not cite the debate between “Korach and Moses.” It was the infighting within Korach’s own faction that testified to it not being based upon idealism.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Read the Declaration of Independence

The document prepared by the Founding Fathers is one of the greatest statements of purpose ever written by human beings. Read it, or watch the re-enactment of its reading in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Franz Kafka was born into a Jewish family on July 3, 1883 near the Old Town Square in Prague, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz was the eldest of six children (two tragically died in infancy), who grew up in a German-Yiddish speaking home. Franz died just short of his 41st birthday, on June 3, 1924, from laryngeal tuberculosis, from which he suffered for many years. The surviving three Kafka children, Ellie, Valli and Ottla, perished during the Holocaust.

After attending elite schools in Prague, Franz enrolled in the Deutsche Karl-Ferdinands–Universitat of Prague in 1901 to study law. During law school, he and his life-long friend Max Brod, immersed themselves in the great works of literature, reading them in their original languages; in Kafka’s native German and Czech, in addition to Greek and French. After law school, Franz took jobs with insurance companies, but more and more, Franz focused on his writing and took a great interest in the Yiddish theatre and Yiddish literature. Although Kafka declared himself an atheist while an adolescent, and he did not portray overt Jewish characters in his works, many literary experts see a profound Jewish influence in his writing.

Kafka engaged in very erratic behavior. He would write the chapters of his novels out of order. He never completed any of his full-length novels, and actually burned 90% of the drafts he wrote. Yet, on the night of September 22, 1912, Kafka wrote the entire story “Das Urteil” (The Verdict) and dedicated it to his then fiancée. He wrote a “last will and testament” asking for his diaries, manuscripts, letters and sketches to be burned unread.

How then did Kafka’s works break through the international word of publishing?

Despite Kafka’s final wishes, Brod, a Zionist, took many of Kafka’s works to Palestine in 1939. Franz’ final paramour, Dora Diament, also ignored similar wishes and kept 20 notebooks and 35 letters, all of which were confiscated by the Gestapo. Brod published most of what he had, and Kafka’s works became popular and acclaimed posthumously. In 1961, the Oxford Bodleian Library acquired most of Kafka’s original handwritten works.

Brod died in 1968 and left Kafka’s unpublished papers to his secretary, Esther Hoffe. She released or sold some of them and left the majority to her daughters. When the Hoffe daughters refused to release the Kafka originals, they were sued by the National Library of Israel, who claimed ownership of the manuscripts due to Brod’s immigration to British Mandatory Palestine. A Tel Aviv Family Court ruled in October, 2012, that the manuscripts indeed belonged to the National Library.

The term “Kafkaesque” has entered the cultural vernacular, based on plots in some of Franz’ works, such as “The Trial” and “The Metamorphosis.” It connotes situations where bureaucracies control people, and when people become stuck in enigmatic, dark, nightmarish and disorienting situations.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support the Literary Works of Jewish Authors

When selecting literary works to read, support Jewish writers.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Does the Torah Support Belief in Extra Terrestrial Life?

Today, July 2, is celebrated, world-wide, as “World UFO Day.” On July 2, 1947, W.W. “Mac” Brazel discovered a metallic object on his Roswell, NM ranch. The U.S. government claimed that it was a high altitude balloon. Conspiracy theorists claim the government covered up an alien invasion.

For thousands of years, UFOs and ETs have captured the imagination of human literature. Humankind has always been obsessed with knowing if other creatures inhabit other parts of our vast universe.

What is the Jewish attitude toward extra-terrestrial life?

There are Jewish sources which may support life on other planets.

The Torah (Genesis 6:4) describes nefilim being on earth. According to the commentary of Yonatan ben Uziel, these beings were called nefilim because they literally “fell from heaven.” Rabbi Yehudah ben Barzilai Nasi (11th century Spain), who wrote a commentary on the esoteric and enigmatic Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Creation), opines, based on these verses, that there is indeed intelligent life on other planets.

In the victory song commemorating Barak and Deborah’s conquest over Sisera and his troops, one of the verses states, “Cursed is Meroz, cursed are its inhabitants” (Judges 5:23). Prior to this (Ibid verse 20), Barak and Deborah claim, “they fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” The Talmud (Moed Katan 16a) asks what is Meroz? The Talmud answers that some say that Meroz was an individual, but others claim it is the name of a star.

Based on a verse in Ezekiel (48:35), the Talmud (Avodah Zara 3b) records that “God flies through 18,000 worlds,”. The mystical Tikunei Zohar suggests that these 18,000 worlds are planets ruled by tzadikim, righteous individuals. Another Talmudic source (Sanhedrin 92b) claims that these righteous people are given wings to travel from planet to planet.

Other Jewish sources appear to negate any possibility of extra-terrestrial intelligent life. Midrashic sources note that God created this world – i.e. earth – in order to give the Torah to the Jewish people (Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 and 3:7). The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was familiar with the mystical literature on extra-terrestrial life, asserted that intelligent life is defined by the ability to choose right from wrong. Free will, he proclaimed, can only take place with the existence of the Torah. Absent God’s blueprints, there cannot be intelligent life. The Rebbe also claimed that it would be impossible to have a second Torah, since Torah is truth, and truth can’t be duplicitous.

Jewish sources allow for extra-terrestrial life. Our role is to follow the Torah, which came from God in Heaven, and to try to perfect and protect the earth which humankind inhabits.

Happy ‘World U.F.O. Day.”

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fix This World!

Before contemplating life in the vast beyond, focus your energy on fixing the world we inhabit.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Harts of Quebec

The first Jewish settlers in the area now known as Quebec (but which was referred to as “Lower Canada” by the British) arrived with the British soldiers during the “French and Indian War” (1754-1763). (Jews and other non-Catholics had not been permitted in New France.)

One of four Jewish officers in the British Army, Lieutenant Aaron Hart (born 1724, London, England) had been living in New York. After the war, however, Hart settled in the Canadian town of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers). The scion of a mercantile family, it was not long before Hart achieved success as a businessman and a landholder. As the Jewish population in Lower Canada grew, Hart became active in the community and was a founding member of Montreal’s Shearith Israel synagogue. Hart was equally blessed in his family life; after his death at age 76, he was survived by his wife, Catherine, four sons and four daughters.

Three of his sons were also fascinating historical figures:

Moses Hart was a successful businessman whose political aspirations continually ended in failure. Although his Jewishness may have kept him from office, his failure at politics may also have been the result of his personal life--his wife left him due to his infidelity, he was excessively fascinated by steam ships, and he published philosophical tracts on Judaism and Deism.

Ezekiel Hart, on the other hand, was very successful in politics. He was elected to the Parliament of Lower Canada in 1807, but, after taking the oath of office on a Hebrew Bible, was made to stand down. When he was elected a second (and third) time, and recited the traditional oath of office, the legislature still pushed him out of office.

Benjamin Hart suffered similar discrimination. The local militia commander felt that Christians could not serve with or under a Jew. During the War of 1812, however, Benjamin served first as a private and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, a position of which he was stripped when he signed the Annexation Manifesto calling for political union with the United States.

July 1st is Canada Day, the anniversary of the passage of the British North America Act in 1867, by the British Parliament, granting self-governance to Canada. Prior to October 27, 1982, the date was known as “Dominion Day.”

This Treat was last posted on July 1, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wish your Canadian friends a Happy Canada Day

Although Americans share many values, a language and land mass with our “Canuck” neighbors to the north, Canadians have their own national identity and celebrate it proudly. Contact your Canadian friends and family to wish them a Happy Canada Day.